The idea was to identify drivers who were only good at the Indianapolis 500 but it’s kinda tricky, because while they shined at IMS, many of them also tasted success outside May.
And we’re not talking about Ralph Mulford, Harry Hartz, Ted Horn, Rex Mays, Jack McGrath, Tony Bettenhausen, Dan Gurney, Lloyd Ruby, Joe Leonard, Mike Mosley, Gary Bettenhausen, Michael Andretti or Paul Tracy – the best to never win Indy.
This is a group that sports a couple of members who came agonizingly close to pulling into Victory Lane – but a lot more who just always raised their game at 16th & Georgetown.
FREDDIE AGABASHIAN: In his 11 starts from 1947-57, the affable Agabashian only finished four times with a best of fourth in 1953. He’s best remembered for putting the Cummins Diesel on the pole in 1952, but he started second twice, fourth twice and seventh.
MARCO ANDRETTI: Famously came within a few feet of winning Indy as a rookie in 2006, but the third generation of this fast family also has a trio of third places, one fourth, a sixth, seventh and eighth. He’s led 141 laps in 12 starts and is always a factor in May.
DICK RATHMANN: Always fast at Indy but never able to find Victory Lane like brother Jim (1960), Dick qualified 4-1-4-4-6 during a five-year period from 1956-61. His best shot at winning came in ’58 when he was on the pole, but got eliminated in the first-lap accident that piled up a third of the field and killed Pat O’Connor. In 1957 he qualified 17th but got mugged the night before the race and had to give his ride to Johnnie Parsons because one of his eyes was swollen shut.
CLIFF BERGERE: A Hollywood stunt driver before trying race cars, Bergere racked up an amazing record at Indianapolis. In 16 tries he finished third twice, fifth twice and ninth three times. Yet despite starting first (1946), second (1947) and third (1928), he only led a total of 10 laps.
SCOTT BRAYTON: When Brayton broke the one-lap IMS record in 1985 and started second, his father Lee ordered champagne to be iced down in Gasoline Alley on race day because he was so confident his son was going to win. But he broke down on Lap 19, and that kind of set the tone for his career at the Speedway. Twice a pole-sitter, Brayton never had much luck in the race and was only running five times at the finish in his 14 starts, with a best showing of sixth (twice). He lost his life practicing at Indy in 1996 after capturing his second pole.
SCOTT GOODYEAR: If ABC still had the Wide World of Sports, its longtime IndyCar analyst would be the face in the “Agony of Defeat” clip. After losing to Al Unser Jr. in the closest finish in IMS history (0.043s in 1992), Goodyear had the lead from laps 176-195 in 1995 before passing the pace car on a restart. He was black-flagged, refused to come in and crossed the finish line first – but was scored 14th. In 1997, he was leading with seven laps to go before being passed by teammate Arie Luyendyk and then had no chance to return the favor when the final four laps ran under yellow. The Canadian won five times in his CART/IRL career, but nobody ever had their heart ripped out so many times at Indianapolis.
ELISEO SALAZAR: Not somebody you associate with too many highlights, but he was very effective at 16th & Georgetown. In six starts, he finished third, fourth, sixth and seventh.
BILL VUKOVICH: By his own admission he was not much of a qualifier, but Vuky had his dad’s panache and was a damn good racer – especially at Indianapolis. In 12 starts he finished second, third, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth while only qualifying in the Top 10 twice.
JEFF WARD: The motocross champion made a smooth transition to four wheels and finished second, third, fourth and ninth in his seven starts.
ROBERTO GUERRERO: Another member of the Heartbreak Club, the personable ex-F1 driver took to Indy like Bobby Unser to a free meal. He finished second, third, fourth and second in his first four starts, but had victory in sight in 1987. With 20 laps left he’d lapped second-placed Al Unser, but on his final pit stop a few laps later a faulty clutch killed his engine twice and cost him the win. In 1992, he was on the pole but crashed warming up his tires on the parade lap in the cold conditions, and a fifth place in 1996 marked his last hurrah at IMS.
DANICA PATRICK: The embodiment of this category. For all her critics, none of them can deny that the first and only woman to lead the Indy 500 is a tiger at IMS. She finished third, fourth, sixth and eighth twice in her seven starts before heading to NASCAR. She also qualified fourth, fifth, eighth and tenth twice. And considering how good Andretti Autosport has been lately in May, her record likely would be even better had she stayed in IndyCar.