Mickey Rupp, who started the 1965 Indianapolis 500 but gained even more acclaim as a recreational vehicle and sport fishing equipment entrepreneur, died Aug. 20. He was 87.
Rupp, a native of Mansfield, Ohio, qualified 15th and finished sixth in the No. 81 G.C. Murphy Gerhardt/Offy rear-engine car in 1965. He passed his rookie test in a front-engine Chapman Special Offy roadster that year before moving to the rear-engine car for practice, qualifying and the race.
That sixth-place performance would have earned Rookie of the Year honors in many editions of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” but the 1965 rookie class was arguably the strongest in “500” history. Mario Andretti finished third and Gordon Johncock fifth ahead of Rupp. Future “500” legend Al Unser and future Indy pole winner and USAC national champion Joe Leonard were among the eight other rookies in the field that year who finished behind Rupp.
Rupp’s INDYCAR SERIES driving career was quite short, with just five starts overall in 1964 and 1965. But he finished in the top 10 in three of those five races, with a best result of fifth at Milwaukee a week after he finished sixth at Indianapolis.
His commitment and responsibilities to his growing recreational vehicle empire pulled Rupp from the driver’s seat.
Rupp started building kart kits in his basement in the late 1950s and then began manufacturing his designs that included such innovations as step frames, improved braking systems and eventually four-wheel independent suspension. His Dart Karts immediately became very popular and were produced through the late 1960s, and his brother-in-law – legendary Indianapolis 500 chassis designer A.J. Watson – appeared in a magazine ad for the 1959 Dart Kart.
His company, Rupp Manufacturing (which was renamed Rupp Industries), also produced popular mini-bikes, snowmobiles and off-road vehicles distinguishable by their performance and bright red color schemes.
Dart Kart also gained marketplace recognition due to racing sponsorships in the early 1960s, including a USAC sprint car owned by Watson and driven by A.J. Foyt in 1960 and the car that Don Davis drove in the 1961 Indianapolis 500.
Rupp Manufacturing reached new heights in 1963 and 1964 when its karts and minibikes were supplied to Sears, which successfully sold them through the company’s widely circulated Sears Catalog.
Rupp sold Rupp Industries in the late 1970s and turned his design and entrepreneurial skills to the water. An avid sport fisherman, Rupp designed and manufactured an outrigger system that also gained rapid popularity.
Rupp Marine Inc. was formed in 1980 as demand grew for Rupp’s outrigger designs, and the company still produces sport fishing hardware sold globally from its base in Stuart, Florida.