1988 633 26 Roger Penske Rick Mears Aj Foyt
Roger Penske (left), Rick Mears (center) and A.J. Foyt at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1988. (SPEED SPORT Archives photo)

INSIDER: Who’s The King Of Indy?

As Indianapolis Motor Speedway prepares for the 108th Indianapolis 500 on May 26, it’s a chance to celebrate the glorious history of this race and anticipate the excitement of what will happen next.

There have been many great heroes of the Indianapolis 500, and some who have become Hall of Famers.

But the ones that stand above the rest hold a special place of royalty at this shrine of motorsports.

So, let’s ponder this question: Who is the King of Indy?

For some, it’s A.J. Foyt, the grand champion of the Indianapolis 500 and the first man to win the famed race four times.

Foyt had a larger-than-life presence and was the John Wayne of his era during an Indianapolis career that began in 1958 and ended in 1993.

Others may prefer Rick Mears, the smooth driver for Team Penske who made winning look easy. He scored his Indianapolis 500 victories in 1979, ’84, ’88 and ’91. Mears retired in 1992.

What about the Unsers – four-time winner Al and three-time winner Bobby? 

These two were as dissimilar in driving style as possible. Al was cool and methodical and lurked in the background, waiting for the race to come to him. Bobby was the hard charger, who put his car up front and tried to stay there until the checkered flag. 

Helio Castroneves is the fourth four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and could become the first five-time winner later this month.

There are other drivers who were Indianapolis 500 stars, but only won the race once, including Mario Andretti in 1969 and Scott Dixon in 2008.

Some drivers who could have been King were cruelly taken too soon, such as 1953 and ’54 Indianapolis 500 winner Bill Vukovich, who was killed in a gruesome crash on the backstretch while leading the 1955 race.

There are two men who could fit the crown on their head as King of Indy because of what they have meant to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 — Anton “Tony” Hulman and Roger Penske.

Hulman saved the track from extinction when he purchased the dilapidated facility from Eddie Rickenbacker in November 1945. Hulman restored the Indianapolis 500 and built it into the world’s largest single-day sporting event.

Penske is the top winner among car owners in Indianapolis 500 history with 19, including Josef Newgarden’s winning ride last year. That alone would earn Penske consideration for King status, but there is more to Penske than his success as an Indy 500 team owner.

On Nov. 4, 2019, Penske purchased Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar from the Hulman-George Family, ending 74 years of ownership that began with Tony Hulman.

SPEED SPORT posed the question to a cross section of Indy 500 legends and current drivers, “Who is the King of Indy?”


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