Which IndyCar Records Are Forever?
This coming Sunday marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of one of the greatest records in sports – Joe DiMaggio’s fifty-six game hitting streak. Actually, Sunday marks the streak coming to an end, when the Cleveland Indians held the Yankee Clipper hitless on July 17, 1941.
Many, including myself, consider DiMaggio’s streak to be a record that will never be broken. The closest anyone ever came to breaking the record was when Pete Rose had a forty-four game streak in 1978. I was in college during Rose’s streak and remember it well.
When I realized that the seventy-fifth anniversary of this seemingly unbeatable record was upon us, it got me to thinking about some of the sacred records in IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500; and which of those will probably never be broken and which ones may be in jeopardy of falling one day.
Here are some that I think are untouchable along with some that might one day be broken. Keep in mind that there is no scientific research that went into this. These are strictly my opinions.
Consecutive Indianapolis 500 starts: When AJ Foyt took the green flag for the 1992 Indianapolis 500, it was his thirty-fifth consecutive start in the race. To put that in perspective, I was sitting in the stands on that frigid day at IMS as a soon-to-be thirty-four year-old adult. I was also there in 1965 as a six year-old child, when Foyt made his eighth consecutive start.
Foyt’s first start came in 1958, four and a half months before I was born. Not only did I grow up watching Foyt race at Indianapolis, but his career spanned my teen years, my college years and into what was technically my middle-aged years. By the time he retired in May of 1993, I was a father of two and had been out of college for more than a decade.
Thirty-five consecutive starts in the Indianapolis 500 will never even come close to being broken. I consider this the most untouchable record in IndyCar. Can you name the driver that is second on the list of consecutive starts in the “500”? It’s Bobby Unser with nineteen starts between 1963 and 1981.
In this year’s field; Helio Castroneves made his sixteenth consecutive start, followed by Tony Kanaan with fifteen straight starts and Scott Dixon with fourteen. Some of them may catch or even pass Bobby Unser for second place, but they still won’t be within a sniff of Foyt’s record. It will stand for all time.
Most career IndyCar wins: While maybe not quite as insurmountable as thirty-five consecutive “500” starts; Foyt’s sixty-seven IndyCar victories will never be touched.
Before reunification, I remember Scott Dixon being touted as the winningest IndyCar driver in history with way less than thirty wins at the time. That boast contributed to then-CEO Randy Bernard making it a priority to consolidate the open-wheel record books to include AAA, USAC, CART, Champ Car and IndyCar.
Mario Andretti is second to Foyt on the list with fifty-two wins. His son, Michael Andretti, is third with forty-two wins. Dixon is now tied for fourth with Al Unser with thirty-nine wins each.
Scott Dixon turns thirty-six later this month. He will likely surpass Michael Andretti for third place on the list and may even possibly pass Mario for second, before hanging up his helmet. But it is highly unlikely he would even come close to amassing another twenty-eight wins in what is left in his career.
Oh, and who is the next closest current driver and where is he on the list? Sébastien Bourdais in sixth place, with thirty-five wins.
Most wins in a season: This is not meant to be a celebration of the career of AJ Foyt, but he is tied for the record for most wins in a single season. No one will ever have a season like Foyt had in 1964. Not only did he win the 1964 Indianapolis 500, but he won a total of ten races out of a thirteen race season – that’s a winning percentage of 0.796.
Six years later, Al Unser tied Foyt’s total of ten races in a season, but that took place in an eighteen race season for a winning percentage of 0.556. Not to make light of Unser’s amazing 1970 season, but Foyt was the first to win ten and he did it by winning more than three-fourths of the races in the season.
As impressive as this record is, it is not untouchable – especially if the schedule expands in the future. Mario Andretti won nine races in 1969. Five different drivers have won eight in a season; including Michael Andretti in 1991, Al Unser, Jr. in 1994 and current driver Sébastien Bourdais in 2007.
Most seasons with at least one win: Once again, this honor goes to AJ Foyt – but it may not be that safe. In Foyt’s thirty-five seasons, he won at least one race in eighteen of them. Second and third on the list is Mario Andretti with sixteen and Michael Andretti with fifteen. At fourteen wins are four drivers – Al Unser, Al Unser, Jr. and Bobby Unser and then current driver Helio Castroneves.
If Helio picks up a win in the second half of the season, he’ll be tied for third. More importantly, he would be only three wins from tying AJ for the lead and the record. It is not inconceivable to think that Helio could end up at the top of this list before his career is over.
Most Indianapolis 500 poles: When Rex Mays won his fourth Indianapolis 500 pole in 1948, no one thought that record would ever be touched. Then AJ Foyt matched it in 1975 and Rick Mears matched both of them in 1988. Then Mears snatched the record for himself by winning his fifth pole in 1989. He added to his record by winning his sixth Indianapolis 500 pole in 1991. In 2010, Helio Castroneves matched Foyt and Mays with his fourth “500” pole. Six races have passed since then and Helio may be running out of time to catch Mears, who also serves as Helio’s spotter.
Is Mears’s “500” pole record safe? It’s lasted for twenty-five years with only one driver getting two-thirds of the way there. It may eventually fall, but probably not in my lifetime.
Most consecutive seasons with at least one win: This is one that is interesting because (a) it doesn’t involve AJ Foyt and (b) it involves three current drivers.
When Scott Dixon won at Phoenix back in April, it put him is sole possession of the record for most consecutive seasons with at least one win. The 2016 season is now the twelfth consecutive season with a win for Dixon, dating back to the 2005 season. Previously he had been tied with Bobby Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi and current driver Helio Castroneves with eleven straight seasons with a win. Even if Helio wins this season, he would not advance. He went winless in 2011, breaking his streak that started in 2000.
Will Power stretched his current streak to eight seasons with a win, when he won at Belle Isle last month. If Ryan Hunter-Reay wins at some point this season, his streak will extend to seven straight seasons.
Dixon has a four-season lead on Power and Hunter-Reay and they are all three roughly the same age. I don’t see those two catching Dixon, but who knows about the future?
Career pole winners: It is somewhat doubtful that Mario Andretti’s sixty-seven career poles will ever be matched. It’s not impossible by any stretch, but somewhat doubtful.
Two current drivers are semi-close. One is in the twilight of his career, while the other is still in his prime. Helio Castroneves has already won two poles this season, which brings his total to forty-seven – still twenty shy of Mario’s mark. Will Power, on the other hand, also has two more poles this season – bringing his career total to forty-four. In his last two seasons, Power has averaged five poles per season. At that pace, he would pass Mario at the start of the 2021 season, when he turns forty.
Among other current drivers, Sébastien Bourdais has thirty-three and Scott Dixon has twenty-three. A lot can happen between now and then, but Power might be the one to do it.
Most laps led in an IndyCar race: Just this past weekend, Josef Newgarden led 282 out of 300 laps to win the Iowa Corn 300. The 282 laps led were the most laps led in one race in IndyCar history. Chances are, that record will stand for a long time. That is, unless IndyCar officials create a 400-lap race somewhere.
Most past Indianapolis 500 winners in one race: The 1992 Indianapolis 500 had ten previous winners of the race, more than any other in history. This is a record that I feel will never be broken. The drivers were AJ Foyt, Rick Mears, Al Unser, Gordon Johncock, Mario Andretti, Tom Sneva, Danny Sullivan, Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi and Arie Luyendyk. That race also featured three future winners; Al Unser, Jr. who won that day, Buddy Lazier and Eddie Cheever. For comparison’s sake, this year’s race featured six former winners, which was considered a big crop – Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Juan Montoya, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Buddy Lazier.
As a side note, the 1992 race was the only race to feature three four-time winners in the same race. That too, will never be duplicated.
Indianapolis 500 Track Records: The one and four-lap qualifying records held by Arie Luyendyk have stood for more than twenty years – by far, the longest stretch in the history of IMS without a new track record being set. Luyendyk’s four-lap average of 236.986 mph and his one-lap record of 237.498 have not even been sniffed at. The closest anyone has gotten was in 2003, when Helio Castroneves ran a 231.725 mph pole speed. Only two other times has the 230 mph barrier been breached by the pole winner – and that was Ed Carpenter’s 231.067 mph in 2014, and James Hinchcliffe’s pole speed of 230.760 mph this past May. For the record, thirteen drivers posted qualifying speeds exceeding the 230 mph mark in 2014.
Luyendyk’s records are certainly achievable, but I’m not sure that those in charge of the rulebook will allow them to fall. Lately there has been some talk about pursuing a new track record. I think that eventually, public sentiment will win out and IndyCar/IMS officials will do what it takes to get Luyendyk’s ancient speed records finally broken – for publicity, if for no other reason.
AJ Foyt has said that records were made to be broken. Many thought that baseball’s Lou Gehrig’s record of playing in 2,130 games was the most untouchable record in sports. Yet, Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Gehrig’s “Iron Man” record in 1995, fifty-six years after Gehrig set the mark. Ripken went on to surpass Gehrig’s record significantly by setting the new mark at 2,632. Now, that mark is considered unbreakable – but who knows?
I’ve mentioned just a few of the IndyCar and Indianapolis records that I think will stand forever and some that I think will eventually fall. But just like baseball, who knows? As I said earlier – it’s just my opinion. I’m sure that I’ve overlooked some that are very obvious. If you can think of any, throw them out there and we can discuss. After all, that’s what this site is for – fun, but rational discussion.