Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Norton Spirit and the 1973 Indianapolis 500

This photo from the 1973 Indianapolis 500 program allegedly showed what that year's
Norton Spirit, driven by Bill Simpson, looked like.


A few weeks ago I recounted the history of the Norton Companies’ involvement with Penske Racing from 1974 through 1982.

The first Norton Spirit actually appeared in the 1973 Indianapolis 500. Longtime car owner and builder Rolla Vollstedt brought the company to Indianapolis that year in a car to be driven by Bill Simpson, the legendary safety innovator.

Also in the Vollstedt stable was another rookie, Tom Bigelow. Bigelow, an excellent midget and sprint driver, temporarily squeezed into the field on the last day of qualifying, then saw his Bryant Heating and Cooling Special squeezed out by Jim McElreath in a Norris Eagle entered by Champ Carr Enterprises. (Champ Carr’s shenanigans in 1973 are worth a separate story at some point.)

Photo credit: Unknown
Here's what the 1973 Norton Spirit really looked like when Bill Simpson 
drove it. At the back, the radiators are more streamlined while at the
front the nose looks a lot like that year's Parnelli.

Simpson also failed to qualify, due in part to a hard crash in Turn 2. Here’s a quick description of the wreck from Simpson’s excellent book “Racing Safely, Living Dangerously”:

It knocked the engine out of the car and just about knocked my brains out, too. I mean, it rang my bell pretty good.

In this chapter Simpson also recounts how the team was able to get the back-up car together and up to qualifying speed (or thereabouts), then felt he got aced out of potentially getting a chance to qualify on the last day by a little do-si-do by one of A.J. Foyt’s backup cars in the line. (Simpson did make an attempt late in the day, but was yellow-flagged after two laps averaging 183-plus.)

In those days, you could be in line to qualify and let another car go ahead of you. Remember also that, unlike today, cars had only three attempts total for the month. So the idea would be that if you had a car that was showing only marginal speed in terms of making the race, you waited until almost the last minute before going out to qualify.

Of course, cars also could cut in front of you if you weren’t proceeding expeditiously to the front of the line. Simpson apparently thought Foyt, who put George Snider in the car to qualify, snuck in ahead. Simpson was known to fly off the handle in such moments and said some uncomplimentary things about Super Tex. One of Foyt’s larger crew members got wind of this and the result was that Simpson was thrust head-first into a trash can – a fitting conclusion to his Month of May.

The upshot of all this drama was that Vollstedt’s team – and more importantly, his two sponsors, Bryant Heating and Cooling, and Norton – were on the sidelines.

Bryant Heating and Cooling ended up sponsoring Bob Harkey on the Lindsey Hopkins team. Norton went to the Grant King entry driven by Steve Krisiloff.

King was one of the more interesting and colorful car owners and builders of this period, creating cars that he named the Kingfish. The one he designed and built for the 1972 Indianapolis 500 seemed to be, ahem, inspired by the McLaren cars of the previous year.

For 1973, King seemingly dropped all pretense and pretty much copied Dan Gurney’s Eagle. Gurney reportedly wasn’t thrilled by this whole imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery routine, but probably realized that King was a small fish, so to speak, and he would come off looking like the bad guy if he complained too loudly.

Besides, King wasn’t selling his creations to anyone else. Had he done so, Gurney likely would’ve loudly objected – with good reason.

Krisiloff did an excellent job in qualifying, nailing down the seventh starting position in what was then an unsponsored, all-red No. 24 entry.

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The eventual Elliot's Norton Spirit as it appeared after Steve Krisiloff
qualified the Grant King entry seventh.

With Norton coming aboard for race day, the Kingfish was repainted sky blue. Krisiloff backed up his fine qualifying effort by finishing sixth in the rain-shortened, tragedy-filled 1973 Indianapolis 500. 
Photo credit: Kettle Moraine Preservation & Restoration
And here's how the Elliott's Norton Spirit appeared on race day for the 
1973 Indianapolis 500. Steve Krisiloff finished sixth.

The entry was renamed the Elliott’s Norton Spirit. So that's why if you look at the qualifying photos of this car, it’s red, while on race day, it’s sky blue. In any event, any top 10 showing in the Indianapolis 500 is an excellent result, even more so for a small team.

For the 1974 Indianapolis 500, Krisiloff moved on to the Patrick Racing Team, driving the No. 60 STP Gas Treatment Eagle-Offy. King, who was known to give promising rookies a chance, took a flyer on a former educator from Spokane, Washington, named Tom Sneva.

Sneva’s potential was apparent early in the 1974 season when he qualified second at Trenton. At Indianapolis, the man who eventually would be dubbed the Gas Man when he drove for Texaco years later, started eighth, ran in the top 10 in the early part of the race, then dropped out after 94 laps, finishing 20th.

Sneva continued to charge throughout the rest of the 1974 season – so much so that he attracted the attention of Roger Penske. Sneva joined the Penske team for 1975. His car? The Norton Spirit.




Sunday, March 15, 2020

Remembering, and Thanking, Wilbur Shaw



Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Wilbur Shaw won his first Indianapolis 500 in 1937.

This May, the Indianapolis 500 will be run under new leadership for the first time since World War II as Roger Penske takes the helm. Penske’s record-breaking success as a car owner (18 victories, including the last two with Simon Pagenuad and Will Power) and global stature as an accomplished businessman has fans optimistic about the future of the race, the track and the NTT IndyCar Series, all of which are now his.

From the 1976 program.
Penske bought everything from the Hulman-George family, of course. Tony Hulman purchased the dilapidated facility, which had been almost totally neglected during World War II, on Nov. 14, 1945. Under Hulman’s leadership, the Indianapolis 500 bloomed again in the postwar years, grew in stature and defined automobile racing in the United States, if not the world.

That legacy might not have been possible if not for the efforts of one man: Wilbur Shaw. Shaw, who was born in Shelbyville, which is about 35 miles southeast of Indianapolis, was the first to win the 500 back-to-back in 1939 and 1940. These wins followed his first victory in 1937. Shaw finished second in 1938 and crashed because of a wheel failure while leading in 1941, so he came close to winning the 500 five times in a row.

Still, his greatest achievement might have come after he hung up his goggles. Shaw was heartbroken when he saw the condition of the track while testing a new synthetic tire for Firestone during the winter of 1944-45. That heartbreak soon turned to determination, and then action to save the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as Shaw recounted in his autobiography, “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines.”

But, to me, the track was the world’s last great speed shrine, which must be preserved at any cost. I felt that all I was, or ever hoped to be, I owed to the Indianapolis 500-mile race. I accepted the situation as a personal challenge and started a one-man crusade to get the job done.

This trading card offered one of
the few clues to the color scheme.
Shaw, of course, succeeded in persuading Hulman to buy the track from Eddie Rickenbacker. It remained in the family’s possession until Tony George, Hulman’s grandson, approached Penske about buying it last year.

As a sort of tribute to Shaw, I had a shirt made inspired by his 1937 winning car, the Shaw-Gilmore Special. This Gilmore had nothing to do with Jim Gilmore, a longtime sponsor of A.J. Foyt’s cars during the last half of Super Tex’s career.

Instead, it was the Gilmore Oil Company of California, which had slogans like “Roar With Gilmore” and used a leaping lion to promote its products. (Roscoe Turner, a barnstorming pilot and an important aviator who lived in Indianapolis, touted the Gilmore line as well and actually flew with a real lion, named, naturally, Gilmore. Turner also served as an official at the Indianapolis 500 for many years.)

This might be this year's
raceday shirt.
Hulman wisely named Shaw the President and General Manager of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and certainly his leadership was a key reason why the Indianapolis 500 rebounded so quickly. Shaw died in a plane crash in 1954. How much more he could have accomplished is something to ponder, but all Indianapolis 500 fans are forever grateful for Shaw’s love of the race, the track and his determination to save it for future generations.


Sunday, March 1, 2020

A look back at the Norton Spirit and Penske Racing

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Bobby Unser and the Norton Spirit in 1980.



My new Bobby Unser shirt.
For the past few years, I’ve commissioned “throwback” T-shirts for various cars and drivers from my childhood. This year’s new additions include Bobby Unser’s 1980 Norton Spirit, a Penske PC-9 Cosworth. Unser started third and finished 19th, dropping out after 126 laps with a turbo problem.

Norton, which produced abrasive products (as in for grinding and sanding), had been a Penske sponsor since 1974. Usually the cars were sky blue; this is the first and only time they had a dark or royal blue finish.

Photo credit:Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Mike Hiss put the Norton Spirit on the front row in 1974.
Mike Hiss drove the Norton Spirit in 1974, a McLaren Offenhauser. The sky blue and bright yellow made for a striking combination. This entry originally was intended for Peter Revson, but he perished in a testing crash ahead of the South African Grand Prix in March.

Hiss had driven for Penske earlier in his career, subbing for Mark Donohue in 1972 after Donohue was badly hurt in a Can-Am crash at Road Atlanta. So from that standpoint, Hiss was a natural fit. Interestingly, in an article in the Sunday, May 26, 1974 edition of the Indianapolis Star (race day), Hiss said he was in the picture to run a third car for Penske before the Revson tragedy.

That’s conceivable. Penske did have three entries the year before, with Donohue and Gary Bettenhausen as the regulars and NASCAR star Bobby Allison in a third machine. And the 1974 program lists a No. 66 entry for Penske Racing, though that could have been intended all along as a spare car for Hiss and Bettenhausen.

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Tom Sneva joined Penske Racing in 1975.
Tom Sneva joined Penske for 1975. The yellow trim was confined to the front wings. This car was demolished in a horrifying crash when Sneva touched wheels with Eldon Rasmussen in the south end of the track during the race. Fortunately, Sneva came away from the wreck relatively unscathed (although he did suffer some burns).

Tom Sneva's car as seen in
the 1976 program.
Norton switched up the paint scheme to celebrate the bicentennial in 1976. Sneva grabbed the first of his five front-row starting spots by qualifying third. He wound up sixth in a race shortened to just 102 laps because of rain.

The sky blue returned in 1977, and Sneva stormed to the pole, becoming the first driver to officially record a lap in excess of 200 mph at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Sneva’s performance was a bit of a surprise as A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock (who reportedly eclipsed 200 mph during tire tests in March) and teammate Mario Andretti (first over 200 mph in practice) all were considered the top contenders for the pole.

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Tom Sneva set the track record in the Norton Spirit in both 
1977 (top) and 1978 (above).
The next year, 1978, saw a radical change as all Penske cars were red, white and blue. Sneva and Andretti were still with Penske, which added someone named Rick Mears to drive in the 500-mile races and sub for Andretti when he had Formula One commitments. Sneva broke his track record in winning the pole again, this time with an average of over 202 mph. He finished second to Al Unser, who in those days was just Al Unser as his son was not yet an Indy competitor.

Bobby Unser replaced Tom Sneva in 1979.
Speaking of Unsers, Bobby took over for Sneva in the Norton Spirit for 1979, which was blue and white. Al drove the radical Pennzoil Chaparral and looked to be long gone before mechanical gremlins sidelined him. Bobby took over and appeared poised to take the checkered flag before losing top gear – something that almost never happens. Together the Unsers led for 174 of the 200 laps, but it was Mears who snagged the victory.

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Bobby Unser won from the pole in 1981.
Bobby’s performance in 1980 is recounted above, so aside from noting that the bright yellow trim returned, we’ll move ahead to 1981. This is just a beautiful car, striking yet understated. A lot’s been written about the controversial 1981 Indianapolis 500, so we won’t go into all that here. In sum, Bobby started on the pole and won in what turned out to be his final Indianapolis 500.

Interestingly, Bobby Unser was last in his first 500 and first in his last 500. He also became the first to win the 500 in three different decades, a feat that Mears accomplished as well.

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Kevin Cogan momentarily held the track record in 1982
after qualifying his backup car. It all went wrong on Race Day.
With Unser gone, Kevin Cogan joined Penske for the 1982 season in what was to be Norton’s final appearance as a primary sponsor. Cogan broke the track record in qualifying, only to see Mears top him minutes later. On race day, “Coogan,” starting second, managed to torpedo both Foyt and Andretti as the field came down for the green. The why and how of this unfortunate incident continues to be discussed today. Was it a mechanical failure? A turbo kick-in that caught Cogan by surprise? Was the field going too slow to begin with? Driver error?

Whatever the reason, the mishap derailed the hopes of the two greatest drivers in history. Andretti’s car was too badly damaged to continue. Foyt, being equal parts great driver, mechanically gifted and highly competitive (or stubborn), literally pounded his damaged suspension back into place (more or less), then proceeded to lead the first 22 laps after the restart. Of all the great moments that he had at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to me, that was the A.J. Foytiest.

Cogan, though he had some success later in his career, never quite lived down the 1982 500. He was even booed at some races during the 1982 season, which was rather cruel.

And so ended Norton’s involvement with Penske Racing – one win, three poles and seven front-row starts overall. Pretty impressive.

Norton still exists, though it was purchased in 1990 by Saint-Gobain of France. Since its Indy days, the company has backed the U.S. luge teams – another form of racing.



Sunday, February 23, 2020

Buhl Returning to IndyCar Series


 
Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Robbie Buhl drove the Purex car in the Indy Racing League.


Former IndyCar driver Robbie Buhl announced he’s returning as an owner for a team that will field entries for both the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 this May.

The new entity that Buhl is part of is Citrone/Buhl Autosport, which is a partnership between Robert and Nick Citrone and Tom and Robbie Buhl. Robert Citrone is founder of Discovery Capital Management and the largest minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Spencer Pigot has been signed to drive for the new team, which will partner with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Pigot drove for Ed Carpenter Racing last year and started on the front row for last year's 500. He's seeking his fifth start.

You can read the press release here

Buhl, a Detroit native competed in 78 IndyCar races between 1993 and 2004, including every 500 from 1996 through 2003. His best finish was sixth in 1999 after starting in the last row (32nd) driving for A.J. Foyt.

Buhl had a good chance for the win in 2001, hounding leader Helio Castroneves as the race entered the final 100 miles. Buhl spun coming off Turn 2 and into the inside wall on the back straight. While the car wasn’t damaged, the incident dropped him from contention, and he wound up 15th.

Buhl believed Castroneves, then a rookie, had blocked him during previous overtaking maneuvers – a charge others have since lodged from time to time against the now three-time Indy 500 champion.

“Castroneves blocked me all over the place,” Buhl said in the 2001 Indy Review yearbook. “But that’s not why I spun. I’m not making excuses.”

Johnny Lightning produced this nice diecast replica of
Robbie Buhl's Purex car.

After retiring from driving, Buhl was involved with the Dreyer & Reinbold operation for several years. It was with that team that he scored one of his two IndyCar wins – the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World in 2000, driving the colorful Purex car.

His other victory also came on a short oval as he took advantage of Eddie Cheever Jr.’s exploding gearbox in the late stages to claim the 1997 Pennzoil 200 at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Since leaving Dreyer & Reinbold, Buhl has been active in Detroit through Buhl Sport Detroit, a motorsports marketing company in the revitalized Corktown area that operates a rallycross team, Racing4Detroit, and an advanced driver training program called Teen Street Skills.

Click here to read the official press release.


Sunday, June 2, 2019

A Final Look Back

Photo credit: Tim Holle/Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi staged a thrilling duel in the closing
laps of last Sunday's 103rd Indianapolis 500.


Wrapping up the 103rd Indianapolis 500 …

Qualifying Worked … For the Most Part

If the intent was to jam as much action as possible into the two qualifying days as possible, then job well done. If the intent was to establish the fastest 33 cars, then a bit of a tweak of the format is needed. To recap, this year the first 30 spots and the Fast Nine were locked in after the first day, with the pole, the order of the Fast Nine and the last row decided on the second day.
 
My worksheet got quite a workout
on the first day of qualifying.
As it turned out, one car posted a speed on Sunday that was among the fastest 33. One way to avoid this is to fill all 33 spots the first day, then have bumping (and the Fast Nine) the next day.

I like the idea of one attempt for the Fast Nine contestants – no need to drag that out. The bumping part of the show can be a bit longer – maybe an hour or two.

Except for the practice periods on Saturday, which just about no one used, the track was active pretty much the whole day. It was so busy, I didn’t even have time to go grab a tenderloin, much to my chagrin.

McLaren’s Woes

Fernando Alonso of McLaren Racing was indeed one of the 33 fastest qualifiers. His failing was not posting that speed on the right day. Still, the two-time World Champion had SIX attempts overall to make the field, which seems more than ample opportunity.

The whys and wherefores of the McLaren debacle already have been debated endlessly, and likely will continue to be a hot topic the rest of the year and into next year, if McLaren decides to enter the NTT IndyCar Series full time.

If McLaren is intent on fielding a team on its own and without a substantial technical partner, as it did with Andretti in 2017, it needs to take a page from Penske Racing (who else?) in terms of being better prepared next time.

During the infamous split, Roger Penske took a measured approach in his return to Indianapolis. In his last appearance in 1995, both his cars, driven by Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi, failed to qualify. Penske couldn’t afford a similar embarrassment, especially against what was considered lesser or inferior competition in the Indy Racing League.

His first step was to be involved with Jason Leffler’s entry in 2000. This car technically came out of the Treadway Racing stable, but Penske provided sponsorship in the form of his United Auto Group entity. He also sent his top lieutenant, Tim Cindric, to oversee the program. This afforded Penske the opportunity to get the lay of the land and begin building a base of institutional knowledge as it pertained to operations, the equipment and so forth.
 
Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Helio Castroneves' climb to glory in May of 2001 started
at the IRL race in Phoenix, which Penske entered as
preparation for that year's Indianapolis 500.
The next year, Penske entered cars for Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran for the Indianapolis 500, and they dominated with a 1-2 finish. What’s forgotten, however, is that Castroneves and de Ferran competed in the IRL’s season-opening race at Phoenix that year. The results for each were poor – Castroneves finished 18th and de Ferran was 24th. But the knowledge gained from this race was invaluable to Penske’s team, as the crewmembers gained familiarity with the cars, how to work on them, procedures and so forth as the chassis and engines in the IRL were quite different from those in CART. All in all, those lessons flattened the learning curve considerably.

Once May rolled around, Castroneves and de Ferran took advantage of as much track time as possible, even flying in after the CART race at Nazareth, Pa., to participate in the first day of practice.

It should be noted that in 2001 there were nearly two full weeks of practice and four days of qualifying as opposed to four days of practice and two days of qualifying this year. This reduced track time, condensed further after Alonso’s crash, put McLaren in a bind quickly.

Like Penske, McLaren can rebound from this embarrassment, but the preparations need to begin soon. Enter a couple of races this year, select your team members and get to work.

Alonso can run up front, as proved in 2017, and potentially winning. As Penske might say, Effort Equals Results. But you need the right effort to get the desired results.

McLaren Backlash

One thing I didn’t understand was how some were almost giddy over this failure. I understand the David vs. Goliath aspect of Kyle Kaiser and the tiny Juncos team knocking out Alonso and McLaren made for a great story, and full credit to Kaiser and Juncos. Hopefully this becomes a springboard for success for them.
 
Photo credit: Matt Fraver/Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Hopefully McLaren returns next year with
better preparation, leading to much better results.
The Indianapolis 500, though, is enriched by participation of marques like McLaren, returning to Indianapolis as an entrant for the first time since 1979. In some ways, you can trace the design of today’s Indy car to the 1971 McLaren, which was the first to sprout large front and rear wings.

That year, Mark Donohue was unofficially breaking the track record nearly every day in practice with Penske’s Sunoco McLaren before Peter Revson surprisingly topped Donohue in qualifying with his works McLaren. Part of the reason Revson was able to snatch the pole is because Penske insisted on complete transparency with McLaren. He valued the relationship so much that Donohue, who had qualified earlier, (unwittingly?) shared information with Teddy Mayer, then leading McLaren’s efforts, who applied the knowledge to Revson’s car.

During the final day of qualifying this year, with McLaren frantically trying to wring more speed out of Alonso’s car, I wondered if Penske would again provide the magic formula to McLaren.

I hope McLaren returns next year - with a fully Papaya Orange car and results befitting its heritage.

Pagenaud Dominates 103rd Indianapolis 500

Simon Pagenaud, who went from being potentially on the hot seat to being fitted for a king’s throne over the course of May, dominated Sunday’s 500. The affable Frenchman led 116 laps – the most since Dario Franchitti’s 155 in his 2010 victory – in becoming the first pole sitter to win since Helio Castroneves in 2009.

Pagenaud held off a determined charge by Alexander Rossi in the closing laps, edging the 2016 winner by 0.2086 of a second. It was the seventh-closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history.

"It's amazing. It's another dream come true, and the biggest dream of my life come true," said Pagenaud, a 35-year-old native of Montmorillon, France. "It's hard to fathom, really. It's really hard to process it right now, but I'm just filled with a lot of joy."

Pagenaud and Rossi swapped the lead five times in the closing laps, the last when Pagenaud roared his yellow No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet outside of and past Rossi's No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda heading into Turn 3 on the 199th lap.

The victory was the 18th in the Indianapolis 500 for Penske. It's a total 13 more than the next nearest owner.

"Simon wasn't going to be beat today," said Penske, who naturally confirmed Pagenaud’s return for 2020. "He raced clean, and that's what I have to say about Rossi also. The two of them for the laps that they ran side by side was as good of racing as you've ever seen here."

Like last year, Rossi’s ability to charge through the pack had the fans buzzing.

The Andretti Autosport driver was in first place on the final race restart on Lap 187, following an incident involving six cars that included an 18-minute red-flag stoppage, but Pagenaud bolted ahead by the time they'd reached the iconic yard of bricks at the start/finish line to complete the lap.

The duo exchanged the lead twice on Lap 189 before Rossi swept back in front on Lap 198 heading into Turn 1. On the ensuing lap, Pagenaud made a similar outside pass, this time going into Turn 3, to take the lead for good. Rossi attempted several overtakes over the last one-plus laps but was thwarted each time. Still, his second-place finish marked the Californian's fourth top-seven Indy 500 result in as many tries.

"We were flat in that final lap coming to the flag - we just didn't have enough," Rossi said. "You can't take anything away from the (No.) 22 guys. They were on pole, they led a lot of laps, did a good job and had a fast race car.”



Saturday, May 25, 2019

30 Days in May

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway


No. 25, Danny Ongais, 1978 Interscope Racing Parnelli/Cosworth. Some cars and drivers just sum up an era at Indianapolis and are indelibly linked. While not a legend of the Brickyard like, say, A.J. Foyt or Rick Mears, if you went to the track in the late 1970s to mid-1980s, you remember Ongais and the black Interscope No. 25. Danny On the Gas was fast, fearless and spectacular (in both good and bad ways). When Tom Carnegie or John Totten piped up on the PA system that Ongais was on the track, you paused from munching your Sno-Cone and gave the 2 ½-mile oval your undivided attention. In 1978, the Flying Hawaiian started second and led 71 laps before the engine blew. Ongais wound up 18th with 145 laps to his credit.  #ThisIsMay #Indy500 

Friday, May 24, 2019

This Year's "Fuson Form Chart"

The 1974 Souvenir Edition of the Indianapolis News, previewing the 1974 Indianapolis 500.


INDIANAPOLIS – Something I always looked forward to each May was the Fuson Form Chart. This page of analysis was penned by Wayne Fuson, sports editor of the Indianapolis News, which was the afternoon paper in Indianapolis.

Wayne Fuson, Indianapolis News Sports Editor, went with
A.J. Foyt in 1974. Foyt led much of the race, but dropped out.
It came in the souvenir preview section and was a staple of pre-race coverage. Fuson had an engaging, unique style patterned off horse racing forms that was eminently readable and entertaining. It rated the jockey (driver), horse (car), stable (team) and sometimes even the groom (chief mechanic or crew chief then; now it would be lead engineer or strategist, I suppose), advising readers how much to bet in a good-natured, humorous manner.

Mr. Fuson died in 1996. So consider the following a bit of a tribute to him leading into this year’s race:





Car 22 Simon Pagenaud 2-1

Jockey has had a magnificent May, winning the IndyCar Grand Prix two weeks ago and now the pole for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. Proven mount from the Team Penske stable, which already has 17 Indy wins. Bet a bundle and you may be sitting pretty.

Car 20 Ed Carpenter 3-1

Just edged out of fourth Indy pole and second straight, jockey itching for that first 500 win. After leading 65 laps last year and finishing second to Will Power, Carpenter showed he has the mettle to get it done. Dig deep for a big bet.

Car 12 Will Power 3-1

Another top-notch entry out of the Team Penske stable, last year’s winning jockey is primed to win two straight. That doesn’t happen often in the 500, but if you have some extra cash, use it here.

Car 9 Scott Dixon 4-1

It’s been a low-key week for this proven jockey, who won it all in 2008. Goes to the post just 18th, but Chip Ganassi stable always provides a first-class mount and groom Mike Hull is one of the smartest around. Visit your friendly PNC Bank for a sizable withdrawal.

Car 27 Alexander Rossi 5-1

Miserly fuel consumption and deliberate pace lifted jockey to Indy glory as a rookie in 2016. He’s continued to impress since, and mount looked very racy in Monday’s practice session. Dig up that coffee can in the backyard.

Car 88 Colton Herta 7-1

Rookie jockey has been smooth, fast and impressive. He’s already cracked the win column this year, the youngest ever in IndyCar competition (at 18; he’s now 19). If you feel youth will be served, dip into your rainy-day fund.

Car 2 Josef Newgarden 7-1

Jockey leads the IndyCar points chase and is another of the younger set seeking first Indy win. He fell just short in 2016, taking third, and now he’s in his third season with Team Penske. Isn’t it time that so-called friend finally paid you back? Use that cash and a little more at the betting window.

Car 98 Marco Andretti 9-1

Day-glo red mount is a tribute to grandfather Mario’s lone Indy victory 50 years ago. Third-generation jockey has had some strong runs at the Brickyard, including getting nipped at the wire by Sam Hornish Jr. in rookie year back in 2006. He’s worth at least a little something for old time’s sake, if nothing else.

Car 3 Helio Castroneves 9-1

He and his team know the way to Victory Lane as jockey has contributed three of Team Penske’s 17 victories in the Indianapolis 500. Now a full-time driver on the twisties, Castroneves remains a bona fide threat on the Indy oval. Dance on up to the betting window.

Car 30 Takuma Sato 9-1

Jockey is one of the bravest and he’s an Indy winner, too – just two years ago. Mount from Rahal Letterman Lanigan stable should run all day. Use the money you would’ve used for a couple of trips to the concession stand and you might be eating well the rest of the week.

Car 15 Graham Rahal 9-1

Second-generation jockey would love to join dad Bobby on the Borg-Warner. Indy has been rather unkind to him, with an average finish of about 18th and two last-place finishes in 11 previous starts. Worth a bet, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Car 18 Sebastien Bourdais 10-1

Jockey came back last year after a vicious crash in qualifying for the 2017 race. Smooth, smart and savvy, he’s more than capable of winning. Groom Dale Coyne often a clever strategist. If you’re looking for an underdog to bet big, you could do worse.

Car 63 Ed Jones 10-1

After an outstanding debut two years ago with a marvelous third-place finish, jockey now trying to restart his Indy career after disappointing season in 2018. Mount out of the Ed Carpenter Racing stable has been fast all month. Dip into the butter-and-egg money.

Car 21 Spencer Pigot 10-1

Young jockey surprised everyone with front-row qualifying effort for the Ed Carpenter Racing stable. Boss has an eye for talent, though, as Newgarden came through Carpenter’s team. Throw a few old presidents the young American’s way.

Car 14 Tony Kanaan 15-1

He’s a former winner (2013) and back driving for the legend himself, A.J. Foyt. The combination showed excellent pace last year, leading 19 laps. No harm putting a little on TK’s, uh, nose.

Car 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 15-1

2014 winner has been a step behind his Andretti Autosport teammates this month, but definitely has the ability to bring his mount forward. Use that leftover birthday money your aunt gave you.

Car 5 James Hinchliffe 15-1

Popular jockey knows well the exhilarating highs and the cruel punishment the Speedway can dish out – horribly injured in a crash in 2015, pole-winner in 2016, failed to qualify in 2018. Had to sweat it out this year but came through with stout qualifying run on last day in backup car after trashing primary mount. Talk to your rich uncle and get a race-day loan.

Car 25 Conor Daly 18-1

Jockey has been waiting for a mount like this his whole career, and he’s done well this month with the Andretti Autosport entry. He’s sponsored by the U.S. Air Force and it’s Memorial Day Weekend, so drop a little green for the red, white and blue.

Car 77 Oriol Servia 18-1

Quietly does a professional job each May, and this year is no exception. Some rumors said his mount would be given to fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso, but that was just talk. If you can get a bet for the Top 10, take it.

Car 23 Charlie Kimball 18-1

Only Carlin-affiliated mount to make the race as Fernando Alonso, Max Chilton and Patricio O’Ward are the three left in the barn this year. An Indy win would lessen that sting considerably. If you believe the team is due for redemption right away, here’s your chance.

Car 48 JR Hildebrand 18-1

Speaking of redemption, jockey came within one turn of winning Indy as a rookie in 2011. He’s back for a second go-round with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, sporting the No. 48 made famous by Dan Gurney. That alone is worth a few dollars, right?

Car 26 Zach Veach 20-1

Goes to the post much deeper than expected (28th) for an Andretti Autosport mount. The great Louis Meyer won from there once, but that was a long, long time ago (1936). Jockey is capable and his time is coming, but probably not this year.

Car 10 Felix Rosenqvist 20-1

Rookie jockey has a class mount from the Chip Ganassi stable. He’s been a winner in other series, but this is his first time on a high-speed oval. Maybe next year.

Car 7 Marcus Ericcson 30-1

Another rookie, he showed well in qualifying with a fine run (13th), second only to Colton Herta among the first-year jockeys. Like Rosenqvist, he’s from Sweden. And like Rosenqvist, let’s wait a year or two.

Car 19 Santino Ferucci 30-1

Teammate to Sebastien Bourdais, the 20-year-old American has quietly done a solid job this month. Best bet would be if he can upset Colton Herta for Rookie of the Year.

Car 4 Matheus Leist 30-1

Second-year jockey again teamed with Tony Kanaan out of A.J. Foyt’s stable. Has shown promise from time to time. Advance cautiously to the betting window, though.

Car 60 Jack Harvey 30-1

Third-year jockey rides perhaps the most colorful mount in the field. Tried a fuel-economy run last year, and it nearly paid off. Seems to have a bright future, but that future probably isn’t now.

Car 24 Sage Karam 30-1

Jockey delivered a thrilling last-day qualifying performance to secure his spot in the field. The outpouring of emotion afterward was touching and underscored how badly these drivers want to compete in the Indianapolis 500. Best hope and bet would be a Top 10 finish.

Car 81 Ben Hanley 33-1

Rookie jockey drives for DragonSpeed, and believe it or not, it has nothing to do with “Game of Thrones.” Expected to be among those battling for a spot in the last row, he instead safely secured a spot on the first day of qualifying and goes to the post 27th. If he can move into the top 20 by race’s end, that would be a good day.

Car 39 Pippa Mann 33-1

Before the month, she was on everyone’s “going to be bumped” list, but, man, did Mann do a great job in qualifying. Ousted last year in gut-wrenching fashion, she vowed to come back stronger and did just that. Jockey has snuck her way up front on occasion in previous races. This would be the ultimate Cinderella story, so to speak, so if you’re so inclined …

Car 33 James Davison 33-1

Another fine under-the-radar performance, jockey goes to the post 15th. From there, he’ll look back on three former winners (Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay). If he can maintain that spot at the end of the race, that would be a nice accomplishment for this little team.

Car 42 Jordan King 33-1

Young Englishman drove the twisties for Ed Carpenter Racing last year before joining Rahal Letterman Lanigan stable this season. A rookie starting deep in the pack (26th) isn’t a great combination.

Car 32 Kyle Kaiser 33-1

Second-year jockey thrilling run sent two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso to the barn in one of the biggest qualifying shockers in 500 history. Don’t expect this feel-great story to continue, though. Give Kaiser a salute on race day, but skip the betting window.