We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 34 days to go, Jeff Vrabel continues exploring the many tie-ins between the Indy 500 and pop culture.
More Vrabel: SNL’s “Superfans” | Harroun and the rearview mirror | “500” in Hollywood’s glory days | A.J. Foyt has a secret | Late-night TV hosts at Indy | The “500” in reality TV shows | In old TV | In silent movie | In “Cars” | In “Turbo” | The Beatles at IMS | Pace Car drivers | Snake Pit rebirth | The ultimate “500” playlist | David Letterman, pit reporter | Indy 500 on Atari 2600 | On “Jeopardy!” | More 100 days blogs
The death of Eagles founder Glenn Frey in January launched a waterfall of tributes that spoke to the depth and reach of his music, and in scanning the internet afterward we came across a pretty great example of our own. Frey’s solo music, of course, featured prominently in “Miami Vice” — his “Smuggler’s Blues” and “You Belong to the City” are as tied to the show as “Axel F” and terrible salmon-colored linen shirts. But while looking up Frey clips and basically falling down a rabbit hole of endless “Miami Vice” content we unearthed the episode that featured none other than 1985 Indy 500 “Spin and Win” champ Danny Sullivan.
In a May 2015 Sports Illustrated story under the headline “Danny Sullivan’s Indy 500 ‘Spin and Win’ Fame Unlikely to Be Equalled,” writer Andrew Lawrence argues that the nature of Sullivan’s win — spinning out, almost crashing, then recovering and passing Mario Andretti for the “most dramatic triumph in Brickyard history” — set him up for a brief burst of mid-’80s Kanye-sized nation-conquering fame. After his oft-replayed race performance Sullivan would go on to appear in a movie with Willie Nelson (no, really) and Kris Kristofferson (also really), appeared in ads for sunglasses and video games and made the rounds on both the morning show and the late-night talk circuits. He also dated a Bond girl and hired a Hollywood publicist, making him a pretty big bordering on GQ-cover-guy deal in the race community.
For “Miami Vice,” Sullivan had relatively easy job: He played a ruggedly handsome race car driver accused of killing a prostitute. (Well it wasn’t an entirely SWF cameo.) “I was nervous as hell,” Sullivan said in the story. “I took acting lessons. I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t embarrass myself or my sport too much.” People, he said, still stop him on the street for two reasons. 1. Because of the thrilling, unforgettable nature of his win and 2. Because of “Miami Vice.”