Ask Donald Davidson: Racking up top-10s at Indy, and the lone Louisville champion

Published On October 19, 2016 » 4836 Views» By Donald Davidson » Ask Donald Davidson, Blogs, IMS, IMS History

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Who has had the most number of top-10 finishes in the “500” without a win? — Dick Sargent, via Facebook

We had to reread that question a couple of times in order to make sure we had it correctly because, at a quick glance, we assumed it to be the much more standard, “Who has had the most number of ‘500’ STARTS without a win?”, which we get quite often. The answer to THAT one is George Snider, with 22 starts and no wins between 1965 and 1987.

But “top-10s”?  We don’t recall ever having been asked that specifically, and so we had to do a little digging.

Michael Andretti is tied for the most top-10s without a win at Indy, in addition to mention the most laps led by a non-winner.

Michael Andretti is tied for the most top-10s without a win at Indy. He also has led the most laps without winning.

The straightforward answer is that it is a tie between Michael Andretti and the late Ted Horn with nine apiece, Horn having one second-place finish and four third- and fourth-place finishes, while Michael’s record shows one second, two thirds, one fourth, one fifth, two sixths, one seventh and one eighth. Just behind them would be Cliff Bergere with eight, followed by Lloyd Ruby and Marco Andretti with seven apiece, and then several drivers with six, namely Ralph Mulford, Paul Russo, Bill Vukovich II, Jim McElreath, Pancho Carter and, perhaps to the surprise of many, Danica Patrick, who missed the top-10 only once in her seven-start “500” career.

If you go down the list of drivers with the most top-10s without a win, it doesn't take long to get to Danica.

If you go down the list of drivers with the most top-10s without a win, it doesn’t take long to get to Danica.

BUT, at the risk of making things too complicated, our long-held compassion for the usually totally uncredited relief drivers causes us to point out that Bergere also had a pair of top-10 involvements by driving cars started by other people, thus giving him 10 … sort of.

With the above in mind, one might also consider Paul Russo, who could potentially bolster his six top-10 finishes with two more as a relief driver, most notably in 1955 when he co-drove the car which finished second. There was a theory at that time that since two (or more) stops for fuel and tires were now necessary (although not yet mandatory), it might make sense to have the starting driver climb out on the first stop and go back to the garage area to relax in front of an electric fan while a colleague took over, then return, refreshed, to finish the race. Veteran Tony Bettenhausen decided to employ that strategy in 1955, using Russo, his longtime friend, who had failed to qualify for that race and who had, in fact, spent the winter months living with the Bettenhausen family and working on their Tinley Park, Illinois, soybean farm. The pair ended up second, Tony taking a break between Laps 57 and 134 while Russo drove in his place, and when accepting the second-place check at the following evening’s Victory Dinner, Tony insisted on Russo accompanying him to the podium, apparently stressing to the crowd, “He was my CO-driver, not relief driver.”

Can you name the “500” winners who were born in Louisville, Kentucky? — Mike Smith, via Facebook

The only winner we know of was Danny Sullivan in 1985.

The pride of Louisville, Kentucky -- "Mr. Spin and Win," Danny Sullivan.

The pride of Louisville, Kentucky — “Mr. Spin and Win,” Danny Sullivan.

 

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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.
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