Indy’s Worst For Past Twenty Years
Throughout the Month of May, I have profiled various drivers that I felt would have experienced much greater success throughout their careers at the Indianapolis 500, had they been with better teams. On the other hand, there have been many drivers that had absolutely no business being in a racecar, at least at Indy. The CART purists will always point to the early days of the IRL as having drivers who didn’t belong at the Speedway. That is a point well taken, but there have been just as many rolling chicanes provided from the CART side. Just for the fun of it, with apologies to IndyCar owner David Letterman, I offer my list of the Top Ten Worst Indy 500 driver’s over the past twenty years. You may have other suitable candidates, but these are my choices:
10. Dominic Dobson
Although he had success at Le Mans, Dominic Dobson was a perennial backmarker at Indy. His best finish there was 12th in 1992, which is a little misleading. There was heavy attrition that day and he was the last car running, seven laps down. He wasn’t necessarily a dangerous menace, yet his results always made me wonder why he was out there. His last year was 1994, when he had a full-time ride with PacWest racing in their first year as a team, with Scott Sharp as his rookie teammate. That year he finished 29th after getting tangled up with Mike Groff in turn one.
9. Cory Witherill
His only claim to fame was being the first and so far, the only full-blooded Native American to ever race in the Indianapolis 500. He qualified on a last minute bump run to make the field in 2001, for his only start. He fortunately stayed out of trouble and finished an unremarkable 19th. He regressed and ran two years in what was then known as the Infiniti Pro Series, where he was equally unremarkable.
8. Hiro Matsushita
He’ll always be remembered as ‘king Hiro, which was what came across Emerson Fittipaldi’s radio as Emmo keyed his mike switch just late enough to cut out the first syllable, as Hiro cut across his nose. Use your imagination and fill in the blank. Hiro mercifully retired after the 1998 season.
7. Philippe Gache
Philippe Gache had success at Le Mans, but in his only start in the 1992 Indianapolis 500—he was clearly out of his league. He was a wide-eyed Frenchman who, like Roberto Guerrero, spun out on the parade lap. The only reason his spin was overshadowed was that he wasn’t the pole-sitter like Guerrero and he was able to continue after his turn four spin. He probably wished he hadn’t, as he had the most spectacular crash of the day, in a day filled with crashes. When he spun on the backstretch, Stan Fox exited turn two and caught Gache’s left front wheel and nose, spinning Gache’s car around like a top as it exploded and sprayed debris in all directions. Gache never returned to the Speedway.
6. Racin Gardner
You’d better have a ton of talent if you’re going to show up at the Indianapolis 500 with a name like Slick Racin Gardner (no, I’m not making it up). Unfortunately for Racin, he didn’t. He had only one run at the Speedway, in 1996. He started 25th and finished 25th. Had it not been for his name, he probably would have blended in with the other 17 mostly forgettable rookies in that field, and not made this list.
5. Brad Murphey
He was an Australian rodeo star who was another one-time dud in the 1996 rookie class. He shouldn’t have quit his day job.
4. Marty Roth
Marty Roth is a very successful Canadian businessman who is no fool. However, when he pulls the helmet on, he sure drives like one. Most in the paddock think that if Marty would give up his mid-life crisis of trying to be a late-blooming driver; he would actually make a very good owner in the series. At the end of the 2008 season, when Brian Barnhart suggested he might seek other areas of involvement in the IndyCar Series…Marty reportedly got mad and put his team up for sale. He has two cars entered in this year’s 500, but supposedly has a buyer on the hook for the team. Replacement panels for the SAFER barrier have been ordered in case Marty has a change of heart and runs again.
3. Milka Duno
Milk & Donuts crashed out of the Indianapolis 500 in her first outing, and spun in her second. Fortunately, neither incident involved another driver. Now going into her third, the odds are against her for this year. I question myself to ever be on the same side of an issue with Danica Patrick and Ashley Judd; but it may be time for Milka to go, before someone is seriously injured.
2. Dr. Jack Miller
A comical incident involving my eventual number one is the only thing keeping Jack Miller (The Racing Dentist) out of the top spot. There was nothing comical about Dr. Jack—he was frightening. An Indianapolis dentist with some racing experience, he capitalized on the diluted fields of the Indianapolis 500 in the early IRL days, to satisfy a life-long dream. Unfortunately, it turned out to be everyone else’s nightmare. He ran in three Indy 500’s beginning in 1997, where he had his best finish of 20th. Thankfully, his run came to an end in 2000 as he failed to make the field.
And the number one driver from the past twenty years of the Indy 500, that had no business being in a car is…
1. Dennis Vitolo
At best, Dennis Vitolo was a journeyman driver. He had two starts in the Indianapolis 500, in 1994 and 1997. His signature moment came in the 1994 Indianapolis 500.
Vitolo and his wife had mortgaged everything for him to be able to run in the Indy 500. It all seemed for naught, as Vitolo spun early in the race coming out of turn four. Luck appeared to be on his side as he spun completely around without hitting anything. As fate would have it, Vitolo was just being saved to provide the comic relief for later.
On lap 92, the field had been slowed under a caution period for several laps. Nigel Mansell, the 1992 World Champion and the defending CART Champion, had pulled his Newman-Haas Lola onto the pit entrance road in turn three. Inexplicably, the next thing Mansell knew was that his car had been knocked askew and the car of Dennis Vitolo was on top of his. Apparently, Vitolo decided to follow Mansell onto the pit-lane. Vitolo misjudged his speed (hard to do while running under the yellow), punted Mansell and his car somehow landed directly on top of Mansell’s. Nigel Mansell would never return to the Speedway and Dennis Vitolo would be remembered for nothing other than this episode forever, and now have to endure the added insult of topping this list.