Elbert Stapp

26/2/1904 - 17/9/1980

Record updated 26-Feb-07

Babe Stapp was a big-name Indy driver in the 1930s. In all he competed 12 times in the '500'. His best result was 5th place in 1939 with an Alfa Romeo.

Elbert Stapp
Babe Stapp was a big-name Indy driver in the 1930s. In all he competed 12 times in the '500'. His best result was 5th place in 1939 with an Alfa Romeo.

Born in San Antonio, Texas he first drove in the Indy 500 in 1927 driving a Duesenberg. The following year he qualified in 5th driving a Miller and crossed the line in 6th place having actually led the race for 17 laps.

After qualifying 4th in the Spindler Miller in 1929 a universal joint broke in the race putting him out. He was involved in a crash in 1930 when Fred Roberts, who was driving relief for Peter De Palo, one of the favorites that year, lost control and collided with Marion Trexler. Four other cars were caught up in the accident, including Stapp. Fortunatley he was not injured.

Another good effort in qualifying in 1931 saw him in 6th spot on the grid with the Rigling & Henning. He went out of the race after just 9 laps with an oil leak.

1933 could well have been his biggest dissapointment. New rules had been brought in that limited the amout of fuel that could be carried to just 15 gallons. He had taken the lead in the Boyle Products Special after about 150 miles and was still in front as the race passed the 300 mile mark, hoping to increase it by delaying stopping to refuel, he unfortunately came to a halt when his tank ran dry on lap 156, half-mile from the pits.

He failed to finish the Indy 500 in 1935 and 1936 when he had qualified his Pirrung Shaw/Offy in second spot at 118.94 mph. However in 1936 he drove the Mormon Meteor, a Duesenberg Special powered by a 1,650 cubic inch Curtiss Conqueror V12 with Ab Jenkins in an attempt to break the 48 hour speed record. Jenkins and Stapp bettered Eyston's average through 12 hours at 152.84 mph but a driveshaft universal joint failed just after 12 hours ending this attempt. Jenkins and Stapp started again. At 50 miles the Conqueror-powered Mormon Meteor was fastest, and fastest it remained through two full days on the Bonneville salt with averages of 153.823 mph for 24 hours and 148.641 mph for 48 hours. Set with a still essentially stock Duesenberg J chassis.

He raced a Maserati Tipo V8RI 'Topping Special' in the 1937 Indy 500. The car was originally bought by Philippe Etancelin in 1936 and sold on to Stapp in 1937. Only four examples of the 4.8-litre Tipo V8RI were made between 1935 and 1936. He qualified in 31st place but retired on the 6th lap with a broken clutch. He also raced the Maserati in the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup race on Long Island.

Another DNF at Indy followed in 1938 in the McCoy Auto Service Weil after a reasonable 8th on the grid. 1930 saw Stapp's best finish at the Brickyard. After qualifying his Alfa Romeo in 16th spot he came home in 5th place. It was a mixed year with the high spot his run at Indy and his Champ Car win at the Milwaukee Mile and the low spot a crash in tyre testing at Indy which resulted in the death of his riding mechanic, Lawson Harris. 
His final appearance at Indy came the next year in the Surber Stevens/Offy going out after 64 laps with a broken oil line.

His son, Steve, owned winning sprint cars in the post-WWII years and Steve’s son, Andy, drove sprint cars in the 1980s. Now Andy’s sons, Sammy, and Joey race dirt-bike.