Thursday, November 24, 2011
The Checkered Flag for Jim Rathmann
Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon and Alan Bean in 1969 Corvettes provided by Jim Rathmann. Image source: Wired.com.
Florida Today reports that racing legend Jim Rathmann passed away Wednesday in Melbourne at age 83.
Rathmann is known to space historians as the man who put Mercury astronauts in Chevrolet Corvettes.
According to CorvetteBlogger.com:
After winning the 1960 Indianapolis 500 as a professional racer, Rathmann opened a Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership in Melbourne Florida near the space center. Rathmann negotiated a special lease arrangement with Chevrolet to put astronauts into Corvettes.
Six of the Mercury astronauts would take up the special Corvette lease although John Glenn opted for a Chevy station wagon as he had a family to cart around.
Shepard and fellow Mercury astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom often dueled on the two-lane backtop roads that surrounded the space center. Grissom’s 1967 Corvette was specially geared and the battles between the two were also legendary.
The Corvette tradition continued at least through the Apollo era.
UPDATE November 25, 2011 — Florida Today has more on the passing of Jim Rathmann.