View Full Version : [NEWS] Pace cars roll away with Indy champions

05-25-05, 09:48 PM
From the Indy Star (http://www.indystar.com/):

May 25, 2005

Pace cars roll away with Indy champions

By Phillip B. Wilson
phillip.wilson@indystar.com (phillip.wilson@indystar.com)

Warm-up: Golfer Greg Norman drove the 1998 Corvette pace car. Race winner Eddie Cheever sold his replica to keep his race team going. -- File photo

Al Unser Sr. still owns three of the four pace cars he was awarded for winning the Indianapolis 500. He's missing one because he never got it.

The 1971 Dodge Challenger belongs to the pace car driver, Eldon Palmer, who wrecked on a warm-up lap before Unser's second 500 victory. And Palmer won't sell it.

One of the best perks about winning the 500 is receiving a pace car, a tradition traced to a 1936 suggestion by two-time champion Tommy Milton. Initially, it was the actual car. The giveaways became replicas in 1973 because the original "souped" cars weren't street legal.

Where those pace cars end up, in some cases, nobody knows. A.J. Foyt shrugs about his four. He sold three and gave another to a maid.

"That had to be one helluva maid," said 1998 winner Eddie Cheever, who sold his Chevrolet Corvette to keep his race team afloat.

Because Unser's 1971 car was damaged, he received a Dodge Charger as a substitute. It may as well have been a replica. Unser sold it after five years.

"I didn't keep it because it didn't represent anything," Unser said. "Palmer has my pace car. They rebuilt it. I've tried to buy it."

Palmer's stock answer is that the car, which has just 4,000 miles on the odometer, is not for sale.

"I'd like to hold onto it for sentimental purposes," the 76-year-old local car dealer said. "I don't think it has more sentimental value for anybody than me."

Unser, who turns 66 on race day, wants to put the car with the other three, in his racing museum in Albuquerque, N.M.

"I just told him, 'The day you ever decide to sell it, I'd appreciate a call,' " Unser said. "I told him it was for a museum, but maybe he didn't believe me.

"I don't buy these kinds of things to resell or make any money. It's to have people look at them and to honor the sport."

All four of Rick Mears' replica pace cars ended up in car owner Roger Penske's museum in Scottsdale, Ariz. Mears' parents initially had the pleasure of driving the 1979 Ford Mustang and 1984 Pontiac Fiero home to California. They put more miles on the cars than their son.

Mears said he never gave any thought to selling them.

"It's like a big trophy," he said.

Another of Penske's triumphant drivers isn't ready to see his pace cars put on display in a museum. Two-time winner Helio Castroneves says he's hanging onto his 2002 Chevrolet Corvette and 2001 Oldsmobile Bravada.

"The Corvette, that's the one when I go to the gym, it makes an impression," Castroneves said.

He says his boss inquired about the Bravada for the museum.

"On the first one, yes, but on the second one he hasn't even tried. He knew better," the Brazilian said. "It's nice to have those cars. They're not just cars to me."

Bobby Rahal sold his 1986 Corvette to buy a Porsche from a dealer friend in Jacksonville, Fla. After a few months in the Porsche, Rahal had second thoughts.

"It was all right, a nice car and everything, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought, 'You know that might be the only pace car I win so I better get that thing,' " he said. "So I had to go buy it back."

The car has only 100 miles on it.

"I think I lost money on the whole deal," Rahal said. "In the short term, I lost. But in the end, I've got it and that's what counts."

Arie Luyendyk didn't want the 1997 Oldsmobile Aurora and sold his 1990 Chevrolet Beretta. He wishes he would have kept that second car.

"I do regret selling it," he said. "I wish I could find the guy I sold it to so I could buy it back."

Gordon Johncock recently sold his 1973 Cadillac Eldorado and 1982 Chevrolet Camaro Z28. He got tired of keeping them in storage.

"I should have sold 'em 20 years ago," said Johncock, who didn't get as much as he expected. "After awhile, the mice get in there and the cars just sort of fade away."

Johnny Rutherford has two of his three pace cars. The one exception, a 1974 Hurst/Olds, is a junker in the back yard of a buddy's body shop in Texas. Rutherford initially allowed relatives to keep the car in Indianapolis and they drove it on the roads in the winter.

"The salt started eating on it and ruined it," he said. "It's a shame."

Rutherford said restoring the car is still a consideration.

"I've got four grandsons and I've got three cars. There may be an argument some place," he said. "I may have to sell 'em or hide 'em some place."

Call Star reporter Phillip B. Wilson at (317) 444-6642.

05-25-05, 10:12 PM
Excellent article, thanks for posting.

I had a '78 Black and silver Indy pace car..should have kept it. Bought it with only 184 miles on it, and kept the car for about 10 years...hardly ever drove it, so it had 1,100 miles on her when I sold it.

05-25-05, 10:49 PM
Hi Zippy! :w

05-26-05, 07:24 AM
I actually saw Johnny Rutherford and his '74 Hurst Olds once years ago. My family and I were eating at a Stake 'n Shake on 38th St. in Indy and there he was with his family in the same place. That '74 was parked outside. I was probably 10 or 11 years old at the time.