Commentary

Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 4

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

Johnny RutherfordAP PhotoJohnny Rutherford waves after winning the 1974 Indy 500 in his McLaren-Offenhauser.

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

Our fourth row includes Indy's first three-time winner who unwittingly started the tradition of drinking milk, the crusty elder brother in an Indy dynasty and a nice guy who served notice that A.J. Foyt wasn't the only Texan who could win a lot at the Brickyard.


Louis Meyer

10. Louis Meyer

Indy 500 starts: 12
Best finish (years): First (1928, '33, '36)
Laps led: 332

Indy's first three-time winner was also the guy who unwittingly began the tradition of drinking milk in Victory Circle.

Actually, Meyer was drinking buttermilk, his usual refreshment on hot days. The New York-born, Los Angeles-raised driver, whose mother told him buttermilk was good for him, supposedly had asked for a glass of it after his second win in 1933. But he had a bottle of it waiting for him in '36.

Either a dairy industry executive or an advertising agent, depending on the version you choose, supposedly saw a picture of Meyer drinking what looked like regular milk, thought it would be an excellent promotion and initiated a deal with the Speedway.

Meyer's three victories were arguably the hardest won in that they came when drivers and riding mechanics were killed at alarming rates in the era before seat belts. In '33 alone, five men were killed before Meyer took the checkered flag.

Further, Meyer won in both the golden age of sophisticated engines ('28) and the Depression-era "junk formula" ('33 and '36).



Bobby Unser

11. Bobby Unser

Indy 500 starts: 19
Best finish (years): First (1968, '75, '81)
Laps led: 440

"Uncle Bobby," as he is called in the Unser family -- and by other Indy insiders -- is the eldest of the Indy-winning Unsers and was the first to score a win in the 500, in 1968.

But brother Al, five years younger, had two Indy wins before Bobby got his second one in the rain-shortened race of 1975, and a third one before Bobby got his third in the monthslong controversy of 1981. And Al wound up with a total of four to Bobby's three.

Bobby took the checkered flag in the '81 race. But the next day, ruling that he had passed cars in the pits, in violation of the pacer lights used at the time, officials stripped him of the victory and gave it to second-finishing Mario Andretti.

Months of protests, appeals and reviews followed, and not until that Oct. 9 was Unser finally and officially awarded the victory.

Uncle Bobby is still a mainstay character at the Speedway, philosophizing to anyone who asks, often beginning his soliloquies, "Now, suuuuuuun, I'm gonna tell you. …"



Johnny Rutherford

12. Johnny Rutherford

Indy 500 starts: 24
Best finish (years): First (1974, 1976, 1980)
Laps led: 296

After finishing 18th or worse in his first nine tries, Rutherford finally got the attention of fellow Texan A.J. Foyt in 1974.

Starting on the ninth row, Rutherford shot through the field in a British McLaren to challenge Foyt by the 65th lap. By Lap 142, Foyt was out of the race with mechanical failure, and Rutherford breezed on to an easy win from there.

After Fort Worth's Rutherford beat Houston's Foyt head-to-head in '76, Rutherford's much easier manner, compared to Foyt's fire and ire, made Rutherford a media darling dubbed "Lone Star J.R."

You could tell Foyt was getting ruffled, because publicly he would pronounce his rival's name "Johnny Rootherford."

J.R. earned his third win in another runaway -- à la '74 -- after leading 118 laps, this time in the Chaparral of Texas engineering genius Jim Hall.

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