General Motors executive Mark Reuss is probably feeling a little embarrassed today after crashing the pace car on Sunday at Belle Isle prior to the start of the IndyCar race.
But if it’s any comfort he’s got some impressive company, because former Indy 500 winners Johnny Rutherford and Arie Luyendyk have done the same thing.
In 1999, Rutherford was driving the pace car in the IRL race at Texas when all hell broke loose. “There was a yellow so I rolled out on the apron going about 80 or 90mph to try and pick up the leader, who I think I was Scott Goodyear,” recalled Rutherford.
“But when we got to Turn 2 all we saw were red lights with all the safety trucks, because that’s where the accident had been. I got on the brakes and slowed to about 50mph, but Eddie Cheever checked up and Donnie Beechler turned hard left to miss Cheever and hit me. My car went up on two wheels and it was a pretty hard impact, because the air bag deployed on the passenger’s side.
“I looked over at Jim – I think that was his name – and his glasses were on top of his forehead. I’d never seen an air bag blow up before, and it was like a bat out of hell. But he was OK so we got out and I said we needed to go back and find the backup pace car”.
The real loser in the exchange was Beechler. The USAC standout had been running in second place for his little team.
“I really felt bad for Donnie, because he was running real good and it put him out of the race,” said Rutherford. “There wasn’t much communication to me so that was a problem, but it was partly my fault. I shouldn’t have been chasing Goodyear that hard. I should have just waited another lap.”
The three-time Indy winner also found the tire barrier at Long Beach in 1991.
“I think Michael Andretti and Emmo [Emerson Fittipaldi] got together in the pits, but Emmo kept going and had a broken oil cooler,” he recalled. “I ran down that long straightaway at Long Beach, and when I turned in I felt the car slip a little and thought maybe I had a flat tire. But I was able to turn, and then I got to that next little straightaway and looked down to see a bunch of oil that Emmo had dropped. I tried to turn and went straight into the tire barrier. Rick Mears was running second or third, and said he could see my front bumper because the car tipped up so high. But I got restarted and other than a little bodywork damage the car was fine.”
Luyendyk was roaring down the front straight at Toronto in 2014 after it had rained. He aquaplaned and spun, but didn’t hit anything.
“I had grooved tires and they were filled with rubber marbles so it was like having slicks,” recalled the 1990 and 1997 Indy winner. “I was trying to get away from the field so I was running about 100mph, and I went to the brakes and it turned sideways. I didn’t hit anything, it just nicked the wall, but it was really embarrassing.”
Rutherford has some compassion for Reuss.
“I got gouged a little bit from Al Unser, but people forgot pretty quick,” he said with a chuckle. “I imagine that man from GM will take some ribbing, but it happens. I just can’t figure out why with 700 HP he was going so fast around that tight corner.”
Luyendyk, who now works in IndyCar Race Control, also has empathy for Reuss. “It’s a job for pro drivers, but even pro drivers can get into problems. [ED: Reuss holds an FIA Class C racing license and GM’s highest performance driving certification]. “It’s embarrassing, but it happens. I imagine that guy probably called in sick today.”