Over the course of its storied 103-year history, the Indianapolis 500 has provided joy and heartbreak for fans and competitors alike. Here are the five exciting moments that stand out among all of the rest:
1982: Gordon Johncock holds off Rick Mears
Despite leading Rick Mears by over 11 seconds with only ten laps left to go, Gordon Johncock began to experience significant handling issues. Mears cut the lead signficantly and found himself in striking distance with only one lap left to go, but Johncock held him off for the win.
1992: Al Unser Jr. beats Scott Goodyear
Al Unser Jr., the scion of the legendary racing family, took the lead with less than 11 laps to go when race leader Michael Andretti blew an engine. In the closest finish in race history, “Little Al” bested Scott Goodyear by just .043 seconds.
2005: Dan Wheldon duels with Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick wasn’t just content with being a footnote to history; she actually made it. The late Dan Wheldon won the race, but Patrick became the first female ever to lead a lap. After battling Wheldon and the rest of the leaders, Patrick recovered from several crucial mistakes and drove to a respectable fourth-place finish.
2006: Sam Hornish Jr. beats Marco Andretti at the line
With only one win to show for a combined 68 starts, the Andrettis — Mario, Aldo, Jeff, John, and Michael — have had such bad luck at Indianapolis that a curse was even named after them.
It looked as if the tides had turned for the legendary racing family until Penske Racing’s Sam Hornish Jr. nicked 19 year old Marco Andretti at the start-finish line in the second closest finish in race history, winning by just .0635-seconds. Although Hornish has won three series championships, this has been his only Indianapolis 500 victory to date.
2011: J.R. Hildebrand falls one turn short of victory
Rookie J.R. Hildebrand padded the lead with less than a mile left to go, but he collided with the wall just as he prepared to rocket into the legendary front straightaway. Hildebrand limped to the finish line as Welshman Dan Wheldon took the checkered flag. It was Wheldon’s second Indianapolis 500 victory and the last win of his memorable racing career.
Later that year, Wheldon succumbed to injuries that he suffered in a multi-car crash at the 2011 IZOD IndyCar World Championship race in Las Vegas.