Brayton and his Buicks were always Pole Day contenders at Indy. (IMS photos)
It was on this day in 1996 that the IndyCar community lost one of its most likeable personalities when Scott Brayton lost his life in a crash of his Lola-Buick during practice for the Memorial Day weekend classic.
Brayton's family was inextricably tied to the Buick V6 turbo engines with which he scored his most memorable success and lost his life. During the mid-1980s, His father's engine company, Brayton Engineering, was a major developer of the race engine. In 1985, he qualified second and set the one-lap Indianapolis Motor Speedway track record in the process. He dropped out early and finished 30th when the engine expired. He would not finish the race again until 1989, when he scored his best finish at the Speedway – sixth place but seven laps down. He would equal this finishing position in 1993, driving a Lola-Cosworth for Dick Simon Racing.
When Buick pulled out of IndyCar racing in 1993, John Menard continued developing the engine, now badged as the Menard V6. Brayton, now without a regular ride in the CART IndyCar series, joined the Indy-only Menards team in 1994. Their belief in the powerplant paid off when Brayton won his first Indy 500 pole position in 1995, at an average speed of 231.604mph. However, the race was again disappointing, as turbocharger boost and pop-off valve problems relegated him to a 17th-place finish.
Brayton and his Menard squad were tipped as a top contender for the inaugural season of Indy Racing League competition in 1996, and Brayton underscored his competitiveness by winning his second Indy pole after a dramatic qualifying session in which he withdrew an already qualified car to get a second chance at taking the top spot.
Brayton was making a practice run on May 17 in his backup car when it blew a tire going into Turn 2, spun and hit the outside retaining wall at more than 230mph. Brayton was suffered a fatal basilar skull fracture in the severe impact. His funeral, held in his hometown of Coldwater, Mich., was attended by a large contingent of drivers and racing personalities.
Following Brayton's death, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced a new trophy for the Indianapolis 500 dedicated to the driver who best exemplifies the attitude, spirit and competitive drive of Scott Brayton.