AJ Watson's Roadsters Still in Demand
(posted Sept 5)
|click on photo to expand
|AJ spends 4 hours a day working on replicas in his Pittsboro shop.
Photo by Jay Thompson
At the age of 84, AJ Watson is still building race cars and participating
in vintage races.
He is building replicas of his Watson Roadsters, cars made famous for their
Indy 500 victories during the 50s and 60s. AJ built his cars without any
When asked how many roadsters he has built, he quipped "it depends
on who is writing the story", whether it is 22 or 23. There has been
a lot of information written about Watson, he thinks one of more accurate
books printed was The Watson Years, written by Gary Wayne. "He did a good job. He never contacted me."
Watson started building his cars in the City of Glendale, California, selling
them for about $10,000 each. Eventually the City of Glendale became a car
His roadster won its first Indy 500 with driver Pat Flaherty in 1956. Flaherty
also won the pole, and Watson won the pole mechanic award. Watson's roadster
was a modified copy of the Kurtis Kraft chassis that was predominate at
the time. Watson said there are no patents in racing because "everybody
copies everybody". His used magnesium's light weigh properties to
give his cars an weight advantage. He said 22 of the cars still exist today,
with five in the Hall of Fame Museum. AJ was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1996.
Watson first became interested in race cars when he attended Glendale Junior
College. "I ran into a kid. He said, 'let's build a hot rod.' I said
During those days, it was a big deal to be a mechanic compared today's
standards. "They did all of the work."
Watson said his 1950 car was called the "pots and pans special".
At one time Watson was a car owner with Pat Flaherty as his driver. Andy
Granatelli sponsored the car by paying the $125 entry fee, but the car
didn't make the race, so he got $100 back. Watson said he was only a car
owner for a couple of years because of the expense.
Watson still drives a car on occasion in vintage races. He had planned
to run the Indy 500 vintage race scheduled on Carb Day, but it was rained
out. Watson did participate in the Milwaukee vintage race.
"It's not much of a race. It is just following the pace car for about
5 laps at about 75 mph." The slow pace vintage races are not excluded
from mishaps or accidents. He described the starts as being kind of "hairy",
with 30 to 35 cars merging for one spot on the track. Other problems include
cars not starting. "It's kind of messy," he said, adding that
a bolt fell off one car and caused the driver to hit the fence.
Watson said he resided in Dunn's Mobile Home Park on Georgetown Road before buying a home in Speedway and remembers strolling down the alley behind Main Street to eat at the Hollywood Cafe.