Photo-Sam Hornish edges Marco Andretti for the win in 2006
“No one remembers who finished second except the guy who finished second.” Bobby Unser
Twists of fate kept several drivers from winning the Indianapolis 500. Some went on to win later on, but for many, second place was their best finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Some had many more chances, while some never returned to the race.
Second place at Indianapolis mostly goes unnoticed Unlike other races on the schedule, there is no podium; only the winner receives recognition.
The IMS Museum gives the spotlight to these drivers, many of whom I believe are remembered for finishing second. While the display focuses on runners-up who never won, tribute is paid to those who eventually drank the milk or owned the winning car.
Here are some of the stories on display.
Whether due to controversial scoring, rain, car damage, or a late yellow, fans and drivers have to wonder what might have been. Controversy reigned in the first 500 in 1911. Ray Harroun was awarded the victory, and Ralph Mulford finished second. Or is that really how the race ended. Mulford maintained for a long time that he won he first 500.
Perhaps the most controversial finish since 1911 occurred in 2002. Paul Tracy pulled ahead of leader Helio Castroneves on lap 198 just as the yellow flag came out. Did Tracy pass Castroneves before or after the flag was thrown? Officials ruled that the yellow was out when the pass was made. Castroneves got first place back and won his second straight 500,
Oh, So Close!
While most races ended with the winner easily ahead, there have been some very close finishes since 1982. When Gordon Johncock beat Ric Mears to the line that year, the two drivers broke a record that had stood since 1937. Wilbur Shaw beat Ralph Hepburn by 2.16 seconds in winning his first of three 500s.
Al Unser, Jr. nipped Scott Goodyear in 1992 by 0.43 seconds. Sam Hornish edged Marco Andretti in 2006 by 0.635 seconds.
Roberto Guerrero looked to have the 1987 race in habd when he tangled with tony bettenhausen between turns 3 and 4. A tire from bettenhausen’s car flew into the stands, fatally injuring a spectator. Guerrero continued, but there was internal damage. On his last pit stop, the car stalled with a clutch problem, and Al Unser, Sr. took the lead and held on for his fourth win.
In 1961 Eddie Sachs appeared to have the upper after a spirited duel with A. J. Foyt, who had to make an extra stop for fuel. But with just three laps left, Sachs suddenly pulled into the pits, concerned that his right front tire wouldn’t last. Foyt took the lead and his first of four checkered flags at the speedway.
In 2011 J. R. Hildebrand ended up leading after a furious flurry of late fuel stops. He went wide to avoid a lapped car at the exit to turn 4 on the final lap and hit the wall. Dan Wheldon went past for his second Indianapolis 500.
Rick Mears passed Michael Andretti on a late restart in 1991 to join the four-time winners club. Andretti had dominated the race, but once Mears took the lead, Andretti could not catch him. It was Andretti’s only second place finish among his five top five finishes.
Winners as Owners
Harry Hartz finished second three times, in 1922, 1923, and 1926, but won twice as a car owner in 1930 and 1932. Hartz holds the dubious honor of having the most second place finishes without winning the race.
Lou Moore, second place finisher in 1928, owned five winning cars- 1938, 1941, and 1947-49. His five wins as a car owner stood as the record until Roger Penske began fielding winning cars in 1972.
Michael Andretti’s team has also had success, with 500 wins in 2005,2007, 2016, and 2017.
There are fascinating stories in this display- heartbreaking, poignant tales of lost opportunities, sometimes with no second chances. I hope you can get out to see this exhibit. It is one of the best the IMS Musuem has offered.
I will have some more photos up tomorrow.