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Crawfordsville resident Sonny Meyer remembered as legendary Indy 500 engine builder

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It wasn’t “like father, like son,” for the Meyer family, but it was pretty darn close.

Sonny Meyer passed away last Saturday in Crawfordsville, after an 89-year life that saw incredible success in the world of auto racing.

His father had incredible success in the world of auto racing too.

Louis Meyer was the first three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.

His son built the engines for 15 winners.

“Sonny was a damn smart mechanic, excellent engine man and good guy,” said A.J.Foyt, who worked with Meyer on Ford engines in the 1960’s. “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”
His dad turned the wheel. Sonny turned the wrenches.

An engine builder and chief mechanic, Sonny’s career spanned better than five decades. Tributes from all corners of the racing world have poured in since Saturday. His peers acknowledged him as one of the most successful engine builders in Indianapolis 500 history.

He got his start at 16, when his dad became a co-owner of Offenhauser Engines. He joined Meyer and Drake Engineering and changed the engine of the racing world.

The Meyers introduced the supercharged midget engine to Indy in 1949 with Tony Bettenhausen and Sonny worked with Bill Vukovich’s crew in the early 50’s. He became a chief mechanic in 1958 for Bettenhausen and mentored many future chief mechanics. After his father sold out of Offenhauser in 1964, he moved over to Ford, and built the engine that Foyt won his third 500 with in 1967.

He built the engine for Gordon Johncock’s first 500 winner, and served as the team fueler working with legendary crew chief George Bignotti. After that stint at Patrick Racing, he joined Vince Granetelli Racing which was followed by several years as development engineer on John Menard’s big V6 turbocharged Buicks. Oh yes, he introduced pneumatic air jacks to Indy, and the battles between Meyer and Bignotti in the garages, who were brothers-in-law at the time, were legendary according to the guys who were close by.

The battles with Bignotti were far out of normal for Sonny, known as a quiet genius behind the scenes at the Brickyard. “If you were around him for five minutes and kept your mouth shut, you were going to increase your racing knowledge ten-fold,” said Tim Coffeen, who worked for 30 years in IndyCar with multiple teams.

After his racing career, he still kept in touch.

“Sonny quietly assembled one of the great resumes in IMS history,” said Robin Miller of Racer.com, no stranger to things 500, “but he never bragged once about his accomplishments. He would come into our weekly team lunch in Indy about once a month and we would have to pry information out of him. He was a damn good mechanic and a great engine man.”

Bob Jenkins got a personal memento.

“When I was inducted into the IMS Hall of Fame this year, he took the time to sit down and write me a personal note,” the long time radio, television and public address announcer said. “I was so impressed that he took the time to congratulate me. It meant a great deal to me that he would take the time to do that.”

Meyer was inducted into the same Hall in 2013.

He leaves a racing family that will long remember the guy that produced the roar of the engines.

Robin Miller and Racing.com helped contribute to this article.

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