I Would Drive 500 Miles: Scottish Drivers at the Indy 500
This year marks the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, more commonly known as the Indy 500. Since the race’s inception in 1911, men and women from around the world have participated, but only 5 drivers have come from Scotland. With 2015 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first Scottish win at Indy, here is a look at the five Scots who brought their talent from Dunfermline, Glasgow, Bathgate, Milton, and Kilmany to the Brickyard.
Jim Clark (1936-1968) became the first Scottish driver to compete at the Indy 500 in 1963, going on to start the race in five consecutive years (1963-1967). In his Indy rookie year, Clark took second place, 34.04 seconds behind Parnelli Jones. After dropping out of the 1964 race with suspension problems, Clark rebounded the next year by crossing the finish line in his Lotus-Ford 38/1 almost two full minutes ahead of Jones. The year 1966 witnessed another second place finish, this time to Graham Hill, and 1967 saw an early exit after 35 laps due to piston problems. Unfortunately, Clark would not have the opportunity to compete the next year, as he was killed during a Formula Two race in Hockenheim, Germany on April 7, 1968.
Although Clark focused on Formula One racing during his career, his Indy 500 win in 1965 continues to be recognized as innovative and revolutionary. It ushered in the era of rear engine domination at Indy, and helped create an incredible legacy that has lasted to this day.
The next Scot to compete in the Indianapolis 500 was Jackie Stewart, the “Flying Scot,” who made two Indy appearances in his illustrious career. In 1966, Stewart’s rookie year at Indy, showed the world what an impressive and skillful driver he was. Poised to win the race with only 10 laps to go, Jackie’s scavenge pump broke, forcing him to drop out. His extraordinary performance led him to receive that year’s Rookie of the Year honors over eventual winner Graham Hill (also a 1966 Indy rookie). Returning the next year, Jackie was forced out of the race after 168 laps with engine trouble.
After his time with the Indy 500, Stewart continued to drive in Formula One and Can-Am competitions through 1973, earning 3 Formula One World Drivers’ Championships. After retiring from driving, Stewart stayed in the racing world as a color commentator in the United States and, later, as a Formula One team owner with his son, Paul Stewart. The “Flying Scot,” although not an Indy winner, certainly left his mark on the race with his expertise on the course.
It would take 18 years for another Scottish driver, Jim Crawford, to drive in the Indianapolis 500. Crawford (1948-2002), from Dunfermline, moved to the United States in the early 1980s to pursue his driving career. From 1983 to 1995, Crawford competed in both CART and USAC Champ Car races, including 8 Indy 500s between 1985 and 1993. Retiring early in 1985 and 1986 due to electrical and head gasket issues, he was ready to try again in 1987. Unfortunately, in qualifying attempts, his car spun, hit the wall, and slid over 800 feet on track, which led to season-ending leg injuries.
Crawford had healed enough to compete again at Indy in 1988, and although still in pain and walking with a cane, he achieved his best Indy finish—6th place. Crawford continue to vie for an Indy win from 1989-1993, but finished no better than 15th place in those contests. After failing to qualify in 1994 and 1995, Jim Crawford retired from racing.
Jeff Ward became the next Scottish-born driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Born in Glasgow, Ward’s family moved to California when he was 2 years old. Beginning his racing career in motocross, he switched to four-wheeled racing in 1992. Ward’s first Indy 500 came in 1997, where he finished 3rd and earned Rookie of the Year honors, becoming the 3rd Scot to take the title. (Clark and Stewart were the others.) His best finish at Indy came in 1999, when he finished 2nd to Kenny Brack. After qualifying 4 more times (2000-02 and 2005), Ward left open wheel racing to continue his career in off-road truck racing and motocross/supermoto.
The last Scot to drive in the Indy 500, Dario Franchitti can be considered the most successful in terms of wins at the Brickyard. Qualifying for his first Indy 500 in 2002, Franchitti completed 197 of the 200 laps, ultimately finishing in 19th place. Improving from 2004 to 2006, Dario finally took the checkered flag in 2007, becoming the first Scot to accomplish the feat since Jim Clark’s 1965 victory.
Indy wins would also come to Franchitti in two of the next five years (2010 and 2012). With these two additional checkered flags, he entered an elite group of 10 drivers who have won the race three times. Upon his retirement from racing in 2013, Dario became the most successful UK-born driver in history of open-wheeled racing in the United States. Throughout his career, Franchitti often recognized Jim Clark as his racing hero, and honored Clark’s legacy by driving his 1965 Lotus-Ford 38/1 around the track in Indianapolis and at the 2013 Goodwood Revival Meeting.
In the song “Simple Things,” the Scottish band the Proclaimers talks about finding wonder “in all our striving and our courage and our thunder.” Looking at these five drivers, it is not hard to find wonder in these men and admire them for their striving to be the best, their courage to take on world-class competitors, and the thunderous legacy they left on the track.
Janice Unger is Digital Processing Archivist for Racing at The Henry Ford.