It didn’t take long for Johnny Rutherford to describe the Indianapolis 500.
“Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a different lady,” Rutherford said at Texas Motor Speedway last month.
“She can throw so many curves at you, you can’t believe it. I witnessed it. In the 24 races I ran there, you learn something new and different every day. I can remember one time I went out six different times with the car the same way that we went out the first time, and all six of them, it was different every time we went out. That’s part of the learning curve of Indianapolis.”
Rutherford reminisced about the Indy 500 last month during a visit to TMS. He was trying to help Fernando Alonso’s learning curve as much as possible, but Alonso surprisingly didn’t qualify for Sunday’s Indy 500.
Still, Rutherford is one of the most recognizable drivers when it comes to the Indy 500. He took the checkered flag in the historic race three times (1974, 1976 and 1980) and had top-10 runs five other times.
Asked how much the Indy 500 has changed over the years, Rutherford said: “It is the same, but it’s not. Time heals all wounds and wounds all heal. Let’s see what she’s got for us this year.
“It’s an incredible place and I’ve experienced a lot of different things there.”
Rutherford, a longtime Fort Worth resident, talked about the race and the IndyCar Series, which comes to town next month for the DXC Technology 600 on June 8.
On one-off drivers such as Danica Patrick (2018), Fernando Alonso (2017) racing in the event in recent years: “They’ve got to do something to put fans in the stands. It’s a different ballgame these years. We can’t figure it out. I don’t know if you can remember, but I can remember we couldn’t wait until September to come around because we were going to see what the new Ford and the new Chevrolet and the new Plymouth looked like. Now they all look the same.”
On serving as the honorary pace car driver for years at the Indy 500: “Well, they retired me in 2016 at the 100th running. I was on the track and they told me to come in and they lined up all the crews down pit lane and made me a trophy presentation. It was a shock and a surprise. I enjoyed driving the pace car and still could, but that’s not what they want.”
On racing against Mario Andretti, who won one Indy 500: “You had to really be cautious racing around Mario because he always thought he was the only one on the race track. But he was a racer and he did well. It’s unfortunate that he broke his car so many times [during the Indy 500]. He could probably be a five- or six-time winner in the Indy 500, but he always pushed too hard. That’s the only thing we can say about it. Me as a driver and having been there and done that, just pushing too hard and trying to win by two laps when winning by one foot is plenty.”
On living in Fort Worth: “I was born in Kansas, and it’s a good trivia question -- what three Indy 500 winners were born in Kansas? Me, Rick Mears and Rodger Ward. Rodger was born in Beloit, Rick was born in Wichita and I was born in Coffeyville. Everybody, because of my ‘Lone Star JR’ nickname, kept it a secret, but A.J. Foyt found out. He said, ‘Rutherford, you’ve got to be kidding me! Am I the only Texan to ever win the Indy 500?’
“But I’ve been here since 1950.”