Sitters

List of Indianapolis 500 pole-sitters

Winners of the Pole position for the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. The pole position is the first starting position, and is held in high prestige at Indianapolis. Due to the nature of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, the polesitter is normally determined 15 days before the day of the race. Therefore, he/she receives considerable pre-race attention and accolades in the two weeks leading up to the race. In most years, but not necessarily, the polesitter is the fastest car in the field.

Peak motor oil currently sponsors a $100,000 award given to the pole winner. Rick Mears holds the all-time record with six career pole positons.

History

Since 1939, the pole position has been determined by 4-lap (10-mile) qualifying time trials. Each car takes to the track one at a time to establish a qualifying speed. In most years since 1952, there have been four days of time trials scheduled. The fastest qualifier on the first day (or first complete round) of qualifying wins the pole position. If a driver records a speed faster than that of the pole position winner on a subsequent day (or subsequent round) he does not win the pole position, but instead lines up behind the previous day's qualifiers. Subsequent to 1914, the last year of qualifications not determining the starting grid order, 16 occasions have seen the pole position-winning entry not recording the fastest overall qualifying speed.

In 1911, the starting grid was determined by the order that entries were received by mail. To qualify for the race, entries had to average 75 miles per hour along a one-mile measured segment of the track. In 1912, all cars were required to complete one timed lap (2.5 miles), but the grid order was still determined by the order the entries were received. From 1913-1914, all cars completed one timed lap. But overseas competitors voiced complaints about their entries arriving in the mail late, and thus unfairly starting deep in the grid. A compromise was made such that the grid was determined by a blind draw a few days before the race.

Starting in 1915-1919, the grid was set by one-lap qualifying speed. From 1920-1931, the grid was set using 4-lap qualifying runs. From 1932-1938, the grid was set using 10-lap (25-mile) qualifying runs. Since 1939, four laps have been used.

Beginning in 2008, the IndyCar Series began using the four-lap average qualification system of Indianapolis as the template for the remainder of oval track racing throughout the series, replacing the previous system for all races other than Indianapolis where the fastest of two laps determined the car's placement on the starting grid. In the event of a rainout of a qualifying session, however, the determination of the starting grid order by the respective positions of drivers in the year's national championship does not apply at Indianapolis, where a special abbreviated session is instead instituted to fill whatever remaining slots in the 500 field.

Schedule

Pole position qualifying, generally referred to as "Pole Day," is currently held on a Saturday two weekends before the day of the race. Four days of qualifying are scheduled in total, the Saturday and Sunday two weekends before the race, and the Saturday and Sunday one weekend before the race.

After WWII, the Speedway management began to standardize the qualifying schedule. For a few years, six days (three weekends) of qualifying were held. Starting in 1952, it was reduced to four days (two weekends). In 1974, as a gesture to the ongoing Oil Crisis, qualifying was reduced to two days, the Saturday two weeks before the race, and the Saturday one week before the race. From 1998-2000, the schedule was reverted to two days of qualifying, the Saturday and Sunday one weekend before the race. From 2001-2004, the schedule was changed to three days of qualifying, the Saturday and Sunday two weekends before the race, and the Sunday one week before the race. Starting in 2005, the schedule was reverted back to the original four days, comprising of the two weekends before the race.

Springtime rain in the midwest is often a factor, and over the years, many days of qualifying have been delayed, ended early, or completely washed out due to rain. If pole day is rained out, it is moved to the next qualifying day scheduled. This happened most recently in 2006, when the first two days of qualifying were rained out. Pole position qualifying ended up being held on the third day, followed by what remained the fourth and final day.

Starting 2005, although due to rain it was not observed fully until 2007, the qualifying procedure was altered. The 33-car field would be split into three parts.

  • On the first day of qualifying (pole day)- positions 1-11 would be filled; bumping amongst those 11 cars would occur
  • On the second day of qualifying- positions 12-22 would be filled; bumping amongst those 11 cars would occur
  • On the third day of qualifying- positions 23-33 would be filled; bumping amongst those 11 cars would occur
  • On the fourth day of qualifying (bump day)- bumping begins immediately as the slowest car overall is "on the bubble," in danger of being bumped out by the next qualifier; all cars behind those bumped out are immediately slotted up one position regardless of their day of qualification, but no fourth-day qualifier is slotted ahead of first-, second- or third-day qualifiers still remaining in the field.

Indianapolis 500 pole-sitters

Sixty-three drivers have qualified for the pole position, three less than the number of race winners.
Year Driver Speed
(mph)
Speed
(km/h)
Notes
1911 Lewis Strang No full lap Grid placement determined by order entries received by mail
1912 Gil Anderson 80.93 130.24 Track record; single-lap; grid placement determined by order entries received by mail
David L. Bruce-Brown 88.45 142.35 New track record; single-lap; fastest qualifier, started 23rd
1913 Caleb Bragg 87.34 140.56 Single-lap; grid placement determined by pre-race blind drawing
Jack Tower 88.23 141.99 Single-lap; fastest qualifier, started 25th
1914 Jean Chassagne 88.31 142.12 Single-lap; grid placement determined by pre-race blind drawing
Georges Boillot 99.86 160.71 New track record; single-lap; fastest qualifier, started 29th
1915 Howdy Wilcox 98.80 159.00 Single-lap
1916 Johnny Aitken 96.69 155.61 Single-lap
1919 René Thomas 104.78 168.63 New track record; single-lap
1920 Ralph DePalma 99.15 159.57  
1921 Ralph DePalma 100.75 162.14  
1922 Jimmy Murphy 100.50 161.74  
1923 Tommy Milton 108.17 174.08 New track record
1924 Jimmy Murphy 108.037 173.869  
1925 Leon Duray 113.196 182.171 New track record
1926 Earl Cooper 111.735 179.820  
1927 Frank Lockhart 120.100 193.282 New track record
1928 Leon Duray 122.391 196.969 New track record
1929 Cliff Woodbury 120.599 194.085  
1930 Billy Arnold 113.268 182.287  
1931 Russ Snowberger 112.796 181.528  
Billy Arnold 116.080 186.813 Fastest qualifier, started 18th
1932 Lou Moore 117.363 188.877 Ten-lap average
1933 Bill Cummings 118.530 190.756 Ten-lap average
1934 Kelly Petillo 119.329 192.041 Ten-lap average
1935 Rex Mays 120.736 194.306 Ten-lap average
1936 Rex Mays 119.644 192.548 Ten-lap average
1937 Bill Cummings 123.343 198.501 New track record; ten-lap average
Jimmy Snyder 125.287 201.630 New track record; ten-lap average; fastest qualifier, started 19th
1938 Floyd Roberts 125.681 202.264 New track record; ten-lap average
Ronney Householder 125.769 202.406 Ten-lap average qualifying record; fastest qualifier, started 10th
1939 Jimmy Snyder 130.138 209.437 New track record
1940 Rex Mays 127.850 205.755  
1941 Mauri Rose 128.691 207.108  
1946 Cliff Bergere 126.471 203.535  
Ralph Hepburn 133.944 215.562 New track record; fastest qualifier, started 19th
1947 Ted Horn 126.564 203.685  
Bill Holland 128.755 207.211 Fastest qualifier, started 8th
1948 Rex Mays 130.577 210.143  
Duke Nalon 131.603 211.794 Fastest qualifier, started 11th
1949 Duke Nalon 132.939 213.945  
1950 Walt Faulkner 134.343 216.204 New track record
1951 Duke Nalon 136.498 219.672 New track record
Walt Faulkner 136.872 220.274 New track record; fastest qualifier, started 14th
1952 Fred Agabashian 138.010 222.106 New track record
Chet Miller 139.034 223.754 New track record; fastest qualifier, started 27th
1953 Bill Vukovich 138.392 222.720 Final 3/4 of final lap completed amid downpour
1954 Jack McGrath 141.033 226.791 New track record
1955 Jerry Hoyt 140.045 225.381 Record slowest pace versus field for pole position, 8th fastest
Jack McGrath 142.580 229.460 New track record; fastest qualifier, started 3rd
1956 Pat Flaherty 145.596 234.314 New track record
1957 Pat O'Connor 143.948 231.662  
Paul Russo 144.817 233.060 Fastest qualifier, started 10th
1958 Dick Rathmann 145.974 234.922 New track record
1959 Johnny Thomson 145.908 234.816  
1960 Eddie Sachs 146.592 235.917 New track record
Jim Hurtubise 149.056 239.882 New track record; fastest qualifier, started 23rd
1961 Eddie Sachs 147.481 237.348  
1962 Parnelli Jones 150.370 241.997 New track record
1963 Parnelli Jones 151.153 243.257 New track record
1964 Jim Clark 158.828 255.609 New track record
1965 A.J. Foyt 161.233 259.479 New track record
1966 Mario Andretti 165.899 266.989 New track record
1967 Mario Andretti 168.982 271.950 New track record
1968 Joe Leonard 171.559 276.097 New track record
1969 A.J. Foyt 170.568 274.503  
1970 Al Unser 170.221 273.944  
1971 Peter Revson 178.696 287.583 New track record
1972 Bobby Unser 195.940 315.335 New track record; largest track record incremental increase
1973 Johnny Rutherford 198.413 319.315 New track record
1974 A.J. Foyt 191.632 308.402  
1975 A.J. Foyt 193.976 312.174  
1976 Johnny Rutherford 188.957 304.097  
Mario Andretti 189.404 304.816 Fastest qualifier, started 19th
1977 Tom Sneva 198.884 320.073 New track record
1978 Tom Sneva 202.156 325.339 New track record
1979 Rick Mears 193.736 311.788  
1980 Johnny Rutherford 192.256 309.406  
1981 Bobby Unser 200.546 322.748  
Tom Sneva 200.691 322.981 Fastest qualifier, started 20th
1982 Rick Mears 207.004 333.141 New track record
1983 Teo Fabi 207.395 333.770 New track record
1984 Tom Sneva 210.029 338.009 New track record
1985 Pancho Carter 212.583 342.119 New track record
1986 Rick Mears 216.828 348.951 New track record
1987 Mario Andretti 215.390 346.637  
1988 Rick Mears 219.198 352.765 New track record
1989 Rick Mears 223.885 360.308 New track record
1990 Emerson Fittipaldi 225.301 362.587 New track record
1991 Rick Mears 224.113 360.675  
Gary Bettenhausen 224.468 361.246 Fastest qualifier, started 13th
1992 Roberto Guerrero 232.482 374.144 New track record
1993 Arie Luyendyk 223.967 360.440  
1994 Al Unser, Jr. 228.011 366.948  
1995 Scott Brayton 231.604 372.731  
1996 Tony Stewart* 233.100 375.138 New track record
Arie Luyendyk 236.986 381.392 Official current all-time track record; fastest qualifier, started 20th
1997 Arie Luyendyk 218.263 351.260  
1998 Billy Boat 223.503 359.693  
1999 Arie Luyendyk 225.179 362.390  
2000 Greg Ray 223.471 359.642  
2001 Scott Sharp 226.037 363.771  
2002 Bruno Junqueira 231.342 372.309  
2003 Hélio Castroneves 231.725 372.925  
2004 Buddy Rice 222.024 357.313  
2005 Tony Kanaan 227.566 366.232  
Kenny Bräck 227.598 366.283 Fastest qualifier, started 23rd
2006 Sam Hornish, Jr. 228.985 368.516  
2007 Hélio Castroneves 225.817 363.417  
2008 Scott Dixon 226.366 364.301  

Notes

* 1996: At the conclusion of pole day qualifying, Scott Brayton qualified for the pole-position, Arie Luyendyk qualified second, and Tony Stewart qualified third. Officially it was Brayton's second consecutive Indy pole (1995-1996). One hour and forty-five minutes after qualifying was over, Luyendyk was disqualified for his car being 7 pounds underweight. Stewart was elevated to second position. The following day, Luyendyk qualified with the fastest speed overall, but as a second day qualifier, was required to line up behind the first day qualifiers. Five days later, Brayton was killed in a practice session accident while driving a back-up car. His primary car was taken over by Danny Ongias, but rules required a substitute driver to move to the rear of the field. Thus, Stewart was elevated to the pole position for race day.

Italian-born

Multiple pole position winners

Seventeen drivers have qualified for the pole position multiple times, accounting for 46 pole positions out of 91 races, 50.55%.

Poles Driver Years Notes
6 Rick Mears 1979, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991 First five- and six-time pole position qualifier; second-fastest qualifier, 1991
4 Rex Mays 1935, 1936, 1940, 1948 First three- and four-time pole position qualifier; second-fastest qualifier, 1948
A.J. Foyt 1965, 1969, 1974, 1975  
3 Mario Andretti 1966, 1967, 1987 Fastest qualifier, 1976
Johnny Rutherford 1973, 1976, 1980 Second-fastest qualifier, 1976
Tom Sneva 1977, 1978, 1984 Fastest qualifier, 1981
Arie Luyendyk 1993, 1997, 1999 Fastest qualifier, 1996
2 Ralph DePalma 1920, 1921 First two-time pole position qualifier
Jimmy Murphy 1922, 1924  
Leon Duray 1925, 1928  
Bill Cummings 1933, 1937 Second-fastest qualifier, 1937
Duke Nalon 1949, 1951 Second-fastest qualifier, 1951
Eddie Sachs 1960, 1961 Second-fastest qualifier, 1960
Parnelli Jones 1962, 1963  
Bobby Unser 1972, 1981 Second-fastest qualifier, 1981
Scott Brayton 1995, 1996* Qualified for pole position, and second-fastest qualifier, 1996
Hélio Castroneves 2003, 2007  

Notes

* Scott Brayton qualified for the pole position in 1996, but was killed in a practice session accident with a back up-car six days later. Tony Stewart, the second-place qualifier, subsequently moved onto the pole position, while Brayton's car, thereafter assigned to Danny Ongais to drive, was, by rule in driver-replacement situations, moved to the last starting position.

Italian-born

Consecutive pole position winners

Qualification for the pole-position in consecutive races has been accomplished nine times; start from the pole position has occurred eight times. No driver has qualified for three consecutive pole positions.

Poles Driver Years Notes
2 Ralph DePalma 1920, 1921  
Rex Mays 1935, 1936  
Eddie Sachs 1960, 1961 Second-fastest qualifier, 1960
Parnelli Jones 1962, 1963  
Mario Andretti 1966, 1967  
A.J. Foyt 1974, 1975  
Tom Sneva 1977, 1978 Started from second position, 1979, closest attempt to three consecutive to date
Rick Mears 1988, 1989  
Scott Brayton 1995, 1996* Qualified for the pole position, 1996, but was killed in a practice session accident nine days before the race; Tony Stewart, the second qualifier, moved onto the pole position Brayton's stead 

Indianapolis 500 winners who started from the pole position

Seventeen drivers have won the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race from the pole position. Two consecutive wins from the pole position has occurred once, in years 1922-1923, and three consecutive also once, in years 1979-1981.

Wins Driver Years Notes
3 Rick Mears 1979, 1988, 1991 First three-time winner from the pole position; accounts for 3 of Mears' 4 career wins.
2 Johnny Rutherford 1976, 1980 First multiple-winner from the pole position. Accounts for 2 of Rutherford's 3 career victories.
1 Jimmy Murphy 1922 First winner from the pole position
Tommy Milton 1923 First year with consecutive wins from the pole position; accounts for 1 of Milton's 2 career victories.
Billy Arnold 1930 Led final 198 laps of race, most ever by pole-sitter or race winner
Floyd Roberts 1938  
Mauri Rose* 1941 *Started from pole position in separate entry than that co-driven to victory, only such occurrence to date
Bill Vukovich 1953 Accounts for 1 of Vukovich's 2 career victories.
Pat Flaherty 1956  
Parnelli Jones 1963  
Al Unser 1970 Accounts for 1 of Unser's 4 career victories.
Bobby Unser 1981 First year with three consecutive wins from the pole position; Accounts for 1 of Unser's 3 career victories.
Al Unser, Jr. 1994 Accounts for 1 of Unser's 2 career victories.
Arie Luyendyk 1997 Accounts for 1 of Luyendyk's 2 career victories.
Buddy Rice 2004  
Sam Hornish, Jr. 2006  
Scott Dixon 2008  

References

Indianapolis 500 Chronicle, copyright 1999, Rick Pope
2006 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race Official Program

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