Opinion

LONDON: A Classic Field Of 33

With the 100th anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500 lurking, many of us “pundits” have been compiling their “greatest 33” drivers. This isn’t that easy when you consider five generations of racing with all the inherent changes have occurred.

1. BILL VUKOVICH…The easiest pick of all. No one was more dominant, leading over seventy percent of the laps he ran. His career was short but with any kind of luck would have won four 500s in a row.

2.WILBUR SHAW…The second three time winner, he had a run of three wins and a second in four races. In the fifth race (1941), a used tire was mistakenly put on his car. It blew while he was leading on the 151st. lap. It cost him his fourth win and third in a row.

3. RALPH DePALMA…A truly amazing man. Should have won the race several times, managing to win in 1915. Held the record for leading the most laps (613) for 62 years. Drove during the most deadly era, running his last 500 at age 48 in 1930.

4. A.J. FOYT…The grand master of the 500. Drove an amazing 35 consecutive races. Won four 500s and four poles. Was only in one wreck all those years. 1957 was the last year he wasn’t entered as a driver or owner. Was in the top ten in five different decades.

5.AL UNSER…Probably one of the smartest drivers to race in the 500. Had 11 podium finishes in four different decades. Could have had five wins if not for a penalty in 1992 at age 53. Won a storybook race in 1987 after not having a ride the first weekend.

6. MAURI ROSE…The diminutive Jewish pipe smoking man didn’t look like a race driver but was one of the toughest competitors to ever race there. His win in 1941 was remarkable as he took over a team car that was two laps down on lap 77 and swept through for his first of three wins. Drove in every 500 from 1934 until 1951.

7.LOUIS MEYER…Won his third 500 in 1936 at age 31. A hard competitor, his career ended when he crashed with three laps to go, trying for a fourth win.

8. JIM RATHMANN…One of the great drivers of the roadster era. His 1960 win after a 100-lap battle with Rodger Ward was one of the grittiest. He finished second three times and in 1957 was the first to lead after starting in the last row.

9. RICK MEARS…What is amazing about him is that this four time winner came to Indianapolis with very little oval track experience. In 1979, he got his first win in only his second start. His battle with Gordon Johncock in 1982, coming from 10 seconds back with 15 laps to go was a classic.

10. BOBBY UNSER…One of the most uncompromising drivers ever. His three wins came in three decades for three different owners. In 1972, he had almost the entire field a lap in arrears by lap 31, when a rotor in the distributor broke.

11. HELIO CASTRONEVES…The first to ever win his first two starts, he stands with three wins and with his age and the fact he drives for Roger Penske, might become the first five time winner.

12. MARIO ANDRETTI…He was more famous for bad luck than anything. He ranks third in laps led. In 1993, he lead the most laps at age 53 when he became the oldest driver to ever lead the race. He has a few coulda/shoulda won 500s to add to his popular 1969 win.

13. PARNELLI JONES…Like Vukovich, he did a lot in a very short career. Led his first four 500s driving the same car. Was the first to run a sub minute lap of 150 miles per hour in 1962 and was running away with the race when his brakes failed. He did win in 1963 and lead most of the 1967 race when his turbine quit with three laps to go.

14. RODGER WARD…A late bloomer. He drove second-rate cars for many years but when he joined Bob Wilke’s Leader Card team in 1959, he went on a six-race tear when he won twice, was second twice and had a third and a fourth.

15. BILL HOLLAND…Was an older rookie in 1947 as WWII stopped many careers. In his short 500 resume, he had three seconds and a win from 1947-50, all in the same car.

16. GORDON JOHNCOCK…Had a distinguished four decade career. The winner of the dreadful 1973 race, nine years later he beat Rick Mears driving a mishandling car. He was far in front in 1977 when his engine blew.

17. ARIE LUYENDYK…Holder of both the four lap qualifying and 500 lap race records, Arie was a leadfoot. He won three poles. His first win in 1990 was a dominant win. He won seven years later and had two other podium finishes.

18. REX MAYS…This man was fast. He won four poles and was in the front row three other times. He finished second two years in a row in 1940-41. Always in the argument as the best driver never to win the 500.

19. JIMMY BRYAN…Although his specialty was one mile dirt tracks, which he won more races than anybody in the 50s, Bryan showed his mettle at the Brickyard, too. He had four top tens in nine races, winning in 1958. His runner-up in 1954 was gritty. Driving with a broken spring and shock, he was so battered he had to be hospitalized and missed the next race.

20. AL UNSER, Jr…A nineteen time starter, he was a two-time winner and his last win over Scott Goodyear was by inches. Got crashed out of a chance to win in 1989. Was in the top ten nine times.

21. MICHAEL ANDRETTI…Led more laps than four-time winner Rick Mears but was never able to win. Had several chances to win but never cashed in. The biggest hurt came in 1992 when he lead 160 laps and dropped out with 11 laps to go.

22.TOM SNEVA…The Gas Man certainly earned his nickname. The first to qualify at over 200 mph, his three second-place finishes got him canned by Roger Penske. In 1980, he started last and finished second. He finally got his win in 1983 after a tussle with Al Unser. Things then went bad, he never finished a race in eight starts after that.

23. TED HORN…Horn won a lot of races in his career but couldn’t crack Indy’s victory lane. He had an amazing run of nine consecutive finishes. After getting second in 1936, he was third and fourth the next eight tries. He won the pole in 1947.

24. TROY RUTTMAN…Another real leadfoot. Was the youngest winner at age 22 in 1952. His run to fourth in 1954 after blowing a tire and spinning was said to be one of the best non-winning efforts. Several times he ran near the front. He was leading in 1957 but burned a piston on the 12th lap. No water was put into the radiator.

25. JIM CLARK…Another driver who made a great impression in a short time. He finished second as a rookie in 1963 running a stock block engine. Pole winner in 1964, he won the 1965 race by leading 190 laps. Many thought he actually won the 1966 race even though he spun twice.

26. BILLY ARNOLD…He was a frontrunner, leading all but two laps in his 1930 win, the most ever. He led more than 150 laps in 1931 before crashing and more than 50 in 1932.

27. DARIO FRANCHITTI…The defending winner has two wins under his belt and seems primed to win even more.

28. TONY KANAAN…It’s said if you can lead a race you can win. Tony had led seven races in a row, a feat unmatched. He’s still looking for that elusive win.

29. JACK McGRATH…Although in eight races he managed two thirds and a fifth, he sat on the front row five out of the last six races he drove. He was the first to run over 140 mph. He was the only driver to race away the lead from Vukovich.

30. JOHNNY RUTHERFORD…Despite being a three-time winner, JR’s fact sheet shows a lot of so-so finishes. He sandwiched his 1974 and 1976 wins with a second in 1975. He won his third in 1980. He had no other top fives in his 22 starts.

31.TOMMY MILTON…The first two-time winner, he had four top 10s in eight starts. He had only one eye, a malady that wouldn’t allow him to race today. His two wins came from 20th and the pole.

32. CLIFF BERGERE…He had a long career from 1927-1947 driving in 16 races. He led in his last three starts finishing up at age 50. He had nine top 10s with two thirds, his best. He was the first non-diesel to run 500 miles non-stop in 1941.

33. SAM HANKS…It took him more starts to win (12) than any other driver when he won in 1957. In 1956, he drove a great race to finish second in a car with a bent front wheel. He was third in 1952-53 and those four podium runs were the only races out of the 12 he drove he finished.

 

 

Posted by on May 13 2011 Filed under Columns, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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