Indianapolis 500 starter McWithey dies at 81
Jim McWithey, who drove in the Indianapolis 500 in 1959 and 1960, died Sunday, Feb. 1 in Gainesville, Ga. McWithey, a native of Grammer, Ind., was 81.
Racing out of Anderson, Ind., for the majority of his career, McWithey switched from the IMCA sprint car circuit, where he ranked third in 1955, to USAC in time to pass a rookie test for car owner George Walther at Indianapolis in 1956.
In his first Indianapolis 500 start three years later, he drove the Ray Brady Special from 33rd to 16th, completing the full 200 laps some 12 minutes after Rodger Ward had won the race, the rules at that time permitting as many cars as was reasonable to complete the distance. This feat earned him membership in the very prestigious Champion 100-Mile-An-Hour Club, which was discontinued in 1970.
McWithey, whose nickname was "Gentleman Jim," completed 60 laps in the 1960 "500" before being eliminated by brake failure.
He also took part in 18 USAC National Championship events between 1956 and 1960, placing third behind Rodger Ward and Tony Bettenhausen in the 1960 season opener at Trenton, N.J. In 1959, arguably his best season, he placed fourth three times and also won dirt track sprint car features at Terre Haute, Ind., and Williams Grove, Pa. He placed among the top 10 in Midwest sprint car point standings for four straight seasons and ranked fourth in the Eastern division in 1959.
With McWithey's passing, the number of living drivers who had at least one start in a "500" while piloting a front-engine car is reduced to only 17.