INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2000 -- Bob Hurt, one of the most courageous figures in Indianapolis 500 history, died alone in his sleep in a hotel room Sept. 23 in Toronto. Hurt’s death ended his 32-year battle against paralysis that was caused when his neck was broken in a crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway while hoping to qualify for the 1968 Indianapolis 500. He turned 61 on Aug. 20. “It takes somebody like him to do what he did for the last 32 years,” said his brother, Doug Hurt, of Gaithersburg, Md. “He was a tough guy.” What Bob Hurt did was to never accept that he would be a paraplegic for the rest of his life. Over the years, he made trips to Russia and Sweden to undergo radical experimental treatments. He always made himself available and participated in special treatments in the United States. He read volumes of information about spinal cord injuries and was aware of every little breakthrough. He talked to families who had a member placed in his same position. He told them honestly what to expect while at the same time insisting that a cure was on the horizon. Hurt conversed with actor Christopher Reeve after he suffered similar injuries after an equestrian injury. Last winter, he called the family of Indy Racing League driver Sam Schmidt, injured in a testing accident, and provided insight from his perspective. At the time, Hurt was fighting prostate cancer. He had returned to Toronto for care when he died. He stayed in a hotel and took outpatient treatments to save on costs. Born in Champaign, Ill., Hurt was a handsome, blond-headed athlete who was a star high jumper and played on two Illinois high school state championship basketball teams. He turned to auto racing at 19, driving modified stock cars and sports cars. He drove his own Ferrari to victory in the Puerto Rico Grand Prix in 1962 and competed in a Lotus 18 at Sebring, Fla., and Nassau, Bahamas, as well as driving USAC stock cars in 1963. In 1964, Hurt came to the Speedway for the first time and passed his rookie test but did not make an attempt to qualify. It wasn’t until 1967 that he completed a qualifying run at 161.261 mph, but he was bumped from the field. Over the same period he drove in 21 champ-car races, with a best finish of sixth in the Trenton (N.J.) 200 in 1967. In 1968, he was scheduled to drive the Jack Adams-owned turbine at Indy, but wound up in another car. Rain marred practice and qualifying for 23 consecutive days, so an extra qualifying day was added May 27 to fill the field. Hurt was injured in the morning practice period. Hurt was taken to Methodist hospital in Indianapolis where he spent nearly two months before being transferred to the Rusk Center Institute of Rehabilitation in New York City. Hurt may have lost movement in much of his body, but he never lost his heart, his mind or his impish wit. An example of his wit was the story he enjoyed telling about searching for a KGB “bug” in his hotel room in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). He asked his care person to look for something suspicious and she found some bolts extending through the floor under the bed. He gave her a crescent wrench from his wheelchair kit and she removed the nuts only to hear a huge crash of breaking glass below. She had undone the fasteners for the chandelier in the room beneath them. During his long ordeal, he never once blamed racing or lost interest in the sport. He regularly appeared at the Indianapolis 500 and visited with friends. In 1999, he received cancer treatment in Toronto and then was driven to Indy in time for the race. He maintained an up-to-date knowledge of the sport. Only last summer, he talked about wanting to attend the inaugural SAP United States Grand Prix that took place at the Speedway the day after he died. The USAC benevolent fund and many others in racing provided funds for him to survive. Hurt’s survivors include: His brother, Doug; and sisters Ann DeFranceaux of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Linda Andrieux of Paris.
-Indianapolis Motor Speedway-