The Indianapolis 500 has a rich and proud heritage of being an international event.
It’s a reputation that dates back to the Indy 500’s inaugural running in 1911, when it was promoted as the “International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race” and attracted European drivers and car manufacturers. Frenchman Jules Goux, in a Peugeot, won the third 500 in 1913, further establishing it as the world’s best-known race.
For most of the 20th century, American drivers dominated the Indy 500, in both victories and starting positions. They won every race from 1921 to the final pre-World War II race of 1941. George Robson, born in England and raised in Canada and the United States, won the first post-war 500 in 1946. The next non-American was Scotland’s Jim Clark, a Formula 1 world champion who brought the rear-engine revolution to its initial victory at Indy in 1965. He was followed by F1 world champion Graham Hill of England in 1966.
Their presence enhanced the 500’s reputation and stature on the global stage. They became the standard by which Mario Andretti, Bobby and Al Unser, Parnelli Jones and A.J. Foyt could measure themselves. Andretti went on to become F1 world champion in 1978, while Foyt and Jones turned down offers to race in F1. Throw in Dan Gurney’s ability to win races in both F1 and IndyCar and the conclusion was Americans could pull out wins against anybody, anywhere.
Fast forward to Sunday’s 94th Indy 500. There are nine Americans in the starting lineup of 33 cars, an all-time low. There were 11 last year. They’ve become a vanishing breed, a trend that can be traced to Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi’s Indy victory in 1989, the first by a non-American since Hill.