The 41st Indianapolis 500 was held Thursday, May 30, 1957, and Sam Hanks (1914-1994) won in his 13th attempt, the most by any driver at the time. He was the first person to win more than $100,000 for a single race. The Offenhauser he drove won back-to-back races and was driven to victory again in 1958 by Jimmy Bryan.
Hanks, who had been trying to win at Indy since 1940, was drinking milk in victory lane when he tearfully announced that he was retiring at the end of the season. He had achieved his lifelong dream.
Part of his winnings included ownership of one of the three pace cars for the race. Hanks was proud of his Mercury Turnpike Cruiser pace car and could often be seen driving it around in his hometown. The car was sold in the 1980s and passed through many collectors’ hands until 2009, when Indiana resident Tom Beeler added it to his fine collection.
Beeler is upgrading the car so it can be displayed along with other past pace cars at the 100th running of the Indy 500 May 29.
It should be noted that when Mercury produced this car – complete with a continental kit in January 1957 – it knew it would be the pace car. Mercury produced 1,265 Sun Glitter convertibles, which were identical to the pace car.
The cars, priced at $4,103, came with 368-cubic-inch engines with four-barrel carburetors, dual exhausts and produced 290 horsepower. They were also equipped with optional rear seat factory air conditioning, a tachometer, a push button transmission, safety door locks, seat belts and padded dashboards.
1957 marked the first time a pace car led the field for two laps before the race went green – the reason being to give the cars additional time to warm up.
Mercury also paced the field in 1966 with its Cyclone GT convertible.
Until next time, happy cruising!