Twenty-nineteen marks the 103rd running of the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing.” Thirty-six cars will line up to take the start at the famous Brickyard circuit in Indianapolis in what is America’s most famous and prestigious motor race. All the drivers will be clamoring for the win and the chance to sip milk in the winner’s circle, but only one will prevail. Throughout its history, the Indy 500 has seen some of the best drivers and teams in the world challenge for the Borg-Warner Trophy over 200 hard-fought laps. Here are the best records that will get you into gear for this year’s race.
Fastest Average Winning Speed
We’re going to start with a record that sums up the Indy 500… speed. In 2013, Tony Kanaan, racing with the KV Racing Technologies Team, won the race with the highest average speed ever recorded.
En route to taking the checkered flag in front of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Kanaan averaged 187.433 mph for 199 laps. That’s pretty fast. Imagine the rush you might feel if you were allowed to drive three times the speed limit on the freeway for work!
Slowest Average Winning Speed
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the slowest average winning speed was set by Ray Harroun in a Marmon Wasp in 1911. His average speed over 200 laps was 74.59 mph. While that figure may not impress now, in 1911 it was pretty darn quick.
As a comparison, the 1911 Ford Model T had a top speed of around 40-45 mph. That same year also marks the first official Indianapolis 500 race, as we know it. Admission was $1.
Fastest Lap In A Race
In 1996, former F1 driver Eddie Cheever would set a lap record that remains to this day. Cheever achieved a lap of the track at a speed of 236.103 mph, during the race. Despite his record-setting lap, Cheever finished the race in 11th place.
Many drivers have tried, but no one has come close to matching Cheever’s speed on that fateful day. Two years later Cheever would go on to win the 500 in an instant classic.
Most Career Victories – Driver
Three drivers share this amazing and distinct honor and are all legends in their own right. A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears have all won the Indy 500 4 times. Foyt did it in 1961, 1964, 1967 and 1977.
Unser accomplished his quadrilogy in 1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987. Mears finished the set in 1979, 1984. 1988 and 1991. To win the race once is special, to repeat makes you one of the best, and to do it four times makes you a legend.
Career Victories – Team/Owner
Roger Penske retired from driving race cars in 1965. He competed in two Formula 1 races, was a four-time SCCA Runoff Champion, won the NASCAR Late Model race at Riverside racetrack in 1963 and was regarded as an extremely talented driver.
However, his talent as a team owner is arguably greater, as he has won the Indy 500 15 times. His first victory came in 1972 with Mark Donohue and the most recent happened in 2018 with Will Power.
Most Consecutive Victories – Driver
Five drivers have won the Indy 500 back-to-back. To date, no one has been able to win the race three times in a row, a testament to the difficulty of the race and the caliber of the competition.
Driver Wilbur Shaw won in 1939 and 1940, Mauri Rose in 1947 and 1948. Bill Vukovich then won in 1953 and 1954, while Al Unser did it in 1970 and 1971 and Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.
Troy Ruttman won the 1952 running of the Indy 500 at the tender age of 22 years and 80 days old. Troy would race in the 500 eight more times, but would only finish the race twice more, as he suffered mechanical failures in 6 of those eight attempts.
Thirty-five later another record would be set, although it wouldn’t be by Ruttman. The oldest driver to ever win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” would enter victory lane.
The legendary Al Unser holds the record of being the oldest driver to win the 500 at Indy. He was five days short of his 48th birthday when he won the race in 1987, his final of four Indy 500 wins.
Unser would continue to race up until 1994 when he retired after attempting to qualify for the 500 at the age of 55. He was one of the sports oldest ever drivers at the time of his retirement.
Highest Finish By A Female Driver
This is a record surely to fall in the near future. More and more talented women racers are finding their way into top tier motorsports and the sport as a whole is far better for it. Until the next star emerges, the highest finishing female driver at the Indy 500 is Danica Patrick.
In 2009, Patrick, then racing for Andretti Green Racing, finished a respectable 3rd. She has one career Indycar Series victory, coming at the Indy Japan 300 at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in 2008.
Largest Margin Of Victory
French motor racing star Jules Goux holds the record for largest margin of victory in the Indy 500 at a staggering 13 minutes and 8.4 seconds in the 1913 running of the race. Goux was also the first Frenchman and European to win the race.
It was reported that he drank four bottles of champagne while driving, and was quoted as saying, “Without the good wine, I would have not been able to win.” The next year drinking and driving was banned at the Indy 500 for obvious reasons.
Smallest Margin Of Victory
In 1992 an epic finish to the Indy 500 happened, with 2-time winner Al Unser Jr. beating Scott Goodyear by just 0.043 seconds! It takes more time to read the word “fast” than the gap between those two cars.
It was Goodyear’s first year on the Indy circuit. He would finish runner-up again in 1997 and would finish 2nd in class at Le Mans in 1996 behind the wheel of the factory Porsche GT1 machine. So close and yet so far.
Most Career Laps Led
From 1965 to 1990 and then again from 1992 to 1993, the legendary Al Unser raced the Indy 500. While he has four wins to his name, he can also claim to have led the most laps at the circuit with 644. An astonishing feat over a decades-long career spanning 27 career starts.
Even more incredibly, in 1978, Al Unser won the Indy 500, Pocono 500 and Ontario 500. That’s three, 500-mile race wins in a single year!
Laps Led Dual Record
The 1912 Indy 500 race was a unique event and holds the distinction of having a driver hold the record for the most laps led in the race without a victory, as well as the least amount of laps led by a winner!
Ralph DePalma took the lead of the race on lap three and began to pull away from the field. On lap 199 of 200, his car lost power on the back straight. He and his mechanic pushed the car across the line to finish with the most laps led in the race (196) behind winner Joe Dawson, who led the least amount of laps of any winner with two.
Most Laps Led By A Rookie Driver
Two-time Indy 500 Champion Juan Pablo Montoya, led 167 of 200 laps en route to his win in 2000. It is single-handedly the most dominant performance by a rookie ever at the Indy 500.
Montoya’s win that year was the first by a rookie since 1966. It would take him 15 years to get his second victory starting from 15th place on the grid in 2015. That 15-year gap between wins serves as a great reminder about just how difficult the Indy 500 is to master.
Most Races Led Without Winning
Rex Mays holds the dubious distinction of having led the Indy 500 on nine separate occasions without being able to convert any of those into wins. Mays was undoubtedly fast, starting the race from pole position four times and starting from the front row seven of the 12 times he raced at Indy.
Unfortunately his best finishes came in 1940 and 1941 where he was runner-up in both of those races. Sadly, Mays was killed in a crash during a race in 1949 at 36-years-old.
Most Victories From Pole Position
Rick “Rocket Rick” Mears, has a record four Indy 500 victories. Equally as remarkable, he won three of those from the pole position (1979, 1988, 1991). Mears is also a 3-time Indycar Series champion, having won the crown in 1979, 1981 and 1982.
No stranger from starting on the front row, Rick Mears has 38 career pole positions in Indycar racing. Today, the Indy icon works as a consultant for Penske Racing and Helio Castroneves.
Most Career Indy 500 Starts
Another legend of the sport, A.J. Foyt is a man of staggering statistics. Along with his four Indy 500 victories, Foyt has the most career starts in the race of any driver at 35. That’s right, he raced the Indy 500 every year for 35 years straight starting in 1958.
Foyt is also unique as a driver as he’s driven the race in front-engined cars and rear-engined cars; his four victories are split evenly between the two configurations.
Fewest Cars Running At Finish
The 1966 running of the Indy 500 should have been one of the all-time great races. The field was stacked with the most talented drivers in the world including Sir Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark, Mario Andretti, Graham Hill, Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Al Unser, A.J. Foyt and Cale Yarborough.
Today it is sadly remembered as the year of the fewest running cars at the finish, with only 7 of the 33 starters making it the full 200 laps. A lap one crash eliminated 11 cars with a further 15 either crashing of suffering from mechanical woes.
Lowest Starting Position By A Winner
3-time winner and Hall of Fame member Louis Meyer started the 1936 Indy 500 in 28th position. He would go onto win that year, his third 500 win, and lead 96 laps in the process. Meyer retired as a driver in 1939 and returned to being a mechanic and engine builder.
He would take over the Offenhauser engine plant with Dale Drake and together they would develop and build the Meyer-Drake Offy engines which would dominate Indy racing. Those engines powered every Indy 500 winner for a very long time.
Least Number of Pit Stops
Pit stops have become a part of racing and a part of the race strategy. Using them to your advantage frequently determines who wins, who loses and who has to spend a lot of time-saving fuel to make it to the end of the race.
Would you believe, that in the entire history of the Indy 500, four cars have completed the entire race without making a single pit stop? Dave Evans first did it in 1931, followed by Cliff Bergere in 1941, Jimmy Jackson in 1949 and Johnny Mantz in 1949.