#TBT: Happy Birthday, Johnny Rutherford

Published On March 12, 2015 » 2457 Views» By John Schwarb » #TBT, Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

For more trips down Memory Lane, visit the #TBT archives here.

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.

Johnny Rutherford was 25 years old when made his Indianapolis 500 debut in 1963, finishing 29th.

Johnny Rutherford was 25 years old when made his Indianapolis 500 debut in 1963, finishing 29th.

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!


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.

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.