Hall of Famer Jim McElreath passed away last Thursday, in his hometown of Arlington, Texas, at the age of 89. Already a wily veteran when he made his first Indianapolis 500 start in 1962, McElreath impressed observers by qualifying 7th and running 2nd in the early going, having passed the likes of A.J. Foyt and Rodger Ward to do so. Delayed by slow pit stops, however, he could only finish 6th with his six-year-old Kurtis-Offy roadster. The effort, however, was good enough to earn him Rookie of the Year honors.
Although he never won Indy, his best result being a 3rd–place finish behind Graham Hill and Jim Clark in 1966, McElreath did win five USAC National Championship Indycar races, the most notable being the inaugural California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway in 1970, when he drove one of Foyt’s Coyotes.
He arrived on the scene just as the rear-engine revolution was overtaking Indycar racing, but despite his background in front-engined dirt-track cars and roadsters, he adapted quickly to the new cars, winning four races with John Zink’s Brabham BT12-Offy in 1965 and ’66. His best finish in the National Championship rankings was 2nd behind Mario Andretti in 1966, but he took 3rd in the standings on three other occasions, 1963, 1965 and 1970, burnishing his reputation as a steady and reliable performer, From the 167 National Championship races he started between 1961 and 1980, he finished in the top five 47 times.
McElreath is survived by his wife, Shirley, daughter Vicky Thornton, granddaughters Bryn and Taryn Bettenhausen, and great granddaughter Kendyl Bettenhausen, to whom, and to all his many friends and fans in the port, Vintage Racecar extends its sincerest sympathies. The family requests contributions be made in his name to Speedway Children’s Charities Texas. Checks can be sent to Speedway Children’s Charities Texas, 3545 Lone Star Circle, Fort Worth, TX 76177.