Saturday, February 5, 2011

Frenetic Friday -- George Snider Edition

(Editor's note: It's still Friday somewhere!)

Quick, name the seven men who have made more than 20 starts in the Indy 500.

The first six are fairly easy as they involve former winners, famous last names, or a combination of both. Of course A.J. Foyt leads the way with 35 starts, and Mario Andretti is second with 29. The list also includes Al Unser Sr. (27), Gordon Johncock (24), Johnny Rutherford (24) and Gary Bettenhausen (21).

Snider in 1973
foytracing.com
Give up on No. 7? None other than George Snider, who between 1965 and 1987 appeared in the race 22 times, holding the record for most starts without winning. The man they called Ziggy actually qualified for 23 straight years, but missed the race once as he gave up his seat to Tim Richmond for the 1981 500.

Looking through Snider's 500 career is actually pretty interesting. After finishing 23rd as a rookie in 1965, the Fresno, Calif. native started on the outside of the front row the next year, but never started better than in the 10th spot after that. He eventually qualified in the last row four times, and has the rare distinction of starting in the 12th row when the field was expanded to 35 cars in 1979.

He drove 1,875 laps in competition (an average of 85 laps per start) and led just three laps: two in 1977 and a lap under caution in 1980. On five different occasions he failed to complete 10 laps before retiring with a mechanical issue.

Of course it helps that he was good friends with Foyt, for whom he drove most of his races. He was often a second-weekend qualifyer and jumped into a car and put it in the field with little or no practice time, which is a testament to his skill as a driver. In 1973 he had one lap of practice in a Foyt car and was on the track as the gun sounded to end qualifying, but eventually put together four solid laps and bumped Sam Posey from the field.

It didn't seem like Bump Day pressure got to him, because if the stories are accurate, he is an extremely laid-back guy who was well known for humming songs while he was on his qualifying runs.

Then again, Snider was a three-time USAC champion, so he knew what he was doing.

Qualifying is difficult, and back when Snider drove there weren't just two or three drivers who didn't make the race, often there were a dozen or more. So to think that he was able to show up and put a car in the show, often times late in the process, for over to two decades is actually pretty impressive.

While the 500 didn't make him rich and (or) famous like the other drivers who share the distinction with him of driving in 20 or more races, he did make a decent living at it for a long time, almost like a character actor in the movies. He never won, and really never came close, but he was good enough at it that his name sits in the rarified air of the history of the Speedway. Not a bad legacy to have.

3 comments:

  1. Love this piece! Seems there are so many stories of Indy 500 drivers to be told. Great to hear the ones rarely told.

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  2. Ditto. Such a great article. The 500 has endless stories, and it's great to revisit ones such as this.

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  3. Thank you for this nice article. I've been a Snider fan since 1973 when he qualified at Indy with virtually no practice and was the last car on the track when the gun sounded. He did have an interesting career. I got to meet him a few years ago at Irwindale, and he is also a really nice guy.

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