Sunday, May 22, 2016

100th Indy 500: The Greatest Starting Field -- 33 Best in Indy's First Century

For the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, here are my selections for the all-time Indy 500 starting field. 
Row 1:

A.J. Foyt: First 4 time winner; 35 consecutive starts.

Rick Mears: 4 time winner; record 6 pole positions

Wilbur Shaw: 3 time winner, and nearly four in a row. Convinced Tony Hulman to buy the Speedway, and served as its President

Row 2:

Bill Vukovich: In short career, 2-time winner, but nearly won 4 in a row; killed while leading in 1955. The stuff of legends.

Al Unser, Sr.: 4 time winner; record top 5 finishes.

Bobby Unser: 3 time winner; 9 times started on the front row. 

Row 3:

Helio Castroneves: 3 time winner, including his first two 500s; close second twice.

Mario Andretti: Only one win, but a Speedway icon. Hampered with bad luck to point that "Mario is slowing down" became an Indy catch phrase. 

Johnny Rutherford: 3 time winner dominated in 1970s through mid-1980s.

Row 4:

Louis Meyer: First 3-time winner; started tradition of drinking milk in Victory Lane; later his engineering firm provided the mighty Meyer-Drake Offenhauser engines that dominated Indycar's roadster era.

Jim Clark: Only 5 races, with one win and two seconds. Shy Scotsman changed the Indy 500, driving successful rear-engine car in 1963, and leading a wave of European drivers to Indy. 

Dario Franchiti: Another Scottsman, won 3 times in 5 years, including the epic battle with Takuma Sato in 2012. Only disappointment -- he never took the checkered flag when the race was under green.

Row 5:

Al Unser, Jr.: 2 time winner continued the Unser legacy, winning the closest 500 ever and losing out in a wheel-to-wheel duel with Emerson Fittipaldi

Roger Ward: 2 time winner. Between 1959 and 1964, he never finished worse than fourth.

Juan Pablo Montoya: 2 time winner, his wins separated by 15 years.

Row 6:

Parnelli Jones: "Rufus" only raced at Indy seven times, breaking the 150 mph barrier in 1962, and winning in 1963. He had victory in sight in 1967, driving the STP turbine, but a $2 part failed with only 3 laps left. He never drove at Indy again.

Mauri Rose: 3 time winner, co-driving the winning car in 1941. Career interrupted during its peak by WWII, when there was no Indy 500 for four years.

Ralph DePalma: The first great legend at the 500. He lead 196 laps in 1912 only to have his car break down with just over 1 lap to go. He and his mechanic pushed the car to the start/finish line, but they were still a lap short. He returned to win the 1915 race.

Row 7:

Dan Weldon: Popular 2-time winner, including 2011 race when race leader JR Hildebrand crashed on the last turn of the last lap. Tragically killed in a 15 car crash later that year

Gordon Johncock: Often underrated driver. Winner of the race no one wanted to remember (1973) and the race no one could forget (1982 duel with Rick Mears).

Tommy Milton:  First 2 time winner (1921, 1923)

Row 8:

Emerson Fittipaldi: 2 time winner and 2 time World Driving Champion. 

Arie Luyendyk: Popular 2 time winner, he still holds the track record for qualifying some 20 years later.

Jim Rathmann: Three times second place, he finally won in 1960 after a 100-lap wheel-to-wheel duel with Roger Ward. Many race historians consider it the greatest Indianapolis 500 ever.

Row 9:

Scott Dixon: 2008 Indy 500 winner and 4 time Indycar national champion. And he's not done.

Mark Donohue: Roger Penke's first driver. His short Indy career changed the sport, making engineering as important as driving. Winner in 1972 

Tony Kanaan: His 2013 win was one of the most popular ever at the Indy 500, following more than a decade of constantly leading and coming close.

Row 10:

Michael Andretti:  Only non-winner on the list. He has led more laps than any other non-winner, but he continued the terrible Andretti luck at the Speedway, including the 1992 race when he led 160 laps before his car failed in the lead with only 11 laps left.

Jimmy Murphy: Won both the Indy 500 (1922) and the French Grand Prix, making clear that American drivers could compete world wide.

Billy Arnold: Won in 1930 by largest margin ever, leading 198 laps.

Row 11:

Ray Harroun: Won first Indy 500, then promptly retired. The legend of his rear view mirror continues to this day.

Frank Lockhart: Only raced twice at Indy, winning the race in his rookie year (1926), then winning the pole the following year and leading 110 laps before mechanical problems sidelined him. He was killed attempting a land speed record at Daytona Beach before he could race at Indy again.

Bill Holland: A rookie at age 41, in his first three races he drove Lou Moore's Blue Crown Spark Plug Special to second, second and first. Many maintain he should have won twice, but teammate Maury Rose ignored an "EZ" sign from the pits while Holland obeyed. When Rose passed Holland late in the race, Holland thought Rose was simply unlapping himself and that he (Holland) still had the race in hand. Holland even waived at his teammate as he passed. But Rose was actually taking the lead and the win.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

100th Indy 500: Ten Best Races

Closest Indy 500 Finish Ever - Little Al beats Scott Goodyear by .043 seconds
10.  1986:  Redemption Lost.  Kevin Cogan was seeking to redeem himself from 1982 when he became a race pariah, crashing before the green flag and taking out AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti in the process. Cogan dominated the late stages of the race and seemed to be on his way to Victory Lane when a late race crash brought out the yellow. When the green flag waved with only three laps left, Bobby Rahal got a tremendous start and passed Cogan going into Turn 1. Cogan could not keep up and Rahal won his only race, dedicating the win to his terminally ill car owner and friend Jim Trueman. Cogan never again came close.

9. 2015:  Teammates.  After a late race caution, the race restarted on lap 184. Will Power led, followed closely by teammate Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon. The last 13 laps saw the lead exchange hands four times among them, but Dixon faded. With four laps remaining, Montoya passed teammate Power on the outside of Turn 1. The teammates raced nose to tail, but Montoya held off Power to win his second Indianapolis 500 .  

8.  2014:  Grass to Pass.  Great race all day came down to Ryan Hunter-Raey seeking his first win and Helio Castroneves seeking history with a fourth win. They traded the lead several times in the final laps, including an incredible pass by Hunter-Raey going into Turn 3, his left wheels touching the grass. But it was Hunter-Raey's pass as he and Castroneves took the white flag that sealed his win.

7. 2012: Last Lap Bonzai.  Four car late race battle between Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Takuma Sato driving for A.J. Foyt. But as they took the white flag it was Franchitti and dark horse Sato. Sato attempted a pass, going low in Turn 1. Their wheels touched. Sato spun, but Franchitti managed to control his sliding car, taking the checkered flag under yellow.

6.  1989:  The Wheel Touch.  Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser, Jr. engaged in a furious wheel-to-wheel duel in the last laps of the race. On lap 198, the pair went through Turn 3 side by side. But Fittipaldi's rear end slid out and contacted Unser's wheels, sending Unser into the wall. Fittipaldi regained control of his car and won under yellow. On the white flag lap, as Fittipaldi passed the accident site he was greeted by a gesturing Little Al standing in the middle of the track. Unser called it "the greatest slide job in history."

5.  1992:  Closes Finish Ever.  Michael Andretti dominated the 1992 500, leading 160 laps. But Andretti's car rolled to a stop with 11 laps left.  Only one lap earlier, Al Unser Jr. passed Scott Goodyear for second place. After the yellow to retrieve Andretti's stalled car, the green flag came out with 7 laps left. Unser and Goodyear battled nose to tail until the finish, with Unser holding off Goodyear's last second pass attempt at the checkered flag by 0.043 seconds, still the closest finish in Indy 500 history.

4.   2011:  Last Corner Crash.  On the 100th Anniversary of the first race, it appeared that rookie J.R. Hildebrand was going to give long-time Panther Racing owner John Barnes his first win. But it wasn't in the cards. Passing a slower car in Turn 4 with the checkered flag in sight, Hildebrand got too hight in the turn and brushed hard against the wall. As his crippled car mades its way down the main straight, Dan Weldon passed Hildebrand to win his second Indianapolis 500. Often lost in the events of Turn 4 is the amazing job Weldon did in the last 10 laps, going from 7th place to 1st. Hildebrand finished second, the fourth straight runner up finish for Panther Racing.  

3.  2006:  Latest Pass Ever.  This race came down rookie Marco Andretti and Sam Hornish driving for Penske, who had made up a lap he lost in a pit stop incident. In Turn 3 on lap 198, Hornish tried a pass, but Marco cut him off with the poise of a veteran. Hornish had to back out of the throttle, and Marco opened what seemed to be an insurmountable lead as he took the while flag. But Hornish kept charging, and through Turn 4 and onto the main straight, Hornish was closing at a furious rate. He passed Marco in the last quarter mile, the latest pass for a win in Indy 500 history.

2. 1960:  Wheel to Wheel for 100 Laps.   For 100 laps defending champion Roger Ward and three-time runner up Jim Rathmann  dueled wheel to wheel, keeping the entire Speedway crowd on its feet for the last half of the race. Official records show 29 lead changes, a record for the time. But records at that time reflected a lead change only at the start/finish line. Many laps saw multiple exchanges of leads between Rathmann and Ward on the same lap that were not recorded. The duel did not break off until lap 197 when Ward saw cords showing through on his tires. He slowed to prevent a blowout, and Rathmann won by 12 seconds. 

1. 1982:  The Greatest Race Ever.  Gordon Johncock and Rick Mears battled over the last 40 laps of the race. Mears came in for his last pit stop with 18 laps left. He came up too fast on another pitting car, slamming on his brakes but still bumping the car. It slowed his pit time. Two laps later, Johncock roared into the pits, even passing another car on pit lane (there were no pit speed limits at that time). As a result, Johncock came out with an 11 second lead. Most thought the race was over, but Mears' car was running on rails and Johncock's car was developing serious handling problems on worn tires. Over the final 10 laps, Mears kept moving closer and closer as Johncock drove to the very edge, coming extremely close to crashing in Turn 3. When they took the white flag, they were side-by-side. But Johncock cutoff Mears as they dived into Turn 1. Mears had to back off, giving Johncock the lead. But Mears kept closing, making a final effort to slingshot by at the finish line, falling just 0.16 seconds short.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

100th Indy 500: Darkest days in Speedway History

The Indianapolis 500 is the world's most spectacular
sporting event because of speed, because of competition, and because of the danger that lurks in every turn. 

Safety has made incredible strides. No driver has lost his life during the race in 43 years, not since 1973. Only two drivers have perished in practice in the past 20 years, none since young Tony Rena while tire testing in 2003.

But make no mistake. The Speedway can bite at any moment. Just last year three veteran drivers -- Helio Castroneves, Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden -- went upside down in practice crashes. Popular driver James Hinchcliff suffered life-threatening injuries, his life saved only by the incredible actions taken by emergency responders at the scene. 

It's part of the race. So here is my list of the darkest days in Speedway history.

10.  May 30, 1931:  Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Billy Arnold crashed while leading on Lap 162. His rear tire bounced out of the Speedway and across the street, where it struck 11-year-old Wilbur Brink playing in his backyard at 2316 Georgetown Road, killing him instantly. 

9.  May 12, 1961 and May 17, 1996:  Tony Bettenhausen and Scott Brayton.  Fans develop special attachments to certain drivers. Two of those, more than a generation apart, were Tony Bettenhausen and Scott Brayton. Bettenhausen was a two-time national champion known affectionately as the Tinley Park Express. On a Friday afternoon before the first day of qualifying, Bettenhausen agreed to test a car for his friend Paul Russo, who was having trouble getting the car up to speed. A piece in the front suspension failed throwing the car into the wall on the main straight, killing Bettenhausen instantly. Scott Brayton had already won the pole position for the 1996 Indy 500 for Team Menard. The following Thursday,while testing his backup car, he ran over debris on the front straight causing his right rear tire to deflate between turns 1 and 2. Brayton's car was still going near 200 mph when he hit heavily, killing him instantly.

8.    May 21, 1935:  Three drivers were killed in qualifying.  Johnny Hannon, a rookie driver, lost control in Turn 4 on his first lap at racing speed. This incident led to implementing Rookie Tests.  Later that day, driver Stubby Stubblefield crashed in Turn 1, killing both the driver and his riding mechanic Leo Whitaker. 

7.  May 30, 1933: Three were killed during the race in two separate accidents.  The second riding mechanic era (1930-1937) doubled the lives at risk. On lap 79, driver Mark Billman was killed in a Turn 2 accident, but his riding mechanic survived. On lap 132,  Les Spangler and his riding mechanic "Monk" Jordan were killed in a two-car crash between Turns 1 and 2. 

6.  May 30, 1939:   A horrendous three car accident on lap 109 claimed the life of defending race winner Floyd Roberts, whose car went over the outside wall and crashed into a tree. Drivers Chet Miller and Bob Swanson were also involved, Swanson's car catching fire, and Miller's car flipping. Two spectators were also injured. Roberts is one of only two Indy 500 winners killed in the race as defending champion.

5.   August 19-21, 1909:  Before the Speedway was covered in bricks in 1910 and the inaugural Indianapolis 500 held in 1911, the Speedway held shorter races on a questionable surface or tar and gravel.  In a three day period in August, 1909, one driver, two riding mechanics and two spectators were killed in two separate accidents. The racing was halted. The incidents prompted the Speedway to resurface the track with 3,200,000 paving bricks.  

4.  May 30, 1960: As the popularity of the 500 grew in the 1950s, entrepreneurs began constructing make-shift towers and scaffolding in the infield on race morning, often build on the back of trucks. General admission spectators would be charged a small fee to get a better view of the race. During the parade lap for the start of the 1960 race, one of those homemade scaffolds collapsed, killing two and injuring more than 80. Since that incident, erection of scaffolds or other such viewing structures has been prohibited by the Speedway.

3.  May 30, 1955:  Invincible two-time champions Bill Vukovich was killed while leading in an effort to win his third 500 in a row.  Future champion Rodger Ward spun coming out of Turn 2. Al Keller and Johnny Boyd spun trying to avoid Ward. Vukovich touched wheels with Boyd, sending Vuky's car into a high-speed cartwheel, first hitting a bridge support, then flipping outside the track, landing upside down and on fire. Despite gory headlines such as "Vuky Burns to Death," he died instantly of a basilar skull fracture when his head hit the bridge support. His death, followed two weeks later by a car crashing into the crowd at LeMans killing 82 spectators, led for calls to ban auto racing.

2.  May 30, 1973:  Rain and horrible accidents made 1973 the year no one wanted to remember at Indianapolis. Speeds had jumped nearly 30 mph in three years. In practice on the first day of qualifying, popular driver Art Pollard was killed when he lost control in Turn 1. Two weeks later, rain delayed the start of the race for four hours until 3 p.m. When the green flag fell, Salt Walther crashed into Jerry Grant, throwing Walther's car upside down and into the fence, throwing flying parts and flaming fuel into the stands, injuring 11. Salt Walther's car spun upside down the main straight, his legs visible to the huge crowd. Eleven cars were involved, and the race was stopped. Though seriously injured, Walther survived. The rest of the day was rained out. So too was the next day. When the race finally resumed on Wednesday, May 30, young driver Swede Savage was among the leaders. On lap 59, he crashed horribly coming out of Turn 4, his car exploding, leaving Savage sitting in a pool of flames in the middle of the track, his entire car obliterated around him. Savage crew member Armando Teran, 23, jumped onto pit lane where he was hit by a fire truck headed to the accident. Teran suffered fatal injuries. Savage died over a month later, perhaps due to a tainted blood transfusion. 

1.  May 30, 1964:  The Eddie Sachs and Dave McDonald crash on lap 2 of the 1964 race remains the most horrifying moment in Indianapolis 500 history. Nothing before nor after has evoked the same level of sheer terror and disbelief. Coming out of Turn 4, MacDonald, who was running 10th, spun and crashed into the inside wall, the car instantly exploding into a fireball. The burning car slid across the track into the path of oncoming cars at full racing speed. The popular Sachs, known as the Clown Prince of Racing, hit MacDonald's car and the Sach's car also exploded. The two cars were both running on gasoline, something unusual for Indianapolis where methanol was the primary fuel. The black smoke clouds that obscured the sun were unlike anything ever seen before or since at Indianapolis. For the first time in race history, the race was stopped for an accident. Seven cars were involved. Sach's death, which was caused instantly by the impact and not the fire, was announced shortly before racing resumed. Before the race ended, MacDonald was also pronounced dead from his injuries. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

100th Indy 500: 100 Most Important People: 50-1

Completing the List I started with my last post, here are my picks for the 50 most important people in the history of the Indianapolis 500.

50. Jules Goux:  The Frenchman was the first European winner of the 500, but his real contribution was in the legend of drinking a small bottle of wine at each pit stop. As immortalized in broadcaster Jim McKay's telling of the tale, in Victory Lane he proclaimed "If not for the good wine, I could not have won." 

49. Dario Franchitti: Scottish driver with an Italian name and a Hollywood star wife (now former wife), he won three Indianapolis 500s before injuries cut his career short. His greatest disappointment -- all three wins came under yellow.  

48. Janet Guthrie: To put Janet Guthrie in perspective, women were not even allowed in the garage area -- Gasoline Alley -- at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway until 1971. Six years later, in 1977, Janet Guthrie made the race. Like Jackie Robinson in baseball, she absorbed ridicule, name-calling, and accusations that she -- and all women -- were not capable of competing with men and handling an Indycar at near 200 mph. Guthrie made three races, finishing ninth in 1978. Perhaps the most interesting story was from Guthrie's first effort at the Speedway in 1976. Stuck in an uncompetitive car with a low-budget team, she was not reaching the speed necessary to make the race. On the last day of qualifying, old guard warrior A.J. Foyt, rolled out one of his backup Coyote race cars and let Guthrie take it out for a practice session. She quickly reached a speed that would have made the race. Foyt couldn't add an additional car to his race effort, but his gesture showed that Guthrie was capable of making the race. The next year she did. Women are now expected in the Indianapolis 500. Nine women have raced in the 500, with four women making the starting grid in three races. All of them are following in Guthrie's tire tracks.   

47. Eddie Sachs: The Clown Prince of Racing. An incredibly popular driver known as much for his humor as his considerable ability. He twice won the pole position and finished second to AJ Foyt in 1961. The video of Eddie Sachs describing his emotions before the 1964 race is one of the most moving descriptions of why drivers race. Later that morning, he and rookie Dave McDonald died in a fireball on the second lap of the race.

46. Al Unser Jr.:  Two-time winner, including the closest finish in race history, nudging out Scott Goodyear's attempted pass at the line. Perhpas even more exciting was the wheel-to-wheel duel with Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989. When they touched wheels on lap 198, Fittipaldi held on and Unser went into the wall. 

45. Michael Andretti:  Andretti led more laps than any other driver not to win the race. Andretti bad luck kept him out of Victory Lane, including 1992 when he was leading by 2 laps when his car broke with only 11 laps remaining. But Andretti-owned cars have now won four Indy 500s.

44. Kevin Forbes: Speedway's director of engineering and construction who oversaw development of the SAFER barrier and construction of the infield road course.

43. George Bignotti: Crew chief of seven race winners, including Al Unser's back-to-back Johnny LIghtning wins

42. Chip Ganassi: A talented driver, but a better team owner. His cars have gone nose to nose with Penske and ended up in Victory Lane four times.

41. Mark Donohue: The driver chosen by Roger Penske to lead his attack on Indianapolis, he won in his fourth attempt in 1972. But perhaps more importantly, Donahue signaled a different type of driver. With an engineering degree from Brown, he understood the intricacies of suspensions and down force in the modern race car. No longer were drivers simply high-speed chauffeurs who might be able to turn a wrench. After retiring from racing, he returned to drive for Roger Penske's Formula One effort in 1975. He was killed in a practice crash at the Austrian Grand Prix.

40. Jimmy Murphy:  Winner of 1922 Indianapolis 500 and the 1921 French Grand Prix, he gave American drivers international credibility. He died in a dirt track accident in 1924, posthumously being awarded the national championship.

39. Tommy Milton: First two-time winner and later chief steward of the race.

38. Ray Harroun: He won the first Indianapolis 500 in the Marmon Wasp -- then retired. 

37. Lou Moore: Driver and car owner. Cars he owned won the 1947-49 races. As a driver, he finished second as a rookie in 1928 and third twice. He also started from the pole in '32.

36. Mauri Rose: Three-time winner, including two wins driving the Blue Crown Spark Plug Special.

35. Joe Cloutier: Tony Hulman's right hand man from his purchase of the track until Hulman's death in 1977. Succeeded Hulman as Speedway President, but never game the "Start your engines" command.

34. Bill Simpson: A middling race driver, Simpson excelled as a developer and promoter of racing safety. Many drivers owe their lives not only to Simpson's products, but to his courage in speaking out and doing something about safety when few others would.

33. Jim Rathmann: After three second place finishes, Rathmann won one of the greatest races ever, dueling side by side with Roger Ward for nearly 100 laps. 

32. Dan Gurney: Teamed with Jim Clark to bring the rear-engine Lotus cars to Indianapolis. He finished second in 1968 and 1969, and his Gurney-designed Eagles were dominant in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s. 

31. Tom Binford: Indianapolis businessman and long-time Indycar fan and also part of a group that owned an Indy car. He took over as chief steward following the disastrous 1973 race. His leadership and credibility saved the race from its greatest post WWII crisis. He held the position for 21 years. 

30. Harry Miller: In the 1920s, he built beautiful cars that performed as well as they looked. His cars won nine races and dominated the entries during the Roaring 20s. 

29. Fred Offenhauser: For thirty years, if you wanted to win the Indianapolis 500, you needed an "Offy."  These engines, later produced by Meyer-Drake, dominated from resumption of racing after WWII until the mid-1960s, winning 27 races.

28. Tom Sneva: A fan favorite, he collected one win in a duel with Al Unser and Al Unser, Jr., three second place finishes (including one from 33rd starting position), and sat on the pole three times. Perhaps best remembered by fans for breaking the 200 mph barrier and walking away from a horrendous crash in Turn 2 in 1975 

27. Jim Nabors: Singing "Back Home Again in Indiana" for nearly 40 years, he became an unlikely Speedway tradition.

26. Helio Castroneves: Three-time winner who came within one spot of winning his first three races at Indianapolis. His vibrant personality and enthusiasm captured fans, as did his impromptu fence climbing, which has now become a tradition for the Indianapolis winner and crew. And the man can dance.

25. Johnny Rutherford: Three-time winner and for decades a spokesman for the sport -- despite the fact that when I was a young reporter, he stood me up for an interview.

24. Rodger Ward: Two time winner and consistent top finisher, Ward was always a man of style. His retirement speech at the Victory Banquet in 1966 was one of the most moving moments in the history of that event.

23. Emerson Fittipaldi: Already a two-time world champion, Fittipaldi turned to Indycar, where he won twice, and gave away a third race making a late-race mistake while trying to lap second place teammate Al Unser Jr.  He drew international attention and opened the way for Brazilian drivers such as Castroneves and Kanaan. "Is fantastic." Only black mark - his refusal on his second trip to Victory Lane to drink milk, instead opting for orange juice to promote his orange growing business in Brazil.

22. Parnelli Jones: Though he won the race just once, in 1963, he's one of the great pursuers of speed. He was the first to top 150 mph in qualifying and started the race twice from the pole. He also won the race as a team owner in 1970 and '71 with Al Unser driving.

21. Colin Chapman: Looking and speaking like David Niven, Chapman brought his stylish rear-engine Lotus cars and the panache of Grand Prix racing to the Indianapolis Speedway from 1963 until 1969, and revolutionized the sport. The loss of Jim Clark and Mike Spence, both close friends, within a month in 1968 seemed to take away his passion for racing. In 1969, his wedge designed cars were withdrawn from the Indianapolis 500 following a horrifying practice crash with Mario Andretti and concerns over the hub design. Chapman and his Lotus cars never returned to Indianapolis.

20. Al Unser, Sr.: The second four-time winner, Big Al also dominated the 1979 race in "The Yellow Submarine" until it broke near the end of the race. He holds the career record for laps led at 644. While he drive fast, perhaps only Lloyd Ruby and Jim McElreath  spoke slower.

19. Bobby Unser: Three-time winner and always a contender. He also became a staple of the ABC television broadcast of the 500.

18. Jim McKay: The ABC broadcaster's storytelling style was perfect for the Indianapolis 500. From it's initial edited delayed broadcast on ABC's Wide World of Sports to the eventual live broadcast of the race, it was McKay's passionate interest in the race and his drivers that brought the event to an entirely new audience.  

17. Ralph DePalma: DePalma won the 1915 Indianapolis 500, but it was his non-winning performance in 1912 that created one of the first great Speedway legends. Leading by an insurmountable margin, DePalma's car broke in the fourth turn of Lap 198. He and his riding mechanic pushed the car to the finish line to the wild cheers of the fans. He was still a lap short, and Joe Dawson won the race. But all anybody really remembered was that iconic photo of determination as DePalma pushed his car.  

16. Andy Granatelli: CEO of motor oil company STP, his autobiography was titled, "They Call Me Mr. 500." With brother Vince, they started fielding cars in the 500 after WWII, even driving them on the highways from Chicago. Despite owning perhaps 100 cars entered in the race and as many as 11 in one year, he won only once with Mario Andretti in 1969. All the frustration came out when Granatelli planted a big kiss on Mario in Victory Lane. He was also known for his "STP pajama" clad crews on pit lane and the turbines, including the 1967 turbine driven by Parnelli Jones, which dominated the race until a $5 bearing failed with three laps remaining. 

15. James Allison: One of the four Speedway founders and Fisher's right hand man in running the track. Founder of Allison Transmissions, among other manufacturing businesses.

14. Rick Mears: Four time winner, six time pole sitter. No one was cooler behind the wheel. There is no question that had he chosen to extend his career, Mears could have won six times.

13. Tom Carnegie:  "It's a new track record," and "Mario is slowing down" became iconic because of Carnegie's resonant delivery over the public address system, which became part of the very fabric of the track experience for 60 years.  

12. Louis Meyer: First three-time winner. He started the milk tradition by asking for buttermilk in Victory Lane in 1936. His Meyer-Drake Engineering firm took over production of the Offy. 

11. Tony George: For good and ill, Tony George made a major impact. The grandson of Tony Hulman, he turned the racing world upside down with his ham-handed power play, creating Indy Racing League and splitting open wheel racing into two warring factions. While Indycar eventually reunited, it still deals with the lost sponsorships, lost attendance, and damaged image caused by George's precipitous actions. His positive impact came from adding the Brickyard 400 and building the road course which has been used for Grand Prix racing, Moto GP, sports car racing, vintage car events and now the Angie's List Indycar Grand Prix.  

10. Mario Andretti: From his first lap at the Speedway through his 29 races, there Mario Andretti has been special. He won only one race -- and that in a backup Brawner Hawk that was never intended for the Indy 500. But he came so close so many times. And his international appeal, frequently juggling Grand Prix racing with the Indianapolis 500, and then driving for movie star Paul Newman, continued to bring world attention to the race.  

9. Eddie Rickenbacker: Before he was a WWI flying hero, Rickenbacker drove in the Indianapolis 500. In 1927, when Carl Fisher's interest turned to developing Miami Beach, Rickenbacker bought the track. He shepherded it through the difficult depression years, including fighting off a threatened driver boycott. After WWII, he turned his attention to American Airlines and sold the track to Tony Hulman.. 

8.   Jim Clark: While he only won a single race, the importance of Jim Clark is difficult to over-estimate. The quiet Scotsman captured the hearts of Indianapolis race fans who were not predisposed toward liking foreigners, particularly those who changed Indy traditions. While rear-engined cars had appeared at the Speedway before Clark and Dan Gurney arrived in a Lotus Ford in 1963, none had the impact. Clark finished second in his first race. By the next year, half the field were rear-engine cars, and by 1965 when Clark dominated and won, the transformation was nearly complete. As two-time World Driving Champion inspired an influx of European drivers including World Champions Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, and Joachin Rindt. His legacy inspired many more to follow, including 3-time winner Dario Franchitti.   .

7. Bill Vukovich: In his short career, Vukovich was the most dominating driver ever seen at the Speedway. In his five races, he came within a whisker of winning four in a row. In 1952, his steering pin broke while leading with only eight laps left. He dominated to win in 1953 and 1954. In 1955, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated leading up to the race. While leading on lap 55, several cars spun in front of him. Vukovich catapulted end over end and crashing in flames outside the track. But his legend still reverberates through the track and with Indy racing fans

6. Sid Collins: The true "Voice of the 500," his descriptions took the Indianapolis 500 to the world from 1952 through 1976. Perhaps more than any other person, he took the Indianapolis 500 into the hearts and imaginations of race fans around the world.

5. Roger Penske: Since 1972 when Mark Donahue gave him his first win, the Captain has seen his cars in Victory Lane 16 times. No other owner has won more than five. 

4. A.J. Foyt:  Started 35 races, the first 4-time winner, and simply known as "Super Tex." Also known for expressing his opinion with words and fists about the driving ability of Kevin Cogan, the racing tactics of Arie Leyundyke and the fact that his car was driving "like a bucket of s**t" As a driver or owner, he has participated in 58 of the 100 Indianapolis 500s.

3. Wilbur Shaw: A three-time winner of the 500, Shaw's greatest contribution was convincing Terre Haute businessman Tony Hulman to buy the track after WWII. He served as Speedway president, giving the command "Gentlemen, Start Your Engines," which became the title of his best selling autobiography. He died in 1954 in a plane crash. A Shelbyville native, Shaw was the last Hoosier-born winner of the Indianapolis 500.

2. Carl Fisher:  Fisher was the visionary (he later developed Miami Beach) without whom the Indianapolis 500 would never exist. As early as 1903, he envisioned a large racetrack to be used as a proving ground for the automobile industry -- although if Fisher's original vision had come true, we might be talking about the French Lick 500. But a troublesome automobile trip in 1908 to Dayton with Fisher's good friend Lem Trotter spurred Fisher into action, and with the assistance of Allison, Newby and Wheeler, he bought a 320-acre farm west of Indianapolis and began constructing a 2 1/2 mile race course. In 1910 it was repaved with bricks, and on Memorial Day 1911 the first Indianapolis 500 was contested. 

1. Anton "Tony" Hulman:  With the encouragement of Wilbur Shaw, Hulman bought the track in December 1945 from Eddie Rickenbacker. It was a shambles, untouched since the outbreak of WWII and wanted by developers to meet the post-war housing boom. But Hulman was a sportsman and valued the history of the race. He poured in money and set up a management team that would guide the track for the next 30 years and beyond. He constantly poured money back into the facility, making it beyond question the world's greatest race course.

Monday, May 2, 2016

100th Indy 500: 100 Most Important People In Indy 500 History -- 100-51: MY VERSION

The Indianapolis Star recently published its list of 100 Most Important People in the history of the Indianapolis Speedway. It's a good list. Obviously racing fans can differ on their evaluation of contributions and impact over more than a century of racing. But I think the Indy Star's list missed the mark a bit. The Star's list overrated several, underrated the contributions of others, and simply omitted some people who deserved to be on the list.

Here, in reverse order, are my selections (100-51).  The top 50 will follow in a second post:

100. The anonymous Smith -- Names of drivers in the Indy 500 range from Ader (Walt) to Zuccarelli (Paul). There have been 8 Jones, 5 Millers, 4 Johnsons, 6 Unsers, 4 Andrettis, 3 Foyts, and 2 Rahals, Luyendyks, Snevas, and Mears. Heck, there were even two unrelated drivers named Howdy Wilcox. There was a Farmer and a Plowman, an Oldfield and a Newgarden, a Rose and a Thorne. But in 100 races, not a single driver named Smith has competed in the Indianapolis 500.

99. Don Kerston --U.S. Ballooning Hall of Fame pilot. In 1966 his hot air balloon got away from him in a reenactment of the first event ever at the Speedway, a 1909 balloon race. The runaway balloon knocked over the women's privy in turn 4 which was occupied at the time. Until recent years, the women's restroom in Turn 4 had a hot air balloon painted on it. The U.S. Ballooning Nationals conducts an annual Don Kerston Memorial Outhouse Race.

98. J.R. Hildebrand:  Heartbreak is as much a part of the legend of Indianapolis as is victory. And no one ever suffered the heartbreak of J.R. Hildebrand. 2011 was the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500. Driving for Panther Racing, Hildebrand headed into the last turn of the last lap with victory in sight. Then the unimaginable. He crashed.

97. Willy T. Ribbs: First (and only) African-American driver in the Indianapolis 500. 

96. Sarah Fisher: One of Indycar's most popular drivers and car owners, but she never found much success at Indianapolis. 

95. Larry Bisceglia -- For nearly 40 years from 1947 to 1986, driving a beat-up hand-painted van, Bisceglia was first in line for the Indianapolis 500, adding to the lore and legend of the Speedway.

94. Leon "Jigger" Sirois:  On a rainy first day of qualifying in 1969, rookie Jigger Sirois tried to qualify. His crew waived off his qualifying attempt. But when the rain started again and no one else could complete a qualifying attempt, everyone realized that Sirois would have been on the pole. His speed that first Saturday was fast enough to make the race, but for the rest of the month Sirois could never again attain a speed fast enough to make the race. Sirois came back to Indy seven straight years, but he never made the race. The "Jigger Award" was created in his honor, awarded annually to the driver or team with the worst luck of the month.

93. Frank Wheeler: Indianapolis businessman and one of the Speedway's four founders.

92. Frank Lockhart: Won as a rookie in 1926 and won the pole in 1927. Died the following year trying to set a world speed record at Daytona Beach.

91. Peter de Paolo: Nephew of legend Ralph DePalma, he won the 1925 race, the first to average more than 100 mph for the entire 500 miles.

90. Bob Collins: Longtime sports editor and writer for the Indianapolis Star. During the court battle between USAC and CART for control of Indy racing, Collins took both sides to task by writing about a new organization he was forming: Fans Against Racing Temper Tantrums. I'll let you figure out the acronym. 

89. Harlan Fengler: Race's chief steward from 1958-74.

88. Jim McGee: Longtime race mechanic.

87. Lem Trotter: On a difficult road trip to Dayton in 1908, Trotter encouraged Fisher to go forward with his long-simmering idea of building a race track. He also suggested the Memorial Day date for the first Indianapolis 500.

86. Jim Hall: His Yellow Submarine car in 1979 and 1980 revolutionized Indycar design.

85. Jack Snyder: Indianapolis lawyer who advised and represented the Hulmans and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for several decades.

84. Johnnie Parsons: Won rain-shortened 1950 race in a car with a cracked block. After retirement, served as a popular ambassador for racing.

83. Nigel Mansell: Former world champion surprised many by joining Paul Newman's team and racing at Indy in the 1993 and 1994. His appearance drew international attention to the race.

82. Jimmy Bryan: Winner in 1958, a classic vision of a 1950s driver, he was a legend wearing a tee shirt and chomping on a big cigar.

81. Lloyd Ruby: Oh so close so many times. One of the best drivers never to win the race, finding one heart breaking way after another to lose. No one ever drove so fast and talked soooooo S . . .L . . . O . . . W.

80. Mike Boyle: Manger of IBEW Local 134 in Chicago, and rumored to be a mob boss, Boyle was owner of Wilbur Shaw's two-time winning Maserati, one of the most beautiful and most successful cars ever to race at Indy.  

79. Leo Mehl: Goodyear executive who headed the tire makers racing tire effort for twenty years.

78. Danny Sullivan: "Spin to win." 'Nuff said.

77. Rex Mays: Four-time pole winner, two time runner up. He was Tony Kanaan before Tony Kanaan, leading 9 of his 12 starts -- and that was before pace cars bunched up the field on yellows. One of the greatest drivers never to win the 500. 

76. David Letterman: Indianapolis native and lifelong fan, he became a team owner with Bobby Rahal. At a time when Indycar was going through a difficult time, Letterman was one of the few who gave the sport enthusiastic national exposure.

75. Floyd Clymer:  From 1946 into the 1970s, Clymer's yearbooks documented the history of the Indianapolis 500. His yearbook encompassing the founding of the track until WWII is a must for anyone interested in the history of the race. 

74. J.C. Agajanian: Colorful Californian owned winning cars for Troy Ruttman and Parnelli Jones.

73. James Garner: Actor and racing fan, Garner brought a touch of Hollywood to the track. He drove the pace car three times and was the subject of a race track ditty "Jim Garner Won't You Save Me."

72. Billy Arnold: His win in 1930 was the most dominant performance ever. He lead 198 laps with a winning margin over seven minutes.

71. Fred Duesenberg: Builder of extraordinary passenger cars that were as much works of art as machines, he designed and built four Indy 500 winners in the 1920s.

70. Dan Wheldon: Popular two-time winner. While most remember that he took advantage of J.R. Hildebrand's last corner accident to win in 2011, many overlook the amazing job he did driving through the field in the last 30 laps to put himself in position to win.

69. Bobby Rahal: Won 1986 race by passing Kevin Cogan on a restart with 2 laps left. Brought David Letterman into Indycar as a co-owner of Rahal Letterman Racing, gave Danica Patrick her first ride and owned race-winning car for Buddy Rice.

68. Tony Kanaan: Maybe the most popular foreign driver since Jim Clark, Kanaan lead nearly every race in which he competed, but never grabbed the brass ring -- until 2013. One of the most popular winners in recent race history. 

67. Dean Sicking: Led development of the SAFER barrier.

66. Clarence Cagle: Another  part of the Hulman team, he was the Speedway superintendent for nearly 30 years. 

65. Clint Brawner: Long time chief mechanic, he built the Brawner Hawk that gave Mario Andretti his only 500 win in 1969.

64. Frank Kurtis: His Kurtis Kraft racers won five Indianapolis 500s in the 1950s.

63. Mari Hulman George: Chairwoman of the Speedway board who annually, but often somewhat pathetically, gives the command to start engines. She may not embody leadership, but for the past quarter century nothing has been done at the Speedway without her consent.

62. Gordon Johncock: Vastly underrated two-time winner and 24-time starter. He won the race no one wanted to remember (1973) and the race no one could forget (1982 battle with Rick Mears).

61. Jack Brabham: Sir Jack brought an underpowered rear-engine Cooper Climax car to the Indianapolis 500 in 1961 and astounded skeptics with a seventh place finish. His race signaled the death knell for the front engine roadster. The Indy racing community just didn't know it yet. He drove in four 500s.

60. Paul Page: Following the death of Sid Collins, Page took over as the "Voice of the 500." In 1988 he moved to ABC to anchor the live television coverage of the Indianapolis 500. He recently returned to the radio broadcast, where this year he will formally retire.

59. Donald Davidson: Race historian whose photographic memory of the race astounded all when he made his first trip to the track in 1964. His race day appearances on the radio network, his Talk of Gasoline Alley show each May, and his 500 history classes keep alive many of the stories and legends of the race and its drivers. 

58. Lew Welch:  Owner of the famed V-8 Novi engine cars that appeared at Indy after WWII and continued to thrill crowds with their unequaled roar until 1964. Some of the sport's top drivers tried to tame the Novi -- Duke Nalon, Ralph Hepburn, Paul Russo, Chet Miller, Jim Hurtibise , even a young Bobby Unser. None could. But how the crowds loved the Novi.

57. Arie Luyendyk: Two-time winner and still holder of the track qualifying record at just under 237 mph, set in 1996.

56. Danica Patrick: People loved her or hated her, but no one can question her results at Indy. She led her first race with only 10 laps left and finished fourth in 2009, the highest ever for a woman driver. She gave credibility to the idea that a woman might someday win the Indianapolis 500.

55. Jim Hurtubise: Perhaps only Walt Faulkner burst onto the racing scene with the impact of "Herk". As a 1960 rookie, a day four qualifying effort brought him within a whisker of breaking the 150 mph barrier -- nearly 2 miles per hour faster than the pole position car of Eddie Sachs. After a horrendous accident at Milwaukee in 1964, he was never quite the same, but the fans loved him and his quixotic efforts to make the race in his front-engine Mallard.  

54. Paul Newman: A championship sports car racer in his own right, Newman starred in the movie "Winning" in 1968, the last big-budget movie set at the Indianapolis 500. He co-owned a very successful Indycar team, but never walked into Victory Lane.

53. Sam Hanks: Won in 1957 and promptly retired in Victory Lane, the only driver to do so.

52. Jackie Stewart: The Scottish mouth that roared. The three-time world champions nearly won as a young rookie in 1966. He only competed in one more Indy 500, but served for 15 years as the expert commentator for the ABC television broadcasts.

51. A.J. Watson: Leading car-builder during the heyday of the front engine roadsters. He continued to compete with rear-engine cars, but never at the same level.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: A Rollicking Ride Through the Essential Hunter S. Thompson

For the better part of two decades, wildman journalist Hunter S. Thompson ripped a savage path through the landscape of American politics and journalism. Punctuated by alcohol (rum and Wild Turkey) drugs, guns, fast cars and out-of control parties, Thompson utilized a wickedly astute eye, vulgar uninhibited language, supercharged imagination, an unfailing bullshit detector and a savage typewriter to lay open the American landscape of Vietnam, politicians, society, personalities, the Super Bowl and whatever else his furtive mind took aim at.

Thompson called it Gonzo Journalism. It was a swirling mess that was part fiction, part autobiography and part insightful reporting, all whipped into gut-grabbing long-form articles that told more truth than the "who what when where" of mainstream journalists. And for the most productive part of his career, those articles ended up on the pages of The Rolling Stone. They are collected here. There is some editing for length. But the editing is sparse, and the editors have done a masterful job of keeping the integrity of the original writing. 

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of his writing is how relevant Thompson's writing remains. Thompson's observations about the campaign of George Wallace in his epic piece "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972," does more to explain Donald Trump's surprise success than any current piece I have read.

His heart-wrenching, anger-drenched piece "Strange Rumblings in Aztlan" reports on the death of Chicano award-winning LA Times reporter Ruben Salazar, who was doing investigative reporting highly critical of the LA Police Department. Salaza was shot by LA Police at close range by a tear gas canister as he sat unarmed in a cafe as an anti-war protest took place outside. The shot took off the entire back of Salazar's head. There were no consequences for the police. In an age of police shootings in Chicago, Furguson, Cleveland and elsewhere, Thompson's reporting still rings true, while traditional news accounts have long since faded.

Who else but Hunter Thomson can give you an account of a drug-crazed, gun-toting, hooker-accompanied escapade with a familiar black judge only coincidentally written while Judge Clarence Thomas was going through his confirmation hearings (Fear and Loathing in Elko). It's outrageous. It's spit coffee through your nose funny. But at its core is a truth that the national media couldn't touch. 

At the heart of Hunter Thompson's writing, even when liberally peppered with fiction, was an unvarnished truth as Thompson saw it. Perhaps the best example was his obituary to Richard Nixon. Eschewing the "don't speak ill of the dead" mantra, his article "He Was A Crook" is a scathing recounting of Nixon's abuses and an unblinking view of how history should perceive him. 

This book captures all of Hunter Thompson's massive talent, along with notes and letters from the Rolling Stone's editors that reveal much of Hunter Thompson's personal troubled journey. It's a wild ride that will grab you by the throat and not let go. But that was Hunter Thompson.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Quiet American -- Two Films Worth Watching

This week flipping channels I landed (as I frequently do) on TMC, which was showing the 1958 film The Quiet American, based on Graham Greene's novel. Filmed mostly in Vietnam, the movie was written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and starred Audie Murphy, Michael Redgrave, and Giorgia Moll.

Watching it prompted me to go to Netflix and rewatch the 2002 film, a much more true-to-the-book version starring Michael Caine, Brandon Frasier and Do Thi Hai Yen.

Both movies, as is the book, are set in 1952 Vietnam in the waning days of French rule as Ho Chi Minh and his communist forces move toward victory. The films present an interesting look at a view of global politics in southeast Asia, one from a  movie made before the Vietnam War, and the other made afterward. 

The 1958 movie is good. It is probably one of Audie Murphy's best performances, and Mankowitz created an interesting plot twist, though by doing so, he sanitized Greene's story into an American view of the world at the height of the Cold War and the Domino Theory. 

The 2002 movie is more richly textured. It features an Oscar-nominated (and deservedly so) performance by Michael Caine as a jaundiced aging British reporter trying to hold on to his relationship with a young Vietnamese girl. Brandon Frasier is the quiet American, a CIA operative posing as an economic development attache'.  

If you are going to see only one of these movies, the 2002 version is the one to see. It captures Graham Greene's view, even in 1955, that questioned the morality and wisdom of American involvement in Vietnam, and his ultimate outlook that no matter who emerged from the Americans / Communist conflict, it would be the Vietnamese people who lost. 

In these days when some belicose politicians keep wanting to send young Americans to spill blood in every hot spot around the world, it is well worth two hours to watch the 2002 version of The Quiet American.

Besides, Michael Caine is superb, and it's just a damn good movie.