AUTO RACING PACKAGE: Some of the colorful characters, moments in the Indy 500

Updated: May 24, 2006, 5:07 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Roger Rager is remembered as the junkyard scavenger who lifted a Chevy engine from an old school bus and drove his hybrid car to the front of the Indianapolis 500.

The veteran sprint car driver made his only appearance in the race in 1980.

"My theory was if I got a block out of a truck or a heavy unit that had been hot and cold and pulled a lot of weight, that block would have already done everything it was ever going to do," he recalled in a 1996 interview. "So we were at the junkyard, and there sat a bus and it was a Chevrolet and it had what we wanted.

"We pulled two or three motors out of different vehicles, but that one looked to be in the best shape, so we used that block."

Rager qualified his car at 186.374 mph, faster than veterans A.J. Foyt, Tom Sneva and Gordon Johncock, and started 10th. By the 16th lap, he was leading the race, but his fling at history ended 40 laps later when Jim McElreath spun in front of him in turn one. Rager hit the inside wall and finished 23rd.

He left racing for a number of years, got back into sprints in the early '90s and tried a comeback at Indianapolis in 1996 when a boycott by CART -- now Champ Car -- left Speedway boss Tony George's new Indy Racing League with a dearth of teams and drivers.

He failed to get into the race again, but his stock block saga remains one of Indy's most enduring memories.<

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A.J. Foyt first came to Indianapolis in 1958, finishing 16th in a race that almost was his last.

He saw a first-lap, 15-car crash that killed Pat O'Connor and wasn't sure he wanted to come back. But he did, going on to drive in a record 35 straight Indianapolis 500s and becoming one of only three drivers -- Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears are the others -- to win at Indy four times.

Foyt's career spanned three racing generations and included midgets, sprint cars, dirt cars, stock cars, sports cars and Indy cars. He was the first driver to compete at Indianapolis in four decades and the only driver to win the 500 in an old front-engine roadster and in a modern rear-engine race car.

His temper and competitiveness became as famous as his driving skill. But he never considered himself a daredevil on the race track.

"I'm not one of these guys who's a hero race driver. The guy who tells you that is fooling himself," he once said. "There's not a man alive who wants to go out and break his arms or legs or back, and I've had all that happen to me.

"When you get right down to it, every individual body has a little fear in it -- unless he's a complete idiot, and they don't last very long."

Foyt won his first race at the Speedway in 1961, his second in 1964, his third in 1967 and his fourth in 1977. His final race as a driver was in 1992, and he returns to the Speedway each year as a team owner.<

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Two of the most dramatic finishes in Indianapolis 500 history involved Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr.

Fittipaldi, a former Formula One champion from Brazil, led 148 laps and appeared a cinch for his third Indy victory in 1994, but he was running low on fuel and wanted to go a full lap ahead of Unser, his teammate, who was running second with 15 laps to go.

Fittipaldi went too low trying to pass Unser in the fourth turn, went over the rumble-strip apron and lost control. His car slid to the outside wall and hit with the right side. Fittipaldi came to a stop on the main straightaway and Unser went on to his second Indy victory.

It was the reverse from 1989, when Unser passed Fittipaldi for the lead with four laps to go. The two drivers battled almost side-to-side until they approached slower traffic in the third turn of the next-to-last lap.

Fittipaldi's front wheel touched Unser's rear wheel, sending Unser into the wall and Fittipaldi to his first win at Indy.<

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The traditional Victory Lane chugalug began nearly 75 years ago when a photographer walked by a Gasoline Alley garage and snapped Louis Meyer swigging a bottle of his mother's buttermilk.

Meyer, the first three-time winner of the race, was parched after his 1933 win and made a beeline for his garage, where the milk was waiting in an icebox.

Indiana Dairy Association officials saw the picture of him taking a swig in the next day's newspaper and thought it would be great publicity for their product. They talked the Speedway into letting them have a bottle waiting for the winner the next year.

Every Indianapolis 500 winner since then has hoisted a bottle of milk in Victory Lane except Emerson Fittipaldi, who reached for orange juice after his second Indy win in 1993.

Fittipaldi, whose business holdings included a 500,000-acre orange tree plantation in Brazil, apologized two days later.<

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The third of car owner Roger Penske's record 13 Indianapolis 500 victories was with Bobby Unser in 1981, although it took more than four months before they could celebrate.

That race became the most controversial running of the 500 because of Unser's flagrant passing of eight cars as he exited the pits under the yellow caution flag about three-quarters of the way through the race.

There was no question he made an illegal pass -- television cameras documented the violation -- but it wasn't until the following morning, after a protest by second-place Mario Andretti, that the sanctioning U.S. Auto Club announced a one-lap penalty and reversed the order of finish.

It would have been Andretti's second win and the first time in Indy history that the first car across the finish line was not the winner.

But Unser and Penske appealed the penalty, and after hearings that stretched through the summer, a special USAC panel restored Unser's victory in October.

The panel members said the penalty should have been imposed at the time of the violation, which would have given Unser a chance to make up the lost lap.

Unser was fined $40,000. Andretti, when told of the reversal, stood at the bedroom window of his summer home in the Pocono Mountains and flung away the ring he had been given the night after the race.

Unser retired from racing. Andretti raced 13 more years without winning again at Indianapolis.<

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Ted Horn's likeness is nowhere to be seen on the Borg-Warner Trophy, a silver monument to the drivers who have conquered Indy. But his record likely never will be matched.

After winding up 16th as a rookie in 1935, Horn never finished worse than fourth again. In his next nine races from 1936-48, with an interruption during World War II when the race was not held, Horn was runner-up once, finished third four times and fourth four other times.

Of a possible 1,800 laps, he completed 1,799. The only lap he missed was in 1940, when he was a lap behind the leader and the race was halted by rain. Wilbur Shaw won.

Including his 1935 rookie race, when a steering problem knocked him out after 145 laps, Horn finished 4,860 of a possible 5,000 miles, a 97.2 percent career average for his 10 races at Indy.

By comparison, the completion rates for current drivers who have driven at least 10 times at Indy are 84.8 percent for Al Unser Jr., 81.7 percent for Michael Andretti and Buddy Lazier, 74 percent for Scott Sharp and 70.2 percent for Eddie Cheever.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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