The 2012 Indianapolis 500 had a little bit of everything. There was drama, emotion, joy, sorrow and it was all wrapped up in a neat three-hour package. The day belonged to the Indycar veteran’s, which is fitting since this race is run on Memorial Day weekend.
Dario Franchitti won his third Indy 500 followed in second by his teammate, Scott Dixon, and third went to his longtime friend, Tony Kanaan. Franchitti joined a very elite club of only seven men to win the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” three times.
As his wife, actress Ashley Judd, stood by his side in Victory Lane and the widow of last year’s Indy 500 winner, Dan Wheldon, joined the group, emotions ran gamut. Franchitti proved on a day when he started the race in the 16th slot on the grid and was at one time at the very back of the field in 33rd, his knowledge of Indy, his amazing talents as one of the best drivers in the world and his Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda would not fail him.
This was a day that was supposed to belong to the young guns. Certainly, the Andetti Autosport team lead by Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay all were being touted prior to the race as the men to beat come Sunday.
So now, we have had a chance to see Franchitti, the master of Indy, enter the “gang of seven” men who have won this race three times. Of those seven men, where does Franchitti rank? Well, we are about to tell you.
The first man to win the Indy 500 was Louis Meyer. He won the race in 1928, 1933 and his last win at the Brickyard came in 1936. An interesting fact was that Meyer started the tradition of drinking milk in Victory Lane. It was, for the record, buttermilk back in those days.
The king of the 1940' at Indy was Mauri Rose. He won the 500 in 1941, 1947 and in 1948, carving a place in history as the top driver of his era. He ran the 500 15 times with seven top-five finishes. He also was a great inventor and was the man who came up with the first equipment to allow handicapped people to drive cars.
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.
I know that I might take some flack for this, but Dario Franchitti did not win an Indy 500 that was not under caution. That does not take a thing away from his amazing talent or his driving skills, but you wonder what would have happened had he have run those final laps.
Again, he is a gifted driver worthy of great praise and respect. A Hall of Famer no doubt. But I am sorry winning all three Indy 500's under caution does keep from landing higher on the "gang of seven."
Hélio Castroneves has won the 500 three times: 2001, 2002 and 2009. 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.
Johnny Rutherford is the man that many drivers liked to call the ”Lone Star J.R.” He won his three Indy 500's, 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.
The top spot goes to Bobby Unser: He won the 500 three times—1968, 1975 and 1981—becoming the only man to win the race in three different decades. The key to his winning was his almost looking at the Indy 500 as a college professor would a test.
Make no mistake, Unser could battle with the best of them, and he was the one of Indy's most complete drivers. He would later move on to work for ABC, where he became an outstanding color analyst. But to win the Indy 500 against the depth of competition that he did over three different decades in three totally different types of cars puts him at the top of this class.