Pat Flaherty drifted away from Motorsports in the years following his retirement and was not a fixture of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as many former winners are. However that does not mean he will be any less missed by the Indy Car world as another one of their real open-wheel daredevils of the 1950's passes away.
Colourful Pat Flaherty, who was dressed in slacks and a T-shirt when he won the 1956 Indianapolis 500 and whose well-worn Cromwell helmet was emblazoned with a green shamrock, died last Tuesday at his home in Oxnard, California, at the age of 76. Flaherty had been battling emphysema for several years.
Born George Francis Flaherty Jr. on Jan. 6, 1926, in Glendale, Calif., as Pat was a nickname, he had lived for most of his adult life in Chicago and had returned with Marilyn, his wife of 47 years, to California only last October so the couple could be close to the residences of their children.
Flaherty competed in six Indianapolis 500-Mile Races - once as a relief driver – finishing 10th in 1950 and 1955 in addition to his win. He hit the wall while running fourth at 115 laps in 1953 and charged from 18th to lead for 11 laps before spinning out while running fourth at 164 laps in 1959.
His 1956 win for car owner John Zink came in a car built by another long-time friend, A.J. Watson, this being the very first of the so-called Watson "roadsters." Intended for defending "500" winner Bob Sweikert, who quit the team after a contractual disagreement during the winter, the lightweight car, which employed magnesium parts and weighed only about 1,700 pounds, was then turned over to Flaherty.
The red-haired Flaherty proceeded to thrill the spectators by hiking the left-front wheel several inches above the ground as he dirt-tracked the flexible chassis around the Speedway, winning the pole position in this fashion and raising the one- and four-lap qualifying records to 146.056 mph and 145.590 mph, respectively.
Flaherty led 127 of the 200 laps on his way to winning the accident-marred "500" at an average speed of 128.590 mph and had the throttle linkage break just a few seconds after he had taken the chequered flag. He only just made it to victory lane in what has to be one of the most well timed victories ever. Countless drivers down the years have wished they had the same last-lap luck that Flaherty enjoyed that day.
Flaherty also etched his name into the Formula One record books as the Indy 500 was still part of the Formula One world Championship and actually finished fifth in the 1956 F1 World Championship behind Juan-Manuel Fangio, Sterling Moss, Peter Collins and Jean Behra thanks to his eight points gained at Indy.
Flaherty won the very next major race following his Indy 500 triumph, a 100-miler less than two weeks later at Milwaukee, and he was leading the USAC National Championship point standings by a considerable margin when a serious arm injury, suffered in August in an accident on the dirt track at Springfield, Ill., forced him to the sidelines for exactly two years.
His long-anticipated comeback, in a 200-mile USAC Stock Car race Aug. 21, 1958, at Milwaukee, resulted in an emotional win.