Like most American kids that grew up in the 80's I watched the Indy 500 every year and became interested in motorsports thanks to that race, but I didn't really get hooked until I started watching Formula 1 racing in the late 90's. My favorite era were those years with the great Mika Hakkinen/Michael Schumacher battles. (I was a Mika Hakkinen fan) So my fondness for Formula 1 waned once Mika retired and Schumacher started winning everything, even at the expense of his teammate Rubens Barrichello. My interest in F1 has only been lukewarm since.

Then I turned to Champ Car racing here in the US for my motorsports fix. However that was quickly extinguished once Champ Car and Indy Car merged and we were stuck with Tony George and his many foibles. (It was entertaining to watch the Hulman/George drama I'll admit.) My interest has been less than lukewarm with Indy Car lately, even without Tony George at the helm.

Over time however, the excitement I once had for motorsports has slowly gone. Maybe it has to do with my age, I don't know. But I think I will pour my efforts into my Trooper and my interests in the outdoors to add excitement to my life.

Thanks for checking out my blog, I hope you enjoy it. I will still post racing news when I find something interesting or noteworthy.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A wounded car is fair game?

Wheldon Wins In Crazy Finish To The Indy 500

(by Marshall Pruett 5-29-11)

Rookie JR Hildebrand had the world in his hands. With the lead of the Indy 500 and a win in his grasp, a costly mistake--understeering in the marbles on the outside of Turn 4 as he approached the checkered flag--handed the win to 2005 Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon.

Running on fumes and with Wheldon charging hard on the Lap 199, Hildebrand had a choice: He could slow down behind the car of Charlie Kimball in Turn 4 and hope to make it to the finish ahead of Wheldon, or he could try to pass Kimball on the outside of Turn 4. It was a tough decision for the rookie, who went to the outside and crashed hard but kept his foot in the throttle and powered across the start/finish line with the right side of his car smashed to bits.

In hindsight The beneficiary of Hildebrand's crash was the man who finished second at Indy last year in Hildebrand's ride.

Wheldon did the impossible by taking Bryan Herta Autosport--in only its second race--into the history books as the winner of the Indy Centennial event.

In a year filled with unexpected winners driving for small teams--Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers at the Daytona 500 and the ORECA Peugeot outfit at the 12 Hours of Sebring--the 2011 Indy 500 followed the theme with Bryan Herta's bands of underdogs.

"Dan Wheldon is probably the best Indy 500 driver ever," said Herta. "We actually won!"

"I was driving as hard as I could," said Wheldon as he fought back tears in Victory Lane. "I just kept pushing. It's a fantastic achievement. It's an incredible feeling. I never gave up. It's unfortunate for JR, but it's fortunate for me. I drove it like I stole it."

The result by the small BHA team also represents the first Indy 500 win by an Indy-only entrant in recent history.

Panther Racing team owner John Barnes was conciliatory after watching another chance at victory disappear in cruel fashion.

"To come here with a rookie at his first Indy 500. [Hildebrand] drove the hell out of the thing all day. It's just one of those things. We have to hold our heads up high. He put us in a position to win. I couldn't be prouder of him right now."

Speculation surrounded the finish as the final lap was officially run under a yellow flag. The rules dictate that the finish would normally revert back to the running order on the previous lap--Lap 199, which Hildebrand led--but because Hildebrand caused the yellow, the results will stand.

"[IndyCar Race Director] Brian Barnhart explained to us that because JR was a wounded car on the last lap, he was fair game," said Barnes. "I'm fine with that. It's a classy decision and we're not going to protest."

After he'd had a few moments to gather his thoughts, Hildebrand was left to ponder what could have been.

"My disappointment is for the team and the National Guard. We knew that we had a fast car and that if the race came to us we'd be top 3 or top 5. As a driver, as a rookie, I'm smart enough not to expect to win the Indy 500 in my first year. But we were in that position, and we should have won the Indy 500. I'm not pissed that my face won't be on the Borg Warner trophy. There were some choice words going through my head, and then they were still going through my head when I hit the wall. It's a helpless feeling. It can happen at road courses and other places, but it's most extreme here. It was certainly my mistake."

Graham Rahal, who finished third 25 years after his father won the race, was happy to turn in his best result of the season with his new Ganassi Racing entry.

"It felt great. All my Service Central guys did a great job. We passed a ton of cars. It feels great to be in this position."

Rahal's ascension from 29th to third represented the biggest improvement of any driver in the race.

Tony Kanaan, who started 22nd and passed cars relentlessly all day, finished fourth. While Rahal is believed to have completed more passes, Kanaan's efforts were still remarkable.

Starting 22nd, TK passed his way to fourth, fell back to 24th when his pit stall was blocked during a caution flag, then fought all the way back to second, before settling for fourth.

“We had a problem on a pit stop because of somebody else," said the Brazilian. "We had a good car. We drove hard all day. It was a lot of fun. I am surely happy for Dan [Wheldon]. He’s been through a lot. He got thrown out the window. A lot of people said that he wasn’t good enough. I’ve been through that at the end of last year. I didn’t have the car to win. It was a good race for us. I’m happy for the KV guys.”

The jaw-dropping finish had the massive crowd--estimated as the best turnout since 1995, according to SPEED's Robin Miller--on their feet as they watched the final lap in disbelief.

The possibility of a rookie winning on the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500 was just seconds away from becoming a reality, but things hit a fever pitch as Hildebrand's dreams slammed into the SAFER barrier.

More dreams were dashed as Danica Patrick came within 11 laps of scoring her first Indy 500 win on a day that many speculate could be her last at the least in an Indy car.

"It's the Indy 500; you have to take a chance to win," said Patrick. "I would much rather leave here finishing a little bit further down by taking a chance and having the option to win than coming away with a lower position and not having that chance. Overall it was a great day for the whole team. We have kept our heads up all month and came out ahead at the end. We will use this as positive momentum going into Texas."

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Bertrand Baguette--the least known driver in the field--also had victory in sight with four laps left to run, but like Patrick, had to pit for fuel. He would lead 11 laps on his way to a finish of seventh.

“We had a great strategy and we really had a quick car today,” Baguette said. “It was crazy, to be leading the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500, it was unbelievable! We knew that we couldn’t save enough fuel to get to the end, so I just had to go for it and hope for a yellow, but it didn’t come. It was a great day for us.”

200 laps earlier, the insane finish that capped the 2011 edition of the Indy 500 looked highly improbable.

The race started with what can only be described as a complete mess. Detailed plans and revisions to the starting procedure fell apart immediately as the first few rows appeared to thumb their collective noses at the start/restart policies enacted by the IndyCar Series.

With Target Chip Ganassi's Scott Dixon pulling clear of the field, the 2008 Indy 500 winner led until pole winner Alex Tagliani took the point on Lap 7. With Dixon or Tagliani leading the most of the first half of the race, the Ganassi duo of Dixon and Franchitti took control of the race as the French-Canadian began to fade.

The defending champions saw what looked like an easy run to another 500 win evaporate along with the final few drops of fuel in Scott Dixon's fuel tank.

For reasons unknown, Dixon's crew car did not receive a full load of fuel on the Kiwi's final stop, according to his crew chief, which caused the No. 9 car to sputter on the final laps. Dixon was catching Wheldon and Hildebrand handily when fuel issues intervened. Dixon was also run out of fuel in qualifying--along with Franchitti--on Pole Day.

Dixon would place sixth, leaving the pits in an unpleasant mood, while Franchitti, who pitted on Lap 164 and should have had enough fuel to make it to the finish, had to pit for a splash and go, falling to 12th at the finish.

“Between Dario Franchitti and myself, we had this one pretty well covered. This is one of those places where it’s tough to win. We went on a bit of a run fuel-wise late in the race, and that’s what paid off for us last year. The yellow came a lot later. We short-fueled, and why we short-fueled, I don’t know. We stopped 10 laps later than anybody else on any strategy, there’s no way we should run out of fuel. My car was pretty quick. When we were up front, we were burning the left front tire off early in the race. We finally made a few changes near the end, and the car was pretty good. It just didn’t go our way. I definitely leave here thinking that I should have won my second ‘500.’”

If Dixon's comments skewed toward being slightly positive, Franchitti struggled to find much to celebrate within the Ganassi team.

"I thought our Target car was as good as anything out there today," said Franchitti. "The engineers made good calls fixing the balance of the car. The mechanics, the pit stops were fantastic. And we're leading the race, and we came in to do that stop. But I don't know. I don't understand right now. They're going to have to explain that one to me. I'm proud of the Target team for the job they did today. And as sad and disgusted as I feel right now, I have to say congratulations to my old teammates, Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta. That's pretty cool. As sad as I feel right now, there's still a little smile in there for those boys. And I will say, it's going to be one hell of a party tonight. But I feel really bad for my team. I feel bad for myself right now, and I feel bad for Scott. It's a good race, sad end."

Mike Hull, managing director for the Ganassi entries, offered the following explanation of the fuel issues encountered by the Target cars:

“First, Congratulations to Dan Wheldon and Brian Herta. Good things happened today to good people. They were strong in qualifying, and through the entire race which is how you win the Indy 500. As far as the Target car for Scott Dixon – we simply had a fuel error as we missed by one gallon. It wasn’t a matter of gambling or being cute as we pitted with twenty laps to go and thought that there was enough fuel for a shoot-out at the end . We’re not sure exactly what happened in the fueling process, but we already started looking into it. Scott had a great race car, and he was doing his job to the best of his ability. Personally, I am very disappointed that we didn’t take advantage of how hard Scott worked to be at the front at the end. On the 10 car side with Dario Franchitti , the team pitted on the same lap as last year when they won the race. Dario’s group employed a proven strategy on the 10 car that gave them the best chance to win. Winning at Indy means everything to our Target group, and anything short of that is tough to accept.”

Behind Dixon, Oriol Servia placed sixth for Newman/Haas Racing after leading 18 laps in the latter stages of the race. The Catalonian never appeared to have the full measure of Dixon or Franchitti, but the open-wheel veteran drove a spotless race to deliver NHR's best day at Indy since Bruno Junqueira finished fifth in 2004.

“Fifth is the lowest we were on the scoreboard the whole race but it was a great effort," he said. "We were up there; we showed we may have something for these guys. This is the Indy 500, it’s the Centennial and when you smell victory you really, really want it and nothing else satisfies you. We showed the CDW Telemundo car had the speed. I thought there was going to be a last restart and with the downforce we had, I knew we would have something for those guys and we did. We’ll go for the win in Milwaukee now. It felt awesome when I took the lead but it felt incredibly amazing when I pulled away and I was there 20 laps. It showed me that we had what it took. It’s great to lead, but at the end if you think you don’t have a shot but it just feels good to tell your grandson one day that you lead the 500, fine. But what really feels good is when you say ‘Wait a second, we really do have a real shot at winning this depending on how this thing goes.’ I felt at one point we were stronger than the other cars because we had more downforce and everybody else was sliding and we were not. So I thought ‘Wait a second, we could still win this.’ I can only imagine what it is to lead the last lap.”

Servia leaves Indy third in the championship standings. His young teammate, Canadian rookie James Hinchcliffe, ran in the top 15 until crashing on his own on Lap 101.

“It was a disappointing day," said the Toronto native. "A disappointing end for the Sprott car because we rebounded pretty well. At that point we were driving on borrowed time after what happened with Viso and I forget who else it was on that restart. He got into us, we got hit and had to come in and save the car from going into the wall on that one. I'm not quite sure how we managed that so we were sort of driving on borrowed time. We were just trying to be a bit conservative. We got lucky on a yellow and got in around the top 10. We were just about to pit; the tires were just starting to go off. Bertrand got a good run on me and I was really just trying to let him go. I backed off early and was giving him the corner but unfortunately got a little bit in the grey. With how worn the tires were, at that stage of the stint I was just a passenger.”

Behind Servia and Baguette, Tomas Scheckter--by far the bravest driver in the state of Indiana on Sunday--made mind-bending passes in the marbles to claim eighth for his KV/SH Racing team. The fearless--and often shirtless--South African delivered another stellar performance at the Indy 500.

“I had to work hard for what I had today," he said. "I pushed hard on the restarts, and that’s how I gained positions. A big thanks to REDLINE and all the people who put their effort in this, Circle K. We struggled a bit on straight-line speed, but we made up for it in other places. We made up for it with a consistent car.”

The top Andretti Autosport car belonged to Marco Andretti who briefly ran third with just over 10 laps to go, but a stop for fuel dropped him back like so many others as the race reached the final 25 miles.

“We made a call to lose track position, and we were trim. So we were trimmed in the back. So the car was good until we trimmed. We were sitting pretty with some track position, and then we gave it away. It’s a team effort. They were all running out of fuel at the end. If there is wasn’t one more yellow, maybe we’re coming full tilt and they’re all slowing up. We went for it as a team.”

The double-file restarts provided a new element of excitement during the race, and despite its appeal for the fans, Andretti made it clear he'd like to see them go away on his next trip to Indy.

“I’m going to be very frank about that and say they’re trying to kill somebody. I’m glad it’s great for the fans, but the risk where we’re at is just ridiculous. It’s a lottery."

Ed Carpenter recorded the best finish at the Indy 500 for Sarah Fisher Racing, placing 11th. The frustrated Hoosier wasn't a threat to the top cars, but made the most of the situation for his team and sponsors.

"It was a weird day today," he said. "We were running pretty good early on and had good track position. Things were going well, but halfway through we just lost a handle on the car. We were trying different changes on stops and we finally figured it out, but it was probably one stop too late. We lost a lot of track position and struggled to get back in the mix. It's a disappointing finish to the month for the Dollar General guys. We deserve better than 11th for how we ran this month, but that's the way it goes sometimes at Indy; it breaks your heart."

Charlie Kimball was the second-best rookie in the field, placing 13th for Ganassi Racing.

"It was a very successful effort at my first Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Top 15 is what we were shooting for. That last stint, we went on an alternate fuel strategy, trying to make a gain. I went a lap down there at the end. The No. 83 Levemir and NovoLog FlexPen car was amazing. I feel like I let it down. All day, we didn't miss a beat in the pits. The whole NovoNordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team. When I was wrong on the marks, they'd get it right. When I was short, they'd get it right. They covered a lot for me. I have to appreciate them for that. It was a big effort all day. We brought home a 13th."

One team that managed to completely miss the mark at Indy on Sunday was Team Penske. The Capitan's three-car team has now gone two straight years at Indy without leading a lap, and came home with a best finish of 14th for Will Power. Power's day got off to a rough start when his team failed to secure his left rear wheel during a Lap 23 pit stop. The Aussie returned slowly to the pits to get a fresh tire, but mechanical damage was done to the brakes in the incident.

"At the first pit stop, the wheel came loose and knocked the bleed screw off, so I had no brakes," he said. "So we did a stint like that, came in, and had to fix that, got a lap down, and that was it for the day. We just had to try and fight our way back."

Helio Castroneves suffered a number of problems and miscues, and even when things were going well, his car wasn't particularly fast.

“The turbulence of this season has continued," he said. "We had a very big vibration at the beginning, and we had to do an unscheduled pit stop. And then we had a flat tire. We were able to try to get back on the lead [lap], and then we had that flat tire. So it was one of those things. In the end, we were just trying to do something crazy, but unfortunately we couldn’t do it. We’ll go for the next one. Certainly, we learned a lot. This was the first oval [of the season]. I do believe we learned a lot because this car wasn’t a strong one. We’ve got to keep fighting because one day we’re going to get it.”

Ryan Briscoe was an innocent victim in a crash that was induced by Townsend Bell on Lap 157, ending his day on the spot.

"I saw Townsend brush the wall in Turn 4," he said. "Everyone was going down the inside. I was just following through on the inside into Turn 1. I just think he didn't know I was there, and he just came down and pinched me. As soon as we made contact, the wheels interlocked. And that was it."

Bell disagreed with how the accident manifested between he and the Team Penske driver.

"It's a shame. The Herbalife 24 car was competitive here, running up front. I've got to see the replay, but it seems like somebody hit me in my left rear, I think it was Ryan. I saved it in Turn 1 and whammo, it got me again and pinned me in the wall."

A.J. Foyt Racing had a relatively quiet day, with Vitor Meira placing 14th, and guest driver Ryan Hunter-Reay placing 23rd after brushing the wall.

"We dealt with a lot of issues today, but everybody dealt with tricky conditions today, which made for a loose race car," said Hunter-Reay. "But we really struggled more than others. It was a monumental task to prepare a car in 30 laps of warm-up for the longest race of the year and most important race of the year. The ABC Supply and DHL/Sun Drop guys did a great job preparing the car; we just missed the balance. For me, all day, it was an exercise of just keeping the car out of the wall. I almost lost it at least 12 times."

Justin Wilson was the first car home for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. The team is normally towards the sharp end of the second-tier teams at Indy, but with Wilson in 15th, Ana Beatriz in 21st, Davey Hamilton in 24th and Paul Tracy, who had a myriad of problems--including a bit of contact with the wall--in 25th, it was a rather forgettable day for the four-car team.

Buddy Rice, JR Hildebrand's teammate, finished 18th and had a tough day with the timing of cautions.

"The race was long," he said. "I got hung out by two yellows. It went green when we were half a lap down, so that wasn't real exciting to do on top of that. It wasn't another second-place finish, so in that aspect it was disappointing. [The team] had one car up top, so that was the most important."

Alex Lloyd, who finished fourth in 2010, settled for 19th this year in the Boy Scouts of America car.

"It was a difficult race," said the Englishman. "We didn't quite have the car we needed. We tried our best; we had a shot at the top 15 near the end and tried to turn it into a top 10. We took a gamble on fuel and it didn't work, so we landed outside the top 15. We didn't have the speed; we haven't had it all month. It was a difficult day, but the big thing was getting this car in the show. We almost missed it. The crew got us in the show. We ran a clean race, and we did the best we could with what we had."

Pippa Mann started 31st and finished 20th in her first Indy 500, and says getting to the end was a challenge from the outset.

“I think I realized when my water bottle wasn’t working on lap one that it was going to be a fairly long race,” Mann said. “But, I’m not sure I realized exactly how long! Before the halfway point at around lap 80, I was starting to go into cramp down my right-hand side from dehydration. The last half of the race was extremely tough."

Alex Tagliani added to the misery encountered by Sam Schmidt Motorsports when he bent his right front suspension against the wall. Tags led 20 laps on SSM's 10th anniversary as an entrant at Indy, finishing 28th, but walked away with his pole as the high memory of the event.

"The Bowers & Wilkins 77 car was fairly competitive early in the race," he said. "I can't thank enough my team. They did a fantastic job all month long. We had a really good, balanced car early on. It was nice to drive it. Then all of the sudden, it became very loose. I couldn't really get it back on track, you know, with all the tools I had in the car. So we were struggling with a very nervous car. In one of our pit stops, we thought we fixed it, but we didn't. It's a shame, because early on the car was so good I thought we had a shot at it all race long. But we kind of lost the car at some point; very curious. When the car became loose, I don't think we were going to become a threat for Dario and [Dixon]. It was a shame, because early on I think we had something for them. It's something we're going to have to look at. I don't know why exactly the car became loose."

Jay Howard's first Indy 500 lasted only 60 laps when a rear tire came loose after a pit stop. He would crash his car after the wheel departed his car, spinning the Briton into the wall.

"I was having a great race," he said. "I've got to thank my Service Central guys, Sam Schmidt and Rahal Letterman Lanigan for giving me an opportunity here. Everyone worked really hard. I had a great car. I was loving every minute of it. We were making our way through the field. I think I got as high as 12th or 13th. The car felt really good. I'm not sure exactly what was wrong, but I lost the right rear wheel. I don't know if it was an issue with the nut gun. I'm not sure what happened."

Howard would be credited with 30th, while Simona De Silvestro, who touched the wall on the first lap, finished 31st.

"I made contact with the wall in Turn 1, and it bent the upright and the rear suspension," she said. "It didn't feel real good, and we realized that the upright was bent. A big thanks to HVM Racing for all they have done for me this week and to Nuclear Clean Energy. The car felt really good until I made that little mistake in Turn 1."

E.J. Viso was sent into the wall on Lap 27 as he ran three-wide into Turn 1.

"I was running with Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe, and I believe that James Hinchcliffe missed a gear and he lost his momentum out of Turn 4," he said. "Graham Rahal went on the inside, and I went on the outside. Then when we were approaching Turn 1, I got hit on my rear left tire and it spun me."

Viso's KV Racing-Lotus teammate Takuma Sato was the first car out of the Indy Centennial after sliding into the wall after getting into the marbles.

"I couldn't see that the car was inside of me, and by the time I got into Turn 1, it was full speed and the car was there and I had to lift," he said. "I am very disappointed, and it is quite unfortunate that I am not a part of the race. I wasn't supposed to be hanging on that way, and it is very disappointing. I really wanted to finish the race."

INDIANAPOLIS - Results Sunday of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (6) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
2. (12) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
3. (29) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
4. (22) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
5. (2) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
6. (3) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
7. (14) Bertrand Baguette, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
8. (21) Tomas Scheckter, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
9. (27) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
10. (25) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
11. (8) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
12. (9) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
13. (28) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
14. (5) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
15. (11) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
16. (19) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
17. (16) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
18. (7) Buddy Rice, Dallara-Honda, 198, Running
19. (30) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 198, Running
20. (31) Pippa Mann, Dallara-Honda, 198, Running
21. (32) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 197, Running
22. (17) John Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 197, Running
23. (33) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 197, Running
24. (15) Davey Hamilton, Dallara-Honda, 193, Running
25. (24) Paul Tracy, Dallara-Honda, 175, Running
26. (4) Townsend Bell, Dallara-Honda, 157, Contact
27. (26) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 157, Contact
28. (1) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 147, Contact
29. (13) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 99, Contact
30. (20) Jay Howard, Dallara-Honda, 60, Contact
31. (23) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 44, Handling
32. (18) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 27, Contact
33. (10) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 20, Contact

Hurry, drink the milk

Wheldon wins stunning Indy 500 when leader crashes

( 5-29-11)

JR Hildebrand was one turn away from winning the Indianapolis 500 and within sight of the checkered flag when the 23-year-old rookie made the ultimate mistake.

Leading by almost 4 seconds with a lap to go, Hildebrand skidded high into the wall on the final turn, and Dan Wheldon drove past to claim an improbable second Indy 500 win Sunday in his first race of the year.

"It's a helpless feeling,'' Hildebrand said.

Wheldon, the 2005 winner but without a full-time ride this season, appeared headed for his third straight runner-up finish when Hildebrand took the white flag needing only to make it through the last of 200 laps around the 2 1/2-mile speedway.

The first three turns went smoothly. Then Hildebrand came up on another rookie, Charlie Kimball, in the fourth turn. Instead of backing off, Hildebrand moved to the outside to make the pass and lost control, slamming the wall to a collective gasp from the crowd of 250,000.

"I caught him in the wrong piece of track,'' Hildebrand said. "I got up in the marbles and that was it.''

Hildebrand's crumpled machine slid across the finish line, still hugging the wall, in second place. While Wheldon celebrated, IndyCar officials reviewed the video to see if Wheldon passed the wrecked machine before the caution lights went on. He clearly did, and Hildebrand's team, Panther Racing, said it would not protest.

"I just felt a lot of relief. It's an incredible feeling,'' Wheldon said. "I never gave up.''

He took the traditional swig of milk and headed off on a triumphant lap around the speedway - a lap that Hildebrand should have been taking.

Instead, the youngster stopped by the garage to get a look at his mangled car, which was hauled through Gasoline Alley instead of being wheeled into Victory Lane. He's now in the company of athletes such as Jean Van de Velde, who squandered a three-shot lead on the 72nd hole of the 1999 British Open, and Lindsey Jacobellis, whose wipeout at the 2006 Winter Olympics cost her a certain gold medal.

They had it in the bag - then threw it all away.

"I'm just frustrated. It's not because we came in here with the expectation of winning and we didn't,'' Hildebrand said. "I felt like I just made a mistake and it cost our boys. I guess that's why rookies don't win the Indianapolis 500 a whole lot and we'll be back next year, I guess.''

The 100th anniversary of America's most famous race was dominated much of the day by Chip Ganassi's top two drivers, defending champ Dario Franchitti and 2008 winner Scott Dixon.

But after a series of late pit stops, things really got interesting. Second-generation racer Graham Rahal spent some time up front. Danica Patrick claimed the lead but was had to stop for fuel with nine laps to go. Belgium driver Bertrand Baguette had already gotten past Patrick, but he didn't have enough fuel, either.

When Baguette went to the pits with three laps to go, the lead belonged to Hildebrand. All he had to do was make it to the end.

He came up one turn short.

"My disappointment is for the team,'' Hildebrand said. "We should've won the race.''

Not that Wheldon isn't a deserving champ. Despite plenty of success in his IndyCar career, he lost his ride at Panther Racing - where he was replaced by Hildebrand, no less - and couldn't find a regular job this season.

He sat out the first four races of the year, then picked up a one-race deal with Bryan Herta Autosport. Surely, Wheldon will be able to find a better gig now after beating Hildebrand by 2.1 seconds with an average speed of 170.265 mph.

"Dan Wheldon, he's a great winner,'' Patrick said. "And what a great story. He hasn't run this year. ... That's really cool.''

Still, it was a bitter disappointment for Patrick, who ended up 10th.

"It's more and more depressing when I don't win the race,'' said Indy's leading lady.

Patrick knows about misfortune leading to victory for Wheldon. His first victory came when she led late in the race, only to have to back off the throttle to save enough fuel to make it to the finish.

This time, Wheldon never led a lap until the last one, the first time that's happened since Joe Dawson won the second Indy 500 in 1912.

It was the second time a driver lost the lead on the last lap - it happened to another rookie, Marco Andretti, in 2006 - and it's something Hildebrand will always remember.

"Is it a move I would do again?'' he said. "No.''

Rahal finished third, followed by hard-charging Tony Kanaan, who came all the way from the 22nd starting spot to contend for his first 500 win. Oriol Servia was fifth, followed by Dixon, while Franchitti lost speed in the closing laps and slipped all the way to 12th.

Right from the start, the Ganassi cars showed just how strong they would be on a sweltering day at the Brickyard, where the temperature climbed into the upper 80s and the heat on the track was well over 100 degrees.

From the middle of the front row, Dixon blew by pole-sitter Alex Tagliani before they even got to the start-finish line, diving into the first turn with the lead.

Tagliani ran strong through the first half of the race but began having problems with his handling. One car after another went by him as his laps speeds dropped into the 190s. Finally, on lap 147, he lost it coming out of the fourth turn and banged into the wall for a disappointing end to an amazing month for his car owner, Sam Schmidt, who watched the race from a wheelchair in the pits.

Schmidt has been a quadriplegic since a racing crash 11 years ago, but he's turned his efforts to building an IndyCar team. He had another car in the race, one-off driver Townsend Bell, who started from the inside of the second row and ran in the top 10 much of the day until he was collided with Ryan Briscoe on lap 158.

Briscoe's crash summed up the day for IndyCar's other elite team.

Roger Penske's trio of drivers capped a disappointing month with a grim performance on race day.

On the very first stop, Will Power drove out of the pits with a loose left rear wheel, which flew off before he got back on the track. While it bounced down pit road, Power set off around the 2 1/2-mile oval on three wheels, sparks flying out from under his machine as it limped back for another tire. He finished 14th - the best showing for Penske Racing.

Helio Castroneves, hoping for a record-tying fourth Indy win, started back in 16th spot after struggling in qualifying and did his best just to stay on the lead lap, much less challenge for the lead. That effort ended when Briscoe and Bell got together - and Castroneves ran off a piece of debris, shredding a tire. He wound up one lap down in 17th.

Briscoe's crash left him in 27th.

There was only one wreck on the much-debated double-file restarts but plenty of thrilling moves - just what IndyCar officials were hoping for when they imposed the NASCAR-style procedure after each caution period.

At one point after taking green, Castroneves had to dive onto the lane that cars normally take coming out of the pits just to get through the second turn.

For Hildebrand, the cheers turned to groans on the final turn.

"It's just a bummer,'' he said.

Should Rahal be shown in 2nd place?

Wheldon's Indy 500 win official after thrilling final lap

(by Bruce Martin 5-29-11)

Dan Wheldon scored his second Indianapolis 500 victory in dramatic fashion as race leader J.R. Hildebrand crashed in the fourth turn heading to the checkered flag.

IndyCar Series officials reviewed the order of finish, but announced there would be no change to first and second place. The yellow light did not come on until after Wheldon was past Hildebrand, which would assure Wheldon the victory.

Panther Racing officials are not protesting the outcome of the race. The official results are expected to come out Sunday night.

Wheldon, of Emberton, England, last won the Indy 500 in 2005 when he drove for team owner Michael Andretti. He left the team at the end of the season and joined Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. In 2009 and 2010 he drove for Panther Racing -- Hildebrand's current team.

"In the corner of my eye I saw him hit the fence and just carried on by," Wheldon said. "As [team owner] Bryan Herta said, 'You have to make it to the bricks with a car that can go forward on all four wheels.' At that point I knew it was mine."

Wheldon drove a car owned by Bryan Herta to victory in the team's only IndyCar race this season.

"I think my contract expires at midnight tonight," Wheldon said. "With a Cinderella story we took on the might of Roger Penske's organization and Chip Ganassi. We've had a very quick car all month. I don't think I saw a Penske in front of me all of the race. So that is a testament to the team.

"This is obviously a special race because it is the 100th Anniversary. I'm honored to be the winner of this particular race."

Wheldon led the Indy 500 for the shortest distance in history and defeated Hildebrand by just 2.10876 seconds. Hildebrand took second, while Graham Rahal came in third. Brazil's Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Spain's Oriol Servia rounded out the top-6.

Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti dominated the race early. But Servia was able to contend with the two red cars before taking the lead midway through the race. Servia was attempting to give Newman Haas Racing its first-ever victory in the Indianapolis 500, but Franchitti took the lead on lap 130. Servia remained second, but was chased down by Dixon.

Franchitti pitted as the leader on lap 137, but Hildebrand soon overtook him. Dixon and Kanaan both got fast pit stops as the race continued. Hildebrand pitted on lap 139 and that put Bertrand Baguette in the lead with 61 laps to go.

Pole-winner Alex Tagliani, who led 20 laps before dropping back in the field after the first 100 miles, crashed in the fourth turn trying to get around slower traffic on lap 147.

"We tried to change all the weight jackers and protect the rear tire," Tagliani said. "I was really, really loose and Buddy Rice and I were side-by-side and I got into the wall."

Townsend Bell and Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe crashed in the chute between Turns 1 and 2 for the sixth caution on lap 158. To make matters worse for Penske, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves had a right rear tire shred. The crew replaced the tire but Castroneves was dropped to 19th, one lap down to the leader. Teammate

"It's a tough day but we have to execute and it's unfortunate what happened to Briscoe," team owner Roger Penske said.

Franchitti dove into the pits on lap 164, dropping him back in the field as he attempted to win the race on fuel strategy. Rahal took the lead on the double-file restart on lap 165 when he passed Servia down the frontstretch. But Dixon was able to track down the son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal and take the lead on lap 172. Kanaan passed Rahal for second and tried to track down Dixon. Rahal regained second place one lap later.

From that point, it appeared that pit strategy would determine the outcome of the race and give the Indy 500 its first rookie winner since Castroneves in 2001.

Dixon peeled off the track for his final pit stop on lap 179, putting Danica Patrick in the lead for the second time in her IndyCar career. But she was running four to five laps short of fuel. She lost the lead when Baguette passed her with 11 laps to go.

With the three drivers in front of him having to pit for fuel, Franchitti was looking good in fourth place. Franchitti moved up to second and was biding his time until Baguette would have to pit. He did with three laps later, putting Hildebrand in front.

But shortly after assuming the lead, Hildebrand attempted to pass fellow rookie driver Charlie Kimball with heartbreaking results.

"With the tires as worn as they were, the run being as long, there was a bunch of marbles [worn tire rubber] on the outside," Hildebrand said. "Once I got up there, there wasn't a lot I could do. There were a few choice words going through my head at that moment, really fast and frequently until I hit the wall. They were still going through my head now."

The rookie driver from Sausalito, Calif. was able to speak calmly about the biggest disappointment of his young racing career. It was almost as if it hadn't sunk in yet.

"This is not really about me at this point," Hildebrand said afterwards. "You always show up to try to win. But for me the disappointment is for the team and the sponsor. It's one of those things as a driver you never really know what you're going to expect. We knew if the race came to us we may be in a position to finish top-3 or top-5. But as a driver I'm smart enough as a rookie to not expect to come to the Indianapolis 500 my first year and be in a position to win the race.

"We were in a position that we should have won the race. It's not so much that I'm [ticked] off or disappointed that my face isn't going to go on the Borg-Warner Trophy. This team has finished second three years in a row including 2009 and 2010 with Wheldon. I felt like we had a real opportunity to get on the big stage."

But that big stage was reserved for Wheldon, a driver that made the most of his only IndyCar Series race this season.

"Right up until the point where I passed J.R. I didn't have any emotions," Wheldon admitted. "I was so focused. It was one of those races where it was so competitive that you had to be on your game. And the wind seemed to be getting under the front of my car. I was catching [Ana] Beatriz; I wasn't focused on what had gone on in the front. When I saw him crash, I knew it wasn't serious.

"There was a little smile on my face."

Indy 500 controversy growing

Incredible finish to 100th anniversary Indy 500

(by Dave Lewandowski 5-29-11)

JR Hildebrand stood beside the crumpled race car and ran his fingers through his hair, trying to discern just what transpired on the final lap of the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500.

The 23-year-old Californian was a few hundred yards from being the first IZOD IndyCar Series rookie to win the race since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and creating a storyline that would follow him into the record and history books. But, as all veterans will say, nothing is for certain in 200 laps of racing on the 2.5-mile strip of asphalt.

Hildebrand's No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car drifted up the racetrack as it was overtaking a lapped car exiting Turn 4 and smacked the SAFER Barrier, and Dan Wheldon -- the 2005 race and IZOD IndyCar Series champion -- was Danny on the spot for the victory.

Wheldon’s No. 98 William Rast-CURB/Big Machine car for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb/Agajanian overtook Hildebrand’s sliding car and crossed the start/finish line under caution. Chief steward Brian Barnhart, who reviewed the videotape, said there's no requirement for cars not involved in an accident to stay behind those involved/disabled.

“It’s a fantastic achievement everybody at Bryan Herta Autosport,” said Wheldon, his voice choking with emotion. “I love everything about Indianapolis – the tradition, the fans, the history.”

A Panther Racing car has been the Indy 500 runner-up the past four years (including 2009 and ’10 driven by Wheldon).

Wheldon, who started sixth, said his surprise of seeing Hildebrand car make heavy right-side contact with the SAFER Barrier turned to “relief.” Wheldon was running fifth with 10 laps remaining, but jumped into contention when race leader Bertrand Baguette pitted for a splash on Lap 197 and he overtook Scott Dixon a lap later.

"I was just trying to go as hard as I could," continued Wheldon, who was competing in his first race of the season and became the ninth two-time champion. "I knew it was the last lap and I knew some of those guys were struggling with fuel (he pitted on Lap 177). I've been runner-up two years before this, but I never gave up. It's an incredible feeling."

Hildebrand, who inherited the lead when Baguette pitted, said he was trying to conserve fuel (he last pitted on Lap 164) on the white flag lap.

“I knew we were really tight on fuel coming to the end, and the spotters were in my ear saying, ‘The guys are coming and they’re coming hard,’ ’’ said Hildebrand, who qualified 12th (the fastest rookie). “We had to conserve a little fuel and the tires were coming to the end of their stint. I was hanging a little on to get the thing around.

"I made a judgment call catching up on the 83 (the lapped car driven by fellow rookie Charlie Kimball) and I thought I don’t really want to slow down behind him and pull out on the straightaway, and I’ve been able to make this move on the outside before and so I went to the high side and because it was at the end of the stint I got up in the marbles and that was it.

"I'm OK, but this is not really about me at this point. You always show up to try to win. My disappointment is for the team and for National Guard as a sponsor. It's one of the those things, as a driver, you never really know what you're going to expect. We knew we had a fast race car. We knew if the race came to us, we may be in a position to sort of finish top three, top five."

Added team owner John Barnes: “We came here with a rookie driver and everybody says we’re going to have trouble and everything, but I can tell you that he (JR) did a great job. He drove to a fuel number I didn’t think was going to be attainable. We’re so proud of him and the people at Panther and the crew.”

Graham Rahal, who started 29th, finished third for his second consecutive podium, and Tony Kanaan charged from 22nd to finish fourth. Dixon, who started in the middle of the front row and led a field-high 73 laps, faded to fifth, and Oriol Servia, who started on the front row, was sixth.

"I think between Dario (Franchitti) and myself we had this race covered," said Dixon, the 2008 race winner. "We were in similar circumstances. I'm not sure how the No. 4 car was able to get that far on fuel. It’s just frustrating, and I was frustrated with the restarts overall. The Target car was good to start with but then we started burning the left front tire off. We made changes to it in the end and that seemed to help. Dario was on a straight different strategy than us and it didn't work for either of us today."

Franchitti, the 2010 race winner, led 51 laps and was running second on Lap 195. But he had to pit for a splash of fuel on Lap 199 and finished 12th.

Tomas Scheckter advanced 13 positions to finish eighth and Marco Andretti picked up 18 spots to finish ninth. Andretti Autosport teammate Danica Patrick was 10th.
There were 23 lead changes among 10 drivers and seven cautions for 40 laps. Patrick led 10 laps late in the No. 7 Team GoDaddy car, but had to pit with 10 laps left.

“It's the Indy 500; you have to take a chance to win,” said Patrick, who started 25th. “I would much rather leave here finishing a little bit further down by taking a chance and having the option to win than coming away with a lower position and not having that chance. Overall, it was a great day for the whole team. We have kept our heads up all month and came out ahead at the end. We will use this as positive momentum going into Texas.”

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Controversy at the 500

Wheldon OK to pass after last-lap wreck

( 5-29-11)

IndyCar says Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was not expected to stay behind runner-up JR Hildebrand when the rookie slammed into the wall on the final turn of Sunday's race.

IndyCar president of competition and racing operations Brian Barnhart says he gave that explanation to Panther Racing team manager Chris Mower, avoiding a protest of the finish.

Barnhart says Mower wanted to make sure IndyCar looked at everything. Barnhart added that "it would be impractical" to stay behind cars involved in accidents.


Yes Barnhart, it would be impractical to stay behind a car that has crashed. But it would not be impractical to freeze the running order at the time of the accident if the car that has been in the accident still crosses the finish line.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Indy 500 at 100: 1911-1919 was pivotal

( the Indy at 100 series was written by John Oreovicz 5-15-11 thru 5-27-11)

Say "Indianapolis" or "Indy" to anyone from Boston to Beijing and the word association is immediate and obvious: Racing.

Auto racing (in general) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (in particular) are what make the city of Indianapolis famous around the world. As the region's chief tourist attraction, the Speedway annually attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from across America and around the world -- and that's not even taking into account attendance at the three mega-events the track hosts every year.

Indianapolis is the 14th largest city in the United States, yet it still isn't often thought of as a stand-alone destination. But when you mix in the glitz and the glamour of a world-class sporting event like the Indianapolis 500, the Brickyard 400 or the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix for Moto GP series motorcycles, the city that calls itself the Crossroads of America is suddenly a much more appealing place to visit.

Actually, Indianapolis has grown into a world-class city well known for athletics; it is now home to headquarters of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, hosts the NCAA men's college basketball "Final Four" on a rotating basis and is set to host the 2012 NFL Super Bowl. But all of that is the result of the foundation created by the Speedway and the Indianapolis 500.

Now, headed into the month of May 2011 and the buildup to the 95th Indianapolis 500, the Speedway is in the final stretch of a three-year celebration of the centennial of the famous venue. IMS opened in 1909 and staged a variety of competitions for the next two years until inaugurating what came to pass as its defining event: the Indianapolis 500, the first of which was contested on May 30, 1911.

The track itself has a fascinating history. In the early 20th century, Indianapolis and the state of Indiana were the heart of the fledgling automotive industry in America. One of Indianapolis' first car dealers was ex-racer Carl G. Fisher, who envisioned a large, circular track that could be used as a proving ground for the rapid development of the automobile.

Fisher was a man of grandiose vision; his later projects included the building of the Lincoln Highway (now U.S. 30) and the Dixie Highway (U.S. 41) and the development of Miami Beach in Florida and Montauk Point in New York. But in the first decade of the 20th century, his focus was on the embryonic motor transportation trade in America.

In late 1908, Fisher and his partners James Allison, Frank Wheeler and Arthur Newby -- all with strong connections to the burgeoning auto industry -- purchased a 328-acre tract of farmland about five miles west of downtown Indianapolis for $72,000. Given the limitations of the land, Fisher's vision of a five-mile circular track changed to a three-mile rectangle with two miles of infield "road course" that could combine for a five-mile lap length. However, that left no room for grandstands on the outside of the course, so New York-based civil engineer P.T. Andrews convinced Fisher to reduce the length of the outer oval to 2.5 miles and drew up plans accordingly.

Construction commenced in March 1909 and though the track itself was not completed, the newly christened Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted its first competition on June 5: a race for hot air balloons. The track surface of crushed stone and tar was ready for action by August, when a two-day motorcycle competition was held. The Speedway's first auto races were staged from August 18-20, 1909, featuring drivers including Barney Oldfield and Louis Chevrolet.

After just a couple of events, it was obvious that the stone and tar track surface was breaking up badly and a different solution was needed. Eventually, the decision was taken to rebuild the track using street-paving bricks -- 3.2 million of them, separated by mortar.

Remarkably, the job required just 63 days and by the time work was finished on Dec. 10, the track had already been nicknamed "The Brickyard."

The new brick surface worked well, and by the summer of 1910, Fisher and his partners conceived a plan to host one huge annual event at IMS rather than a series of minor competitions. In September 1910, the inaugural Indianapolis 500-mile race was announced, scheduled for Memorial Day 1911.

Forty-six cars were entered for the inaugural Indianapolis 500; 44 showed up, of which 40 exceeded the minimum requirement of a 75-mph average over a timed quarter-mile. Given the large field, one of Fisher's innovations was the use of a passenger car to lead the grid toward a rolling start. Thus was born the pace car.

Most of the cars in the first 500 featured a driver and a riding mechanic. In fact, 11 entries, including that of race winner Ray Harroun, utilized a co-driver for some portion of the race. Harroun, driving a Marmon Wasp designed and built less than five miles from the Speedway, required almost seven hours to complete the 500-mile distance at an average of 74.6 mph. Harroun's co-driver Cyrus Patschke drove approximately 35 of the 200 laps in the middle of the race.

Harroun's eschewing of a co-driver led to one significant technological development still utilized in road and racing cars today: The Marmon Wasp featured one of the first known uses of a rearview mirror, inspired by a creative solution to traffic management Harroun had seen on a horse-drawn taxi several years earlier when he served as a chauffeur in Chicago.

Harroun is Indy car racing's version of a one-hit wonder; although only 32 years old at the time of his Indy 500 win, the Pennsylvania native never again competed at Indianapolis. Harroun thought of himself mainly as an engineer and claimed that he raced only to observe his creations in action in battle conditions. The Marmon Motor Car Company was out of business by 1933, but the "Wasp" and its driver remain celebrated today as part of a century of IMS lore.

Outlandish stories of "gentlemen racers" were common from this era. In 1912, Ralph Mulford and his co-driver continued running for nearly nine hours because the 10th-place prize money of $1,200 would only be awarded to an entry if it finished all 500 miles. With about 17 laps to go, the Mulford team pitted for a dinner break but was sent back out -- with a snack on board -- due to the threat of darkness. A year later, Jules Goux -- the first foreign winner of the "500" -- reportedly drank champagne during several of his pit stops.

In fact, the Indianapolis 500 definitely lived up to its name as an "International Sweepstakes" in its early years. European-made cars (Peugeot, Delage and Mercedes) won at Indy from 1913 to 1919, and foreign-born drivers also dominated in the Speedway's formative years, with Ralph de Palma establishing himself as the top star of the era.

Born in Troia, Italy, de Palma became an American citizen in 1920 at age 38. Although he won the Indianapolis 500 only once (in 1915, driving a Mercedes), de Palma's other major triumphs included three Elgin National Trophy victories, two wins in the Vanderbilt Cup and he was considered the unofficial 1912 and 1914 National Driving Champion.

At Indianapolis, he qualified in the top four seven times in 10 starts and finished in the top seven on six occasions. He led 196 of 200 laps in 1912 (yet didn't win, foiled by an engine failure on the 199th lap) and his record tally of 612 laps led at IMS wasn't exceeded until 1987.

The race distance was cut to 300 miles in 1916 to support the war effort, and Indianapolis did not host a race in 1917 and '18 due to World War I. Fisher offered the Speedway facility to the U.S. government, which used it to house a pair of aviation battalions as IMS became a refueling station and a base for development of experimental aircraft.

With Fisher wrapped up in the development of Miami Beach and Wheeler strapped for cash, Allison took over Wheeler's shares in 1917, making him the majority partner of the track with a 56 percent stake. The Allison-Fisher-Newby ownership of the track continued until late 1927, when it was taken over by another one of Indy car racing's key players, and a man intimately familiar with "The Brickyard."

Before he became known as "Captain" through his conquests as a fighter pilot in World War I, Eddie Rickenbacker raced four times in the Indianapolis 500, with a best result of 10th place in 1914. Following the war, Rickenbacker entered the auto industry as a builder of luxury cars; in fact, a Rickenbacker sedan, with Captain Eddie at the wheel, served as the pace car for the 1925 Indianapolis 500.

But the Rickenbacker Motor Company ceased operations in 1926, prompting the popular war hero to search for his next opportunity. He paid a visit to his former employer, James Allison, to inquire whether he would be interested in selling the Allison Engineering firm.

The answer was no. But Allison did suggest to Rickenbacker that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway could be acquired, setting in motion the events that would lead to the next major era in the history of the now-famous racetrack.

1920-29 a roaring time

By the time racing resumed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after World War I, the Indianapolis 500 was already a renowned sporting event, attracting an international entry of drivers and cars and a crowd of more than 100,000.

Carl Fisher's dream of building a proving ground that would put machine and man to the ultimate test had become a reality. And even in those early days of the Speedway, the men in charge struggled to rein in the burgeoning technology of the rapidly advancing automotive industry -- and the speed and danger that resulted from it.

Speed versus safety would remain a common theme at Indianapolis over the next century as rule-makers combated the brightest engineers of the day. Then as now, the easiest way to reduce speeds was to mandate smaller and smaller engines. From an initial limit of 600 cubic inches (9.8 liters) for the inaugural "500," displacement was restricted to 450 CI (7.4 L) in 1913 and cut again to 300 CI (4.9 L) in 1915.

When the pole speed for the 1919 race rose to nearly 105 miles per hour, engine size was reduced to 183 cubic inches (3.0 L) in 1920, and a further cut to 122 inches (2.0 L) was mandated just three years later -- mirroring regulations established in Europe for Grand Prix racing.

Despite ever decreasing engine size, power and speed continued to rise, spurred on by developments such as the supercharger and high-octane "Ethyl" gasoline. By 1927, despite being restricted to tiny, 91 CI (1.5 L) engines, cars were averaging more than 120 mph for their four-lap qualifying runs -- an Indianapolis tradition established in 1920.

By the mid-20s, the Speedway was a successful business entity. But its driving force -- Carl Fisher -- was beginning to suffer a decline in fortunes. A massive hurricane leveled South Florida in 1926, including an extravagant "board track" Fisher had constructed in Fulford-by-the-Sea, forcing the entrepreneur to halt his Montauk, N.Y., project in order to focus on rebuilding Miami Beach. By then Arthur Newby had retired and was in poor health, and like Fisher, James Allison's interest in running the Speedway had waned.

So when Eddie Rickenbacker -- the decorated war hero and former racer -- asked Allison if he would be interested in selling his Allison Engineering firm, Allison countered by offering Rickenbacker the opportunity to acquire the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It took Rickenbacker several months to come up with the funding -- the believed asking price was around $700,000 -- but by the summer of 1927, reportedly with assistance from General Motors, Rickenbacker was able to take control of what became known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation. His ownership of IMS would span more than two decades.

The founding fathers of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway left a lasting mark on the city of Indianapolis. Led by Fisher, who harbored a dream of creating a "horse-less city," he and his partners began acquiring land near the track in 1912. What soon became known as Speedway City featured an industrial complex separated by Main Street from a residential area. The Town of Speedway was incorporated in 1926 and it continues to function independently of the city of Indianapolis, with its own water works, police and fire departments. It even has its own school system.

In fact, Speedway's four elementary schools are named after Fisher, Allison, Wheeler and Newby, and Allison Engineering still maintains a massive production facility within a mile of IMS.

With auto racing becoming established as a worldwide sport, the first generation of true racing stars cemented their status in the 1920s.

The extreme danger of motorized competition in that era meant that driving careers were often short. These men were true daredevils, unaffected by the specter of death that constantly loomed over auto racing.

Perhaps the brightest star of American racing in the 1920s was Frank Lockhart, who was just 25 years old when he was killed attempting to set the land speed record in Ormond Beach, Fla., in 1928. By then he had made a pair of Indianapolis 500 starts, winning the race in his first attempt in 1926.

He started from pole position in 1927 and led the most laps in both of his "500s," for a total of 205 laps in two years. He was also the first driver to break the 115- and 120-mph marks in qualifying.

Another driver with a brief but spectacular Indianapolis career was Ray Keech, who completed all 400 laps of his two Indianapolis 500 starts, finishing fourth in 1928 and winning in 1929. Sadly, Keech perished in a racing accident in Altoona, Pa., just two weeks after his Indy 500 triumph.

George Souders also excelled in a two-year Indianapolis career. In 1927, he became one of eight drivers to win the "500" on his first attempt, and a year later he finished third. Souders led both races for a total of 67 laps, and unlike many of his peers, retired from driving before the odds could take his life.

Tommy Milton's victory in 1923 made him the first two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, the first coming two years earlier. Milton finished in the top five in half of his eight Indy starts and qualified on pole position for his 1923 victory. His 1923 win was also notable because he led the most laps (128), setting the record for most times led in a single race with 13 -- a record that would stand until 1960.

Not all Indy stars actually won the great race. Harry Hartz made six starts in the "500" between 1922 and 1927 and, despite never crossing the line first, compiled an amazing record. Hartz finished second four times and fourth twice in that seven-year span, and though he never claimed pole position, he never qualified lower than fourth. He remains the only driver who finished second three times who never won the race.

The international flavor of the Indianapolis 500 in the 1920s is perhaps best illustrated by Jimmy Murphy. He finished fourth or better in four of his five Indianapolis 500 starts, topped by victory in the 1922 race.

Murphy led the most laps (153) in that 1922 race and became the first driver to win from pole position. What made the win more notable is that Murphy did it in the same Duesenberg (refitted with a Miller engine) that he drove to victory in the 1921 French Grand Prix, which was one of only two triumphs by an American driver in an American car in the history of Grand Prix racing.

A top star of his era, Murphy finished third at Indianapolis in 1923 and '24 but was killed in a racing accident in Syracuse, N.Y., in September 1924.

Despite the fleeting nature of racing careers in the sport's early years, the Indianapolis 500 had already earned in its first 20 years the reputation of being a race in which legends were created.

Although many changes would impact the sport and the Speedway itself in decades to come, the Brickyard's tradition of star-making power would continue to endure.

1930-39 a dangerous era

The 1930s started with America plunging into the Great Depression and ended with the United States about to enter the World War II.

But the '30s were a decade when the Indianapolis 500 continued to gain stature and cemented itself as one of the country's top sporting events -- indeed, a national treasure.

The economic state of the nation was not the reason the Indy 500 adopted the so-called "junkyard formula" in 1930 that sought to lower costs for competitors, but it proved to be a lucky stroke of genius for track owner Eddie Rickenbacker.

Always one of the richest purses in motor racing, the Indianapolis prize fund dipped to $54,450 in 1933 -- down from nearly $94,000 a year earlier and the third lowest total in the history of the race. But the 500 continued to maintain full fields, in part thanks to the low-cost, low-tech formula that allowed normally aspirated engines of up to 366 cubic inch capacity. By the end of the decade, a rear-engine car would make its Indianapolis debut (George Bailey in the 1939 race).

The starting field peaked with 42 cars in 1933, but for safety reasons was reduced to 33 entries lined up in 11 rows of three in 1934 -- a tradition that endures through today. From 1933 to 1938, 10-lap (25 mile) qualifying runs were mandated, to the general displeasure of competitors; four-lap qualifications were brought back in 1939 and have remained a unique Indianapolis tradition ever since.

In fact, many of the great Indianapolis traditions we take for granted now were established in the 1930s.

The most significant year in that regard was 1936; not only was that the first time that the champion was presented with the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy, it was the first instance of the winner drinking milk in Victory Lane.

As the story goes, Louis Meyer, the first three-time winner of the 500, sought refreshment from cold buttermilk on hot days. In 1936, following his third and final win at Indianapolis, Meyer's buttermilk chug was mistaken for regular milk by a dairy industry executive and milk was made part of the Victory Lane ceremonies a year later.

Meyer was also the first winning driver to be gifted with the 500 pace car after the race. The Month of May 1936 also marked the first time that drivers new to Indianapolis were subjected to a challenging "rookie test," a procedure still mandated today.

On the track, the '30s started with the most dominant performance in the history of the race as Billy Arnold led 198 of 200 laps. Arnold wasn't even on the entry list at the start of the month of May, but was fortuitously drafted in to take over the car of Harry Hartz, who was recuperating from injuries. Due to major crashes in his last two Indy starts, Arnold retired after competing at the Speedway only five times (1928 to 1932). Yet his victory from pole position in the 1930 race when he was just 24 is unlikely to be duplicated.

Despite his short career as an Indy car racer, Arnold led three 500s for a total of 410 laps, putting him 12th on the all-time list. His 1930 win was the first for a front-wheel drive car.

The 1937 race was another Indianapolis classic. Wilbur Shaw, who was destined to become one of the most significant figures in the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was the winner in the closest finish in 500 history to that point. The 2.16-second margin of victory would stand as the race record for an amazing 45 years, finally beaten by the thrilling Gordon Johncock/Rick Mears battle in 1982 that was resolved in Johncock's favor by 0.16 second. Shaw repeated as the Indy winner in 1939 and added a third victory a year later.

The '30s spawned several other great drivers. A two-time pole winner and champion of the 1934 race, Bill Cummings was one of the most consistent Indy car drivers of the era. Cummings started from the top 10 on five occasions and finished in the top six four times, including a third-place result in 1935. Fred Frame led laps at Indianapolis in three of his eight starts from 1927 to 1936, including a race-high 58 on the way to his 1932 win.

With top-four finishes in nine consecutive Indianapolis starts, Ted Horn was perhaps the most successful driver to never win the 500. After finishing second at Indy in 1936 in his second attempt, Horn was third or fourth for the next eight years, completing all but one of 1,600 possible laps in that period. Another notable name who never triumphed in the 500, Rex Mays made 12 Indianapolis starts, claiming pole position four times and qualifying on the front row on three other occasions. Mays led nine different races for a total of 266 laps, but his best 500 finish was second place in 1940 and '41.

Finally, Jimmy Snyder made five Indianapolis 500 starts beginning in 1935, but he was killed in an accident at Cahokia, Ill., a month after he claimed pole position and finished second in the 1939 500. Snyder led three of his races at Indy for a total of 181 laps, including the most (92) in the 1938 race. He was also the first driver to run 130 mph at the Speedway and fastest qualifier for the 1937 race.

The '30s was perhaps the most dangerous decade in the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. From 1930 to 1934, six drivers, six riding mechanics and an innocent bystander outside the Speedway gates were killed, prompting the sanctioning body of the race (the American Automobile Association) to mandate helmets for 1935.

In 1936, the track's inner wall and a steeply-banked, 10-foot wide "outer lip" that was intended to slow cars before they hit the outer wall (but which often actually served to launch them over it) was eliminated. The Speedway's outside wall was reconfigured to form a 90-degree angle with the 9-degree banking in the turns; the original wall, situated at a 90-degree angle to the ground, remained in place behind the new wall as late as 1992.

In addition, the bricks in several areas on the 2.5-mile track had deteriorated to the point where they were paved over with asphalt. By the end of the decade, only a 600-yard stretch of the main straight remained surfaced in brick.

Although the 500's safety record improved in the second half of the 1930s, the decade ended in tragic fashion when defending Indianapolis champion Floyd Roberts was killed during the 1939 race. Three months later, the man credited as the spiritual founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was dead as well as Carl Fisher, aged 65, passed away in a Miami hospital.

With World War II under way in Europe, the future of the Indianapolis 500 was cast into doubt as the calendar turned to 1940. And while the race would shortly enter a four-year sabbatical due to America's participation in WWII, an exciting new era was looming on the horizon thanks to a most unlikely savior.

WWII puts racing on hold

Wilbur Shaw was shocked.

It was November 1944, and Shaw was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time in two and a half years -- since May 1941, when he had come agonizingly close to winning the Indianapolis 500 for the third year in a row.

After American involvement in World War II began, the 1942 Indianapolis 500 was canceled and the federal government banned motor racing on July 15, 1942. When Shaw arrived at IMS more than two years later, he was an executive for Firestone Tire and Rubber, drafted by the company to run tests on its experimental synthetic rubber tire.

When they got to the Speedway, they found the old Brickyard was a weed-infested eyesore, and word on the street suggested that the track would be torn down and the land redeveloped.

After the tire test was completed, Shaw immediately arranged a meeting with track owner Eddie Rickenbacker. He didn't have the financial means to purchase the track, but he didn't want to see the historic track fade into oblivion. Finally, after a year of networking, he was introduced to the man who would become the unlikely savior of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Anton "Tony" Hulman Jr. was born into the most famous family in Terre Haute, Ind., in February 1901. German immigrants settled in Terre Haute in 1850, and by the turn of the century, Tony's grandfather, Herman Hulman, had built Hulman & Co. into a major wholesale dry goods grocer.

Tony Hulman graduated from Yale and married an even wealthier heiress, Mary Fendrich. He was the driving force behind the national success of the Clabber Girl brand of baking products, and he was well prepared to take over the multimillion-dollar family business when his father died in 1942.

A proud Hoosier, Hulman first attended the Indianapolis 500 in 1914, and he wanted to apply the same energy and marketing acumen to the race, with the goal of maintaining it as an Indiana institution, similar to that of Churchill Downs and the state of Kentucky. With Shaw on board as his president and general manager, Hulman concluded a deal to purchase the Speedway on Nov. 14, 1945, for approximately $750,000.

But the Hulman family's business empire extended well beyond Clabber Girl and IMS. Under Tony's leadership, the Hulmans owned Terre Haute's two newspapers and a television station and invested in the city's first shopping center. Hulman & Co. later acquired the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Indianapolis.

Tony Hulman gave back, too, and not just by his constant reinvestment in the Speedway. The city of Terre Haute is a veritable shrine to the Hulman family and its generosity. The airport, the municipal golf course and the sports arena at Indiana State University are all graced with the Hulman name. An endowment of $11 million over the years transformed Rose Polytechnic Institute into the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in 1971.

It's safe to say that Hulman succeeded in his mission of saving the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Throughout his 30-year tenure as the low-key figurehead of IMS, the track gained the notoriety it enjoys today as the self-proclaimed "Greatest Race Course in the World" and as host of "The Greatest Spectacle In Racing." As a private company, IMS does not release attendance figures; however, Indianapolis Star reporter Curt Cavin counted the track's permanent seats to reveal a capacity of more than 257,000. The Indianapolis 500 is still billed as the world's largest single-day sporting event.

That kind of long-term international success was still just a dream at the start of the Hulman era, and it took a superhuman effort just to get the racetrack and the facility ready for the 1946 Indianapolis 500. Tony Hulman was still worried about whether the fans would return to the Memorial Day classic until he encountered heavier-than-expected traffic on his way to the track on race day. Crowds would continue to grow throughout the Tony Hulman era as IMS was consistently expanded and updated.

In terms of competition, the 1940s were notable for the rise to dominance of the Offenhauser engine. Based on a marine engine designed by Harry Miller, the iconic four-cylinder powerplant won the Indianapolis 500 27 times between 1935 and 1976. By the late 1940s, almost the entire Indianapolis field used the already venerable "Offy."

With four years lost to the war (1942-45), the '40s didn't feature a single dominant driver, though Wilbur Shaw could have been had he chosen to continue his driving career. He led the most laps three times and finished seventh or better in eight of his 13 starts between 1927 and '41, topped by victories in 1937, '39 and '40. Shaw was the first driver to win the 500 in consecutive years, and he ranks fifth all time in laps led (508). He served as the popular president of IMS until his 1954 death in a plane crash.

Mauri Rose started the Indianapolis 500 15 times between 1933 and 1951, and he is one of six drivers with three Indy wins. Rose racked up three top-four finishes in his first eight starts before sharing victory in the 1941 race with Floyd Davis. Rose backed up the 1941 win with triumphs in 1947 and '48, leading the most laps (81) in his third win.

Bill Holland finished second in three of his first four Indianapolis 500 starts, the streak broken by a victory in the 1949 race. He led the most laps in 1947 and 1949 and was the fastest qualifier in his first year at Indianapolis, though he did not start from pole position.

Finally, Rex Mays is possibly the most notable driver who did not win the Indianapolis 500. In 12 starts, Mays claimed pole position four times and qualified on the front row on three other occasions, and he led nine different races for a total of 266 laps. His best 500 finish was second place in 1940 and '41.

The decade was somewhat better in terms of safety; three drivers died while competing at the IMS, including Ralph Hepburn, a 15-time Indianapolis starter who earned four top-5 finishes.

But the main survivor was the Speedway itself, after coming perilously close to demolition. And with a new owner who was truly "back home again in Indiana," the track's future was about to become very prosperous indeed.

The '50s golden era

Many longtime fans consider the 1950s the golden era for the Indianapolis 500. Indianapolis Motor Speedway was under new ownership; the beautiful roadsters competing on the track quickly developed a loyal following; and the rough-and-tumble drivers of the period rapidly became fan favorites.

Tony Hulman Jr. adhered to a philosophy of pouring profits into improving the famous facility he now owned, and his regime was promoting the Speedway and the race like never before. The most visible sign of change at IMS was the construction of a new master control tower, built in 1956-57 to replace the old Japanese-style pagoda that had housed race officials since 1926. Additional grandstands were erected and others upgraded, and the entire track, except for the main straight, was paved with asphalt prior to the 1956 race. In addition, a dedicated pit lane was constructed, separated from the track by a grass verge and a low concrete wall.

Meanwhile, there was a new way to follow the race for those who could not be there in person. Mutual Broadcasting System had carried live coverage of the start and finish of the Indy 500, along with periodic updates, since 1939; the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network was formed in 1952 to take over that role. The IMS Network provided live, flag-to-flag coverage of the race for the first time a year later. Coverage was anchored by Sid Collins, who would be known as "The Voice of the 500" until his death prior to the 1977 race. Collins was famously credited for the phrase "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," though that tagline was actually conceived by Alice Greene, a young copywriter at WIBC, the Radio Network's flagship station.

It helped that the 500-mile races of the 1950s made for compelling radio. Until the new decade dawned, the cars that competed at Indianapolis often dated to the late '30s. But led by men such as Frank Kurtis, Eddie Kuzma and A.J. Watson, a cottage racing car industry in California burgeoned in the '50s, made possible by the affordability and reliability of the ubiquitous Offenhauser engine. By 1953, the Offy powered the full field at Indianapolis and would continue to dominate the race through the mid-1960s.

Defined as 1952-1966, the "roadster" era was in many ways a high-water mark for the American racing car trade. Bill Vukovich, generally considered the greatest driver of the time, is credited for coining the roadster name; it denoted a front-engine car with a tubular space frame chassis and solid axles front and rear, with a massive 70-gallon fuel tank that hung off the back. The Offy engine was mounted to the left of the chassis centerline, while the driver was seated to the right, helping to balance weight distribution. The steering mechanism, transmission and torque tube driveline produced by Halibrand were pretty much standardized.

Kurtis founded Kurtis-Kraft in the late '30s and was soon the leading supplier of Offy-powered midget racers. He began constructing "big" cars for Indianapolis competition in 1952, and Vukovich was dominant in Kurtis roadsters from 1952-55, winning the 500 in commanding fashion in 1953 and 1954. "Vuky" appeared destined to be the first driver to win Indy three straight years, but he was tragically killed when he was swept into another driver's accident while leading on the 57th lap of the 1955 race. Kurtis built a total of 46 Indy roadsters.

Victory in 1955 went to Bob Sweikert in a Kurtis, but Watson, his chief mechanic, thought he could improve on the Kurtis product. The resultant Watson roadster had a lighter frame and a lower center of gravity, and it became the dominant chassis at the Speedway through the mid-'60s. The exception came in 1957 and '58, when George Salih and Quinn Epperly designed and built what became known as a "laydown" roadster because of its 72 degree canted engine that gave a lower frontal area. Veteran Sam Hanks won in 1957 and famously announced his retirement from driving in Victory Lane. Hanks remained closely involved with Indianapolis, driving the pace car from 1958-63 and serving as the director of competition through 1979.

Driven by Jimmy Bryan, the Salih car won Indy again in 1958, but Watson roadsters -- or copies of them -- took over through 1964. Watson built a total of 23 chassis, and his cars served as the inspiration for a handful of clones, including the Trevis that A.J. Foyt drove to the first of his four Indy wins in 1961.

One car from the '50s proved to be well ahead of its time. Fred Agabashian made 11 Indianapolis 500 starts from 1947 to 1957 and was known as one of the era's best qualifiers, but his most famous achievement was qualifying a Cummins diesel-powered Kurtis on pole for the 1952 race. The Cummins engine was also notable for featuring the first use of a turbocharger, a power-boosting device that would not return to IMS for another 14 years. Turbocharged diesels are now a mainstay of international Le Mans-style racing.

Led by Vukovich, the drivers of the 1950s were perhaps even more captivating than the cars. Fresno, Calif., native Vukovich was peerless at Indy in the first half of the decade, leading an amazing 485 of the 647 laps (75 percent) he completed from 1952 to '55. He remains the only driver to lead the most laps in three consecutive years (1952-'54) and he won the 1953 and 54 races by a combined total of nearly five minutes. He also set one- and four-lap qualifying records in 1952 and '55 and started from pole position in 1953.

The death of the two-time defending Indy 500 champion, caused by a pair of relatively inexperienced drivers who overreacted to Rodger Ward's crash in Turn 2 during the 1955 race, remains one of the darkest moments in IMS history. But Vukovich wasn't the only driver killed in action at Indianapolis in the 1950s; five others died in practice, including Jerry Unser, the brother of future Indy champions Bobby and Al Unser. Pat O'Connor died during the 1958 race.

But other legends endured. Troy Ruttman was barely 22 years old when he won the 1952 race and he remains the youngest winner of the 500. Jim Rathmann notched three second-place finishes at Indy (1952, '57 and '59) as a precursor to his win in 1960; Pat Flaherty was a part-time racer who was tending bar at his Chicago tavern when he overheard patrons discussing that team owner John Zink did not have a driver for the 1956 race. Flaherty and Zink inked a one-race deal and Pat led 127 of the 200 laps on the way to victory.

Famous as one of Indy's toughest characters, cigar-chomping Jimmy Bryan was the winner of the 1958 race, leading 139 laps. Bryan finished in the top six at Indianapolis in four of his nine 500 appearances, scored 23 race wins in 72 Indy car starts and was a three-time national champion, but he was killed in action at Langhorne Speedway in 1960. Another popular driver who failed to survive the era was Melvin "Tony" Bettenhausen, who made 14 starts at Indianapolis from 1946-60 with a trio of top-four finishes before being killed at the Speedway in 1961.

Many observers consider 1955 the most devastating year in the history of auto racing. Aside from the death of Vukovich at Indy during the Indianapolis 500, Manuel Ayulo was killed in practice and four other Indy veterans lost their lives while racing at other tracks over the course of the season. In addition, Formula 1 great Alberto Ascari (who competed at Indianapolis in 1952) was killed during practice for the Monaco Grand Prix, and a horrible disaster occurred during the 24 Hours of Le Mans, when Pierre Levegh's Mercedes-Benz was launched into the crowd, killing the driver and more than 80 spectators. All of that prompted the AAA Contest Board to withdraw as the sanctioning body of the Indianapolis 500 and all other forms of motorsport following the 1955 season.

Hulman sprung into action, using AAA staff to form the United States Auto Club. USAC would continue to sanction the Indianapolis 500 through 1995, though the organization lost control of the rest of the "Indy car" championship in the early 1980s. USAC also staged a stock car championship that was a rival for NASCAR through the 1970s, and it continues to govern midget and sprint car racing to the present day.

Hulman took one other important duty during the 1950s. After his right-hand man, IMS president Wilbur Shaw, was killed in a plane crash near Decatur, Ind., in late 1954, Hulman assumed the newly created role of the person who beckoned the competitors over the public address system to get ready for the start of the race. "Gentlemen, start your engines!" -- or a modified call to later include female drivers -- has been the exclusive province of the Hulman family at Indianapolis since 1955.

A time of change

(1969's front row Unser, Andretti, Foyt)

The popularity of the Indianapolis 500 arguably peaked in the 1960s, a decade marked by change throughout America as well as on the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

While the nation became embroiled in the Vietnam War, a major philosophical battle broke out at IMS. From a humble beginning -- Jack Brabham's quiet ninth-place finish in the 1961 Indy 500 -- the rear-engine revolution consumed Indy car racing so quickly and completely that by 1967 there was not a single front-engine roadster in the 33-car Indianapolis field. Jim Hurtubise qualified his front-engine Mallard for the 1968 race and continued to enter front-engine cars at Indy through 1980, though they were never fast enough to make the show.

As is often the case in racing, the genesis for Indy's rear-engine revolution came from Formula 1, where Brabham won the 1959 and 1960 world championships in a Cooper powered by a 2.5-liter Climax engine.

Cooper lightly modified its F1 car and bored out the four-cylinder engine to 2.7 liters. Though down on power compared to the Offenhauser cars that comprised the rest of the field, the Cooper was considerably lighter and Brabham was able to take Indy's four 90-degree corners much faster than the roadsters, only to often be repassed on the long straights.

But the writing was on the wall, and Dan Gurney certainly noticed.

Gurney was racing full time in F1 in the early '60s, so he had firsthand knowledge of the superiority of rear-engine designs.

The versatile racer from California made his first Indianapolis start in 1962, driving a rear-engine car constructed by Mickey Thompson and powered by a Buick V-8 engine, and that experience was enough to convince him that a purpose-built rear-engine car would be highly competitive on a big oval like IMS.

So he approached Team Lotus founder Colin Chapman and the Ford Motor Company and convinced them to team up for an assault on the Indianapolis 500.

In October 1962, the Lotus F1 team traveled to Indianapolis, and Jim Clark lapped the Speedway at around 143 mph, just 3 mph slower than the slowest speeds in the Indy 500 field. This was significant because Clark's car was fitted with a 1.5-liter F1 engine that produced 175 horsepower, about half the output of the dominant Offys. The test convinced Lotus and Ford that they could be highly competitive at Indianapolis when on equal horsepower terms.

And so it proved. Clark qualified fifth and finished second in his Indianapolis debut in the 1963 500, with a Ford V-8 powered Lotus, beaten only by top star Parnelli Jones and his Watson roadster.

Ill will toward the rear-engine "funny cars" was already apparent; Jones' car appeared to be leaking oil, but was never black-flagged, leading some to conclude that USAC officials unfairly favored the American driver and car. Rival driver Eddie Sachs complained to that effect, claiming he crashed on Jones' oil, and Jones responded by slugging Sachs in the jaw!

Clark qualified on pole position for the 1964 race but retired early when his Lotus suffered a Dunlop tire failure. A year later, on Firestones and with an uprated Ford engine, Clark dominated the 500, leading 190 of 200 laps on the way to an easy win.

Twenty-seven of the 33 cars in the field featured rear-mounted engines, and the days of the roadster were clearly numbered. Perhaps as a result of the rear-engine revolution, USAC began experimenting with road racing, running a few events at tracks such as Indianapolis Raceway Park, Fuji Speedway in Japan, and Mosport and St. Jovite in Canada from 1965-68.

An even more radical technical solution showed up at the Speedway in 1967. STP boss Andy Granatelli commissioned a Paxton chassis powered by a Pratt & Whitney turbine engine normally used in helicopters. The strangely quiet machine was dubbed the "Whooshmobile," and after allegedly sandbagging in practice and qualifying, 1963 Indy winner Jones sped from sixth to first on the opening lap of the 500. Jones led 171 laps, but the turbine car ground to a halt with just three laps remaining when a $6 bearing failed.

USAC imposed restrictions to cut the power of the turbines, but a year later, Lotus produced a wedge-shaped chassis to house a turbine engine. Yet once again, defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory when Joe Leonard's Lotus turbine broke on a Lap 191 restart.

Although the turbines didn't dominate as Jones had dominated in 1967, USAC restricted the power plant even more and the turbines disappeared for good after a brief two-year appearance.

Meanwhile, the tired old Offenhauser got a new lease on life to compete with the Fords when turbocharged versions of the old four-banger appeared at Indianapolis in 1966, and Bobby Unser won the '68 race in an Eagle chassis built by Dan Gurney that utilized a turbo Offy.

By the end of the decade, the Ford V-8 was also being turbocharged and A.J. Foyt's pole speed topped 170 mph, an increase of more than 20 mph from 1960 qualifying speeds.

Aside from engine development, a tire war between Firestone and Goodyear also contributed to the escalating speeds. Goodyear entered Indy racing in 1964, and for the next 10 years, Goodyear and Firestone were unofficially the biggest-spending sponsors in the sport, contracting the top drivers of the era for huge amounts of money.

Foyt was without a doubt the driver of the decade at Indianapolis, scoring three of his four wins (1961, '64 and '67). In fact, the 1960s produced an amazing group of stars that would form the basis of Indy car racing for the next three decades. Jones made his last Indy start in 1967, but in his wake came a new generation of talent that included Mario Andretti and the Unser brothers -- Bobby and Al.

Foyt is the driver perhaps most synonymous with the Indianapolis 500.

He made a record 35 starts at the Speedway from 1958 to 1992, and he later became the race's first four-time winner with his victory in 1977. "Super Tex" also earned four Indy poles between 1965 and '75, led a record 13 races for a total of 555 laps, set career marks for laps completed and races led, and is the only driver to have won the 500 in front- and rear-engine cars.

Meanwhile, Andretti won the 500 in 1969 in his fifth start, and amazingly would never claim victory at Indy again.

Considered by many to be the most versatile racer of all time, Andretti finished third and claimed Rookie of the Year honors in 1965, and his 1969 win was made memorable by a sloppy kiss from car owner Granatelli in Victory Lane.

Andretti made 29 starts at Indy, the second-most in the history of the race, later finishing second in 1981 and '85. He scored pole position three times (1966, '67 and '87) and led the most laps in four of the 11 years he led the race. His 556 laps led at the Speedway ranks third on the all-time list.

As for Gurney, he never won the Indianapolis 500 as a driver, but cars designed and built by his California-based All American Racers team won the race in 1968 and '75 with Bobby Unser behind the wheel.

Driving his own Eagles, Gurney finished second at Indianapolis in 1968 and '69 and third in 1970, the year he retired from the cockpit, and he left a lasting impression on the sport with his legacy of technical innovation.

Those foreign funny cars were accompanied by a wave of international F1 drivers at Indianapolis. Clark was the most notable; the consummate gentleman racer concentrated on Formula 1, where he was a two-time world champion, but he also made five Indianapolis 500 starts from 1963 to 1967, leading four of those races and adding second-place finishes in 1963 and '66 to his 1965 victory.

Other F1 world champions who moonlighted at Indianapolis included Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill (who won the 1966 race after Stewart dropped out late in the contest), Denis Hulme and Jochen Rindt.

Danger was still a constant factor at Indianapolis as five drivers perished during the 1960s at the Speedway, including Tony Bettenhausen, the patriarch of the famous racing family.

Rookie Dave MacDonald and the popular veteran Sachs were killed on the opening lap of the 1964 race; the fiery inferno prompted the switch from gasoline to methanol prior to the 1965 500. Chuck Rodee was killed during a qualification attempt in 1966, while rising F1 driver Mike Spence died behind the wheel of a Lotus turbine car while practicing in 1968.

The rapidly rising speeds and the constant element of danger were undoubtedly factors in the growth of the Indianapolis 500 in the 1960s.

With tickets for the race itself consistently sold out a year in advance, the four qualification days -- pole day in particular -- attracted huge crowds, with peak pole day crowds estimated at over 150,000. Twenty-five years into the Tony Hulman era, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was still growing in popularity and could back up one of its many trademarked claims as "The Greatest Race Course in the World."

Fatalities mar the '70s

Speed and safety were the keywords of the 1970s at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

With the transition to rear-engine cars complete by the late 1960s, the race began to maximize the potential of the new format. By the end of the decade, the slim, cigar-shaped cars of the '60s had been transformed into the basic platform still being used by Indy cars of the 21st century.

Turbocharging the four-cylinder Offenhauser and four-cam Ford V-8 brought massive horsepower gains, as engine builders pushed the limits with huge amounts of turbo boost. Meanwhile, aerodynamic research was advancing. Jim Hall developed the first wings on his Chaparral sports cars in the mid-'60s, opening up a whole new avenue of development. Wings mounted upside down compared to airplane applications forced cars to stick to the ground, allowing them to corner faster. This was especially evident on the fast 90-degree corners of Indianapolis, and by 1970, rudimentary wings were de rigeur at the Speedway.

The final piece of the puzzle was the tire war waging between Goodyear and Firestone that ultimately produced treadless slick racing tires. Put together, the combined effect of all these things -- horsepower, grip and aerodynamic downforce -- was staggering. Bobby Unser's 1972 Indy pole speed was 195.940 mph, an amazing 17 mph faster than the year before and 25 mph faster than 1970.

The boost was turned up even higher and the wings were bigger than ever at Indianapolis in 1973. It appeared that the magical 200-mph barrier would be broken, but rain limited practice and the fastest qualifying lap was 199.071 mph by Johnny Rutherford.

Once again, danger reared its head at the Speedway as veteran Art Pollard fatally crashed while practicing on Pole Day. Race Day was even worse: Salt Walther crashed at the start, spraying burning fuel on spectators. Then it rained. It rained again the next day. Finally on the third attempt, the race got under way.

On the 59th lap, Swede Savage suffered one of the nastiest crashed in IMS history, the remains of his car erupting in flames after explosively striking the inside wall in Turn 4. Savage survived the accident but died a month later. Adding to the tragedy, Armando Teran, a crewman for Patrick Racing, was killed when he was struck in the pit lane by an emergency vehicle tending to Savage's wreck. The race ended after 332.5 miles due to rain, with Savage's Patrick teammate Gordon Johncock declared the winner.

Immediate changes were mandated: Smaller rear wings, turbo boost restricted to 80 inches, and fuel capacity reduced from 75 to 40 gallons. Speeds at Indianapolis dropped by about 10 mph, and in general Indy car racing's safety record improved dramatically.

But by 1977, drivers were knocking on the door of 200 mph once again. The honor fell to Tom Sneva, who ran a pair of 200-mph qualifying laps in his Penske Racing McLaren. Driving a Penske chassis a year later, Sneva posted the first full 200-mph qualification run, averaging 202.156 mph.

The 1977 race was significant for a couple of other reasons: A.J. Foyt became the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. And the field featured its first female qualifier: Janet Guthrie, 39, a former aeronautical engineer and sports car racer, set a precedent that today still makes the Indianapolis 500 unique as one of the few sporting endeavors in which men and women compete on equal terms. Guthrie finished ninth at Indy in 1978, a record that stood until eclipsed nearly 30 years later by Danica Patrick, who cites Guthrie as a key influence in her decision to become a race car driver.

With the notable exception of the notorious 1973 race, many of the 500s from the '70s are considered classics. Al Unser opened the decade with back-to-back wins, and Mark Donohue's winning average speed of 162.962 mph stood as the race record until 1984. Driving a Sunoco McLaren prepared to the highest standard, Donohue scored the first of team owner Roger Penske's 15 Indianapolis 500 victories.

Rain cut the 1975 and '76 races to 435 and 255 miles, respectively; the winners were Bobby Unser and Johnny Rutherford, both top stars of the era. Those wins were the second of three for each man. Al Unser claimed his third Indy 500 triumph in 1978 and went on to become the only man to sweep USAC's Triple Crown with additional victories in the Pocono 500 and the California 500 at IMS clone Ontario Motor Speedway.

The 1979 race was won from pole position by the brightest new star of the decade: Rick Mears emerged from Bakersfield, Calif., from a background that included off-road desert racing and road racing. Just 27 years old when he won at Indianapolis for the first time, Mears made a few quietly competitive runs in Indy cars before being "discovered" by Roger Penske. Rocket Rick went on to become one of the greatest drivers in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history.

Other great drivers of the 1970s at Indianapolis included Johncock, whose second Indy win in 1982 was one of the most exciting finishes in 500 history as he held off a charging Mears by 0.16 of a second. Donohue was the driver who put Penske Racing on the map in the 1960s. Aside from his Indianapolis win in 1972, Donohue qualified on the front row for three of his five Indy starts, adding Rookie of the Year honors in 1969 and a second-place finish in 1970.

Sneva went on to win the 1977 and '78 USAC Indy car championships while also driving for Penske. "The Gas Man" was also the first driver to top 210 mph at the Brickyard, and in addition to winning the 1983 race, he finished second in the 500 three times -- including 1980, when he came all the way from the 33rd starting position.

Then there are the Unser brothers. Bobby scored the Albuquerque clan's first Indianapolis 500 victory in the 1968 race, and he added wins in 1975 and '81 and that amazing pole position in 1972 and again in '81. Al Unser is one of just three drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 four times. His 27 starts rank third on the all-time list, and his four wins came over a span of 17 years (1970, '71, '78 and '87), the most of the four-time winners. Unser is the all-time lap leader (644 in 11 races), ranks second to Foyt in terms of miles completed and was running at the finish of the race more times (18) than any other driver.

While the three lives lost during the Indianapolis 500 in the 1970s were unfortunate, a pair of non-racing-related deaths were possibly even more devastating to the Speedway.

After the 1977 race, Tony Hulman rode around the Speedway in a pace car for a victory lap celebrating his good friend A.J. Foyt's record fourth win in the Indianapolis 500. It was the first time that the Speedway owner had ever participated in that Indianapolis tradition. Hulman was 76 years old and in apparent good health, so his death on Oct. 27, 1977 during heart surgery at St. Vincent's Hospital in Indianapolis came as a shock to his family, the Speedway and the racing world as a whole.

Although Hulman's passing was sudden and unexpected, business went on as usual at IMS. Tony's widow, Mary Hulman, took over as chairman of the board, and Hulman's right-hand man, Joe Cloutier, assumed presidency of the track. But a natural succession plan beyond that was in question, due to events that occurred early on May 31, 1976.

In 1957, Tony and Mary's daughter Mari married Elmer George, a sprint car driver of the era who went on to make three Indianapolis 500 starts between 1957 and '63. Mari George filed for divorce on May 3, 1976, and after an argument broke out following the 1976 500, Elmer George reportedly traveled to Terre Haute to confront Mari's alleged boyfriend, a horse trainer at the Hulman family farm named Guy Trollinger.

According to police, sometime around 1 a.m., a gunfight between the two men broke out with as many as 17 shots fired. George, 47, died from multiple gunshot wounds. Trollinger was initially charged with assault and battery with intent to kill, but a hastily convened grand jury concluded that Trollinger killed George in self-defense and prosecutors dropped the charges.

At the time, George worked for IMS as a vice president in charge of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Motor Network. But with Tony Hulman and his logical successor gone, the last thing that the Speedway (and by extension, the United States Auto Club) needed was dissension among the car owners.

Yet that is exactly what was brewing in the late 1970s. Led by Dan Gurney, who wrote a white paper on the subject, the owners expressed their dissatisfaction that so much emphasis was placed on the Indianapolis 500, often at the expense of a full series of strong Indy car championship races that they believed was necessary for their survival as business entities.

Gurney's 1978 report compared American racing to Formula One and noted that F1 experienced massive growth after the team owners, led by Bernie Ecclestone, formed the Formula One Constructors Association. Gurney proposed that the Indy car team owners form a FOCA-like alliance to take over promotion of the sport while leaving sanctioning to USAC. "Let's call it CART, or Championship Auto Racing Teams," he wrote.

With Roger Penske and Pat Patrick as point men, CART proposed a revised structure to govern the sport. But USAC resisted, so in late 1978, CART hired the Sports Car Club of America to sanction its races and staged its first event at Phoenix International Raceway in March 1979. Meanwhile, the USAC Championship Trail continued, with A.J. Foyt as its only notable driver.

The month of May in 1979 was the most contentious in the history of the Indianapolis 500. After USAC retaliated by denying the top CART teams entry into the '79 Indy 500, a U.S. District Court ruled the ban unlawful, reasoning that the star drivers' livelihood would be adversely affected. Later in the month, another legal battle broke out when it was discovered that several competitors were cheating, manipulating the pop-off valve, a device mandated to regulate turbo boost, and USAC was alleged to have turned a selective blind eye to the practice. An extraordinary extra qualifying session was staged; anyone with a legal car who matched the slowest qualified speed was added to the entry, putting the field at 35 cars.

While peace eventually prevailed within a couple of years, the USAC-CART war of 1979 created an uneasy truce at best between the car owners and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which had unofficially served as the longtime governors of the sport of Indy car racing. That increasingly public conflict would continue as a crippling hallmark of the sport over the next three decades.