The Top 10 Indianapolis 500 Winners of All Time: A Video Tribute

James Williams@WordmandcAnalyst IIIMay 3, 2012

The Top 10 Indianapolis 500 Winners of All Time: A Video Tribute

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    The Indianapolis 500 remains America’s most famous race. It attracts nearly half a million people to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend for an iconic day of speed. The names that have won the “Indy 500” reads like a who’s who of auto racing.

    To many, it is simply called the “brickyard,” the home of American racing.

    So many automotive innovations that we now take for granted in our own cars came from first being tested at races in Indianapolis. Everything from seat belts to superchargers all have been integrated into the cars we drive today.

    There has been tire improvement from hard rubber to the steel belted radial tires of today. The gas we use has been improved and now the race cars are running Ethanol. So from safety, to tires, to fuel, the innovations made at the “Indy 500” has affected the cars we drive today.

    Of course we should note that the fine people at NASCAR had a hand in those innovations as well.    

    But our focus is on the Indy, and of course on the drivers. There have been so many outstanding drivers over the years at Indianapolis that cutting the list to 10 was tough to do. So let's see if you all agree with my list. 

10. Wilbur Shaw

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    Wilbur Shaw was a three-time winner of the Indy 500, scoring victories in 1937, 1939 and 1940. He won his first race driving a German powered Offenhauser. His wins in 1939 and 1940 made him the first driver to win back to back Indy 500's. The cars he drove to victory lane in 1939 and 1940 were powered by Italian-built Maserati engines.

    Shaw would become the President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1945, and served in that role until his death in 1954. He is credited by many for saving the race after World War II and for being one of the true pioneers of racing in America.

9. Parnelli Jones

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    Parnelli Jones was the first real national racing star. He won the 1963 Indy 500, and with that win came instant stardom. He was a regular on television, appearing on a number of shows playing himself in the early 1960's.

    However, for Jones, it was the Indy 500 that he did not win that might have made him even more famous.

    In the 1967 Indy 500, he was racing an experimental turbine powered car that led most of the race only to have the engine quit just a few short laps from the finish. Jones had an impressive career at Indy and throughout racing in general.

8. Johnny Rutherford

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    Johnny Rutherford is the man that many drivers liked to call the”Lone Star J.R.” He was a multiple winner of the Indy 500, taking the checkered flag in 1974, 1976 and 1980. He was known for his ability to get the best out of his race cars.

    J.R. holds the distinction for the fastest lap in Indy car qualifying history clocking in a very quick 215-plus miles per hour in 1984 at Michigan Speedway. He was both liked and feared by his fellow drivers because of his ultra competitive style of driving. 

7. Rick Mears

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    Rick  Mears was a dominant force at Indy, winning the race four times in 1979, 1984,1988 and 1991. Then also capturing the pole a record  six times: 1979, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1989 and 1991.

    Mears was known for his ability to get the most out of any race car he got into. But it was at Indy that he shined; the track seemed to be made for him.  

    He was one of the sports first "Heart Throbs," finding plenty of female fans because of his California surfer-boy style, movie-star looks. 

6. Hélio Castroneves

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    Hélio Castroneves has won the 500 three times: 2001, 2002 and 2009. I know that many might have listed him higher on the best list. However, as gifted a driver as Castroneves is, the level of competition now is not what it was when we think of the all-time top drivers.

    His nickname of "Spider Man" for climbing the screen in front of the grandstands after winning has become part of Indy lore. Also, there is no doubt that Castroneves deserves major props for his talent and flair for winning.

5. Mario Andretti

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    Mario Andretti is the Indy 500 to many people. He won just one Indy 500 and that came in 1969, but he came so very close to winning the race on a number of other occasions. If there was a fan favorite, there is no doubt that the award would go to Andretti, hands down. He is a great Ambassador for both the sport and for his brand.

    Andretti raced in F-1 as well as both NASCAR and at LeMans, but he will forever be linked to his many entertaining races at Indy where he was a yearly favorite. 

    Andretti remains a big part of the sport. With his son, Michael, they have built Andretti Autosport, one of the IndyCar Series' most powerful teams.

4. Bill Vukovich

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    Bill Vukovich won the 500 twice in 1953 and 1954, and was one the most respected drivers of his time. It was thought by many that Vukovich was on his way to becoming the most dominant driver in Indianapolis racing history.   

    In his day, Vukovich was considered far and away the best driver in American racing. He had great nicknames like "The Mad Russian" and the "Silent Serb," for his coolness as a race driver, but also for his aggressiveness on the track.

    Alas, Vukovich died on the 57th lap of the 1955 Indy 500, putting an end to what might have been the most dominant driver in the 1950's.  

3 . A. J. Foyt

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    A.J Foyt is bigger than life. A strong-willed Texan that was an outstanding driver, and he really hated to lose. He was a four-time winner of the 500 taking the checkered flag in 1961, 1964, 1967 and 1977. He was the first driver to win the 500 four times. His fiery temper made him fun to watch and someone who you knew would drive the wheels off the car.

    Foyt remains the only driver ever to win the Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of LeMans. That is a record in sports that is unlikely to ever be broken.  

2. Bobby Unser and Al Unser

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    The Unser family led by older brother Bobby, Al and his son Al Jr. are clearly "The First Family of Indy." 

    Let's start with older brother Bobby: He won the 500 three times 1968, 1975 and 1981, becoming the only man to win the race in three different decades. He raced against his younger brother and there were some outstanding duels between them.

    However, it was little brother Al who won the race four times 1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987. Without question, he was the best driver of the 1970's at Indy and was not too bad in the 1980's either. But he gave way to his son Al Jr.

    He won the Indy 500 twice himself in 1992 and again in 1994. That brings the total of Unser family wins at Indy to an amazing total of nine.        

1. Jim Clark

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    Jim Clark won the 1965 Indy 500 in a rear engine Lotus which forever changed the way open wheel racing would be run. Clark’s win opened the way for a new generation of race cars.

    Clark ran in both the 1966 and 1967 Indy 500's but could not get that second title. But the Lotus he brought to Indy powered by Ford opened the door for other American engine makes to get into the race.

    Clark was far more famous for being the best F-1 driver of his generation, winning 25 of the 72 races that he raced in. He died as the result of a crash in a F-2 race in Germany in 1968. However, the man from Scotland did inspire fellow countrymen Jackie Stewart, David Coulthard and two-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti to follow him to open wheel racing.