The words of Sid Collins, track radio announcer at Indianapolis, spoken live on air following the death of Eddie Sachs, the Clown Prince of Auto Racing, on the second lap of the Indy 500, 30 May 1964, have rightly gone down in legend, and a transcript appears below.
For those unaware of the circumstances, the ’64 Indy 500 saw the battle really joined between the traditional roadsters and the rear engine cars. Lotus and Jim Clark were back, and several of the cars were rear engine, including those of rookie Dave MacDonald and veteran Eddie Sachs.
MacDonald was fast establishing himself in the sports car field with the Shelby team and came to Indy on the back of a couple of good wins with the King Cobra. His Mickey Thompson built All State Special featured smaller wheels and full width bodywork, but was apparently somewhat evil in the handling department, especially on full tanks. With around 100 gallons of gasoline on board MacDonald made around 5 places on the first lap, but lost control in turn 4 on the second lap. The car speared off towards the infield, hit the wall and the left side tanks burst and exploded. The car rebounded up and across the track into the outside wall.
Eddie Sachs followed conventional wisdom and aimed for the spot where the gap ought to have been, but, blinded by the wall of smoke and flame slammed into the right side of MacDonald’s car causing a second major explosion. His injuries probably killed him outright, but would certainly have rendered him unconscious and he would have quickly suffocated as the inferno consumed the oxygen around him. MacDonald was pulled from the wreckage alive, but the burns to his body and lungs saw him die shortly afterwards.
As the cleanup was completed to allow a restart, the public address announced that MacDonald and Sachs had perished. These were Collins words, as broadcast over the radio to the listening public:
“You heard the announcement from the public address system. There’s not a sound. Men are taking off their hats. People are weeping. There are over 300,000 fans here not moving. Disbelieving.
Some men try to conquer life in a number of ways. These days of our outer space attempts some men try to conquer the universe. Race drivers are courageous men who try to conquer life and death and they calculate their risks. And with talking with them over the years I think we know their inner thoughts in regards to racing. They take it as part of living.
A race driver who leaves this earth mentally when he straps himself into the cockpit to try what for him is the biggest conquest he can make (are) aware of the odds and Eddie Sachs played the odds. He was serious and frivolous. He was fun. He was a wonderful gentleman. He took much needling and he gave much needling. Just as the astronauts do perhaps.
These boys on the race track ask no quarter and they give none. If they succeed they’re a hero and if they fail, they tried. And it was Eddie’s desire and will to try with everything he had, which he always did. So the only healthy way perhaps we can approach the tragedy of the loss of a friend like Eddie Sachs is to know that he would have wanted us to face it as he did. As as it has happened, not as we wish it would have happened. It is God’s will I’m sure and we must accept that.
We are all speeding toward death at the rate of 60 minutes every hour, the only difference is we don’t know how to speed faster and Eddie Sachs did. So since death has a thousand or more doors, Eddie Sachs exits this earth in a race car. Knowing Eddie I assume that’s the way he would have wanted it. Byron said “who the God’s love die young.”
Eddie was 37. To his widow Nancy we extend our extreme sympathy and regret. And to his two children. This boy won the pole here in 1961 and 1962. He was a proud race driver. Well, as we do at Indianapolis and in racing, as the World Champion Jimmy Clark I’m sure would agree as he’s raced all over the world, the race continues. Unfortunately today without Eddie Sachs. And we’ll be restarting it in just a few moments.”
This is one of the truly great pieces of broadcasting from a time when use of words and language still meant something.