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. 









Figures Don’t Lie, but Liars Figure

Oft attributed (but never actually substantiated) to Mark Twain, this kitchy axiom reflects a sense that the truth via factual numbers can be perverted into something in the interest of supporting a position that might need help outside a purely factual representation.


This seems all too commonplace in the era of mass consumerism as most products and services need something akin to facts to help bolster their place in the market. Even market leaders like to “massage the stats” to maintain their advantage.

In the game of sales – for media rights, sponsorships, and financial commitments of all sorts – using relevant statistics to assist can be an Olympian exercise in numerical gymnastics. Indycar as a sport has been well aware of this for decades, and quite acutely following the split of sanctions in 1996.

Even to those who follow me regularly here or on Twitter would have a hard time recalling my stance, and that’s because I’ve never made much of a statement regarding the ‘split of ’96’. I feel that it’s all water under the bridge and focusing forward, with the knowledge of the past, is far more useful than attempting with utter futility to settle a decades-old argument.

In the early days of the ’96 split, I knew what my feelings told me, but we didn’t have the benefit of facts to back up anything we may have wanted to believe or hope. I had a very close friend, who always joined me on the annual Indy 500 trip, who was against the split and vowed to not return to Indy.  I understood this position as my reaction was largely negative to the idea as well.  So much so that I failed to maintain my reserved tickets for the race I’d held since 1988, boycotting by not renewing or attending after 1996. As fate would have it, I wouldn’t have been able to attend the final running in 1997 due to it’s rain delay to Tuesday anyway.

After missing the race for two years, something inside me called me back and I re-ordered tickets for the 1999 race. My bride of 3 years at the time suggested that I might enjoy going back, but that she had seen enough in her two races in ’95 and ’96 to not return if I had no objection. It was alright with me as I knew she really had no interest in being a racing fan. Not really having any new friends who were interested in going, I called my formerly stalwart Indycar friend to see if he wanted to join me. He was surprised I had softened my stance, as he hadn’t.

I attempted to persuade him with some statistics in hopes we could get the band back together and rekindle his love of the race. He said he would give it a chance and we attended the 1999 race, viewing it from a section more northerly in Tower Terrace. The approach of fuel-less Robby Gordon, falling out of the lead directly in front of us on lap 199, was among the most notable dramatic events of that day.

What you see below is a spreadsheet I started in 2000, which I shared with my friend in hopes of maybe showing that the Indy 500 at least was maybe turning for the better. What I had attempted to show following 1999 is that the Indy 500 is on the right trajectory and isn’t really all that different from what we saw as our ‘golden era’ of the late 1980s (HA!). With what little data I could access in the early days of the internet, this is what I sent my friend. 




Out of sheer tradition now, I maintain it to this day. It’s one of those May traditions that now happens in my build-up following qualifying and prior to leaving for Indy and now looks like this.



Despite the original ‘sales’ intent of those very rudimentary numbers from early-2000, it’s now nothing more than a fun, 32-column-wide-and-growing tradition for me now and Indy is all about tradition – even if recalling (and embracing) a not-so-golden era.





Vive La Livery!

The visual sense and how we react to the stimulii is one of a human’s most basal conditions. Especially in this modern era of media, we are bombarded with images appealing, repulsive, and everything in between.


McDonald’s, for example, is among the most prolific in their study of marketplace and more specifically telling perhaps is their devotion via millions of dollars in research over decades to the very topic of visual appeal to ensure the utmost in terms of attractiveness to their products and experience. They are often deemed highly successful in exploiting our own senses for their gain.

For the world of autosport, the fan experience is predicated largely on the sensual perceptions of sight, sound, smell, and, to a lesser degree, touch. I’m not aware that I’ve ever tasted Indycars in action, but I can’t say that I can rule it out either simply because I’ve never put my tongue on one, but several moments have left me with mouth agape.

Most fans who have experienced autosport in person will generally refer to the torrent of sensations related to it that drew them to the sport initially. I would concur. It is also such that it seems difficult to explain to someone who has never been.

Despite however great the IMS radio network has been at creating pictures in the mind’s eye of the action, nothing will replace the experience of being at the track. It’s what makes a day at the track so enjoyable for many – the incredible experience one has that engages most all senses to the maximum.

A very distant second to being at the track is perhaps radio for audible reception or TV coverage for whom the visual is primary. Visual input is perhaps the strongest factor in determining how most receive the experience of autosport.

Something as simple as the static design of the car, and colors and lettering upon it, generate much attention and appreciation by fans. It is the primary effective experience by which the fan can receive other information aside from the racing action itself. With the depth of sensory imprinting on the race fan, the livery is perhaps one of the most critical intersections of art and commerce.

Even in the earliest days of autosport, attention was paid to varying degrees about the visual aspect of the machine and how it relates to those who experience it in person. With the advent of color photographic film, the real beauty of the cars could be displayed to the masses who were not in attendance.

The word “livery” originates in French (“livree”) and was used in reference to a person or thing who was required or given something (a badge, for example) to visually symbolise a connection (or loyalty/ownership). It’s evolved into the automobile age through racing (car’s color and lettering scheme) and we still appreciate them today. It’s oft said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, but I also like to more objectively rate the effectiveness of a livery by how quickly I can recall the sponsors associated. I have some major product recall due only to the liveries of cars decades ago. Pennzoil is one fine example of effective association of color and design to me.

Having spent some time watching Indycar practices for the 500, here are the first five sponsors from this year’s Indy 500 entries to date that I can quickly recall at this moment: Arrow, Napa, DHL, Pennzoil, USAF.

Now here are their liveries:




all pictures (c) 2018, LAT Images and their photographic artists
Ask me again tomorrow and the answer likely would swap a couple of others not shown here.

Livery design is a competition within the competition of auto racing I enjoy to watch as well, especially in the build-up to the racing action. Those who can capture the eye likely have a better chance of name retention. Granted, some of the above liveries are a result, as noted above, of many years of consistency and clarity in design, or simplicity of name, but that is also to their credit.

Which liveries appeal to you?

Which ones from this year’s field can you recall within seconds? 

Which ones from years ago do you still quickly recall today?

If you let your brain spit them out without much thought, you might be surprised at what comes first…


Indycar Lore – 1988 Indy 500

Something recently rekindled my interest in listening to The Talk of Gasoline Alley radio show in May wherein Donald Davidson takes calls about the Indy 500 and fills in many blanks, detailing races and drivers past with astounding clarity and recall.

It is, therefore, pertinent to note that I am, in fact, not Donald Davidson.

He is a living treasure trove of Indycar and Indy 500 knowledge, but that doesn’t relieve the rest of the universe of Indycar fans of the ability and, dare I say, duty, to spend just a little time in sharing our own personal moments and experiences which add color to the specifics of the race.

The upcoming race of 2018 will be the 102nd running and 107th anniversary race. I do consider myself a mere fledgling race veteran with 31 races and the 39th anniversary of my first.

From the vantage point of a single seat on race day, among the throngs of people, there is precious little that you actually get to experience compared to the expansive pantheon that is IMS. So many stories and experiences yet to be told.

These stories, tagged with #IndycarLore by myself and several other bloggers/fans began in earnest from a twitter conversation with “inside the ropes” Indycar veteran, Pat Caporali in 2011.  You will find some of our stories here and also at The Pit Window by Mike Silver, and Another Indycar Blog by Eric Hall. Check them out when you want to read more #IndycarLore about the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Today I offer my small slice of trivia from the 1988 race which I, and a few hundred others witnessed in person: May 29, 1988 – Al Unser and the unlucky rabbit.

Hot, Hot, Hot! – There is always the tendency to embellish the details of an event for effect when storytelling, but it is totally substantiated that raceday of 1988 was the hottest I could recall. Air temps peaked at 98 degrees F and the percentage of humidity was nearly as high. Sitting in the baking sun with minimal clothing that day was a chore and I c an o nly imagine how the drivers suffered under two layers of clothing that day.

After the race, the air conditioning in my car failed, leaving us in the slowest of traffic marches, with the windows and doors open in an effort to collect any breeze and relieve the build-up of suffocating heat inside the car. While stopped in traffic, we paid a slightly exorbitant $1 each for an 8 ounce cup of warm water sold by some neighboring kids on the side of the road. Desperate times for sure.

A fifth 500 for Unser a possibility – Defending champion Al Unser retained a ride in 1988 with Roger Penske after not having one for 1987.  Due to a hard practice crash at Indy, Danny Ongais was deemed unfit to drive at Indy the remainder of the month.  Big Al got the call from Penske and along with teammates Rick Mears on pole, and Danny Sullivan middle of Row 1, Al started on the outside of the front row.

(c) 1988, IMS photo

A new race record Big Al had been near the front or leading for a great portion of the first half of the race, dueling largely with Sullivan and Jim Crawford. He lead briefly during pit stops on laps 31-33 and again at Lap 105 after Sullivan’s Turn 1 crash and Crawford’s pit under yellow. When the race went green on lap 107, Al need only to complete that lap in the lead to surpass the all-time leading-laps leader, Mauri Rose, to up his career total to 614.  What is not officially known is if Rose, from the great beyond, attempted to preserve his record by sending a rabbit onto the track in and into the path of the onrushing Unser and Mears during that lap 107 restart.

My seats on that sweltering day were squarely in the middle of the backstretch bleachers not far from the USAC tower just to our south and across from some maintenance buildings. At this mid-race point, we clearly noticed a rabbit hopping along the bleachers and venturing through the first fence to the concrete wall which lined the inside of the track. 

USAC tower right, Armco barrier wall opening, left (c) 1988, D. Zehr

Back and forth it ran and during the lull of Sullivan’s yellow, more fans began to notice the rabbit and cheered as it darted north and south often along the concrete wall. The track action had quieted a bit as pit stops were made, but the rabbit became increasingly frantic as the cheers grew louder from the stands. Soon the rabbit traveled farther south near a section of steel Armco barrier and the rabbit was now free to enter the track side of the wall.

Unlucky Rabbit’s Foot – Many became concerned as we knew it wouldn’t be long before the cars would exit the pits and be heading down the backstretch. The rabbit stayed to the inside of the track during the first pass of the pace car and field, but as people became more vocal and pointing as if to alert someone of the rabbit’s presence, the rabbit made its worst possible decision as it darted to the outside track wall and began to run against the flow of traffic. As the race went green on lap 107, the field came around a full speed and leader Al Unser’s front outside wing dealt a fatal blow to the rabbit which then passed under his car and was again struck by Mears’ front inside tire.

ABC TV footage screen grab

Unser continued on but his wing was damaged, making it loose-handling. Perhaps the ghost of Mauri Rose directed the rabbit or perhaps it was all a large coincidence, but Al’s day at the lead was effectively halted from the damage. Al continued to lead for another lap, but the yellow again came out for the debris (rabbit carcass) and was passed on the restart by the undamaged chassis of Mears.

All-time Lap Leader – Big Al would stay out as long as possible to remain on the lead lap instead of pitting to change the wing, so he managed to lead one more lap during a subsequent caution and pit cycle, then went a lap down in the pits due to an error with the right rear tire gun and nut install, effectively ending his chance for an unprecedented fifth Indy 500 title. Mears pitted under a later yellow for fresh tires, but stayed ahead of Unser before a final yellow ended the race.
That day was my first race as an adult and first I had attended since my father took me as a child in 1980 when the bright yellow Pennzoil car also won that day, driven by Johnny Rutherford.

Brickyard Legend – Al did finish third in 1988, with all other cars at least one lap down to Mears and second-place Fittipaldi. Al finished the 1988 race leading 14 laps. He later led in 1992 (4 laps) and 1993 (his final 14 laps) finishing his career with a record 644 laps lead. Big Al currently sits at or near the top of the major statistical charts for Indy:
Tied for most Indy 500 wins (4, with A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears);
Third in Starts (27, to Mario Andretti’s 29 and A. J. Foyt’s 35);
Second in Miles driven (10,890, to Foyt’s 12,272.5)
Tied for fourth in number of races led (11, with Mario and Scott Dixon, trailing 12 by Helio Castroneves, and 13 by Tony Kanaan and Foyt).

 

Overdue Love for Dr. Trammell and the Holmatro Safety Crew

(c) 2017, Indycar.com video

Recently, in what was simply the cutest letter of appreciation from a fan to Indycar, revealed the depth of understanding even an 9-year-old has for the dangers of the sport. Thankfully the dangers weren’t realized in their worst and Lucy got to meet her favorite driver and see that he’s OK after a terrifying, flying shunt during the Indy 500.


For driver Scott Dixon and 9 year-old fan Lucy to even be able to have this touching moment, much of the sentiment expressed by Lucy also needs to be extended to the source of most all of the racing safety innovations of the last 20 years, Dr. Terry Trammell.

(c) 2016, FIA
The world-class team and overall driver safety/emergency response that exists these days started with orthopedic and racing specialist extraordinaire, Dr. Trammell.
This piece by the IndyStar gives a great background into the depth of involvement Dr. Trammell had in evolving the chassis design, driver safety gear, track design, Holmatro Safety Crew procedures, and injury evaluation criteria.
This is due, sadly, to the fact that because of Indycar’s history as one of the most visible and most relatively dangerous forms of auto racing for nearly 100 years. Basically everything now we see as a standard is an immense improvement over the ghastly accidents that took life and limb for over 90 years.  Nearly all of it comes from the first-hand experiences of Dr. Trammell and the constant work, care, and forethought that he guided for over 20 years, continues to this day. 
Credit for forethought and support must also be given to the leagues associated with Indycar racing over the years and their desire to constantly look to reduce the consequences of those unfortunate events for those who choose Indycar racing as their profession, as well as the safety of crews and fans in the stands.
 
(c) 2016, Chris Jones, Indycar
For me, this man and those he worked with should be honored quite publicly via a permanent display and in presented in an honorable and heroic manner befitting one who saved others’ lives.  
 
As a fan, I can only extend my most sincere gratitude to Dr. Trammell, his co-workers, and crews for all of their efforts to make Indycar racing, and all forms of auto racing, safer for all.