Commentary

Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 11

Updated: May 27, 2011, 12:28 PM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

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

Let us begin to unfold our Field of the Century, with our 11th and last row.

For 31 years, 1975-2006, there was a light-hearted "Last Row Party" in Indianapolis, something of a roast for those who'd barely made the field in positions 31-33.

 In keeping with that tradition, our Last Row is comprised of colorful characters, hard-luck cases with one notable exception.


Pat Flaherty

31. Pat Flaherty

Indy 500 starts: Five
Best finish (year): First (1956)
Laps led: 138

How many times has a Northside Chicago Irish barkeep won the Indy 500 with a ride he secured without leaving his saloon? Once, in 1956.

So we double down with "Irish Pat," placing him in our favorite 33, and making him the only winner on our colorful Last Row.

Flaherty, actually a California native, had driven in three previous 500s, finishing 10th twice, but didn't have a ride for '56, with May approaching.

Talk about bartenders hearing interesting stuff. Two drinkers were talking about how defending champion car owner John Zink and designer A.J. Watson hadn't picked a driver for Indy that year.

Flaherty got on the phone to Zink, who hired him for that one race. Flaherty would miss the next three 500s and crash out of his last one, in 1959. He died in 2002.



Tony Kanaan

32. Tony Kanaan

Indy 500 starts: Nine
Best finish (year): Second (2004)
Laps led: 214

Easily the best comic at Indy for the past decade, and proud owner of the biggest nose of his era, "TK"  has had a chronic case of heartbreak on the track.

As aggressive as they come, Kanaan has led this race a whopping seven of the nine times he entered.

He won the pole in 2005. He ranks 28th among all-time lap leaders, with 214.

Crashes, failed fuel strategies and pit incidents have left Kanaan mired in frustration while one of his former pupils back at driving school in Brazil, Helio Castroneves, has racked up three wins.



Jim Hurtubise

33. Jim Hurtubise

Indy 500 starts: 10
Best finish (year): 13th (1962)
Laps led: 36

An unholy trio, traveling together, terrorized the USAC tour in the early 1960s: A. J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones and Jim Hurtubise. Then in 1964 at Milwaukee, Hurtubise was horrifically burned, and never was competitive again.

But that didn't keep him from continuing as perhaps the most colorful hybrid of fun and hardship ever at Indy. In 22 tries, Hurtubise failed to qualify more times (12, including his last seven straight) than he made the race (10).

Once, his car was in line, supposedly for a qualifying attempt, when he opened the engine compartment to show what was there -- no engine, just several cases of beer.

Famously, in the hospital after the fiery crash at Milwaukee, doctors told him he'd never be able to move his hands again, but that they could shape them as he wished. He told them to make them "so they can hold a steering wheel," as the legend goes, and he kept racing.

"Not entirely true," he told me not long before he died in 1989 of a heart attack, at age 56. "Actually I told 'em to make my hands so that each would hold a bottle of Miller High Life. It just turned out that they also could hold a steering wheel."

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