Mauri Rose (May 26, 1906 – January 1, 1981) didn’t look anything like a racing car driver. Small in stature, he wore a bushy moustache, was rather quiet and smoked a pipe.
However, the three-time (1941 & 1947-1948) Indianapolis 500 winner always knew the capabilities of his car and when the checkered flag was in the air he was sure to be one of the racers who would make an all-out run for it.
The Columbus, Ohio-born Rose began racing on July 4, 1927, at the old half-mile board track in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, and he quickly moved up in the ranks of open-wheel racing.
Rose made his first start at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1933 when he drove a two-man Studebaker all the way up to fourth place before his car’s engine failed on lap 125. Then in 1934 he finished second in his two-man No. 9 Leon Duray Miller to “Wild Bill” Cummings by just 27 seconds – the then-closest finish in the annual Memorial Day race.
He then upped his stock in trade when he won the 1936 American Automobile Association’s National Driving Championship and he continued to be a favorite at Indianapolis due to the fact that he was usually a top-10 qualifier.
Things really got going for the cool and calculating race-car driver – who wore an unusual brimless racing helmet once that kind of protective headgear was required – when he began his long association with car owner Lou Moore.
Assigned to the orange and blue No. 3 Elgin Piston Pin Special supercharged Maserati, Rose started the 1941 Indianapolis 500 from the pole but dropped out of the race with ignition problems after 60 laps. Then, when the sidelined driver threatened to find a relief ride with another team, Moore called Floyd Davis off the track and put Rose in the seat of the red and light blue No. 16 Noc-Out Hose Clamp Offy.
In a stirring drive, Rose went from 14th place to take the lead at 425 miles and he was never challenged. He and Davis were recognized as co-winners of 1941’s Indianapolis 500.
After World War II, Rose’s 1946 Indy 500 was cut short in the No. 8 Blue Crown Spark Plug Special when his car’s steering broke and he wrecked in the third turn. But in 1947, he was a central character – along with his 39-year-old rookie teammate, Bill Holland – in one of the most controversial Indianapolis 500s in history.
Holland had a comfortable two-mile lead in his front-wheel-drive No. 16 Blue Crown Special as the race entered its last 100 miles. But when Moore gave his drivers the “E-Z” signal from the pits, Holland – who thought his second-placed teammate was running a lap behind in his No. 29 – waved Rose around. Rose then drove on to his second 500 victory and Holland was more than a little upset at the unexpected outcome.
In 1948, the Rose-Holland 1-2 finish was repeated, although this time there was no cloud over it as Rose drove a steady race and took the lead when Duke Nalon’s supercharged front-drive No. 54 Novi fell off the pace due to an unscheduled pit stop near the end of the race.
Rose – who finished third at Indy in 1950 in Howard Keck’s blue and gold No. 31 front-drive Offy – last raced at the Speedway in 1951 where he finished 14th after a wheel on his No. 16 yellow and blue front-drive Pennzoil Offy collapsed in the third turn.
Soon after that, Mauri Rose – who competed in 15 consecutive Indianapolis 500s (1933-1951) – retired from racing to work full-time as an engineer at General Motors where he helped Chevrolet to establish its presence in both Hot Rodding and Stock Car racing.
While his racing career was filled with success, he considered his most important accomplishment his invention of a device that allowed amputees to drive an automobile.