LUYENDYK TO PUT HIS UNIQUE STAMP ON INDY 500 FAREWELLS By Dick Mittman indy500.com INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 19, 1999 -- One of the toughest things for a great race driver to do is deciding when to hang up his helmet. On Feb. 23 at...
LUYENDYK TO PUT HIS UNIQUE STAMP ON INDY 500 FAREWELLS
By Dick Mittman indy500.com
INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 19, 1999 -- One of the toughest things for a great race driver to do is deciding when to hang up his helmet.
On Feb. 23 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, two-time Indy 500 champion Arie Luyendyk will make it official that he will drive in one more race, the 83rd Indianapolis 500 on May 30, for Treadway Racing and then step aside from open-wheel racing.
The Flying Dutchman, 45, is not making any surprise announcement. He has said since he won the Pep Boys Indy Racing League season finale last October at Las Vegas that he planned to drive only at Indy in 1999 and then call it quits. The press conference is just his way of allowing the media to talk to him in a group so he can then concentrate on departing the sport as a three-time winner at Indy. He also will unveil the car he will drive in his final race at Indy.
Luyendyk came to America from his native Holland as a road-course driver, but during his time in Indy cars he excelled on the big ovals. He could drive as fast as anyone who ever strapped into a cockpit ... and did at Indy.
He won the 1990 Indy 500 at a speed of 185.981 mph, an average that has never been threatened. Then in 1996, he turned one lap at 237.498 and four laps at 236.239 during his qualifying run. He recorded a practice lap speed of 239.260 that will not be touched for some time, if ever.
The next year, 1997, he won the first Indy 500 run under the new normally aspirated engine rules. He is the only driver to win with and without a turbocharged engine.
Also, he's only the driver to win with long hair (1990) and short hair (1997).
His retirement brings to mind how other noted Indy champions stepped aside.
It all began with Ray Harroun. Harroun won the major race, a 300-miler, at the Speedway in 1910 and then said he was quitting. Then Carl Fisher announced that a 500-mile race would be held May 30, 1911, and Harroun was talked out of retirement for this one race. He devised the famous rear-view mirror for his Marmon Wasp and, with the help of relief driver Cyrus Patschke, drove to a grueling five-hour victory. Harroun stepped out of his machine and never drove a race car again.
Louis Meyer was making a concerted effort to become a four-time winner in 1939 when he crashed on the 198th lap. He climbed out of his crumbled race car and said that was it. And it was.
Wilbur Shaw had no trouble retiring. World War II intervened after he had won three times, and when racing resumed at the Speedway in 1946, new owner Tony Hulman named Shaw president of the Speedway. In 1957, 42-year-old Sam Hanks pulled into Victory Lane and, like Harroun, said that was the end of his career. After consecutive finishes of 1-2-3-1-4-2, Rodger Ward fell out after 74 laps in 15th place in 1966. At the Victory Banquet, Ward, with tears running down his face, announced he was done.
Bobby Unser won three Indianapolis 500's, the last in 1981. He returned in 1982 as mentor for young Mexican Josele Garza, who was having troubles on the track. Many speculated that Unser would take over the car, but instead Unser asked a sports writer friend to call a press conference. At the jammed conference the next day, Unser said he would not replace Garza with himself but never mentioned retirement.
He just never drove again.
One practice day for the 1990 race, two-time winner Gordon Johncock showed up at his garage and said he had lost interest and was retiring. He made a comeback for 1991-92 but later admitted he made a terrible mistake quitting when he did. Johncock's name was still listed as a potential driver the past couple years, but his time was over.
A.J. Foyt drove in 35 Indy 500's, overcoming some unbelievable injuries at times to make the race. He was planning on making No. 36 on qualifying morning of 1993. Then his young driver, Robby Gordon, crashed in pre-trials qualifying.
In that instant, Foyt became a retired race driver. He stepped to the public-address microphone and made his announcement to the huge crowd as a tear or two trickled down his cheeks. Later he took a ceremonial farewell ride around the track.
Johnny Rutherford, a three-time winner, continued trying after his last race in 1988, but the equipment was inferior and he couldn't make the show. Eventually, he accepted the inevitable and announced foreclosure on his career, also taking a final ceremonial ride around the great oval.
Rick Mears won four times, then experienced a couple of serious crashes at Indy. At the annual Penske Christmas party in 1992 at Reading, Pa., Mears shocked everyone when he announced he was retiring. He kept to his word and became a driving coach for Team Penske.
Al Unser won his fourth race in 1988 and drove his final Indy in 1993. He returned in 1994 in a low-budget operation and found he couldn't get the car to speed. One warm, sunny morning before qualifying he called a sports writer into his garage and said he was stepping out of his car and ending his illustrious career. He and Rutherford now are part of the Indy Racing League team, while Foyt is car owner of last year's Indy pole sitter Billy Boat and Pep Boys Indy Racing League champion Kenny Brack.
Mario Andretti announced in advance that 1994 would be his final season. There were parties and roasts to salute and even a book published. He went out in style during the season. But the Speedway nipped him one final time as a faulty fuel pump sidelined him in 32nd place.
Danny Sullivan quietly stepped aside after finishing ninth in 1995 to become a television racing commentator. Bobby Rahal announced prior to start of the 1998 that he would retire at the end of the CART season and was honored, much like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he played his final season in the NBA, at each venue.
Now in three months Luyendyk will join his famed fellow Indy 500 winners of the past on the sidelines. Once not too long ago there were 10 active winners. After this year's race there will be only four -- Eddie Cheever and Buddy Lazier, both still competing in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, Al Unser Jr. in CART and Jacques Villeneuve in Formula One.