Indy 500 memories from Borg-Warner’s famous ‘silver man’!
That nameless guy on top of the greatest trophy in sports, the Borg-Warner Trophy, agreed to an exclusive interview this Christmas and related his favorite moments from Indianapolis 500 history.
1936 Indy 500 program.
Photo by: Steve Shunck / BorgWarner
I've witnessed a lot of amazing things in my past 81 races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway dating back to 1936, and this year was no different for better or worse.
I sure hope things will return to normal soon so fans, media, teams and drivers can enjoy and share memories with friends and family.
For me, the 2020 Indianapolis 500 was very different – lots of time alone in the IMS Museum and then social distancing from the few who were at the track, with everyone wearing masks. Heck, as you can see, even I wore a mask as I watched Japan’s Takuma Sato score his second Indy win.
Since 1911, the first Indy 500 (25 years before I first came to IMS) 782 men and women have started the race and 73 have won, earning their place in history with their images being permanently affixed on the sterling silver façade below me.
2021 will be my 82nd consecutive year at the "500" and I look forward to once again welcoming the winner of the Indianapolis 500 to Victory Circle. What will the future hold? – I sure can’t wait to find out – both on and off the track at Roger Penske’s wonderful facility.
While we wait over the holidays and winter for the next chapter to be added in the record books for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, I’d like to share some of my favorite stories, odd stats, fun memories and unique facts and figures since my arrival in 1936.
2013 Indy winner Tony Kanaan fits the 'silver man' with his anti-covid face mask.
Photo by: Brian Spurlock
1977 was a very special year. Tom Sneva broke the 200mph barrier, Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify for the race, but I’ll never forget race day and A.J. Foyt making history as the first four-time winner of the 500.
1994 Emerson Fittipaldi led 145 laps in the Penske-Mercedes pushrod, but while trying to put a lap on his teammate and polesitter Al Unser Jr on lap 184, he crashed in front of arguably the largest crowd to ever see the race. From an Unser perspective, this helped make up for…
1989, when Emmo clashed with Little Al in a memorable late race duel. Emmo’s car lasted in the lead as the race went under caution and became the first driver in 500 history to collect over one million dollars in prize money - $1,001,604.
1947 Mauri Rose won driving the beautiful Blue Crown Spark Plug Special for Lou Moore with teammate Bill Holland second. They would finish 1-2 in the same cars a year later.
1958 Cigar smokin’ always jokin’ Jimmy Bryan won the 500 and was the first and last driver to light a celebratory cigar in Victory Lane. Now that really is a bit of race trivia!
1959, 2008 and 2019 were the years that man’s best friend visited their winning owners in Victory Lane and the canines were all very well behaved while in the spotlight. Rodger Ward’s dog was Skippy, Scott Dixon celebrated with George and Arthur, and Simon Pagenaud shared the memorable occasion with Norman.
2015 Thank you Juan Pablo Montoya for being the last driver to not pour milk over your head in Victory Circle – a messy trend started by Helio Castroneves in 2001 and which many drivers have continued since.
1957 A month or so after Sam Hanks won the race I made a very special trip with him to New York City to be on The Ed Sullivan Show. Bright lights, big city!
1939 Wilbur Shaw’s second win and his first of two in a row in the beautiful Maserati 8CTF made him the first driver to win back-to-back 500s.
Wilbur Shaw, Maserati, 1939 Indy 500 winner.
Photo by: IndyCar Series
1972 Mark Donohue became the first winner to take the checkered flag with a rear wing, driving that lovely Sunoco-colored McLaren M16 and giving his owner Roger Penske the first of 18 Indy wins (so far!). It was an amazing year at IMS even before that: in qualifying, Bobby Unser averaged 195.940mph, breaking the track record by nearly 18mph!
1985 Danny Sullivan’s “spin and win” after battling hard with Mario Andretti grabbed worldwide media attention. Just think if social media existed when Danny was at his peak of popularity? On that topic, you can follow me on Twitter at @BorgTrophy.
1968 Uncle Bobby Unser won his first of three 500s – and for the second year in a row, a controversial and wonderful Andy Granatelli-owned, STP turbine car – this time a Lotus – faltered with fewer than 10 laps remaining.
1946 After the Speedway was closed from 1942 to 1945 because of World War II the 500 returned with great anticipation, excitement and pageantry. Winner George Robson took home a staggering (for the time) $42,350 in prize money.
1979 Rick Mears won his first of four 500s in just his second attempt. It was also the first of Rick’s record six poles at the Speedway. He won from the pole again in ’88 and ’91.
1963 Parnelli Jones, who in ’62 became the first driver to break the 150mph barrier at IMS, won with an average speed of 143.137mph becoming the first driver to complete the race in less than 3.5 hours and beating Jimmy Clark’s little Lotus.
Thankfully, Parnelli nailed one of a handful of genuine chances to win Indy – arguably IMS's greatest driver in the ’60s.
Photo by: IndyCar Series
1974 Under sunny skies, in a papaya orange McLaren M16 starting from 25th on the grid Johnny Rutherford scored his first 500 win after an epic mid-race wheel to wheel duel with A.J. Foyt.
1986 A hero and someone accustomed to going fast, General Chuck Yeager was the man behind the wheel of the pace car on race day, flying an American flag from the rear quarter panel on the driver’s side. Bobby Rahal won the race on Saturday May 31 after the race was rained out May 25.
2010 Starting on the outside of the front row, 2007 winner Dario Franchitti dominated, leading 155 laps to prevail for a second time. He would win again two years later, his final IndyCar triumph, and wore white-rimmed sunglasses in Victory Lane ceremonies to honor his late friend and fellow Indy winner Dan Wheldon.
1951 Lee Wallard won the race driving car #99, the highest number to win the 500. Want more trivia? The #1 has been first seven times but hasn’t triumphed since 1971, when Al Unser scored his second win.
1960 The Borg-Warner victory wreath joined me in Victory Lane on race day for the first time, as Jim Rathmann outdueled Rodger Ward. This past year, Michelle Collins of BorgWarner became the first woman to present the race winner with the wreath.
1987 Al Unser, substituting for injured Danny Ongais and driving a Penske-run March show car pulled out of a hotel lobby, became the second driver to win four 500s, joining A.J. Foyt. Additionally, that day Al became the oldest 500 winner – 47 years and 360 days.
2003 Team Penske won for the third consecutive year but Gil de Ferran ended teammate Helio Castroneves’ quest to be the only driver to win three straight 500s. The race also marked Toyota’s only 500 win.
1952 In his fourth 500, Troy Ruttman became the last driver to win in a “dirt-car” at IMS and entered the 500 record books as the youngest winner – 22 years and 80 days.
1981 Bobby Unser scored his third 500 win and became the only driver in IMS history to finish last in his first 500 (1963) and win his last. I got presented to two drivers that year though, because some post-race controversy saw me posing beside Mario Andretti, until Penske won an appeal and Bobby’s win was confirmed – in October!
1969 Mario Andretti won the 500, finally delivering Andy Granatelli a well-deserved first triumph at IMS. It’s a matter of legend that Mario’s face from that year is the only Andretti visage on the flanks of the Trophy below me.
Al Unser Jr. beats Scott Goodyear to the finish by 0.043sec in 1992.
Photo by: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
1992 Starting this race were 10 past 500 winners – Foyt, Andretti, A. Unser, Gordon Johncock, Mears, Sneva, Sullivan, Rahal, Fittipaldi and Arie Luyendyk – and at the end of the day there was an 11th, as Al Unser Jr.’s Galmer won the closest 500 in race history by 0.043sec over Scott Goodyear.
2016 Alexander Rossi won the 100th running of the 500 to become the first rookie winner since Castroneves in 2001. Ten rookies since 1911 have taken the checkered flag first.
2013 Crowd favorite Tony Kanaan, starting his 12th 500, won at a record average speed of 187.433mph, breaking Luyendyk’s 1990 record. Kanaan’s KV Racing car took the lead for the final time on a Lap 197 restart ahead of Carlos Munoz and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
2009 Penske’s polesitter Castroneves won for a third time at IMS and collected the largest purse awarded to the winner – $3,048,055.
2018 The sheer thrill, exuberance and elation that Will Power displayed in Victory Lane and shared with the Penske team and the fans on his victory lap around IMS was very special and remembered by all.
1975 Foyt, Johncock and Bobby Unser made up the front row for the 59th running of the race marking the first time in history that three front row starters were previous 500 winners. On raceday, Unser hydroplaned his way to his second win driving for owner Dan Gurney.
1937 Wilbur Shaw won his first 500 on an afternoon that saw the temperature reach 92degF, still the hottest race in the record books.
1962 Ward won his second 500 and got the checkered flag from chief starter Pat Vidan who would hold that position for 18 years – the longest tenure for the starter.
2006 Sam Hornish edged rookie Marco Andretti by 0.0635sec to win, Marco’s consolation being able to follow in his father Michael’s (1984) and grandfather Mario’s (1965) wheeltracks by winning Rookie of the Year honors.
Jimmy Clark and the Lotus 38-Ford – unforgettable and unbeatable combo in ’65.
Photo by: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
1965 Scotsman Jimmy Clark dominated the race, leading 190 of 200 laps to become the first winner to reach Victory Lane in a rear-engined car. Clark, driving a beautiful Lotus powered by Ford, started in the middle of the front row flanked by pole-winner Foyt and Gurney on the outside – surely one of Indy’s greatest-ever front row line-ups!
1996 Arie Luyendyk set a new track record in qualifying that stands to this day with a blazing lap of 237.498mph! Buddy Lazier, driving with 16 fractures in his back, won the race.
1953 Bill Vukovich, almost peerless in the history of the iconic 2.5-mile Speedway, won his first of two straight 500s. Vuky started on the pole and led 195 of 200 laps.
1978 Al Unser took the checkered flag ahead of pole-winner Sneva and began his march toward becoming the only driver in Indy car history to win the “Triple Crown” of 500 milers (the others at Pocono and Ontario) in one season.
2017 Sato scored his first 500 win and took me (and the rest of the Borg-Warner Trophy!) on the ultimate field trip later that year. Leaving the United States for the first time, I toured Japan with Takuma for over two weeks.
1964 A.J. Foyt scored his second 500 win and his victory marked the final time a front-engined car would win the race. And oh yeah, legendary historian Donald Davidson made his debut on the IMS Radio Network – something he’s done every year since.
1982 It’s the video you can watch over and over! Gordon Johncock made his final pitstop and Mears darn-near chased him down. Johncock’s final four laps, hanging on for dear life to win with a horrible push, are actually a thing of beauty. Goosebumps!
2011 The 100th Anniversary of the 500 was highly anticipated and turned out to be one of the most memorable finishes in history as JR Hildebrand crashed exiting the final turn on the final lap, allowing Wheldon, driving for Bryan Herta’s little team, to lead the last 918 feet and score his second 500 win.
1990 Luyendyk scored his first of two 500 wins at a then-record speed of 185.981mph. Famed sculptor William Behrends perfectly captured Arie’s flowing locks – hey, it was that era! – in his first of 31-and-counting sterling silver images on the B-W Trophy.
Race winner Arie Luyendyk, Shierson Lola Chevrolet.
Photo by: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
1970 Al Unser’s first 500 win was flawless, leading 190 laps driving a memorable car, the Johnny Lightning Spl. built in Torrance, CA. Fans still talk about and admire the paint scheme on that Vel’s Parnelli Jones Colt to this day.
1988 It had never happened before and it hasn’t happened since – one team sweeping the three front-row starting spots. Mears, Sullivan and Al Unser made it an all-Penske front row and Mears made it to Victory Lane for a third time.
1999 Sweden’s Kenny Brack won the 83rd running of the Indy 500 driving for four-time winner Foyt. Leader Robbie Gordon was forced to pit with two laps to go for fuel and Brack swept by him to the win.
2005 Wheldon won the Indy 500 but it was Danica Patrick who was in the headlines after qualifying fourth, becoming the first woman to lead the 500 and eventually finishing fourth.
1936 My debut! But the Borg-Warner Trophy was not the only tradition that started this year: Louis Meyer, after winning his third 500, celebrated by drinking buttermilk in Victory Lane.
1983 He’d started 1st twice and finished 2nd three times before he tasted the milk but Tom Sneva finally took the checkered flag first after dueling with Al Unser. It was also the record seventh Indy victory for Sneva’s chief mechanic George Bignotti.
1991 Mears always dreamed of winning a shootout at IMS and that’s what he achieved in his fourth and record-equaling 500 triumph. Fans will forever remember Michael Andretti passing Rick on the outside entering Turn 1 with fewer than 15 laps remaining and the Penske ace replicating the move on his adversary next time by! The front row this year was also one of the greatest ever – Mears, Foyt and Mario Andretti!
Rick Mears, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt – 1991 front row – 9 Indy 500 wins and 14 Indy car championships between them!
Photo by: IndyCar Series
1961 The Golden Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, and 50 years after winning the inaugural edition, Ray Harroun drove his race-winning Marmon Wasp in pre-race ceremonies. The race itself was memorable too, Foyt and Eddie Sachs dueling for the final 75 laps until Sachs pitted with tire problems with three laps to go and Foyt took his first 500 win.
1993 The record books will show Fittipaldi won his second 500 while hardcore race fans will vividly remember the late race restart when reigning F1 World Champion but Indy rookie Nigel Mansell lost the lead going into Turn 1, being passed by Emmo and Luyendyk. In his oval race debut, Mansell finished 3rd to take Rookie of the Year honors after leading 34 laps.
1980 The John Barnard-designed Chaparral 2K nearly won with Al Unser behind the wheel the year before, but a transmission seal ended Unser’s day. A year later, there was no stopping Johnny Rutherford who set fast time nearly every day of practice, captured the pole and led 118 laps to win his third 500.
1948 For the sixth time since his debut in 1935, Rex Mays led the opening lap of the 500, but the unfortunate Mays would never lead the last lap and it was Mauri Rose who triumphed. Fourth-placed finisher Ted Horn (another great destined never to win) scored his ninth (!) consecutive finish of fourth or better.
2004 Driving for owners Bobby Rahal and David Letterman, Buddy Rice splashed his way to a win as tornado sirens blared and rain pelted the track ending the race after 180 laps. It marked the first 500 win for Honda as an Indy car engine manufacturer.
1967 Showman and PR genius Andy Granatelli brought the innovative and controversial STP Paxton turbine car to IMS and hired crowd favorite Parnelli Jones as his driver. The “woooshmobile” qualified sixth and led 171 laps but with just four laps to go, a $6 bearing failed and so Foyt landed his third 500 win.
2014 Ryan Hunter-Reay fought his way from 19th on the grid to stage a memorable late-race duel with Penske’s three-time 500 winner Castroneves, involving a daring pass into Turn 3 with the Andretti Autosport car just a couple of inches from the grass.
Ryan Hunter-Reay and race engineer Ray Gosselin pictured with the author of this story ;-)
Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images
1973 Gordon Johncock outlasted what was left of the field and won the rain-shortened race when it was red flagged after 332.5 miles. It took three days to complete the event after multiple delays for rain and fearsome accidents. Following the race, limits were placed on wing size, boost and fuel capacity in an attempt to slow the cars and make racing safer.
1966 To this day, Indy winner Graham Hill is the only driver to earn the Triple Crown of motorsports – Indianapolis, Monaco F1 GP and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A five-time winner at Monaco, Hill added Le Mans to his resume in 1972.
1984 Starting from the outside of the front row, Mears easily won his second 500, leading 119 laps and beating runner-up Roberto Guerrero by over two laps!
1995 Pace Car etiquette seemed to problematic throughout the day. Early in the race Jacques Villeneuve passed the Chevy Corvette too soon at a restart and received a two-lap penalty. Late in the race, leader Scott Goodyear did the same – and ignored his subsequent black-flag penalty, which handed the win to… Villeneuve! The only Canadian ever to win the race thus drove 505 miles to win a 500-miler…
1976 Rutherford and McLaren entered the record books for two things in 1976 – he became the first winner to walk into Victory Lane, and he won the shortest 500 in history – only 102 laps. Rain stopped the race just past the halfway mark and as the track was in the final stages of being dried and cars were being warmed up, the rain returned and ended the hopes of Rutherford’s rivals.
From the 1936 Indy 500 program.
Photo by: Steve Shunck / BorgWarner
Hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year season, and I look forward to seeing you at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next Memorial Day Weekend for the 105th running of the greatest race in the world!
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