Tom Sneva officially broke Indy’s 200mph barrier when it
mattered most – lap one of his four-lap pole run in 1977. He
edged that 200.401mph flier with 200.535mph on lap two. 200.401MPH
down the front straight of the 2.5-mile
oval as he clutches a steering wheel that’s
considerably smaller than the Wasp’s. Was
it solely speed that proved decisive, or a
combination of attributes – skill, bravery,
smarts and, on the car’s side, reliability?
“I’d say it was a combination, and it still
is today,” Newgarden says. “Speed and
grip trumped safety for many years back
then. The thought process was, ‘How are
we going to make the car stick better to
the track and go faster down the
straightaways?’ Nowadays, it’s so different.
“It’s hard to wonder if I could jump in a
’60s racecar because of the knowledge I
have and the risks involved. If I was born
in the ’40s or ’50s and wanted to become
an Indy car driver, I think I’d be one of
those guys like A.J. Foyt or Mario Andretti
who just wanted to get on the track and
go fast and be a competitor.
“It’s all relative, though. I’m sure
someone 50 years from now will look at
us and think we’re nuts, and that’s a weird
thought. They knew what they knew and
they were racers, and that’s what we all
are. You don’t look at all the risks; you get
the best you can out of the era you’re in.
“I still think it’s crazy what IndyCar
drivers do; they’re still the biggest
daredevils on the planet when it comes to
racing. I really respect anyone who jumps
into an IndyCar and particularly goes
around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
and holds it flat out and trusts it.
“Racing is still a risky sport and you
won’t get away from that,” he adds. “It’s
difficult in this day and age, people don’t
want to say it, but it’s part of what makes
the sport great. You get inside a racecar
and whatever is going to happen is going
to happen. You worry about doing the
best job and trying to beat everyone.
That’s all that’s on your mind.
“I still look at all my competitors as
heroes when they step into an IndyCar.”