My May Musings

Published On May 10, 2011 » 1401 Views» By admin » Blogs, Indy 500

Who’s going to the be the “1” this year?

1961 – A. J. Foyt won a great battle with Eddie Sachs in the Golden Anniversary ‘500,’ in which both drivers saw their share of problems – but A. J. would prevail.  This was the first of Foyt’s four Indy wins.  Also of historic footnote, Foyt is the only driver to win in both front- and rear-engine cars at Indy … two wins in each.

1971 – Al Unser wins his second straight Indianapolis 500 in the beautiful Johnny Lightning Special.  In his first win the previous year, Al led 190 laps, in 1971 he led 103, dominating both races.  Unser would capture two more ‘500s’ to join Foyt as the second driver with four Memorial Day weekend wins.


The greatest front row ever?

1981 – Who can forget Bobby Unser passing eight (or so) cars under yellow on the warm-up lane to earn a controversial third Indy 500 win?  But, hey, “Mario [Andretti] passed three or four cars on the same lap, same turn, same place as me. The only difference was I passed eight or eleven or something like that. Besides, beating Mario was easy … I didn’t need to do that!” laughed Unser after he was finally awarded his win following a court proceeding in October of 1981.

1991 – The front row for the 75th running of the Indianapolis 500 was one for the ages. Rick Mears started from the pole for a record sixth time, and was joined by A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. But in the end, it was another Andretti – Michael – who battled Mears in the closing laps before Rick made an historic pass going into Turn 1 to capture his fourth and final Indy 500 victory. Mears joined A. J. Foyt and Al Unser as the only four-time winners at the Speedway.

2001 – The racing world saw that Spiderman was just not a cartoon character on May 27, 2001, as Helio Castroneves – a Speedway rookie but Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) veteran – won  his first ‘500’, defeating teammate Gil de Ferran. Castroneves led a contingent of CART drivers who swept the top five spots at the height of the CART/IRL feud.  Helio is still racking up the wins and poles at IMS; he currently has three wins and four poles going into the 2011 event.  CART is no more, and the IRL is now thankfully known as IndyCar.

Now I ramble.

After 100 years of Indianapolis 500-mile races, only one driver has started first and finished first in Car Number One – 1923 – Tommy Milton.  Can’t happen this year – no Number One in the field …  In seven Indy 500 appearances, Dario Franchitti has started third four times, including in his last three starts.  Both his wins have come from the Number Three spot. If Dario qualifies third this year – well, you fill in the blank … Ray Harroun drove Car 32 to an Indy 500 win when he was 32 years old, and Dan Wheldon did the same in Car Number 26. Break out the driver line-up and check the birthdays for 2011 … Fifteen Indy 500 wins for Roger Penske.  35 consecutive Indy 500 starts for A.J. Foyt.  644 laps led at Indy by Al Unser … In 1972, Bobby Unser broke the previous track record in qualifying by more than 17 mph … Only four drivers have led in 10 or more Indy 500s: A.J. Foyt (13), Mario Andretti and Al Unser (11 each) and Bobby Unser (10) … Parnelli Jones appeared in seven ‘500s’ – never starting worse than sixth – and led 492 laps in five of his seven races. He sat on the pole twice and was the first driver to break 150 mph in 1962 … In 1977, Tom Sneva hit the wall in Turn 4 the day before he drove the same car to the first 200 mph lap at Indy  … Three Unsers and nine wins. That’s like one win for every ten Indy 500s.


Fantastic Indy 500 Program Cover

More thoughts.

The IMS program covers from 1955 to 1975 were really the best – and for sure, the best on which to collect autographs … The Lotus Ford that Jim Clark drove to victory in 1965 has to be one of the most beautiful cars to win the ‘500’, along with the 1928 Miller of Louis Meyer, the 1939/40 winning car of Wilbur Shaw, the 1947/48 winner of Mauri Rose, the 1951 winner of Lee Wallard,  Al Unser’s 1970 and 1971 Johnny Lightning Specials, and Bobby Unser’s powder-blue Jorgensen Eagle … Say what you will about the 1967 STP Turbine owned by Andy Granatelli and driven by Rufus Parnell Jones. It was memorable for a lot of reasons, and one of the most talked-about car/driver/owner/sponsor packages ever to race in the Indianapolis 500. The STP cars used to be true day-glo orange. They were so bright you could spot them a straightaway away, which is just what Granatelli wanted.  If you’ve seen them in person, you know what I mean … BRIGHT!  … You have to go back to 1975 to find the most recent year when the front row was made up of three different chassis and three different engine combinations. It was also the first time in the history of the Speedway that all three drivers (Foyt, Johncock and B. Unser) on the front row had previously won the ‘500’.

These will make you think.

Green folding chairs … Flags mounted on the back of the Official Pace Car … Tony Hulman giving the command for the final time in 1977 … Do you remember the first time you got an Indy 500 winner’s autograph, and how special it was? …  Pat Vidan and his crisp white blazer and black pants … The thrill of the Indianapolis Star arriving via mail in Whitehouse, Ohio – three  days after the fact, but still a GREAT read – and keeping every one of them in a stack year after year …  Waking up at 3:30 a.m. and loving it, whether in Ohio or Indiana … Walking by St. Elmo Steakhouse in the early 1990s and seeing Danny Sullivan dining with celebrities … Dining at ‘Mo’s, a Place for Steaks’ in the 2000s with Dario, Gil, Arie, Gordy, Kenny, Uncle Bobby, Al Jr., Johnny, Rufus, Mario and Jim …  Thanks for the ring, Scott …  Balloons … What’s your best memory of the first Indy 500 you saw in person, and do you have a special photo from that day?


Always having an extra pair of dry socks, just in case … Jim Nabors making us all a little misty-eyed as we all sing along and for the most part know all 54 words!  … ABC Sports show openings in the 1990s, set to Delta Force music … And Bobby Unser always listening when Parnelli Jones speaks.


About The Author

Ronda Brennan
Ronda Brennan

Hi Steve remember me Ronda Neuner abc sports indy car? lol do you know if its true that someday instead of the outside fourth turn field and that area will become a fair grounds of some sort? other tracks near or around IMS? just curious. Im a indy 500 baby born hoosier myself. whoo hoo! bobby unser may 30th, 1968:)

Darrick Smith
Darrick Smith

Steve, I posted this on the 500 FB page, so maybe you'll have already seen the question. But if not, here it is: How were the driver assignments made for the former winners to drive the winning cars around the track before this year's race. Did they get to have a say in it, and if so, what were their reasons? It would be interesting to hear why they chose a particular car that was available. Thanks for your May Musings--brought back lots of memories from when I grew up near the track.


Excitement...History...Tradition. You nailed it!

John Greenup
John Greenup

My earliest memories of the IMS reach back to the early 1960's, when the front-engined "Offy's" still ruled the Brickyard. Sid Collins' distinctive voice on the radio...if you weren't actually at the Speedway, he made you envision that you were sitting behind Pit Row watching the action...Collins made it seems like it was the center of the world -- and it was...Colin Chapman's beautiful Lotus 38 that Jim Clark drove to victory in 1965...Granatelli's revolutionary turbines...the years when crowds flocked to Pole Day just to see what a rear-engined or turbine-powered car looked like, and how they performed on the race course...that level of innovation has been sorely lacking at Indianapolis in recent years -- let's hope it's returning.

Chad Coppess
Chad Coppess

I didn't get to the Speedway until 1991 and still can't believe I was there for that historic front row, Mears 4th, then the next year for Little Al's 1st. Walking Gasoline Alley beside AJ, Mario, Big Al and more. I'm so glad I made it when all my heroes were still there.


I have so many great memories of the Speedway. Some were the spirit and pride that the city took in decorating businesses inside and out with black and white checkered flags. I used to go to "time trials" a lot as a kid, and remember how kids in high school with play hooky to spend a day out there, but forgot the sunblock and when they returned to school "Calling in sick" just didn't quite cut it. To this day I still LOVE Parnelli's 98 car. It is a classic beauty, and you mentioned the STP day-glo orange cars...well, what about those white "pj's" covered in STP logos for the pit crew?