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Legendary Indianapolis 500 Engine Builder Meyer Dies at 89

Louis “Sonny” Meyer Jr., one of the most accomplished and successful engine builders in Indianapolis 500 history, died Saturday, Nov. 9 in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He was 89.

Meyer was the son of Louis Meyer, the first three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 as a driver. Sonny Meyer joined Meyer & Drake Engineering soon after his father and Dale Drake purchased the Offenhauser engine business from Fred Offenhauser in early 1946. Sonny Meyer was one of the quietest, most pleasant men in Gasoline Alley but spoke loudly through his instrumental involvement as an engine builder or chief mechanic in at least 15 Indy 500 victories.

The Meyers introduced the supercharged midget engine to Indy in 1949-50 with Tony Bettenhausen, and the younger Meyer worked on Bill Vukovich’s crew in the early 1950s before becoming a chief mechanic for Bettenhausen in 1958 as he finished fourth at Indy in the No. 33 Jones & Maley Epperly/Offy.

When his father sold out of Offenhauser in 1964 to become a distributor for Ford’s double-overhead-camshaft V8 engine, Meyer relocated to Indianapolis and became a mentor to many future chief mechanics. He also worked with his father on the Ford program, and a Ford engine powered A.J. Foyt to his third Indianapolis 500 win, in 1967.

Meyer built the engine that powered Gordon Johncock’s first “500” victory, in 1973 in the No. 20 STP Double Oil Filter Eagle/Offy owned by Patrick Racing. The crew chief was Meyer’s brother-in-law, George Bignotti, and Meyer also served as the team’s fueler during pit stops. Meyer’s tenure at Patrick Racing was followed by a stint at Vince Granatelli Racing and then several more years as development engineer on John Menard’s potent V6 turbocharged Buicks.

Meyer was inducted into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 2013. He is survived by his wife, Sue; daughter, Pam; son, Butch; and stepson, Scott Balch.

 
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