Remembering Tony Adamowicz, 1941-2016

Published On October 21, 2016 » 6880 Views» By Donald Davidson » Blogs, IMS, Indy 500

We recently received the very sad news that retired driver Tony Adamowicz passed away on Oct. 10. He was 75.

We were immediately reminded of the fact that in 1970, Tony SHOULD have qualified for the Indianapolis 500, only to be prevented from so doing by a quirky incident on the first day of qualifying and a regrettably stern ruling which followed.

A first-generation American, born in New York to Polish immigrants, Tony “A-to-Z,” as he always referred to himself, was the defending SCCA Continental Formula-5000 champion when he showed up at IMS in 1970 as teammate to Johnny Rutherford on the Patrick Petroleum-sponsored Michner team. On the very day that Rutherford ALMOST won the pole – only to be barely edged out by Al Unser – Adamowicz became the victim of “one of them deals in racing.”


No sooner had he taken the green flag for a qualifying attempt than the yellow light briefly flashed on, causing him to back out of the throttle. A couple of seconds later it was back to green, and so off he went. Due to the momentary backing off, his first lap speed was recorded at only 160.829 mph, but because his second lap speed jumped to 165.837, his crew decided to let him do at least one more and then calculate the average to see if they could justify allowing him to take the checkered.

There was also some thought that the officials might just take some responsibility for the yellow light confusion and negate the run, allowing Tony to return to the pits and start over.

But no such luck.

Lap 3 was 166.420 mph and the average was now above 164. The speed indication out of Turn 4 on the final lap was such that the crew decided to let him go, and out came the checkered flag, the final lap recorded at 166.328 mph, and the four-lap average hauled up to 164.820 mph.

He was IN – for the time being.

Tony immediately questioned the yellow light situation, but the thinking among the crew at the time was that his four-lap average speed was probably good enough to eventually hold up anyway.

But by the time the second weekend rolled around, it had become increasingly more apparent that the speed would NOT be good enough, so a discussion took place with the officials requesting that the run be voided in order for Tony to try again.

The uncompromising response was that the crew had had every right to protest the situation within 30 minutes of the completion of the first day’s run, but they had not, and with too much time having elapsed, the request, therefore, was denied.

So the speed remained in place, others went faster and Tony was subsequently bumped. He did practice with other cars, both that year and the next, but he never found anything to match the potential offered by the 1970 Michner car.

Tony did go on to enjoy a lengthy and very successful career elsewhere, racing in Trans-Am, Can-Am and long distance “enduro” sports car racing, including four starts in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where, in 1971, he shared the third-place-finishing Ferrari with Sam Posey, while in recent years, he had been very much in evidence at vintage racing meets.

On a personal note, it was our distinct privilege, between qualifying weekends in 1970, to give a talk one evening with Tony at the old Speedway Motel, and we wish we had a tape recording of Tony’s spellbinding description of driving a “hot lap” at IMS. The audience was transfixed.

He also revealed that he had once served with the U.S. Army as a communications specialist and, for a period, was assigned to the White House, where he would occasionally travel as a bodyguard for President John F. Kennedy.

He was a most interesting person and a wonderful spokesperson for the sport.

Too bad he could not have made the “500” field on least one occasion. It was something he always regretted.


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.