Indy 500 celebrates 100 years

Alex Tagliani's helmet sports the logo of the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 this...

Alex Tagliani's helmet sports the logo of the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 this Sunday. (REUTERS/Brent Smith)

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:41 PM ET

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis 500 turns 100 years old on Sunday and while Canadians were not part of that first race back in 1911, they have been a significant part of the event over the past century.

At the centre of Sunday’s celebration will be Montreal’s Alex Tagliani who will start on the pole — the first Canadian ever to do so — in the centennial edition of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

In the race will be Toronto’s Paul Tracy, who will start 25th and James Hinchcliffe, of Oakville, who will start 13th in his rookie attempt at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

And Canada’s Jacques Villeneuve’s face is on the Indy 500 Borg Warner Trophy for his win back in 1995.

There is one Canadian, however, who has been part of more Indy 500s than any other and that is Scott Goodyear.

Goodyear’s name is in the record book as being part of the closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history when be battled Al Unser Jr. to the checkered flag, finishing second by .043 of a second in 1992.

He was part of 12 consecutive races at Indy starting in 1990 through to 2001.

After retiring from the cockpit, Goodyear has kept his string of being at Indy on the U.S. Memorial Day weekend alive as a colour commentator on ABC/ESPN’s telecasts of the race.

So he has been there from the glory days of the early 1990s when IndyCar racing dominated the motorsports scene in North America to the disastrous split that tore apart open wheel racing for more than a decade.

He talked this week about the race itself and how it has emerged from the split and what it still means to the sporting world as it enters its centennial season.

“I think when the split was here there was confusion,” Goodyear said.

He used the example of a sponsorship deal he had with the electronics retailing giant Best Buy for the Indy 500 in 1996 which suddenly disappeared when the Indy Racing League and CART became separate racing sanctioning bodies.

Going into the centennial event on Sunday as a unified series, Goodyear said, has given the Indy 500 a fresh coat of paint.

“Unification couldn’t have happened soon enough,” Goodyear said. “I think it’s been a positive. And I think moving forward there is no confusion not only for the sponsors, but more importantly probably the fans.

“Now they believe they are watching everybody on one track, they are watching the best, and there is no controversy about what they’re looking at.”

Goodyear said the Indy 500 and open wheel racing still has a ways to go to get back the kind of fan base it had back in his heyday, but he’s confident the series is on the right track.

He said when he was just starting out, trying to get a chance to compete at Indianapolis, there was a buzz about the sport in the general sports community.

But he was also there to see that kind of fan involvement move to NASCAR and stock car racing.

“When I had my chance in 1990 to come to the speedway and went to different tracks around the country in the CART era, you’d get off the plane in a place like Phoenix and walk to a 7-Eleven and there would be a Bobby Rahal or a Danny Sullivan (cardboard) stand-up promoting the beer or the race and everything like that,” he said.

“There was no doubt the race was in town. And the split changed all that. Now everybody knows the NASCAR sponsors, the NASCAR names.”

Goodyear thinks the NASCAR era in motorsports may have hit its peak, however, and that has created an opportunity for open wheel racing to make a comeback. He thinks this centennial era celebration could be the impetus to make that happen.

“(NASCAR) seems to maybe have hit its peak or what have you, or now IndyCar is starting to raise its level,” he said.

“There is no doubt it’s getting back to being popular. The interest level is really, really big right now.

“Not only from the people in the industry that are on the edge of it, but also people that you bump into getting gas, having food.

“I was in Toronto recently, and they were all hopeful that Paul Tracy would get a ride. Obviously they know the name, but they’re paying attention to it.

“That’s what we need in this sport. I’m excited where it’s going to be not only next year, but two or three years from now and three to five years from now.”

Goodyear said it appears that everyone in the sport has embraced this 100-year anniversary as something that will lift the sport back to the prominence it once enjoyed.

“Speaking of the history, I think being around the track and seeing all the events and the marketing machine now revved up for the series and for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the centennial ... tells you exactly how this event here is growing and continuing to grow, and the historical significance that it has,” he said.

“Part of that I think for me was that I was definitely a huge Mario Andretti fan growing up in Toronto.

“And watching the IndyCar stuff with Mario was really enlightening, and probably gave me the opportunity to think I too, could go off and compete in IndyCar.”


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