Every Indy 500 pace car and its driver, 1911 to 2021

Danica Patrick is the latest in a long roll-call of celebrities and/or motorsport figures to drive the pace car and lead the eleven rows of three to the green flag.

Every Indy 500 pace car and its driver, 1911 to 2021

In fact, it was Indianapolis Motor Speedway founder Carl Fisher who came up with the idea of ditching the standing start for the more spectacular – and in Fisher’s mind, safer – rolling start. He would lead the field – at that time, 40 cars arranged in eight rows of five! – driving a Stoddard-Dayton at 45mph.

Every Indy 500 has used a pace car ever since. Fisher paced the first five and then it became the duty and honor of various automotive industry figures or retired racers, and a great marketing tool for car manufacturers to supply the cars. That had the potential to raise some interesting juxtapositions – Louis Chevrolet piloting a Chrysler in 1926, for instance – and cause some issues after the race, too. From 1936 it became traditional for the 500 winner to be awarded the pace car, but in ’65, the Ford Motor Company, fundamental to Team Lotus’s assault on the Indy 500, did not let its winner Jimmy Clark accept the keys to the Plymouth Sport Fury pace car.

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Up to and including 1956, the pace car led the field for just one warm-up lap before pulling aside on the front straight and ‘releasing’ the charging pack behind. In 1957, this became two laps in order to allow fans in the main grandstand to take in and photograph the eleven rows of three rumbling along behind the pace car.

That worked out particularly well in 1958 for the man driving the pace car, a beautiful Pontiac Bonneville (pictured at top of page), because that man was Sam Hanks. He won Indy the previous year at his 13th attempt, but had then announced in Victory Lane that he was retiring from racing. Thus in ’58, the crowd got their chance to salute the reigning Indy 500 champion who had chosen not to defend his crown.

In fact, Hanks would pace the field for six straight years, always with track owner Tony Hulman as a passenger and over the years, the number of passengers that rode with Hulman grew and included celebrities.

In 1971, one of these was the legendary astronaut John Glenn, and nothing he encountered while serving with the USAF in World War II and the Korean War, working as a test pilot or flying in outer space could have prepared him for this particular ride. The owner of a local Dodge dealership, Eldon Palmer, drove the Challenger pace car at breakneck speed along pitlane, but the cone he’d put out to mark his braking point had been moved and so he outbraked himself by a long way. The Challenger slewed out of control and into a photographers’ stand, causing several injuries.

Like Hanks, 1960 Indy winner Jim Rathmann served as pace car driver six times, and while it wasn’t necessary to have pace car drivers that good, celebrity drivers with racing experience were seen as preferable. James Garner jumped at the chance to pace the field in ’75, ’77 – the first year that pace cars led the field for three laps – and ’85.

Until 1979, the pace car would never be seen on track between the beginning and end of the race, caution periods being controlled by the leader of the race. However, from ’79, in order to keep the drivers circulating at a safe pace while whatever had caused the yellow was resolved, the pace car would reemerge in front of the pack. That meant that the pace car, while still having a ‘celeb’ drive it on pre-race pace laps, needed handing off to a professional.

For many years, that pro was three-time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, who was the IndyCar Series’ regular pace car driver. When he retired from this duty at the end of 2016, former IndyCar favorite Sarah Fisher took over the role of professional pace car driver at IMS.

This year’s celebrity pace car driver in the Corvette C8 Stingray hardtop convertible could of course be trusted to control the field during any cautions throughout the race, because it’s Danica Patrick – the first woman ever to lead the 500 and to finish in the top three. Indeed, she scored top 10 finishes in six of her eight races there.

However, it’s that very experience that means Patrick is in demand by NBC for the third straight year, so when she scuttles off to the commentary booth at the end of the pace laps, she will cede the Corvette’s seat to Fisher.

Year Car Driver
1911 Stoddard-Dayton Carl G. Fisher
1912 Stutz Carl G. Fisher
1913 Stoddard-Dayton Carl G. Fisher
1914 Stoddard-Dayton Carl G. Fisher
1915 Packard 6 (Model 5-48) Carl G. Fisher
1916 Premier 6 (Model 6-56) Frank E. Smith
1919 Packard V12 (called Twin Six) Jesse G. Vincent
1920 Marmon 6 (Model 34) Barney Oldfield
1921 H.C.S. 6 Harry C. Stutz
1922 National Sextet Barney Oldfield
1923 Duesenberg Fred Duesenberg
1924 Cole V8 Lew Pettijohn
1925 Rickenbacker 8 Eddie Rickenbacker
1926 Chrysler Imperial 80 Louis Chevrolet
1927 LaSalle V-8 Series 303 Willard "Big Boy" Rader
1928 Marmon 8 (Model 78) Joe Dawson
1929 Studebaker President Roadster George Hunt
1930 Cord L-29 Wade Morton
1931 Cadillac 370 Twelve "Big Boy" Rader
1932 Lincoln Model KB Edsel Ford
1933 Chrysler Imperial Convertible Roadster Byron Foy
1934 LaSalle Model 350 "Big Boy" Rader
1935 Ford V8 Harry Mack
1936 Packard 120 Tommy Milton
1937 LaSalle Series 50 Ralph DePalma
1938 Hudson 112 Stuart Baits
1939 Buick Roadmaster 80 Charles Chayne
1940 Studebaker Champion Two Door Sedan Harry Hartz
1941 Chrysler Newport Parade Phaeton A.B. Couture
Year Car Driver Passengers
1946 Lincoln Continental V-12 Henry Ford II Wilbur Shaw
1947 Nash Ambassador George W. Mason
1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster Six Wilbur Shaw
1949 Oldsmobile 88 Wilbur Shaw
1950 Mercury Benson Ford
1951 Chrysler New Yorker V8 David A. Wallace
Chrysler New Yorker leads the 1951 field with a front row comprising Duke Nalon, eventual winner Lee Wallard and Jack McGrath.

Chrysler New Yorker leads the 1951 field with a front row comprising Duke Nalon, eventual winner Lee Wallard and Jack McGrath.

Photo by: IndyCar Series

Year Car Driver Passengers
1952 Studebaker Commander Convertible P.O. Peterson
1953 Ford Crestline Sunliner William Clay Ford, Sr.
1954 Dodge Royal 500 William C. Newburg
1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Thomas H. Keating Tony Hulman
1956 DeSoto Fireflite Convertible L.I. Woolson Tony Hulman
DeSoto Fireflite heads Pat Flaherty's winning Watson-Offy, Jim Rathmann and Pat O'Connor in 1956.

DeSoto Fireflite heads Pat Flaherty's winning Watson-Offy, Jim Rathmann and Pat O'Connor in 1956.

Photo by: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Year Car Driver Passengers
1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser F.C. Reith Tony Hulman
1958 Pontiac Bonneville Sam Hanks Tony Hulman
1959 Buick Electra 225 Sam Hanks Tony Hulman
1960 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Sam Hanks Tony Hulman
1961 Ford Thunderbird Sam Hanks Tony Hulman
1962 Studebaker Lark Daytona Convertible Sam Hanks Tony Hulman
1963 Chrysler 300 Sam Hanks Tony Hulman
1964 Ford Mustang Benson Ford Tony Hulman
1965 Plymouth Sport Fury P.M. Buckminster Tony Hulman
1966 Mercury Comet Cyclone GT Benson Ford Tony Hulman, Gus Grissom
1967 Chevrolet Camaro Mauri Rose Tony Hulman
The Chevy Camaro Indy 500 pace cars from 1967, ’69, ’82 and ’93.

The Chevy Camaro Indy 500 pace cars from 1967, ’69, ’82 and ’93.

Photo by: Andy Sallee

Year Car Driver Passengers
1968 Ford Torino GT William Clay Ford, Sr. Tony Hulman, Duke Nalon
1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS Jim Rathmann Tony Hulman, Pete Conrad
1970 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 Rodger Ward Tony Hulman, Pete Conrad
1971 Dodge Challenger Eldon Palmer Tony Hulman, John Glenn, Chris Schenkel
1972 Hurst/Olds Cutlass Jim Rathmann Tony Hulman, Pete Conrad, Chris Schenkel, Bob Draper, Dolly Cole
1973 Cadillac Eldorado Jim Rathmann Tony Hulman, Alfred Worden, Chris Schenkel, Bob Lund, Dolly Cole
1974 Hurst/Olds Cutlass Jim Rathmann Tony Hulman, Frank Borman, Chris Schenkel, Bill Kay
1975 Buick Century Custom V-8 James Garner Tony Hulman, Jim Rathmann
1976 Buick Century V6 Marty Robbins Tony Hulman, Jim Rathmann, Chris Schenkel
1977 Oldsmobile Delta 88 James Garner Tony Hulman
1978 Chevrolet Corvette C3 Jim Rathmann
1978 Corvette C3 leads Tom Sneva (Penske), Danny Ongais (Parnelli) and Rick Mears (Penske). Eventual winner Al Unser (Chaparral-run Lola) is in the middle of the second row.

1978 Corvette C3 leads Tom Sneva (Penske), Danny Ongais (Parnelli) and Rick Mears (Penske). Eventual winner Al Unser (Chaparral-run Lola) is in the middle of the second row.

Photo by: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Year Car Driver (start) Driver (caution periods)
1979 Ford Mustang Jackie Stewart Jim Rathmann
1980 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo Johnnie Parsons Don Bailey
1981 Buick Regal V6 Duke Nalon Duke Nalon
1982 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 Jim Rathmann Don Bailey
1983 Buick Riviera Convertible Duke Nalon Don Bailey
1984 Pontiac Indy Fiero John Callies Don Bailey
1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais James Garner Don Bailey
1986 Chevrolet Corvette convertible Chuck Yeager Don Bailey
1987 Chrysler LeBaron Carroll Shelby Don Bailey
1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Chuck Yeager Don Bailey
1989 Pontiac Trans Am Bobby Unser Don Bailey
1990 Chevrolet Beretta Convertible Jim Perkins Don Bailey
1991 Dodge Viper RT/10 Carroll Shelby Don Bailey
1992 Cadillac Allante Bobby Unser Don Bailey
1993 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 Jim Perkins Don Bailey
1994 Ford Mustang Cobra Parnelli Jones Don Bailey
1995 Chevrolet Corvette C4 convertible Jim Perkins Don Bailey
1996 Dodge Viper GTS Bob Lutz Don Bailey
1997 Oldsmobile Aurora Johnny Rutherford Don Bailey
1998 Chevrolet Corvette C5 Parnelli Jones Don Bailey
1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Jay Leno Don Bailey
2000 Oldsmobile Aurora Anthony Edwards Don Bailey
2001 Oldsmobile Bravada* Elaine Irwin Mellencamp Don Bailey
2002 Chevrolet Corvette C5 Jim Caviezel Joie Chitwood III
2003 Chevrolet SSR* Herb Fishel Johnny Rutherford
2004 Chevrolet Corvette C5 Morgan Freeman Joie Chitwood III
2005 Chevrolet Corvette C6 convertible General Colin Powell Joie Chitwood III
General Colin Powell gets instruction from Johnny Rutherford in 2005.

General Colin Powell gets instruction from Johnny Rutherford in 2005.

Photo by: Ron McQueeney

Year Car Driver (start) Driver (caution periods)
2006 Chevrolet Corvette C6 Z06 coupe Lance Armstrong Johnny Rutherford
2007 Chevrolet Corvette C6 Patrick Dempsey Johnny Rutherford
2008 Chevrolet Corvette C6 Z06 Emerson Fittipaldi Johnny Rutherford
2009 Chevrolet Camaro SS Josh Duhamel Johnny Rutherford
2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS Robin Roberts Johnny Rutherford
2011 Chevrolet Camaro A. J. Foyt Johnny Rutherford
2012 Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1 Guy Fieri Johnny Rutherford
2013 Chevrolet C7 Corvette Stingray Jim Harbaugh Johnny Rutherford
2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 Dario Franchitti Johnny Rutherford
2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Jeff Gordon Johnny Rutherford
2016 Chevrolet Camaro Roger Penske Johnny Rutherford
2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Jeffrey Dean Morgan Sarah Fisher
2018 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 Victor Oladipo Sarah Fisher
2019 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Sarah Fisher
2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Mark Reuss Sarah Fisher
2021 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible Danica Patrick Sarah Fisher

 

Photo by: IndyCar

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