Jim Rathmann (1928-2011) was an American racing driver whose greatest success was a victory at Indianapolis 500 in 1960. Prior to that victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he was a runner-up at Indy 500 three times in 1952, 1957 and 1959. One more notable victory in his career was in the Race of Two Worlds, also known as Monzapolis, in 1958.
Rathmann brothers switched their names
Jim was a younger brother of Dick Rathman (born in 1924). It's interesting that Jim's real name was Royal Richard while his brother was born as James. 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. Jim Rathmann was more successful in open-wheel racing while Dick Rathmann was more successful in stock car racing, scoring 13 NASCAR wins.
Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR debut in 1949
After that name-changing episode early in a career, Jim Rathmann recorded 38 starts in the North American premier open-wheel championships, sanctioned by AAA or USAC, between 1949 and 1963, scoring three wins and seven podiums. He also recorded three starts in NASCAR between 1949 and 1951 but without any success.
Jim made his Indianapolis 500 debut in May 1949, driving the #68 Wetteroth-Offenhauser for John Lorenz and finishing in the eleventh place. In the same year, he made a debut in the NASCAR Strictly Stock Series at Langhorne, finishing 32nd.
In 1950, Jim raced again at Indianapolis with the same car, finishing 24th. In his only NASCAR start in 1950, at Daytona Beach, he finished 12th in a Lincoln. Jim last NASCAR race was in August 1951 at Detroit, where he finished 52nd.
First Indianapolis 500 podium in 1952
From 1952, Jim Rathman raced in open-wheel competitions only, expanding his AAA National Championship schedule to five races. The highlight of the season was his second place at Indianapolis 500 in the #59 Grancor Auto Kurtis Kraft-Offy. The race winner was Troy Ruttman.
In the following three years, from 1953 to 1955, Rathmann recorded just five starts in the AAA National Championship, including three attempts at Indianapolis 500. His best result was the seventh place at 1953 Indianapolis 500.
Maiden Champ Car victory at Milwaukee Mile in 1957
Jim Rathmann expanded his racing commitments again in 1956, recording seven starts in one season. He started from the front row at Indianapolis 500 but finished 20th. His best result was the third place at DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.
In 1957, Rathmann started in six USAC Champ Car races and scored his maiden victory in August at Milwaukee Mile, driving the #26 Epperly-Offenhauser for Lindsey Hopkins. Earlier that year, he finished second at Indianapolis 500 in the same car, behind Sam Hanks. At the end of the season, Rathmann was second in the championship, behind Jimmy Bryan.
Jim Rathmann at Monza in 1958
Victory in the Race of Two Worlds in 1958
In 1958, Rathmann recorded three starts in the USAC National Championship, also participating in the USAC Stock Car Series and USAC Road Racing Championship, but the highlight of the season was his victory on the other side of the world, at famous Monza circuit.
He was representing the US in the Race of Two World, also known as Monzapolis or 500 Miles of Monza, driving the #5 John Zink Leader Card Special Watson-Offenhauser. The event featured three 63-lap heats and Rathmann won all three races.
Second Champ Car victory at Daytona in 1959
In 1959, Rathmann recorded four starts in the USAC Champ Car Series, driving for Lindsey Hopkins. He won the season-opening Daytona 100 in April, defeating Rodger Ward. Next month, Jim Rathmann scored his third podium at Indianapolis 500, finishing second behind Rodger Ward.
In the rest of the season, Rathmann was fourth at Trenton and fourth at Milwaukee Mile, finishing also fourth in the championship standings.
Jim Rathmann with his team after his victory at Indianapolis 500
Victory at 1960 Indianapolis 500
In 1960, Jim Rathmann finally won Indianapolis 500, in his eleventh attempt. Driving the #4 Ken-Paul Watson-Offenhauser, he started from the second place and led for 100 laps before taking the win.
He fought for the victory against Rodger Ward, changing the lead 29 times, what was the record which stood until 2012. Both drivers struggled with tires but Rathmann was more successful at the end and crossed the finish line 12.75 seconds ahead of Ward.
In other races that year, Rathmann retired both at Trenton and Milwaukee Mile.
Three more starts at Indianapolis 500 before retirement
After his victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Rathmann participated three more times in the greatest American race. He retired in 1961 and 1963, reaching the finish only in 1962 when he was ninth with Smokey Yunick's #44 Watson-Offy.
After retiring from racing, Jim Rathmann owned a Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership in Melbourne, Florida. After retiring from car business, he lived in Florida until his death in 2011. He was a regular visitor of Indianapolis 500, even driving a pace car several times. In 2007, he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
The victory at 1960 Indianapolis 500 was the greatest moment in Jim Rathmann's career