Ask Donald Davidson: Most seconds in the ‘500’; Parnelli in Clark’s car

Published On January 28, 2015 » 2626 Views» By Donald Davidson » Ask Donald Davidson, Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

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Who has the most second-place finishes in the “500”? – John Whitacre, via Facebook

While there have been three drivers who won the “500” four times (Foyt, Mears and Al Unser), there has never been a four-time runner-up, although Jim Rathmann came awfully close to being forced into that very situation in 1960 (instead, he won). There have been six drivers who placed second on three occasions, but every one of them managed at least one victory with the exception of Harry Hartz, who was runner-up in 1922, 1923 and 1926.

The others, who also scored at least one win, were Wilbur Shaw (second in 1933, ’35 and ’38; won in ’37, ’39 and ’40), Bill Holland (1947, ‘48 and ’50; won in ’49), Jim Rathmann (1952, ‘57 and ’59; won in ’60), Tom Sneva (1977, ‘78 and ’80; won in ’83) and Al Unser (1967, ‘72 and ’83; won in ’70, ’71, ’78, ’87).

Tom Sneva was a three-time runner-up at the "500" before winning it, including in 1977.

Tom Sneva was a three-time runner-up at the “500” before winning it, including in 1977.

In the ’60s when Jim Clark raced at Indy, his car was brought to the Milwaukee Mile. Parnelli Jones drove instead of Clark. What were the arrangements or circumstances which led to this event? – Jeffrey Behrens, via Facebook

After the second- and seventh-place finishes by Jim Clark and Dan Gurney in the 1963 “500,” the two drivers and their cars came back to compete in the Milwaukee 200 in August, where they started one-two and finished first and third. They later competed in the Trenton 200 in September, again sharing the front row, but this time both dropping out with mechanical issues.

Because of a conflict with the Grand Prix of Austria in August of 1964, it was decided that Clark and Gurney (who was driving for Brabham in F1) would stay in Europe and that American drivers would substitute for them at Milwaukee. Walt Hansgen was down to drive one of the cars, but he crashed in a practice run and did not compete.

It ended up that the two Lotus drivers on race day were none other than Parnelli Jones, whose car carried No. 98, and A.J. Foyt, who carried No. 1. While Foyt was not happy with his car – he started third, but came in to retire after only one lap – Parnelli led 195 of the 200 laps on his way to a very convincing win. With no Grand Prix conflict for the Trenton 200 in September, Clark came back to run but did so without Gurney, the revised plan being to field Parnelli as his teammate instead. Clark fell out at about the halfway mark, but Parnelli marched on to yet another runaway victory.

While it may have appeared that Parnelli won both races with the same car, he did not. The Milwaukee winner was the same one with which Clark had won the pole at Indianapolis and had led briefly before being forced out with a tire problem. The Trenton winner was a different car. The Milwaukee winner, which Clark drove at Trenton, later became the property of J.C. Agajanian, and, as the gold-painted Agajanian Hurst Floor Shift Special No. 98, was driven by Parnelli to second in the 1965 “500.” It was later acquired by Parnelli and Vel Miletch, and has since become part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation’s collection, currently being displayed in the Hall of Fame Museum as Clark’s 1964 pole winner.

With regard to last week’s two-part trivia question, the only regular Grand Prix driver to actually have a start in the Indianapolis 500 between 1950 and 1960 was Alberto Ascari, whose Ferrari type-375 suffered a right-rear wheel failure after having just entered the top 10 at 40 laps in 1952. The only Indianapolis 500 regular who drove a Formula One Grand Prix car in a Grand Prix in Europe during the same period was Troy Ruttman, who finished 10th with a privately-entered Maserati 250F in the 1958 French Grand Prix at Rheims.


About The Author

Donald Davidson

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson, based at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, developed a passionate interest in the Indianapolis 500 as a teenager in England. Arriving at IMS in 1964, he delighted the racing community with his ability to recite year-by-year accounts of participants’ careers. Returning permanently in 1965, he was invited by Sid Collins to join the worldwide IMS Radio Network and was hired by Henry Banks as USAC statistician, remaining at USAC for almost 32 years. He was named Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian in 1998. Along with numerous television and radio assignments, raconteur Davidson has played host to the popular call-in radio show “The Talk of Gasoline Alley” on 1070 AM in Indianapolis during the month of May continuously since 1971. His writing credits include countless historical articles and columns, a pair of “500” annuals in 1974 and ‘75 and co-authorship with Rick Shaffer of the acclaimed “Autocourse Official History of the Indianapolis 500,” published in 2006.