The mystery of MC Jones' need for speed
For just over a century a 2.5 mile oval of tarmac, bricks and metal has provided one of the world's paramount sporting spectacles. Many a British driver has encountered speed, danger, death and riches at the Indianapolis 500, and 80 years ago a driver from north Wales met his end there.
Or did he?
A cursory glance of the illustrious history of the Indy 500 shows that in 1932 a certain Welsh-born Milton Jones was killed practising for the race when his machine got away from him at high speed on the dangerous southeast turn, ripped through the concrete outer retaining wall and dropped 19 feet to the ground.
Milton Jones' Stutz Model M (photo: Blackhawk Collection, Inc.)
It's been reported that Jones was born in Conwy in August 1894 and after turning to motor racing took part in the 1925 event, retiring with a broken gearbox before meeting his maker in 1932. However, we are looking at two different men, and by digging a bit deeper can discover two Joneses for the price of one.
The story of MC Jones, the man from Conwy, has been morphed with Milton Jones who died 80 years ago. They share the common Welsh surname, but as resident historian Donald Davidson at the Indianapolis Speedway points out, it's a case of history not keeping up with the Joneses.
"MC Jones and Milton Jones, it has often been assumed, is the same person. MC Jones drove in the 1925 race, and his name was Melville. They are two different people," affirms Davidson from his office at the track. "There are those who have assumed it is one and the same and it isn't.
"In 1925 there was a fellow named Harold Skelly. He qualified a 'Skelly Special', which was a Fronty Ford, which means it was basically a dirt track car with a special head developed by Louis Chevrolet and Frontenac, nicknamed a 'Fronty'. As Skelly was deemed not up to the job, MC Jones stepped in, and I think most of his experience was in boat racing."
Digging deeper into the history of the Indy 500 sheds light on a Cardiff-born racer's appearance a century ago.
John Jenkins, a former lightweight boxer, born in 1875, qualified his 'White' car 11th, on the third row of the field for the 1912 race. He finished a fantastic seventh, averaging 80-odd mph and winning over $1,000. It seems Jenkins excelled at hillclimbing and impressed in the extremely deadly world of pre-war auto racing.
According to the authority on all things Indy the Welsh connection doesn't end there.
"There's a mystery bloke by the name of Hughie Hughes. He drove in the 500 in 1911 and 1912. He lost his life in 1915, but back in those days everybody lost their lives," confirms Davidson.
"But Hughes was a Brit, and the mystery about him is that he came over, spoke with an English accent, was very outgoing. In those days we didn't have media guides and PR reps, but apparently he was quite extroverted and they called him Lord Hughie."
The Indy 500 nearly a century ago was quite different from today's. Modern cars run on methanol, powered by 3.5 litre, 650hp, V8 engines bearing a close resemblance to Formula One cars, but accelerating to in excess of 215mph. The dangers of this type of racing were tragically brought home through last year's tragic death of British star and former Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon. In 2012, a thrilling race was won a Brit won by Scottish Indy master Dario Franchitti - his third victory at Indianapolis.
Often forgotten with the domination of rugby and football in the nation's column and web inches is the fact that Wales has produced a number of motorsport's high flyers. Wales' only F1 victor Tom Pryce, regarded by many as a potential champion, paid the ultimate price in 1977 in a freak accident. Pryce's boss Alan Rees from Monmouthshire excelled as a team boss of F1 team Shadow and was integral to the March Engineering outfit alongside Max Mosley.
Similarly, north Wales-born racer, co-driver and entrepreneur David Richards attended Brynhyfryd School in Ruthin, Denbighshire. He has been a pillar of international motor racing and a major figure in the worlds of sportscar racing, F1 and rallying.
Speaking of rallying, Wales' abundance of forestry roads makes it a natural home for sideways racing thrills. The British leg of the World Rally Championship, Wales Rally GB has been hosted there since 2000. Notable rally stars have included world champion co-driver Nicky Grist, and with up and coming stars such as Hywel Lloyd and Alex Jones on the track, the future of Welsh motorsport is ticking over nicely.