Opinion: Indy 500’s checkered past


We all recall Indy 500 winners like Rick Mears, Al Unser, Jr. and A. J. Foyt. Recently, a longtime friend (and race fan for 80 years) reminisced about some of his favorite race facts. If you’ve never heard of them, it’s because he made them up.

THE CLEANEST RACE CAR DRIVER was Daring Dudley Doolittle, a fierce competitor and an immaculate dresser. In 1963, Dudley pulled his gleaming white racecar into the pits on the 100th lap. As hIs crew provided additional fuel and two new tires, Dudley took a shower and shaved. However, he slipped on a bar of soap and it took several minutes to hobble back to his car, resulting in a last-place finish. Dudley may have been the cleanest driver ever, but after that race his career was pretty much washed up.

THE ODDEST FUEL was used by a 1944 car driven by Percy Vichy of Paris. His Peugeot ran on pure perfume. The car was the brainchild of Andy Grandasmelli, who was allergic to gasoline fumes. The engine raised a stink from officials, but for Vichy the smell of victory kept getting stronger. HIs perfume-powered car led every lap until the last one, when he ran out of fuel, stopping 1-inch from the finish line. What irony: He lost by a nose.

THE MOST ARTISTIC CAR was owned by California artist Victor Van Go. In 1948, Van Go attached a huge canvas to the outside wall along the main stretch. On each lap, Van Go took out his palette and brushes. As he sped down the straightaway, he extended his arm and applied a swath of colors, resulting in an impressionistic mural. To this day, he is known as the world’s fastest painter.

THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL CAR was owned by Greg Sturley, who had a passenger seat installed for an exotic dancer. She would shed an article of clothing with each lap, and drivers stayed behind Sturley’s car to watch the show. Sturley finished first, but the l933 committee ruled his ploy illegal and stripped him of the honor. This was the origin of the word “racy.”

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