Commentary

Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 5

Updated: May 27, 2011, 12:24 PM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

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

Our fifth row includes a roadster driver who won twice in four years and didn't finish worse than fourth in a six-year span, the sad victor in the awful Year of Fire and Rain, and a retired F1 driver who restarted his career at Indy but then wouldn't drink the milk.


Rodger Ward

13. Rodger Ward

Indy 500 starts: 15
Best finish (years): First (1959, '62)
Laps led: 261

After seven unremarkable starts at Indy in the '50s, Ward took off on one of the strongest, most consistent streaks for any major motor race anywhere, ever.

From '59 through '64, teamed with master mechanic A.J. Watson, Ward finished no worse than fourth, winning in '59 and '62 and finishing second in '60 and '64.

His duel with Jim Rathmann in '60 remains one of the classic late-race battles in the history of the race. They swapped the lead back and forth from Lap 183 until 197, when Rathmann took the lead for keeps.

Long after his last 500, in 1966, Ward remained a dignified, genial ambassador for the race, until his death in 2004 at age 83.



Gordon Johncock

14. Gordon Johncock

Indy 500 starts: 24
Best finish (years): First (1973, '82)
Laps led: 339

Perhaps no other driver's career has been more of a confluence of triumph, disaster, heartbreak and tragedy at Indy than the soft-spoken Michigan farmer known around the Brickyard simply as Gordy.

His first 500 win came in the infamous "Year of Fire and Rain," 1973. By race weekend, Art Pollard had already died of injuries suffered in a crash during practice May 12. Then came the race: three days of misery and disaster. The first day, the start was delayed for four hours by rain, and then an 11-car pileup on the start brought out a red flag. Then it rained again. Then rain washed out the race for a second straight day.

Finally, on Wednesday, the race was restarted. But Johncock's teammate, Swede Savage, was badly burned in a crash, and would later die of the injuries. Then a crewman for the team, Armando Teran, was struck and killed by a safety truck going the wrong way on the pit road. Another downpour began 67 laps short of the 200, and Johncock was declared the winner.

He would hold off a charging Rick Mears for his second win, in '82, but the 1977 race was Johncock's finest and most heartbreaking performance. He led 129 laps, challenged only by A. J. Foyt, until a crankshaft broke in Johncock's car.

Two indelible images remain from that race: Foyt in Victory Circle for his unprecedented fourth Indy win … and Johncock sitting by his stalled car near the little stream inside Turn 1, crying.



Emerson Fittipaldi

15. Emerson Fittipaldi

Indy 500 starts: 11
Best finish (years): First (1989, '93)
Laps led: 505

For a guy who first came to Indy as an afterthought, at age 37, out of retirement from Formula One, Fittipaldi did pretty well.

He was a decade past his second F1 world championship, and four years into retirement, when he grew restless and told his wife "This is what I do -- make the racing car go very fast," he once recalled. So he went to work for CART team owner U.E. "Pat" Patrick in 1984.

The Americans nicknamed him "Emmo," and he soared into a whole new career, In 1989, he dueled with Al Unser Jr. on the 199th lap at Indy, sent Unser crashing into the wall and cruised to his first 500 win under caution.

But he outraged fans and officials when he refused to drink from the traditional bottle of milk in Victory Circle. The owner of vast orange groves in Brazil, Fittipaldi chose to drink orange juice instead.

In 1990 he signed with legendary team owner Roger Penske, and in '93 he got his second Indy win after passing another former F1 champion -- the reigning one, from '92 -- Nigel Mansell with 15 laps left.

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