Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

Indy 500 Memories: Guthrie Breaks Gender Barrier

Today, Janet Guthrie is known as the first woman to qualify for an Indianapolis 500. But just getting a chance, was a challenge in itself.

Car racing was not a part of Guthrie’s early years. Instead, her focus was in the air. She flew her first plane at age 16 and earned her private pilot’s license a year later. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in physics, she gained a job as an aerospace engineer.

The engineering background gained from aviation, offered Guthrie an inside perspective on how to design and produce speed when she started racing sports cars in 1963. Guthrie enjoyed modest success in 13 years of competition, including a pair of class victories at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Despite attention being limited, Guthrie’s accolades did draw interest from one notable IndyCar owner: Rolla Vollstedt.

Vollstedt had entered cars in the Indianapolis 500 for several years and during the winter of 1976, offered Guthrie a test drive. Initially, the Iowa-native thought the phone message she had received was a joke.

“I had never heard of (Vollstedt),” said Guthrie in an interview with IMS Productions. “So I called Chris Econamaki and he filled me on (Rolla’s) background that he had been entering cars and that this was real.”

Guthrie returned Vollstedt’s call and agreed to the test, but only if it was kept private. Vollstedt agreed and after a successful initial run, Guthrie made her open-wheel debut at Trenton Speedway finishing 15th. Despite a solid start, Guthrie’s first Indy 500 effort was a frustrating one. Despite Vollstedt’s successful resume, his team was limited on funds and equipment. In addition, Guthrie’s Bryant Heating team suffered several mechanical failures and lacked speed necessary to get her in the field.

Entering Bump Day however, a glimmer of hope was created when A.J. Foyt offered Guthrie a chance to test one of his back-up cars. Immediately, Guthrie ran her fastest laps of the month. Her personal best of over 180 miles per hour, would have successfully qualified in 1976. Unfortunately, Foyt elected not to give the rookie a chance to make an attempt.

“Rolla made an effort to find me a better car to drive, which was unheard of at the time,” said Guthrie. “Within nine laps I was fast enough to make the field, but (A.J.) decided not to let me do it. (The test run) did open the eyes of some people that in good equipment, I could get the job done.”

Guthrie would have to wait until 1977 to successfully make her first Indianapolis 500, persevering through a Bump Day qualifying run that saw the oil pressure gauge drop to zero during her final lap. Despite making it in, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony Hulman was not planning on changing his famous announcement on race day to honor of Guthrie’s achievement. Claiming that a mechanic actually starts the engine, Hulman was planning to say, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” Fortunately, the wife of a famous chief mechanic at the Speedway would change his mind.

“Kay Bignotti (on race day), came to me and said, ‘we can’t let Tony get away with this,” said Guthrie. “Kay said she had a mechanic’s license and had been around cars all her life and she would start my engine, and she did.”

With the loophole covered, Hulman relented and on race day announced, “In accompany with the first lady to qualify at Indianapolis, gentlemen start your engines!” Following Hulman’s death later that year, the command has been shortened to “Lady/Ladies and gentlemen start your engines,” when female drivers have qualified.

Overall, Janet Guthrie would compete in three Indianapolis 500s and while she was affected by early retirements in 1977 and 1979, 1978 would be her peak of success when she finished ninth. Since Guthrie’s successful breaking of the gender barrier forty years ago, eight female drivers have successfully qualified at Indy, including Pippa Mann, who is entered to compete in the 101st edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing next month.

Stay tuned to Popular Speed for more memories on the road to the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.

Categories
Commentary

Could 2017 Match Historic 1967 as One of Motorsport’s Greatest Years?

Fans that have watched auto racing all their life and have been alive long enough to remember might say 1967 was the most memorable year in motorsports history.

It was the year “The King” Richard Petty won 27 races and his second of seven championships in the NASCAR Grand National Series. That season, the sport consisted of 49 points events, meaning he won 55 percent of the races.

Racing legend Mario Andretti made his presence known in stock car racing by winning the Daytona 500 in the No. 11 Holman-Moody Ford. He started 12th and led 112 laps that day, and his victory is still considered one of the greatest upsets in NASCAR history.

19-22 January, 2009, Concord, North Carolina USA Mario Andretti (c)2009, Nigel Kinrade, USA Autostock
Nigel Kinrade, USA Autostock

“At that point, I had not won Indy [500, won it in 1969] yet,” Andretti once said. “I was competitive with a couple of poles but had not won at Indy. So arguably the Daytona 500 win at that time was the biggest event of my career at that time and particularly satisfying to do it somewhere where it wasn’t my specialty.

“Can you imagine the same thing as if one of their drivers — Richard Petty or David Pearson -— had come to Indy and won the Indy 500? It had a special sound to it, and it still does, actually.”

“Super Tex” A.J. Foyt won his third of four career Indianapolis 500s in 1967. He also won the iconic sports car event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in France co-driving with Dan Gurney just two weeks later. Foyt went on to win his fifth USAC Champ Car Series title at season’s end.

Now, let’s jump ahead 50 years. Think about what the racing world is like today. It’s a lot different, wouldn’t you say?

2017 NASCAR Cup - Clash at Daytona Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL USA Sunday 19 February 2017 Denny Hamlin, FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Daniel Suarez, ARRIS Toyota Camry, Kyle Busch, M&M's Toyota Camry and Matt Kenseth, Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry World Copyright: {Nigel Kinrade}/NKP
Nigel Kinrade / NKP

Today, NASCAR has three national series with its top division sponsored by the increasingly popular Monster Energy drink. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, which it is now called, begins its 36-race season with its most historic race, the Daytona 500, often referred to as “The Great American Race.” Races are also divided into three stages and the final 10 events of the year make up the elimination-style NASCAR playoffs, which started in 2014.

Open-wheel racing has evolved exponentially over the years too. Both the Verizon IndyCar Series and Formula 1 have become exceptionally safer. In the 2013 Ron Howard film Rush, three-time F1 World Champion Niki Lauda says, “Twenty-five drivers start every season in Formula 1, and each year two of us die.”

Although the film took place in 1976, Lauda’s statement emphasizes the danger of being a racecar driver of more than 40 years ago. Deaths of both drivers and spectators were not as unusual as they are today.

In the last six years, two IndyCar drivers have died from accident-related injuries. The 2011 Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon, who lost his life in a crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway the same year he won the 500, and Justin Wilson, who was struck in the head by a flying piece of debris from Sage Karam’s wrecked car at Pocono Raceway in 2015.

In 2014, Jules Bianchi died after an accident in the F1 Japanese Grand Prix — the European sport’s most recent death. It’s still three lives too many when you include the two IndyCar drivers, but racecars have been redesigned countless times to enhance safety for each competitor.

In NASCAR, following the death of seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, the sanctioning body mandated the use of the Hutchens system, which was the head and neck restraint system required until the end of the 2004 season.

jimmie HANS
Rainier Ehrhardt / NASCAR via Getty Images

In January 2005, NASCAR mandated the use of the HANS Device, which most drivers were already using, as the required safety system because it felt the Hutchens didn’t meet minimum safety standards.

The 2017 racing season is still just beginning, but many storylines could make this year another one for the history books.

The new three-stage format NASCAR created during the offseason made its debut at the 59th running of the Daytona 500. Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson embarks on his quest for a record-breaking eighth championship after winning No. 7 in 2016. And the “Monster” era of NASCAR began with a “Monster” win by 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch, who is sponsored by the drink, in the “Great American Race.”

2017 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup - Daytona 500 Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL USA Sunday 26 February 2017 Kurt Busch celebrates his Daytona 500 Victory World Copyright: Rusty Jarrett/NKP
Rusty Jarrett / NKP

“The more I run this race, the more I’ve learned to throw caution to the wind and let it rip,” Busch, who had previously finished runner-up three times, said. “The performance of the [Stewart-Haas Racing] team has been incredible. My rearview mirror fell off with 30 to go, and I knew I had to drive defensively. I couldn’t even see the cars behind me, just heard my spotter in my ear, once we made that pass.

“It’s just unbelievable to have all this teamwork to get us in victory lane.”

Busch’s victory not only was a triumph for him but also for Tony Gibson, who won the race for the first time as a crew chief, and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart, who ran the race 17 times in his racing career but never won it.

Now being retired from NASCAR racing and having won the 500 as a team owner, Stewart jokingly said, “If I knew all I had to do was retire to get it done, I would have retired a long time ago.”

In IndyCar, Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud will defend his 2016 title and look to become the first repeat titlist since Dario Franchitti, who claimed three consecutive championships from 2009 to 2011, and the first Penske driver to repeat since Gil de Ferran, who accomplished the feat in 2001.

Lisa Davidson wrote a POPULAR SPEED story about Pagenaud’s approach to the 2017 season in which he says he’ll be in more of an “attack” mode than a defensive one.

“… I would say I really understood better what it all meant last year [his championship year],” Pagenaud said. “It’s about defending. Everything is back to zero. The counts are all back to zero. It’s all reset.

“Now it’s time to attack, attack a new championship, attack a new year. Last year, if I was so successful, it’s because we attacked and we didn’t look in the mirrors. The goal is to do the same thing, not defend, but attack a new season coming up.”

Pagenaud finished second in the season-opener in St. Petersburg behind fellow Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, who won the race after starting from the back.

Across the pond in F1, a retirement announcement heard around the world shocked the entire auto racing industry. The most recent World Champion Nico Rosberg decided that 2016 would be his final season in the pinnacle of motorsports and left the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport team. It ended a rivalry — which had the potential to match the likes of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the late 1980s or Lauda and James Hunt in the mid-1970s — with teammate Lewis Hamilton.

skysports.com
Skysports.com

Hamilton, now paired with Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes, will look to be the fifth driver in F1 history to win a fourth title. He’s 32 years old and already has 53 career wins, 104 podiums, and 61 poles. By the end of his career, whenever that is, he’ll likely be considered one of the sport’s greatest, if he isn’t already.

During preseason testing, Hamilton said rather interesting comments about the Scuderia Ferrari team, which last won the championship with Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. Hamilton said, “I think Ferrari are bluffing and that they are a lot quicker than they are showing. They are very close, if not faster.

“It’s difficult right now to say who is quicker.”

If what Hamilton said proves to be true, it will be an intense competition for this year’s championship. Mercedes cars won all but two races in 2016, and Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen won none.

Red Bull Racing won the other two races, once with 19-year-old Max Verstappen in his Red Bull debut at the Grand Prix of Spain after Hamilton and Rosberg wrecked each other on the first lap, and the other at the Malaysia Grand Prix with Daniel Ricciardo after Hamilton suffered a catastrophic engine failure while leading.

The 2017 IndyCar and F1’s campaigns are just getting underway, and there will surely be plenty to pay attention to as their season’s progress. If there’s one thing that holds true about racing, it’s that the unpredictability factor is always predictable.

So my question to you, whether you were around in 1967 or not, can 2017 be just as memorable 50 years from now?

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

AJ Foyt Racing Makes Switch to Chevrolet

Going into the 2017 season, it looks as though everything will be new at A.J. Foyt Racing. In addition to their pair of new drivers behind the wheel, the Texas-based organization announced on Tuesday that they will switch from Honda to Chevrolet for the 2017 season.

“I am looking forward to what will be a new chapter for us that involves returning to an old friend in Chevrolet,” said Team President Larry Foyt. “There are a lot of changes happening within our team this off season and I won’t minimize the challenges, but I see a lot of potential with our plan.”

Chevrolet isn’t new to A.J. Foyt Racing, as A.J. Foyt IV drove a Chevrolet powered entry in 2005. A.J. Foyt also spent drove a Chevrolet powered entry during his career, including his final IndyCar race as a driver, the 1992 Indianapolis 500.

“We are pleased to welcome AJ Foyt Racing to the Chevrolet IndyCar program,” stated Mark Kent, Director Chevrolet Motorsports Competition.  “Chevrolet and Foyt both have long histories in IndyCar racing, including prior opportunities to work together.  We look forward to renewing the partnership and a strong start to the 2017 season.”

As previously announced, Carlos Munoz makes the move from Andretti Autosport to drive the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet, while Conor Daly makes the move from Dale Coyne Racing to drive the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet.

“I’m glad to be back with Chevy,” said A.J. Foyt, team owner and first four-time winner of the Indy 500. “I’ve had a lot of success with them in the past and I’m looking forward to more success in the future.”

The team expects to conduct its first test in the ABC Supply Chevrolets at Sebring International Raceway later this month.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

Foyt Beginning to Make Off-Season Waves

After Chip Ganassi Racing had announced a switch from Chevrolet to Honda, it opened the doors for other manufacturer switches to come in knowing Chevrolet would want to keep a solid line-up.

The next move is by A.J. Foyt Racing as they will switch to Chevrolet.

“Yeah, I think we’re going back with ’em,” A.J. Foyt told RACER.com on Thursday. “I’ve had a lot of good memories with Chevrolet.”

The organization has also confirmed they will have two entries once again, but have yet to announce which drivers will be behind the wheel.

Takuma Sato has only produced one win – the Long Beach Grand Prix in 2013 – through his four seasons with the team. They struggled last year with both drivers – Sato and Jack Hawksworth – finishing outside of the top-15 in points. Sato is currently rumored to possibly drive for Andretti Autosport or Dale Coyne Racing in 2017.

Based on Larry Foyt’s comments to RACER.com, it appears neither driver from 2016 will return.

“We’re talking to four or five drivers and some engineers, just waiting to get our engine contract done, and then go from there,” he said. “IndyCar is such a tight field, and everyone gets better ever year, so we need to take a bigger step than everyone else.”

One of the biggest rumors right now surrounds Juan Pablo Montoya. He spent the last couple of seasons with Chevrolet driving for Team Penske, but was replaced by Josef Newgarden. It’s worth noting Montoya is searching for a full-time ride in the series.

“The championship was tough, but I had a win this year,” Montoya said post-season. “I won the Indy 500 last year, and I should have won the championship last year. There’s no reason why not.”

This past season, things didn’t go as Montoya hoped with only one victory and finishing ninth in the points standings. In contrast, Montoya was able to win two races, including the Indianapolis 500, and finish second in points in 2015.

“To be honest with you, if you look at all the tough things that happened this year, to actually finish where we did in the championship is pretty good,” Montoya said. “We just didn’t get a break this year.

“We struggled as a team at Indy, in traffic, it just got out of my hands. I made a mistake in Detroit, too, on cold tires (crashing out of the second Dual in 20th). I was saying to my engineers; we put ourselves in such difficult positions that you’ve got to drive over your head to make something happen. When you start doing that, you start making mistakes. It’s just tough.”

Other rumored candidates include Sage Karam, Conor Daly, and Carlos Munoz.

Karam competed in 12 races in 2015, but only ran a single race last season – finishing 32nd in the Indianapolis 500.

Meanwhile, both Daly and Munoz are coming off full seasons, finishing 18th and 10th in the standings respectively.

Daly drove for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016, who recently announced Sebastien Bourdais as a full-time driver for 2017. DCR stated they expect to announce a second driver by the end of this month.

Munoz drove for Andretti Autosport, but all indications show he will not be back for 2017. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, and Alexander Rossi have each announced contract extensions already, with AA continuing to state they will have four cars in 2017.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Development Journalists

FIVE MINUTES WITH… A.J. Foyt

A.J. Foyt, one of the most legendary racecar drivers, achieved success in both NASCAR and open-wheel racing throughout his life. In recent years, he has been the team owner of A.J. Foyt Enterprises in the Verizon IndyCar Series and has dealt with health issues, which has forced him to spend time away from the racetrack.

Foyt, 81, holds the record of 67 career USAC wins and had seven career NASCAR wins, including four Indianapolis 500s and a Daytona 500. He and Mario Andretti are the only drivers in history to have won both races, but Foyt’s fondest memory from his racing career was merely qualifying for his first Indy 500 in 1958.

“My happiest moment in my life was just making the race,” Foyt told POPULAR SPEED. “It was my goal, and I was fortunate enough to qualify for the race. Back then, there would be 75 or 100 cars [trying to qualify] and only 33 of them made it.”

In 1963, the seven-time USAC champion qualified for his first Daytona 500, which was only his third career NASCAR start. Foyt never competed in more than seven Cup Series races in a season but attested to the difference between driving a bulkier stock car versus driving a smaller open-wheel car.

“It’s two different types of cars,” Foyt said. “It’s like a little car against a big Greyhound bus, and they drive different altogether, but the name of the game is always trying to win.”

Foyt won the 1972 Daytona 500 in the No. 21 Mercury for Wood Brothers Racing. He started on the front row alongside Bobby Isaac, led 167 laps, and lapped the entire field by the race’s end.

“It was a great race and we kind of ran away with it all day after sitting on the pole and all,” Foyt said. “Anytime you win, it’s great — I don’t care if it’s a little race or a big race.”

Recently, the Texas native has struggled with multiple health problems. He spent a lot of 2015 recovering from surgeries on his heart and his right knee.

“The last three of four years, I’ve spent so much time in the hospital,” Foyt said. “I had both knees [replaced] and then I had a staph infection, which was terrible.”

In 2015, Foyt had a PICC Line inside his body leading to his heart because of the infection, which lasted about six months. Along with the infection, he has undergone three operations on his left knee, two on his right, a hip replacement, and triple bypass heart surgery, which occurred in late 2014.

The heart surgery forced him to miss the first five races of the 2015 IndyCar season. He had an operation on his right knee done later that year and missed the last two races of the season.

“It’s been kind of rough, but I’m getting better,” Foyt said. “Every day, I’m getting stronger and stronger, and I finally got rid of the wheelchair and the cane. It’s been a great career, and I’ve been very fortunate throughout the years.”