Thursday, May 14, 2015

Indy 500 - JATO

Dennis "Duke" Nalon has a name that sounds more like a superhero than a race car driver, but he sat behind the wheel of an Indy car in no less than ten races. Though his best finish was third place, Duke holds one distinction - he is (to my knowledge) the only driver to ever use a JATO rocket at the speedway.

In 1946 Duke mounted a 40 pound jet assist takeoff rocket to the rear strut of his car and, purportedly, attained a speed of 140 miles per hour on the Speedway's backstretch. It must have been something to hear when that rocket kicked in, a roar that probably shook the windows in Eagledale. In spite of the impressive speed, JATO never was a viable option at the track. For one it laid down a smoke-screen reminiscent of a James Bond thriller. Secondly, there's the pesky issue of the turns...nothing like going straight through turn three and into the middle of Georgetown Road. And lastly, you'd need to replace rockets throughout the contest making for less-than-interesting intermissions.

Duke also bears the distinction of being one of the lucky ones to get through 1949's fiery crash. A collision he survived by holding his breath and jumping out of his car while it still was moving (seen in the video below at about the 1:20 mark).

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