Voting begins later on in the spring for the Speedway’s Greatest 33. With a pool of 100 drivers to choose from, whittling it down to the best of that group will be an interesting process.
I’ve started assembling my field, and some of my choices as to where each driver “qualifies” is even a bit surprising to me! But over the course of the next few weeks, I will be revealing my choices, as well as adding some commentary as to who shouldn’t be in the field.
Today is the first row. Luckily this one is easy!
Pole (Inside row 1): Rick Mears
Won the 500 four times (1979, 84, 88, 91) and sat on the pole another six to go along with breaking the one and four-lap track records on five occasions. He also had nine top-5 finishes just 15 career starts. A true master of the oval, his patient style of settling in and working on his car until the late stages always made him fast at the end. His pass of Michael Andretti on the outside of Turn 1 to win his fourth race in 1991 was the perfect capper to his stellar career.
Middle row 1: A.J. Foyt
Mears bumped “Super Tex” out of P1 with an amazing run just before the 6 p.m. gun sounded. While Foyt is hands-down one of the greatest drivers ever and gets the nod at any other track on the planet, Mears accomplished just as much (or more) in a shorter period of time. Also a four-time winner (1961, 64, 67, 77) as a driver and once (1999) as an owner, Foyt is one of the most popular personalities in Speedway history. His record of 35 consecutive starts will never, and I repeat, never be broken, and as a driver and owner he has been a part of over 50 races! Another amazing stat is that he qualified at 142 mph in his first start in 1958, and 222 in his last in 1992, which is a true testament to his skill and the gift he has to drive (and engineer) race cars. Foyt is a living piece of the Speedway’s history.
Outside row 1: Al Unser Sr.
Winning the 500 once is an incredible accomplishment, and to do it four times is almost superhuman. No doubt the front row should be made up of the three men to have accomplished this feat. Unser is a quiet man who likes to just go about his business – and usually his business was going really fast. He was the ultimate front-runner, picking up wins in 1970-71, 78 and 87 and retired having led a record 644 laps, including 15 laps in his final race in 1993. Unser is the best and most successful driver in a family full of great ones, and in my mind might be one of the most underrated drivers ever. And that will be a column for another day.
One row down, 10 to go. But coming up this weekend, one driver who SHOULDN’T be on the list. And that one might be a shocker!