Alexander Rossi’s shock Indy win brought membership to an elite
club of surprise winners. Chosen by Robin Miller, here are five
of the most memorable unexpected victories at the Brickyard.
SIDE ROAD TO GLORY
1987: Al Unser Sr.
There were no expectations for Al
Unser in 1987 – because a few days
out from the race, he had no car.
The three-time Indy 500 winner
was 47, and had made just five
starts in 1986 after his “supersub”
performance in place of injured Rick
Mears had garnered Roger Penske
the ’ 85 championship.
Then Danny Ongais crashed during
practice, suffered a concussion, and
Penske again went to the bullpen and
called up Unser. But getting a car for
him to drive proved problematic, so
Penske recalled a year-old March
from a hotel in Reading, Pa., where it
was on display as a show car.
Big Al qualified 20th and in the
race posed no threat to Mario
Andretti, who’d lapped the field
before breaking down with 23 laps
remaining. Robert Guerrero assumed
control and owned a comfortable
lead before his gearbox began
acting up 17 laps from the finish.
That left Unser in charge, and he
drove under the checkered flag and
into the history books with the least
likely of his four victories.
1941: Davis and Rose
Floyd Davis never led a lap at Indy,
yet his face is on the Borg-Warner.
After qualifying 17th for the
1941 race, Davis was running 14th
on Lap 72 when car owner Lou
Moore, worried his Noc-Out Hose
Clamp Special was faster than it was
being driven, ordered Davis out and
put Mauri Rose behind the wheel.
Rose, the pole-sitter who’d led six
laps of the race before his Maserati
called it quits, jumped into the
Wetteroth/Offy and began charging
to the front. He passed Cliff Bergere
for the lead on Lap 162 and never
relinquished it, beating runner-up
Rex Mays by 90 seconds.
Just days before it found it’s way into Victory Lane for the 1987
Indianapolis 500, Al Unser’s winning racecar had been serving as a
static display in a hotel lobby in Reading, Pennsylvania.
Floyd Davis was in the winning car for the
photo - but not for the checkered flag.