Commentary

Field of the Century a tough task

Updated: May 27, 2011, 12:33 PM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

All-Time Rows: Introduction | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | Social Pioneers

Today we continue the countdown of our Field of the Century for the Indianapolis 500, 33 drivers spanning the past 100 years.

More than just wins and statistics, we looked at the drivers who most typified the spirit of the Indy 500 -- what this race has been about.

Stats did matter in our tally, but so did persona, heart, style, lore, charisma -- just sheer presence, down through the decades, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

With 65 different winners, and with some who never won the 500 making our list, more than an entire field of 33 victorious performances was left out.

As we roll out our all-time grid, row by row, over the next 11 days, we expect -- and hope -- that you'll find some points of argument, some surprises, even some stunners, especially up toward the front of the field.

We doubt there'll be many, if any, readers who don't take issue with some drivers on our list, and even more issue with our omissions. We anticipate plenty of email stating the cases for a lot of drivers, and against some.

We'll tell you up front we've decided to make social pioneering a special-recognition category, separate from our all-time 33.

It would simply be impossible to choose which social pioneers to include, and which to omit.

How could we include Danica Patrick, the first woman to lead the 500 (in 2005), and omit Janet Guthrie, the first woman to attempt to qualify (1976) and to race (1977) at Indy?

And what about Lyn St. James, the Indy rookie of the year in 1992 with an 11th-place finish, who competed in seven 500s -- and who brought Patrick, as a teenager, to the Speedway for the first time, as an intern?

Then there's Sarah Fisher, the youngest woman to compete at Indy, at age 19 in 2000.

And then what about William Theodore Ribbs Jr. -- "Willy T." -- who in 1991 became the first black driver to qualify for the 500?

Include one or more of the social pioneers, and you slight the others by default. Include all five, and pure racing is somewhat displaced by sociology as a criterion.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Foyt
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesIs A.J. Foyt in our Field of the Century? Of course! But we bet he can't wait to find out where.

A.J. Foyt, the first four-time winner of the race -- and who, we can reveal without giving too much away, did make our list -- has often said, "The race makes the drivers; the drivers don't make the race."

But that's a chicken-and-egg matter when you look back through a century. From Ray Harroun in 1911 to Dario Franchitti in 2010, faces of human beings have been etched in silver on the Borg-Warner Trophy, which sits always as the centerpiece of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the backbone of Indy 500 history.

Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 1


Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 2


Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 3


Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 4


Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 5


Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 6


Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 7


Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 8


Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 9


Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 10


Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 11


Indy 500 Field of the Century: Social Pioneers


Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn.com.