Ask Donald Davidson: When the fastest were not first

Published On October 7, 2015 » 2534 Views» By Donald Davidson » Ask Donald Davidson, Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

Do you have a question for Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson? Ask via Twitter with the hashtag #AskDonald or on Facebook. For previous editions of “Ask Donald Davidson,” click here.

How many times has the fastest qualifier NOT been on the pole? – Multiple inquiries

There have been quite a few of those. We’ll discount the first few years because the lineup for 1911 and 1912 was determined by the order of entry and the lineup for 1913 and 1914 by a blind draw. Overall speed was the determining factor in 1915, with a modification in 1916 that successful first-day qualifiers would start ahead of the second-day qualifiers, and second-day qualifiers would start ahead of third-day qualifiers, etc., so that it would be possible for the fastest qualification run to take place even on the final day, a situation which actually took place on more than one occasion. The extreme case occurred in 1952 when Chet Miller qualified the second Novi as the very last to successfully “make the show.” Others made attempts after him, but none were successful. In fact, Miller even broke the four-lap record in the process with a run at 139.034 mph, his single-lap record of 139.600 mph having been turned during an incomplete run two days earlier. It is the only example ever of the track record having been broken by the last successful qualifier.

The "Gas Man" won three Indy poles but his 1981 car wasn't one of them -- despite being fastest.

The “Gas Man” won three Indy poles but his 1981 car wasn’t one of them — despite being fastest.

The others who were the fastest qualifiers but not on the pole, in addition to Miller, were Billy Arnold (1931), Jimmy Snyder (1937), Ronney Householder (1938), Ralph Hepburn (1946), Bill Holland (1947), Duke Nalon (1948), Walt Faulkner (1951), Jack McGrath (1955), Paul Russo (1957), Jim Hurtubise (1960), Mario Andretti (1976), Tom Sneva (1981), Gary Bettenhausen (1991),  Arie Luyendyk (1996), and Kenny Brack (2005).

This means that Andretti, Sneva and Luyendyk were actually the fastest qualifiers four times each, although only on the pole three times.

A little side story on Faulkner is that he had set one- and four-lap track records to win the pole in 1950, but when these were broken by the Novi of Duke Nalon on the first qualifying day in 1951, Faulkner wasn’t even at the track. Hard to believe considering the way things are done now, but Faulkner and chief mechanic Clay Smith were towing their J.C. Agajanian-owned car back from California on an open trailer behind a station wagon and they had run into several snow storms along the way. They had been delayed by several days and did not even learn that their 1950 records had been broken until they finally made it to a Midwestern truck stop and found a newspaper!

The fastest car in Indy history -- Arie Luyendyk's 1996 Reynard/Ford Cosworth -- started 20th, not first.

The fastest car in Indy history — Arie Luyendyk’s 1996 Reynard/Ford Cosworth — started 20th, not first.


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.

What years did the 500 winner get a copy of the Indianapolis Star in Victory Lane? How did that get started and why did it end?