Indianapolis Engine Building Legend Louis “Sonny” Meyer has Died

Image courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Engine Building Legend Louis "Sonny" Meyer has Died
Image courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Louis “Sonny” Meyer, Jr., acknowledged by his peers as one of the most successful engine builders in Indianapolis 500 history, has died at the age of 89. The son of the first three-time Indy 500 winner, Louis Meyer, Sonny passed away Saturday, Nov. 9 in Crawfordsville, Ind.

Meyer joined Meyer & Drake Engineering soon after his father and Dale Drake purchased the Offenhauser engine business from Fred Offenhauser in early 1946. The Meyers, always innovators, introduced supercharged midget engines too Indy in 1949-50 with Tony Bettenhausen at the wheel. Sonny also worked on Bill Vukovich’s crew in the early 1950s before becoming a chief mechanic for Bettenhausen in 1958; they finished fourth that year at Indy with the No. 33 Jones & Maley Epperly/Offy.

Sonny Meyer, whether as an engine builder or chief mechanic, has earned at least 15 Indy 500 victories. He was known as a quiet man, but one who spoke loudly through his mechanical capabilities.

When the elder Meyer sold his Offenhauser interests in 1964 to become a distributor for Ford’s double-overhead-camshaft (DOHC) V-8 engine, Sonny Meyer relocated to Indianapolis, worked with his father on the Ford engine program. It was a Ford engine that powered legendary A.J. Foyt to his third Indianapolis 500 win in 1967.

Meyer was responsible for building the engine that helped Gordon Johncock win his first Indy 500 in 1973, driving the No. 20 STP Double Oil Filter Eagle/Offy owned by Patrick Racing. The crew chief for that effort was Meyer’s brother-in-law, George Bignotti. Meyer served as the team’s fueler during pit stops during that race.

Sonny Meyer would later work with Vince Granatelli Racing and spent several more years as development engineer on John Menard’s potent V-6 turbocharged Buick engines. A mentor to many chief mechanics who worked on cars running in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, Sonny Meyer was inducted into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 2013.

Sonny Meyer is survived by his wife Sue, daughter Pam, son Butch and stepson Scott Balch. Funeral arrangements have not been disclosed.

About Anne Proffit 1222 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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