Monday, August 3, 2020

23 Days in August: No. 3, Roger McCluskey, 1973 Lindsey Hopkins Buick McLaren/Offy


If you joined us for 30 Days in May earlier this year, you’ll see some familiar faces from that countdown. We’ve also added some new entries for 23 Days in August. So let’s celebrate some notable drivers and cars from the glorious past of the Indianapolis 500!
 
Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Photo
Roger McCluskey started 14th and finished third in the
1973 Indianapolis 500.
23 Days in August: No. 3, Roger McCluskey, 1973 Lindsey Hopkins Buick McLaren/Offy. Roger McCluskey, a respected veteran, had his best finish in 18 Indianapolis 500 starts with a third in the 1973 race. It also was a great day for owner Lindsey Hopkins, another true gentleman of racing, as Mel Kenyon (fourth) and Lee Kunzman (seventh) placed in the top 10 as well.

That finish, along with a second at Pocono about a month later, helped propel McCluskey to the 1973 USAC national championship. (McCluskey ran out of fuel on the final lap at Pocono, giving A.J. Foyt the victory.) In those days, longer races paid more points, so it was vital to do well in the three 500-mile races. McCluskey was fourth at Ontario in the other 500-miler, so he really cleaned up in those events.

Somewhat forgotten now, McCluskey also won USAC stock car and sprint titles, won races in the championship (IndyCar) and midget divisions and also competed in the 24 Hours of LeMans. All told, a very remarkable and successful career deserving of praise.

#Indy500 @IMS @IMSMuseum @IndyCar

Sunday, August 2, 2020

23 Days in August: No. 2, Billy Vukovich, 1973 Sugaripe Prune Eagle/Offy


If you joined us for 30 Days in May earlier this year, you’ll see some familiar faces from that countdown. We’ve also added some new entries for 23 Days in August. So let’s celebrate some notable drivers and cars from the glorious past of the Indianapolis 500!
 
Billl Vukovich was the only other driver on the same lap as Gordon
Johncock at the end of the rain-shortened 1973 Indianapolis 500.
23 Days in August: No. 2, Bill Vukovich, 1973 Sugaripe Prune Eagle/Offy. In 1973, Bill Vukovich was second behind Gordon Johncock, the highest finish for the son of a former winner to that point. Sugaripe Prune entries were mainstays at the Speedway throughout the 1970s, with Mike Mosley, Wally Dallenbach and Tom Sneva all driving for the team after Vukovich departed after the 1974 season.

#Indy500 @IMS @IMSMuseum @IndyCar

Saturday, August 1, 2020

23 Days in August: No. 1, Joe Leonard, 1973 Samsonite Parnelli/Offy


If you joined us for 30 Days in May earlier this year, you’ll see some familiar drivers and cars from that countdown. We’ve also added some new entries for 23 Days in August. So let’s celebrate some notable drivers and cars from the glorious past of the Indianapolis 500!

National champion Joe Leonard had to sweat it out a bit before his place
in the lineup 
for the 1973 Indianapolis 500 was secure.

23 Days In August: No. 1, Joe Leonard, 1973 Samsonite Parnelli/Offy. For 1973, Joe Leonard had a brand-new Parnelli chassis designed by Maurice Philippe as well as the same sponsor (Samsonite) and number (1, for winning the 1972 national championship). For whatever reason, Leonard had a tough time getting up to a comfortable speed in qualifying. He waved off twice, then accepted a somewhat precarious 189.954 mph average on his third strike on the second day of time trials.

A.J. Foyt found himself in a similar predicament as his four-lap average of 188.927 was the 29th fastest of the 30 cars qualified after the first weekend. (Leonard was 28th.)

Fortunately, each had a backup car and started working up to speed during the next week of practice, Foyt in the No. 84 Gilmore Racing Coyote (which was handed over to George Snider at literally the last minute) Leonard in the No. 41 Samsonite Parnelli.

As it turned out, enough cars qualified a bit slower to give Leonard and Foyt a little breathing room.

On Race Day, Leonard was able to dodge the melee created by Salt Walther’s horrendous crash on the first lap. When the race finally resumed two days later after persistent rain, Leonard overcame a spin but was sidelined by a bad hub after 91 laps and finished 18th.

Sadly, the 1973 500 was Leonard’s last race at Indianapolis. He suffered devastating foot and ankle injuries during the 1974 California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway and never raced again. His injury also signaled the end of the Vel’s Parnelli Jones “Super Team” with Al Unser and Mario Andretti. Expected to dominate USAC racing starting in 1972, Leonard’s national championship that year was one of the few major highlights.

Jan Opperman replaced Leonard at Indianapolis and Pocono, but essentially the operation became a two-driver team that started to dwindle even further. Unser and Andretti were together for 1975’s three 500-mile races, but then it was down to just Unser for 1976 with sponsorship from American Racing Wheels. For 1976, Andretti joined Roger Penske’s team, running some USAC races while he pursued a World Championship in Formula One.

 #Indy500 @IMS @IMSMuseum @IndyCar

Sunday, May 31, 2020

30 Days in May Bonus: No. 31, John Mahler, 1972 Harbor Fuel Oil McLaren


OK, so this year’s Indianapolis 500 won’t be run in the month of May. For many of us, however, May is more than just a month – it’s a state of mind. So let’s still celebrate great cars and drivers of the past anyway!
 
Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo
John Mahler started 29th and finished 22nd in his first
Indianapolis 500 in 1972.
30 Days in May Bonus: No. 31, John Mahler, 1972 Harbor Fuel Oil McLaren/Offy. We wrap up with John Mahler, who was one of eight rookies in the starting lineup for the 1972 Indianapolis 500. He actually qualified for the 1971 race but was “bumped” by his car owner, Dick Simon.

Mahler had qualified Simon’s back-up car in 1971, becoming the fastest rookie in 500 history in the process. But then Simon was bumped, so he took over Mahler’s ride for the race.

So began what was to be an interesting, colorful Indianapolis 500 career for Mahler, who made four starts from 1972 through 1979. In 1973, he was part of the Champ Carr Enterprises team with Sam Posey. Mahler likely would have made the race had he been allowed to complete either of his two qualifying attempts, both of which were tracking toward an average fast enough to make the race.

As it turned out, Posey was bumped and Jim McElreath took over Mahler’s car and made the field in the final minutes of qualifying.

Mahler’s best finish was in 1977, when he was credited with 14th after getting some relief help from Larry “Boom Boom” Cannon. He almost squeezed into the 1983 lineup, accepting a speed that was some 27 mph off the pole speed with the hope that rain would curtail qualifying. The gamble almost paid off, but Mahler was knocked out by Dennis Firestone, who completed his run as showers hit.

In 1972, Mahler wound up 22nd, sidelined by piston failure after 99 laps. A highlight film produced by Channel 6 in Indianapolis indicates that Mahler had to pull in before the start because he forgot his gloves.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

30 Days in May: No. 30, Arie Luyendyk, 1990 Domino's Pizza Lola


OK, so this year’s Indianapolis 500 won’t be run in the month of May. For many of us, however, May is more than just a month – it’s a state of mind. So let’s still celebrate great cars and drivers of the past anyway!
 
Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo
Arie Luyendyk won his first Indianapolis 500 in 1990 at a record
average speed of 185.981 mph.
30 Days in May: No. 30, Arie Luyendyk, 1990 Domino’s Pizza Lola/Chevrolet. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 30 years since Arie Luyendyk won his first Indianapolis 500 (and first IndyCar race) after starting third. Domino’s chose the number 30 as a tie-in to its “30 minutes or less” delivery guarantee, a slogan that eventually was abandoned in the interests of safety. The Flying Dutchman added another 500 win in 1997 and still holds the one-lap and four-lap qualifying records, which he set in 1996.

Side note: In 1990, barely a year out of college, I covered practice, qualifying and the race for the Logansport (Indiana) Pharos-Tribune, where I was the Assistant Sports Editor. I was fortunate enough to get a one-on-one interview with Mr. Luyendyk, who was extremely gracious answering what likely were novice-level questions. Also, against all professional protocol, at the end of the interview I asked for an autograph for my then-girlfriend (and now wife of almost 28 years), which he signed. And we still have. Thanks, Arie!

Friday, May 29, 2020

30 Days in May: No. 29, Pancho Carter, 1987 Hardee's March


OK, so this year’s Indianapolis 500 won’t be run in the month of May. For many of us, however, May is more than just a month – it’s a state of mind. So let’s still celebrate great cars and drivers of the past anyway!
 
Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo
Pancho Carter started 29th and finished 27th in the 
1987 Indianapolis 500.
30 Days in May: No. 29, Pancho Carter, 1987 Hardee’s March/Cosworth. Pancho Carter, the 1974 Rookie of the Year, was a steady presence in the 500 lineup through 1991, missing only the 1988 race. His big day came in 1985, when he won the pole with a Buick-powered machine. The “TT” indicates this car was a backup to a backup, which was the result of Carter taking a "header" in practice in his primary car, then withdrawing his backup car to qualify this one. 

During this time, the Hardee’s restaurants in the Indianapolis area gave out trading cards of IndyCar drivers if you made a certain purchase. It sure would nice to have a set of cards again.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

30 Days in May: No. 28, Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2014 DHL Dallara


OK, so this year’s Indianapolis 500 won’t be run in the month of May. For many of us, however, May is more than just a month – it’s a state of mind. So let’s still celebrate great cars and drivers of the past anyway!
 
Photo credit: Doug Mathews/Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo
In his Indianapolis 500 career, Ryan Hunter-Reay has both started
last (2011) and won the race (2014).
30 Days in May: No. 28, Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2014 DHL Dallara/Honda. Ryan Hunter-Reay became the first 500’s U.S.-born winner since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 when he held off Helio Castroneves to cap a thrilling duel. Hard, clean and precise racing in the closing laps made the 2014 race one of the most memorable.