Jerry Grant, the first driver to turn an official lap at more than 200 miles per hour in an Indy car, died yesterday at the age of 77.
Grant, a 10-time Indianapolis 500 starter, made history on Sept. 3, 1972 when he strapped into his Dan Gurney-owned Eagle and turned a white-knuckle qualifying lap of 201.414 mph around the 2.5-mile Ontario Motor Speedway in California.
“I never got a lap in where I didn’t break it loose in the turn,” said Grant of his record-breaking run in a December 2003 interview with Forbes magazine. “If you would have watched from a helicopter or blimp, you would have seen how not to drive on a super-speedway, because I had the rear end out against the wall three times every lap!
“When I got the checkered flag and slowed down, it finally hit me that I had broken the record. I came into the pits, and everybody was giving me the high-five. I didn’t want to get out of the car too quickly because I thought I’d be too nervous. I needed to compose myself.”
Grant’s racing career was also known for two particular near-misses.
He was leading on Lap 188 of the 1972 Indianapolis 500 when he was forced to go to the pits to replace a tire that was losing air. However, he went into the stall of his teammate Bobby Unser, and while it’s unknown if Grant took any fuel from Unser’s refueling tank, it became clear once the hoses were briefly hooked up that Grant’s own refueling tank was empty.
Grant would finish the race in second place, but officials subsequently disallowed his final 12 laps, which knocked him to 12th. In the aforementioned interview with Forbes, Grant called the ’72 Indy “probably the biggest disappointment of [his] life.”
Six years earlier, Grant had suffered misfortune in the 12 Hours of Sebring as well. Teamed with Dan Gurney, the duo were set to win the race with Gurney in the driver’s seat. But with five minutes remaining, a mechanical issue on their Ford GT Mk. II forced Gurney to stop on the course. He pushed the car 300 yards to the finish, where he was promptly disqualified; if the car had been left alone, Gurney and Grant would’ve finished second on distance covered in the race.
Grant netted three top-10 finishes in the Indianapolis 500 (best finish: 7th, 1970) and raced in 49 USAC National Championship events between 1965 and 1977.