Ted Halibrand never drove in a 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway--he never even entered one--but his influence on the world’s most important auto race was immense.
Halibrand, 74, a quiet man who worked in Torrance and lived in Rancho Palos Verdes, died in his sleep of heart failure last Sunday. Many race drivers still living can thank Halibrand for helping initiate safety features that dramatically reduced fatalities at Indianapolis and other tracks.
“Ninety percent of the ideas examined by our safety committee came out of Ted’s head,” said Dick King, president of the United States Auto Club, which conducts the Indianapolis 500. “He was always looking ahead to what could be done, to intercept would-be problems before they occurred.”
Halibrand, who was a manufacturer of racing car components, became involved in safety after the 1964 Indy 500 in which Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald were killed in a first-lap fire. Sachs was driving a Shrike, built by Halibrand.
“After the accident, Ted was one of the earliest proponents of using crashworthy fuel cells that had been developed for helicopters,” King said. Fuel also was changed from more volatile gasoline to a cleaner, slower-burning methanol.
Halibrand, who started out in 1947 building components for midget cars that raced locally at Gilmore Stadium, the Coliseum, the Rose Bowl and neighborhood tracks during the sport’s heyday, made his first impact at Indianapolis in 1951. He built the first magnesium wheels that Lee Wallard used in winning the ’51 race. From then until 1965, every 500 winner had magnesium wheels, disc brakes, rear end assemblies or steering gears turned out by Halibrand Engineering.
His most remarkable achievement came in 1963 after several drivers discovered that tires mounted on a 15-inch wheel could gain a car two to three miles per hour in cornering speed--but there were no mass-produced 15-inch wheels available. Only three weeks remained before the race, but Halibrand put his company on a 24 hours-a-day production schedule and produced 300 new wheels in time for the Indy 500.
In 1964, working on the premise that lighter was better, Halibrand built a car largely of magnesium that weighed only 1,140 pounds, much lighter than the more common fabricated aluminum construction. The Shrike featured more than 50 magnesium castings, a technique unheard of at the time.
That was the one Sachs drove. Lloyd Ruby drove another Shrike to victory later in the season at Phoenix.
Seven Shrikes were built in 1965, and five of them--driven by Ruby, Joe Leonard, Roger McClusky, Johnny Rutherford and Chuck Rodee--made it into the 500. Leonard won a 150-mile race in Halibrand’s car at Milwaukee.
Parnelli Jones finished 14th in the lone Shrike at Indy in 1966, but the car’s future was compromised when USAC raised the minimum weight limit to 1,350 pounds.
Halibrand was the initial recipient of the Continental Casualty Safety Award, now known as the Jack O’Neal Safety Award, in 1957, and his company received the award in 1978. Halibrand also received the Eddie Edenburn Trophy for “lifetime contributions to auto racing.”
Halibrand’s death is the third in recent weeks of pioneer Southern California motor racing figures. Last month, engine builder Keith Black, who developed the first aluminum block used in dragsters, died of cancer in Long Beach, and Goodyear public relations man Bob Masson, who chronicled Gary Gabelich’s land-speed record runs on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats and helped inaugurate the International Race of Champions, died in Studio City.
A memorial service for Halibrand will be held Friday at 1 p.m. at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Lomita. In lieu of flowers, the Halibrand family requests that donations be made to the USAC Benevolent Fund, 4910 West 16th St., Speedway, Ind., 46224. The Fund provides financial relief to injured race drivers and their families.
STOCK CARS--The NASCAR Southwest Tour will be at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield for the Firecracker 100 Saturday night. Ron Hornaday Jr. of Palmdale, the Southwest Tour points leader, will be seeking his second consecutive victory on the half-mile paved oval. Hornaday won the California 200 there May 18.
Lance Hooper, with five victories in a row at Saugus Speedway, has taken the lead in the NASCAR sportsman division and will be trying for No. 6 in Saturday night’s main event. . . . Chuck Miinch of El Cajon has become the first Cajon Speedway driver to lead in the Sunbelt Region of NASCAR’s $10-million Winston Racing Series, as the 22-week season reached the midpoint. Miinch will be trying to equal John Borneman’s 1987 record of five consecutive sportsman victories in Saturday night’s feature at Cajon.
Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino will be dark this week but will have a program on July 4. . . . A chain race has been added to the Friday night street stock show at Ventura Raceway.
SPEEDWAY BIKES--Four American riders--Sam Ermolenko of Cypress, Billy Hamill of Monrovia, Ronnie Correy of Fullerton and Kelly Moran of Huntington Beach--advanced last Sunday to the semifinal round of the World Championships Aug. 18 at Abensberg, Germany. Only Rick Miller of Reseda, the American Final winner, failed to advance. The World Final is Aug. 31 in Gothenburg, Sweden.
U.S. champion Mike Faria of Riverside has regained his winning ways and leads in the Southern California points race, which includes racing tonight at Lake Perris, Friday night at Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, Saturday night in Victorville and next Wednesday night at Glen Helen Park in San Bernardino.
DRAG RACING--Shirley Muldowney will make the second comeback of her career Saturday night when she faces Bobby Baldwin in a top fuel match race at Firebird Raceway in Arizona. Muldowney, a three-time Winston Cup champion, has not raced since last February’s reconstructive surgery on her right foot, which was shattered in a near-fatal 1985 accident in Canada. Firebird is the same track where she capped her first comeback after the accident to win the National Hot Rod Assn.'s 1989 Fallnationals.
The Nostalgia Drag Racing Assn. will conduct eliminations featuring 1974-and-older vehicles this weekend at Bakersfield Raceway. Dan Horan Jr., defending NDRA top fuel champion from Sylmar, will attempt to regain his winning ways after being upset by Mike Boyd in their last meeting. Qualifying is Saturday. Eliminations are at noon Sunday.
MOTOCROSS--The 24th Mammoth Motocross will be held this weekend at Mammoth Lakes. More than 1,400 riders are expected, from 12-year-old juniors on minibikes to top-ranked factory team professionals. Doug Dubach of Costa Mesa and Mike Kiedrowski of Canyon Country, both fresh from fine Supercross seasons, will be in the pro race Sunday. . . . The third race in the Coors/Kawasaki summer series at Ventura Raceway is set for Saturday night.
SPRINT CARS--The California Racing Assn. will take its wingless sprinters to Santa Maria Speedway’s one-third-mile clay oval for a 30-lap main event Saturday night.
SPORTS CARS--Regional races in Sports Car Club of America competition will be held Saturday and Sunday at Willow Springs Raceway, with the California Sports Car Club as host. More than 150 cars will compete in eight races, involving 33 classes. Included will be a Toyota Budweiser super production race for unlimited stock cars. Four races are scheduled each day, starting at 1 p.m.