Art Imitates Life In Racing For IndyCar’s ‘Lone Star JR’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 27 2021

John Rutherford unveiled the drawing he made for the cover of the 2021 Indianapolis 500 program. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

INDIANAPOLIS – Call it art for J.R.’s sake.

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford has created a one-off Official Souvenir Program cover for the race’s 105th edition, hand-drawing the cars of four-time champions A.J. Foyt Jr., Al Unser and Rick Mears. 

Rutherford, a passionate artist, used a pencil method to draw the cars of the race’s winningest drivers _ who all share an anniversary in 2021. Rutherford drew the No. 1 Bowes Seal Fast Trevis/Offy roadster fellow-Texan Foyt drove to his first Indy 500 victory 60 years ago, in 1961; the No. 1 Johnny Lightning P.J. Colt/Ford Special in which Big Al earned his second Indy win 50 years ago, in 1971 and Mears’ iconic red-and-white No. 3 Marlboro Penske/Chevrolet Indy A in which he won his fourth Indy 500 in 1991 _ 30 years ago.

“It’s an honor to be a part of this project and to do this program cover,” said Rutherford, 83, who scored his 500 victories in 1974, 1976 and 1980. “I just hope the fans like it and everybody enjoys the fact that it was me, a three-time winner here, that drew that. Add this to what I’ve accomplished at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in my career, and it’s special.”

Rutherford earned his Indy 500 victories in 1974 and ‘76 driving for Team McLaren, the organization founded by the late driver/constructor Bruce McLaren of New Zealand. “Lone Star J.R.” added his third Indy 500 win in 1980 driving fellow-Texan Jim Hall’s Chaparral _ the famed Pennzoil “Yellow Submarine” that launched the ground-effects era at the Speedway.

Rutherford was hired by Teddy Mayer, team principal of McLaren’s Formula One program throughout the 1970s, in 1973 and continued with the organization through 1979. Rutherford said Mayer and McLaren brought a new level of professionalism into Gasoline Alley.

“For sure,” Rutherford said. “(Crew chief) Tyler Alexander and I had a great communications line between us and it was amazing that they hired me. I told (wife) Betty all along, ‘If we could ever find anybody that likes to race as much as I do, we’ll be winners.’ And that was it.”

Starting on the front row of the 1980 Indianapolis 500 were three American auto racing giants: Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti and Johnny Rutherford.

Alexander started his career as Bruce McLaren’s chief mechanic, working alongside McLaren and fellow- American Mayer, before becoming chief engineer and a director. Under his guidance, Team McLaren became a force in F1 as well as a success in the United States in Can-Am sports cars and the INDYCAR series.

Rutherford’s place in domestic open-wheel history has not been lost on Zak Brown, chief executive of McLaren Racing. A 49-year-old native of Los Angeles, Brown directs McLaren’s worldwide professional motorsport involvement, spearheaded by the McLaren Formula One team.

“Zak called me Christmas Eve to wish me Merry Christmas _ I couldn’t believe it,” Rutherford said. “I asked him if I would be involved with the team at Indianapolis and he said, ‘Count on it.’ So that’s good.”

Rutherford connected with the team’s current lineup at Arrow McLaren SP by “hanging out” in the pits of Pato O’Ward during the NTT IndyCar Series Genesys 300/XPEL 375 doubleheader weekend at Texas Motor Speedway on May 1-2. On cue, O’Ward _ a 22-year-old native of Mexico with family ties to San Antonio, Texas _ scored his breakthrough series victory in his 26th career start in the XPEL 375.

O’Ward, driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, passed two-time series champion Josef Newgarden with 24 laps remaining in the 248-lapper and pulled away to a 1.2443-second victory. The win came after five top-three finishes _ including three as runnerup _since O’Ward became a fulltime driver in the series. Included in those stats was a third-place finish in the Genesys 300, Race 1 of the inaugural doubleheader around TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth.

After filling Newgarden’s rearview mirrors with a series of fake moves for several laps, O’Ward took the bit with a bold pass below the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet through the 24-degree banking of Turn 3.

Rutherford joined in the post-race celebration and spoke briefly with O’Ward. “I said to him, ‘When you get to Indianapolis patience is really going to pay off…you have to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time.’ He nodded and agreed. Anyway, I think he showed a lot of patience during that Texas race. He just sat in the right spot (behind Newgarden), waited, checked the laps and how far it was and what he had to do and he just did it. He’s got great talent.”

Ironically, it was McLaren’s first INDYCAR win since Rutherford swept a Twin 125-mile doubleheader at Atlanta Motor Speedway on April 22, 1979.

“It was good to be back with McLaren,” Rutherford said. “For the first race on Saturday, there was a lady bug came along and landed on the place where I was sitting. I pointed it out to one of the mechanics I know, and said, ‘That’s my good luck charm.’ And during the second race, there was one that landed on one of the guys’ paperwork. He got it on his finger and walked it over to me and said, ‘Good luck!’ And I said, ‘You got it.’ It’s kind of neat to have things like that remembered. They all said, ‘You’re our good luck,’ so I’m with them at Indy.”

Former McLaren driver Johnny Rutherford congratulates current McLaren driver Pato O’Ward at Texas earlier this year.

Rutherford’s lady bug/good luck charm story dates to pre-race ceremonies for the 1980 Indy 500, where he qualified P1. “I had a lady bug going around in circles on my shoulder as we stood on the grid waiting to get into the car,” Rutherford said. “I told Jim Hall and Steve Roby, my crew chief, ‘Tell the rest of these guys to load-up and go home.’^”

Rutherford said he has enjoyed interacting with O’Ward and teammate Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden, driver of the No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevy. The team’s two full-timers have been joined at IMS by two-time Indy 500 champ Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia in a No. 86 Mission Arrow McLaren SP entry honoring the late Peter Revson’s record pole-winning run and runnerup finish in 1971. Revson’s four-lap average qualifying speed of 178.696  mph in the No. 86 McLaren/Offy shattered the existing track record by over seven mph, completing his 10 miles in just 3:21.46. 

Rutherford acknowledged the McLaren organization he knew from the 1970s is totally different from the current iteration, as he discovered from his seat aboard O’Ward’s pit box at TMS.   

“The cars are so technical now it’s unbelievable,” said Rutherford, referring to the team’s Chevrolet-powered Dallara chassis fitted with INDYCAR’s Aeroscreen cockpit safety device. ”They’ve got everything in the world they can change and they figure it out. The one thing I heard and saw (during O’Ward’s win) was the guy talking to O’Ward from the pits (Taylor Kiel, president Arrow McLaren SP), they have a good situation going.

“That was the thing Tyler Alexander and I had _ I understood what Tyler was saying he was going to do and he understand what I told him what it was doing. So we worked things out and had a lot of good races together.”

Rutherford recalled that after striking his deal with the team, Mayer brought a McLaren to IMS for a test. “It was not very good,” Rutherford said. “It understeered terribly, pushed the front end really bad. And so we tested for three days and we couldn’t get it to come around the way I wanted it and the way Tyler wanted it.

“Anyway, they sent the car back to England. And I didn’t find out until a year or two ago _ the designer and I had lunch together at McLaren when I presented the (1974) car to them that we won in _ I asked him, ‘What did you do to that car when they sent it back to England?’ And he said, ‘I redesigned the rear suspension completely.’ That was something because I got in the car and we were the first crew to ever run 200 mph (unofficially) around the Speedway. It was so good I could run flat-footed all around the track. That was my dream come true.”

Rutherford thereupon officially began his McLaren tenure at IMS by qualifying on-pole for the 1973 race at 198.413 mph in the No. 7 Gulf/McLaren Offenhauser. Rutherford had the crowd on its feet on a cold and rain-threatening first day of time trials, when one of his four laps was turned at 199.071 mph. Taking note of the fans gesturing wildly outside the new Turn 2 VIP suites, Rutherford said, “I’m thinking to myself, ‘Either something is falling off the car or else I’m going very, very quickly.’^”

Rutherford went on to a ninth-place Race Day finish. In succession, J.R. won in 1974 driving the No. 3 McLaren/Offy; finished second in 1975 to Bobby Unser while driving the No. 2 Gatorade McLaren/Offy; won in ’76 in the No. 2 Hy-Gain McLaren/Offy from P1; finished 33rd/last after recording only 12 laps in 1977 due to a gearbox failure in the No. 2 1st National City Travelers Checks McLaren/Cosworth; placed 13th in 1978 in the No. 4 1st National City Traveler’s Checks McLaren/Cosworth and finished 18th in the No. 4 Budweiser McLaren/Cosworth in 1979.

Rutherford noted his victory under caution after 102 laps in the rain-shortened 1976 race was the last for the venerable Offenhauser 4-cylinder powerplant. After qualifying on-pole at 188.957 mph, Rutherford led three times for 48 laps in a battle with Houston native and then three-time race-winner Foyt, who finished second. The Offy’s winning average speed was 148.725 mph.

“That was quite a while ago and time marches on,” Rutherford said. “Some of the (current) crew I’ve talked with, they remember. Of course, I was with two of the best teams in racing then _ McLaren and then Jim Hall with the Chaparral.”

The 2021 program cover is a collaboration between Rutherford and IMS graphic designer Amiah Mims. After Rutherford provided drawings of the cars, Mims reimagined the 1980 INDYCAR champion’s artwork in a digital format and integrated it onto a digitally created background that highlights the cars Rutherford drew, as well as the world-famous Yard of Bricks.

Mims is a freelance artist who has been involved in Indianapolis-area works including Welcome Race Fans 2019, the Black Lives Matter Boarded Window Mural project, the Black Lives Matter Street Mural project and the Indianapolis Recorder building mural, among other projects.

“Designing, illustrating and painting has always been my passion, and I’m proud to be able to use my love for art to help tell the history of the Indianapolis 500,” Mims said. “It’s an honor to be one of many artists to have had a part in the Indianapolis 500 and to work alongside a legend like Johnny Rutherford.”

The Official Program was created with the help of three well-known printing organizations. The program cover was printed by Lake County Press, while the interior and binding was printed by Hess Print Solutions. The customer loyalty poster insert was printed by Miles Printing, a woman-owned and local printing business.

The Official Program cover features a four-color process with a metallic ink, tinted varnish and two reticulation plates. The 208-page program is available for $15 at shop.ims.com and at Official Trackside Gift Shops at IMS and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

Feature stories touting “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” include:

_ Results of the Race for Equality & Change after 10 months.

_ An insightful feature on retired IMS Historian Donald Davidson.

_ Appreciation for the IMS Ticket Office and one of the Speedway’s hardest workers, Linda Price.

_ Reliving Marco Andretti’s pole-sitting run last August and what it meant to him.

_ A recap of the COVID-19-delayed Aug. 23, 2020 Indy 500 and the impact of its lack of fans by IMS President J. Douglas Boles.

_ A profile of two-time/reigning Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Takuma Sato of Japan.

_ The story of how native Mexican Pato O’Ward went from failing to make the Indy 500 to becoming the race’s 2020 Rookie of the Year.

_ The fast friendship of Rinus VeeKay of The Netherlands and Alex Palou of Spain that developed out of quarantining together during the COVID-19 pandemic.

_ The bright future of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

_ A celebration of Indy 500 anniversaries in 2021, including the 100-year anniversary of Tommy Milton’s first win.

The Official Program also features biographies of drivers chasing berths in the traditional field of 33 for the event’s 105th running on Sunday, May 30.

The race will be televised live on NBC for the third consecutive year, with the pre-race show starting at 11 a.m. (EDT). The INDYCAR Radio Network will provide live coverage to its affiliates and on Sirius 211, XM 205, indycar.com and the INDYCAR Mobile App powered by NTT DATA.


Final qualifying results/starting lineup for the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with rank, car number in parentheses, driver, engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (9) Scott Dixon-(W), Dallara-Honda, 2:35.3837 (231.685 mph)
2. (26) Colton Herta, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.4034 (231.655)
3. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Dallara-Chevy, 2:35.5000 (231.511)
4. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 2:35.5047 (231.504)
5. (48) Tony Kanaan-(W), Dallara-Honda, 2:35.8229 (231.032)
6. (10) Alex Palou, Dallara-Honda, 2:36.1039 (230.616)
7. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay-(W), Dallara-Honda, 2:36.1827 (230.499)
8. (06) Helio Castroneves-(W), Dallara-Honda, 2:36.2804 (230.355)
9. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Dallara-Honda, 2:36.3054 (230.318)
10. (27) Alexander Rossi-(W), Dallara-Honda, 2:35.8132 (231.046)
11. (18) Ed Jones, Dallara-Honda, 2:35.8148 (231.044)
12. (5) Pato O’Ward, Dallara-Chevy, 2:35.9360 (230.864)
13. (51) Pietro Fittipaldi-(R), Dallara-Honda, 2:35.9481 (230.846)
14. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.0168 (230.744)
15. (30) Takuma Sato-(W), Dallara-Honda, 2:36.0417 (230.708)
16. (29) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 2:36.1395 (230.563)
17. (3) Scott McLaughlin-(R), Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.1435 (230.557)
18. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 2:36.1680 (230.521)
19. (47) Conor Daly, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.2314 (230.427)
20. (60) Jack Harvey, Dallara-Honda, 2:36.3922 (230.191)
21. (2) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.4735 (230.071)
22. (1) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.5354 (229.980)
23. (45) Santino Ferrucci, Dallara-Honda, 2:36.5563 (229.949)
24. (86) Juan Pablo Montoya-(W), Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.5961 (229.891)
25. (98) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 2:36.6089 (229.872)
26. (22) Simon Pagenaud-(W), Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.6732 (229.778)
27. (14) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.6964 (229.744)
28. (25) Stefan Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 2:36.7166 (229.714)
29. (59) Max Chilton, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.9195 (229.417)
30. (4) Dalton Kellett, Dallara-Chevy, 2:37.6717 (228.323)
31. (24) Sage Karam, Dallara-Chevy, 2:37.0982 (229.156)
32. (12) Will Power-(W), Dallara-Chevy, 2:37.2905 (228.876)
33. (16) Simona De Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy, 2:37.6504 (228.353)

NTT IndyCar Series point standings: 1, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 176; 2, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 163; 3, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 148; 4, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 146; 5, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 137; 6, Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing, 135; 7, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 130; 8, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 123; 9, Will Power, Team Penske, 118; 10, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 117.

Note _ All cars use the fourth generation NTT IndyCar Series chassis (Dallara IR-12) with universal IR-18 aerodynamic bodywork, Chevrolet or Honda twin-turbocharged V-6 engines and Firestone Firehawk tires.

(W) _Denotes Indianapolis 500 winner

(R) _ Denotes Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year candidate


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 27 2021
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