Menu

OPEN-WHEEL STAR MCELREATH PASSES AWAY AT 89

  • Arlington, Texas Native Was Inducted Into Three Motorsports Hall Of Fames, 1962 Indianapolis 500 Rookie Of The Year 

FORT WORTH, Texas (May 18, 2017) – Hall of Fame open-wheel driver Jim McElreath passed away peacefully in his sleep Thursday at his home in Arlington, Texas, at the age of 89. 

McElreath’s Hall of Fame career spanned across three decades (1961-83) and was highlighted by 15 starts in the Indianapolis 500, including a career-best, third-place finish in 1966. 

McElreath began his rise in racing in 1945 as a 17-year-old youngster running modified stock cars at the renowned Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Mesquite, Texas. His open-wheel career began in 1961 with USAC, where he made 170 career starts, and he competed in his first Indianapolis 500 a year later, finishing sixth. That performance earned him the honor of Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year. He would go on to record three top-five and six top-10 finishes in those 15 Indy 500 starts. 

Through his illustrious 23-year career, McElreath competed in 183 open-wheel events and posted five victories, 48 top-five finishes and 22 podiums along with four poles. Those wins included the inaugural California 500 at Ontario, Calif., in 1970 driving A.J. Foyt's team car. He also had a pair of top-three finishes in the USAC national championship and also excelled in dirt cars. The versatile star also made four starts in the NASCAR Cup Series. Upon officially retiring from racing in 1984, McElreath worked on restoring vintage open-wheel race cars. 

McElreath’s career was honored by induction into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2002, Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2007 and most recently the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 2014. 

“Jim was an instrumental part to the deep Texas heritage of Indy-car racing that included the likes of A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Jim Hall, Lloyd Ruby, Bobby Hillin Sr., and Andy Granatelli, among others,” Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage said. “When we opened the speedway, I had the opportunity to become friends with Jim and his wife Shirley, two wonderful people. He will be missed by the motorsports community and our thoughts and prayers go out to Shirley along with all of their family and friends.” 

McElreath is survived by his wife, Shirley; daughter, Vicky Thornton; granddaughters Bryn and Taryn Bettenhausen; and great granddaughter, Kendyl Bettenhausen. He is preceded in death by his son James Jr. in October 1977 and daughter Shirley Anne McElreath Bettenhausen in February 2000. Funeral arrangements are currently being made for the Moore Funeral Home, 1219 N. Davis Dr., Arlington and will be announced when finalized. 

In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to Speedway Children’s Charities Texas in honor of McElreath. Checks can be sent to Speedway Children’s Charities Texas, 3545 Lone Star Circle, Fort Worth, TX 76177.

About the author

The Texas Motor Speedway Media Relations Department is located on the 6th floor of The Speedway Club outside of Turn 1 of the speedway. 

comments powered by Disqus

Race Weekend Schedule

Event Calendar

The official AAA Texas 500 race weekend schedule maintained and updated by Texas Motor Speedway.

Driving Directions

Google Maps

Texas Motor Speedway
3545 Lone Star Cir

Fort Worth, TX 76177

Facility Map

Facility Map

Refer to our facility map to help you get around Texas Motor Speedway.

AAA Texas 500 Weekend 4-Pack

Access to ALL Races at Texas Motor Speedway, November 2 - 5, 2017!

This package allows you to enjoy four days of racing starting at $109* for adults and $10* for kids per seat!

*Some seats require a purchase of a Personal Seat License