Thursday, January 6, 2011

History of the 500: Roscoe Sarles

Today's entry for our History of the 500 series isn't exactly a well-known name, but that doesn't mean he didn't have some success back in the day. Roscoe Sarles was from New Albany, Indiana (b. 1892), and competed in 4 different Indy 500s around the early 1920s.

Sarles in 1921
Sarles placed as high as 2nd in 1921 in a Duesenberg, leading a single lap in a race eventually won by Tommy Milton. Perhaps his most infamous moment came in 1920, where he drove a car fielded by the Chevrolet brothers. A steering malfunction inherent in the car drove him into the Turn 4 wall, knocking him out of the race. He them took over as a relief driver of another car also fielded by the Chevrolet brothers, only to have the exact same thing happen in the exact same place on the track.

1921 would, in fact end up being not only Sarles' best finish, but the only time he would finish the race in four attempts. However, he did have success in other venues on the circuit, especially at the newly-created Beverly Hills Speedway, where he won two races in a 4-month span. Sadly, his first victory at that track was also the race where Gaston Chevrolet and Eddie O'Donnell were killed in an accident.

Like so many early racers, Sarles' life ended on the track. He was driving for Cliff Durant at Kansas City Speedway on September 17, 1922, when he was in a terrible accident with Pete DePaolo. His car went over the rail of the track, dropped 25 feet, and pinned him underneath, resulting in his burning to death.

Roscoe Sarles shares the AAA record for most 2nd-place finishes in a season, with 9 in 1921 (a record shared with Ted Horn for 1946). Though he never found victory at Indy, he was a respected, fearless driver in his time, a man referred to as the "clown of the races". He was well-liked, won six feature AAA races overall, and was a heavily featured driver for Duesenberg, making over 30 starts in their cars.

For more about Roscoe Sarles, check out his page at ChampCar Stats, as well as Motorsports Memorial.

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