2022 Greatest 33 & Post-race Update


Back again and it’s over a week dealing with the post-Indy 500 withdrawal that befalls us annually. Perhaps the feeling is also abetted by the renewal of my tickets for 2023, which reminds me that the next Indy 500 is 350-some-odd days away.

To ease my pain, I return to the numbing coolness of bland columns and rows of race statistics, including the annual update to my Greatest 33 and some other noted bits from this year’s race.


The Greatest 33 As a refresher, IMS put out this list in 2011 and fans could vote on their Greatest 33 to race in the Indy 500. To help me choose my candidates, I used a select batch of statistics to make my choices then and since have maintained this list every year, updating following the 500. The selected stats are weighted based on my relative value in an overall score by driver. My categories are; Races Started (10 pts. each), Pole Positions (20 pts. each), Laps Lead (1 pt. each), Races Won (250 pts. each), and Top 5 finishes (40 pts. each). I have been considering for some years adding a category for Total Miles Completed and updating the entire list as well, more on that another time. At any rate, here it is in all it’s unabashed boringness:

The “Field”

In addition to all the active drivers gaining another 10 points for another race started, Scott Dixon moved up three positions via another pole and increased his laps lead total by 95 this year to surpass Ralph DePalma (612) and Al Unser (644) to become the all-time leader of laps lead of the Indy 500 (to date) with 665. I’m fairly certain he’d preferred a win with no pole and only one lap lead this year to this year’s result, but alas, it wasn’t to be once again for the Iceman whose disappointment in not winning this race in a month he dominated may also have set a new high. The utter pain on his face after the race was easily seen and we all could empathize. As it stands, Dixon remains the highest scoring single-winner on my Greatest 33.


The “Lead Pack”

Who’s Next? – Active drivers from this year’s race that are the closest to moving into the Greatest 33 would be Power (664), Pagenaud (629), Rossi (557), Marco (534), or Ed Carpenter (516). The current driver ‘on the bubble’ is Jim Clark with 738 points and a win by the aforementioned drivers (minimally adds 301 points if leading only 1 lap) would put them well ahead of Clark on points, moving into a place amid Montoya, Sato, Sneva, and Parnelli Jones somewhere in the 8th or 9th rows.

If you recall, my list is essentially a top 30 plus the 3 best to never win it, in an homage to the Indianapolis Press Club Foundation Last Row Party. Michael Andretti, Ted Horn, and Rex Mays currently occupy Row 11, placing Clark on the ’30th place bubble’.

“One Lap Down”

Winner, Winner – The checkers fell to the newest first-time, and second native Swedish winner in Indy 500 history – Marcus Ericsson. My Greatest 33 list contains all multiple winners of the Indy 500 and being a one-time winner with relatively few races or laps lead means Marcus jumped from 127th to 81st now totaling 343 points (and one notch ahead of Graham Hill), but is still trailing the mid-pack of all Indy 500 winners in my list. Certainly a win is a huge bump up the list, but one-time winners in the Top 33 are few and distinguished.

Top 5 finishes for Ericsson, O’Ward, Kanaan, Rosenqvist, and Rossi all boosted their standings. Kanaan especially gained as he was able to distinguish himself sufficiently from Bill Vukovich and Rodger Ward placing squarely in 15th.

Photo by Indycar/Joe Skibinski (c) 2022

Not Bad For A Pay Driver – Marcus becomes the second native of Sweden to win the 500 (Kenny Brack in 1999 being the first). As noted above, his place among 1-time winners is fairly low trailing all others but Graham Hill, Floyd Davis (a co-driver credited with a win), and Gaston Chevrolet (the lowest ranked winner with 324 points).

“Mid-Pack”

Miscellany – “Ground Control to Major Correction, come in Correction!” Somehow, in the hoary, early days of this spreadsheet, I lost Joe Dawson. For the life of me I can’t comprehend why, but somewhere in 2013, the 1912 winner disappeared from my list. Mr. Dawson was not in my Greatest 33, however to be missing him entirely was certainly an error. He returns to the grid in 79th with his 362 points, placing him between Ralph Hepburn and Wally Dallenbach, and two spaces ahead of this year’s winner Ericsson.

Miscellany 2 – One thing I miss most about the new scoring pylon versus the old one is the average race speed shown at the top of the stack. The Indy 500 qualifying field was the fastest average in history so it stands to reason that the 2022 race would be among the fastest as well. It was the 7th fastest race of all time, but it also had 31 laps of yellow, the second most compared to the 13 fastest races run (all under 3 hours running time). Only 1991 had more laps of yellow (35). 1991 stands as the 5th fastest all-time, and just a blink under 1 minute faster than 2022. Not coincidentally, the fastest race of all-time in 2013 had the fewest laps under yellow.


“Also-Rans”

Photo by Indycar/Karl Zemlin (c) 2022

Wither TK? – Fan-favored Antoine Rizkallah Kanaan Filho, currently in 15th with 1192 points is a relatively scant 108 points away from moving up two places, passing fellow Brazilian Emo Fittipaldi, and former teammate/best bud Dario Franchitti who sit at 13th and 14th places with 1295 and 1299 respectively.

That move would align him right behind the great Mario Andretti (1396) for 13th overall. Another race and a Top 5 would seal a minimum of 50 points, not to mention what a win or leading 50 more laps would do. Although he’s on his second “Last Lap” of the Indycar scene, he did little the entire month to dissuade a smart owner from putting the popular driver in a highly-competitive second/third seat for Indy should the funding be there. Every driver stops racing at some point, and there’s much to be said for going out on a high, but I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve not seen the last of TK at Indy.


The drivers in the Greatest 33 change very little, although this generation of legendary Indycar drivers continue to march steadily up the list.

Dixon’s disappointing day should also be assuaged in the fact that he now owns a very impressive record at IMS – The Most Laps Lead of all-time. For now, it will always come with the caveat that he also hold only one win. If Dixon manages to grab that second win and maybe one more pole (tying Rick Mears for Most Pole Positions) before he’s done, the records will mean even more in combination with multiple wins, and cementing his place among the greatest of the Greatest 33 to race at Indy.


2022 Rows 1-3
Rows 4-7
Rows 8-11
The Full Field

A Few Quick Thoughts

As a final entry before leaving for Indy a ‘dark-o-thirty’ AM, I’ve thought about a number of suitable subjects, but none stands out in particular. So, I’ll just briefly touch on a number of the scattered themes that were bouncing around before I hit the hay.


Off Years – I was thinking about how an all-time instant classic/historic race comes along that we celebrate for many years following, but what about that race that follows the next year? This will be my 35th race and I’ve seen several races for the ages, but I also recall feeling a bit of trepidation in the years following a classic. Tempering my expectations always isn’t as easy as it might seem to be, but in the years following a great all-time race, there is usually something memorable to happen.

Following the closest finish in history in 1992, the 1993 was actually quite good for as little as it gets talked about. Perhaps most only recall that being the year Emerson thrice eschewed the milk on national TV, only to swig a bottle of orange juice to promote his farms in Brazil.

1983 usually pales in comparison with one of the most memorable races the year prior, although the notable rookie and pole-sitting performance by Teo Fabi was quite the introduction to this year’s race. The late-race drama between Al Unser, Al Unser Jr., and Tom Sneva made for some great TV and also commentary, but Sneva, after all of high-speed exploits at Indy in the 7 years prior, finally got a deserved win. He is one of a handful of single-win drivers that could have easily won two or three with just a little bit of better fortune.

The Greatest 33 Redux – As my tens of loyal readers know, I maintain this subjective tally that was originated by the Speedway for the Centennial Anniversary Era. I typically do a preview of the race or at least how the list changes following every 500.

Essentially, you need to be more than just a single-win driver with a few races to make my list. Longevity, Poles, Laps Lead, and Top 5 finishes also play a part in my calculations. Drivers such Ed Carpenter, Marco Andretti, and Graham Rahal all have a chance to notch their first win and come very close to bumping their way into my Greatest 33.

Second wins for Dixon, Kanaan, Power, Pagenaud, or Rossi would elevate them well into my Greatest 33.

Numerology of the ‘2’ – I had this theme bouncing in my head for years, but my inaction means I’ve come second to the good chaps at Beyond The Bricks Podcast – Jake Query and Mike Thomsen who covered this very subject recently.

It seems that race years that end in the number ‘2’, are extra-memorable for one reason or another. Last year we could consider the similarities of a year ending in ‘1’ and the crowning of a 4-time winner (1991 Mears, 2021 Castroneves). Will a finish for the ages be in store for us this year? Time will tell. Query and Thomsen of course do such a great job with the subject, that I cannot possibly add to it.

If you haven’t yet caught their show, I highly recommend binge-listening to their 2022 episodes heading into your Indy 500 weekend. That podcast, along with all of their other Month of May Indy 500 themes can be found here.


As always, I’ll be looking forward to another edition of that historic ‘speed classic’ in Indy, by being on the hallowed grounds of IMS again. I hope you will enjoy your Memorial Day racing weekend, wherever you may be. Peace!

A Reflection on Liveries

In my preparation for my trip to the 500, I always spend just a little time pouring over the intricacies of the starting field. How many previous winners? How many rookies? What are the countries of origin? Any bits of trivia I find interesting.

Some examples; Row 10 this year is the only row which features only one of the engine manufacturers (Chevy); Lundgaard is the first Danish driver to make the field; Row 5 is the only all-USA native field; etc.

In doing so however, I also look at colors and liveries in the spotters guide. Between qualifying weekend TV coverage and reviewing the guide, I noticed there are virtually no liveries that I would consider unattractive this year. All are notable and few replicate others so closely that they’re difficult to identify immediately.

The livery game in Indycar has stepped up in the last few years and I want to say that it is about as good as it ever has been and perhaps 2022 is the best of the 20s so far, but as is typical with everything else in sports, comparing eras separated by years and decades means that technology factors into the discussion.

I do think that as wild as the vehicle design was through the 1970s, the liveries of that decade were a reflection of that era in freedom of creativity. When one considers that nearly everything (if not everything) was hand-painted at that time, the work to produce a memorable and visually-capturing livery was truly an art.

Perhaps only rivalled by the 1973 field, one of my absolute favorite fields, subjectively judged by liveries, is 1970. Below is the hyperlinked year of the field for your perusal, of images from the Indycar.com site.


1970 – The dawn of a new decade and new era in racing meant creativity was in full flow. The #2 Johnny Lightning Special driven by Al Unser was the actual race-winner, but is also one of the most recognizable liveries of all-time now over 50 years on, but first appearing in 1970.

In 1970, Foyt’s Coyote Red team cars had become easily recognizable as did the Granatelli Team STP day-glo red, and the McLaren’s Papaya orange, but other non-works liveries that standout include: the #25 Cablevision car of Lloyd Ruby;

the #97 Wynn’s Spit Fire Special driven by Bruce Walkup;

The #22 and #23 Sprite soft drink liveries driven by Wally Dallenbach and Mel Kenyon;

And the #89 Nelson Iron Works Special driven by Jerry Grant.

The #89 I particularly enjoy as it evokes a feeling of walking into a groovy ’70s lounge with dark paneling, brown vinyl-covered cushy club chairs, shag carpeting, and swag lighting everywhere, including the restrooms.

Wait! I’ve been there. It’s called the High Life Lounge in Des Moines, Iowa. When I made the trek to see Indycars in Iowa in the summer of 2018, we made sure to hit this classic spot and so should you (if you’re over 21 years of age, that is).

I believe art generally reflects the times and even so when applied to the mechanical racecar. The variety of chassis as well as the creative liveries in the field of the 1970 Indy 500 really gives one a sense of the times.

I knew (/hoped?) this day would come, eventually…

Images captured from screenshots of video footage (c) IMS 1996, 2022

In 1997, I went from being optimistic that the speeds to challenge Luyendyk’s 1996 qualifying record would return in 8-10 years, to just hoping I’d be alive to see it. I was 30 years old then. Naïveté isn’t bounded by age, but rather experience apparently.

Flashback to 1997 and the all-new naturally-aspirated 4.0l v-8 engine and chassis formula of the IRL. The reduced engine costs and increased/deafening roar of the IRL indicated a new era where the perception was set that speed was no longer king. The 218 mph pole speed and 206 mph slowest qualifying speed in 1997 recalled speeds of a decade prior. Certainly a regression had happened which did nothing to assuage the concerns of the ticket-buying public, yours truly included.

Still, I had solid faith in the engineers and a very modest faith in the powers-that-be that solutions to ramping speeds back up would be forthcoming in a matter of years. By the time 10 years had passed though, we were hovering around the speeds of 16 years prior. Patience was wearing thin, even for this grizzled fan who had nearly seen it all by this point, but there was some progress on unification of open-wheel racing where better performance and a much better perception of the overall product was emphasized.

Flashforward another 15 years to yesterday, May 22, 2022.

A tumultuous set of weather parameters had rolled through the previous days, testing the limits of flexibility and skill of the teams and drivers during practice in preparation for qualifying. On Sunday however, a relative cool and calm settled over the speedway allowing the Fast 12 to really dial it in and let it go in their runs for the pole.

What resulted yesterday, in my view, was long-overdue, yet nothing short of magical to finally experience.

An ageless wonder, the kiwi-sensation, who even only at 41 years old, seems to have been around longer than nearly everyone at the speedway, save for Roger Penske, Tony Kanaan, and a few yellow-shirts. Scott “The Iceman” Dixon broke the speed record held by Scott Brayton from 1996 that had stood for over 26 years – a four-lap average of 234.046mph for the pole-winning speed. I felt as if the racing gods were again smiling down as they had 51 weeks prior when the fourth 4-time winner was crowned.

screen clip of video footage (c) IMS 2022

Of course the outright 4-lap qualifying record of 236.986mph (non-pole-winning speed held by Arie Luyendyk) still lay beyond us, but it truly seems so much closer than ever before. My appetite to see that record broken is truly whet. The potential for speed setbacks in the transition to new motors in 2024 looms, but I have to believe we’re not far away from 237.

I only hope to be there when it happens.

Catching Up with the Greatest 33 – 2021 Edition

Now with the glory of the 2021 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race firmly in the rear-view mirror, I’ve carved time to revisit my Greatest 33 and review the largest shake-up in the standings since the inception of this 10-years-old bit of bench-racing started back in 2011.

To briefly review, IMS took great pains to create a special interactive website for the 2011 100th Anniversary race, for which fans could log in and vote for their “Greatest 33” to race at Indy from the 100 or so nominees provided. The site survived for a few years, but has since been taken down. I had participated in the original, but in need of some rudimentary starting point, my desire was to devise a method to the madness, trying to maintain some framework of relative fairness. I devised a set of objective criteria based on a few statistics that I deemed important for a driver to be in the conversation of the Greatest 33. At least I’d have some basis to sift and sort through the many drivers who’ve participated in this great race. With some consternation and trial-and-error, I settled on the weighted scoring method you see here. As you may have correctly guessed, ‘just for fun’ I saved and updated a spreadsheet every year following the results of each subsequent Indy 500. In the words of John Bender from The Breakfast Club, “…so, it’s sorta social, demented and sad, but social.” Prior posts of mine on this subject can be found by searching this blog’s tags for “Greatest 33”.

Without further ado, here is the top portion of that updated spreadsheet in all of its astoundingly dispassionate and boring rows and columns.

Helio Joins Racing Royalty – With his momentous and thrilling 4th victory, Helio Castroneves graduates to the uppermost eschelon of this list, joining the three other 4-time winners atop my Greatest 33. As noted back in the 2018 recap, a significant change at the top occurs if HE-LI-O got his 4th. He vaults above the other 3-time winners, Wilbur Shaw and Bobby Unser to 4th place overall, behind Rick Mears, AJ Foyt, and Al Unser. Dare we even contemplate the possibility of the first 5-time winner? That’s too much to even consider this close to Helio’s 4th win. Even another 4-time winner is difficult to imagine in my lifetime. As unlikely as it would appear that Rutherford or Franchitti would come out of retirement to attempt to join the 4-timers club, it’s seems nearly as unlikely that we’ll see another 4-time winner from the currently active 2-time (Montoya, Sato), or 1-time winners (Dixon, Kanaan, Hunter-Reay, Rossi, Power, and Pagenaud).

Errors Corrected – Only the most eagle-eyed/unicorn follower of my blog might notice this, but not only did Helio move up in the first three rows, but so too did Mauri Rose, from Row 4. In working this original batch of statistics, I recall originally being some what thrown off by the fact that Mauri Rose was shown by the official Indianapolismotorspeedway.com statistical drivers pages as being a two-time winner, (plus historically also one time as a co-driver with Floyd Davis in 1941). Until now I ignored/forgotten about it but with the confirmation of established 500 history buff/authority, Mike Thomsen (@thomsen419), I took the time this year to correct that error in my sheet, giving both pairs of winning drivers (Rose/Davis, Boyer/Corum) the full points accorded winners, and transferring Rose up the standings into the outside of the 3rd Row. Overall it did nothing to change the drivers named in the 33, just shuffled the order to be more accurate with the base statistics.

What about 2020? – In looking back to the foggy, labored, and generally abysmal year that was 2020, I realized I hadn’t posted about the results of the previous Indy 500, a second win for Takuma Sato. Sato-san’s second, moved him from below the cut line into the Greatest 33. All drivers with more than one win are included in my Greatest 33 currently. As with the second Montoya win in 2015, Sato moved into the Greatest 33 and in doing so, they each displaced a driver previously on my list. Montoya bumped Bobby Rahal and Sato bumped Jimmy Murphy, both one-time winners.

Intangibles, Part One – Readers of the past will recall that there are a few differences between my staid statistical listing and the graphical listing shown here. These are the subjective movements in rank that I assign based on a few variable details not accounted for in my spreadsheet. Also, for those not familiar with my particular listing, this is basically a Top 30 plus a ‘Last Row Club’ (as a nod to the Indianapolis Press Club Foundation’s ‘Last Row Party’) comprised of the best 3 to never win. I intend to maintain this format unless sufficiently cajoled otherwise. If you want a very limited edition souvenir, follow the IPCF link above and get yourself one of the most fun-spirited Indy 500 shirts available.

Intangibles, Part Two – With the weight of a 4th pole position and statistically now ranked 10th, Scott Dixon is located in 12th place behind Gordy and Mario as I feel their legend status still holds just the slightest bit more weight than Dixon. In terms of points, the three are separated by 1%, effectively now ‘three wide’ across the 4th row, I fully expect Dixon will fully overhaul them before his days are over at Indy. By the narrowest of margins, Tony Kanaan charts just one point ahead of Bill Vukovich. Much as the reasoning above though, I’ll hold the two-time legend of Vuky ahead of Kanaan, until TK ‘clears’ Vuky and ‘makes the pass’ into 16th place. As in years past, Arie Luyendyk holds one place higher than scored due to his current one- and four-lap qualifying records which are always notable and celebrated in the annals of the 500. I also expect these records will fall in the not-too-distant future and I will return him to his place between Al Unser Jr., and Dan Wheldon.

Outside Chances – Who is close to breaking into the Top 30+3? Second wins for Hunter-Reay, Power, Pagenaud, or Rossi would see them jump to the strata populated largely with two-timers in Rows 7, 8 or 9 and bump Jim Clark out. Marco is approximately 2-3 non-winning races of overtaking Rex Mays and bookending the 11th row with his father. A win for the evergreen Ed Carpenter, coupled with his long career, 3 poles, nearly 150 laps lead, and 3 top 5 finishes would bring him into the low 800-point range, surpassing Bill Holland/Billy Arnold/Jim Rathmann/Jim Clark.

Other Bits – Interestingly, perhaps, Mark Donohue ranks 66th on my list and he won with Car #66. Gil deFerran is 67th and won with car #68. Perhaps somewhere down the line a driver that wins in car #67 will settle in that 9-point gap between Donohue and deFerran, making the lore of Indy 500 numerology that much deeper for me.

For me, I enjoy the time and thought required to update and review this every year. It always seems to force me to re-evaluate drivers of the past as well as consider the currently active drivers place in the pantheon of Indy 500’s Greatest. I’d love to hear from anyone else that did this back in 2011 (or beyond) and their experience in selecting their Greatest 33.

2021 – The Racing Gods Return

The 2021 edition of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is still reverberating in my mind and soul two days later. The reverberations are amplified because I was one of the fortunate 140,000 people on-site to bear witness to one of the greatest race experiences of my life.

(c) Photo by Doug Mathews

I don’t make those claims lightly because in the immediate afterglow of as nearly perfect a race day, storybook finish, and celebration as one could imagine, it’s tempting to succumb to labeling it ‘one for the ages’ with no contemplation. My racing soul, coupled with (what I attempt to maintain as) a grounded mind, however, have both received, accepted, and confirmed the result that this was simply one of the greatest Indy 500s of all time or at the very least, of the post-WWII era which encompasses many amazing races certainly. As I previewed in the previous post (here), several things this May aligned to give us the potential for an historic race.

Many of us could be forgiven for patently not believing in such things as ‘racing gods’ and perhaps we’re a bit too cynical and jaded to accept an unseen, mystical realm beyond our own. The 105th Race, however, would do nothing to dispel the existence of those very racing gods to me that seem to show up at times of uncertainty with circumstances that create results of significance and restore our faith. No matter the proof available to our human senses Sunday, I had to consider that this race result was supposed to happen, and in many ways, help lay to rest all of the haunted and tortured racing souls that not only endured the pandemic, but also were left with little assistance to heal from the fractures inflicted from several key events like; the death of Tony Hulman in 1977, the loss of many central and integral persons in the 1978 USAC plane crash, the ‘White Paper’ and emergence of CART, the 1996 USAC/CART ‘split’, and subsequent years of aftershocks from those momentous off-track events going forward.

Following the first ‘Golden-era’ of Indycar racing from the late 1950s into the mid-1970s, the sport was suddenly left with a crisis of identity for nearly the next 20 years. It had taken over 20 more years to arrive where we were on Sunday, May 30, 2021. As a very young fan in the late-1970s and continuing to this day, I can say that I’ve felt the numerous ebbs and flows of this sport as much as any fan has, I feel that finally the time has come for me to lay aside any and all resentment and sense of loss that had existed in me for far too long. Safe to say I was very much unsure of what a Penske ownership might mean for the soul of the ‘World’s Greatest Racecourse’, but the resulting 2021 event, finally with fans present, has told me that faith in the ‘racing gods’ shall be rewarded.

Believe me, all this talk of mysticism, faith in the unseen, and Karmic balances seems to conflict with this writer’s ethos that somehow staying ‘grounded’ at all costs is important in this fan’s existence and to maintain ones own equilibrium.

I get that and I see that.

It’s also easy to be a cynic when things are difficult and all the evidence you see denies your hopes, pushing them furthest from view. Brushing off the positive forces at play when things go so very right, as mere happenstance, is equally jaded.

Let us endeavor to joyfully celebrate the recent magic of Indy. Celebrate the plucky perseverance of Meyer Shank Racing and our newest 4-time, infectiously-spirited, and deserving Indy 500 champion of the fans, the people, Helio Castroneves.

(c) Photo by Chris Owens

Let us embrace as one the goodness that exists today, appreciate the efforts of those who lead this sport, and finally lay to rest the ghosts of Indycar past.

Let us dare to again look-forward and not slump back lazily against past glories.

Let us dare to simply feel the goodness of this Indy 500, to accept this gift from the racing gods, and to look forward with optimism and embrace the joy of these greatest moments of racing.

This 500 Will Be Special

It was a little after 6pm Sunday afternoon, soon after qualifying had ended for the 105th Indianapolis 500, at home sitting in my favorite chair, reflecting on how much I enjoyed what had transpired over the previous six hours of my Sunday. I am never on-site for 500 qualifying, so this was a qualifying Sunday I had genuinely enjoyed more than I had in a very long time. Then a strange realization hit me.

My enjoyment illuminated something I hadn’t felt for a very long time, perhaps even before 1995. Gone was the weight of the past. Gone was my annual angst over ’33’ and how it ‘should be’. Gone was ‘the split’. Gone was the millstone of ‘sacred racing traditions’ that had hung around my neck for far too long. A growing feeling that, through all that had transpired over the recent months, and all we as a collective group of humans had endured, a guarded new hope and optimism began to emerge. It was as if the weather fell upon that lovely track last Sunday was to remind us that everything is again as it should be, just in the new way.

The track temperature waxed and waned, and the wind appeared just enough to be recognized. The conditions were a flirtatious reminder that, despite our western-worldly inclinations as humans that it is our destiny to grasp ‘control’ of the many things in our purview, sometimes it’s down to the subtly fickle and unknown origin of a generic Indiana Sunday in mid-May that surpasses the engineers and crew and drivers, to settle it’s final favor upon the field, just as it had at times in decades before.

I’ve not said much about it in the last few years, but to me Indycar, and especially the 500, has felt notably starched and a bit too manufactured to be rendered joyful. Even the greatest build-up in all of sports was metered-for-TV-ad-space, essentially draining all excitement of what was literally my favorite 30 minutes of the year. It sadly has been quite a long time since I’ve been surprised with chills up my neck watching Indycar either on-screen or in-person.

Mostly I recall only the in-person chills I’ve been fortunate enough to experience that only the crescendo of a hundred thousand cheering on the main straight can give. Notably when Michael and Rick traded unbelievable Turn 1 passes in 1991, or the amazing finish of the most otherwordly race in 1992, or Danica’s pass for the lead on Lap 190 in 2005 or Sam Hornish making a front-straight pass for the win in 2006. As I try to recall the most recent time, I think it may have been the last time Jim Nabors sang the first seven syllables of that glorious song, prior to the start of the engines in 2014, knowing it would be his last.

The day’s drama of the 2021 edition of last row qualifications was certainly tense and bittersweet but also gave way to the building tension of Fast 9 qualifying. As Tony Kanaan, Rinus VeeKay, then Ed Carpenter cracked the 232 miles-per-hour barrier with their first laps Sunday, the crowd noise through my TV was more than I’d heard in years and that magical feeling of chills long missing from my Indycar pleasure went up my neck once again. I can only imagine how great that must have felt in-person. With little left to write of the story of 2021 qualifying, the stage was set for the last two drivers and they also did not disappoint with two of the closest pole runs in history.

In spending much of my late-Sunday evening pouring over the field for this Sunday’s race, I can’t help but feel that this 500 will genuinely be special. For what reason, I cannot yet say. Let’s just say that it’s a feeling.

I find facets of this race intriguing already though:

  • The fastest average speed field in history.
  • One of the closest fields in speed in history.
  • Nine former winners.
  • A progressive team featuring a majority female ownership and crew.
  • 15 nations of origin represented in the field of 33.
  • The presence of the ‘Second Golden Era’ legends alongside the stunning emergence of ‘Generation Next’.
  • A new ownership and revamped facility awaiting what will once again be the largest single-day spectator sporting event in the world.
  • Generations of fans who appreciate the past, relish the present, and excite at the promise of the future of Indycar.

Much of what constitutes the essence of this race reminds me greatly of the race 30 years ago. A celebrated front row and field full of the First Golden Era legends, the current stars, barrier-breakers, and youth. During that race we saw things never-before seen, racecars still deemed aesthetically ‘perfect’ by many to this day, a competition of machine and driver and crew on the grandest scale, culminating in the crowning of the newest royalty at Indy.

Maybe the alignment is too perfect to be true, but I have to wonder if we won’t again crown 4-time royalty this Sunday in a legendary race for the ages. Perhaps it’s all too much to hope.

Regardless, I know I’ll need to go and find out first-hand. I hope to see you there too and we can share the experience of it all unfolding before our eyes.

Speaking of Memorials

“…we also pay homage to those men who have given their lives unselfishly and without fear to make racing the most spectacular spectator sport.”

– Jim Phillippe, IMS Public Address – Indianapolis 500 Raceday.

For decades, the words and actions that lead to the start of the Indianapolis 500 were crafted carefully, scripted to meet a specific event timeline, and ritualized for many years. Rightly so, and as a whole, the prelude to the race represents one of the most important traditions of race-day to generations of fans. The words quoted above are taken from the address given by IMS Public Address announcer, Mr. Jim Phillippe, prior to the start of the 1989 Indianapolis 500.

These words were also spoken many times in the years prior and since. Following the invocation, as a call to remain standing, Mr. Phillippe’s words were a solemn reminder of the significance of Memorial Day, but specifically he also pays homage to those who died in the service of auto racing. At least that’s how I interpret those words which are phrased similarly but separately from the acknowledgment of the many who died in wars and conflicts for which the Memorial Day holiday was established.

During a recent Beyond The Bricks show, Jake Query and Mike Thomsen discuss candidly, but also with the greatest respect, a few of the group of drivers who perished at the Speedway. I found it very refreshing and helpful as I too have long wanted to have a more open discussion and learn more about these drivers and their personalities, who all too often are remembered primarily for the fact that they died driving a racecar at IMS.

I have always wondered what the survivors’ families and fans in general would think of a quiet, solemn, on-site memorial for those who died, somewhat away from the regular main thoroughfares of pedestrian traffic. Is it time to have a dedicated place to gather and reflect on those lives lost at the Speedway?

I know that for me, having that place would also be one I would regularly visit to pay respect and contemplate those drivers’ and history more deeply. Maybe it would be reflected in a part of the Museum. Maybe one already exists and I’m not aware of it. Perhaps the whole of the Speedway grounds represents that. Could those chills when entering the gates when emerging on the business side of the oval be not only in awe of the amazing facility and events past, but also with deepest respect for those who perished at the Speedway?

For many years, Donald Davidson would gently eschew discussion on the topic of fatalities, certainly as was his right as host of his show, but having now been alive for over 50 years, and followed Indycar for well over 40, I’ve seen too many drivers lose their lives while racing to not appreciate some sort of deeper conversation about them, and especially those of several decades ago who I never got to see race at IMS. People who are more heavily or directly involved with the Speedway on a regular basis are certainly more sensitive to, and in some cases more personally related to these people and their histories than the average fan. I can see the reluctance in having to repeatedly recall someone fond in the past-tense, yet those are the drivers whose histories seem significantly occluded by their final demise at the Speedway. I’ve always respected, but also found curious, that there appears to be a strong resistance by the Speedway to publicly approach the subject. Certainly it should never be taken lightly and be treated with delicate respect.

In any case, I appreciate the opportunity provided by Query and Thomsen and agree with their method of providing a way to more completely consider the drivers who all too often are not seen beyond their final moments. I welcome that deeper understanding and also the ability to have a beautiful, solemn, dedicated place to visit on the grounds of the Speedway to more directly pay respects and to acknowledge the more complete history of the Speedway.

Please tell me your thoughts on this subject in the comments below.

How A Mid-January Dinner recalls my first Indy 500

Lake-effect Winter Satellite Image (c) Wikipedia Commons

January and February in northern Indiana is sometimes referred to as “character-building” season.

Given the proximity to the Great Lakes, and Lake Michigan in particular, this time of year seems hopelessly lost in a cold, hazy-grey arctic embrace that recalls a seven-year-old’s unwanted holiday hug from an over-perfumed, slightly-frightening aunt that hasn’t seen you since you “were thiiiis tall”. You’re going to get that embrace regardless and to feign appreciation for the once-a-year relationship is to have nearly given up hope on better circumstances altogether.

So it goes with Indycar (or any other warm-seasoned activity) appreciation and winter in northern Indiana.

A generation ago, the phrase “he’s a real character” was a slightly derisory description, if not an outright warning, to others for someone who has a penchant for shenanigans. This is not the type of “character” that gets built during this season, however there may be a corollary with the term “cabin-fever” that I’ll not probe today.

During “character-building” season, with the exterior temps chilling our bodies, we often look to warm ourselves from the inside and a heaping bowl of chili amid the depths of a January evening is a rather suitable dinner. I did just that last night. My wife assembled the chili and cornbread which is now a staple food of our winters. Lower on bean count, higher on diced tomatoes, onions, and beef (sorry vegetarian/vegan/keto friends), it is a treasured little family mix that never fails to satisfy. When I saw the spent box of Jiffy cornbread mix on the counter, I was briefly whisked away to warmer days and my first Indy 500 in 1979.

The #46 Sherman Armstong entry for the 1979 Indianapolis 500 Mile Sweepstakes was a used Wildcat-Offy slated for 5-year veteran of Atlantics and Super-Vees, Howard “Howdy” Holmes. Howdy was a fairly accomplished young driver of the American open-wheel ladder whose liveries most often carried the family business brand – Jiffy Mixes of the Chelsea Milling Company, in Chelsea, Michigan. Although I’ve yet to confirm the fact, I’m fairly certain that Mr. Holmes has also shared the magic of chili and cornbread together in his locale of Michigan which would also be subject to lake-effect winters.

(c) IMS Archives

Just like Howdy, my first Indy 500 was in 1979 and the sensations of that day are still palpable to me as I’ve written about previously in this blog. Also easy for me to recollect was my pure and naïve disbelief in my father’s assertion that this car (the #46) was sponsored by a baking mixes company.

He assured me in his factual knowledge, and I was equally inclined to not believe him for all of racing is to be filled only with the stuff of rugged relation – automotive parts, petroleum companies, cigarettes, and beer. Even Janet Guthrie had a Texaco car. Surely my father was incorrect and a baking mixes company couldn’t adorn the front of one of the fastest 33 cars in the greatest race in the world. To whom could they possibly be advertising – these ne’er-do-wells populating the interior of the racetrack?

Certainly not.

Of course at some point, I had to take my father’s serious and insistent word and I found myself looking for that car all day long. It was also part of two-car stable entered by Sherm Armstrong so the liveries were fairly easily tracked – the #44 of Tom Bigelow and the #46 of Howdy Holmes were primarily black with larger white numbers and a smaller yellow and orange trim stripe. The broad nose of Howdy’s Wildcat was easy spot at a distance and so I was able to follow him all day.

Howdy’s career at Indy is notable. His performance in 1979 – 13th starting position (only rookie to qualify), and 7th place finish only bettered by the likes of Mears, Foyt, Mosley, Ongais, Bobby Unser, and Johncock, garnered him the Rookie of the Year honors. His performance allowed him to follow up a month later at Pocono for another 500-miler, starting and finishing a very notable 7th.

For 1980, he was brought on full-time for the team and was slated to help develop their new Orbiter ‘ground-effects’ type chassis. A detailed first-person article exists of that rather fascinating story here.

Howdy Holmes, Armstrong Orbiter Chassis, (c) unknown

Success came in waves for Howdy as he moved from team to team. He left the Armstrong Mould (AMI) racing team after 1980 and did not participate in Indycar racing altogether in 1981. For 1982, Howdy joined up with the brand new Doug Shierson Racing Team as the original driver of the now-famous #30 Domino’s Pizza livery through 1983.

Howdy had a very respectable and rather consistently-performing career in Indycars including a career best finish of 2nd at Phoenix and barely a month later, started middle of the front row at Indy in 1984 for Mayer Racing, back with the Jiffy Mix livery/sponsorship in a current March-Cosworth. He moved to Forsythe Racing with the Jiffy Mix brand in a 1985 Lola-Cosworth.

Passing on the 1986 and 1987 seasons, Howdy returned for one more season with Jiffy Mixes and Morales Racing in 1988, again racing a current March-Cosworth, finishing his career with the 26th and final career Top 10, finishing 8th at Tamiami Park.

1988 – Howdy Holmes March Cosworth, (c) IMS archives

According to ChampCarStats.com, Howdy’s career in the top-flight of open-wheel racing in America is rather notable for his considerable ability to finish higher than he started and on the variety of tracks presented by CART in the mid-1980s. Of his 82 career Indycar starts, he only lost places from his starting position 1 in 4 races. The record shows that most often, those drops were less than 5 positions. He finished in the top-10 in 26 of 82 starts.

After his retirement from racing, he returned to Chelsea Milling Company, authored a book on motorsports technology, formed a motorsports marketing and advertising firm, and eventually replaced his father as President and CEO of Cheslea Milling, where he still works today.

So, if you ever find yourself in the depth of winter, heading into the supermarket eyeing up the corn muffin mixes to match up with your chili or a cupcake mix for your next Indycar watch party, don’t forget about the endearing Indycar driver Howdy Holmes, and his family’s Jiffy mix.

The Greatest 33 Update – 2018 Post-race Edition

With just hours left of May on the calendar, and in keeping with all good traditions of May, we humbly submit, in the waning moments of May 2018, the ongoing review of my “Greatest 33” following the completion of another sun-scorched and interesting Indy 500. Making this post every year also seems to serve as a bit of a salve for the sting of realizing one of the greatest weekends on my annual calendar is now over.

To briefly review, IMS took great pains to create a special interactive website for the 2011 100th Anniversary race, for which fans could log in and vote for their “Greatest 33” to race at Indy from the 100 or so nominees provided. The site survived for a few years, but has since been taken down.

I had participated in the original, but in wanting to maintain relative fairness, I devised a set of objective criteria I could use to at least help make and rank my selections. I have, as you may have correctly guessed, saved and updated a spreadsheet every year following the Indy 500. Prior posts of mine on this subject can be found by searching this blog’s tags for “Greatest 33”. On the mobile site which lacks the tags feature, you will need to go to previous posts in May find them. Today’s post reflects the changes to the standings from last Sunday’s race and include the points gained from qualifying.

Will Power’s win obviously gives him the most-improved location on my rankings, but he suffers from what many single-time winners who haven’t cracked my Greatest 33 do – notably fewer races, poles, laps led, and top-5 finishes than other single-time winners. In fact there are not many single-time winners on my 33, so only the best of the best for “one-timers”. Mario is the best with one win currently and the best active one-timer is Scott Dixon.

With yet another Top 5 finish for Dixon, he did manage to begin to move up the scoring pylon from 18th to 16th. Dixon’s raw score in my formula actually has him ranked at 13th, however, I’ve also reserved the right to a few intangible calculations in the ranking so I have a hard time pushing him beyond Vuky, Ward, and Rose, all two-time winners with many laps led and similar Top 5 finish counts to Dixon. Scott’s longevity and steady performance keeps him in a close grouping of scores with the legends mentioned, but a second win for Dixon will certainly see him vault up the rankings. As it stands, the Top 5 rows remain unchanged.   


Speaking of active drivers, and since none of the three who currently reside in my Greatest 33 (Helio, Dixon, and Kanaan) won, their places are relatively cemented as previous. Tony Kanaan leading laps again moves his raw score higher than Arie Luyendyk, but remains just behind Arie in my ranking due to Luyendyk being a two-time winner in addition to currently holding the qualifying records set in 1996.

Helio would’ve become a true Titan of Indy if he had won his fourth last Sunday.  Rough projections would see his score rise somewhere into the low 1900s, moving from 6th the 4th on my Greatest 33. 
Next shown is the graphic representation of Rows 6-11 of my latest “Greatest 33”. 
Row 11, if any long-time readers will recall, is a nod the “Last-Row Party” thrown by the Indianapolis Press Club and is reserved for the three best and most notable drivers who never won it.

Will Power now joins active driver Ryan Hunter-Reay and several others just outside my Top 33. That group includes Buddy Lazier, Bobby Rahal, Sam Hanks, Jimmy Bryan, Eddie Cheever Jr., and Danny Sullivan. Other notable and currently active drivers are: Marco Andretti – 56th – 471pts., Ed Carpenter – 64th – 429, Takuma Sato – 65th – 428, and Alexander Rossi – 70th – 398.

Shown below is the spreadsheet ranking as it stands updated following the 102nd Indy 500.