Friday, May 12, 2017

“The Wizard of Indy” A. J. Watson Dies - May 12, 2014

May 8, 1924 - May 12, 2014
A. J. Watson
(Photo;hemmings.com)
Born in Mansfield Ohio, USA.
 He was a car builder and chief mechanic from 1949 through 1984 in the Indianapolis 500, winning the race six times as a car builder. His first win as a car builder came in 1956 when Pat Flaherty drove the John Zink entry to victory in that year's Indy 500. Watson had won the previous year as a crew chief for Bob Sweikert.

A native of southern California, Watson came to Indianapolis in 1948 but missed the race. He returned the following year with a home-built car that failed to qualify. For the next 11 years, his cars not only qualified but were leaders in many years. From 1955 to 1958 he was associated with the John Zink team, and from 1959 on with Bob Wilke. His cars dominated the race through 1964. His work gained such a reputation that a Sports Illustrated article from 1960 dubbed him “The Wizard of Indy.” Although he continued entering cars for another two decades, he was never able to regain the commanding position of his heyday.

In 1964, with many teams following Lotus's example and moving to rear-engines, Watson built a pair of cars based on Rolla Vollstedt's successful car. These worked reasonably well but could not reproduce the success he had with his front-engined "roadsters". He built monocoque rear-engined cars in 1966 and 1967 with ever-decreasing success.

From 1969 until 1977, Watson ran Eagles and then built a small series of highly derivative new "Watson" cars in 1977, 1978 and again in 1982 based on Lightning and March designs before retiring. He is frequently listed on the Indy 500 entry sheet as the "race strategist" for PDM Racing, though his role with the team is largely honorary.

Watson was inducted in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1996. He died on May 12, 2014 at the age of 90.

A.J. Foyt drove a Watson or Watson-Trevis roadster to 11 of his 67 career wins, including two (1961, 1964) of his four Indy wins as a driver. His 1964 win would would be the final ‘500’ win for a front-engine car.

“I was very good friends with A.J. Watson and his wife Joyce,” Foyt said in a statement released today. “He picked me up to drive his sprint car years back. We worked right there at his house, took the 220 Offy and built the Chevrolet".
(Photo;hagerty.com)
A.J. Watson (left), a race queen from the Salem Speedway and A.J. Foyt, who had just driven Watson's sprint car to victory.

“He was a pioneer. He came out against Kurtis and built the Watson roadster and I was lucky enough to win with it. In his day right here at the Indy 500, there was nobody that was going to beat the three W’s: Watson, Wilke and Ward".

(Photo;speedsport.com) 
Rodger Ward (in car), team owner Bob Wilke (center) and car builder/mechanic A.J. Watson.


(Photo; Coutesy of nephew Don Watson)
A.J with his younger brother and dad - May 30, 1959

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