Racing news from the Indiana motorsports scene

NASCAR Drivers At Indy – Fans Love It

A.J. Allmendinger and his team pose at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Allmendinger qualified 5th for the 2013 Indianapolis 500. [Russ Lake Photo]

A.J. Allmendinger and his team pose at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Allmendinger qualified 5th for the 2013 Indianapolis 500. [Russ Lake Photo]

A.J. Allmendinger who qualified fifth for this year’s Indianapolis 500 at a four-lap average speed of 228.099-MPH is the first full-time (or near full-time) NASCAR driver to drive in the “500” since Robby Gordon in 2004. The Los Gatos, CA-native came up through the open wheel CART/Champ Car ladder system in the early 2000’s. Later he made the jump to Toyota and NASCAR in late-2006 after five wins in Champ Car. A.J. has been competitive in the “tin tops” with two career pole positions and 29 top-ten finishes, however that first win is still elusive for the former Red Bull-backed driver. Allmendinger seems like a rejuvenated driver at Indianapolis, especially after his suspension last year in NASCAR for his self-admitted positive test for Adderall. A.J. was competitive in two IZOD IndyCar races earlier this year at the Alabama Grand Prix and Toyota Long Beach GP and has been quick all month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

One may be surprised at all the NASCAR drivers that have competed in the Indianapolis 500, or perhaps is it “500” drivers that have also driven in NASCAR? There has been quite the cross-pollination between the two, that hit its zenith in the late-1960’s-early 1970’s. This year it’s been Allmendinger who’s been getting a lot of media attention. Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and John Andretti did the “double duty” (drive in Indy 500 and Charlotte World 600 on the same day) several times between 1999 and 2004 creating considerable interest with motorsport fans. Who are some other drivers to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and in NASCAR stock cars?

Most fans are familiar with Mario Andretti shocking the NASCAR world in 1967 when he won the Daytona 500. Later, “Super-Tex” A.J. Foyt won the 1972 Daytona 500 in a Wood Brothers Mercury. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

1963 Indy 500 winner, Parnelli Jones has been around IMS all month as he is being honored on Saturday for Legends Day. The Southern California-native actually drove in several NASCAR events before he raced at Indy winning four events at tracks such as Ascot and Riverside. Marshall Teague was at the original NASCAR meeting at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona with Big Bill France in 1947. The husky Daytona-native’s dream was to drive at Indianapolis. He drove in the Indy 500 in 1953 and again in 1957 when he finished seventh. Sadly he lost his life at the Daytona International Speedway driver the Sumar streamliner in 1959 trying to break the closed-course track record.

The most famous of the NASCAR boys to race at Indy may have been the Hueytown, ‘Bama boys of Donnie and Bobby Allison. Donnie raced for A.J. Foyt Enterprises in 1970 and 1971 where he finished fourth and sixth respectively. Bobby drove for Roger Penske at the Speedway in 1973 and 1975 with limited success.

John Andretti started what some may call the traditional way, via the Indiana dirt tracks and later road courses to get to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Andretti later turned to NASCAR driving in 393 races between 1993 and 2010. He drove at Indianapolis from 1988-1994, later came back in 2007 and his last “500” was in 2011, the last three with a partnership with NASCAR Hall of Fame driver, Richard Petty.

Even popular “500” drivers like Al and Bobby Unser, Gordon Johncock, Roger McCluskey, Gary Bettenhausen and many others who drove Indy Cars also made starts in NASCAR races in their careers.

Al Keller made six career Indianapolis 500 starts between 1955 and 1961. The New York state native has an interesting side-bar in NASCAR history. Keller drove in NASCAR from 1949 to 1956 making 29 career starts. He won twice during the 1954 season and was the first driver in the history of NASCAR’s top division to have won a race in a foreign-built car, winning the 1954 Grand National road-race at the Linden Airport in New Jersey, driving a Jaguar XK-120 owned by popular big band leader Paul Whiteman.

Did you know Janet Guthrie who became the first woman driver to race in the Indy 500 in 1977 actually made more NASCAR starts than in USAC Indy Cars? She drove in 33 career NASCAR races between 1976-1980 and made 11 USAC Indy Car starts in the same span.

1965 “500” winner Jimmy Clark drove a Holman & Moody Ford at Rockingham in 1967 and did quite well before losing an engine and dropping out of the race. 1972 “500” winner Mark Donohue won a NASCAR race Riverside in 1973 driving a AMC Matador for Roger Penske. It was Penske’s first NASCAR win as a car owner.

Andy Hillenburg drove sprint cars throughout the midwest in the 1980’s however the Indianapolis-native’s dream was always to race in the Indianapolis 500. His dream came true in 2000 when he made the race and on race day finished 28th. The current owner of Rockingham Speedway made 29 career NASCAR starts between 1998-2004 in all three top divisions.

Johnny Rutherford, Jim Hurtubise, Dan Gurney, Tony Stewart, and Juan Pablo Montoya are some of the drivers that won in both NASCAR and in USAC, IRL, Champ Car sanctioned races.

Fans welcome drivers like A.J. Allmendinger running the “500” and hope that Kurt Busch will do the same next year. It’s not only good for IndyCar and NASCAR, but also the overall health of motorsports.

The 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues with the 97th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on Sunday, May 26, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be televised live at 11 a.m. (ET) by ABC and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, including on Sirius and XM Channels 211 and www.indycar.com.

Share Button


Steve Zautke, a Milwaukee, WI native, was raised in the sport of auto racing. His father, Bill, was a movie photographer that shot racing footage at tracks such as the Milwaukee Mile and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Steve's first professional job in racing was as an Emergency Medical Technician at tracks such as Angell Park and Hales Corners Speedway (1988-1991). Steve has also worked as a videographer for the Milwaukee Mile, reporter for Racing Information Systems (RIS), has written features for 'Vintage Oval Racing' and 'Victory Lane' magazines and currently works as historian and on special projects for the Milwaukee Mile. Steve also co-hosts "Sparky's Final Inspection" a NASCAR-based radio show with hosts, Steve "Sparky" Fifer and "NASCAR Girl" Summer Santana on a rotating basis with fellow RacingNation.com editor, John Wiedemann (Sports Radio 1250AM in Milwaukee and on the internet at www.Sportradio1250.com). Steve follows all types of racing from sprints and midgets to Formula 1. However, has a soft-spot for the old USAC Stock Car series, Jimmy Clark, Bobby Unser and Jim Hurtubise. E-mail Steve Zautke at szautke@wi.rr.com