INDYCAR Race Winner, Longtime Official Dallenbach Dies at 87 – INDYCAR

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Wally Dallenbach, a respected INDYCAR SERIES race winner as a driver and longtime series official dedicated to racing safety, died April 29. He was 87.
Dallenbach, a native of East Brunswick, New Jersey, made 13 Indianapolis 500 starts between 1967-79. His best finish was fourth, in 1976 and 1977, in the No. 40 Wildcat/DGS owned by Patrick Racing. He qualified in the middle of the front row in 1974 for Patrick, his best “500” start.
Perhaps Dallenbach’s most memorable performance as a driver at Indianapolis came in 1975, again for car owner U.E. “Pat” Patrick. He led four times for a race-high 96 laps, losing the top spot only at pit stops. But Dallenbach was eliminated from the race by a burnt piston while leading on Lap 162, just 12 laps before the race was called due to rain, with Bobby Unser earning his second “500” victory. Dallenbach was credited with ninth place.
Dallenbach recorded five victories, 27 podium finishes and one pole in 180 INDYCAR SERIES starts. His best championship finish was second, behind Roger McCluskey, in 1973 despite not qualifying for the first two races of the season.
The most memorable of Dallenbach’s victories came in the 1973 California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway, the last of his three straight wins that season for Patrick Racing.
Dallenbach started his driving career in drag racing on the East Coast before switching to oval racing in midgets and sprint cars. He made his INDYCAR SERIES debut in 1965 at Langhorne Speedway, with his final start coming in 1979 at Phoenix. He then retired as a driver, but it wasn’t his last appearance in an INDYCAR SERIES car.
In 1981, rain severely curtailed the first weekend of Indianapolis 500 qualifying, and Mario Andretti didn’t get a chance to make an attempt. Andretti had a clashing commitment to race in the Belgian Grand Prix Formula One race during the second qualifying weekend, so Dallenbach briefly exited retirement to put Andretti’s No. 40 STP Oil Treatment Wildcat/Cosworth safely in the field before turning the car back to Andretti for the race.
After his initial retirement, Dallenbach became the first competition director and chief steward of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) in 1980. He served as chief steward until 2004, easily recognized by his trademark cowboy hat and earning respect from all corners of the paddock for his even-handed officiating and humble, personable demeanor.
Dallenbach also made significant contributions to racing safety. He worked with doctors Steve Olvey and Terry Trammell and safety directors Steve Edwards and Lon Bromley to develop a trailblazing safety team including doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians that traveled to all CART races. He also worked with teams and car builders to create improvements in chassis construction, including more energy-absorbing materials.
“Wally Dallenbach made a huge contribution to our sport for five decades as a driver and official,” a joint statement from INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway said. “He was a talented competitor behind the wheel, who always raced hard but clean. That sense of fairness and decency extended to his legendary tenure as chief steward of CART, where he was respected and liked by all for his steady, sensible officiating. Wally’s many contributions to racing safety, especially a traveling medical team, will resonate long into the future. He was one of the true good guys of open-wheel racing, and our thoughts and sympathies are with his family.”
Said two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Gordon Johncock, Dallenbach’s teammate for six seasons at Patrick Racing: “Wally was as good a teammate as you could ever ask for. He took racing seriously. I’ve never met anyone at the track as helpful as Wally. He loved the sport and after he retired spent years helping as chief steward of Championship Auto Racing Teams. He helped the veterans and rookies – everyone. I’ll miss him. He did a lot for the sport over the years. A very good man.”
Motorcycles also were an object of passion for Dallenbach. He moved to a ranch in Basalt, Colorado, after his successful 1973 season – fulfilling a dream spawned during his honeymoon in 1960 in Aspen – and organized the Colorado 500 dirt-bike ride with friend Sherm Cooper in 1976.
By 1981, the invitation-only event grew so big that the Colorado 500 Charity Fund was established, with a road ride added in 1987. The ride has raised more than $1.2 million for scholarship funds, medical centers, teen services, scouting and other charities, including groups that preserve trail-riding areas.
His vast and varied accomplishments were rewarded with enshrinement in multiple Halls of Fame, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Hall of Fame and state sports halls of fame in his native New Jersey and Colorado.
Dallenbach’s wife, Peppy, passed away in 2023. He is survived by three children – two sons, former NASCAR Cup Series driver Wally Jr. and multiple Pikes Peak International Hill Climb winner Paul, and daughter, Colleen.
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