Flaunting The Badge Of Honor
My fondness of tradition is why it still drives me crazy when IndyCar teams choose to not run the No.1 the year following their driver winning the Verizon IndyCar Series championship.
I grew up going to the Indianapolis 500 in the sixties. My first race was 1965. AJ Foyt was not only the defending race winner, but he was the defending USAC National Championship from 1964. As impressive as Foyt’s “500” victory was, his 1964 season was one for the ages. Foyt won ten of thirteen races in the 1964 season, including the first seven in a row. Eight races were on paved ovals, while five were contested on dirt. Parnelli Jones and Lloyd Ruby were the only two other drivers that managed to win races that season. After a season like that, what driver wouldn’t be proud?
That pride would explain why Foyt was proudly siting in the No.1 Sheraton-Thompson Special at the front of the field of the 1965 Indianapolis 500. Practically every defending champion during my childhood spanning the sixties and seventies, sported the No.1 on the front and sides of their car. It was a sense of pride, almost a way for drivers to gloat over their fellow competitors, for a driver to have the privilege of driving car No.1 for an entire year.
Drivers looked upon getting to run No.1 as an honor. It was somewhat of a rolling trophy. If there was any type of argument in the pits, all a driver had to do was point to the No.1 on their car and that pretty well ended most arguments.
Even into the nineties, drivers clamored for the right to carry the treasured No.1. In 1991, Arie Luyendyk caused a lot of teams to throw their numbers out the window. The Indianapolis 500 was sanctioned by USAC and was not a CART event. Luyendyk carried No.9 throughout the CART season. But as the defending Indianapolis 500 champion, he had earned the right to carry the No.1 in that race.
Al Unser, Jr. was the defending CART champion and had carried the traditional No.1 on his Valvoline Lola-Chevy, but he had to give it up to Luyendyk and switch to No.2 for Indianapolis. Who had been carrying No.2 in CART? Michael Andretti. Michael was forced to swap his No.2 for No.10, for the 1991 Indianapolis 500. By the time the series moved on to Milwaukee the next week, Luyendyk was back to No.9, Andretti was in No.2 and Little Al was back to sporting No.1. It was a lot of trouble for a couple of teams, but the honor meant that much to Luyendyk to carry No.1 to do it. It was that important to him.
But somewhere along the way, that tradition went the way of the powdered-wig. Drivers no longer seemed to care about running the once-cherished No.1 on their cars. Some said it was bad luck. Others just seemed to think to carry that number was no big deal. I’ve even heard a few people say that boasting about a championship was considered in bad taste and was not cool. Seriously? Would they turn down the chance to drink milk and decline having their face enshrined on the Borg-Warner trophy? Um…probably not.
On Trackside this past Tuesday night, they were discussing the test at Road America that had taken place that day. They mentioned that Will Power had already given up the No.1 he campaigned all through the 2015 season in favor of his normal No.12. However, Scott Dixon was still in his familiar No.9. They surmised that Dixon was probably opting to keep No.9 on his Target car, instead of No.1. Dixon ran No.1 in 2004 after winning the 2003 championship and it was a disaster. Of course, being saddled with the woefully underpowered Toyota engine and the Panoz chassis had everything to do with his tenth place finish than carrying the No.1 did, but he has refused to run it since.
In fact, since Dixon ran the No.1 in 2004 – the number has only been campaigned throughout the entire season only twice; 2013 by Ryan Hunter-Reay and 2015 by Will Power. In that time, the once revered number has been passed up by Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon (who changed teams after winning the 2005 championship), Sam Hornish, Dario Franchitti and Dixon.
Curt Cavin tried to explain it away as a branding thing. Baloney! I would think most sponsors would love to have their car carry No.1, signifying that their car is the best. As for the ridiculous superstition that No.1 is bad luck – out of all of those that chose to not carry the top number on their car, the only one to repeat their championship was Dario Franchitti in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The rest of them failed to repeat even by staying away from the number they considered bad luck.
So shoot me for being a traditionalist, but this is one tradition I just don’t understand the reason why it is slipping away. Oh, and one more thing; for those that consider boasting about their championship to be in poor taste – if it was good enough for AJ Foyt, it’s good enough for all the others. That includes Scott Dixon, who I hope will decide to proudly run with the badge of honor on his car. He’s earned it and should flaunt it.