IRL: Indy 500: Past winners explain significance of winning

What It Means To Win The Indianapolis 500 INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, May 5, 2004 -- Quotes from all living past winners of the Indianapolis 500 about what it means to win the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" (listed alphabetically by driver,...

What It Means To Win The Indianapolis 500

INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, May 5, 2004 -- Quotes from all living past winners of the Indianapolis 500 about what it means to win the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" (listed alphabetically by driver, followed by years of victory in parentheses):

The 88th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for Sunday, May 30. Indianapolis Star Opening Day is Sunday, May 9.

MARIO ANDRETTI (1969): "Winning the Indy 500 changed my life. It created tremendous opportunities that I wouldn't have had at that stage of my career. It's the only single auto race in the world that is as valuable as winning a championship."

KENNY BRACK (1999): "After you've won the Indianapolis 500, it's very easy to explain to most people what you do and how accomplished you are. 'I won the Indy 500' is all it takes. It's the world's biggest and most famous automobile competition and subsequently one of the biggest accomplishments a driver can achieve in automobile racing."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (2001, 2002): "It is very hard to describe in small sentences what it means to win the most incredible race in the world. I just feel I am a blessed person to be in this position."

EDDIE CHEEVER JR. (1998): "Winning at Indy was different. I had a lot of other responsibilities. Race car drivers are very irresponsible by nature. Their focus is their immediate surroundings, crew, etc. When I had the company and the other responsibilities, the win at Indy was a lot of relief. It solidified our position as a company in an American premier oval racing series."

GIL DE FERRAN (2003): "To win the Indianapolis 500 is the opportunity of a lifetime that etches your name in history with some of the greatest legends of racing. The minute you step foot on the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you immediately feel that you have entered the Mecca of motorsports. As times goes by and your appreciation for the sport grows, so to does your understanding of the importance of winning the Indianapolis 500."

EMERSON FITTIPALDI (1989, 1993): "Historically, since the beginning of the century, last century, to now, there have been so many people sweating, performing, driving to the edge to win here, and different generations, different drivers and different nationalities. It was a fantastic feeling. I know I am a little part of this big historical place in motor racing in the world. I am very proud to be a little part of Indianapolis."

A.J. FOYT (1961, 1964, 1967, 1977): "Indianapolis is what made A.J. Foyt what he is today -- the first time I qualified for the Indy 500; then to be the first man to win it four times and have Mr. (late Speedway owner Tony) Hulman ride around the track in the Pace Car with me after I won (in 1977). That was the only time he ever did that."

GORDON JOHNCOCK (1973, 1982): "It gives you a lot of notoriety. It helps you most of the time in business opportunities. People trust you. I'm in the lumber business, and I deal with people over the phone I wouldn't know if they walked in my living room. But they know I'm an Indy 500 winner, and they trust I will give them a fair deal. And with speeding tickets, sometimes it helps, and sometimes it doesn't. It helps in life. It's better to win Indianapolis than 40 or 50 other races."

PARNELLI JONES (1963): "It's meant everything, especially from where I came from. I came from the old jalopies to work my way up to become an Indy 500 winner. It was like any boy's dream. It gives you stature, puts you in a special class. You can go anywhere, and when they find out you're an Indy 500 winner they know you were one hell of a race driver."

BUDDY LAZIER (1996): "It's meant everything. I would say it's the reward for many years of hard work. For me, it's the ultimate goal in racing and a dream come true. It does a lot for your career. It legitimizes you as a race driver. Just to compete in the Indy 500 is meaningful. To win it only makes you want to win it again that much more because it so exhilarating and satisfying."

ARIE LUYENDYK (1990, 1997): "For me, really the Indy 500 was the ultimate race I could ever imagine winning. When I came to the United States, it was the only one I knew about. Winning the first one especially was just awesome. Basically, having won it, whatever achievements I have had, it was the one I was most proud of. To win a second then was my goal; it was such a great experience. A couple other times I got close (to three), but I'm not complaining."

RICK MEARS (1979, 1984, 1988, 1991): "It's meant so many things to life alone. Like I've always said, I never dreamed of driving in the Indy 500 let alone winning it. I guess, looking back, it kind of established my place in history. As I get a little older and wiser, it means more. Obviously, it makes life much, much easier. On the other hand, it makes life much, much tougher. It puts you in a group, a category with all other winners, and it's a phenomenal feeling. That race is such a labor-intense event. You work all year round to get ready for it. For me as a driver, it's a great payback for the team. It's a nice way to say thank you."

JUAN MONTOYA (2000): "Winning the Indy 500, winning the (CART) championship have been the biggest two goals I've done in my career, and I think it's something special. I think it's in my heart, and I've got great memories from that. People know what you are made of, basically."

BOBBY RAHAL (1986): "There is nothing in my racing career that replaces winning the Indy 500. The series championships were great, and the accomplishment felt tremendous. But wherever I go, I am listed as a champion of the Indianapolis 500. That title will always be with me. Around the world I have been introduced as an Indy 500 champion. Plus, winning the race the way we did and winning for Jim Trueman was very special."

JIM RATHMANN (1960): "I won a lot of big races, Monza, Daytona, Atlanta, but Indianapolis was the place every race driver wanted to win. I got so mad because I ended up second so many times (three). I went there in 1946, and I said I'd be back and win it. I never had an idea how I was going to get there. I got a Chevy dealership after I won, and GM made me quit racing. I didn't want to quit. I wanted to go on and on and on. I tell A.J. (Foyt) and those other guys they never would have won so many races if I had. It was exciting."

JOHNNY RUTHERFORD (1974, 1976, 1980): "I think winning the Indy 500 is a great sense of accomplishment, No. 1. To realize you are involved with people who want to win as badly as you do makes for a great kinship. To have it come together at Indy means a lot to all of the crew. To win once puts you in a special category. Winning it twice elevates that category, and winning it three times puts you in a greater status. I can only imagine what winning it four times means to A.J. (Foyt), Al (Unser) and Rick (Mears)."

TOM SNEVA (1983): "First of all, it just opened a lot of doors. Second, it brought a lot of relatives out of the closet I didn't know I had. It gave me a chance to meet a lot of brilliant people, and some not so brilliant but were interesting."

DANNY SULLIVAN (1985): "Winning the Indy 500 is the most important win in any race car driver's career. It is a title that goes with you for the rest of your life: Former winner of the Indy 500. I have won the Pocono 500 and the Michigan 500 and the national championship, and that is rarely mentioned. My life changed forever when I spun and won."

AL UNSER (1970, 1971, 1978, 1987): "It opens up your life. It gives you opportunities to face the world with your accomplishments in racing. Don't kid yourself, the more times you win it, the better it is. But even if you win only one time, you can say, 'I did it.' Every driver knows what the Indy 500 is, and it is the Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

AL UNSER JR. (1992, 1994): "Every race I run in is in preparation for the Indianapolis 500. Indy is the most important thing in my life. It is what I live for. If you win Indy, you're in elite company. Even if you win it once. Indy just has so much history and tradition. It's the most important race in the world."

BOBBY UNSER (1968, 1975, 1981): "We Unsers made Pikes Peak famous, but it was the Indianapolis 500 that made the Unsers famous. You don't know how hard it is to win that race once. I lost my brother Jerry there, and in my first two starts I only completed three laps. But I didn't give up and won it three times. And that was battling against Foyt, Andretti, Rutherford, my brother Al, Mears, Johncock. It was tough. Today, I'm still Bobby Unser, three-time Indy 500 winner. The world will always know me for that."

JACQUES VILLENEUVE (1995): "Winning was fantastic for my career and the main reason Frank Williams hired me after (for a Formula One ride)."

RODGER WARD (1959, 1962): "It's a great feeling to win that race. It's hard to describe. Winning that race (twice) was the greatest thing that happened to me in my life."


Tickets: Tickets are available for the Indianapolis 500 on May 30. For information, log on to, or call the IMS ticket office at (800) 822-INDY or (317) 492-6700.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Unser , Frank Williams , A.J. Foyt
Teams Williams