The 42nd International 500-Mile Sweepstakes was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, May 30, 1958. The event was part of the 1958 USAC National Championship Trail, and was included in the 1958 World Drivers Championship.
The race is best known for a massive first-lap, 15-car pileup that resulted in the death of fan-favorite driver Pat O'Connor.
Jimmy Bryan was the race winner. The race featured young rookie A. J. Foyt's debut at Indy. On lap 148, he spun in an oil slick, blew out the tires, and dropped out of the race. This marked the first time that one car would carry two drivers to separate wins at the race, in back-to-back years, with Sam Hanks winning the previous year's race in the same car.
Juan Manuel Fangio arrived at Indy under much fanfare as he attempted to qualify for the 500 and score points towards the World Championship. He practiced early in the month, but withdrew when he could not get up to speed.
Time trials were scheduled for four days.Saturday May 17 – Pole Day time trials
Ed Elisian set a new one-lap track record of 146.508 mph to sit tentatively on the pole position. His four-lap average stood at 145.926 mph. Later in the day, Dick Rathmann qualified at 145.974 mph to win the pole position. Rathmann was not able to beat Elisian's single-lap record, but his four-lap record eclipsed Elisian overall by a mere 0.08 seconds.
Sunday May 18 – Second day time trials
Saturday May 24 – Third day time trials
Sunday May 25 – Fourth day time trials
For the second year in a row, the starting grid was assembled single-file in the pit lane. The cars were instructed to pull away and assemble into the official eleven rows of three after they entered the racing surface. Confusion occurred on the pace lap, however, as the three drivers of the front row (Dick Rathmann, Ed Elisian, and Jimmy Reece) pulled away, and inadvertently escaped the pace car. The three cars were alone, and rather than wait for the grid to catch up, they rushed around to catch up to the back of the field. Sam Hanks pulled the pace car off the track and into the pits, but chief starter Bill Vanderwater displayed the yellow flag to wave off the start. An extra pace lap was allowed, and the front row re-took their position at the front of the pack. By the time Hanks was ready to pull the pace car back out on the track, the field had re-formed, and Vanderwater gave them the green flag.
At the start, Dick Rathmann took the lead in turn 1, Ed Elisian was second, and Jimmy Reece third. As the cars went down the backstretch, they battled into turn three. Elisian spun, and triggered a huge 15-car pileup. Several cars spun to the wall and into the infield . Jerry Unser touched wheels with Paul Goldsmith, and flipped over the outside wall. Unser suffered a dislocated shoulder.
According to A. J. Foyt, Pat O'Connor's car hit Reece's car, sailed fifty feet in the air, landed upside down, and burst into flames. Although O'Connor was incinerated in the accident, medical officials said that he was probably killed instantly from a fractured skull.
Widely blamed for the accident, Elisian was suspended by USAC for the accident (reinstated a few days later), and was shunned by many in the racing community.
Following the accident, race officials announced that they would change the starting procedure, abandoning the single-file trip down pit lane that was used in 1957 and 1958. Also, for the 1959 Indy 500, metal roll bars welded to the frame behind the driver's head were mandated, and helmets were required to pass safety certification by Speedway medical officials.
Jimmy Bryan escaped the opening lap crash, and came around to lead the first lap. Eddie Sachs and Tony Bettenhausen also got by unscathed, running second and third. Due to the crash, the yellow light stayed on for the first 25 minutes (18 laps).
When the green flag conditions came out, Bryan, Sachs, Bettenhausen, and George Amick all traded time in the lead. There were 14 lead changes in the first half.
The second yellow came out on lap 38 when Chuck Weyant crashed in turn 4.
Eddie Sachs, a contender in the first quarter of the race, dropped out on lap 68 with transmission trouble.
The second half of the race settled down to a battle between Jimmy Bryan and Johnny Boyd, with George Amick also in contention. However, Boyd lost the lead during a pit stop on lap 126. Bryan's team had fast pit stops (three stops for 1 minute and 31 seconds), which allowed him to hold the lead.
Rookie A. J. Foyt spun out on lap 149.
Bryan led the final 75 laps (139 total) en route to victory. Bryan was victorious in the same car in which Sam Hanks won the 500 a year earlier. Amick, a rookie, stayed within striking distance of Bryan for the last part of the race, but Amick's crew chief, George Salih, decided to accept a safe second-place rather than risk pushing his rookie driver into a mistake.
During the race as the news of Pat O'Connor's death spread around the track, the mood among the spectators became somber and glum. Reportedly, some in attendance left the grounds upon hearing the news of the fatality, some never to return.First alternate: Gene Hartley (#24)
The race was carried live on the IMS Radio Network. Sid Collins served as chief announcer. The broadcast featured the debut of Lou Palmer, who reported from the normally quiet and remote third turn. However, on the opening lap, Palmer was quickly thrust into duty, as his first words on the network were to describe the massive 15-car pileup and fatal accident of Pat O'Connor.
Among the guests that visited the booth was Pete DePaolo.Notes: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings. Also, points scored in the 500 did not count towards the F1 constructors championship.