Indy 500 Car Number History
Since the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, and even during pre-500 races in 1909–1910, identification numbers have been required for all race cars. The methods of assigning and/or selecting car numbers has varied over the years, and it has become an integral part of the race and its lore. Every number #1-#99 has been used at least once in the Indianapolis 500, and as of 2023, 40 different car numbers have won the race. It should be noted that the information and lists below represent car numbers for cars/drivers that qualified and participated (“started”) in the Indianapolis 500. All entries, even those that failed to qualify, were assigned car numbers, but only those that made the race count towards official tallies. It also may not necessarily reflect car number rules and regulation, and specific situations for Championship/Indy car races outside of the Indianapolis 500.
AAA Contest Board
The AAA Contest Board sanctioned the Indianapolis 500 from the first “500” in 1911 through 1955. For 1911 and 1912, the starting lineup (and car numbers) were assigned based on the order of entry. Lewis Strang, driving a Case, was the first car entered that January, and he started on the pole position, assigned #1. Official totals listed 46 cars entered for the first “500”, and 40 cars qualified for the starting field. A number of cars withdrew, some may have been ghost entries, or otherwise failed to arrive, including the cars ultimately assigned #13 (Billy Pearce) and #14 (J. Franklin Gelhaw) of the FAL Motor Car team. As a result, the superstitious #13 did not appear at the 1911 race.
Based on early published entry lists, the Nordyke & Marmon cars were entered sometime in February or March, and it appears that they may have actually been the 12th and 13th cars entered. On at least one list, they were tentatively/unofficially listed with car numbers #12 and #12½. The team, and/or the officials, appear to have been already attempting to avoid assigning the car #13. Ray Harroun, an engineer for Marmon, was rumored to and eventually named to the seat in April. Harroun came out of retirement after having driven several races for Marmon, and notably winning the 200-mile Wheeler-Schebler Trophy Race at Indianapolis on May 30, 1910. At some point, it appears that the Marmon team was able to successfully petition the officials to carry car numbers #31 (Joe Dawson) and #32 (Harroun). The #32 in particular would be a gesture to promote the company’s Marmon 32 passenger car. When Harroun won the Wheeler-Schebler race in 1910, the car also carried #32. Dawson and Harroun started the race 27th and 28th on the grid, respectively, consistent with being regarded as the 31st and 32nd cars entered in the field (four cars that would have been ahead of them in the grid withdrew). It is a little unclear as to how Marmon received permission to change car numbers (and why no other cars appeared to request something similar) as well as if the number change dictated that they move back to those respective starting positions. Historian Donald Davidson conjectured that the way it was accomplished may have been the officials ‘held out’ the Marmon entries until after #30 was assigned, allowing them to enter as #31 and #32. In any case, Harroun won the race, and Dawson finished 5th, so starting deep in the field that day did not significantly affect their results.
Number placement in the first “500” was dictated by the officials to aid the timing and scoring team and make the numbers easier to read and identify at speed. Car numbers #1-#10 were to have a red background, #11-#20 a blue background, and #21-#30 a black background. Numbers from #31 and above were to be on a yellow background, which coincidentally matched the yellow color for Harroun’s #32 Marmon “Wasp”.
Since car numbers in the very early years were assigned, it was not unusual for drivers/cars to carry different numbers at different races throughout the same season. Furthermore, sometimes cars would arrive at the Speedway in April or early May with one number (or no number), only to be assigned another number prior to qualifications. For 1913 and 1914, the car numbers were still assigned at Indianapolis by order of entry, but the starting lineup for the “500” was determined by a blind draw. The 1915 “500” was the first to use the qualifying speeds to set the grid – but the car numbers were still assigned by entry.
The AAA Contest Board officially recognized a points-based national championship in 1916, then not again until 1920 and beyond. Starting in 1924, the AAA Contest board assigned car numbers based on the previous year’s points championship standings. The national champion would be entitled to carry #1 the next season, second place #2, and so on. This was sometimes referred to as “prestige” numbers. With various exceptions from time to time, the “prestige” numbers were assigned to the drivers that earned them, and if they were not used for whatever reason, the numbers would usually not be re-assigned.
For most of the years prior to World War II, low car numbers were the norm. For the first 29 years, very few cars carried a number higher than #50. The first car number used over 50 was #53 in 1929. For a brief period from 1930 to 1933, the maximum 33-car field was lifted. The race saw as many as 42 cars take part in 1933 (with more cars than that entered), which necessitated utilizing higher, previously unused numbers. Car #73 represented the highest number in the pre-WWII years, used once in 1934.
As noted above, the AAA Contest Board eventually established rules by which numbers starting with #1 were assigned based on the previous season’s points standings. However, the numbers #11 and #13 were not allowed, nor were numbers that ended in “0” except for #10. The number of cars utilizing “prestige” numbers varied by year, but in a given season, typically the top ten or so were recognized. At no point during the AAA Contest Board’s sanctioning of the Indianapolis 500 were numbers #0, #00, and #01 through #09 permitted. Three-digit numbers were also prohibited.
The car that was assigned #13 failed to arrive for the first “500” in 1911. It was not seen on a car in 1912–1913, then was used for the first time by George Mason in 1914. Mason dropped out with a broken piston and finished 23rd, marking the only time during the 20th century that a car carried #13 at the Indianapolis 500. Film actor and enthusiast Wallace Reid entered with #13 in 1922, but withdrew before qualifications, and died less than a year later. Herbert Scheel followed suit, entering a car with #13 in 1923, but he failed to qualify. In 1924-1925, Tom Alley was to be entered in the #13 Kess-Line Special for Martin Kessler. However, the car was not completed in time for the 1924 race. In 1925, they did arrive, but Alley broke a rocker arm during time trials, and failed to qualify. Triskaidekaphobia (superstition against the number 13) had already become prevalent in auto racing, and eventually AAA banned the use of #13, refusing to issue it starting in 1926. In 1932, defending Indianapolis 500 winner, and defending national champion Louis Schneider arrived at the track wanting to use #13. However, the Speedway officials disallowed it, citing AAA rules already banning it, and Schneider was assigned #1.
During the AAA Contest Board era, except for the first “500” (1911), car numbers #11, #20, #30, #40, #50, #60, #70, #80, and #90 were not allowed. Timing and scoring was conducted by various mechanical, hand, and verbal methods. The team of scorers was concerned about the use of numbers that ended in zero, because if a scorer was reciting a series of numbers, such a number – followed by a single-digit number – might be confused. For example, if “40” was called out, followed by “3”, it may be misheard as “43”. The number 11 was also prohibited, presumably because it might look too much like “1” going by at speed.
Early USAC era
AAA dropped out of racing after 1955. The United States Auto Club (USAC) was formed in 1956 to sanction Championship Car racing including the Indianapolis 500. USAC continued the tradition of assigning car #1 to the previous season’s national champion. The champion driver would often choose to use that number, as it was seen as a prestigious honor. However, if that driver for whatever reason chose not to utilize it, or was not racing, car #1 was typically left unused. It still ‘belonged’ for that year to the champion driver, and could not be claimed by another team/driver. For instance, A.J. Foyt won the 1975 USAC national championship, giving him the right to use #1 for the 1976 season. Foyt preferred to use his now-customary #14. The Gilmore Racing Team elected to assign the #1 to a team back-up car. At Indianapolis, Foyt took some practice laps in the car – and it was the car that Janet Guthrie famously took practice laps in on Bump Day. But that car was not used to make a qualifying attempt.
During the USAC years, the use of higher car numbers spread quickly, owing much to the ever-growing entry lists. “Prestige” numbers, based on points, were still used, again with #11 and #13 disallowed. Some teams/drivers, however, started utilizing a “preferred” or “favorite” number, and numbers in the #90s started being popular. At some point prior to the beginning of the season, drivers/teams eligible for the “prestige” numbers were required to formally claim them, or sign a waiver to release them. Prestige numbers that were not claimed (except in the case of #1), or for other reasons not used, were put back into a pool of available car numbers, and subsequently made available to other teams.
Through 1965, USAC continued to prohibit the use of #11 and the numbers ending in zero, due to the aforementioned scoring concerns. Due to rising car counts, USAC felt it necessary to start freeing up some car numbers. Due to improved scoring methods, audible mix-ups were almost non-existent, and the need to keep them off the track was outweighed by demand. In 1966 use of #11 was allowed, then in 1967, the numbers #20, #30, #40, #50, #60, #70, #80, and #90 were made available. Like their predecessor AAA, USAC still did not allow the use of #0, #00, and #01 through #09. Three-digit numbers, and the use of #13 continued to be prohibited.
With every number #1 through #99 permitted from 1965 and beyond (except #13), the last number to be used for the first time was #50. That number was entered several times from 1967 to 1978, but for a variety of reasons, failed to qualify for the race. In 1979, Eldon Rassmussen became the first driver to race in the “500” carrying car #50.
USAC & CART era (1979-1995)
The first open wheel “Split” began in 1979, when CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) was formed. Eventually the sport settled into a relative harmony whereby USAC continued to sanction the Indianapolis 500 singly, while CART sanctioned the remainder of the races on the Indy car championship schedule. CART assigned car numbers #1 through #12 based on their previous season’s points championship results (the so-called “prestige” numbers). Use of #13 was not permitted, and for a time, use of car #14 was specifically reserved for A.J. Foyt Enterprises. Teams that finished 1st-12th in points were given the opportunity to utilize the corresponding “prestige number”, and many teams did so. In particular, a team and/or driver that won the championship – eligible to use car #1 the following season – always ended up doing so, as it was seen as a highly coveted honor. Beyond that, numbers #15 through #99 typically comprised the initial pool of available numbers for general use.
A handful of teams would choose to forego their “prestige” number, instead preferring to utilize a favorite number. For instance, Doug Shierson Racing – at the time sponsored by Domino’s Pizza – elected to utilize car #30 for many seasons (for Howdy Holmes, Danny Sullivan, Al Unser Jr., Raul Boesel, and Arie Luyendyk), regardless of how they placed in points the season prior. The #30 was a marketing gesture to their sponsor’s “30 minutes of less” pizza delivery guarantee. Other teams that preferred a favorite number included Maurice Kraines’ Kraco Racing team (Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, etc.), which perpetually used #18, and Patrick Racing, which for many years used #20. When a team was eligible to utilize a “prestige” number, but elected to not use it, that number typically went back into the pool of available numbers for use by another team. Those numbers that were left over were oftentimes snatched up by other teams because single-digit car numbers and other low car numbers were considered desirable.
Since USAC sanctioned the Indianapolis 500 singly, on occasion car numbers sometimes had to be adjusted for the month of May. From 1979 to 1995, USAC still officially conducted their own Gold Crown Championship (parallel to CART’s more familiar PPG Indy Car World Series Championship). By 1984, the USAC championship consisted of only one race per year (the Indy 500), and the Indy 500 winner was, by default, the Gold Crown champ. USAC rules stipulated that the Gold Crown champion (a.k.a. the previous year’s Indy 500 winner) was entitled to utilize car #1 for the Indy 500. If the defending Indy 500 winner was not also the defending CART series champion, car numbers might have to be shuffled for the month of May.
For example, Bobby Rahal won the 1986 Indianapolis 500 and went on to win the 1986 CART PPG Indy Car World Series championship. By virtue of winning the 1986 Indy 500, Rahal was also the 1985-86 USAC Gold Crown Champion. For 1987, Rahal utilized car #1 for the CART season, and since he was also the defending Gold Crown/Indy 500 winner, he was entitled to use #1 at the 1987 Indy 500. No car number adjustments were necessary. Rahal dropped out of the 1987 Indy 500, but went on to win the 1987 CART championship (he won back-to-back titles). Rahal got to use #1 again for the 1988 CART season. Michael Andretti finished second in points in 1987, but his Maurice Kraines-owned Kraco Racing Team decided to keep their ‘preferred’ #18 for 1988 (which left #2 unused). Roberto Guerrero (Vince Granatelli Racing), who finished 4th in points, claimed #2, which in turn left #4 unclaimed for most of the 1988 CART season. At the 1988 Indy 500, defending winner – and thus the defending Gold Crown champ – Al Unser Sr. (driving a part-time schedule for Penske) was entitled to and chose to carry #1 for the “500”. Rahal was forced to find a different number for the 1988 Indy 500, and the Truesports team chose to use the unclaimed #4 for the month of May at Indy. Incidentally, Guerrero’s team switched to #4 later in the season, leaving #2 vacant.
Not every year did the defending Indy 500/Gold Crown winner carry #1 on his car during that timeframe. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, some teams started choosing not to use #1, even when entitled to. Penske, for instance, bucked the trend in 1989. Rick Mears won the 1988 Indy 500 (and as a result, won the 1987-88 Gold Crown Championship). His teammate Danny Sullivan won the 1988 CART PPG Indy Car World Series championship. Sullivan utilized #1 for the 1989 CART season. Mears was entitled to carry #1 at the 1989 Indy 500, however, Penske and Mears elected to pass on that opportunity. Mears carried #4 during the season and at Indy. In turn, Sullivan kept #1 for Indy. The Penske team explained that one of the reasons they chose not to use #1 for Mears at the 1989 Indy 500 was to avoid confusion. Many photographs are taken of the cars at Indy, and oftentimes those photos are used for promotional purposes during the remainder of the season. It might be confusing if cars are shown with two different numbers over the course of the same season. Superstition may have also played a part, as some teams/drivers prefer not to use #1. It is worth noting that Sullivan, who carried #1 in 1989, crashed during practice at Indy and suffered a broken forearm.
The car #14 has been on a car in the “500” 94 times (out of 106 races), the most for a two-digit number. It has six wins (also the most for a two-digit number) and three poles. It has been on a car in the race every year from 1972 to 2022 except 1993. In most years during that timeframe, it has been associated with driver A.J. Foyt and Foyt’s racing team. In 1993, A.J. Foyt entered the race (with his customary #14) but retired on the morning of Pole Day. His team driver, rookie Robby Gordon, qualified in car #41, and the famous #14 did not appear in the race. Gordon did use #14 during the rest of the CART series races that year. From that point on, #14 would typically be assigned to the Foyt team’s lead driver, and as of 2022, has appeared in the “500” every year consecutively since 1994.
Indy Racing League/IndyCar Series
The first year for the Indy Racing League (IRL) was 1996. For the first season (1996 season) and for part of the second season (1996-97 season), the IRL fell under the overall sanctioning umbrella of USAC. Car numbers for the IRL season (as well as for the Indy 500) would be assigned at the beginning of the year, and for the most part, would follow a “preferred” or “favorite” number system. The league planned, going forward, to make available car #1 to the defending series champion, but eschewed the formal use any additional “prestige” numbers.
For 1996, technically there was no defending champion, since it was the inaugural season for the IRL. The 1994-95 USAC Gold Crown Champion was Jacques Villeneuve, who won the 1995 Indy 500 for Team Green (a CART-based team). Villeneuve also won the 1995 CART PPG Indy Car World Series championship. Neither Villeneuve nor Green joined the IRL to compete in the 1996 Indy 500. Villeneuve went to Formula One, while Green remained in the CART series, picking up veteran driver Raul Boesel. Linking the USAC Gold Crown to the IRL would have only been a casual link at best, and it is not know if Team Green would have been allowed to carry #1 at the 1996 Indy 500 had they entered. Team Green did use #1 for Boesel during the 1996 CART season, as even though Villeneuve had departed, they were still the defending championship team. In any case, car #1 was not used during the three-race 1996 IRL season, including the 1996 Indy 500.
From 1997 on, the defending IRL season champion would be entitled to carry #1 the following season, including at the Indy 500. This rule technically applied to the team, not the actual driver. If the team/driver elected not to use it, #1 would not be reassigned to a different team. The championship team, however, would be allowed to take the #1 and assign it to another car or a team backup car. Scott Sharp and Buzz Calkins tied in points and were declared co-champions for the 1996 Indy Racing League season. For the 1996-97 season, Calkins (Bradley Motorsports) kept his preferred #12. Sharp (driving for A.J. Foyt Racing) had the opportunity to carry #1, and did so for the first four races of the season. But it was said he may have personally not wanted to run #1. In any case, Sharp suffered a concussion in a crash during practice at Indy, and was sidelined for the rest of the month. Foyt kept the rights to #1, and instead was going to assign it to Sharp’s teammate Johnny O’Connell. A few days later, O’Connell himself was injured in a crash, and the #1 car was eventually qualified and raced in the “500” by Paul Durant.
It was at this juncture that fans may have noticed that the defending Indy 500 winner typically did not carry #1 singly at Indy anymore – unless they were also the defending points champion. Fans may have grown accustomed to the Indy 500 winner carrying #1 at the Indy 500 the following year – erroneously believing it was an honor of winning the race. Whereby in fact, it was actually a product of winning the old USAC Gold Crown Championship (which in most years, consisted of only one race per year – the Indy 500 – making the link indistinguishable).
Over the next several seasons, some IRL teams used car #1 when they were entitled to, but many relinquished it. Meanwhile, teams across the league established and began cementing what would become their “favorite” or “preferred” numbers. A.J. Foyt Racing continued to use #14 for their primary entry, even after Kenny Bräck won the 1998 championship (he carried #14 in 1999, including when he won the 1999 Indy 500). When 2005 IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon departed Andretti-Green Racing (to move to Chip Ganassi Racing for 2006), the rights to #1 stayed with Andretti. Team co-owner Michael Andretti came out of retirement to race alongside his son Marco at the 2006 Indy 500 as a one-off entry. Michael took the #1 for his car for that race. After Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 2012 IndyCar Series championship, he carried #1 in 2013 – the first time a champion wore #1 the following year since Scott Dixon did so in 2004.
In 1996 and 1997, the IRL machines carried their car number in three specific locations. There was one number on the nose, and one on each side of the engine cover, in a spot just past the fuel buckeye and/or just past the roll bar. This does not include a registration number that typically appeared as a small digit on the roll bar. In 1998, the numbers on either side moved to “fin” along the spine of the engine cover.
From 1999 to 2001, the IRL mandated standard font black numerals on a white square background. The rule was intended to make the numbers more visible, but were occasionally derided for being ugly and for resembling “go-kart numbers”. The placement remained the same, with one on the nose, and one on either side – on the side of the engine cover, on the airbox and near the fuel buckeye.
In 2002, the standard font numbers were scrapped, and teams were once again permitted to utilize “artistic” style numbers, provided they were readily visible and readable. The location of placement also changed. One number would still be on the nose, but the numbers on the sides moved from the engine cover to the rear wing plates. The wing plates during that period had a good amount of surface area, allowing for a large number, and made the cars easy to identify. Sponsor logos were no longer allowed on the outsides of the rear wing plates. Many teams took advantage of the space to feature fancy, stylized digits and background colors that helped differentiate team cars that may look alike.
The number placement on the rear wingplates remained the norm through 2011; this encompassed the so-called “spec-era” of the Dallara IR-03/05 chassis.
Dallara DW-12 era
A new chassis and engine package was introduced for the IndyCar Series beginning in 2012. The Dallara IR-12 “Safety Cell”, dubbed the DW12 (in honor of the late Dan Wheldon), comprised the core rolling chassis. Each chassis would be outfitted with separate body work, referred to as “Aero Kits” (front and rear wings, sidepods, and engine cowling), and aero kit development was intended to be open to any manufacturer. Due to costs, Dallara provided the first aero kit, and it was utilized from 2012 through 2014. This first aero kit featured large rear wheel guards, and a slimmer rear wing. Number placement was on the nose, on the sides of the wheel guards, as well as on the backs of the wheel guards.
Manufacturers aero kits (Chevrolet and Honda) were used in 2015-2017. Number placement was similar to the first aero kits, with the nose, the side and back of the wheel guards. In mid-2015, the series adopted LED panels on the sides of the cars (first appearing at Indy in 2016) to show their positions in real-time. These panels were placed on the sides, adjacent to the rollbar location, not affecting the car number placement. The LED panels were used on the cars again during the 2017 race.
A new aero kit, dubbed the Universal Aero Kit, or UAK18, debuted in 2018. While the original Dallara “Safety Cell” remained the same, the aero kits changed substantially, to a appearance inspired by the Indy cars of the 1980s and 1990s. Gone were the large airboxes and once again the roll bars were exposed. Due to technical issues, the LED panels were removed for the month of May 2018. The rear wheel guards were eliminated, and the new rear wings were much slimmer than previous iterations. As a result, the rear wing plates were much smaller and quite small to accommodate a car number decal. The standard location for the numbers on the sides moved to the spot previously occupied by the LED panels. Some teams elected to put a number on the wingplate, but it appears that may have been optional.
New and improved LED panels returned to Indy in 2019 (but only lasted one year). They were back situated on the roll bar. The car number decals that were in that spot in 2019 were removed, and the car numbers moved to the small rear wing plates. This made the numbers difficult to see, and some teams elected to place another larger number somewhere on the sidepods.
Towards the end of the 2019 IndyCar season, the LED panels were removed once again. Ongoing technical issues rendered them ineffective and the plan was to put them on hiatus until a new chassis package is adopted. For the Indy 500 in 2020 through 2022, the car numbers on the sides were moved back to that roll bar spot.
From 1911 to 2002, only one car had ever competed in the Indianapolis 500 carrying #13. George Mason (see above) finished 23rd in 1914. Eventually the number was prohibited by the AAA Contest Board, and later by USAC. The CART series never issued #13 for any of their races, and in the first several seasons of the IRL, #13 was not used either.
In 2003, Greg Ray requested and was granted #13 for the 2003 IRL IndyCar Series season. Ray started 14th and finished 8th at the 2003 Indy 500, the first time that number had placed in the top ten. A year later, Ray crashed out and finished 27th with #13 in his final Indy 500 appearance.
The next driver to carry #13 at Indy was E.J. Viso (2009). He dropped out and finished 24th. The last time #13 was used occurred in 2018 by Danica Patrick for Ed Carpenter Racing. Patrick, after spending several seasons in NASCAR, returned to Indy for her final “500”. She crashed out and finished 30th.
Car number chart
For many years, each car entered was required to carry a unique number. Teams entering multiple cars – a “primary” car and any number of “back-up” cars – were still required to number each car separately. This had the affect of using up dozens of numbers for cars that were only entered as back-ups, cars that never arrived, and even cars that did not exist. That left some entries, particularly smaller, Indy-only entries, possibly without a number to start the month. In 1979, for the first time in race history, the entry list topped 100 cars. With only 98 unique numbers allowed (#1-#12 and #14-#99) numerous cars started the month temporarily without a number. By qualifications and race day, the legitimate entries were all assigned a number. With car counts still growing in subsequent years, and USAC not allowing three-digit or zero-prefix numbers, a new number method was needed.
As early as the 1980 Indianapolis 500, the “T” car concept was adopted. The idea stemmed from a Formula One arrangement in which a team could enter a primary car and a “training” (or “test”) car. This allowed drivers the ability to conduct practice laps in the so-called “T” car to avoid wearing out or risk crashing their primary car. At Indianapolis, the “T” stood for “temporary”. A team was permitted to enter two (or even three) cars under the same car number. One car would be designated the “primary” car, and the second car would be designated the “T” car. A third car would be called the “TT” (or sometimes “X”) car. Apropos to this concept, USAC still for a time assigned a unique chassis number, which sometimes differed from the visible car number. This number appeared as a small decal on the roll bar, and was used for internal administrative and scoring purposes.
As an example, a team might enter car #5 as their primary, car #5T as their back-up car, and perhaps car #5TT (or #5X) as a second backup car. During the USAC era, there were no limitations to which car a driver was allowed to use for practice, and which car they could qualify. It was not unusual for a driver to take practice laps in both his primary and his T car during the month – sometimes on the same day. If a team determined that their “T” car was in fact better than their primary, they were allowed make a qualifying attempt in the “T” car, at which point the original primary would be demoted to be the back-up. Prior to race day, the “T” decal would simply be removed, and that car would henceforth be known by the primary number. This would also be the case if the primary car was wrecked during practice or qualifying, or was bumped from the field (or similarly exhausted its three allotted qualifying attempts). A team in one of those situations would switch to their backup, and eventually remove the “T” decal. Each year, on the night before Pole Day, all cars entered took part in the qualifying order draw – including T-cars. On rare occasions, a driver’s “T” car may draw a more favorable spot in the qualifying order, and the team chose to exploit that advantage by qualifying the T car and parking what was supposed to be the “primary”.
The only real limitations were that a driver could not qualify a backup car if their primary car was already in the field (or vice versa). They were required to withdraw the primary from the field (at which time it was parked for the month) before the backup car could be used to make a qualifying attempt. If a driver qualified a car to the field, then crashed that car (beyond repair) prior to race day, he was allowed to switch to a backup T-car for the race. However, the rules required him to start the race at the rear of the field. Occasionally, a team may elect to sell one of their backup T-cars to another team, or even hire another driver and put him in the “T”. If one of those situations happened, the car would split off as its own unique entry, and be assigned a brand new number. Sometimes larger teams were known to mix and match backup cars between their drivers, further confusing the entry list. Generally speaking, the T-car concept was merely a means of conserving numbers, and did not lock drivers in to specific chassis.
By the mid/late-2010s, under newer IndyCar Series regulations, the T-car concept was more or less retired, even though most teams still officially enter two cars under the same number. IndyCar engine rules are such that engines must be “mileaged out” before a new engine can be installed, and a primary car and its backup must share the same engine. As such, the backup car does not usually have an engine installed, and if a team elects to run their backup, the engine must be removed from the primary car and installed in the backup car. Furthermore, in recent years, teams are actually prohibited from parking their backup car in the garage area (alongside the primary), and must keep it stored in their transporter unless it is called into service. Even during the qualifying draw, T-cars ceased being included, and each car/driver combination (even if it is comprised of two chassis) is treated as a ‘single’ entry.
In the DW-12 era (since 2012) in a lot of cases, a driver’s back-up car may never be used during the month. One planned exception being for the Pit Stop Contest. After qualifications (prior to Carb Day and Race Day) teams are typical allowed to install a “fresh” engine for use in the race. The engine used during practice and/or time trials is subsequently installed in the backup car and used during the Pit Stop Contest (which is held after the Carb Day final practice session). This allows the teams the flexibility to participate in what amounts to an exhibition event without worrying about damaging their car/engine less than 48 hours before the race.
During AAA and USAC eras, car numbers #0, #00, and #01 through #09 were never used. Whether not allowed by specific rules, or the sanctioning bodies simply refusing to issue them, those numbers never appeared on a car in the “500”. Those numbers did not have any meaningful history in Championship/Indy car racing, but were fairly common in other lower forms of racing (sprints, midgets, club racing, karting, etc.), particularly in disciplines which have large entry lists and large fields and need those additional numbers to avoid duplicates. Zero-prefix numbers also saw occasional use in endurance racing (i.e., IMSA) particularly in major events (24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, etc.) where multiple classes are on the track at the same time, and over 60-70 cars might take the green flag. Supermodified driver Joe Gosek, who drove in the 1996 Indianapolis 500, was nicknamed “Double-O Joe” for his customary use of #00. NASCAR has seen semi-regular use of zero and zero-prefix numbers over the years. For instance, part-time owner/driver Delma Cowart ran with #0 many times.
For the first eleven years under Indy Racing League sanctioning (1996-2006), no car carried number zero or a zero-prefix number. It was not until 2007 that a zero-prefix number was used on a car at the Indianapolis 500. Davey Hamilton, driving for Vision Racing (owned by Tony George) qualified for the race carrying #02. Very little was discussed about the number, and at that juncture it became evident that those numbers would henceforth be permitted by the IRL. Hamilton finished 9th, his first “500” after recovering from serious injuries suffered at Texas in 2003.
One year later in 2008, the open-wheel unification took place. Several former Champ Car teams join the IRL IndyCar Series, and competed in the Indianapolis 500. A couple cars carried zero-prefix numbers in the “500”, ostensibly to allow them to utilize an attractive number after all of the single-digit numbers had already been assigned. Newman-Haas Racing used #02 for Justin Wilson, and #06 for Graham Rahal.
Nelson Phillippe was the first driver to carry #00 (2009), and Tomas Scheckter carried #07 (2011) for the highest such number to-date. The first driver to win the race with a zero-prefix number was Helio Castroneves. Carrying #06 for Meyer-Shank Racing, Castroneves won his fourth “500” in 2021.
Car Number Statistics
Most races (out of 107 races)
- 97 races — #5
- 95 races — #14
- 94 races — #3, #4
- 91 races — #7, #8
- 89 races — #2, #9
- 85 races — #12
- 82 races — #10
Fewest races (out of 107 races)
- None — #0, #01, #03, #04, #05, #08, #09
- 1 race — #85, #00, #07
- 2 races — #87
- 3 races — #02
- 4 races — #79
- 5 races — #13, #80
- 6 races — #96
- 7 races — #70, #74, #76, #06
- 11 wins — #3
- 10 wins — #2
- 7 wins — #1
- 6 wins — #5, #14
- 5 wins — #4, #6
- 4 wins — #8, #9, #16, #98
Most pole positions
- 13 poles — #1
- 9 poles — #3
- 8 poles — #5
- 7 poles — #2, #4
- 6 poles — #6, #9
Most top five finishes
- 36 top fives — #2
- 34 top fives — #1
- 33 top fives — #3
- 27 top fives — #4
- 26 top fives — #9
- 19 top fives — #5
Most top ten finishes
- 46 top tens — #3
- 44 top tens — #2
- 43 top tens — #9
- 42 top tens — #1
- 37 top tens — #4
- 34 top tens — #6, #7, #14
Most consecutive years used (all-time)
- 43 years — #3 (1981–2023)
- 38 years — #5 (1980–2017)
- 37 years — #8 (1911–1916, 1919–1941, 1946–1953)
- 30 years — #14 (1994–2023)
- 29 years — #3 (1919–1941 & 1946–1951)
The race was not held in 1917–1918 (WWI) and 1942–1945 (WWII).
Most consecutive years used (current)
- 43 years — #3 (1981–2023)
- 30 years — #14 (1994–2023)
- 22 years — #7 (2002–2023)
- 22 years — #26 (2002–2023)
The following car numbers have never won the race. Their best finish was second place on one or more occasions. With the exception of #0 (which has never been used), the lowest car number that has never won the race is #13 (it has only been used five times in 106 races). Aside from that, the next-lowest car number that has failed to achieve victory is #18. The #18 has been used in the race 76 times (out of 106 races), has won two pole positions, and has achieved 18 top tens. Driving for Galles-Kraco Racing, Bobby Rahal led 37 laps and managed a second place in 1990. Michael Andretti, driving for Kraco Racing, carried #18 to a 6th place finish in 1986 and a 4th place in 1988.
- Two second place finishes — #33
- One second place finishes — #18, #19, #21, #40, #59, #61, #70, #83, #86, #92
Car #1 at Indy
As detailed above, traditionally car #1 is carried by the previous season’s national champion. The #1 is offered to the champion team/driver, however, sometimes they elect not to use it. Some teams/drivers still prefer to use their “favorite” number.
From 1979 to 1995, the first USAC/CART “Split” resulted in two championships running parallel: the CART PPG Indy Car World Series and USAC Gold Crown Championship. During this timeframe, the Indianapolis 500 was sanctioned singly by USAC (technically part of the USAC Gold Crown season), while the preeminent national championship season was conducted by CART. The CART series assigned #1 to their defending champion. When the teams arrived at Indy for the month of May, however, the defending USAC Gold Crown champ (usually the defending Indy 500 winner) was entitled to use #1. This caused occasional number shifting for the “500”.
Below is a list of use of #1 at the Indianapolis 500 since 1979, and the circumstances to which it was assigned and used.
1979-1995 (USAC & CART era)
1979: Tom Sneva won the 1978 USAC championship, the last season prior to the first CART/USAC “split”. Driving for McLaren, his team joined the new CART series. Sneva was assigned #1 for the 1979 CART season. At the 1979 Indy 500 (USAC), Sneva also carried #1 as the defending USAC champ.
1980: Rick Mears won the 1979 Indy 500 (USAC) and the 1979 CART title. Meanwhile, A.J. Foyt won the 7-race 1979 USAC championship. Mears carried #1 for the 1980 CART season, and also carried #1 at Indy. Foyt kept his familiar #14. USAC and CART attempted a reconciliation, and formed the Championship Racing League (CRL) to co-sanction the 1980 season.
1981: USAC pulled out of the CRL arrangement in the summer of 1980. As a result, CART and USAC declared their own separate champions for 1980. It did not matter much as Johnny Rutherford (in Jim Hall’s Chapparal) dominated the year. Rutherford won the 1980 Indy 500, and was declared the 1980 points champion for both USAC and CART. Rutherford carried #1 during the 1981 CART season, and at the 1981 Indy 500 (USAC).
1982: Rick Mears won the 1981 CART title, and carried the #1 during the 1982 CART season. USAC was in the middle of re-organizing what was to become their new Gold Crown Championship schedule. USAC decided to utilize a split-calendar season, which would start approximately June 1st, and see the season end at the Indianapolis 500 in May. Thus the Gold Crown champ would be declared at the end of the Indy 500. Bobby Unser won the 1981 Indy 500, but retired at the end of the season. There was technically no champion yet declared for the 1981-82 Gold Crown season. As a result, Rick Mears carried #1 at Indy in 1982, mirroring his use of #1 during the 1982 CART season.
1983: Rick Mears won the 1982 CART title, but George Snider won the six-race 1981-82 USAC Gold Crown championship. Mears carried #1 during the 1983 CART season, but Snider carried #1 at the 1983 Indy 500. Mears used #2 for Indy only in 1983. Bobby Rahal (using #2 in CART) used #4 at Indy – left vacant because Gordon Johncock (Patrick Racing) chose to carry #20.
1984: Al Unser won the 1983 CART title, and carried #1 at all of the CART races in 1984. Unser carried #2 at Indy, as that number was left vacant. Teo Fabi finished second in the 1983 CART points, but his team preferred to use #33. Tom Sneva used #4 during the CART season, but carried #1 at Indy. The 1982-83 USAC Gold Crown championship consisted of four races, three dirt track races and the the 1983 Indy 500. Despite not taking part in the three dirt races, Sneva’s victory in the ’83 Indy 500 still gave him enough points to win the Gold Crown championship.
1985: Mario Andretti (Newman-Haas Racing) won the 1984 CART championship. Rick Mears (Penske) won the 1984 Indy 500 and won the 1983-84 USAC Gold Crown championship (that season consisted of two races, one race in late 1983 at DuQuoin and the 1984 Indy 500). Mario carried #1 at the CART races and #3 at Indy. Mears (running a part-time schedule in 1985) carried #1 at Indy, and #5 at the other races.
1986: Danny Sullivan (Penske Racing) won the 1985 Indianapolis 500 and as a result also won the 1984-85 USAC Gold Crown Championship. Al Unser Sr. (Penske Racing) won the 1985 CART PPG Indy Car World Series championship. Unser took over the seat of the injured Rick Mears, who ran only a partial schedule in 1985. In 1986, Unser himself only drove a part-time schedule. Rick Mears returned to full-time in 1986, and with Unser’s support, carried the #1 for the 1986 CART season. Sullivan finished 4th in point and carried #4 for the 1986 CART season. At Indy, Sullvan took #1 and Mears took #4. As teammates, it was a relatively simply one-race swap.
1987: Bobby Rahal (Truesports) won the 1986 Indianapolis 500 and as a result also won the 1985-86 USAC Gold Crown Championship. Rahal went on to win the 1986 CART PPG Indy Car World Series championship. Rahal carried #1 during the 1987 CART season and at the 1987 Indy 500 (USAC).
1988: Al Unser Sr. (Penske Racing) won the 1987 Indianapolis 500 and as a result also won the 1986-87 USAC Gold Crown Championship. Bobby Rahal won the 1987 CART PPG Indy Car World Series championship, winning back-to-back titles. Rahal used #1 during the 1988 CART season. At the 1988 Indy 500 however, Al Unser Sr. (driving a part-time entry for Penske) used #1. Rahal took #4 for the 1988 Indy 500, a number that was unclaimed. Michael Andretti finished second in the 1987 CART points standings, but his Kraco Racing Team elected to use their preferred #18 in 1988. Roberto Guerrero (who finished 4th in points in 1987) claimed #2 – and used it at Indy – leaving #4 available for Rahal.
1989: Rick Mears (Penske Racing) won the 1988 Indianapolis 500 and as a result also won the 1987-88 USAC Gold Crown Championship. His teammate Danny Sullivan won the 1988 CART PPG Indy Car World Series championship. In a departure from the norm, Mears chose not to take #1 for the 1989 Indy 500. Mears finished 4th in points in 1988, and used #4 for the 1989 CART season, and also used #4 at the 1989 Indy 500. Sullivan used #1 for the 1989 season, including at Indy.
1990: Emerson Fittipaldi (Patrick Racing) won the 1989 Indianapolis 500 and as a result also won the 1988-89 USAC Gold Crown Championship. Fittipaldi went on to win the 1989 CART PPG Indy Car World Series championship. During the offseason, Patrick Racing was sold outright to Chip Ganassi and became Ganassi Racing. Fittipaldi (and his sponsor Marlboro) moved over to Penske Racing. Fittipaldi took the #1 with him and used it for the 1990 CART season and the 1990 Indy 500. Ganassi used #15 and #25 for driver Eddie Cheever over the course of the season. A ‘new’ Patrick Racing (Patrick relaunched his team, taking over the Alfa Romeo effort) and used his customary #20 and #40.
1991: Arie Luyendyk (Doug Shierson Racing) won the 1990 Indianapolis 500 and as a result also won the 1990-91 USAC Gold Crown Championship. Al Unser Jr. (Galles Racing) won the 1990 CART PPG Indy Car World Series championship. The Shierson team was sold during the offseason to Bob Tezak and in 1991, competed in joint effort with Vince Granatelli Racing. The outfit became known as UNO/Granatelli Racing, and took #9 for the 1991 CART season. Several numbers assigned in CART in 1991 did not follow exactly the 1990 points standings. At the 1991 Indy 500, several car number shuffles ensued. Luyendyk took #1 as defending Indy/Gold Crown champ. Al Unser Jr., who picked #1 for the 1991 CART season, used #2 at Indy. Michael Andretti (#2 in CART) selected #10 for Indy.
1992: Rick Mears (Penske Racing) won the 1991 Indianapolis 500 and as a result also won the 1990-91 USAC Gold Crown Championship. Michael Andretti won the 1991 CART PPG Indy Car World Series championship. Once again, Mears chose not to use #1 at Indy. Mears used #4 during the 1992 CART season (due to injuries, he only ran a partial season), and used #4 at Indy. Michael Andretti used #1 for the 1992 CART season and at the 1992 Indy 500.
1993: Al Unser Jr. (Galles-Kraco Racing) won the 1992 Indianapolis 500 and as a result also won the 1991-92 USAC Gold Crown Championship. Bobby Rahal (Rahal-Hogan Racing) won the 1992 CART PPG Indy Car World Series championship. Unser Jr. finished 3rd in points in 1992. Rahal selected #1 for the 1993 CART season, and Unser Jr. used #3. At the 1993 Indy 500, Unser Jr. decided to keep #3 (he passed on opportunity to carry #1 at Indy singly). As a result, Rahal carried #1 at Indy. Incidentally, Rahal was bumped from the field and failed to qualify for the 1993 Indy 500.
1994: Emerson Fittipaldi (Penske Racing) won the 1993 Indianapolis 500 and as a result also won the 1992-931 USAC Gold Crown Championship. Nigel Mansell won the 1993 CART PPG Indy Car World Series championship. Fittipaldi and Penske elected not to used #1 at Indy in 1994. Nigel Mansell (Newman-Haas Racing) carried #1 during the 1994 CART season and at the 1994 Indy 500.
1995: Al Unser Jr. (Penske Racing) won the 1994 Indianapolis 500 and as a result also won the 1993-94 USAC Gold Crown Championship. Unser Jr. used #1 during the 1995 CART season, and entered with #1 at the 1995 Indy 500. Unser, however, failed to qualify at Indy.
1996-Present (IRL/IndyCar Series)
1996: In the inaugural season for the IRL, there was no defending champion, so #1 was not assigned. Jacques Villeneuve (Team Green) had won the 1995 Indy 500 and the 1995 CART championship. Villeneuve departed for Formula One, and Team Green did not join the IRL. Green did use #1 during the 1996 CART season with driver Raul Boesel.
1997: Scott Sharp (A.J. Foyt Racing) and Buzz Calkins (Bradley Motorsports) tied in points and were declared co-champions for the 1996 Indy Racing League season. For the 1996-97 season, Calkins kept his preferred #12. Sharp had the opportunity to carry #1, and did so for a handful of races during the 1996-97 IRL season. Sharp was injured in a crash during practice at the 1997 Indy 500, and was sidelined for the rest of the month. Foyt kept the rights to #1, it was carried by Paul Durant in the “500” and by Billy Boat later in the season.
1998: Tony Stewart (Menard Racing) won the 1996-97 IRL championship. Stewart used #1 for the 1998 IndyCar season including the 1998 Indy 500.
1999: Kenny Brack (Foyt Racing) won the 1998 IRL championship. He did not use #1 in 1999.
2000: Greg Ray (Menard Racing) won the 1999 IRL championship. Ray used #1 for the 2000 IndyCar season including the 2000 Indy 500.
2001: Buddy Lazier (Hemelgarn Racing) won the 2000 IRL championship. He did not use #1 in 2001.
2002: Sam Hornish Jr. (Panther Racing) won the 2001 IRL championship. He did not use #1 in 2002.
2003: Sam Hornish Jr. (Panther Racing) won the 2002 IRL championship. He did not use #1 in 2003.
2004: Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) won the 2003 IndyCar championship. Dixon used #1 for the 2004 IndyCar season including the 2004 Indy 500.
2005: Tony Kanaan (Andretti-Green Racing) won the 2004 IndyCar championship. He did not use #1 in 2005.
2006: Dan Wheldon won the 2005 IndyCar championship for Andretti-Green Racing. During the offseason, Wheldon switched to Chip Ganassi Racing. The rights to #1 in 2006 remained with Andretti-Green Racing. Michael Andretti came out of retirement to race in the 2006 Indy 500 with his son Marco. Michael elected to use the #1 at Indy, which was available to the team.
2007: Sam Hornish Jr. (Penske Racing) won the 2006 Indy 500 and the 2006 IndyCar championship. He did not use #1 in 2007.
2008: Dario Franchitti (Chip Ganassi Racing) won the 2007 Indy 500 and the 2007 IndyCar championship. He did not use #1 in 2008.
2009: Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) won the 2008 Indy 500 and the 2008 IndyCar championship. He did not use #1 in 2009.
2010: Dario Franchitti (Chip Ganassi Racing) won the 2009 IndyCar championship. He did not use #1 in 2010.
2011: Dario Franchitti (Chip Ganassi Racing) won the 2010 Indy 500 and the 2010 IndyCar championship. He did not use #1 in 2011.
2012: Dario Franchitti (Chip Ganassi Racing) won the 2011 IndyCar championship. He did not use #1 in 2012.
2013: Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport) won the 2012 IndyCar championship. Hunter-Reay used #1 for the 2013 IndyCar season including the 2013 Indy 500.
2014: Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) won the 2013 IndyCar championship. He did not use #1 in 2014.
2015: Will Power (Penske Racing) won the 2014 IndyCar championship. Power used #1 for the 2015 IndyCar season including the 2015 Indy 500.
2016: Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) won the 2015 IndyCar championship. He did not use #1 in 2016.
2017: Simon Pagenaud (Penske Racing) won the 2016 IndyCar championship. Pagenaud used #1 for the 2017 IndyCar season including the 2017 Indy 500.
2018: Josef Newgarden (Penske Racing) won the 2017 IndyCar championship. Newgarden used #1 for the 2018 IndyCar season including the 2018 Indy 500.
2019: Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) won the 2018 IndyCar championship. He did not use #1 in 2019.
2020: Josef Newgarden (Penske Racing) won the 2019 IndyCar championship. Newgarden used #1 for the 2020 IndyCar season including the 2020 Indy 500.
2021: Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) won the 2020 IndyCar championship. He did not use #1 in 2021.
2022: Álex Palou (Chip Ganassi Racing) won the 2021 IndyCar championship. He did not use #1 in 2022. At the 2022 Indy 500, Tony Kanaan drove an Indy-only entry for Ganassi. The team decided to assign #1 to Kanaan the one-off entry.
2023: Will Power (Penske Racing) won the 2022 IndyCar championship. He did not use #1 in 2023.
Additional works cited
- Davidson, Donald, & Laycock, Bob, “By The Numbers”, 1992 Indianapolis 500 Official Program: Indiananpolis Motor Speedway Corportation, pg. 143-153, 1992.
- Fox, Jack C., “The Illustrated History of the Indianapolis 500”, Fourth Edition, Carl Hungness Publishing, 1994.
- Popely, Rick, “Indianapolis 500 Chronicle”, Publications International Ltd., 1998.
- “Best By Number, Who wore what with distinction” – Sporting News Books: 13 And Indy 500 Are Like Oil And Water, page 31, 2006.
- To Run History-laden No. 1 or not is the question
- Car Number History
- Curses! Why wearing No. 1 at Indy doesn’t always make or mean you’re a winner
- The Indianapolis Star via Newspapers.com
- The Indianapolis News via Newspapers.com
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley”, 1070-WIBC-AM: May 6, 2007
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley”, 1070-WIBC-AM: May 15, 2007
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley”, 1070-WIBC-AM: May 16, 2007
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley”, 1070-WIBC-AM: May 25, 2007
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley”, 1070-WFNI-AM: May 9, 2013
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley”, 1070-WFNI-AM: May 11, 2013
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley – Post Race Drive Home Show”, 1070-WFNI-AM: May 24, 2015
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley”, 1070-WFNI-AM: May 24, 2018