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Memory Lane: Pat Flaherty, 1956

Pat Flaherty wore a shamrock on his racing helmet, but he didn’t need the luck of the Irish to win the 1956 Indianapolis 500.

But it did take a healthy dose of luck – and miraculous work by Indianapolis Motor Speedway track superintendent Clarence Cagle and his crew – for the 40th edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” to take place on schedule Wednesday, May 30.

Heavy rain drenched Indianapolis in the days leading up to the race, spawning severe flooding at IMS. Standing water pooled on the track, access tunnels were flooded, and the infield was a mud bog. But Cagle and his team pumped thousands of gallons of water from the tunnels and infield, working non-stop for 48 hours so the race could run as scheduled.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway underwater in 1956

Flaherty earned his only Indianapolis 500 pole position with a track-record average of 145.596 mph in the No. 8 John Zink Watson/Offy roadster. His pole speed was 4.5 mph faster than the previous record, aided by new asphalt paved over all but about 600 yards of the original brick on the front straight after the 1955 race.

Pat Flaherty, 1956

The early portion of the race became a three-driver struggle between Flaherty, Pat O’Connor and Paul Russo. That became a two-man duel when Russo crashed while leading after a flat tire on Lap 22.

O’Connor then dropped from contention, last leading on Lap 55. 1950 winner Johnnie Parsons and Don Freeland took turns at the front until Lap 76, when Flaherty drove to the top spot and stayed there until the checkered flag.

There was a bit of late drama, though. Sam Hanks had climbed to second late in the race and was ready to pounce if Flaherty faltered. But Flaherty had built such a lead that he stayed out front even after his last pit stop, crossing the finish line 20.46 seconds ahead of Hanks.

Start of the 1956 Indianapolis 500

The rich heritage of the magical Roadster Era at the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil will be celebrated through a variety of activities on Legends Day Honoring the Roadster Era presented by Firestone on Saturday, May 26 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

One of the most beloved car styles in “500” history will enter the spotlight on center stage just one day before the sleek, new-look Verizon IndyCar Series car makes its highly anticipated debut in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on Sunday, May 27. To celebrate the roadster we will release new videos every Thursday going down "Memory Lane," showcasing historical moments of the roadster at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


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