Friday Five: One-hit wonders of the Indy 500

Published On September 25, 2015 » 2418 Views» By John Schwarb » Blogs, Friday Five, IMS, IMS History

If you heard “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc., “Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners and “Ice, Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice in the car today, there’s a reason. Today is National One-Hit Wonder Day, when radio stations honor those artists who recorded exactly one chart-topping song and never duplicated that success.

Around here, we started wondering about one-hit wonders of the Indianapolis 500 – drivers who raced exactly once and fared well, yet never made another start. It’s too bad these men never had a second shot, but on the other hand it’s better to have had one hit than none at all, right?


ONE: Ray Harroun, winner of the inaugural Indianapolis 500

The driver of the No. 32 Marmon Wasp has to top this list, having won the first “500” in 1911 and then retiring from racing. Harroun would go on to own Indy cars and his own passenger-car company, but never hit the bricks again in competition.

No other winner has gone one-and-done, though Juan Pablo Montoya won in 2000 and then vanished from the Indy scene as he drove in Formula One and NASCAR. But he returned to the “500” in 2014 and of course won this year, removing himself from one-hit wonder status.

Blog-1995-CFittipaldi-150TWO: Christian Fittipaldi, second in 1995

Two-time champion Emerson Fittipaldi’s nephew was an Indy Rookie of the Year who never had a sophomore year, finishing second to Jacques Villeneuve in the wild 1995 race. He qualified 27th in what was just the third oval race of his career, yet was in the top 10 by the race’s midpoint and second at the end after Scott Goodyear’s penalty for passing the pace car.

Fittipaldi remained with CART when the open-wheel split hit the next year and did not race again at Indy.




THREE: George Amick, second in 1958

The Oregon native was the first “500” Rookie of the Year to finish runner-up and never return (Fittipaldi was the second), finishing 27 seconds behind Jimmy Bryan in a race that had another pretty notable rookie – A.J. Foyt, who finished 16th.

Amick had attempted to qualify for Indy before ’58, he was on the entry list but did not drive in 1956 and was bumped in 1957. He was killed a little more than 10 months after his “500” runner-up on April 4, 1959, on the last lap of the only Indy car race ever held at the Daytona International Speedway.

Blog-1987-Barbazza-250FOUR: Fabrizio Barbazza, third in 1987

OK, we’ll admit that the Italian makes this list in part for the hair. But he had racing chops too, taking the 1986 Indy Lights title with Arciero Racing after winning five of the nine races he entered.

Barbazza finished a quiet third in ’87, two laps behind Al Unser, who won at Indy for the fourth time. Roberto Guerrero ran second and Mario Andretti finished a disappointing ninth after leading 170 of the first 177 laps before bowing out with ignition failure.

Barbazza went on to race in Formula One and came back to Indy in 1992 but crashed during a refresher test and did not make a qualifying attempt.




FIVE: Steve Kinser, 14th in 1997

We are omitting a few other one-hit wonders at this point – 1914 runner-up Arthur Duray, 1932 runner-up Howdy Wilcox II and 1923 ninth-place finisher Prince Bertrand De Cystria, to name three – but didn’t want to leave out the greatest sprint car driver of all time.

Kinser first drove at Indy in 1981, passing his rookie test but crashing in practice. He didn’t make a qualifying attempt. Sixteen years later he returned, qualifying 20th and finishing 14th after a late crash.

Fans sporting Kinser T-shirts were all over the Speedway all month, but that was the last time the World of Outlaws legend would drive on the big oval.


About The Author

John Schwarb

I joined the Indianapolis Motor Speedway communications team in July 2014 and love sharing stories from the World Capital of Racing, particularly its rich history. Most of my professional career has been in racing or golf, so if I'm not in the IMS media center, the office at 16th and Georgetown or milling around Gasoline Alley, maybe I'll be standing over a birdie putt at Brickyard Crossing. Follow us at @IMS or drop me a line at @JohnSchwarb and come back to the blog often for more stories.