Every driver dreams of winning the Indianapolis 500. They want to drink the milk, go to the yard of bricks, and have their picture taken with the Borg Warner Trophy. The first step to achieving this goal is to qualify for the race. Everyone has their eye on Pole position.
Since the very beginning in 1911, every car has been required to qualify for the race. That first year, the grid was determined by the order in which the race entries were received in the mail (Lewis Strang was given the Pole). In order to participate though, drivers had to average 75 mph along a one-mile section of the track.
The following year in 1912, every car was required to complete one timed lap, even though the grid was still set by when the entries were received in the mail. The competitors that came from overseas complained their entries were always arrive last.
From 1920 to 1931, the grid was set by 4-lap qualifying runs. They did 10-lap time trials from 1932 to 1938, but then reverted back to the 4-lap runs. Since 1939, the starting grid for the Indianapolis 500 has been determined by 4-lap qualifications.
Today, a $100,000 award and championship points are given to the Indy 500 Pole winner. The money is nice, but the real reward is being out front going into the first turn of the race.
There have been 17 drivers that have won the Pole multiple times. Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, Tom Sneva, and Arie Luyendyk each won it three times. Rex Mays, AJ Foyt, and Helio Castroneves all have four poles to their name. Rick Mears is the only driver to win it more than four times, holding the record with six Poles.
There have been nine instances in which a driver has won the Pole two years in a row. No driver has ever won it three consecutive times.
It’s true that winning the Pole doesn’t necessarily win you the race, but don’t tell Rick Mears that. Three of Rick’s four Indy 500 wins came when he started on the Pole. Johnny Rutherford won in 1976 and 1980 after starting the race in first. In fact, from 1979 to 1981, every driver that won the Pole ended up winning the race.
In all, 18 drivers have won the Indianapolis 500 from the Pole.
Since 2004, starting on the inside of row one seems to be good luck. Since then, four drivers have gone on to win the race after starting from that spot. Buddy Rice did it in 2004, Sam Hornish in 2006, Scott Dixon in 2008, and Helio Castroneves was the last to do it in 2009.
Pole Day for the 2012 Indianapolis 500 is tomorrow. Qualifying officially begins at 11 am.