Although Bobby Rahal and Mike Groff qualified the first Honda-powered Indy cars for the 500 Saturday, they aren’t the first Hondas to run on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Research by Tim Considine of Autoweek reveals that Ronnie Bucknum drove a Honda Grand Prix car on a cold November day in 1968 to compare the capabilities of Formula One and Indy cars for Honda chief engineer and designer Yoshio Nakamura.
Bucknum, who later drove in three 500s, was clocked at 171 m.p.h., which would have put the Honda V12 on the front row with the Lotus turbines in 1968. It was apparently the first rear-engine car with a wing to run at Indianapolis.
Bucknum’s son, Jeff, who lives in Pismo Beach, Calif., and drives in the Skip Barber Formula Ford series, visited the Speedway for the first time this week as a guest of Honda. His father, once a prominent Southern California sports car driver, died in 1992.
Trivia time: Why is 33 the magic number of starters in the 500?
When Arie Luyendyk won the Indy 500 pole last year, he became the fifth driver to win rookie of the year, the pole and the 500.
Others are Parnelli Jones, Jimmy Clark, Mario Andretti and Rick Mears.
Although this is his fifth year in Indy car racing, when Willy T. Ribbs practiced last week in a 1994 Lola-Ford Cosworth, it was the first time he had ever been in new equipment.
“It was like driving a Cadillac,” he said.
Trivia answer: Because in 1912, when top speeds were about 85 m.p.h., race officials determined that 400 feet was needed for each car. Since there are 13,200 feet in 2 1/2 miles, that left room for 33 cars.
The tradition of the 500 winner gulping milk in Victory Lane began when Louis Meyer, winner of the 1936 race, was photographed drinking his favorite beverage, buttermilk, after his victory.
An executive of the Milk Foundation, now the American Dairy Assn., saw the picture and decided it had great promotional value. From that day on, the winner has received a bottle of milk to drink.
Emerson Fittipaldi broke with tradition last year when he made his first drink orange juice, then milk. Fittipaldi is a major exporter of orange juice from his native Brazil.