When I wrote a column just prior to this year’s Indianapolis 500 about Canadian-born drivers who’d made the field for the soon-to-be 100-years-old event, it focused on Hal Robson who was the fourth Canadian (and first from Toronto) to compete in the world’s most famous race.
At the time, I waffled a bit as to the exact number because – well, you never know. The Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame made a pretty big mistake in 1993 when it inducted Billy Foster as the first Canadian to make the field at Indy because it subsequently turned out that he was the fifth.
Well, the news today is that he might actually be the sixth.
After Foster was inducted (and I have to ‘fess up to the fact that I was the one who promoted his induction as Canada’s first Indy 500 driver), it was discovered that there had been several before him.
So far as is known, Pete Henderson of Fernie, B.C., (he was born in Ontario, went west as a child with his family and got into racing while a student at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa) was the first Canadian-born driver to make the field at Indy and that was in 1916.
Next came Ira Vail, who was born in Montreal. He raced at Indy in 1917 and might even be the first Canadian-born driver to win an Indy-car race, but that’s a debate for another day.
Third (again, so far as we know) was John Duff, who was born in China of Canadian parents from Hamilton. He won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1924 (who says Canadians can’t motor, eh?) and ran at Indy in 1926, where he qualified 28th (and last) but kept it on the island and finished ninth.
But wait! It turns out there was another Canadian-born driver in that 1926 race. Or so it’s believed.
Ronald G. (Bon) MacDougall, who was born on Aug. 4, 1901 in Vancouver (although there are some who maintain he was born in Winnipeg), qualified ninth but only ran 19 laps before being sidelined by a water leak and officially finished 26th.
Terry Cumming of Newmarket, who’s researching MacDougall’s career, reports that a newspaper once described him as "Canadian Dirt Track Champion." In an email, Cumming wrote:
"He also promoted races and drove and ran a car for awhile at the famous Legion Ascot Speedway in the Los Angeles area. He also promoted, raced or ran a car at other tracks like San Jose, Altoona, Atlanta and Abilene, Texas."
Thanks for the information, Terry.
If it works out that Bon MacDougall is, in fact, Canadian-born, the number of Canadians (according to my figures) to have driven in the Indianapolis 500 will increase to 18:
Pete Henderson, Ira Vail, John Duff, Bon MacDougall, Hal Robson, Billy Foster, Eldon Rasmussen, Cliff Hucul, Jacques Villeneuve Sr., John Jones, Ludwig Heimrath Jr., Scott Goodyear, Claude Bourbonnais, Jacques Villeneuve, Paul Tracy, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani and Marty Roth.