In 1936, Indy legend Louis Meyer became the first driver ever to win the Indianapolis 500 three times. He won the race in 1928, 1933, and 1936. His third victory was historic for its accomplishment as well as being a year in which multiple Indy traditions are traced back to. The Borg-Warner Trophy® was first presented to the winner in 1936, and for the first time the pace car was presented as a prize to the winning driver (technically to the driver that led lap 200). Furthermore, Meyer is noted as the driver that started the tradition of drinking milk in victory lane. It has been told that after his second victory in 1933, Meyer drank a cold bottle of buttermilk to quench his thirst, something he had learned from his mother. After he won in 1936, Meyer again drank a bottle of buttermilk, this time in victory lane in view of the cameras. In the years that followed, other drivers celebrated with milk, and by 1956, it was a permanent tradition of victory lane.
Wilbur Shaw (1937, 1939, 1940) became the second driver to win the Indianapolis 500 three times, followed by Mauri Rose (1941, 1947, 1948). Shaw had a chance to win the 1941 race, and in doing so would have been the first four-time winner, as well as the first driver to “three-peat”. A fire swept through the garage area on the morning of the 1941 race. No one was seriously injured, but the car of George Barringer was destroyed, as well as considerable amounts of tools and other equipment. During practice, Shaw had been conducting some tire tests in the days leading up to the race. He encountered a wheel(s) that was out-of-balance, and he used chalk to write write the words “USE LAST” on it. Rather than discard it, this was ostensibly to convey to the crew to not use that tire(s) during the race unless absolutely necessary. It is believed that the firefighters’ water hoses washed off the chalk message, and the bad wheel(s) was inadvertently put on the car during a pit stop. Shaw crashed while leading on lap 152, rupturing his fuel tank. It was his final lap raced at Indianapolis.
Mauri Rose is in the record books as a three-time winner, although his victory in 1941 is shared. Floyd Davis and Mauri Rose were teammates for Lou Moore. Rose dropped out after 60 laps with spark plug problems, while Davis was running outside the top ten. On lap 72, Moore was dissatisfied with Davis’s performance, and called him into the pits. He put Rose in the car, and Rose proceeded to charge up the standings. Rose drove to victory leading 39 laps. Davis and Rose were officially listed as co-winners, similar to the situation that occurred in the 1924 race.
Meyer, Shaw, and Rose reigned as the three three-time winners at the Indianapolis 500 for many years. A.J. Foyt joined them as a three-time winner himself after victories in 1961, 1964, and 1967. Ten years later, in 1977, Foyt made history as the first four-time winner. As of 2021, Al Unser Sr., Rick Mears, and Helio Castroneves have all joined Foyt as four-time winners of the “500”.
Name: Anthony Joseph Foyt, Jr.
Nickname: “Super Tex”
Born: January 16, 1935 at Houston, Texas
Resides: Hockley, Texas
A.J. Foyt became the first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times after his victory in 1977. Foyt set a record for the most consecutive starts at the Indy 500 (35), and also holds the record for most laps/miles completed in Indy 500 competition. Foyt is regarded as the most successful driver in the history of Indy/Championship Car racing, with 67 victories and seven national championships. Foyt had an accomplished career outside of Indianapolis, with victories in stock cars, sports cars, and other disciplines. Foyt has been enshrined in multiple hall of fame museums, and has received countless honors, and is considered one of the greatest racing drivers of all time.
After his retirement from driving, A.J. Foyt also won the Indianapolis 500 again as an owner (1999) and the Indy Racing League championship as an owner (1996 & 1998). His team also won the pole in 1998 with driver Billy Boat. As of 2021, Foyt is the second-oldest living Indy 500 winner, behind Parnelli Jones. Foyt’s 1961 victory represents the longest ago of all the living Indy 500 winners, and Foyt is the only driver in Indy history to win the race in both front-engine and rear-engine cars. Foyt drove the pace car to start the race in 2011, and is also one of only five Indy 500 winners (and the only of the four time winners) to also have driven in the NASCAR Brickyard 400. Foyt has a notable streak of consecutive years attending the Indianapolis 500, whether as a driver, owner, or spectator. His participation dates consecutively back to 1958, and he claims to have attended every race going back to 1955.
Indianapolis 500 career
1961: The second half of the race shaped up as a two-car battle between pole-sitter Eddie Sachs and A.J. Foyt. On lap 160, Foyt made his third and final scheduled pit stop. However, the fueling nozzle malfunctioned, and the crew was unable to put any fuel in the tank. Foyt was back out on the track, initially unaware of the situation. With the light fuel load Foyt raced into the lead, but was not going to make it to the finish. Nearly out of gas, Foyt gave up the lead on lap 184 to come in for a splash-and-go pit stop. With a borrowed mechanism from another team, they were able to fuel Foyt’s car. Sachs now held a commanding 25-second lead. On lap 197, the warning cords were showing through Sach’s tire. Rather than nurse the car to the finish line, he played it safe and came in to have it changed. Foyt raced into the lead with three laps to go, and held on by 8.28 seconds to win his first “500”.
1964: A tragic day as Dave MacDonald and Eddie Sachs were fatally injured in a fiery crash coming out of turn four on lap 2. After a lengthy red flag, the race was resumed. Contenders Jim Clark, Bobby Marshman, and Parnelli Jones all fell by the wayside, leaving A.J. Foyt in command. Foyt would lead the final 146 laps, and claimed his second “500” victory.
1967: Parnelli Jones dominated the race in Andy Granatelli’s STP Paxton Turbocar four-wheel drive tubine powered machine. On lap 197, Jones coasted to a stop after a $6 transmission bearing failed. Shockingly, Foyt took over the lead with three laps to go. On the final lap, a four-car crash broke out at the exit of turn four, and nearly blocked the frontstretch. Foyt instinctively slowed down, and weaved his way through the wreckage to cross the finish line for his third “500” victory.
1977: In a race remembered for historic moments and milestones, A.J. Foyt became the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. Gordon Johncock was leading Foyt by almost 15 seconds in the late stages, but he was suffering from the heat. After their final pit stops, Foyt had narrowed the lead to only 7 seconds. Suddenly Johncock pulled to the inside down the frontstretch and parked his car in turn one with a broken crankshaft. Foyt inherited the lead with 16 laps to go, and cruised to his record-setting fourth “500” victory.
- Indianapolis 500 Starts: 35 consecutive (1958-1992).
Entered in 1993 but did not attempt to qualify.
- Wins: 1961, 1964, 1967, 1977
- Pole Positions: 1965, 1969, 1974, 1975
- Laps led: 555 (5th all-time)
- Laps completed: 4,909 (1st all-time)
- Top Five Finishes: 9
- Top Ten Finishes: 17
- Front Row Starts: 8
- Won with front-engine car (1961, 1964) and rear-engine car (1967, 1977)
- Won with normally aspirated engine (1961, 1964, 1967) and turbocharged engine (1977)
Indy car career
Indy car victories: 67
Indy car pole positions: 53
USAC National Championships: 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1975, 1979
Additional motorsports career highlights
- Won 7 NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup Series races including the 1972 Daytona 500
- Won 41 USAC Stock Car series races; USAC Stock Car champion (1968, 1978, 1979)
- 1960 USAC Sprint Car Series champion
- 1972 USAC Silver Crown champion
- Two-time IROC champion
- Won 24 Hours of Le Mans (1967)
- Won 24 Hours of Daytona (1983, 1985)
- Won 12 Hours of Sebring (1985)
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame (1978)
- International Motorsports Hall of Fame (2000)
- Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (1989)
- National Sprint Car Hall of Fame (1990)
- National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame (1988)
- NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers (1998)
- The Greatest 33 (2011)
- Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy Award (1974)
- Angelo Angelopolous Award (1993)
- The Jigger Award (2004)
- Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers Club Louis Meyer Award (1991)
- Father Anthony Joseph “Tony” Foyt Sr. (1913-1983) was a mechanic and car builder. For many years he served as A.J.’s chief mechanic.
- Adopted son (biological grandson) Larry Foyt drove in NASCAR and IndyCar between 2000 and 2009. Since 2007, he has served as the team manager at A.J. Foyt Enterprises.
- Grandson A.J. Foyt IV was the 2002 Indy Pro Series champion, and drove in IndyCar from 2003 to 2010.
- A.J. was also the godfather of the late John Andretti.
Al Unser Sr.
Name: Alfred “Al” Unser Sr.
Nickname: “Big Al”
Born: May 29, 1939 at Albuquerque, New Mexico
Died: December 9, 2021 at Chama, New Mexico
Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Largely considered one of the greatest legends of Indy, Al Unser Sr. is part of the second generation of the famous Unser racing family. Al Unser won the Indy 500 back-to-back in 1970-1971, then again in 1978 to win three times in the decade of the 1970s. In 1987, he accomplished one of the greatest upsets in Indy history. He entered the month of May without a ride, then took over the entry of Danny Ongais, who was injured in a practice crash. In a year-old car, Unser took the lead with 18 laps to go, and became the second driver to win the Indy 500 four times. The car Unser drove to victory was famously on display at motel lobby in Reading, Pennsylvania being used as a show car just weeks before the race. Unser holds the record for the most laps led (644) all-time, and is second only to A.J. Foyt in laps completed at Indy, and third in career Indy starts. In 1983, Al Unser Sr. became the first driver to compete in the Indy 500 against his son, then-rookie Al Unser Jr.
Al Unser notched Indy 500 victories for three legends of the sport. His first two victories were for car owners Parnelli Jones and Vel Miletich. His 1978 win came driving for Jim Hall/Chaparral, which was also the first Indy 500 win for the Cosworth DFX V-8 engine. His fourth Indy win came for Roger Penske, which was incidentally, was the tenth and final Indy win for the Cosworth DFX.
Unser had opportunities to score his fourth Indy victory in both 1979 and 1983. In 1979, he drove Jim Hall’s Chapparal 2K in its first Indy appearance. He dominated the first half leading 85 laps until a failed transmission oil fitting put him out on lap 104. He could have become the first driver to win the Indy 500 in consecutive years twice. Four years later, Unser was locked in a battle with Tom Sneva late in the race. Al Unser Jr., running several laps down, triggered a controversy when it appeared he was blocking for his father. The issue became moot as Sneva passed both Al Sr. and Al Jr. to claim victory.
Unser missed the race two times during his career. In 1969, during the first weekend of time trials (which was almost completely rained out), he suffered a fractured tibia after a motorcycle crash in the infield. He was forced to sit out the race. In 1991, he was unable to secure a ride going into the month. He was approached by teams, including the UNO/Granatelli team (to potentially be a teammate to Arie Luyendyk), but the opportunity ultimately fell through.
In the twilight years of his Indy career, Unser remained competitive. In 1992, he drove for the Menard team (taking over the seat of Nelson Piquet, who was injured in a practice crash). He finished 3rd, becoming the first driver to complete the full 500 miles with Buick V-6 engine. In 1993, his final start, he led 15 laps en route to a 12th place finish. He entered the 1994 race, but since the team was underfunded, he elected to withdraw and retired midway through the month. Unser remained a popular fixture, and attended the race festivities in most years following his retirement. Unser’s final public appearance was during prerace ceremonies at the 2021 Indianapolis 500. Al’s older brother, and three-time winner Bobby Unser died on May 2, 2021, a few weeks prior to the 2021 race. Al Unser retuned to the Speedway later that summer to take part in a photo shoot and roundtable interview session (“The Club”) of the four four-time winners. Later that same year, Unser died after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Indianapolis 500 career
1970: Al Unser Sr. won the pole position and led 190 laps en route to a dominating victory. Unser was driving the brilliant and eye-catching “Johnny Lighting Special” for Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing. Unser gave up the lead only during pit stops, and at one point he had lapped the entire field. He backed off over the final 25 laps, and won by 32 seconds, his first Indy victory.
1971: Al Unser Sr. won the Indianapolis 500 for the second year in a row, but in a somewhat less-dominating performance than the previous year. The 1971 race was marred by the pace car crash at the start. Mark Donohue lead the first 50 laps, but dropped out with broken gears. Unser battled up front with Joe Leonard, and brother Bobby Unser, but Leonard fell out with turbocharger failure, and Bobby later crashed out. Al Unser was ahead comfortably, and led 103 laps total, including the final 83. He became the fourth driver to win the Indy 500 in back-to-back years.
1978: Danny Ongais dominated the early stages, but eventually dropped out with a blown engine. Al Unser pulled out to a commanding lead in the second half, with pole-sitter Tom Sneva running second. On his final pit stop on lap 180, Unser clipped a tire and bent his front wing. Back out on the track, his handling went away, and Sneva charged to catch Unser’s crippled Lola. Unser held on to win by only 8 seconds, the second-closest finish to that point, and won his third Indy 500. Later that year, Unser also won the Pocono 500 and the California 500, to sweep the Indy car “triple crown”.
1987: Al Unser Sr. entered the month of May without a ride. During the second weekend of practice, he was hired by Penske Racing to fill the seat of Danny Ongais, who was injured in a practice crash. Unser qualified a year-old March/Cosworth, a car that had been used a show car on display in a hotel lobby just weeks prior. Mario Andretti dominated the race, but slowed with a broken valve spring with only 23 laps to go. Roberto Guerrero raced into the lead, with Unser now up to second. Guerrero had a full lap lead over Unser but needed one final pit stop for fuel. On lap 182, Guerrero pitted, but he stalled the engine trying to leave the pits, handing the lead to Unser. Al Unser led the final 18 laps – which put him first on the All-Time Lap Leaders List – and he became the second driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times.
- Indianapolis 500 Starts: 27 (1965-1968, 1970-1990, 1992-1993)
Entered in 1969 but withdrew and did not attempt to qualify due to a non racing-related injury.
Attended but was not officially assigned to an entry in 1991.
Entered in 1994, and made one qualifying attempt (wave off). Three days later, he withdrew and retired.
- Wins: 1970, 1971, 1978, 1987
- Pole Positions:, 1970
- Laps led: 644 (2nd all-time)
- Laps completed: 4,356 (2nd all-time)
- Top Five Finishes: 13
- Top Ten Finishes: 15
- Front Row Starts: 5
Indy car career
Indy car victories: 39
Indy car pole positions: 28
USAC National Championships: 1970
CART Championships: 1983, 1985
Additional motorsports career highlights
- Won Indy Car “Triple Crown” in 1978 (Indianapolis 500, Pocono 500, California 500)
- 1978 IROC champion
- Won 24 Hours of Daytona (1985).
- Holds the record for the oldest Indy 500 winner (47).
- Won Pikes Peak Hill Climb (1964, 1965).
- Finished 4th in lone Daytona 500 start (1968).
- USAC Stock Car Rookie of the Year (1967).
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame (1986)
- International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1998)
- Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (1991)
- The Greatest 33 (2011)
- American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association, Inc. (AARWBA) Hall of Honor (1992)
- Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy Award (1970)
- Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers Club Louis Meyer Award (1994)
- Uncle Louis Unser (1896-1979) won the prestigious Pikes Peak Hill Climb nine times.
- Brother Jerry Unser Jr. (1932-1959) drove in the 1958 Indianapolis 500. Jerry was fatally injured in a practice crash leading up to the 1959 race.
- Brother Bobby Unser (1934-2021) was a two-time USAC National Champion and three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. Bobby won the race in 1968, 1975, and 1981. Al Sr. and Bobby became the first set of brothers to win the Indy 500.
- Son Al Unser Jr. is a two-time CART series champion (1990, 1994) and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner (1992, 1994). Al Sr. and Al Jr. became the first father and son to win the Indy 500.
- Grandson Al Richard Unser drove in the Indy Lights series and Atlantics Championship.
- Grandson Jason Tanner is a sprint car racer.
- Nephew Robby Unser raced in the Indy Racing League and drove in the Indianapolis 500 two times. He also won the Pikes Peak Hill Climb nine times, and the 1989 American Indycar Series (AIS) championship.
- Nephew Johnny Unser raced in the Indy Racing League and drove in the Indianapolis 500 five times.
- Mother Mary Catherine “Mom” Unser (1906-1975) was famous for holding a pre-race chili cookout in the garage area for the participants.
Name: Rick Ravon Mears
Nickname: “Rocket Rick”
Born: December 3, 1951 at Wichita, Kansas
Hometown: Bakersfield, California
Nicknamed “Rocket Rick” (or sometimes simply “The Rocket”), Rick Mears first arrived at Indy in 1977, but he failed to qualify that year. Known as master of oval track racing and as one of the best qualifiers, Mears has a record six poles and 11 total front row starts at the Indy 500. He began his racing career on motorcycles and off-road racing in California. He started on the front row and won co-Rookie of the Year at the 1978 Indianapolis 500. He then won his first Indy 500 a year later in 1979. He was involved in a frightening pit fire during the 1981 race, but a year later started on the pole and battled Gordon Johncock in the closest finish in Indy history to that point.
Though he finished second in the 1982 race (by a margin of only 0.16 seconds), he would win Indy again in 1984. He then suffered serious leg injuries in a crash at Sanair Super Speedway in September of that year. He recovered to race at Indy in 1985, and later that summer won the Pocono 500 to complete his comeback. He won his third Indy 500 in 1988, which represented the first Indy 500 win for the Ilmor Chevrolet Indy V-8 engine. During practice in 1991, he suffered his first-ever crash at Indy. One day later, he won the pole, and would go on to win the race, his record-tying fourth Indy victory. Mears famously battled with Michael Andretti in the closing laps, passing Andretti on the outside of turn one (mimicking what Andretti had done to him a lap earlier). Mears retired from racing at the end of the 1992 CART season, and has since served as a consultant to Penske Racing.
Mears won all four of his Indy 500 victories driving for Penske Racing. Three of the four four-time winners notched at least one Indy win with Penske, but Mears is the only one to accomplish all four with Penske (as well as all of his other Indy car wins). As part of his work with Penske Racing, for many years, Mears served as a spotter for the various Penske drivers. Mears usually manned the turn three position at Indianapolis. Mears notably was a race day spotter for Helio Castroneves’ Indy 500 wins in 2001, 2002, and 2009.
Since first arriving as a rookie in 1977, Mears has attended the race nearly every year since. From 1996 to 2000, during the open wheel “Split”, Mears was largely away from Indy. In 2000 (a year in which Penske Racing did not enter the “500”, but did lend support to Treadway Racing), Mears returned to the track for the “Legends of the Speedway” ceremony. Mears donned his original race suit, and drove the 1979 winning car for a few ceremonial laps around the track.
Indianapolis 500 career
1979: Brothers Al Unser and Bobby Unser combined to lead 174 of the 200 laps, but both drivers suffered mechanical problems. Rick Mears, in only his second start, took the lead with 19 laps to go, and won his first Indy 500. Mears held a commanding 38-second lead over second place A.J. Foyt, but a late-race yellow bunched up the field. The green came out with four laps to go, but Foyt was mired deep in traffic. He lost a cylinder, and Mears cruised to victory as Foyt’s lifeless car coasted across the finish line.
1984: Polesitter Tom Sneva, Rick Mears, and Mario Andretti battled up front during the first half. Andretti slowed with a broken exhaust pipe, and eventually dropped out on lap 153 after making contact with Josele Garza in the pit lane. About ten laps later, Sneva suddenly dropped out of the race with a broken CV joint. Mears was left all alone in the lead, two laps ahead the field. Mears cruised unchallenged over the final 100 miles to claim his second Indy 500.
1988: Team Penske dominated the 1988 race, sweeping the front row, winning the pit stop contest, and combining to lead 192 of the 200 laps. Rick Mears won the pole, with Danny Sullivan starting second, and Al Unser Sr. starting third. Sullivan led 91 of the first 102 laps, but crashed in turn one due to a broken wing adjuster. After dropping back with handling problems in the first half, Mears managed to get back on the lead lap just before the Sullivan crash. Mears led 89 of the final 98 laps to score his third Indy victory. It was the first win for the Ilmor-Chevrolet Indy V-8 engine.
1991: During a practice run on the day before Pole Day (“Fast Friday”), Mears suffered his first-ever crash at Indy since arriving as a rookie in 1977. He suffered a broken bone in his right foot, but kept the injury mostly secret. The following day he remarkably won the pole position (his record 6th pole) in a back-up car. On race day, he suffered such pain in his foot that he had to cross his legs in the car and push the accelerator pedal down with his left foot. Late in the race, Michael Andretti was leading with Mears in second. But Andretti needed one final pit stop for fuel. Danny Sullivan blew an engine on lap 183, allowing Andretti to dart into the pits for fuel. Andretti came out just behind Mears, and the stage was set for a two-car duel to the finish. On lap 187, the green came out, and Mears was dicing through traffic. Michael Andretti passed Mears on the outside of turn one in dramatic fashion to take the lead. Not to be upstaged, Mears reeled in Andretti. On the very next lap, Mears made the same move. He passed Andretti on the outside of turn one to take the lead, this time for good. Mears won his record-tying fourth “500”, and a dejected Andretti settled for second.
- Indianapolis 500 Starts: 15 (1978-1992)
Failed to qualify in 1977
- Wins: 1979, 1984, 1988, 1991
- Pole Positions: 1979, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991
- Laps led: 429 (12th all-time)
- Laps completed: 2,342 (22nd all-time)
- Top Five Finishes: 9
- Top Ten Finishes: 9
- Front Row Starts: 11
Indy car career
Indy car victories: 26 (does not include 1990 CART Marlboro Challenge exhibition race)
Indy car pole positions: 38
CART Championships: 1979, 1981, 1982
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame (1998)
- International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1997)
- Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (1998)
- Associated Press Driver of the Decade (1980s)
- Team Penske Hall of Fame (2017)
- Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers Club Louis Meyer Award (1994)
Additional motorsports career highlights
- Won Pikes Peak Hill Climb (1976)
- Finished 3rd in IROC VII (1979-80)
- Brother Roger Mears drove in the Indianapolis 500 two times.
- Son Clint Mears drove in the Indy Lights series (2 wins).
- Nephew Casey Mears drove in the Indy Lights series (1 win) and twice entered the Indianapolis 500 (DNQ). He drove in NASCAR and won the 2007 Coca-Cola 600.
- Parents Bill Mears and Mae Louise “Skip” Mears were fixtures in the racing community. They actively supported Rick’s racing career, through the family business, and at the track. The family was dubbed the “Mears Gang” and even sold Mears merchandise.
Name: Hélio Alves de Castro Neves
Born: May 10, 1975 at São Paulo, Brazil
Resides: Miami, Florida
Born in Brazil, Helio Castroneves is the only foreign-born four-time Indy 500 winner. Castroneves first arrived on the U.S. racing scene in 1996, driving in Indy Lights for Tasman Motorsports (Steve Horne). Castroneves won four races and finished second in the 1997 Indy Lights championship to teammate and fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan. Castroneves moved up to the CART series in 1998. He was hired at Penske Racing following the 1999 season. He won his first Indy/Champ car race in 2000 at Detroit. After winning the race, Castroneves stopped his car on the track, climbed out and proceeded to climb the catch fence, much to the delight of the fans. The gesture became Castroneves’ signature celebration, and earned him the nickname “Spider-Man.”
Penske Racing – which failed to qualify for the 1995 Indianapolis 500 – subsequently had not entered the Indy 500 in 1996-2000 due to the ongoing open-wheel “Split” between CART and the IRL. For 2001, Penske Racing elected to cross over and enter the Indy 500. It would be Castroneves’ first appearance at Indy, and would be a triumphant return for Penske. Castroneves led the final 51 laps to win the race as a rookie. He finished ahead of teammate Gil de Ferran, which represented Penske Racing’s first 1st-2nd finish at Indy. Castroneves repeated as winner in 2002, the first driver ever to win the race in his first two career starts. The 2002 race was controversial, however. On the 199th lap, second place Paul Tracy was attempting to pass Castroneves for the lead going into turn three. A caution came out for a crash in turn two, and Indy Racing League officials ruled that the yellow light had come out before Tracy completed the pass. After an official protest, and an appeals hearing, Castroneves’ victory was upheld on July 2.
In 2003, Castroneves was attempting to become the first driver to three-peat at the Indy 500. He finished second to Gil de Ferran, and tied the Indy mark (1st-1st-2nd) for the best three-year span. Castroneves won again in 2009, and has also won four Indy poles. After two additional runner-up finishes (2014, 2017), he broke through and won his fourth in 2021. Castroneves holds the Indy record for most times completing the full 500 miles (16) and is tied for most consecutive years completing the full 500 miles (6 times from 2012 to 2017). He is tied for 6th all-time in starts (22), and in 2023, became only the third driver in Indy history to complete over 10,000 miles in competition.
With his 2021 victory in a turbocharged V-6 engine, he became only the fourth driver to win the Indy 500 with both a normally-aspirated engine and a turbocharged engine. His first three wins were with a normally-aspirated V-8. A.J. Foyt, Arie Luyendyk, and Juan Pablo Montoya were the previous three to achieve a win(s) with both types of engines.
As of 2022, Castroneves has the most total starts of active drivers (22). His rookie year (2001) is the longest ago start of any of the active drivers – except for part-time driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the 2000 race as a rookie (but with only six starts in 23 years, he has not raced in the “500” consecutively as Helio has). As such, Castroneves has attended (as a competitor) every “500” dating back to 2001. Castroneves first tested an Indy car at the Speedway in July 2000. According to Castroneves himself, his first trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came in May 1996. At the time, he was still competing in Indy Lights. He was at the track taping a television show for Brazilian TV.
Indianapolis 500 career
2001: The biggest story of the month was Team Penske returning to the Indianapolis 500. Helio Castroneves, making his first Indy 500 attempt, qualified a respectable 11th (middle of Row 4). Running in the top ten most of the afternoon, Castroneves took the lead on lap 149. After brief red flag for a rain shower on lap 155, Castroneves led the rest of the way, and won as a rookie. Penske teammate Gil de Ferran finished second, marking Penske’s first ever 1-2 finish at the Indy 500.
2002: Helio Castroneves became the first driver since Al Unser (1970-1971) to win the Indianapolis 500 in back-to-back years. He also became the first driver to win the race in his first two attempts. It was a controversial race, however. On the 199th lap, second place Paul Tracy was attempting to pass him for the lead going into turn three. At the same time, a crash occurred in turn two. Indy Racing League officials ruled that the yellow came out before the pass was completed, and Castroneves was declared and upheld as the winner.
2009: Going into the 2009 IndyCar season, Castroneves faced serious adversity off the track. He was under investigation by the IRS for tax evasion and conspiracy. He was facing possible federal prison time, financial losses, and deportation, not to mention the likely end of his professional racing career. In March of that year, Castroneves was acquitted and all charges were eventually dropped. He returned to the cockpit in time for the month of May. He won the pole, the pit stop contest, and led 66 laps. On a late-race restart, Castroneves led Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick. Castroneves got the jump, while Wheldon and Patrick battled for second. Castroneves pulled out to a 2-second lead, and claimed his third Indy 500 victory.
2021: Driving for Meyer-Shank Racing, Helio Castroneves qualified 6th. No longer driving for Penske Racing, it was unclear for a time if his driving career at Indy was nearing an end. After the final round of pit stops, Castroneves battled Alex Palou for the race lead. In the final ten laps, the two drivers traded the lead, with Castroneves taking the lead for the final time going into turn one on lap 199. On the final lap, the leaders encountered slower traffic. Castroneves was able to dice his way through, and held off Palou for his record-tying fourth victory.
Indianapolis 500 Starts: 22 (2001-2022)
Wins: 2001, 2002, 2009, 2021
Pole Positions:, 2003, 2007, 2009, 2010
Laps led: 325 (18th all-time)
Laps completed: 4,198 (3rd all-time)
Top Five Finishes: 9
Top Ten Finishes: 16
Front Row Starts: 5
Won with normally aspirated engine (2001, 2002, 2009) and turbocharged engine (2021)
Won the fastest Indianapolis 500 in history: 190.690 mph (2021)
Indy car career
Indy car victories: 31
Indy car pole positions: 55
IndyCar Series championship runner-up: 2002, 2008, 2013, 2014
- Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (2022)
- Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame (2018)
- Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame (2018)
- Team Penske Hall of Fame (2020)
- Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers Club Louis Meyer Award (2008)
- Won Dancing With the Stars (2007)
Additional motorsports career highlights
- Won IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (2020)
- Runner-up in Indy Lights series championship (1996); four total victories in Indy Lights
- Won 24 Hours of Daytona overall (2021, 2022, 2023)
- Won Petit Le Mans overall (2022); LMP2 Class winner (2008)
The Mount Rushmore of #Indy500 drivers.
#IsItMayYet | #INDYCAR pic.twitter.com/Vt4fGPfTdR
— Indianapolis Motor Speedway (@IMS) July 21, 2021
Four Time Winners Programs
2022 NBC Special: “Pennzoil Presents The Club”
2009 Versus Special: “The Four Time Winners”
Heroes of the 500: The Four Time Winners
Beyond The Bricks – A look back at the Four Time Winners
Four Time Winners Trivia
General facts and trivia pertaining to the four-time Indy 500 winning drivers – A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., Rick Mears, and Helio Castroneves. Note that these facts and trivia specifically apply to only those four drivers in this context.
- All four drivers have won the pole position for the Indianapolis 500 at least once in their career. But Foyt is the only one that never won the race from the pole. Unser, Mears, and Castroneves each won the race from the pole at least one time.
- Mears (1978) and Castroneves (2001) both won the Rookie of the Year Award in their first respective start. Unser and Foyt did not win that award.
- Castroneves is the only one of the four that won the race in his rookie year. He actually won the race in his first and second starts. Mears won in his second start.
- Mears is the only one of the four to start on the front row in his rookie start (he qualified 3rd).
- Mears was the fastest to four victories. It took Mears only 14 starts (consecutive) to achieve his four wins.
- Foyt took 20 starts (consecutive) to win his fourth.
- Castroneves took 21 starts (consecutive) to win his fourth.
- Unser took 21 starts (over 22 years) to win his fourth.
- Foyt is the only one of the four that did not win, or ever drive for, Roger Penske/Penske Racing. Mears (4), Castroneves (3), and Unser (1) all scored at least one of their wins with Penske.
- During their respective careers, Unser (1970-1971) and Castroneves (2001-2002) won the race in consecutive years. Only five drivers have ever won the Indy 500 in back-to-back years. The others were Wilbur Shaw (1939-1940), Mauri Rose (1947-1948), and Bill Vukovich (1953-1954).
- In the 1992 Indianapolis 500, Foyt, Unser, and Mears took the green flag together as four-time winners in the same race. It was not the only time those three drivers raced in the same “500”, but it was the only time they raced together as four-time winners. Subsequently, both Foyt and Mears retired from driving and were not in the 1993 race.
- All four drivers won at least one race in a year ending in “1”.
- Foyt won in 1961 (45th running as well as the 50th anniversary of the first “500”)
- Unser won in 1971 (55th running)
- Mears won in 1991 (75th running)
- Castroneves won in 2001 (85th running)
- Castroneves won in 2021 (105th running)
- None of the four four-time winners won the Indy 500 in a rain-shortened race. All four wins for all four drivers went the full 500 miles. Each of the four drivers…Foyt (1967), Unser (1970), Mears (1991), and Castroneves (2001)…won in a year that experienced a rain delay or a red flag for rain. But in all of those instances, the race was run to completion.
- As a contrast, three-time Indy 500 winners Johnny Rutherford, Bobby Unser, and Dario Franchitti, each won one race that was rain-shortened.
- In 1995, Foyt, Unser, and Mears (all retired from driving at that point), served as co-Grand Marshalls of the annual “500” Festival Parade in downtown Indianapolis.
- In a coincidence, the program cover for the 2021 Indianapolis 500 (the race in which Castroneves won his fourth) featured the three four-time winners – Foyt, Unser, and Mears. The cover was created by three-time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford in collaboration with Amiah Mims. The cover celebrated the shared anniversaries of Foyt (60 years since his 1961 win), of Unser (50 years since his 1971 win), and of Mears (30 years since his 1991 win).
- All four drivers broke the race record for average speed (“fastest 500”) at some point during their career.
- Foyt’s wins in 1961 (139.130 mph), 1964 (147.350 mph), and 1967 (151.207 mph) were all race records at the time.
- Unser’s win in 1971 (157.735 mph) was a race record at the time.
- Mears’s win in 1984 (163.612 mph) was a race record at the time.
- Castroneves’ win in 2021 (190.690 mph) was a race record, and is the fastest Indy 500 run to-date.
- Four different television play-by-play announcers called each of Helio Castroneves’ four wins. That is unique among the four-time winners. His four wins were called on television by Bob Jenkins (2001), Paul Page (2002), Marty Reid (2009), and Leigh Diffey (2021). The first three were on ABC, the fourth was on NBC.
- Rick Mears had two different television announcers call his wins, all on ABC: Jim McKay (1979, 1984) and Paul Page (1988, 1991).
- Al Unser Sr. had two different television announcers call his wins, all on ABC: Jim McKay (1970, 1971, 1978) and Jim Lampley (1987).
- A.J. Foyt had two different television announcers call his wins on ABC. His 1961 win was not televised, and his 1964 win was aired on an MCA closed-circuit telecast: Charlie Brockman (1964), Jim McKay (1977).
- Hall of Fame broadcaster Paul Page called at least one win by each of the four-time winners, either on the radio or on television (or both).
- Page called Foyt’s 1977 win on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network.
- Page called Unser’s wins in 1978 and 1987 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network.
- Page called Mears’s win in 1979 and 1984 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network, and his wins in 1988 and 1991 on ABC-TV.
- Page called Castroneves’s win in 2002 on ABC-TV.
- The four drivers reigned as four time winners together for only 193 days. Helio Castroneves joined the club on May 30, 2021. Al Unser Sr. became the first of the four drivers to die. He passed away later that same year, on December 9, 2021.
- A.J. Foyt reigned alone as a four time winner for 9 years, 11 months, and 25 days
- Foyt and Al Unser Sr. reigned as four time winners together for 4 years and 2 days
- Foyt, Unser, and Rick Mears reigned as four time winners together for 30 years and 4 days
Indy car victories, pole positions, and career results reflect combined totals from the following sanctioned series:
- USAC Championship Trail (1956-1979)
- USAC Gold Crown Championship (1980-1995)
- CART series (1979-2002) & Champ Car World Series (2003-2007)
- Indy Racing League / IndyCar Series (1996-2021)
Works Cited and References
- The Indianapolis Star via Newspapers.com
- The Indianapolis News via Newspapers.com
- Indianapolis 500 Historical Stats – Driver Stats
- Al Unser Sr., four-time winner of Indianapolis 500, dies at 82
- 1990 CART PPG Indy Car World Series Media Guide
- 1994 Indianapolis 500 Media Guide
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