- January 06, 1924
- February 01, 2000
- United States
- Not Active
Dick Rathmann (1924-2000) was an American racing driver who was active between 1949 and 1964 in the Champ Car Series and NASCAR Grand National. He was more successful in stock car racing, recording 129 NASCAR starts and 13 wins, with third place in 1953 as his best season result. In the open-wheel racing, he recorded 41 starts in the AAA/USAC Champ Car Series, not scoring wins.
Dick was the elder brother of 1960 Indianapolis 500 winner Jim Rathmann. It's interesting that Dick's real name was James while his brother was born as Richard in 1928. In 1946, brothers switched names when 18-year-old Richard borrowed his older brother's ID to enter races. That switch became permanent and Richard adopted the name Jim while his older brother James was using the name Dick for the rest of his career and life.
Champ Car debut in 1949, Indianapolis 500 debut in 1950
Born in January 1924 in Los Angeles, California, Dick Rathmann made his AAA Champ Car Series debut in 1949, driving the #91 car for Connie Weidell at Sacramento. He retired after 13 laps.
In May 1950, Rathmann made an Indianapolis 500 debut with famous car builder A.J. Watson, driving the #45 Watson-Offenhauser for 25 laps before retiring. Later in the season, Rathmann made two more Champ Car starts in the #45 car, finishing sixth at Milwaukee Mile and not finishing the race at Langhorne Speedway.
Switching to NASCAR Grand National in 1951
In 1951, Dick Rathmann decided to change racing discipline, entering the NASCAR Grand National championship. In his first race, at Gardena's Carrell Speedway, he was driving the #12 Ford for Warren Fraser.
Later in the season, he made fourteen starts with Walt Chapman's Hudsons (#21, #120 and #121), finishing second in three races (Dayton, Grand Rapids, Bainbridge) and scoring one pole position (Oakland).
Five NASCAR wins in 1952
In 1952, Rathmann participated in 27 Grand National races, mostly driving for Walt Chapman. His first win came in April at Martinsville Speedway in the #120 Hudson Hornet. In May, Rathmann scored three consecutive wins at Langhorne, Darlington and Dayton.
The fifth victory came again at Dayton Speedway in September. With five wins and fourteen Top Fives, Rathmann finished fifth in the points at the end of the season.
Five wins and third championship place in 1953
In 1953, Rathmann expanded his schedule to thirty-five Grand National races in the #120 Hudson, winning five times and scoring twenty-one finish among the Top 5. He waited for the first win until the seventh round at Macon's Central City Speedway.
Racing in NASCAR until 1955
Rathmann spent two more seasons in NASCAR Grand National Series. In 1954, he was a race winner three times in the #3 Hudson Hornet, at Oakland, North Wilkesboro and Willow Springs. In total, he participated in 32 races in 1954, finishing fourth in the championship.
Rathmann's last NASCAR season was 1955 when he made starts in twenty races, mostly driving the #3 Hudson for John Ditz. He was on a pole three times but scored no wins.
Return to Champ Car Series in 1956
In 1956, Dick Rathmann left stock car racing and returned to AAA Champ Car Series, participating in six races, including Indianapolis 500. At Indianapolis, he was driving the #73 Kurtis-Offy for Lee Elkins, finishing in the fifth place. That remained his career-best result at Indianapolis 500.
In 1957, Rathmann participated in three USAC Champ Car Series races, driving the #43 Russo-Nichels-Offy for Harry Allen Chapman. He also qualified for the Indianapolis 500 but he didn't start the race because he was a victim of a robbery the night before the race.
Pole position and first-lap crash at 1958 Indianapolis 500
In 1958, Rathmann made three Champ Car starts with two different cars for Lee Elkins. He was in a pole position for the Indianapolis 500, where he was driving the #97 Watson-Offy. On the first lap, Rathmann and fellow front-row starter Ed Elisian initiated 15-car crash in which Pat O'Connor lost his life. With that accident, Rathmann became the first ever pole-sitter at Indianapolis 500 to not complete a single lap.
In 1959, Rathman participated in six races and scored one more pole, being the fastest qualifier for Daytona 100 race. He finished fifth, the winner was his brother Jim. At 1959 Indianapolis 500, Dick Rathmann stopped after 150 laps due to pit fire.
1960 Indianapolis victory for Dick's brother
In 1960, Dick Rathmann participated in five Champ Car races with two different cars. At Indianapolis 500, he was driving the #97 Watson-Offy for Jim Robbins, retiring after 42 laps. The race winner was his brother Jim.
In 1961, Dick expanded his Champ car schedule to eight races with six different cars. He was 13th at Indianapolis 500 and scored pole position at Milwaukee Mile, what was his last Champ Car pole.
In the following three seasons, Rathmann recorded six more starts, including three attempts at Indianapolis 500, all three driving for Harry Allen Chapman. His best result in those three races was the seventh place in 1964, what was his last race in a career.
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