INDIANAPOLIS — What is believed to be the final link to the treacherous but colorful era of the "riding mechanic" at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been severed with the passing of Joe Kennelly, who died Friday, Sept. 16. He was 97.
There are now no pre-World War II on-track participants still living.
Kennelly, born in Seattle but an Indianapolis resident since childhood, rode in the 1936 Indianapolis 500 with former motorcycle racing standout Johnny Seymour, whose sixth and final "500" start came while driving a car that had several local connections. Owned by driver Shorty Cantlon, an Indianapolis resident at the time, the Miller-powered car was sponsored by Sullivan & O’Brien, a downtown automobile dealership which had been in existence for only three years.
Seymour qualified with an average speed of 113.169 mph (10 laps, 25 miles at the time) but lasted only 13 laps before being eliminated by clutch failure.
Kennelly returned in 1937 and rode a few laps of relief at the mid-point for his colleague Freddie Mangold in a car started by Cantlon, but this was the final year for riding mechanics. The role became optional for the next few years, and not surprisingly, there were no takers.
Kennelly, who attended Butler, San Diego and Purdue Universities, was later hired on at an Allison Engineering plant just south of the Speedway and retired in 1982 after 42 years, having become a superintendent for the Allison Gas Turbine division of General Motors. He returned in 1984 as a consultant and remained as such until 1989.
Viewing will take place at 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 23 followed by a funeral Mass at noon, both at The Church of St. Pius X, 7200 Sarto Drive, Indianapolis.