Commentary

Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 10

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

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As we roll out the 10th row of our Indy 500 Field of the Century, just a reminder that we're going for overall impact on, and spirit of, the Indy 500 here. So the man called by many the greatest driver never to win the 500, the nice-guy engineer who drove to owner Roger Penske's first Indy victory, and a dashing former cabbie and lumberjack who went for a "spin and win" are locked into our grid.


Lloyd Ruby

28. Lloyd Ruby

Indy 500 starts: 18
Best finish (year): Third (1964)
Laps led: 126

Called "the greatest driver never to win the Indy 500" by his biographer, based on remarks by peers Al Unser and Mario Andretti. That is moderated slightly by 42-year veteran Indy journalist Robin Miller, who calls Ruby "easily one of the best four or five never to win it."

Ruby became the embodiment of hard luck and heartbreak at the Brickyard from 1966 to 1971, leading five of those six races only to be foiled by mechanical failures or strategy circumstances.

Yet "Rube" never lost the dry, candid sense of humor he brought in from his native Wichita Falls, Texas. Once, after he had crashed hard, reporters, seeking a highly dramatic answer, asked him what he thought as the car shot toward the wall.

"I thought," Ruby said with a shrug, "oh, s---."

Thereafter, that became a sort of standard answer for race drivers when asked about what they were thinking while crashing.



Mark Donohue

29. Mark Donohue

Indy 500 starts: Five
Best finish (year): First (1972)
Laps led: 70

Sadly lost in all the celebration of owner Roger Penske's 15 Indy 500 wins now is the man who drove to Penske's first one, impeccably nice guy Mark Donohue.

A brilliant engineer out of Brown University, Donohue never wore his passion for racing on his sleeve. His demeanor was more that of a mathematician, happily but quietly working out a problem -- and, in many ways, racing was a mathematical exercise for him.

Donohue and Penske won on their fourth Indy start together, then raced only once more at Indy. Donohue had intended to retire at the end of 1973. But Penske persuaded him to return for another of their great mental/mechanical exercises, Formula One.

During practice for the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix, Donohue crashed hard after a tire failure but walked away, unaware that he was suffering from cerebral hemorrhage. As his headache lingered and intensified the next day, he was taken to a hospital, fell into a coma and died. He was 38.



Danny Sullivan

30. Danny Sullivan

Indy 500 starts: 12
Best finish (year): First (1985)
Laps led: 162

With a Kentucky gentleman's demeanor, movie-star looks and a background spiced by stints as a lumberjack and a New York cab driver, Sullivan was such an interesting character that he sometimes wasn't taken seriously enough as a race driver.

That changed in 1985 with his now-legendary "spin and win."

Soon after snatching the lead from Mario Andretti, Sullivan appeared to choke, spinning his car 360 degrees between Turns 1 and 2.  But he managed not to hit anything, pitted for fresh tires, came back and retook the lead only 20 laps later.

He led two more 500s, including a whopping 91 laps in 1988, but never again finished higher than fifth, in 1992.


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