Old hot rods and retired Indy 500 drivers showed Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that they both still have some speed. Two-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Jr. and his amateur partner Peter Klutt won the Indy Legends Pro-Am race, the feature event of the three-day inaugural Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational.
"It was really special out there,” said Unser, who drank milk on the victory podium. “I mean this whole historic event is a real reach for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and I think it's a huge success."
Unser drove a 1969 Chevrolet Corvette in a 45 minute race between American muscle cars manufactured from 1963-72. Past Indy 500 drivers were matched with the amateur owners of the Corvettes, Camaros and Mustangs. One driver change was required during the timed raced on the on the recently reconfigured 2.43-mile road course at the Speedway.
"It's a lot of fun,” said Scott Goodyear, who finished second twice in his 11 Indy 500 starts. “This is probably the most relaxed you'll ever be when you come to the Speedway."
Dick Simon started 17 races at Indianapolis, his last 500 in 1988. As a car owner, he fielded as many as seven entries in 1995.
"I got in the car for the first time yesterday,” said the 80-year-old Simon, who drove a ’64 Corvette in his return to the Brickyard. “I thought I was at Indy, so I go roaring into turn one and found out very quick I can't go in that deep. So I'm just going to try to stay out of trouble today and have a good race."
1963 Indy 500 champion Parnelli Jones served as grand marshal and led the 24 car field on to the track with Unser on the pole. This was a charity race. The cars were supposed to come back without a scratch. But 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier bashed in the front of a 1971 Camaro owned by Sean Ryan.
"Everybody says we are going to have fun,” said Eliseo Salazar, a six-time Indy 500 starter who finished second in the Pro-Am. “But once we put on the helmet, it's like it's the Indy 500 all over again. I could see people braking late and all the usual stuff."
"It's like going out on a hot new date,” said Willy T. Ribbs, who finished third Sunday in a ‘72 Corvette. “It's fun.”
Ribbs became the first African-American driver in the Indy 500 in 1991.
Other former Indianapolis 500 drivers competing in the Indy Legends Pro-Am included Lyn St. James, Mark Dismore, Johnny Parsons Jr., Alex Lloyd, Pete Halsmer, Robby Unser, Rocky Moran, Jaques Lazier, Robby McGehee, Spike Gehlhausen, Billy Roe, Scott Harrington, Rick Treadway, Tom Bagley, Bob Lazier, P.J. Chesson and John Martin.
The Sportscar Vintage Racing Association sanctioned the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational. More than 700 racecars competed in 12 different classes on the IMS road course. The event also featured exhibition runs on the oval. Race fans could meet drivers, get close to historic racecars and speak with knowledgeable car owners. This event marked the first time that a vintage racing series competed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.