Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Greatest 33...Let the Debate Begin!

There are so many very, very cool things in the works to celebrate the Centennial in May, and the Speedway recently gave fans a taste of a new website that is sure to spark a lot of conversation and debate.
It’s called The Greatest 33, and it will be a site where fans can vote on who they think would make up the best 11 rows of three of all-time.
In all, 732 drivers have competed in the 500, and the month of May provides one of the toughest tests in the sport. Hundreds of laps of practice lead to a 10-mile qualifying run (or runs). Not one fast lap, four of them, and as the clock ticks towards 6 p.m. on Sunday, the pressure mounts.
Because if you aren’t one of the 33 fastest qualifiers, you don’t get in. No exceptions and no exemptions. You qualify or load up the trucks and go home, whether you are the defending 500 winner (Al Unser Jr., 1995), the reigning series champion (Bobby Rahal, 1993) or are one of the best drivers of your generation (Paul Tracy, 2010).
But that just GETS a driver to race day, and there they must negotiate the fastest race in the world on a tough, unforgiving oval. It’s why only 67 of them have made it to Victory Lane, one of the more exclusive clubs in all of sports.
While there are some no-brainers, of course, picking a field of the 33 greatest drivers is an overall tough task. In the 100 years of the race, the only thing that is the same for everyone is the track itself, four corners banked at 9 degrees, 12 minutes, two 5/8-mile straightaways and two 220-yard short chutes.
Beyond that factors such as roadsters vs. rear engines or bricks vs. asphalt only add to the debate. And do you include non-winners? Sure, because there are some great drivers who never won the 500, just like there are some winners who, if you focus just on the race itself and don’t make this a lifetime achievement award, don’t even belong in the discussion.
It should be a fun process, and I am certainly going to throw my hat in the ring. Look for my first two rows in my Frenetic Friday edition!

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