ANDRETTI, MEARS, FITTIPALDI LEAD LIST OF 2000 LEGENDS Granatelli, Nalon, Leonard also will be honored during Indianapolis 500 INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Feb. 4, 2000 -- Five drivers who provided some of the most memorable moments in ...
ANDRETTI, MEARS, FITTIPALDI LEAD LIST OF 2000 LEGENDS Granatelli, Nalon, Leonard also will be honored during Indianapolis 500
INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Feb. 4, 2000 -- Five drivers who provided some of the most memorable moments in Indianapolis 500 history and the most colorful car owner of all time will be saluted at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May as Legends of the Speedway. Mario Andretti, who drove in 29 Indy 500s and won the race in 1969, four-time winner Rick Mears, two-time champion Emerson Fittipaldi, Duke Nalon, who sat the famed Novi on the pole in 1951, and Joe Leonard, who set a track qualifying record with a turbine-powered car in 1968, will be honored on consecutive days between May 14-18. Then on May 19 Andy Granatelli, who during the 1960s wore an outlandish STP uniform, introduced the controversial turbine and kissed Andretti in Victory Lane, will be presented as the final Legends honoree. Dates for appearances of the Legends are: *May 14: Joe Leonard *May 15: Duke Nalon *May 16: Emerson Fittipaldi *May 17: Rick Mears *May 18: Mario Andretti *May 19: Andy Granatelli This will be the third year in a row for great racing personalities of the past to enjoy once again a day in the sun at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They will be interviewed over the track public-address system, take a lap around the track to acknowledge plaudits from the fans and meet the world media during a press conference. Last year, the honorees were Jim Rathmann, Lloyd Ruby, Johnny Rutherford, Rodger Ward and A.J. Watson. Andretti retired at the end of the 1994 racing season. His 29 races at Indy, second only to A.J. Foyt's 35, was highlight by his victory in 1969 after winning the coveted Rookie of the Year award in 1965. He drove for Granatelli in 1969 and crashed his primary car in Turn 4. He then climbed in his backup Brawner Hawk and drove a flawless race to the checkered flag as other contenders fell by the wayside to mechanical woes. But Andretti's other races often were shortened by broken engines that couldn't handle his hard-charging pace. In 1981, he finished second but was moved to first the next day after winner Bobby Unser was penalized for passing under yellow. Andretti was honored at the Victory Banquet but in October returned to second in a 2-1 vote by an appeals panel. Andretti led 556 career laps at Indy, third on the list, and had 11 top-10 finishes. Mears came to Indy in 1978 out of dune buggy racing. He was one of four drivers to qualify faster than 200 mph and a year later scored his first victory. Driving for Roger Penske, he had a marvelous talent for getting the car to run its best in the final laps. He won again in 1984, 1988 and 1991 to become the only driver to win the Indy 500 in three different decades. In addition to leading 429 laps, he also started from the pole a record six times. After crashing at the Speedway in 1992, Mears shocked the racing world when he announced his retirement later that year at the annual Penske Christmas party. He remains with the Penske team as a consultant. Fittipaldi - affectionately called Emmo - first came to the Speedway in 1984 driving a pink car. He had won two Formula One World Championships in the 1970s, then retired only to become bored with overseeing his orange groves and accepted an opportunity to drive in America. He eventually joined the Penske team and chased Mears to the checkered flag in 1988. The next year he became involved in a torrid duel with Al Unser Jr. in the closing laps. As they headed into the third turn of Lap 199, the cars touched wheels. Unser spun into the wall. In 1993, Fittipaldi led a parade of challengers to the finish line as eight drivers charged home within seconds of each other. Fittipaldi led 505 laps in 11 races. A back injury eventually forced him to retire. Dennis Nalon picked up the nickname "Duke" for his spiffy attire as he raced the Midwest midget circuits out of his native Chicago in the 1930s. He first qualified for the Indy 500 in 1938 and finished 11th. He then drove in two more races before World War II and seven more after the conflict, with a best finish of third in 1948. He was one of the select few who drove and nearly mastered the powerful Novi that was a fan favorite for some 15 years. He replaced Chet Miller in the second Novi in 1948 and set fast time with a speed of 131.603 mph. In 1951, he put the powerful car on the pole. Today in his 80s, Nalon lives in Indianapolis and is a board member of the 500 Oldtimers Club. Joe Leonard was a brilliant motorcycle racing champion before he switched to stock cars, and finally Indy cars in 1964. He became A.J. Foyt's teammate, finishing third in 1967 behind Foyt, who won for the third time, and Al Unser. The next year, Leonard came to the Speedway driving Vel Miletich's Ford but then switched to Granatelli's turbine that nearly won the race the year before with Parnelli Jones driving. Leonard set one- and four-lap qualifying records and led on Lap 192 when a fuel pump shaft broke. He ended up 12th. Leonard won the national driving championship in both 1971 and 1972. His career ended, when he suffered serious leg injuries in a crash in 1974 at Ontario, Calif. Granatelli first came to the Speedway as a driver of his car, the Grancor Spl., in 1948. A crash kept him out of the race. But he later became the most flamboyant car owner in history as he turned an oil supplement into the most widely recognized three-letter sponsor - STP - ever. He designed gaudy STP uniforms, raced the famed Novis, hired the top drivers and always managed to steal the spotlight. Andretti won the race in '69, and what everybody remembers most was Granatelli planting a gigantic smooch on his driver in Victory Lane. It was plastered on billboards everywhere. Granatelli also found a gray area in the USAC rulebook that put the famed turbine car into the Indianapolis 500. A turbine race car had been built previously but was not competitive. Granatelli designed one that was and put 1963 winner Parnelli Jones in it in 1967. Jones was running away with the race when an inexpensive piece broke four laps from the finish. The same thing happened the next year, and then USAC rewrote the rulebook to effectively put the turbine out of business. "Mr. 500," as Granatelli referred to himself in his biography, left racing and took on other business challenges. Now in his mid-70s, he annually returns for the 500 Oldtimers barbecue in May.