It just has to be Foyt up front
Our Indianapolis 500 Field of the Century is set.
Today, with our front row, we make it clear what we meant when we told you this grid wouldn't be based solely on statistics. Significant weight was given to how much the drivers typify what Indy has been all about, all these 100 years.
Bill Vukovich, who sits on the outside of the first row, had mastered the venerable 2.5-mile rectangle so thoroughly by 1955 that it seemed obvious that nothing -- short of disaster -- could stop him from winning his third consecutive 500.
Disaster struck. Vukovich was leading the '55 race when he was caught up in a multicar crash and killed.
And he would have been going for his fourth in a row, except for a steering failure right near the end of the 1952 race, which he had dominated.
Field Of The Century
More than just drivers who won "The Greatest Spectacle In Racing," a proper all-time Indy 500 grid should reflect the spirit of the race. Here is Ed Hinton's list of 33 drivers -- three per row -- spanning a century of racing in the Indianapolis 500. And because not everyone can make the list, there is a special place for trailblazers.
|May 27||Row 1|
|May 26||Row 2|
|May 25||Row 3|
|May 24||Row 4|
|May 23||Row 5|
|May 21||Row 6|
|May 20||Row 7|
|May 19||Row 8|
|May 18||Row 9|
|May 17||Row 10|
|May 16||Row 11|
|May 16||Social Pioneers|
Think about that. Four in a row. It took Al Unser a span of 18 races from his first win to his fourth, A.J. Foyt a span of 17 and Rick Mears 13.
Even with the '52 failure, Vuky could have gone on to four in a row in '56, and then on to we will never know.
Nor will we ever know about the most remarkable prodigy -- at driving and engineering -- ever to set foot on the hallowed ground of Indy, Frank Lockhart.
He showed up out of nowhere -- actually off the California dirt tracks -- in 1926, got a ride on a quirk of fate, started 20th, roared quickly up through the field and won. He had never before even raced on a paved track.
The next day's headlines were the first time America heard of him. He was 23.
He was a mathematical prodigy who'd been accepted to Caltech but couldn't afford to go, but Lockhart was no geek. He was a charmer, instantly liked by virtually everyone he met.
Had he stuck with Harry Miller, Indy's unmatched horsepower wizard of the time, Lockhart might easily have become the 500's first four-time winner and beyond. But Lockhart's intellect wouldn't rest. When he one-upped Miller's innovations, Miller wouldn't have it. So, Lockhart bought the car from Miller.
In '27, Lockhart started on the pole and dominated the race until his customized Miller engine broke a connecting rod. He would never return to Indy. In 1928, diversifying, going for a land speed record at Daytona in a car he designed and built himself, Lockhart was ejected from the cockpit at more than 225 mph and killed instantly. He was 25.
But unfulfilled potential never was an issue for our pole sitter. You never have to think about what might have been with A.J. Foyt, Indy's first four-time winner who has walked and stomped the hallowed ground for more than 50 years and is still around to tell about it.
We considered Vukovich and Lockhart for our pole position. But we can't ignore the fire, ire, hard-knuckled hard work and unprecedented success that have made Foyt the embodiment of Indy when all those elements hit us right smack in the face -- which we feared Foyt was going to do, from time to time, as we covered his career.
Anthony Joseph Foyt Jr. vastly surpassed the very first impression of him when he arrived at the Brickyard in 1958.
"What do you want, boy?" asked a Gasoline Alley gate guard.
"I'm a driver," said the tough but bashful youth from Houston.
"What's your name?"
"A.J. Foyt Jr."
"Who do you drive for?"
"You got a letter or anything to prove it?"
"Well, Dean's car isn't here yet. You'll have to come back in a couple of days."
So the kid wandered around outside the fence, sitting for hours at a time on a curb, for two days before they would let him in. Foyt has told that story, with variations here and there, for decades.
"I think they'd let me in now," Foyt deadpanned in 1977 on the afternoon of his fourth Indy win.
They still do.
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
95TH INDIANAPOLIS 500-MILE RACE
It's time for the 95th running of the Indianapolis 500, but it's the number 100 that counts in 2011. This is the 100th anniversary of the running of the first 500, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Centennial Era celebration is in high gear.
Indianapolis 500 Home
Race Day, May 29• Blount: The thrill and agony
• Hinton: Oh yeah, Indy is back!
• Oreovicz: Bad day for power teams
• McGee: What a capper to 100 years
• espnW: A roller-coaster ride for Indy women
• Gallery: 100th anniversary of the 500
• Recap: Wheldon wins a stunner
• Watch: Full highlights
• Watch: Full booth analysis
• Watch: Wheldon so thankful
• Watch: Hildebrand crestfallen
Saturday, May 28• Blount: Hang on to your hats!
• Hinton: Back again in Indiana
• ESPN.com staff: Our podium predictions
• Racing Live! Indy 500, Sunday, noon ET
Carb Day, May 27• Blount: The weekend's best race is ...
• Hinton: Foyt legend still strong in 2011
• Gallery: A.J. Foyt, A Racing Life
• Hinton from 1991: The last ride of A.J. Foyt
• Hinton on the Field of the Century front row
• Hinton's Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 1
• Oreovicz blog: Ganassi team leads Carb Day
• espnW: Patrick's mom, Bev, enjoying ride
• Blount blog: The way Mario Andretti sees it
• Ed Hinton chat wrap
• John Oreovicz chat wrap
• Podcast: Brent Musburger previews the race
• Podcast: Helio Castroneves is ready to roll
• SportsNation: Indy 500 predictions
Features• Oreovicz: Breaking down the field of 33
• Blount: Bumping Junqueira saved jobs
• James: Women find a niche in IndyCar
• SportsNation quiz: All-time lap leaders
• Indy 500 preview photo gallery
• James: No stopping Simona
• Blount: Indy shows NASCAR how it's done
• James: Women drivers carving a niche
• Oreovicz: Danica dodges Bump Day disaster
• James: A stormy day at the track for Danica
• Oreovicz: Wild and wacky Pole Day
• Oreovicz: Month of May primer
Practice And Qualifying• Danica makes 500 field
• Carpentier crashes in Sunday practice
• Tagliani wins Indy 500 pole
• Briscoe crashes in Saturday practice
• Di Silvestro cleared to race
• Castroneves tops speed charts
• Tagliani leads Friday at over 228 mph
• De Silvestro waiting for medical clearance
• Power leads Thursday practice
• De Silvestro burns hands in crash
• Rain scrubs practice again Wednesday
• Weather limits practice Tuesday
• Tagliani turns month's fastest lap Monday
• Opening Sunday washed out
• Opening day starts fast
Indy 500 Field Of The Century• Hinton: The method in our list
• Row 1: Foyt, Lockhart, Vukovich
• Row 2: Ma. Andretti, Mears, A. Unser
• Row 3: Shaw, Jones, DePalma
• Row 4: Meyer, B. Unser, Rutherford
• Row 5: Ward, Johncock, Fittipaldi
• Row 6: Rose, Unser Jr., Milton
• Row 7: Clark, Mi. Andretti, Villenueve
• Row 8: Luyendyk, Hill, Harroun
• Row 9: Castroneves, Franchitti, Montoya
• Row 10: Ruby, Donohue, Sullivan
• Row 11: Flaherty, Kanaan, Hurtubise
• The Social Pioneers
Indy At 100• Indy at 100: 2000 and beyond
• Indy at 100: Tony George reigns in the '90s
• Indy at 100: 1980s had stars, foreign cars
• Indy at 100: Speed and safety in the '70s
• Indy at 100: A time of change
• Indy at 100: The '50s golden era
• Indy at 100: WWII puts racing on hold
• Indy at 100: 1930-39 a dangerous era
• Indy at 100: 1920-29 a roaring time
• Indy at 100: 1911-1919 was pivotal
• Indianapolis Motor Speedway timeline
More• Indy 500 front row chat wrap
• John Oreovicz chat wrap
• Danica not tipping hand on future
• Foyt, Mears, Unser top "greatest" fan poll
• Scott Speed joins Dragon Racing
• A.J. Foyt will drive Indy 500 pace car
• China's Ho-Pin Tung eyes Indy 500
• Indy 500 to honor Tom Carnegie
• Buddy Rice heading back to Indy 500
Indy 500 Rewind• 2010 Flashback: Dario's all the way back
• 2009 Flashback: Castroneves wins again
• 2008 Flashback: Quiet Dixon makes noise • 2007 Flashback: Franchitti comes up big
• 2006 Flashback: Hornish gets his "Holy Grail"