Known far and wide as “The Clown Prince of Auto Racing,” Allentown, Pennsylvania’s Eddie Sachs (May 28, 1927 – May 30, 1964) often said that if he won the Indianapolis 500 he would immediately retire from racing and shake the hand of every fan as he or she left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Unfortunately for Sachs, that never happened but he truly lived up to his billing and his motto which was: “If you can’t win, be spectacular.”
Although born in Allentown, Sachs was raised in Greensboro, North Carolina, and after his discharge from the U.S. Navy he went to a “Big Car” (Sprint Car) race in Greensboro in 1948 where he met Allentown driver “Dutch” Culp. Impressed by what he saw, Sachs left college to tour a bit with Culp and ended up back in Allentown broke and with no job.
In 1949, Sachs followed the American Automobile Association circuit and eventually got a Midget ride and a few Sprint Car rides, as well. And by the time 1951 arrived he was traveling anywhere and everywhere in an attempt to improve his racing career.
In 1952, the eager Sachs tried to get into the Speedway without credentials and was turned away. When he did get in to the Speedway, he failed his Rookie Test in 1953, 1954 and 1955, but he was doing well in the AAA Midwest Sprint Cars and even got a Championship Car ride or two.
Sachs finally passed his Rookie Test in 1956 and was first alternate for the 500. He continued doing well in the-renamed United States Auto Club Sprint Cars and on July 14, 1956, he won his first USAC Championship race when he drove to victory in a 100-lapper at the old one-mile-dirt Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta, Georgia, in Lee Glessner’s No. 46 Hillegass Offy.
In 1957, Sachs qualified second at Indy in the red and sliver No. 88 Peter Schmidt Offy Roadster. Alas his season was cut short when he was badly injured in an August Midget race at the old 16th Street Speedway across from IMS and he was hospitalized for four months.
The owner of the Eddie Sachs Tavern in Center Valley, Pa., won USAC’s 1958 Midwest Sprint Car title in the No. 25 Bill Cheesman Offy and was fourth in USAC’s Eastern Division. He also led the Indy 500 in Schmidt’s No. 88 and won the Championship races at Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway and the Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis.
In 1959, Sachs was second-fastest at Indy in the No. 44 Schmidt Roadster and he won Championship races on the one-mile dirt at Syracuse, New York, and on the one-mile asphalt at Trenton, New Jersey. He also he finished second in USAC’s Eastern Sprint Cars and fourth in the Midwest Division, and then ended his Sprint Car career in 1960.
The winner of two 1961 200-lap USAC Stock Car races at Milwaukee in No. 3 Zecol-Lubaid Fords, Sachs was second in 1961 Championship points but his goal to win at Indy always seemed to come up short. In 1961, the two-time pole winner (1960-1961) had a comfortable lead over fellow EMPA Hall of Famer A.J. Foyt Jr. with just three laps to go when the right-rear tire on his white No. 12 Dean Van Lines Roadster gave out, he was forced to pit and lost to Foyt.
That second-place finish was as close as Sachs – who won eight races and had 25 Top-5 finishes in 65 AAA & USAC Championship starts – ever got to victory at the Speedway as his colorful career came to a tragic end on Memorial Day 1964.
On the second lap of the 500, Eddie Sachs in his white, gold and red No. 25 American Red Ball rear-engined Ford and rookie Dave McDonald were part of a fiery seven-car crash at the top of the main straightaway. The accident started when McDonald’s rear-engined car hit the inside wall and its 80 gallons of gasoline burst into flame. McDonald’s car then went back across the track and Sachs, with nowhere else to go, hit McDonald and a second explosion resulted. Unfortunately the spectacular fire that resulted cost the lives of the promising rookie and the beloved veteran.