Legendary racer and Indianapolis 500 winner Jim Rathmann passed away after a very short stay in hospice care. Rathmann died last late in the evening yesterday in a hospice in Melbourne, Florida. The 83 year old Rathmann had suffered a seizure at his home nine days ago.
Inducted into Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2007, he was mainly remembered for winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1960. Rathmann was already well established at Indy prior to his winning the great race. He was runner up at Indy three times (1950, 1957 and 1959) before his legendary duel with defending champion Rodger Ward in the 1960 Indianapolis 500.
After his racing days, Rathmann owned a Chevrolet dealership in Melbourne, Florida, where he became a friend of many NASA astronauts. Rathmann convinced GM President Ed Cole to set up a program that awarded the Astronauts a pair of new Chevrolets each year. The Astronaut’s Corvettes are highly sought after collector cars now.
The racer served as the Indy 500 pace car driver six times and made the trip each year to meet with fellow racers Roger Ward, Lloyd Ruby, Parnelli Jones and others. Rathmann had been in failing health the past few years and was unable to make his annual trip to Indianapolis for the running of the 500 mile sweepstakes. His last appearance at Indy was in February in 2009 for the Centennial Era Gala, where he was the oldest and earliest Indianapolis 500 winner in attendance.
Rathmann is survived by wife Kay, sons Jimmy and Jay, stepsons Zack and Tosh Pence, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
In lieu of flowers the family requests donations be made to: William Childs Hospice House, 381 Medplex Parkway, Palm Bay, FL 32907.