Friday, February 25, 2011

Frenetic Friday -- Row 3

The debate is finally over, Row 3 is finally in the field. Just as a review, here's a recap of my first two rows, linked in the event anyone wants to re-read them several times for fun.

Row 1: Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser

Row 2: Bill Vukovich, Bobby Unser, Wilbur Shaw

As I mentioned in my recent Johnny Rutherford post, the further back you go in the field, the harder it is to pick drivers. Sure, wins mean a lot, but so do other factors. Those will come into play more and more as we move along.

But for now, here we go:

Inside Row 3: Mario Andretti

The only one -- 1969
Here is the first example of "other factors" moving a driver up the grid. Though Mario only had one win (1969) in 29 starts and only finished the race on the lead lap five times, his career at Indy could be called dominant. He captured the pole three times as part of eight front-row starts and led 556 of the 3,090 laps he completed, which means he led 18 percent of the laps he ever drove at the Speedway.

Mario led more than 100 laps in a race three times, and led a race-high 72 laps in 1993 when he was 53 years old. Of course, no discussion is complete without talking about the "Andretti curse", as for years Mario would have a good car before limping to the pits with a mechanical issue as Tom Carnegie uttered one of his famous phrases..."Mario is slowing down".

That was never more heartbreaking than in 1987 when he lead 170 of the first 177 laps and had more than a lap on second place Roberto Guerrero and two laps on eventual winner Unser before slowing with an electrical problem. It's too bad Mario isn't driving now, because in the current IndyCar era of drivers piloting the most-unbreakable-cars-ever-built, he would be close to unbeatable at Indy.

Middle Row 3: Johnny Rutherford

As I stated, I wasn't sure about J.R. for a while because his 24-year career at Indy could be broken down into three parts. From 1963-72 he never finished better than 18th, followed by a stretch (1973-81) where he won the race and the pole three times apiece, finished second once (1975) to go along with two other top-10 placings. From there until his final race in 1988 he did have three more top-10s, but never led a lap and wasn't a factor. What pushes J.R. up this far in the field is the fact that for close to 10 years, he was a guy that everyone had to make sure they knew where he was on the track.

Outside Row 3: Emerson Fittipaldi

The Emmo Era at Indy lasted just 11 starts, as it was part of a ressurection of a career that had included two Formula 1 world titles in the 1970s. He didn't even begin competing in the 500 until 1984 when he was 37, but had a run that saw him post two wins (1989, 1993) a pole (1990) and four top-5 finishes. He arguably could have won two more, as he had the field covered in 1990 before suffering tire issues, then crashed with almost a one-lap lead with just 17 laps to go in 1994. That was part of Emmo's flair for the dramatic, as his battle with Al Unser Jr. in 1989 is one of the best late-race duels in history, and his 1993 win came after passing race favorite Nigel Mansell on a restart with 16 laps to go. Though he typically pushed his car and loved to run up front, evidenced by leading an amazing 505 of his 1,785 laps in competition, his drive in 1993 was brilliant, as he almost fell a lap down and patiently worked on his car and up through the field, leading only the last 16 of the race to beat one of the deeper fields ever assembled.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

You Never Walk Away From The Table When You Are On A Heater

Which is why Randy Bernard choose to officially announce the season-ending Vegas race while in Las Vegas yesterday.

Yes, I know that race announcements take place in the city in which it will be held, but the point is that Bernard has been on such a hot streak that it made it all that more appropriate. While setting the date of Oct. 16 was a bit anticlamactic given we all knew about that, Bernard threw a couple more items out there that are sure to pique more interest.

Is there ANYTHING bad about being a race car driver?/
The first was to offer a free ticket to the Vegas race to anyone who attends another IndyCar race during the season. That's just an outstanding deal and continues the series' emphasis with focusing on the fans. I've seen posts in various online medias where many people are already talking of cashing in, and I'm planning on doing the same. I think it will boost attendance for the race (then again, anything over the putrid turnout in Homestead is an improvement) and along with the venue gives fans the chance to celebrate the end of the season. And if past history holds, the points champion will be crowned there and that's a reason to get excited too.

One thing I like about Vegas is that along with Indy, it has the potential to become a "destination" race for people. As in, the stuff surrounding the race will be just as good as the race itself, and people want to be a part of it. I've made lots of virtual friends through various social media, and look forward to the opportunity to meet them in person. 

I have run the Chicago Marathon five times, and have covered it on several other occasions. The one thing I have noticed is that the race itself culminates several days' worth of activity and interaction between the participants. People don't come from around the world to just run the race, it's also about the community and cameraderie that is developed and the energy that it builds through the course of the weekend. That is what makes the experience memorable and is why people come back year after year to run it.

I think if done correctly, this could be the same thing. IndyCar might do well to follow a similar model, to have an "expo" of sorts where people can spend the prior 2-3 days buying merchandise, listening to speakers, meeting drivers or folks from other races, and getting together. I think that's an area the series should try to focus on, getting fans together. Looking at their interest level in social media, that will probably happen, and Vegas is the perfect place for that to happen.

The other interesting angle was to throw out a $5 million bonus to any non-IndyCar driver who can show up and win the race. The series will hold five spots open for anyone who wants to give it a shot. The series is basically saying -- if you want to boast about having the best drivers in the world, come to Vegas and prove it.

With NASCAR racing in Charlotte the previous night, it presents an interesting scenario that perhaps a driver or two will hop on a plane and head over to run the race. As I posted earlier here I just don't see a Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart or Juan Pablo Montoya showing up. I do however, think a guy like Robby Gordon or Sam Hornish Jr. might be talked into it if the ride is right.

One thing to remember, this is an "all in" race. With the new cars coming in 2012, the 2011 finale is the current car's swan song. You can do whatever you want to the equipment, you can crash it, burn it, run it into the ground. It doesn't matter because you won't need it the next day, when the checkered flag drops they become museum pieces and show cars. I think that lends itself to risk-taking and excitement to those who want to get involved.

There is the possibility that maybe one or two drivers might take the series up on its offer. But even if they don't, that's not the point. Bernard understands the idea of creating buzz, and getting people to talk about things.

When in the past was anyone talking about IndyCar a full month before the season even started? This past winter has been full of good news (and some bad, to be fair) and the series has been in the spotlight more than in recent memory. A lap hasn't been turned in competition this year, but already people are talking. The further we go, the more that is going to multiply.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

15 DIM Investigative Report -- Tony Stewart Slimming Down for the Double?

(Editor's note: I'm totally having fun with this, just remember as you read this post to not take it seriously. Well, for the most part.)

First off, my confession: I watched both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at Daytona this weekend. My defenses were down as it's been a long winter and it is racing (well, sort of). Then again, a confession (and subsequent penance) is not necessary I know a lot of others did too. I got it out of my system, so it's on to St. Petersburg.

But in the end, I'm glad I did, because with all the talk of drivers doing the "double" of running both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 May 29th (now made possible with the 500 being moved up to noon), I noticed something very interesting.

When Tony Stewart was being interviewed following his win in the Whatever They Call It 300, I noticed that he appeared a bit slimmer than he had in a while. So like every great reporter, I went to the internet to do some intense investigation.

And I found something! Boy, did I ever.

(Let me repeat my note at the top for those of you tounge is firmly in my cheek here.)

Below are exhibits A and B as to why we can officially start speculating that Tony Stewart might be doubling up this May. The first photo from last November, and the second from a NASCAR media day last week:

At a NASCAR media day in January, Stewart admitted that he had made changes in his diet. He said that he is approaching 40 (he hits the magic number on May 20) and just wants to feel better.

Hey, as a fellow quatrogenerian (my just-made-up term for people over 40), I understand where he is coming from.

But then again, could it be that he is losing weight and getting fitter so he can one, fit in an open wheel car and two, work his way to the fitness level needed to run 1,100 miles in two cities in the same day?

David L. Yeazell/
Getting into shape is totally against his nature. Tony loves to eat, he loves to drink beer and is a frequent customer at Dairy Queen in Columbus, Ind. He even proudly appeared in Burger King commercials in support of one of his sponsors.

He's like us...that's totally part of his fan appeal.

In his career, the only other time I have heard him losing weight and getting into shape was when he was running the double a decade ago.

OK, maybe I'm off here. It could be possible that he wants to celebrating turning 40 by running a marathon. Maybe he wanted to lose weight to impress a girl at work (oops, yeah that's a rumor too). Lots of people do that.

But the internet wasn't founded for the purpose of the exchange of factual information. It's there so we can post pictures of people and start rampant speculations. Or to make fun of them.

Since Stewart is one of my all-time favorites, I'm going with the former. And I am starting some rampant speculation of my own. If anyone needs proof that he is running both races, we have it now!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Johnny Rutherford...My First Greatest 33 Dilemma

After easily coming up with my first two rows (which were pretty much no-brainers) I have been vigorously debating Row 3 for quite some time.

Not really, I've been busy with real life, but I have found that the further back in the field the harder it gets to sort out the great drivers. I've tried to weigh wins over everything else when it comes to putting drivers on the grid, but there are exceptions, one being Mario Andretti of course. I'm beginning to realize that when I get to the second level  -- overall stats -- to try and separate the drivers, stuff gets a little more complicated than it seems.

Right now I'm stuck on three drivers all told, but the one I'm hung up on the most is Johnny Rutherford.
On the surface, it should be easy call for J.R. Three wins (1974, 76, 80), three poles (73, 76, 80) and 296 laps led over the course of a 24-race career. He qualified in front and rear-engine cars, was a survivor of the 1964 Eddie Sachs-Dave MacDonald crash, won from the 25th starting position in 1974, won the shortest race ever in 1976 (102 laps/255 miles) and in 1980 helped usher in the era of ground effects from behind the wheel of the gorgeous Pennzoil Chapparal. He is also seventh all time in mileage, having driven 6,980 miles in competition.

He is also one of the nicest drivers I've ever met and has been an active part of the IndyCar community for close to a half-century.

Should be easy, right? Not when I started digging. There is no doubt that Rutherford was one of the all-time greats at the Speedway, if not in open wheel racing, period. You don't win the race three times and compete for close to a quarter-century and not be in the discussion.

All told, J.R. made 24 starts and averaged just 116 laps per start. Even if we factor in the rain-shortened races from 1975-76 that average doesn't go up much further. He only finished the 500 miles (or rain-shortened length) four different occasions, winning three of those and finishing second (1975). So he certainly closed the deal when he had the chance. But he also finished 29th or worse five times.

His dominance and fine performances in the middle third of his career -- to go along with his victories -- definitely put him in the lineup. I originally thought of my upcoming Row 3, but looking at his entire body of work, I'm not so sure.

Don't get me wrong, when you look at his wins, championships and other accomplishments, he is one of the best American race drivers ever, an old-school guy who could go fast and win in almost anything. But at Indy, his window of success (or dominance) lasted a short period of time.

From 1973-81 he might have been one of the best in the business, but is it long enough to put him in the Top 9 of all time? It's a hard call.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A "Cup of Coffee" at the Indy 500

I am a huge baseball fan, and like most I have a fascination with the numbers and statistics that have made the game's history.

I am finding I have that same curiosity about the 500, and recently I was looking at the number of drivers who had just a "cup of coffee" of a career at Indy. In baseball, the term refers to a player who made it to the big leagues but played just a handful of games before being shipped back down for good.

Juan Pablo Montoya found victory in his only 500 start (
For every established superstar like Albert Pujols there are hundreds of guys who made it to the majors and were there just long enough to get a page on and nothing else. Most people who have had good careers at the highest level of their sport admit that it is just as hard to stay there as it is to get there.

The Indy 500 isn't an exception, as more than 250 drivers -- 34 percent of the men and women who have taken the green flag -- made just one start in their careers.

Some took advantage of that opportunity. Ray Harroun won the inaugural race, of course, although the 500 wasn't the only time he raced at the Brickyard, having won eight races at the Speedway when the track hosted a regular racing schedule. He was actually one of 17 drivers in the first race who never competed in the 500 again.

Also winning in his only try was Juan Pablo Montoya, who showed up in 2000 and led 170 laps to give Chip Ganassi his first 500 victory as a car owner.

At the opposite end is a driver like Dave MacDonald, a promising young driver who along with popular Eddie Sachs was killed in a fiery accident nearing the end of the second lap of the 1964 race, probably the most horrific incident in the Speedway's history.

In between there are some interesting stories:

* John DePalma's only 500 start came in 1915, a race won by his older brother, Ralph.

* Bob Lazier completed 154 laps in the 1981 race and placed 19th. His son Buddy won the 500 15 years later and finished in the top-5 five times, while his other son Jacques has made six starts.

* Roger Rager (1980) was credited for having led two laps under caution in 1980.

* Dale Whittington (1982) didn't even complete a lap in competition as he was wiped out in an accident just as the green flag flew.

Many drivers returned to the Speedway again, but were unable to qualify in subsequent years. Some didn't return because of funding, others went to race elsewhere and a few were unfortunately killed in racing accidents before they got another chance.

It just shows the luck, skill and good fortune it takes to make it into the field, even just once. They made it to the pinnacle of their sport, even if for a brief time, and that makes them part of history. That accomplishment should never be taken lightly in any way, because beyond those 250 drivers lies as many, if not more, talented people who came to the track and were never able to crack the starting lineup.

I've talked to baseball players who have had that "cup of coffee" in the big leagues and they all say that the few days they spent there were some of the best of their lives, and how making it onto the field for a single game was worth everything they had ever done to get there. I'm sure a driver with one Indy 500 start on his resume would say the same thing.

To know you got there, even just one time, has to be a special feeling.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tom Carnegie, 1919-2011

Like everyone else, I was very stunned by the news of the passing of Tom Carnegie today at the age of 91. It's a sad day for the Indy 500, as yet another one of the Speedway's greats has left us.

Though I never met Tom, like everyone else I always felt like he was my friend. His way of announcing what was happening on the track had that style. It was like he was talking to each of us individually, not as part of a mass that on race day numbered into the hundreds of thousands.
Tom had once dreamed of becoming an actor, and it was with that sort of flair that he called the action. Helio Castroneves referred to Tom on his Twitter account today as a "narrator". I think that is a perfect word to describe Tom's role, as he was the soundtrack to 61 years of racing history.

When I went to the Speedway for the first time in 1979, there were no video boards or electronics anywhere around the track other than the scoring pylon. And like today you couldn't see the cars go all away around.

So it was up to Tom to provide the information and the color to what was going on, and that was what made him special. His use of words to draw a picture of what was happening was a pure joy to listen to. His booming voice and his dramatic timing was always a perfect compliment to what was going on in front of him, and took some of the greatest moments racing has ever seen to an even higher level. What made it even better was that he had a love for the 500 and what he was doing, and that came through loud and clear through the public address system.

I bet I spent at least 50 days at the Speedway during Tom's time there and the man never seemed to have an off day. Even as he got up in age he seemed to draw an energy from the place and time and again deliver a wonderful performance. I don't say "performance" in an ESPN, drop catchphrases and draw attention to yourself sort of way, because it was never like that. Despite his booming voice and recognizable phrases, Tom never tried to be bigger than whatever it was that he was calling. It's probably because we shared in his enthusiasm and passion, so his calls just made those memorable moments better. I'm sure that's the way he wanted it, because I don't think the man had a single drop of ego.

Though he never drove a lap in actual competition, Tom is a Speedway icon. His called his first race in 1946, so he was part of the rebirth of the 500 as a worldwide event, and his work continued until he retired after the 2006 race, going out having called the finish of the only last-lap pass for the win in the race's history. His voice is a part of the tradition of the Speedway and always will be.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

And You Think Ride Buying is Bad

I don't like to bash on NASCAR...really. I have no issue with NASCAR, and admit to enjoy watching some of the races. I'll probably watch Daytona, and like watching races on any of the non-1.5 mile tracks. But sometimes they throw something out there that is so ridiculous it needs its own response. And this is one of them.

According to this article on, with the race less than two weeks away, apparently four drivers have "swapped" their way into the field via shifts in owners' points.

From the article:

"Paul Menard, Trevor Bayne, Steve Wallace and Grand-Am driver Andy Lally are guaranteed spots in the Feb. 20 Daytona 500 after offseason point swaps with top-35 teams from the 2010 Sprint Cup season."

Great. So now the race has (at least) four guys who pretty much did NOTHING to deserve to drive in the series' biggest event. This is an absolute joke.

Although let's be honest, the qualifying process itself is the joke. The front row is decided and the rest of the field races for the other 41 spots in two 125-mile sprints. Problem is, most of the field is already set, only a driver or two in each race needs to finish high enough to "race" himself into the field.

The Twin 125 races are unique, and I do like them if they were used properly. If the field was actually set according to finishing order of every car -- and everyone, without exception, outside of the Top 20 in each race went home -- it would be something that would be really exciting to watch. Instead, 90 percent of the cars/drivers are already in the field, so while there is incentive to win I just don't understand the purpose of the races.

And if a driver has an issue with his car or gets in an accident, he's still safe if he is part of the Top 35 or is eligibile for any number of exemptions. While their starting position is based on where they finish, there is really no drama after that. At a restrictor plate track starting position matters little anyway as it has been shown many times you can drive from the back and win the race.
I don't care if they have the Top 35 and other policies in place at any other track or any other race during the year. Just like in the IndyCar series I don't care that everyone makes the rest of the races in the series.

I get that NASCAR doesn't want any of its top drivers, or any of their multi-million dollar sponsors on the sideline during the sport's Super Bowl. At the same time, I'm sure Marlboro wasn't pleased when its sponsored drivers didn't make the 1995 Indy 500, just like Miller was miffed when Bobby Rahal didn't make the show in 1993. It also didn't sit well with the fans, just like Paul Tracy missing the show in 2010. But that's sports and that happens.

It's also understood by all parties involved (fans, teams, sponsors) because Indy has never wavered in its procedures. You HAVE to qualify, there are no exceptions. I know that owners can swap drivers for the race and move them to the rear of the field but to me that's different because the car has already qualified. The car "earned" its way into the field.

Here is the way I see it. If you are going to win something so significant that it is associated with you for the rest of your life, it should be one of the hardest things you have ever done. Winning the Indy 500 is hard, just like winning the NCAA basketball tournament, the U.S. Open (golf or tennis) or the World Series. The Green Bay Packers had to win its final regular season game just to get to the playoffs, then won four road games in five weeks to win the Super Bowl. That's hard...actually it's close to impossible. But it's why they took home the trophy and get a shiny ring.

I'm not trying to say that winning Daytona isn't difficult, because it is. But there is no "meat grinder" process that's involved there. Don't qualify on the front row, no big. Crash in one of the 125s? So what? We'll just take our Top 35 slot and go to the rear of the field. Heck, you can even fail tech inspection so badly that your crew chief is fined, suspended and banned from the grounds (Chad Knaus) but your driver can still drive in the race, and in this instance, win it from the back of the field, as Jimmie Johnson did in 2006.

And therein lies a difference between the Indy you can have a bad month or a couple of bad days and will ultimately spend race day watching on TV. At Daytona you can have everything possible go bad leading up to race day and still win. There is just something about it that doesn't sit with me.

You want to call something a "major"? Fine, then take steps really, truly make it one. Top 43 times qualify, everyone else goes home, no exceptions. Otherwise, you can dress it up however you want but in the end it's just another race on the schedule.

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
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.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Story Well Worth Reading

One of the best things about this blog is that in doing research for my posts I have come across many other great writings that have taught me so much about the history of the 500 and the Speedway. We are all very fortunate that there are so many passionate fans of the race, and how they are able to share that with others through their writing.

In reading up on the legendary Wilbur Shaw, I came across a piece on Paddock Talk called "The Art of the Deal: Hulman's Purchase Saved Speedway in 1945". It details how Shaw's enthusiasm combined with Tony Hulman's vision led to the purchase of the Speedway in 1945, which eventually saved the race and made it into a worldwide event. Check it out at:

Great writing. I'm just not worthy!

The Greatest Second Row Ever

As part of the Speedway's Greatest 33 vote, I'm putting together my own field of legends. Tonight is row two.

Inside Row 2: Bill Vukovich
Vuky's Indy career was a lot like that of  Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax -- very short but utterly dominant. When he was killed while in the lead on Lap 57 of the 1955 race, Vuky had completed just 676 laps in competition, but had led 485 of them, an amazing 72 percent. After leading 150 laps before retiring with steering issues with nine laps to go in 1952, he led all but five laps on a sweltering, 90-degree day in 1953 to win his first 500. After qualifying 19th the next year, he made it to the front on lap 61, then led 89 of the final 108 circuits for his second consecutive win. As a competitor, the quiet Vukovich was tough, relentless and extremely focused, as evidenced in his first victory when he refused to give his car over to a relief driver despite the opressive conditions, despite most of the other drivers doing the same. He is also the patriarch of three generations of his family at the Speedway, with his son Bill II and grandson Billy also competing in the 500. Both were named Rookies of the Year in 1968 and 1988, respectively.

Middle Row 2: Bobby Unser

Hard to believe a three-time winner (1968, 75, 81) is the second-best driver in his own family, but that's how things go when your family has nine wins between them. Unser, who was the first driver to break 190 mph in qualifying when he won the pole in 1972, has two of the most interesting wins in the race's history. His second win ended at 480 miles when a gullywasher of a rain storm hit the area, and while cars were spinning out left and right in the deluge that turned the track into an unlimited hydroplane race, Unser guided his car safely to the checkered flag. Then in 1981, Unser passed more than a dozen cars coming out of the pits during a caution period and was penalized a lap in the official results the next day, seemingly giving Mario Andretti his second win. He was awarded the win again on appeal almost five months later and eventually retired before returning to the Speedway as part of the ABC broadcast team. He was in the booth when his younger brother Al won his fourth 500 in 1987.

Outside Row 2: Wilbur Shaw
Shaw was certainly one of  the best drivers in the pre-WW II history of the Speedway. In a six-year span between 1935-40, Shaw won three times (1937, 39-40) and finished second twice. He completed all 1,200 laps of racing, almost unheard of at the time, leading 374 of them, and finished his career having led 508 laps in 13 starts. Though he never won a pole, Shaw started on the front row five different times, and his Boyle Maserati, which he drove in his final three races, is one of the sharpest-looking cars to grace the Speedway. Shaw's contribution to the Speedway off the track is almost as important, as he convinced Terre Haute businessman Tony Hulman to buy the dilapidated facility in 1945, and as president in charge of day-to-day operations, was responsible for much of the massive growth of the Speedway's facilities and the race's popularity before he was killed in a plane crash in October, 1954. Born in Shelbyville, Ind., Shaw is the last native Hoosier to win the race.

Next: Row three, but before that, a former winner that SHOULDN'T be in the field.

Conway to Andretti Autosport

With most of us getting ready to ride out the blizzard at home over the next couple of days, Andretti Autosport gave us something to talk about by announcing today that Mike Conway has signed with the team for 2011, joining Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Danica Patrick to complete the expected four-car team.
Sponsorship will be announced at a later date.

The 27-year-old from England, who had been with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing the last two seasons, has competed in 23 INDYCAR races and has five top-10 finishes.

After finishing 17th in points in 2009, Conway had picked up three top-10 finishes (Brazil, Barber and Long Beach) in the first five races prior to Indy. He eventually qualified 15th at 224.583 mph and held the lead from laps 163-177 before pitting for fuel and giving way to teammate Justin Wilson.

Still in 9th place heading into turn 3 of lap 199, Conway closed quickly on a slowing Hunter-Reay, making contact with his left rear tire. The collision sent Conway soaring above Hunter-Reay's car, then into the catch fence in the north short chute, where his machine disintegrated around him in a horrific crash.

Conway suffered a broken leg and a compression fracture in his back, and while he tried to rehab in time to get back into the car by the end of the season, decided it was best to focus on 2011.

He has reported on his Twitter feed that he has been working out and is physically ready for the upcoming season. Up until now he had mentioned having several things in the works but was still in the process of looking for a ride. It will be interesting to find out in the future how all of this went down.

The signing comes as a bit of a surprise, but is a good move nonetheless. Conway is young and has the potential to be a good driver, especially on the road and street courses. Plus by all accounts he is very likeable and everyone seemed to be rooting for him to have a speedy recovery. He should fit into the mix at AA, especially given the commitment within the team to exist a little more harmoniously this year.

His seat was one that many thought might potentially go to Dan Wheldon, who won the 500 for Andretti in 2005. So the question continues...where does Wheldon go?