Death of a $100,000 Race Car (Oct, 1949)

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Death of a $100,000 Race Car

THE best driver and the fastest car didn’t win the 1949 Indianapolis race. They broke records, set a blistering pace never equalled. But they didn’t win.

Iron-nerved Dennis (Duke) Nalon and his 550-horse-power Novi Mobil Special, designed by Bud Winfield, should have won that race. We wish they had, because that was the combination Mechanix Illustrated boldly predicted, away back in our May issue, would cop the 500-mile classic. But the Duke didn’t win because, on the 24th lap, after shattering every Speedway record for 55 miles and pounding down the straightaways at 200 mph, his great car suddenly died of a broken axle.

The stricken Novi rocketed against the northeast wall, then burst into flames. Duke somehow kept the Novi upright, somehow managed to unhook his safety belt and plunge free of the flaming inferno that had been, seconds before, the “car nobody could beat.”

On these pages we present the dramatic picture story of that car’s death and the miraculous escape of the finest, gamest driver in the race-car business. •

  1. Kosher Ham says: February 14, 201212:35 pm

    The novi was an exception to the standard design of Indy car racers; most Indy cars, at that time, were powered by 4 cylinder Offenhauser engines; this one was a V-8

  2. Toronto says: February 14, 20123:57 pm

    The Indy 500 always had multiple allowed engines, didn’t it? Until the Tony George (spit) era, anyway.

    Novis had problems getting the power to the ground – it came all of a sudden with high RPMs, and since you have to decelerate and accelerate again constantly on Indy’s fairly flat track, it must have been a handful to drive. Eventually they tried 4wd (early 60s).

    Remember the “school bus engine” in 1980? It exploited a “stock” engine rule.

  3. Stephen says: February 15, 20126:51 am

    At least the debris remained on the track so no spectators were hurt. Six years later at Le Mans around 100 people were killed when a Mercedes hit the back of another car and jumped into the crowd, disintegrating in flames.…

  4. […] * Finally, Modern Mechanix this week scanned and posted an article from the October 1949 issue of Mechanix Illustrated on the destruction of Duke Nalon’s Novi Mobil Special in the 1949 Indy 500. […]

  5. shooting the well says: December 20, 20125:32 pm

    […] misfortune i am partial to the 1949 event– a shirt tail relative–Bill Holland– was race winner Death of a $100,000 Race Car | Modern Mechanix jh Attached Thumbnails   Reply With […]

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