Sunday, April 24, 2011

Row 5...By the Way, Only Five Weeks Until Race Day!

The weather is getting better and the days are flying by. The 15 Days in May are almost here!

Row 5 was a bit of a challenge, and at times it would have been a better idea to have listed drivers in no uncertain order! But, it's all for fun (and debate) and it's an opportunity to learn more about the 500 and its heroes.

Inside Row 5: Mauri Rose

Rose's career was a bit interesting because he is really the only driver to have success on both sides of WWII, and he is also a part of one of only two sets of co-winners.

He made the first of his 16 appearances in the 500 in 1933, when he started 42nd and finished 35th after completing just 48 laps. The next year, he paced the field for 68 laps before finishing second to Bill Cummings.

That was the first of eight races which he would lead, something he wouldn't do for another seven years. Rose won his first pole in 1941, but saw his day end -- at least in that car -- after 150 miles due to mechanical issues. But just 12 laps later, owner Lou Moore pulled Rose's teammate Floyd Davis out of his car (which was in 14th position) and turned it over to Rose, who took the car to the lead on lap 161 and went on to win. Both Rose and Davis are credited with that win, and their faces appear together on the Borg-Warner Trophy.

That wasn't the only interesting win of Rose's career. In 1947, he was running second to teammate Bill Holland late in the race, but with Holland slowing after getting the "EZ" sign from his pit, Rose kept driving hard and moved into the lead with eight laps to go. The two even waved to each other as Rose drove by, with Holland thinking he was just letting his teammate back on the lead lap.

Rose returned the next year and had a more conventional win, taking the lead on lap 143 and going on to capture his third 500. Rose retired from racing after crashing out of the 1951 race, but returned to Indy to drive the pace car in 1967.

In all he led a total of 256 laps in competition, finishing in the top-5 seven different times.

Middle Row 5: Ralph DePalma

I covered DePalma's career in an earlier post here. One of the greatest drivers of the Speedway's early history, he is still second in laps led (612), a number he amassed in just 10 starts! An incredible driver of that early era who won a lot but was also admired for his clean drivng and sportsmanship.

Outside Row 5: Parnelli Jones
Jones' career at Indy was short -- just seven races -- but it was outright dominant. The 1963 winner, he had become the first driver to top 150 mph in qualifying the year before, and in 1967 came just three laps from winning when a bearing broke in the revolutionary STP turbine car he was driving for Andy Granatelli and it coasted to the pits as A.J. Foyt roared by and scored his third win.

Jones was a front-runner, leading 167 laps the year of his win and 171 of the 196 laps he completed in 1967. Overall he led 492 of 1,130 in competition, an amazing 44 percent, while winning two poles and never starting worse than sixth.

After coming so close in 1967, Jones returned to practice in the turbine the next year, but stepped out of the car when he wasn't happy with its performance. He never raced at Indy again, but became a car owner and won with Al Unser in 1970-71.

The 1960s is arguably one of the most amazing decades in the Speedway's history, with its innovation, drastic increases in speed and some of the deeper and more elite fields ever assembled. The fact that he was one of the drivers to beat every time he got behind the wheel during that era is a testament to his ability.

Outside of Indy, he was a multiple national champion in several different disciplines, and is a member of more than 20 different motorsports Halls of Fame. His son P.J. competed in the 500 twice and drove for parts of four seasons (1996-99) in the Indy Racing League.


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