Fans, drivers recount greatest races at Indy

A century of thrills

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INDIANAPOLIS --- Robert Clidinst Jr. has attended every Indianapolis 500 since 1946, and he still remembers his first as if it happened yesterday.

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1992:  Closest finish ever at Indy as Al Unser edged a hard-charging Scott Goodyear by .043 seconds in a drag race to the yard of bricks. Pole winner Roberto Guerrero's car violently jerked left during a parade lap, and he was knocked out before the race even began.  Associated Press
Associated Press
1992: Closest finish ever at Indy as Al Unser edged a hard-charging Scott Goodyear by .043 seconds in a drag race to the yard of bricks. Pole winner Roberto Guerrero's car violently jerked left during a parade lap, and he was knocked out before the race even began.

Only seven of the 33 cars finished the race that year, and he recalled that a lack of spare parts cost many of the drivers.

"It was the first one after World War II," the 76-year-old Clidinst recalled. "It was thrilling for me."

The "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" has been creating memories for fans since 1911. In conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the first race, The Associated Press spoke with drivers, Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials, journalists and racing observers about their favorite races in Indy 500 history.

The races mentioned most often were: the 1960 race in which Jim Rathmann won a showdown with Rodger Ward; A.J. Foyt's third win in 1967; Al Unser Jr. holding off Scott Goodyear to win the closest race ever in 1992 and Sam Hornish's late pass of Marco Andretti on the final straightaway in 2006.

Clidinst, who has worked at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1964 and still works there as an archivist, also remembers the 1960 race well. Rathmann and Ward passed each other 14 times in the second half of the race.

"They changed leads once or twice a lap," he said. "That was something to watch and see how it was going to end."

Four-time winner Foyt said his first win in 1961, when he battled Eddie Sachs, was his most memorable.

"We raced hard all day long," he said. "I'd be leading; he'd be leading."

Eventually, Foyt pulled it out.

Three-time winner Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan both point to fellow Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi's win in 1989, the first for a foreign driver, as one of the most memorable Indy 500s. Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr. made contact in the final laps, and Unser crashed while Fittipaldi hung on and won under caution.

"As a Brazilian, when Emerson touched wheels with Al Jr., sorry Al, but I'll never forget that moment," Kanaan said. "I was a little kid, and Emerson, I was pulling for him."

Two-time winner Dario Franchitti remembers Danny Sullivan's save in lap 120 and eventual victory in 1985, now known as the "Spin and Win.

Teammate Scott Dixon, who won in 2008, said Hornish's pass of Andretti in the final straightaway in 2006 was the best Indy 500 he's witnessed.

"It was a hell of a comeback on that last lap or two," Dixon said.

This year's race could be special, too. Qualifying produced the closest-matched field by time in Indianapolis 500 history. Just 2.5399 seconds separate fastest qualifier Alex Tagliani and the slowest, Ana Beatriz.

A quick look at some races to remember, listed in chronological order:

1911: Speedway founder Carl Fisher and his partners envisioned an event that would appeal to the public by lasting between mid-morning and late afternoon and came up with the idea of a 500-mile race. Ray Harroun beat Ralph Mulford to win $14,250 of a $27,550 purse. Harroun's average speed was just under 75 mph, and it took him 6 hours, 42 minutes and 8 seconds to finish.

1936: Louis Meyer became the first three-time winner and started the tradition of drinking milk in Victory Circle. After the tradition briefly was stopped, it was restarted for good in 1956. It also was the first year the Borg-Warner Trophy was presented, and the first year the pace car was awarded to the winner.

1960: Jim Rathmann and Rodger Ward waged an epic battle, swapping the lead 14 times in the last half of the race. Rathmann won by 12.67 seconds.

1967: This race was highly anticipated because Parnelli Jones was driving STP president Andy Granatelli's red STP turbine engine car. Jones rocketed out to an early lead, but the race was halted on lap 18 because of rain and completed on Wednesday. Jones lived up to the hype for most of the race and was a lap ahead when a $6 ball bearing in the gearbox failed and cost him the race. A.J. Foyt took the lead, then weaved his way through a massive four-car crash in turn four on the last lap to win.

1985: This is known in racing lore as the "Spin and Win," for Danny Sullivan's dramatic save in lap 120 while he was battling for the lead with Mario Andretti. Andretti and Sullivan were side by side before Sullivan took the lead with an inside pass. Just as Sullivan completed the move, he swerved and spun 360 degrees. Amidst smoke, he somehow avoided the outside wall, straightened out, regained control and found himself in second place. He eventually took a large lead but it vanished with a late yellow. His car still was too much for the field, and he beat Andretti by 2.477 seconds.

1989: Brazil's Emerson Fittipaldi became the first foreign winner. With two laps to go, Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr. drove side by side for the lead when their cars touched wheels. The contact sent Unser into the wall while Fittipaldi remained in control and won under caution, with Unser finishing second.


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