I recall Arie's first win in 1990 like it was yesterday. A friend and I were at pole day that year and afterwards at an Indianapolis hotel bar a young lady walked in and loudly declared that "Arie Luyendyke would win the race". My friend asked me what I thought of her bold prediction and I replied "that I felt he was a longshot as he hadn't up to that time, really been a factor in a 500". Boy did I eat some crow! He had the coveted Chevrolet engine and he had a very professional team assembled around him and obviously, this completely elevated his game. I saw during the late stages of the race that he was running down leader Bobby Rahal at a frightening pace and when he passed him the move went largely unnoticed by the crowd. In fact when he took the checkered flag I got the feeling that the crowd was too confused or stunned to know who had really won and how it happened? They had seen Emerson Fittipaldi take the pole and for most of the race he simply checked out and was running all on his own. When he had his tire problem most people just assumed Bobby Rahal would inherit the win. ABC commentator Sam Posey remarked that "this win was an upset" but Arie's performances at Indy throughout most of the 90s would absolutely refute that.
He holds the top three speed records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and has two victories.
One qualifying lap – 237.498, 1996
Four-lap qualifying average – 236.986, 1996
500 miles – 185.981, 1990
And Arie Luyendyk figures his 500-mile mark will stay for a while – it’s already stayed 22 years.
“That (500-mile) record will stay there for a long time,” said Luyendyk, 59, now living in Fountain Hills, Ariz. “Back then we didn’t have a pit speed limit. Now it takes time.”
But for qualifying?
“They could change the cars to make that happen,” he said. “The fans want to see it (broken). Those records are there, but I would like to see someone break them.”
He wasn’t always an ovalmeister, starting with when the Dutchman came up with the former Provimi Veal team.
“We had a small team, and there wasn’t one guy who had worked with a car on an oval,” Luyendyk said. “When I started in ’85, we had a little help from Lola, but no one had worked on a car for an oval. The big change came when I got with a team that could prepare a car for an oval. That started in ’87 with Dick Simon when I got with Larry Curry. You change your attitude and confidence. I had good races with Simon.”
But the 1990 victory at Indianapolis was his first in Indy cars – and Luyendyk could feel it coming.
“I really did feel good about it,” he said. “The whole month went well, qualified third and after some really good days, I thought we could be right there. The communication was good between me and Doug Shierson (the car owner). It was good and professional. We didn’t change that much during the race. Teams like Penske and Newman-Haas knew we were fast.
“I didn’t feel that confident in 1997 (with Treadway Racing). I had the pole, but I was always on the edge. Going into that race with that feeling isn’t good. We worked on the car during the whole race.”
Everything didn’t always work fine. In a race at Texas Motor Speedway in ‘97, scoring had Billy Boat winning in A.J. Foyt’s car, but Luyendyk thought he had won and also went to Victory Lane. An argument ensued, and Foyt pushed/hit Luyendyk into a flower bed. Video of the incident played on sports shows all week.
Eventually, a scoring audit showed Luyendyk to be the winner. After the first day the next weekend at Pikes Peak, Luyendyk came back to the hotel and said: “A.J. and I were talking out on the pit road, and you should have seen it. There must have been 50 photographers there.”
And at Christmas, Texas Motor Speedway promoter Eddie Gossage outfitted his whole staff in officials’ uniforms and the track’s Christmas card showed them all in Victory Lane, Gossage in front with a whistle.
It was rumored at the time and has been confirmed by some that Foyt still has the trophy for that race … he didn’t give it back.
Luyendyk is still in the sport, sharing some INDYCAR race control, rookie coaching and two-seater driving duties. He also said he is “playing around with some real estate.”
“In race control, it really opens my eyes on what goes on there,” he said. “Dispatching safety vehicles and calling cautions. If you’re an active driver, you don’t see it.”
In 1990, a friend of Luyendyk walked on to the pit road on Opening Day at the Speedway and went through Victory Lane, which was, at the time, at pit center. He looked down and saw a coin. It was a Dutch dime. He put it in his pocket and forgot about it.
After Luyendyk won, the friend glued the dime to a block of wood and gave it to Luyendyk the day after the race, telling him the story.
“Oh, that’s spooky,” Luyendyk said at the time.
Earlier this month, the Dutchman was asked about it. Even after 23 years, Arie said, “I still have it.”
The Indianapolis 500: We had friends over the other day and they had recently gone to the Kentucky Derby for the first time. The explained how it was nice to have finally gone, but that it just wasn't the same as going to the Indy 500. There simply wasn't the build-up to the final race. Well that got me thinking about what the Indy 500 meant to me and why it is so very special. It isn’t called “The Greatest Spectacle in Sports” for nothing. But for me personally it isn’t just the race, but the build-up to it. It is attending my 23rd Indy 500 in a row with my son and pal. It’s the introduction of the drivers and the benediction of prayer for the safety of all inside that hollowed walls on that day. It is the lone soldier playing “Taps” in Memory of all the troops that made the ultimate sacrifice. It’s Florence Henderson singing “God Bless America” and then the show stopper: Jim Nabors singing “Back Home in Indiana” which makes even a grown man tear up. It’s the National Anthem and the release of the balloons behind the Pagoda. It is the Air Force fly by down the front straight-a-way and roaring over our heads in Turn One. It’s Mary Hulman George giving the command to start engines. It’s 33 of the fastest cars in the world pulling away from the starting grid to the roar of the crowd and making the three pace laps. It is the dive into Turn One followed by a spectacular finish after 200 laps. It’s the long tradition of the winner taking a drink of milk from a glass bottle and kissing the yard of bricks. It is passing on such traditions to my son and eventually his son. Yes, that is what makes it so special for me. I love this day so very much!