GREG WELD, 64
Richard Gregory "Greg" Weld, USAC's National Sprint Car champion of 1967, a participant in the 1970 Indianapolis 500, and the man who founded the hugely successful Weld Wheels, has died unexpectedly in Kansas City. He was 64.
The barrel-chested and always-cheerful Weld was only 21 when he burst on the USAC scene in 1965. He almost won the sprint title the first year, leading in points for a good portion of the season and losing out in the final race by the narrowest of margins to then-rising star Johnny Rutherford.
Weld had passed his "rookie" test at Indianapolis that very first year, but in spite of coming close several times, his only "500" start came in 1970 when he was teammate to the late Art Pollard on a Grant King entry. His car lasted only 12 laps.
As an ominous footnote in "500" history, the Granatelli-entered turbine in which England's Mike Spence lost his life during practice in 1968 was actually assigned to Weld. Spence had taken it out for an unannounced "test hop," ironically with Greg's wife witnessing the accident in turn one and believing the driver to be her husband.
A further "500" footnote is that Greg was the last person ever to drive a Novi at Indianapolis, a minor wall contact after two incomplete qualifying attempts coming on the final day of time trials in 1966.
By the time he won the 1967 USAC Sprint title at the age of 23, Weld had already entered the business world by creating, in a small garage along with his father, the beginnings of Weld Wheels.
In 1969, the next to last year in which the USAC National Championship circuit was to include selected 100-mile dirt track races, Weld drove an experimental Plymouth-powered car to four straight poles at Springfield, Du Quoin, the Hoosier 100 and Sacramento.
With his thriving business taking up more and more of his time, he closed out his driving career (at age 30) with a 4th-place finish in the 1974 USAC Silver Crown series. His final USAC sprint car appearance (he won 21 career features) came two nights before the 1974 "500," the occasion on which A. J. Foyt famously won both ends of a twin 50-mile classic on the mile dirt at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Finishing a close second to Foyt in the "nightcap" was Greg Weld.
Greg had few peers on a dirt track, his spectacular broad sliding through a turn being something to behold. A fond lingering memory is of the mutual admiration society between Greg and the legendary Jud Larson, who was twice Greg's age. Shortly before Jud lost his life in a sprinter in 1966, they sat next to each other one night in the old White Front bar on West 16th Street, both dressed in blazers and ties, and sharing stories, Jud nursing a mixed drink, Greg sipping on a Coke.
Tentative arrangements call for services to be held at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, August 8th at the Kansas City Baptist Temple.