The Greatest 33
From all the teases we have gotten from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the last few months, there are many great surprises in store for the fans, as the one-hundredth anniversary celebration gets closer. We’ve already seen the grid of thirty-three winners that was rolled out onto the main straightaway last October. YouTube is filled with many videos capturing that occasion that will give you goose bumps. I’m sure the various gift shops at the Speedway will have many ways that you can buy and preserve that moment.
This past Wednesday, they announced another item that will surely get the attention of many fans like myself – someone getting a little long in the tooth that has an appreciation for the present day as well as the past. They have launched a website that isn’t active yet – it won’t be until March, but you can go to it now and register. It’s called “The Greatest 33”. It gives fans a chance to vote on the all-time starting grid for the Indianapolis 500. Many bloggers, including myself, have already tackled such a project. But these previous undertakings have been one person’s opinion. My front row lacked very little imagination; I put AJ Foyt on the pole, Rick Mears in the middle and Al Unser on the outside. Some might shuffle that order, but I don’t think there is any arguing those three on the front row. But that’s only my opinion. This gives all the fans a voice.
This can be a great learning experience for fans that want to learn more about the drivers of yesteryear. Out of the 732 drivers that have raced in the Indianapolis 500, one hundred have been pre-selected by “an esteemed panel of motorsports media”. From that list, fans will get to choose the top thirty-three.
At first, I wasn’t sure that one hundred was enough. I was thinking that it should be paired down to two hundred and let the fans go from there, but it does eliminate the possibility of a bunch of idiots stuffing the ballot box with the Dennis Vitolo’s and Dr. Jack Miller’s of the world.
The best part about this is that the top one hundred that are eligible for selection will have an audio biography narrated by none other than IMS Historian Donald Davidson on the website to go along with their statistics in the Indianapolis 500. That way, if you don’t know much about Tommy Milton or you’re not quite sure who Rex Mays or Ted Horn was – who better to educate you than Donald?
I suppose the list of one hundred will not be released until the site goes live in March. Fittingly, the Greatest 33 will be announced in May. I hope there are some surprises on the list. As blasphemous as it sounds, I don’t believe that being an Indianapolis 500 winner automatically qualifies you to be on the list. Nor do I think that being a current or recent driver should give you a nod simply because more people have heard of a Tony Kanaan or Michael Andretti than they have a Cliff Bergere or Russ Snowberger. Is Eddie Cheever really one of the top one hundred drivers to ever turn a wheel at the Speedway? I guess we’ll see what the panel of experts thinks.
As much as I like to throw my opinion around about who is a great driver and who stinks, I’m just one person and one vote. Everyone will decide this. Even though I came up with my own thirty-three last May, I’m not just going to re-create my list from a year ago and make that my vote. I’m going to give this the time and thought that I think this endeavor deserves. Donald Davidson and the panel put a lot of effort into this and I’m going to put more than three minutes into it. I will utilize those two months to go through and listen to Donald’s bio on each one, look at the stats and formulate my opinion from there. It may closely resemble my grid from last May and it may be completely different. Whatever I come up with, I’m sure I’ll post it here in May before the Greatest 33 is announced.
For those of us that have a deep appreciation for the rich history of the Indianapolis 500, the next few months are going to be incredible. The more history-oriented items that the Speedway can come up with, the more I’m going to think I’ve died and gone to heaven. I don’t know a great deal of the history of the race. I know some and I keep trying to learn more. When it comes to this stuff, I try to be a sponge and just soak up as much as I can. Just when I think I know quite a bit, I’ll come across somebody who will rattle off names and statistics that just blow me away. But you know what? Not even the great Donald Davidson knows everything there is to know about this great race. No one does. It’s like putting a giant puzzle together, but no one has all the right pieces. That’s what makes the place so fascinating.
So take advantage of this opportunity to learn about these one hundred drivers. In fact, take advantage of everything the Speedway throws at us this spring. Because in June, our focus will be strictly on the future with the new cars and engines on the horizon for 2012, and talk about the past will be just that. History.