MILLER: Can Roger Penske right some wrongs with the IMS Hall of Fame?

Image by Phipps/Sutton/LAT

MILLER: Can Roger Penske right some wrongs with the IMS Hall of Fame?

Insights & Analysis

MILLER: Can Roger Penske right some wrongs with the IMS Hall of Fame?

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I sent in my ballot for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame last week, but for the first time in 10 years, I didn’t write in Jim Hurtubise, Paul Newman, Carl Haas or Bill Finley because it was a obvious that the no one in charge ever gave them serious consideration.

So I’m taking a different approach this year and asking Roger Penske to step in and examine their bodies of work, forget politics, and embrace what this honor supposedly represents.

Now, nobody from the Speedway has ever officially admitted that Herk, Paul and Carl are blackballed, but one former employee told me: “Those guys will never get in the Hall of Fame. Not after what they did.”

The Captain was just beginning his IndyCar story when Hurtubise was winding down a decade-long career, becoming one of Indy’s most fearless and popular characters of all time. He’d almost cracked the 150 mph barrier as a rookie in 1960; led the first 33 laps of the race in 1961; qualified a car he’d never driven in the closing minutes of qualifying in 1962; and put the mighty Novi on the front row in 1963 (photo above).

His popularity soared in 1965 when he returned from near-fatal burns in a 1964 crash at Milwaukee to put one of Andy Granatelli’s snake-bit Novis in the show. The ovation he received rolling down pit road that day is still one of the loudest on record. And then Herk cemented his legacy by qualifying the last roadster in 1968.

But because of what transpired during a 10-minute protest in 1978, all of those memorable moments in Jim’s glory days were wiped off the board. Yes, he disrupted qualifying on the fourth day after not being allowed an attempt, ran out on the track, and was finally led out of the pits by a couple of state troopers. It was as sad as it was embarrassing, but from that point on, the brave little man from North Tonawanda, N.Y., was basically treated like he never existed by the Speedway, and like all of his heroics never happened.

And that’s a lot more shameful than his actions back in ’78.

Newman came to IMS as a car owner in 1979 in a last-minute deal that had no chance before returning in 1983 with partner Haas and Mario Andretti. Newman/Haas Racing had Indy in the bag in 1987 with Mario and again in 1992 with Michael Andretti, but were KO’d late by mechanical gremlins. They became Team Penske’s primary rival and had the whole world watching Indianapolis in 1993 when they brought world champ Nigel Mansell to the 500.

Newman, Haas and Mansell at the ’93 Indy 500. Image by LAT

When Tony George formed the Indy Racing League, Newman/Haas became a staunch supporter of CART, and PLN publicly criticized TG for dividing open-wheel racing at the worst possible time. Yet the famed actor hosted a peace pow-wow at his home before TG put everything back together in 2008.

PLN made his final appearance at the Speedway with Graham Rahal in 2008 before his death that fall. “We may not win Indy while I’m still alive, but we’re damn sure going to keep trying until we do,” he said that May.

Haas, meanwhile, was the Lola importer, a chassis that comprised two-thirds of the 1996 Indy 500 field and won in 1990 with Arie Luyendyk. Haas also promoted Milwaukee when Indy cars packed the place. So while it appears everyone has moved on from the vitriol of The Split, maybe not.

Finley was one of those California jalopy guys who raced sprinters but quickly figured out he was better building race cars than driving them. He came to Indy in the late 1950s as a mechanic and then hooked up with Tassi Vatis, the pair starting their own team in 1965.

For the next 20 years, Finley fabricated Indy cars out of a little garage behind his home on Patricia Avenue less than a mile from the Speedway. He eye-balled one of Dan Gurney’s Eagles in 1973 and built what we called a ‘Fleagle’ from scratch along with son Tom and friend Howie Ferland. He didn’t have a wind tunnel, an aerodynamicist or much of a budget, but Johnny Parsons qualified the Fleagle for the 1974 Indy 500.

Fernley (kneeling next to the right-side mirror) with driver Johnny Parsons at the 500 in 1974. Image via Robin Miller collection

Finley did it all from welding to putting engines together to stealing IMS trash cans and making fueling rigs out of them. He helped Dale Coyne, Jerry Karl, John Barnes, Tim Richmond, Rick Muther, Wally Dallenbach, Gary Congdon, Sammy Sessions, Bentley Warren, Bill Vukovich, Lee Kunzman, Mike Hiss, Steve Krisiloff, John Mahler, Sam Posey and Johnny Parsons, and he also rebuilt crashes suffered by a third of the field.

Finley got to work at 7:00 a.m., took 30 minutes for lunch, worked until 6:00, ate dinner, and went back in the shop until 10 p.m. Every day.

Now, I know The Captain’s plate is full right now and he’s got bigger fish to fry than the Hall of Fame ballot. But he’s a racer and appreciates the history of the track he now owns, and I hope he looks at the evidence I’ve laid in front of him. And I get that these four are no longer with us and the HOF wants to honor living people who can buy tables at the banquet.

But Herk, PLN, Haas and Finley embody everything that made Indianapolis the greatest spectacle in racing. A brave, talented, crowd-pleasing driver who sold a lot of tickets at 16th and Georgetown; an odd couple of passionate racers who supported Indianapolis and IndyCar racing at the highest level for 25 years; and a savant of the toolbox who lived and breathed Indy 365 days a year.

If those four don’t qualify for the HOF, then neither does anyone else.

Editor’s note: Shortly after this piece was published, we were made aware that Carl Haas is already on this year’s ballot. One down, three to go!

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