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APRIL 12, 2002

"Pat " Flaherty

PEOPLE often forget that throughout the 1950s the Indianapolis 500 was a round of the Formula 1 World Championship and so it is fair to say that the death at the age of 76 of George Francis Flaherty, known as Pat, marks the passing of one of the last Grand Prix winners of the 1950s.

Flaherty came from Chicago Irish stock, as the name suggested, and his helmet featured a shamrock. He started out his career in dirt track racing in the Mid West and was nearly 30 before he first raced at Indianapolis in 1955. That year was a traumatic one with the death of the dominant Bill Vukovich as he seemed on his way to a third consecutive 500 victory. The following year Flaherty drove a John Zink Special, one the earliest of the famous Watson roadsters. He was on pole but Jim Rathmann led the way early in the race before a number of serious accidents disrupted the event. Flaherty stayed out of trouble and won the classic event at only his second attempt. Not long after that victory he was seriously injured in a dirt car accident at Springfield and he was out of racing for over two years.

He was back at Indianapolis in 1959 and was one of the four drivers who fought for the victory before technical troubles dropped him back and Rodger Ward was able to beat Rathmann by 23 seconds.

Flaherty faded from the racing scene - a survivor in an era when many of the stars did not get away with it. He died on Tuesday at his home in Oxnard, California.