A great mechanical mind died yesterday at the age of 90.
Less than 8 months after George Bignotti passed away, the racing community has lost another of its great mechanical minds.
A.J. Watson, the famed mechanic and car builder whose roadsters dominated the Indianapolis 500 in the mid-late 1950s and early 1960s passed away on May 12th in Indianapolis at 2:30 in the morning. He had turned 90 years old on May 8th.
Watson won the 500 as chief mechanic to Bob Sweikert’s car in 1955. As a constructor, his roadsters won the 500 in 1956, 1959, 1960, and 1962-1964. Watson also built a rear-engined car in 1964 that finished second with Rodger Ward, but never won Indy again after Foyt’s victory in 1964.
His car was the inspiration for several copy-cats, including the Christensen that Jim Hurtubise drove to set the track record with at Indianapolis in 1960.
Watson remained at the 500 for many years, working as chief mechanic for various teams through the years before going to work restoring older race cars.
His cars won numerous races from 1955-1966 along the championship trail with drivers such as Bob Sweikert, Pat Flaherty, Rodger Ward, Jim Rathmann, Parnelli Jones, Len Sutton and Lloyd Ruby, among others.
Watson’s run as a championship winning constructor came to an end with the rise of the mid-engined “funny cars”, but he stayed in racing until the kit car era of the 1970s ended his run as a constructor in name only. He still turned wrenches, but another car of his construction would not win again after the 1966 Golden State 100 with Dick Atkins behind the wheel.
On a personal note, a book was released recently detailing the 1964 roadster he built that won the Indy 500, and I had a chance to have him sign a copy. I’m thankful I saw him and Donald Davidson host a book signing near the pagoda.