Happy 80th birthday, Gordon Johncock!

Published On August 25, 2016 » 2951 Views» By John Schwarb » Blogs, IMS, IMS History

Rick Mears has always paid Gordon Johncock the ultimate compliment when talking about their classic duel at the 1982 Indianapolis 500.

When the two veterans went side-by-side into Turn 1, thrilling the hundreds of thousands at IMS, Mears said he was comfortable. In that most treacherous of track positions, he could trust Johncock.

Gordon Johncock bested Rick Mears by just a few feet in the unforgettable 1982 race.

Gordon Johncock bested Rick Mears by just a few feet in the unforgettable 1982 race.

Johncock, of course, won that incredible race, decided by a then-record .16 of a second at the Yard of Bricks. The triumph was a nice bookend to his first “500” win in 1973, a race remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Today, the two-time champion is 80 years old, joining Parnelli Jones, Bobby Unser and A.J. Foyt in the club of octogenarian Indy winners.

Johncock raced in four decades at the Speedway, breaking in behind the wheel of a roadster in 1965. He finished fifth as a rookie and is on a short list of drivers who finished in the top 5 in roadsters and rear-engine Indy cars. His 24 starts are tied with Johnny Rutherford for fourth all-time, and he was the second-oldest champion when he won in ’82, at age 45.

Breaking into the "500" in a roadster in 1965.

Breaking into the “500” in a roadster in 1965.

Aside from his wins, arguably his most impressive effort was a sixth-place in 1991 at age 54 as a late pilot to a Lola-Cosworth owned by Ron Hemelgarn. The owner had offered the car to Al Unser and Johnny Rutherford, but both turned it down, so he called Johncock, who had been on a tractor that May day.

The Michigan native took the ride, qualified it 33rd and then, saddled with a flu that had the team wonder if a relief driver would be needed, drove all day and finished sixth.

“Typical Johncock,” IMS historian Donald Davidson recalled. “A bulldog.”


The day after, 1973.


Joining the two-time winners’ club in 1982.


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.
Steve Cooper
Steve Cooper

John Please do your homework before posting a blog that is wrong. Gordon Johncock was born August 5th not August 25 1936