The 33 Greatest Indianapolis 500 Drivers

The challenge is there, but it’s not easy. And it may give you a headache.

As part of the Centennial celebration of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, race fans have been invited to list their Greatest 33 Drivers in Indianapolis 500 History ( The catch is that they’ve narrowed the field down from the 732 drivers who have competed over the past 100 years, to a narrower group of 100. Think you want to include Salt Walther on your list? Forget it. Bobby Allison? Nope. And don’t even consider Jack Turner or any of the other 632 who didn’t make the final cut. But imagine; Marco Andretti DID make the cut! Go figure.

The website pictures all 100 finalists and includes highlights of their racing careers at Indy. The chosen drivers are from every era of the past 100 years, but remember, for some of them, what has made them famous may have happened in other racing arenas. Dan Gurney, Sir Jackie Stewart and Barney Oldfield are more famous for their accomplishments outside of the Hoosier state than for what they did at 16th and Georgetown. There are, however, some very worthy candidates to be considered. Foyt, Mears and Shaw are there, of course, but the hardest part of choosing, is understanding just what the adjective GREATEST means. Did the drivers win a race? Two? Four? Were they Rookies of the Year, Pole winners, lap-leaders?

My choices cover the entire 100 years, but are heavy on drivers I’ve seen in the 50 years since I saw my first 500; Foyt’s first win in 1961. It’s difficult to compare Parnelli Jones with Jules Goux when you’ve never seen Goux race. And remember, these choices are dependent upon drivers’ 500 records, not the length and breadth of their entire careers.

My list is based mostly on what I know about each driver that I’ve seen race at the Brickyard (19 of my 33 choices), and not always the cold facts of their race records. I know Vuky won two in a row, but died while leading a third. I realize that Mauri Rose also won two, but one was handed to him when, due to a misunderstanding, his teammate Bill Holland slowed while leading. There are just too many factors to take into consideration. Parnelli’s sure win in the STP Turbocar in 1967 evaporated when a $6 ball bearing broke late in the race. And that’s where the headache comes in. So, as the aspirin is easing the pain, here are my picks in the order that I chose them.

1. A.J.Foyt
2. Rick Mears
3. Johnny Rutherford
4. Al Unser Sr.
5. Mauri Rose
6. Wilbur Shaw
7. Arie Luyendyk
8. Bobby Unser
9. Al Unser Jr.
10. Bill Vukovich
11. Helio Castroneves
12. Mario Andretti
13. Jim Clark
14. Dan Gurney
15. Ralph De Palma
16. Rodger Ward
17. Louis Meyer
18. Ray Harroun
19. Parnelli Jones
20. Emerson Fittipaldi
21. Janet Guthrie
22. Rex Mays
23. Gordon Johncock
24. Chet Miller
25. Ralph Hepburn
26. Tommy Milton
27. Lloyd Ruby
28. Michael Andretti
29. Johnnie Parsons
30. Bill Holland
31. Tony Bettenhausen
32. Jack McGrath
33. Danica Patrick

The site also asks whether you will permit others to view your choices and then asks several questions about your Indy experience.

1. How many 500’s have you attended? Only 32 (I took 18 years off to cover the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte).

2. What is your favorite Indianapolis 500 memory? Getting 1911 winner Ray Harroun’s autograph in 1966.

3. What do you enjoy most about the Indianapolis 500? The pre-race spectacle leading up to the race and the pace laps before the green flag. Hopefully they’ll get a well-aligned 11-rows-of-3 start this year.

4. Why did you select these drivers as your Greatest 33? My 33 represent each of the eras of the 100 years. Others may have had better statistical records, but my choices are perhaps “Greatest” for reasons that aren’t in the record books.

My email is Did I miss someone? Should Danica be left out? Did the Speedway leave someone off of their final 100? Let me know your thoughts and I’ll print some responses later in the month. Thanks! P.S. If Sarah Fisher had been on the list, she would have replaced Danica.

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