I've always been partial to JR as well. Even though I had been attending pole day since '76, my first Indy 500 was 1980.
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We’ve always been partial to a certain three-time Indianapolis 500 champion in my family, given that I was born in 1974, my brother in ’76 and my sister in 1980.
You know, the Johnny Rutherford years.
“Lone Star J.R.” turns 77 today, still going strong as the pace car driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series and enduring as one of racing’s most beloved personalities.
He’s part of an exclusive club as a three-time winner at Indy, though that didn’t come quickly. In his first 10 races from his 1963 debut through 1973, Rutherford not only didn’t win but he failed to crack the top 15 until a ninth-place effort in ’73. No other winner of three or more “500”s had a longer drought before win No. 1.
But once he got a taste of success, Rutherford became one of Indy’s finest. From 1974-76 he finished first-second-first, then added a win from the pole in 1980 in the famed Pennzoil Chaparral.
See you soon in May, Johnny, and Happy Birthday!