Former IndyCar racer and CART chief steward Wally Dallenbach passes away

Wally Dallenbach Competing In The 1979 Indianapolis 500

Wally Dallenbach Competing In The 1979 Indianapolis 500

MOORESVILLE, North Carolina – A versatile race driver in a career that included IndyCar and the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, who went on to become one of the most respected chief stewards in CART history, Wally Dallenbach passed away on Monday, April 29. The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Association and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway confirmed his passing.

He was 87 years old.

“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.”

Dallenbach made 181 IndyCar starts over a 15-year period with five victories. He finished second in the United States Auto Club Champ Car standings in 1973 when that was the IndyCar sanctioning body. He made his first IndyCar start in 1965 and his first Indianapolis 500 start in 1967.

That was one of his 13 Indianapolis 500 starts. His best finish was fourth in 1976 and 1977, driving for Patrick Racing, where he was teammates with two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Gordon Johncock.

The 1973 and 1982 Indianapolis 500 winner spoke from his house in South Branch, Michigan, on Monday about Dallenbach. The two were teammates from 1973-77 and 1979 – six years total.

“Wally (Dallenbach) was as good a teammate as you could ever ask for,” Johncock said. “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 (CART), he helped the veterans and rookies — everyone.

“As a driver he was very safe behind the wheel and never took risks. You never had to worry about running wheel-to-wheel with him, Wally would never wreck you.

“There are a handful of very, very talented drivers that never won Indianapolis, winning Indy takes lots of luck, too, and Wally should have won — he led almost 100 laps (96) in 1975 and broke just before the rains came. He was on the front row at Indy and won at California — he was very talented and smart.

“I’ll miss him. He did a lot for the sport over the years.

“A very good man.”

Dallenbach was the father of former CART and NASCAR Cup Series driver Wally Dallenbach, Jr., who was an IndyCar analyst for races on the old NBC Sports Network and prior to that Versus telecasts of IndyCar.

Another son, Paul, is a multi-time Pikes Peak Hill Climb winner.

1978 Indianapolis 500 - Wally Dallenbach1978 Indianapolis 500 - Wally Dallenbach

1978 Indianapolis 500 – Wally Dallenbach

After an impressive racing career, Dallenbach was able to rule the CART Series with fairness and firmness, as the chief steward. It’s an often-thankless position, but Dallenbach earned the respect of the competitors.

He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb Hall of Fame, the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, and the New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame.

In addition to his 167 IndyCar starts in USAC and his 14 starts in CART, Dallenbach competed in four NASCAR Cup Series races over three years, including two in 1962, both at Daytona. He was sixth in the second 40-lap twin qualifying race and 37th in the Daytona 500, driving for car owner Don House.

He finished 13th at Old Bridge Stadium in Old Bridge, New Jersey, in 1964 and 29th in the 1974 National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway 11 years later.

The Indianapolis 500 was a track Dallenbach loved. He led 96 laps in the 1975 Indianapolis 500 before piston failure put him out of the race after 165 laps. That was 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. He led three laps in 1976 on his way to a fourth-place finish.

He started second and led the first two laps of the 1974 Indianapolis 500, but a burned piston put him out of the race after completing the second lap.

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.

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.

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.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500

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