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June 16, 2009

In consideration of the good ol’ days.

Filed under: Indy Cars,motor racing,motorsports,racing — mmgatl1 @ 1:41 pm

The 2009 Indy 500 is history. Overall, I thought it was a pretty good show, but then, I am an easy audience. I have heard lots of people talking about the good ol’ days, including myself from time to time. So it got me to thinking.
What were the good ol’ days like?
To find out, I reviewed the box scores of two Indy 500s. The Indy 500 is a good source as they have a certain respect for the past at Indy. I know, there have been many changes at the Speedway, but traditions do carry over from year to year making comparisons both easy and interesting. Let’s see what the good ol’ days were like.
The first box score I looked at was the 1971 Indy 500, a race I attended as a wide-eyed high school student. It was my first visit to the “500”. The weather in 1971, as I remember, was perfect. I had seats along the main straightaway, across from the then pit exit. So all in all, pretty much a perfect memory.
So as a starting point, the 1971 event is the event to consider as my “good ol’ days” event. Let’s compare it to the 2009 event.
Here is what I found out.
1. The 1971 race was on SATURDAY, May 29, 1971. 2009 was on SUNDAY, May 24, 2009.
2. Al Unser won driving the Johnny Lightning P.J. Colt/Ford in 1971. Helio Castroneves driving for Team Penske in a Dallara/Honda won in 2009.
3. Unser started 5th and won in 1971. Castroneves started 1st and finished in 1st in 2009. In 1971, Peter Revson started 1st and finished 2nd. In 2009, Dan Wheldon finished 2nd and started 18th.
4. The 1971 500 was made up of nearly all American drivers. The 2009 event was completely dominated by foreign-born drivers.
5. 1971 had four previous winners in the race and the 2009 race had four previous winners in the field.
6. In 1971 the top 5 finishers had five different chassis, a Colt, a McLaren, a Coyote, an Eagle and a Brabham, two Ford powered and three Offys. In 2009, all 33 entries were in Dallara Hondas.
7. I count 15 different chassis in 1971 and two powerplants of Ford and Offy. The chassis were: P.J. Colt, McLaren, Coyote, Eagle, Brabham, Vollstedt, Kuzma, Gerhardt, Mongoose, Watson, Kingfish, Lola, Hawk, Scorpion and McNamara. 2009 had one chassis and one engine manufacturer in Dallara/Honda.
8. The 1971 race took 3:10:11.56 to complete and the 2009 event was 3:19:34.6427. It took LONGER in 2009!
9. Average speed in 1971 was 157.735 compared to 150.318 in 2009. 2009 had 8 cautions for 61 laps while the 1971 event box score does not note cautions, but obviously, they must have had fewer caution laps.
10. Fastest lap = 1971 Mark Donohue, lap 66 at 174.961. 2009 = Dario Franchitti, lap 187 at 222.044 mph!
11. The 1971 event had 13 lead changes among 5 drivers compared to 6 lead changes among 4 drivers in 2009.
12. Margin of victory in 1971 was 22.48 seconds. In 2009, it was 1.9819 seconds!
13. In 1971, five cars finished on the lead lap. In 2009, 19 cars finished on the lead lap!
14. 1971 is noted as having 12 cars finishing the race. 2009, 20 cars finished.
15. 1971 had four rookies. 2009 had five.
16. Prize money. 1971 Unser won $238,454.00. 2009 Castroneves won $3,048,005.
17. Total prize money in 1971 =1,000,490.00. 2009 = $14,315,315.00.
18. The only names that show up on both lists that I can find are: AJ Foyt as driver in 1971 to team owner/entrant in 2009. Penske as Car name in both 1971 as a sponsor of David Hobbs in 1971 (car name = Penske Products) to car name “team Penske” in 2009.
19. I can not find a single “sponsor” that was involved in 1971, still involved today, unless you consider Penske. Here are some of the sponsors in 1971: Johnny Lightning, ITT, Olsonite, Sugaripe Prune, Sprite, Thermo-King, TraveLodge, Patrick Petroleum, Classic Wax, Sunoco, Gilmore Broadcasting, Wynn’s and STP. Bring back memories?
20. Firestone won both the 1971 event and 2009.
So, here is the good and bad for 2009. The race cars are much faster. They are much more reliable. They had a much closer finish in 2009 and many more cars were on the lead lap. The bad is that not enough American drivers were in the race in 2009, cautions slowed the race considerably, and there is no variety in the chassis or powerplants.
Finally, listen to these names: Unser, Revson, Foyt, Malloy, Vukovich, Allison, Bettenhausen, Ruby, Simon, Follmer, Yarborough, Hulme, Rutherford, Leonard, Hobbs, Dallenbach, Donohue, Pollard, Sessions, Dickson, Johncock, Andretti, Krisiloff, Kenyon and Snyder. They were all in the 1971 race.
That’s the difference to me. To a race fan, albeit an older one like me, these names have great meaning. As a fan, I feel like I knew many of them. For example, Peter Revson was my favorite driver in the 1971 race and the McLaren my favorite car. It is who and what I cheered for. It is the drivers that ultimately make the difference. It is the principle reason why “the good ol’ days” really were “the good ol’ days”. The cars were not as fast, nor as reliable and the finish wasn’t that close. But it was the drivers that captivated our attention and drew us into the sport. We admired them, envied them, feared for them and cheered them every lap. I am certain that the management of Indy Car understands the critical importance drivers play in racing’s popularity. I am confident they are working hard to try and re-establish the relationship between drivers and fans. They can’t just snap their fingers and make it happen. It takes time, focus and energy. While we may not have sufficient number of American names in the entry list, let’s support these efforts by cheering for the drivers we choose to champion. They are all trying their best to bring back the good ol’ days. Indy Car has a new generation of names to cheer for. Andretti name is back. So is Rahal (not in the 1971 race, but you know what I mean!). New names are carving their own way into our consciousness. They may have a long way to travel, but the event of 1971 will go a long way toward showing them the way.
The names of the drivers count.



  1. I enjoyed your article. While I agree that the names have changed, I think it’s a whole new world in regards to establishing one’s identity in motorsports or anywhere else for that matter. Today, as I’m sure you know through MMG, viewers have more entertainment alternatives than ever before. I think that deludes the potential audience a bit, but American name recognition — or the lack of it due to the influx of foreign talent — also factors in.
    Back then it may have been “Unser, Revson, Foyt, Malloy, Vukovich, Allison, Bettenhausen, Ruby, Simon, Follmer, Yarborough, Hulme, Rutherford, Leonard, Hobbs, Dallenbach, Donohue, Pollard, Sessions, Dickson, Johncock, Andretti, Krisiloff, Kenyon and Snyder” but now, all you need to know is “Ganassi, Penske and Andretti-Green” … and whomever’s driving for them!
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

    Comment by John Bombatch — September 14, 2009 @ 6:40 pm | Reply

    • John, Thanks so much for taking the time to comment on my blog. I appreciate it. There is no doubt that it is a different world out there, both the good and the bad of it. One thing we all grow to realize is that nothing stays the same. Thanks again John. Best regards, Brian M>

      Comment by Brian M. — September 14, 2009 @ 10:20 pm | Reply

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