You made the Indy 500! …Wait, on second thought…5 Drivers Who Missed the Indy 500 After Racing
Four rounds. Ten thousand. Speed well over 220 mph in cars on the absolute edge.
Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 can be one of the toughest and most compelling feats in motorsport, if not the toughest. It takes preparation, passion, performance and luck. The pride and prestige of being an Indianapolis 500 starter stays with a driver for life.
But in rare cases, race-qualified drivers had to sit out on Memorial Day weekend. Why? Sometimes it was pure money, other times it was sponsorship commitments, and in a few cases a crisis or conflict arose at a key moment.
Either way, each time there was a compelling reason behind the change.
Let’s take a look at some of these stories and share the stories of five drivers who passed one of motor racing’s greatest tests during qualifying for the race, but ultimately missed out on a chance to race for glory. in the Indianapolis 500:
Mike Hiss – 1978 Indianapolis 500
Mike Hiss was the 1972 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year after a 7th-place finish, but became famous for serving on three of the biggest names in racing. In 1972, he replaced Mark Donohue after being injured in a race at Ontario Motor Speedway. In 1974 he replaced Peter Revson at Indianapolis after Revson was killed in a Formula 1 race. He started 3rd and finished 14th.
But his help in Indy qualifying in 1978 made world racing history.
Hiss was asked to qualify a Roger Penske car for Mario Andretti, who was out of the race at the Belgian F1 Grand Prix. Hiss qualified the car in 8th position. Andretti would win the Belgian Grand Prix, finish 12th in the Indy 500 and win the F1 Drivers’ World Championship that year. Hiss would never compete in Indianapolis again.
Dennis Firestone – 1986 Indianapolis 500
The last practice session before the Indianapolis 500, held on “Carb Day,” is usually a day to show off to the fans, perform race day setups, practice pack runs and park the race car in preparation. of the race.
But in 1986, Dennis Firestone had every Indy 500 driver’s nightmare – a 4-car Carb Day crash that damaged his car and forced Firestone to be pulled from the car. Luckily, Firestone suffered only minor injuries and was cleared to race. His car, however, was too badly damaged to repair and was retired. Firestone car owner Pat Kehoe agreed to let first replacement Dick Simon join the field in 33rd position and split the proceeds between the teams.
Simon finished 14th, leaving the teams to split just over $90,000 in earnings.
Firestone made 5 starts in total, but after 1984 he would never run again at Indy. He suffered two accidents during training in 1987, the second leaving him with serious neck injuries.
Mike Groff – 1992 Indianapolis 500
By being replaced, Mike Groff, the 1989 Indy Lights champion, has at least the claim to be a footnote in history.
In 1992, teaming as second driver with lead driver Scott Goodyear at Walker Racing, Groff eventually qualified 26th, but when Goodyear failed to qualify for the race, Groff was replaced by Goodyear and the car was sent to the back of the field. Groff was hired as protection for Goodyear, and the plan was still to switch cars between drivers, but when Goodyear was dropped from the race, Groff dropped out of his race.
Goodyear would finish second in the closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history. Incidentally, in 1994 he missed the field and again replaced a qualified teammate at Davy Jones. This time, however, he only lasted 29 laps and was credited with 30th place.
Groff would eventually race in 5 Indianapolis 500s, with a best finish of 12th in 1998.
Scott Brayton – 1996 Indianapolis 500
The year 1996 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was known for politics, controversy and ultimately tragedy on the track.
Two different series that claimed to rule open-wheel racing had torn the sport apart. In May, the racing stars most familiar with recent Indianapolis 500 races traveled to Michigan to race the ill-fated US 500. That left an Indianapolis 500 with less experienced drivers and teams in a mad dash for assemble something close to a workable field. .
One of the most experienced riders in the 1996 race was Scott Brayton. A veteran of over 160 USAC, CART and IRL series starts, his best result was a 3rd in 1992 in a CART race at Milwaukee. Brayton was best known for his single-lap Indy 500 qualifying record set in 1985 with the fast, but often unreliable Buick engine.
But with the advent of the Indy Racing League, CART midfielders have become IRL stars. Brayton took a car with the Menard engine derived from this Buick to pole position in 1996. Six days later Brayton was killed testing a spare car when a tire puncture sent him spinning into the wall during the ‘coaching.
All of the other CART drivers were racing in Michigan this weekend and politics likely prevented them from being considered. Brayton’s car owner John Menard “wanted a guy who would show the necessary respect” for the situation. Enter Danny Ongais, who had himself been replaced by Al Unser after a practice crash in 1987 left him injured (andy still bore the scars of his heinous 1981 Indy 500 crash).
Ongais hadn’t attempted another Indianapolis 500 race after 1987 until he stepped out of the shadows again, at age 54 Ongais started Brayton’s pole car from last on the grid and the brought him to a 7th place, 10 years after his last appearance at the Briqueterie.
Bruno Junqueira – Indianapolis 500 2009 and Indianapolis 500 2011
Brunco Junqueira has the dubious distinction of having been replaced in his Indianapolis 500 qualifying car not once but twice.
Bruno was an 8-time CART/Champ Car World Series winner and Indianapolis 500 pole sitter in 2002, but never seemed to return to a top team after his injury in the Indianapolis 500 crash in 2005 , suffered while leading the Champ Car World Series Championship. Even with his two misses, Junqueira would eventually start six Indy 500s with two 5th-place finishes as his best run.
In 2009 Junqueira was paired with lead driver Alex Tagliani at Conquest Racing. With just eight practice laps, Junqueira was able to qualify the car 31st. But when lead driver Tagliani was ousted and left waiting to qualify when the deadline expired, Tagliani was absent.
After qualifying, to satisfy his Tagliani sponsors, Junqueira was replaced by Tagliani for race day. Tagliani would drive the car home 11th, finishing on the lead lap.
In 2011, history repeats itself. Junqueira, this time as the second driver for the AJ Foyt Racing team, qualified his #41 car in 19th place. But after struggling during qualifying, Andretti Autosports found itself with one of its most marketable drivers, Ryan-Hunter Reay, and two key sponsors, DHL and Sun Drop, sitting on the sidelines after failing to qualify. for the race.
This time, instead of simply replacing Junqueira with another team driver, rival team owners Michael Andretti and AJ Foyt have teamed up on a cash deal to give Ryan Hunter-Reay and his sponsors the access to car No. 41, and again left Junqueira on the sidelines. .
The taboo of buying your place in the Indianapolis 500 came to the fore in the days to come.
“It’s shameful, especially shameful considering it involves two of the biggest names – Andretti and Foyt – in Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 102-year history. It also sets a very dangerous precedent,” wrote sportswriter Bob Kravitz in The Indianapolis Star.
This negative reaction seems to have lasted. Since then, no driver has missed the Indianapolis 500 because their qualifying car was purchased by another team.