This weekend’s IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader at Indianapolis Motor Speedway could be the start of something that might encompass other tracks down the road as both series look to regain their oval track fan base. And while it’s the first time Indy cars and stock cars have competed together at the same track on the same day/weekend, back in the 1960s and 1970s it was commonplace to have some of the biggest names of USAC and NASCAR try their hand at each other’s discipline.
A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, Mark Donohue and Dan Gurney ventured down to Daytona or out to Riverside while Cale Yarborough, Lee Roy Yarbrough, Bobby & Donnie Allison and Paul Goldsmith strapped on the Indianapolis 500.
“I liked to go in somebody’s backyard see how good I was against them,” said Foyt, who captured the 1972 Daytona 500 and ran NASCAR’s crown jewel 28 times (pictured above: Foyt en route to third at Daytona in 1979). “I liked to challenge people at their own ball game.”
Andretti sent a shock wave through the south when he won Daytona in his first try in 1967, but loved the challenge of racing anything.
“I think we inspired one another,” said the 1978 Formula 1 world champion. “If Parnelli, A.J. and Dan can do it, I wanted to try. That’s how I looked at it and got my inspiration. It was a beautiful thing.”
It was cool to see Donnie driving for Foyt, Bobby for Roger Penske, Cale as teammates with Lloyd Ruby for Gene White, Lee Roy wheeling Jim Robbins’ car and Goldy behind the wheel of roadsters for Smokey Yunick, Norm Demler and Herb Porter. They all qualified for Indy multiple times along with Bobby Johns, while Junior Johnson, Curtis Turner and Charlie Glotzbach didn’t make the show.
But the staggering statistic is that IndyCar regulars racked up 18 wins (Foyt 7, Gurney 5, Parnelli 4, Mario and Jim Hurtubise) in the Cup Series while no NASCAR driver has ever made it to victory lane in Indy cars. Yarbrough came within nine laps of wining the inaugural California 500 at Ontario and also posted a third at Trenton in 1971, while Goldsmith finished third at Indy in 1960 and Donnie Allison came home fourth in 1970.
All totaled, NASCAR’s crossovers only made 41 starts among seven drivers from 1958-1975 and Yarborough has 14 of them because he ran the full 1971 USAC Championship Trail.
“You know, we were raised in all types of cars on pavement and dirt and those guys were raised in stock cars only except Goldsmith (AMA motorcycle champion), so I think it was easier for us,” said Foyt. “And, other than Cale, they didn’t have a lot of miles in our cars.
“I thought Donnie did a helluva job for us no more than he drove (five starts) and I always thought Cale could have won with a top car. Goldsmith is one of the most under-rated drivers I ever raced against, but you know Indy cars aren’t for everybody. Junior Johnson said it was like driving a hay wagon with wagon wheels.”
Andretti agrees with IndyCar’s all-time winner.
“It’s much easier to adapt to a stock car from an Indy car. It’s much tougher for those guys because it’s such a different animal. The biggest problem we had was over-driving because those cars are so clumsy and you never think you’re going fast enough — especially coming off a corner.
“But I credit Gene White for trying to bring a lot of NASCAR guys over to IndyCar and it was good for our sport.”
Kurt Busch is the only modern-day tin topper to step out of his comfort zone and do the Indy/Charlotte double and he did a splendid job in his Indy 500 debut back in 2014 – starting 12th and finishing sixth. John Andretti, Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart also pulled off that double but they were all open-wheelers first and Mario would like to see more crossover.
“Oh god yes,” he exclaimed. “I know Jimmie Johnson has said he won’t run ovals but he wants to give road racing a try and that’s great. Kyle Busch would be exciting at the Speedway and I think Kyle Larson could handle it.
“Can you imagine if Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt would have won Indy? They would have put that trophy at the top. And when I look back on my career, I take so much satisfaction in all the different cars I drove and feeling like I belonged. It was a great challenge on a personal level and that’s what shines brightest on my career.”