Are All the Good Alternate Dates Gone?

I am still hopeful that the 104th Indianapolis 500 can be run on its appointed date. The hope is mixed with a touch of skepticism as dates for other races in other series have been moved further back on the calendar. IMSA’s Weather Tech Championship and Le Mans have postponed events and taken three September weekends, two of which conflict with scheduled Indycar races.

If the 500 has to be moved, September would be the perfect time in Indianapolis. Around the middle of the month, temperatures moderate and it can be very pleasant. The only September weekend open would be the weekend of September 11-13. That would be the ideal weekend for a postponed 500. Unfortunately, Roger didn’t take my call.

An opportunity for filling in missing races arose last week with the postponement of the Olympics. Indycar has a 29 day gap in the schedule between the Iowa race July 18 and Mid Ohio August 16. NBC is looking to fill airtime in that period now. Indycar’s first priority should be running the 500.

August in Indiana can be hot and humid. I think fans will still turn out for the race. There have have been some very hot race days in May in the last few years, too. No decision on postponing the 500 has come forth as of yet. I think a decision needs to come fairly soon.

Alonso at Barber?

In a story from last night, Fernando Alonso said he had planned to race at Barber with Arrow McLaren SP as a warm up for May.  It is bad enough for the series to miss Barber, but to miss a chance to see Alonso race on a road course doubles the frustration. Maybe he could run at Road America instead.

Documentary Binge Watching

I have spent my week watching racing documentaries. I have seen A Life of Speed- The Juan Manuel Fangio Story, The Gentleman Driver, Shelby American, and The 24 Hour War. I reviewed the Fangio documentary at the link below.

The Gentleman Driver follows four amateur drivers, Ed Brown, Paul Dalla Lana, Ricardo Gonzalez, and Mike Guasch through a season on the IMSA and WEC circuits. They are amateur drivers who own the teams they drive for. The four are highly successful businessmen who are not afraid to continue pushing hard. Racing gives them an escape and an outlet for their excessive energy. I found this a touching study of human nature. I also admire the heck out of all four of these men.

Shelby American is an excellent biography of Carroll Shelby. I learned a lot about him. He was quite the salesman. It was another film full of vintage footage of endurance races and interviews with some of the sport’s legends, including Dan Gurney and John Surtees.

The 24 Hour War mainly rehashes the Shelby film but goes more in depth about the battle between Ford and Ferrari. Some of the same clips are in both films. I watched this after watching the Shelby film. If you’re planning to watch the two films , I would recommend watching The 24 Hour War first.

Fangio- A Life of Speed

He didn’t start racing until he was 27 years old. His first Formula 1 race was at age 39. Not the way a career would begin today, but in 1950 the racing world was different. Juan Manuel Fangio would go on to win five world championships in a span of eight years. A new documentary, A Life of Speed – The Juan Manuel Fangio Story, is currently showing on Netflix.

I found the film fascinating mainly because I love watching racing films from long ago. There is a lot of  footage of Grand Prix races from 1950- 1958. The black and white film adds an air of romance to the contests. I’m always shocked to see the three wide standing starts F1 used at that time. The first turn wasn’t the calamity you would expect.

The film proceeds in a chronological fashion, following Fangio from his childhood in Balcarce, Argentina, all the way to the European racing scene. He began his Formula 1 career the same year what we know as Formula 1 began, 1950. His first victory came at Monaco that year, driving for Alfa Romeo. The Alfas won all 11 races that year. Fangio’s teammate Nino Farina won the championship.

Fangio won the title the following year, then won four straight titles from 1954-1957. He is the only driver to win championships in four different cars- Alfa Romeo, Mercedes, Ferrari, and Maserati. The title was  up for grabs in the final race of 1957. Fangio needed to finish third or fourth to win. His car developed handling problems. The team asked driver Luigi Musso to step out of his car so Fangio could win the title. Musso refused, but his other teammate, Peter Collins, gave his car to Fangio, who finished second. Collins was also in contention for the championship.

The film has interviews with retired drivers including Jackie Stewart and Nico Rosberg. There are also interviews with former employees of the car factories for which Fangio drove. I was impressed with Rosberg’s appreciation for the drivers of the past and the history of the sport in general. When he spoke of Collins lending Fangio his car, Rosberg asked, “You think Lewis Hamilton would do that for me?”

I was disappointed that there were no words from Sir Stirling Moss, although he was mentioned. I have been a Moss fan since I first heard about him.

Was Fangio the greatest driver of all time? Andrew Bell of Sheffield University in England did a study to find out. He used several metrics and concluded that Fangio indeed was the greatest driver. I’m not sure how one compares eras because of how different the cars are today. But a very strong case supports his findings in favor of Fangio.

Two other segments of the film need to be mentioned. The first is footage I had never seen before of the fatal accident at LeMans in 1955 which killed 82 spectators. If you’ve seen film of the Sachs-McDonald accident at Indianapolis in 1964, you have an idea of what it looked like. It is frightening to watch.

The other feature I liked was the end of  season television graphic of the year’s standings . I enjoyed seeing the names of the Formula 1 drivers of that era like Mike Hawthorn, Alberto Ascari, Jean Behra, and Hans Hermann. Hermann also is one of the interviewees.

Each year nestled somewhere between fifth and seventh place was that year’s Indianapolis 500 winner. From 1950-1960 the Indianapolis 500 results counted toward the world championship. The nine points earned for the win was good enough for the top ten in Formula 1. Some years just 34 points was enough for a world title.

A Life of Speed is a great film for fans who love the history of Formula 1 and racing in general. It is a comprehensive glimpse of one the sports greatest drivers.

Power is Bumped; Greatest 33 Non Winners Grid has a Slot Open

Thank you for the great response to my repost of the Greatest 33 Non Winners project. Will Power, who sits 18th on my list, obviously no longer qualifies for this listing. Who should take his place? I’m leaving that up to you. Please send me your suggestions by leaving a comment on this post as to who you think should be added to the list. Please state your case for the driver you nominate.

I’m looking at the driver’s Indianapolis 500 record only. If Lewis Hamilton started running the 500 but never finished better than 17th in this race, he wouldn’t qualify. In keeping with the old qualifying tradition, the driver will enter the grid in 33rd position. Everyone below Power will move up one spot.

I can’t wait to see who will join the field.

The Greatest Driver

Yesterday afternoon I watched the Netflix documentary A Life of Speed- The Juan Manuel Fangio Story. I will review it tomorrow. I loved the footage of the Formula 1 races from the 1950s and hearing and seeing the names of the drivers I grew up with.

The Greatest 33 Non-Winners: Final Grid- A Reader Request Post

Editor’s Note: This is the first reader request; originally published May 9, 2017

What a fun project this turned out to be! It was fascinating seeing how much those who submitted grids both agreed and disagreed. Some drivers got just one mention, while others appeared on every ballot.  There was near unanimous placement for some drivers, and some drivers were near the front on some grids and near the back on others. The driver nearly everyone agreed should be on the pole is Michael Andretti (pictured above, from 1992).

I  noticed the rankings were along age lines. Older fans close to my age seemed to have near identical grids,  and younger fans as a group submitted similar lineups.  Many drivers from long ago in general fared better on the lists from the older group. I was surprised how well the current drivers stacked up against the racers of the past. Another interesting detail is that all 50 driver finalists had at least one mention. I didn’t expect that.

To rank the drivers, I assigned points to the drivers corresponding to their spot on each person’s grid. A driver on pole got 1 point, the last driver got 33. If a driver was listed on pole on five grids, his total was 5. The lowest total won the pole. If a driver did not appear on someone’s grid, he/she was given 34 points. To my shock, there were only two ties. I resolved placement by averaged each driver’s highest and lowest rank of all the grades, with the lowest average getting the higher spot. One of the ties was for 32nd and 33rd. It was just like qualifying for the 1963 500.

The front row- Michael Andretti, Rex Mays, and Ted Horn, is strong. These drivers were in the top 10 on everyone’s grid. Andretti led 431 laps, the most by any non-winning driver. he started on the front row three times and had 5 top 5 finishes.  Rex Mays, in the middle of the front row is the only other driver to lead more than 200 laps and not win. Mays was on the pole four times. Ted Horn, on the outside of the front row, finished in the top five 9 times in 10 starts.

So here they are, the Greatest 33 Non-Winners of the Indianapolis 500:

Row 1

Michael Andretti

Rex Mays

Ted Horn

Row 2

Harry Hartz

Marco Andretti

Lloyd Ruby

Row 3

Gary Bettenhausen

Ralph Hepburn

Roberto Guerrero

Row 4

Scott Goodyear

Carlos Munoz

Robby Gordon

Row 5

Eddie Sachs

Tony Stewart

Jack McGrath

Row 6

Wally Dallenbach

Tomas Sheckter

Will Power

Row 7

Danica Patrick

Tony Bettenhausen

Joe Leonard

Row 8

Jimmy Snyder

Ed Carpenter

Danny Ongais

Row 9

Pancho Carter

Mel Kenyon

Kevin Cogan

Row 10

Vitor Meira

Russ Snowberger

Paul Russo

Row 11

Tom Alley

Johnny Thomson

George Snider

it’s kind of fitting that Snider is last on the grid. his trademark was jumping into a car on Bump Day and getting into the field starting near the back. Thanks to everyone who submitted a grid. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and reasoning as to how yo put your grids together.

I will be back tomorrow with some 500 news and a report on my visit to the A. J. Foyt exhibit at the Speedway Museum. The cars were great to see, but the memorabilia was even more amazing to me. Thursday I will have my Indianapolis Grand Prix preview with my normally inaccurate winner’s prediction.