Eddie Sachs could have won the 500, should have won the 500, but never won the 500.
There are those who say that Eddie didn't want to win the 500 because he had made a promise he would follow Sam Hanks example and announce his retirement in Victory Circle and Eddie loved racing to much to ever retire.
He ran at Indy eight times and finished second to Foyt in '61. The two of them had dominated the race. Late pit stops by both of them with 30 laps or so to go kept AJ in front of Sachs by a couple seconds. Unbeknownst to Sachs, AJ did not get a full load of fuel due to a malfunction and would have to pit again. As AJ pulled away on the track from Eddie with a light load, Eddie abused his tires trying to keep up. AJ wasn't aware that he didn't get enough fuel either. Eventually, AJ was called in to pit for a short splash of fuel and Eddie got the lead by 17 seconds after the stop. Remember that this was in the days before radios. Drivers had to rely on and belive the pit boards that they see in a flash. There were a few laps remaiming and Eddie's lead was shrinking. On lap 197, he looked over his shoulder and saw cord showing on his right rear tire. He pitted for a one tire change as AJ passed him as he left the pits. AJ won the race by eight seconds. Had Sachs known that AJ had to pit again, or taken it a bit easier on his tires for the last dozen or so laps, there would be one fewer four time winner.
In 1962 he finished third behind Rodger Ward (1st) and Len Sutton.
And no one will ever forget the multitude of fans widly cheering Eddie as he waved, with the usual smile, as he walked thru the pits in 1963 rolling the wheel that caused him to hit the inner guard rail on the 184th lap while running fourth.
Fate's fickle finger pointed at Sachs on the second lap of the 1964 race when there was a fiery crash involving seven cars.
The following description was put together by David E. Davis, Jr. and Johnny Rutherford:
The race started beautifully. The weather was perfect. Dave MacDonald, a brilliant sports car driver but a rookie at Indianapolis, was beside Rutherford in the fifth row. MacDonald was driving an innovative Mickey Thompson car that predicted future tech in several ways but was badly constructed and difficult to drive. Eddie Sachs was behind Rutherford in the sixth row. Johnny reasoned that Sachs, a charger and a seasoned veteran, would push to the front, and all he had to do was stick to Sachs and stay out of trouble. It worked out as he had planned. Sachs surged past, and as the field was sorting itself out on the second lap, MacDonald passed Rutherford on the back straight, his car loose and ragged, its engine note rising and falling as the inside wheels threw up grass and dirt from the edge of the track. Rutherford remembers: "I thought, Ã‚Whoa, he's either gonna win this thing or crash.' Then he was gone. As we came around Turn Three and approached Turn Four, I was right on Eddie's tail."
Up ahead, MacDonald, broadsliding through Turn Four, lost it and headed sideways toward the infield wall. As Rutherford negotiated Turn Four, he caught a flash of a red car hitting the wall and erupting in a huge orange and black cloud, then heading back onto the track. He saw Sachs, directly in front of him, glancing from side to side as he tried to make sense of the disaster he was about to drive into. Rutherford was hard on his brakes, the nose of his car right under Sachs's tail. Sachs guessed wrong and went high, hitting MacDonald broadside. Both Sachs's and MacDonald's cars were fueled with gasoline, and now a total of 155 gallons of burning gasoline were sprayed across the track. Rutherford went under Sachs's tail and over MacDonaldso close that he tore off a couple of MacDonald's intake horns, which wedged in the left rear of his roadster. Somewhere in the melee he had run across the nose of Unser's car. Now, as he struggled to shift down to his starting gear and get clear of the carnage (roadsters were equipped with primitive two-speed transmissions), Unser, his steering gone, emerged from the wall of smoke and flame and struck him on his left rear tire, propelling him onto the outside wall.
After a short ride along the top of the wall, Rutherford's car, wrapped in flames, landed back on the track on all four wheels, and he did a quick damage assessment. All this had happened in a bare few seconds. The back of his neck was badly burned, and his four-ply driving suit had been ripped apart right down the front. There was a piece of carpet on the floor of his cockpit, to absorb oil, and that was burning. He accelerated down the track toward Turn One to put the fires out, and in the short chute between Turns One and Two, he was overtaken by Bob Veith, who vigorously signaled him to park in the infield. He signaled back that everything was okay, but Veith again made it clear that everything was definitely not okay. Johnny pulled down to the edge of the track and coasted to a stop in Turn Three, where a helmeted corner worker with a fire extinguisher looked his car over and assured him that everything was fine. He then continued to Turn Four, the scene of the accident, and was waved to a stop by driver Don Branson. Throwing off his belts and climbing out of the cockpit, he discovered that the impact of the Unser collision had ruptured his fuel tank, and a great puddle of fuel was spreading around his car. The fact that he was running methanol was probably all that had saved him from being torched.
At the infield hospital, his stretcher was placed beside MacDonald's. MacDonald was burned beyond recognition, but his chest was heaving as his system tried to continue breathing, and there was a streak of pink liquid matter running down the side of his face. Rutherford asked an attendant what that was, and the attendant replied, "That's his lungs; that's what happens when you inhale the fire." MacDonald died at 1:20 in the afternoon. Eddie Sachs, the clown prince of the Indy 500, died in the middle of the inferno.
At the end of his story, Rutherford said, "They got my car back to the garage about the same time I arrived from the infield hospital. We walked over to the car, and Herb Porter, my chief mechanic, undid the hood restraints and lifted the hood. There was all kinds of broken plexiglass and gravel and trash in there. Herb reached in and picked up a lemon that had a cord looped through it and one end cut off to expose the fruit.
"Later, I asked around and discovered that Eddie Sachs had always hung a lemon around his neck, so that during a caution flag, he could suck on the lemon and get a little moisture, maybe the tartness gave him a little boost. Evidently, when Eddie smashed into Davey, the lemon flew off his neck and sailed into the air, and my car scooped it up.
His career included eight USAC Championship Trail wins, 25 top-five finishes in 65 career AAA and USAC starts, including the 1958 USAC Midwest Sprint Car Championship, in a career which included consecutive pole positions (1960-1961) in the Indianapolis 500, coming close but falling short.
There are a million Eddie Sachs' stories and every race fan has his favorite. The celebration in Victory Lane was very subdued in 1964.
His son Eddie Sachs Jr also was a race car driver on local dirt tracks in the Midwest, but unlike his father, he did not race at the 500. Sachs Jr has been a part-time car owner in NASCAR's Busch Series.
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