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A Celebration of First (and Only) Major Racing Feats – Autoweek

A Celebration of First (and Only) Major Racing Feats – Autoweek
08 Jan
10:33
Daytona 500

Jared C. TiltonGetty Images

The biggest names don’t always win the biggest races. Just ask Trevor Bayne, above, whose only career NASCAR Cup Series win just happened to come in that series’ biggest race in 2011.

To kick off a new year and a new decade, we offer up some incredible racing firsts—more often than not a dream day for each winner.

We hope these stories serve as a little inspiration to underdogs everywhere (and their fans):

1 George Robson: 1946 Indianapolis 500

The 1946 Indianapolis 500 was historic for so many reasons. It was the first race after a four-year break for World War II, the first at the speedway under new owner Tony Hulman, and it was the first of what would become a 61-year run by popular Indianapolis Motor Speedway public address announcer Tom “And He’s On it” Carnegie.

The traditional song, “Back Home Again in Indiana,” was also performed during the prerace festivities for the first time (James Melton took the mic for this one).

On-track, it was yet another first, as George Robson won his first, and only, Indianapolis 500. It was also his first major open-wheel race win. He led 138 laps, including the final 108.

Robson was killed less than four months later on Sept. 2 of 1946 from injuries suffered in a race in Atlanta.

2 Jean-Pierre Beltoise: 1972 F1 Monaco Grand Prix

The 1972 Monaco Grand Prix had several storylines and produced an unlikely winner in Jean-Pierre Beltoise, whose victory was his first and only in Formula 1.

The race was contested on a cold and rainy day, and that may have contributed to Beltoise’s success. Also, consider a few F1 regulars that year—Mario Andretti, Peter Revson—passed on the race so that they could race at Indianapolis that same weekend. Defending series champion Jackie Stewart raced, but was ill with what was determined in the days after the race to be a bleeding ulcer.

Emerson Fittipaldi started on the pole, but Beltoise quickly grabbed the lead from the fourth starting position. And, in part because he was the only one racing ahead of the spray that hampered the rest of the field, Beltoise went on to lead all 80 laps. The race lasted 2 hours, 25 minutes, with the winner’s average race speed just at tick more than 60 mph.

Beltoise spent eight seasons in F1, starting 85 races. He led just 101 laps in his career, including 80 on that May afternoon in 1972.

3 Trevor Bayne: 2011 Daytona 500

In February 2011, Trevor Bayne was at the top of the racing world after winning NASCAR’s biggest race.

Bayne, at just 20 years, 1 day old, became the youngest driver to win the Daytona 500. The win came in just his second career NASCAR Cup Series start.

Bayne held off runner-up Carl Edwards on the second lap of a second green-white-checkered finish by 0.118 second. Bayne did not even leave the season’s first race as the points leader, as earlier he declared that he would only be running a partial Cup schedule in 2011 and that he’d be racing for the title in the second-tier Nationwide Series.

Now, nearly a decade later, Bayne is out of the sport. He’s living back home in Nashville, Tennessee, knowing that he won just once in 185 starts spread out over nine seasons.

If you’re going to win just one NASCAR race, however, the Daytona 500 is not a bad choice.

4 Danica Patrick: 2013 Daytona 500 Pole

Conspiracy theorists have had, and will continue to have, a field day with what happened in NASCAR in qualifying for the 2013 Daytona 500.

Danica Patrick, attempting to qualify for just her 11th NASCAR Cup Series race, not only qualified but won the pole to become the first woman to do so in a NASCAR Cup Series race.

NASCAR conspiracy folks quickly saw how this one just didn’t make sense, even if it did bring bring more eyeballs to the TV for the race and put NASCAR’s fresh new face in the media spotlight leading up to the series’ biggest race.

Consider that in the next six NASCAR races, Patrick qualified 40th, 37th, 41st, 40th, 32nd and 42nd. For the season, she averaged a starting position of 30th on the grid.

She went on to start 191 races in the Cup Series and managed just that one pole. In fact, she qualified in the top five just one other time—a fourth-place effort at Charlotte in 2014.

5 Nico Rosberg: 2016 Formula 1 Champion

In 2016, Nico Rosberg had a goal, he reached it and then he walked away from Formula 1.

At the age of just 31, Rosberg defeated Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by five points for the 2016 championship. Five days later, he shocked the racing world by announcing his retirement.

“I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right,” Rosberg said. “For 25 years in racing, it has been my dream, my one thing, to become Formula 1 world champion.”

And, true to his word, he has remained on the racing sidelines after going out on top.

6 Mario Andretti: 1967 Daytona 500

Is there anything that Mario Andretti could not do if he put his mind to it?

In 1967, Andretti became the first (and to date, only) foreign-born driver to win the Daytona 500 when he piloted a Holman-Moody Ford to the victory. Andretti, who started 12th, pulled away from 1965 winner Fred Lorenzen late and led the final 33 laps before winning the race under caution.

Andretti and Lorenzen were the only two drivers to finish on the lead lap.

Andretti went on to start just seven more races in the top NASCAR series, instead focusing on Indy car and Formula 1. He never again finished inside the top 10 in a NASCAR race, and he crashed out in his final Daytona 500 in 1968.

7 A.J. Foyt: 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans

A.J. Foyt made his only 24 Hours of Le Mans one for the books after he teamed with Dan Gurney to beat Ferrari and capture the top prize.

Gurney and Foyt’s Ford GT40 Mark IV started ninth at Le Mans and went on to not only win the race but become the first car to go 5,000 kilometers in the race. It was Ford’s second consecutive win in a four-year run at Le Mans.

It was also Foyt’s only try at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the world’s No. 1 endurance race took place just two weeks after Foyt had won the 1967 Indianapolis 500.

Foyt’s race schedule in 1967 also included the Daytona 500, where he started fifth, raced his way to the front and led for seven laps before leaving the race after just 44 laps with a bad clutch.

8 Ronnie Bucknum: 1968 Inaugural 250 Mile USAC Race at Michigan

Ronnie Bucknum will forever have a place in the history of Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan, as the driver who won the first race there on Oct. 13, 1968.

Bucknum’s win in the Inaugural 250 Mile USAC race was the only win of his major racing career, which included 23 USAC (Indy car) races and 11 Formula 1 races between 1964 and 1971. His win at Michigan to open the speedway came with a stellar field that included legends Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Bobby Unser and Al Unser.

Bucknum died in 1992 at the age of 56 of complications from diabetes. His son, Jeff, had a racing career in IndyCar and sports cars and is now a professional stunt driver, having most recently played a part in the movie Ford v. Ferrari.

9 Dr. Helmut Marko: 1971 24 Hours of Le Mans

Helmut Marko, who makes news these days as a consultant and often the mouthpiece for Red Bull Racing in Formula 1, was also a pretty fair racer in his day.

In 1971, Marko teamed with Gijs van Lennep to pilot a Porsche 917K to the win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The pair dominated the race to win by two laps over the team’s sister car driven by Richard Attwood and Herbert Muller. The third-place car that year was a Ferrari 512M driven by Americans Sam Posey and Tony Adamowicz that finished 31 laps off the lead.

Marko, who earned a doctorate of law in 1967, retired from active racing in 1972 after losing the sight in his left eye (he was struck by a stone that pierced his visor during a race) at the age of 29.

He raced at Le Mans three times, also earning a class win in 1970. He also started nine Formula 1 races between 1971 and 1972 with a best finish of eighth at Monaco in ’72.

10 Jules Goux: 1913 Indianapolis 500

No, 2019 winner Simon Pagenaud was not the first Frenchman to win the Indianapolis 500. That honor forever belongs to Jules Goux, who won the third Indy 500 in 1913.

The 1913 race marked Goux’s first of six tries at Indianapolis and his only victory. Goux, in a Peugeot, led the 1913 race for 138 laps and finished 13 minutes ahead of runner-up and American Spencer Wishart.

Goux was one of six foreign drivers in the 27-car field.

The average race speed was 75.933 mph and Goux covered the 500 miles in 6 hours, 35 minutes. Legend has it that Goux downed four bottles of Champagne during the race.

Incidentally, the Indy 500 was not Goux’s only “first.” In 1921, he won the inaugural Italian Grand Prix, which was won in 2019 by Charles Leclerc.

Source: https://www.autoweek.com/racing/more-racing/g30381595/a-celebration-of-first-and-only-major-racing-feats/

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