Great Driver Dust-Ups Through The Years
Not All Confrontations Take Place ON the Racetrack
When Ryan Briscoe accidentally swerved into Danica Patrick exiting the pits and knocked them both out of this year’s Indianapolis 500, it set off a small chain reaction.
Patrick climbed out of her disabled racer and began marching towards Briscoe’s pit as the crowd cheered, photographers were poised for the action and Roger Penske radioed his driver to “put [his helmet] shield down.”
But IRL security chief Charles Burns intercepted Patrick’s beeline to Briscoe and escorted her over the pit wall to defuse the situation and rob ESPN’s SportsCenter of a highlight clip.
Of course, watching a 100-pound woman confront a fellow Indy Car driver is nothing new, since Patrick gave Dan Wheldon a little push following their contact at Milwaukee in 2007; and she slapped Jacques Lazier after the pair crashed at Fontana in 2005.
But it’s all pretty civilized compared to the good old days - when drivers and mechanics more than occasionally settled things with their fists.
We all know that the 1979 donnybrook between Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers at Daytona put NASCAR on the national map, but long before that we had a few memorable “disagreements” in IndyCar racing.
Back in the early 1970s at Phoenix, Gordon Johncock took a swing at Johnny Rutherford and connected - but not with the three-time Indy 500 winner.
“I’d spun Gordy out during the race and he was kinda upset,” recalled Rutherford with a grin. "So, we were screaming at each other and he took a big swing at me. It just grazed the nip of my nose.
“But it caught Ray Marquette [a sportswriter for The Indianapolis Star] in the side of his head and knocked his glasses off. Ray had stepped in trying to play peacemaker.”
Rutherford recalled lots of dust-ups at IMCA [International Motor Contest Association] and USAC sprint car races, where drivers usually swung first and asked questions later.
In the early ’60s, a formidable racer named Johnny White made the mistake of getting on the wrong side of A.J. Foyt at a sprint car show in Williams Grove, Pa.
“I’d warned him a couple weeks before about giving slide jobs, so after he did it again, I had to straighten him out,” said Foyt, who smacked White. "I didn’t have any problem with him after that.
“Back then, guys usually settled things in the pits. I got jumped by a guy’s team in IMCA, and they held me down and gave me a black eye. But when I got loose, I got some pretty good shots in.”
Fellow four-time Indy winner Al Unser shakes his head and laughs at the thought of crossing Foyt.
“Not many people were dumb enough to get A.J. riled up,” he said.
Kevin Cogan did just that, once at Indy in 1982 and again later that summer at Michigan. The handsome, blonde Californian drove into the side of the Tempestuous Texan at the start of Indy, then repeated that maneuver a couple months later.
“That damned Coooogan,” became one of A.J.’s most priceless quotes but, fortunately for Kevin, Foyt did not resort to physical violence.
The last driver to incur Foyt’s wrath and be physically assaulted was Arie Luyendyk. Following the inaugural IRL IndyCar Series race at Texas in 1997, Billy Boat was scored as the winner in one of A.J.’s cars. Luyendyk, who would be declared the race winner the next morning, walked past the celebration and yelled something about the wrong team being in Victory Lane.
That sent Foyt into action, and he cuffed the two-time Indy winner on the side of the head and threw him into the bushes. “He come in here mouthin’, and you don’t do that,” said four-time Indy 500 king Foyt.
Most of today’s drivers tend to do their fighting in the press, but Paul Tracy is certainly a throwback to that old mentality.
He fought with his car owner, Barry Green, in the pits at Houston in 1998 and has had a few shoving matches since, one of the most memorable coming in 2006 at San Jose. After T-boning Alex Tagliani in an ill-advised move from the runoff area, Tracy was walking back to his pit when his Tagliani, understandably upset, confronted him. Tags screamed and pushed until P.T. finally retaliated and slammed his Las Vegas neighbor to the ground.
Thankfully, Tags never took his helmet off.
Most of today’s drivers fit the bantamweight category and there’s a lot of finger pointing and some shouting, but very little physical contact. Except from Danica.
Asked what he would do if the first female to ever win an IndyCar race tried to confront him, ’08 Indy 500 king Scott Dixon replied: “I’ll be running, man. I think if you get involved with her, it can only be bad. For you.”
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