What Were They Thinking?
I have to plead guilty to something. Although I had set up my starting grid for the “Greatest 33”, I never submitted it. There were a few near the back end that I wanted to think about and the deadline got away from me. I never submitted it, unless they took it as I left it the last time. If they didn’t, then I really don’t have the right to complain. I have voted in every Presidential election since 1976. Although I doubt that many my age can make that claim, it never really stopped them from complaining about the results. Therefore I will exercise my right to complain, even though there is a good chance my vote wasn’t counted – and I don’t even feel disenfranchised.
I always grow tired of the so-called experts that turn their nose up at fan voting in Major League Baseball’s All-Star game. They always assume that they know better than the average fan, usually just because their guy didn’t make it. No one even cares enough about the NFL’s Pro-Bowl to waste the energy arguing about it.
But now that the final list of “The Greatest 33” has been announced, I feel the need to sound off like one of those baseball purists. I am pretty satisfied with three-fourths of The Greatest 33, but there were a few head-scratchers thrown in. Overall, there weren’t a whole lot of surprises. I mean, it would have been a travesty had any three or four time winner been omitted. They weren’t. Still – what I was afraid might happen, did happen. There was apparently way too much emphasis geared toward the more recent drivers, while the names of the distant past were passed over. What made it worse was the fact that the powers-that-be actually ranked them by rows. It was my understanding that the final thirty-three would be presented in alphabetical order. Ranking them by rows would lead to too much debate. Well, let the debates begin.
I was shocked that drivers like Ted Horn, Rex Mays, Ralph Hepburn, Eddie Sachs and Lloyd Ruby were omitted. I know that none of them won, but there are some great drivers that had phenomenal records at the Indianapolis 500 that never won. They should have been given consideration over several drivers that won only once and never did much else. Had that been the case among the panel of experts, all of the winners would have been listed in the Top-100. They weren’t.
I had no problem with Helio Castroneves making the list. Most know that he’s my favorite current driver and any three-time winner needs to be on the list. What I do have a problem with; is ranking Helio above drivers such as Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, Wilbur Shaw and Bill Vukovich. I literally could not believe my eyes when I saw Helio’s ranking.
Graham Hill was a two-time Formula One champion and won the Indianapolis 500, but in my opinion he is not one of the Greatest 33. As a rookie, he led the last nine laps of the 1966 Indianapolis 500 – a race that had only seven cars running at the end. He drove in only two more races; finishing thirty-second and nineteenth respectively. How does that put him on this list, when a driver with Ted Horn’s record (10 starts – 1 second place finish, 4 thirds and 4 fourths) doesn’t make the list?
Juan Montoya has no business being on the list, either. He dominated the one race he ran, when he won in 2000 – but who did he dominate? A field littered with mostly chumps from the early IRL days. Other than Montoya, the only impressive names from that starting grid were an aging Al Unser, Jr., a declining Jimmy Vasser, Buddy Lazier and a rookie named Sam Hornish.
Why is Danny Sullivan on this list in place of some other great winners? Other than his famous "Spin & Win" in 1985, Sullivan had only one other top-five finish in twelve starts. Yet, he was rewarded with a spot on this hall-of-fame grid because most voters have seen that clip replayed over and over; while there is very little footage of Billy Arnold’s dominating run in 1930 when he led the race from Lap 3 to the checkered flag.
I realize that this is blasphemous in this centennial year, but Ray Harroun won his first and only race in 1911 and then retired. Being the first winner of the 500, his name is spoken in reverence. Had he instead been the winner of the fifth 500 as a rookie and then retired, would he still be considered royalty at Indianapolis? It’s a question I asked myself when I filled out my list, but for the record – I included Harroun on my list, but with some reservation.
At first glance, I really didn’t think Scott Dixon deserved to be included. A closer look at his record reveals the one win in 2008, along with six top-ten finishes in eight starts including three top fives. Given some of the others on the list, I’ll say that record warrants inclusion onto this list.
Given the heavy slant towards the recent years, I’m surprised that driver Tommy Milton made it in at all. He was the first two-time winner (1921 & ’23). In eight starts, he had two wins, four top fives and a pole. I would say he earned his spot on the list.
There are three non-winners that made the Greatest 33 – Dan Gurney, Michael Andretti and Tony Bettenhausen. I have no problem with any of them. They all made my personal list. But when so many non-winners failed to make the list, it made me wonder what everyone’s criteria was for “Greatness”. It seems that most voters think you must have your face on the Borg-Warner trophy to be considered great. It should certainly count a lot, but voters should have dug deeper in looking at a driver’s overall record at Indianapolis rather than if they ever won.
It appears to me that the majority of the voters did little or no research and voted simply for drivers they had heard of. That’s the only explanation I can think of for drivers like Frank Lockhart, Billy Arnold, Fred Frame, Bill Holland, Sam Hanks and Jimmy Bryan being left off the list, entirely.
But the overall purpose of this list was to generate buzz and to hopefully expose fans to more of the rich history of this race. It succeeded in generating a buzz and conversation, otherwise I wouldn’t be so riled up. It’s when people don’t care at all when there is a real problem. Now whether or not it encouraged fans to dig into the storied past of the last century, is still up for debate.