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King of the Midgets
'Big Car' Years
The 70's

Portrait of Mel available for purchase at Artemis Images. For more info visit www.artemisimages.com.

    1970

    Mel & Tom - 1970
    Co-creator of this website, Tom Eidemiller and Mel at Indy in 1970.
    The beginning of a life-long friendship

    #23 Sprite Special Turbocharged Offy Coyote
    Taken from "A Hand For the Wheel" by Jack Albinson

    May 1970 - Mel entered the 60th annual running of the Memorial Day Classic as part of a 2-car team for car owner Lindsey Hopkins with teammate Wally Dallenbach sponsored by Sprite Soda Pop. The car Mel raced was actually the Coyote, Joe Leonard drove to a 3rd place in 1967. Mel and brother Don used a turbocharged Offenhauser for power. Mel qualified his #23 Sprite Special (above) in the middle of the 8th row in 23rd position. During the race, Mel experienced vibration problems that put his gloved hand to sleep.

    Mel hops out and Roger hops in

    Mel turned the car over to Roger McCluskey with 91 laps to go. (above) Roger was able to cope with vibration and was the fastest car on the track until lap 161 when a rear wheel broke, sending him to the turn 3 wall. (below)

    A broken wheel sends McCluskey into the wall

    Mel was credited with a 16th place finish and won his share of $17,552 for his efforts. Al Unser went on to win the first of his four Indy 500s.

    July 4, 1970 - Mel went to Michigan for the Champ Car portion of the Michigan Twin 200's. The team switched to a Kuzma Chassis with a turbocharged Offy for this event. Mel qualified the #6 Sprite Special in the 11th starting spot and ended up in the 10th finishing spot. Gary Bettenhausen won the race in the #16 Thermo King Special. Mel acquired 60 championship points and $1,852.00.

    August 23, 1970 - For the Tony Bettenhausen 200 at the Milwaukee Mile, Mel went back to the #23 Sprite Special Coyote racer and finished in the 3rd position in a race with no yellow flag laps. Mel started the race from the 14th starting spot. Al Unser and Roger McCluskey finished ahead of him. Mel collected 280 championship points and his share of $4,100.00. Had the race lasted one more lap Mel may have gained a position as Al Unser ran out of fuel on the last lap and coasted across the finish line.

    Mel at OMS 1970
    Mel took the #6 Kuzma to a 6th place finish at OMS.

    September 6, 1970 - A sister track to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had been erected from the grape vineyards on the outskirts of the city of Ontario in southern California. The 2.5 Million dollar Ontario Motor Speedway was ready for it's long awaited inaugural event, The California 500. The race seemed to be another one of those races which nobody seemed to be able to win due to attrition. There were a total of 8 cars, out of the 33 cars, which started, running at the finish. Fortunately Mel (above) was the 6th car across the line (with a broken tie rod) and he picked up 400 championship points and $17,100.00. Jim McElreath passed Art Pollard with 5 laps remaining to win the race. On a side note, this was the last Champ Car race, which included a front engine roadster in the staring lineup. Jim Hurtubise qualified his #56 Mallard in the 33rd starting spot but crashed out early in the race.

    October 3, 1970 - In a rain shortened Trenton 300 which was rescheduled from September 26 due to rain, Mel took the #6 Sprite Kuzma to a 9th place finish, overcoming a spin in turn 4 on lap 107. Mel started the race in the 12th spot and picked up 120 more championship points and his share of $2,099.00. Al Unser was in the lead when the rains halted the race after 176 laps.

    1971

    This photo available for purchase at Artemis Images.com
    Mel Kenyon at Indy in 1971.
    This photograph is part of the Raymond Golub memorial collection.
    This photo and thousands more available for purchase at Artemis Images.

    #23 Sprite Special Turbocharged Kuzma
    Taken from "A Hand For the Wheel" by Jack Albinson

    Mel in discussion with brother Don</a>
    Photo by Rex Miller
    Mel and Don Kenyon in discussion at Indianapolis 1971......
    Don...."Mel, that last lap was just under 171."
    Mel...."ummmm, Don, you've gotta do something about that hat!"

    May 1971 - Mel returned to Indy in 71 as part of a 3-car team for car owner Lindsey Hopkins with teammates Wally Dallenbach and Roger McCluskey all sponsored by Sprite Soda Pop. Mel qualified the #23 Sprite Special on the outside of the 10th row in 30th spot. The race started out with the pace car crashing into a photographers stand and 11 laps later Mel was involved in an accident after spinning in oil from the #20 STP car driven by Steve Krisiloff. The initial impact did not cause significant damage, but what was about to happen next became known as "The Miracle of Turn Three". (below) As Mel was exiting his wounded racecar, Johncock and Andretti came racing through the turn (ignoring the yellow). Mel ducked back down into his wounded racer just as Gordon Johncock sailed over the top of him as emergency workers were on the scene. It destroyed his car, but Mel escaped with only a tire mark from Johncock's McLaren on his helmet and a cut on his leg. Mel was out of the race and credited with 32nd place. Mel was awarded $14,153.00 for the dismal finish. Al Unser won his second Indy 500 in a row.


    Photos by John Mahoney

      Mel starts to exit his lightly damaged car after spinning in oil


    Taken from "A Hand For the Wheel" by Jack Albinson

      Gordon Johncock plows into the stopped car of Mel. Notice how close the safety workers are to the impact.


    Taken from "A Hand For the Wheel" by Jack Albinson

      Mel hobbles to the infield with only a laceration on his leg from the onboard fire extinguisher handle and a skid mark on his helmet! Seems the safety worker to the right is still in shock because he doesn't seem to have moved too far.


    Photo from Sports Illustrated
    Another angle of the impact.


    "You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water,
    but you brought us to a place of overflowing."
    - Psalms 66:12

    September 5, 1971 - Mel returned to the Ontario Motor Speedway for the running of the second annual California 500. Mel qualified his #23 Sprite Special Kuzma Turbocharged Ford on the inside of row three in the 10th starting spot, but a broken valve forced Mel out of the competition after only 59 laps. Mel finished in the 25th position and won his share of $7,316.00. Joe Leonard won the event en-route to the 1971 National Championship title.

    October 3, 1971 - In the Trenton 300, a race which was postponed a week due to rain, Mel qualified the #23 Sprite Special Kuzma Turbocharged Ford in the 21st starting spot. Mel finished the race in the 12 spot, well enough for 30 championship points and $2,102.00. Bobby Unser won the race.

    1972

    March 18, 1972 - Mel was back in 1972 to run the entire Championship Trail with a new car and no sponsor for the Lindsey Hopkins team by race time. Mel's #23 Gilmore Eagle was powered by a turbocharged Coyote engine modified by Mel and brother Don. They referred to this car as an "Eagleote". It was 23's across the board for Mel at Phoenix. Mel qualified the un-sponsored #23 "Eagleote" in the 23rd starting spot. A fuel problem forced Mel out after only 11 laps. Mel was relegated to the 23rd finishing position and was awarded $941.00. Bobby Unser won the race.

    April 23, 1972 - Still un-sponsored at Trenton for the spring race, Mel qualified his #23 Kuzma Turbocharged Ford in the 18th spot and finished the race in 10th. Mel picked up 60 championship points along with $2,345.00. Gary Bettenhausen won the race driving for Roger Penske.

    #23 Gilmore Broadcasting Coyote Turbocharged Ford
    Taken from "A Hand For the Wheel" by Jack Albinson

    May 1972 - Mel showed up at Indy with a new sponsor on their new Coyote cars in the way of Jim & Dianne Gilmore of Gilmore Broadcasting (above). Mel qualified his #23 Gilmore Broadcasting Coyote Turbocharged Ford good enough for the outside of the 4th row in the 12th position. Wally Dallenbach left the team after struggling to qualify the #10 Gilmore team car to drive the STP Lola vacated by Art Pollard who broke his leg in a crash after qualifying his car. In a race, which saw the entire field faster than the previous years pole winning speed, Mel finished in the 18th spot when an injector failed him after 126 laps. Mel was awarded $17,146.00. Mark Donohue drove the #66 Sunoco McLaren for team owner Roger Penske's first triumph in the Indianapolis 500.

    Mel prepping his left hand prior to putting on the special glove
    Taken from "A Hand For the Wheel" by Jack Albinson

      Mel shown prepping his left hand for the long haul of the Indianapolis 500 mile race.

    Explaining the function of the special glove
    Taken from "A Hand For the Wheel" by Jack Albinson

    Explaining the function of the "Super Copper Socket"

    June 4, 1972 - At Milwaukee, driver Lee Kunzman, in the #10 team car, replaced Wally Dallenbach. Mel qualified the #23 Gilmore "Eagleote" in the 23rd spot and crossed the finish line in 15th. Mel was awarded $1,417.00 in prize money and Bobby Unser won the race.

    July 16, 1972 - The team brought the #23 Gilmore "Eagleote" to Michigan as well. Mel qualified the car well in the 9th starting position. It seems that, on Mel's last stop for fuel, the team shorted him about 2 gallons from a full tank... unfortunately, Mel was approaching the white flag and in the lead! It cost him his chance at, what would have been, his only Champ Car win as he coasted to a 3rd place finish. Mel picked up 280 championship points and $5,380.00. Joe Leonard won the race and teammate Lee Kunzman finished in 5th.

    July 29, 1972 - At the triangle shaped Pocono Speedway in Pennsylvania, Mel used his #23 Gilmore Coyote Ford he raced earlier in the Indianapolis 500 and qualified 25th. Mel exited the race after 130 laps with a broken pinion gear and just missed any championship points in the 13th position. Teammate Lee Kunzman took his Gilmore Eagle to a top ten finish in the 9th position and Joe Leonard won the race. Mel was awarded $5,559.00.

    August 13, 1972 - Back at Milwaukee for the 200 miler, Mel drove the #23 Gilmore Coyote Ford again and qualified in the 16th starting spot and finished in the 16th spot when the engine dropped a valve after 55 laps. Mel received $749.00 in prize money. Teammate Kunzman took his Offy powered Gilmore Eagle to a 4th place finish even after spinning out, and Joe Leonard once again won the race.

    September 3, 1972 - The team switched over to a turbocharged Offenhauser power plant in the Eagle for the jack rabbit interrupted, rain delayed California 500, which saw Jerry Grant post a qualifying lap at over 200 mph. Mel's day ended early after only 48 laps with a broken differential. Mel started and finished in the 28th position. Mel won his share of the $6,419.00 in prize money.

    September 24, 1972 - Mel returned to Trenton for the 300-mile race again with the #23 Gilmore Kuzma Ford. Mel started the race in 21st position and moved up 10 spots to finish 11th earning 60 championship points and $1,998.00. Bobby Unser won the event.

    November 4, 1972 - At Phoenix Mel qualified the #23 Gilmore Eagle Offy in 22nd but crossed the line in 9th place for another 60 championship points and $1,582.00. Bobby Unser won this race too.

    1973

    Hopkins teammates Roger McCluskey & Mel Kenyon at Texas

    April 7, 1973 - Big wings and high speeds set the stage for the 1973 USAC Championship Trail as the teams arrived at Texas World Speedway in College Station, Texas for the Texas 200. As was the story last season, the Lindsey Hopkin's cars (above) started off the season lacking any sponsorship and to make things worse, Lindsey was sporting a three-car team again! The driver lineup for the Hopkins team consisted of Mel Kenyon, Lee Kunzman and Roger McCluskey. Mel drove the unsponsored #19 Coyote Turbocharged Foyt for the race, which saw a pole speed of 212.766 mph by Bobby Unser. Mel qualified 21st for the race and finished 12th ahead of Swede Savage. Mel was awarded 20 championship points and $2,435.00. Al Unser won the race.

    April 15, 1973 - Mel celebrates his birthday in New Jersey. The Trenton 300 was to be run in two seperate 150-mile heat races this year. Mel qualified the still un-sponsored #19 Eagle Offy in the 18th starting spot for the first of two heat races and finished in the 12th spot. Lining up 12th for the second heat race Mel took the #19 Eagle to a tenth place finish. Not a bad birthday gift for himself! Mel totaled up 60 points for himself along with $1,783.00 in prize money. A.J. Foyt won the first heat race Mario Andretti won the second heat race.

    #19 Atlanta Falcons Eagle Turbocharged Offenhauser
    Taken from "A Hand For the Wheel" by Jack Albinson

    May 1973 - Mel took to the track for the first time in practice on Thursday, May 3rd. On May 4th, Mel joined the Speedway's 180 Club with a lap speed of 182.926 mph.

    May 12thIn the morning practice prior to Pole Day qualifying, veteran driver Art Pollard lost his life in a violent crash. At 12:04 pm. Mel Kenyon rolled out of the pits to make his first qualifying attempt in his #19 Atlanta Falcons Foyt powered Eagle.

      Mel's Qualification Report
        Lap 1 - 190.719 mph
        Lap 2 - 189.833 mph
        Lap 3 - 190.114 mph
        Lap 4 - 190.235 mph
        4 Lap Avg. - 190.225

    Mel squeezes by the Salt Walther accident at Indy 1973
    Mel seen squeezing by on the inside of the Salt Walther crash of 1973

    About the only bright thing to come out of the 1973 Indianapolis 500 was Mel's 4th place finish in one of the Speedway's darkest years. All three cars had sponsors with Hopkin's Buick on McCluskey's #3 McLaren, The Atlanta Falcons Football Team on Mel's #19 Eagle (above) and Ary-Way Lloyds on Kunzman's #16 Eagle. Mel qualified the #19 Atlanta Falcons Eagle Turbocharged Offenhauser in the 19th starting spot, the inside of row 7. On a dark and damp Memorial Day the jumbled field took the green flag when a massive pileup happened. Somehow, Salt Walther's #77 McLaren, who started in the row ahead of Mel, launched over a car and into the safety fence along the main straight. The front of Salt's car was sheared off and burning fuel was spewed onto the fans and across the track. The Lord was watching over Mel at that moment, as he was the only driver to get through the Walther accident in the 3 rows surrounding Salt. (Mel is in red car seen in photo below) As the clean up continued on the track the rains came forcing the race to be run the next day. Tuesday morning came and so did the rainy weather as a downpour started as the cars were on the parade lap. On Wednesday May 30th, after hours of track drying, the Indianapolis 500 restarted at 2:10 PM. On lap 57 tragedy returned to the Speedway. Young Swede Savage plowed the inside turn 4 wall with full tanks of fuel and exploded into a deafening ball of fire and debris. Thinking it was Swede's teammate Graham McRae, a young crewman, Armando Tehran, from McRae's team, ran onto pit lane to get a better view of what he thought was his driver's car, when he was struck and killed instantly from behind by a fire truck heading the wrong way on pit road towards turn four. The race was halted in turn three. When the race was restarted it only lasted until lap 133 when rain again came this time ending the 1973 Indy 500. Mel was running in the 4th position when the rain finally halted the race, had the race gone the complete distance, Mel probably would have been so fortunate. When Mel and Don returned to the shop and took the engine apart, they found a broken valve spring. Mel was awarded 600 points and $34,487.00 for his 4th place finish. Swede Savage's teammate, Gordon Johncock, won the marred event. Swede Savage later died from his injuries and Salt Walther was suffering the painful burns Mel himself suffered in 1965.

    This photo available for purchase at Artemis Images.com
    Mel in for a pit stop during the 1973 Indy 500.
    This photograph is part of the Raymond Golub memorial collection.
    This photo and thousands more available for purchase at Artemis Images.

    This photo available for purchase at Artemis Images.com
    The crew pushes Kenyon out of the pits and back into the 1973 Indy 500.
    This photograph is part of the Raymond Golub memorial collection.
    This photo and thousands more available for purchase at Artemis Images.

    July 1, 1973 - The teams headed to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania for the annual running of the 500-mile race on the unique circuit. In the wake of the tragic Indy 500, USAC made safety rule changes including the limiting of onboard fuel capacity to a maximum of 40 gallons, which were only housed in the left side pod. Mel qualified the #19 Atlanta Falcons Eagle Turbocharged Offenhauser in the 33rd and final starting spot. In another race of attrition, Mel's Eagle lasted only 94 laps into the race before the rear end gave out and he exited the race in the 18th finishing spot. Mel won his share of $5,778.00. A.J. Foyt won the race and former teammate Wally Dallenbach replaced Swede Savage in the #40 car.

    July 15, 1973 - Mel qualified in the 13th position at Michigan for the 200-mile race. Mel piloted the #19 Atlanta Falcons Eagle Turbocharged Offenhauser to a top ten finish in the 8th position. Mel picked up 100 championship points along with $2,316.00 in prize money. Lindsey Hopkins teammate Roger McCluskey won the race in his #3 Hopkins Buick McLaren.

    August 12, 1973 - Mel qualified the #19 Atlanta Falcons Eagle Turbocharged Foyt in the 17th spot for the 200 mile race at Milwaukee and scored another top ten by finishing in the 9th position. Mel grabbed another 80 championship points and $1,629.00 that day. Wally Dallenbach took the STP #40 to the winner's circle.

    September 2, 1973 - For the first time, the starting order for the California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway was determined by heat races and timed qualifications. Mel started the 500 on the inside of row 9 in 25th spot. On lap 91, teammate Bentley Warren spun his #16 U.S.A.F. Eagle coming out of the first turn. Mel spun his #19 Atlanta Falcons Eagle Turbocharged Offenhauser to miss Warren and was struck by George Snider. Mel's racer had a wheel ripped off in the collision and was out of the race finishing in the 16th spot. Warren and Snider were able to continue to pit road. Mel was taken to the track hospital for examination and released. Mel was awarded $3,386.00 and Wally Dallenbach drove the STP #40 to his second win in a row. Bentley Warren went on to finish 8th after the spin.

    September 16, 1973 - Mel and the team showed up for the race in Michigan, but unfortunately the engine blew in practice and Mel did not qualify.

    October 6, 1973 - The teams returned to Texas World Speedway where Mel qualified the #19 Atlanta Falcons Eagle Turbocharged Foyt in the 18th starting spot and ended up in 9th by days end. Mel was awarded 80 points and $2,303.00. Gary Bettenhausen won the race.

    1974

    A full roll cage on an Eagle Chassis
    Photo courtesy of Gregg "Grogg" Sauer

    A full roll cage on an Eagle Chassis
    Photo courtesy of Todd Hunter

    May 1974 - After last years tragic race at Indy, many changes were made for this year's event including raising the retaining walls on both the inside and outside of the front straight. The inside wall and pit entrance in turn 4 were completely redesigned for safety sake. Mel brought the same #19 Eagle he drove in 1973, equipped with much smaller wings as per the new safety rules, and landed a sponsor in Ayr-Way. After last years melee, He and Don decided to add a roll cage on the Eagle, (above) but because the cage tumbled the air over the car and made it unstable it was removed and replaced with the conventional roll hoop (below). Due to a nationwide gas crisis qualifying for the 1974 Indy 500 was a one-weekend event, shortened from the tradition 4 days of qualifying. Mel was never able to get the modified Eagle up to speed and was left in the line (with many others) when the gun went off on the final day of qualifying. Bob Harkey had already qualified the backup car, but Mel refused to pull him from the car in favor of himself, instead Mel worked as part of Bob's crew on race day. Harkey brought the #79 Coyote home in the top ten in 8th place. Johnny Rutherford won the race and 1974 was the first time the Indianapolis 500 did not include the name Mel Kenyon in the starting line up since 1965.

    No more roll cage on the Eagle Chassis
    Photo courtesy of Todd Hunter

    September 5, 1974 - Mel entered the #19 Ayr-Way Eagle in the California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway and qualified on the inside of row 11 in the 31st starting spot. Unfortunately Mel's power plant burned a piston after only 8 laps and Mel was the first car out of the race in 33rd position. Mel picked up $2,611.00 and Bobby Unser won the 4th annual CAL 500.

    Magazine Ad
    '74 Indy program ad courtesy of Tom Eidemiller

    1975

    May 1975 - Mel turned down several ride offers for the Indianapolis 500 because A.J. Foyt, who raced one of Mel's midgets with him in New Zealand over the winter, had offered him one of his new Coyote back up cars once A.J. got in the race. After Foyt qualified, he decided to make it a one-car effort.

    1976

    #61 Dave McIntire Special - Eagleote
    Photo courtesy of Gregg "Grogg" Sauer

    #61 Dave McIntire Special
    Photo courtesy of Todd Hunter

    May 1976 - Mel and Don took the old "Coyote" and added McLaren type side radiators and a new style nose (above). Mel took to the track for the first time on May 10th, the third day of practice. The car did okay in practice, but on pole day, Mel crashed on his qualification warm-up lap (below) as he came out of turn 2 high and lost control. Kenyon's car spun backwards sliding 350 feet prior to impacting the outer wall with the left rear. The car continued to slide another 650 feet along the wall before coming to a stop. Mel was taken to the track hospital and released to drive. They made repairs, but the car was never the same and Mel couldn't get it up to speed. Mel's fastest speed after his qualifying incident was 179.140 mph. (bottom). At 5:45 pm on the final day of qualifying, Mel took the #61 out for a last ditch qualification attempt. Mel's first lap was at 179.247 mph and his second lap was slower at 178.324. Mel's crew flagged him in on his third lap as it was obvious he was not fast enough to "bump" into the field. The speed needed to make the race would have had to been faster than 181.114 mph.

    #61 Dave McIntire Special on the hook
    Photo courtesy of Todd Hunter

    The damaged #61 Dave McIntire Special
    Photo courtesy of Todd Hunter

    #61 Dave McIntire Special - Eagleote
    Photo courtesy of Gregg "Grogg" Sauer

    1977

    #88 Boyd Robeson Offy powered Atlanta
    Photo courtesy of Todd Hunter

    May 1977 - Mel attempted to make the 1977 Indy 500 driving the #88 Boyd Robeson Offy powered Atlanta (above & below) but failed to qualify for the race. 1977 marks Mel's final attempt to race in the Memorial Day Classic at Indianapolis. A.J. Foyt became the first man to win the Indianapolis 500 four times in 1977.

    #88 Boyd Robeson Offy powered Atlanta
    Photo courtesy of Todd Hunter

    Mel's Champ Car Summary

    Qualifying:

      Entries: 69
      Qualified: 60
      Qualified %: 87.0%
      Top grid pos: 8
      Poles: 0
      Top 10: 7

    Races:

      Finished: 31
      Finished %: 51.7%
      Accidents: 8
      Accident %: 13.3%
      Top finish: 3

    Results:

      Wins: 0
      Win %: 0.0%
      2nd: 0
      3rd: 4
      Top 10: 28

    Scoring:

      Points: 5505
      Points/race: 79.8
      Winnings: $305,853.00

    Special thanks to Phil Harm at Motorsport.com for their racing archives!


With God You're Always A Winner!
1964 USAC National Midget Champion 1967 USAC National Midget Champion 1968 USAC National Midget Champion 1974 USAC National Midget Champion 1977 USAC National Midget Champion 1981 USAC National Midget Champion 1985 USAC National Midget Champion 1995 NAMARS Midget Champion 1996 NAMARS Midget Champion 1997 NAMARS Midget Champion

#61 - Mel Kenyon: King of the Midgets
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