The achievements and awards of the 20-person inaugural class of inductees into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame ten years ago made that group very special, and they are generally regarded as the most notable class ever. But there is no question that the class of 2000 can go six-on-six with anybody.
Half a dozen of the most celebrated drivers in history will take IMHOF into the 21st Century in fine style. They are Mario Andretti, Craig Breedlove, A. J. Foyt, Nelson Piquet, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Ayrton Senna. On numerous occasions, each and every one of them has been the best in the world at what they do.
“Man for man, this class has probably won more major events in more different forms of motorsports than any other class. Each is a legend, not only in their own area of focus, but also world-wide,” said IMHOF Executive Director Don Naman “Everybody but Breedlove has won several major racing events, but in a sport where speed is everything, Breedlove has gone twice as fast as any of the rest of them.”
Andretti won four Indy car titles and a Formula One world championship, Breedlove was the first man to run 400, 500 and 600 miles per hour and Foyt claimed seven Indy Car titles. Piquet and Senna each won three world championships, and Prudhomme won four consecutive NHRA Funny Car championships.
Between them they won close to 300 major events in Formula One, Indy Cars, stock cars, Can-Am, sports cars, Funny Cars and Top Fuel dragsters, and set half a dozen world land speed records. They have won IROC championships and Driver of the Year honors. They have also gone from zero to 300 mph in five seconds, and survived a wreck at 400 mph.
The selection of the class of 2000 was administered by the accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche. They also oversee the Heisman Trophy voting as well as the CMA Awards.
The 10th annual induction ceremony will be held on Thursday night, April 13th, 2000, in the Hall of Fame’s spacious Speedvision Dome. Ticket prices are the same as 1999, $100 per seat or $760 for a table of eight, and they may be reserved now by calling 256/362-5002.
MARIO ANDRETTI (1940– )
Mario Andretti spent the first 15 years of his life getting to America, then spent his entire driving career sharing his incredible skills with the rest of the world. From Indy cars to stock cars to Formula One, Andretti won races and championships at every level and in every form of racing.
Born in Montona, Italy in 1940, Andretti’s family saw the part of Italy in which they lived become part of Yugoslavia after WWII. They lived in refugee camps for seven years until they got visas to come to the U.S. in 1955. Andretti and his twin brother, Aldo, worked after school in an uncle’s garage in Nazareth, PA, and begin driving race cars in 1959. Andretti won 20 modified stock car races in his first two seasons.
Andretti ran his first Indy car race in 1964, and a year later he was Rookie of the Year at the Indianapolis 500, won for the first time at the Hoosier Grand Prix and went on to win the first of his four Indy car championships. He would win again in 1966, 1969 and 1984.
In the early 1970’s, Andretti successfully raced Indy cars, Formula One, Formula 5000 and Can-Am, winning in each. From 1975 through 1981, Andretti decided to focus on the Grand Prix circuit, where he won 12 races and 16 poles. His signature season was 1978 when he won six times and captured the Formula One world championship. He was only the second American to win the world championship.
Andretti returned to Champ cars in 1982, and won his fourth championship in 1984. He continued to race until the end of the 1994 season, with his final win coming at Phoenix in 1993. His 52 career wins are second on the all-time list, and his name remains at the top of the page for both pole positions and laps led.
While open wheel cars were Andretti’s first love, he also enjoyed driving on other circuits. He won the 1967 Daytona 500 in a Ford, and won the 12 Hours of Sebring three times. He won the IROC championship in 1979, and was named Driver of the Year three times (1967, 1978 and 1984). He was also named Driver of the Quarter Century in 1992.
Andretti still resides in Nazareth with his wife Dee Ann. His son, Michael, has won an Indy car title, while his other son, Jeff, has also raced Indy cars. His nephew, John, races stock cars for another racing legend, Richard Petty.
CRAIG BREEDLOVE (1937- )
At the age of 13, when most boys that age are playing stick and ball sports, Craig Breedlove bought his first car. In the ensuing three years until he could legally drive, Breedlove “souped up” the 1934 Ford Hot Rod Coupe and when he became a legal driver, he got this car up to an astounding 154 miles per hour. Four years later, he drove a supercharged “belly tank” streamliner 236 mph on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats.
His first “Spirit of America” began to take shape in 1959 when he paid $500 for a military surplus J-47 jet engine and began to build his dream. With backing from Shell and Goodyear, Breedlove took his revolutionary car to Bonneville in 1963, and clocked a record run of 407 mph to return the world land speed record to America after more than three decades.
Along came Art Arfons and his Green Monster to raise the bar to 434 mph the next year, but Breedlove quickly countered with runs of 468, then 526 later that year. It nearly came at a terrible price, however, as he crashed at over 400 miles per hour, landing in a salt-brine pond and having to swim out to save his life. Miraculously, he was unhurt.
The car was destroyed, however, and while Breedlove built another, Arfons recaptured the record with a run of 536. In 1965, Breedlove was again ready to pursue records, and he unveiled “Spirit of America – Sonic 1”, with a much larger jet engine. He clocked 555, but Arfons came back the very next week and raised the bar to 576 mph.
Later in the year than anyone had ever attempted a run, with freezing rainwater on the course, Breedlove set a new Unlimited World Land Speed of 600.601, becoming the first to break the 400, 500 and 600 mph barriers on land. Arfons was never able to better Breedlove’s last run.
More than 30 years later, Breedlove was at it again, trying to bring the record back to America from England where is has been since 1983. In October of 1997, Britain’s Andy Green, in Thrust SSC, set a new world record of 763, but Breedlove already has plans to reclaim the record soon with a run of 771 mph. Stay tuned.
ANTHONY JOSEPH (A. J.) FOYT, JR. (1935– )
The racing machine that A. J. Foyt, Jr. could not drive has yet to be invented. During the four decades in which he was a dominant force in auto racing. Foyt raced successfully in virtually every form of motor sports.
While Foyt’s career focused primarily on Indy cars, he was also a winner in stock cars, sports cars, sprint cars, midgets and dirt track racers. Throw in an IROC title and three Driver of the Year awards along the way and Foyt’s legacy becomes the stuff of which legends are made.
Born in Houston, Texas in 1935, Foyt grew up around racing. His dad built racecars, and drove a Ford-powered midget. Foyt decided at an early age that he wanted to be a race driver, and by the time he was 18, he was winning on midwestern midget racing circuits.
From there to sprint cars and then on to the high-profile Indy cars, Foyt quickly became a winner. He took his first checkered flag in the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, at the age of 26. He won his second Indy 500 in 1964, won again in 1967 and then became the illustrious event’s first four-time winner in 1977. In all, Foyt won all-time record 67 Indy car races, and earned seven Indy car championships, also a record.
While he was dominating Indy car racing, Foyt also took time to compete successfully in other venues, winning such high profile events as the Daytona 500, as well the 24 Hours of LeMans and the 24 Hours of Dayton~ He loved stock car racing, and won seven NASCAR events along with 41 USAC stock car races. He also won 50 sprint, midget and dirt races.
Foyt retired from Indy car racing after the 1993 Indy 500, his 35th consecutive running of the storied event. He could not, however, resist the siren song of NASCAR running at his beloved Indy, and made one last appearance at the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994.
The competitiveness that drove him to be so successful was still very much alive, however, and Foyt wasted no time in forming his own Indy Racing League team with drivers Billy Boat and Kenny Brack. He will also field a NASCAR Winston Cup team in 2000.
Foyt lives with his wife, Lucy, in Houston. He owns cattle and horse ranches, plus a car dealership, as well as his interests in motor sports. His three sons, A J. III (Tony), Jerry and Larry, are all involved in racing.
NELSON PIQUET (1952 – )
This talented Brazilian was one of the greatest drivers ever in Formula One racing, and one of a trio of fellow countrymen who claimed eight world championships between them. Piquet won 23 times in Grand Prix racing, and was the fastest qualifier 24 times as he earned three world championships.
Piquet, from Rio de Janeiro, bypassed a potentially successful lawn tennis career to take up kart racing in 1970, winning the Brazilian championship two years later. By 1976, he was the Brazilian Super Vee champion, and the next year he headed for Europe and Formula Three racing.
It was during the 1978 season that Piquet got his first Formula One ride, driving an Ensign in the German Grand Prix. He also had drives for McLaren and Brabham that same season. He would spend seven years with Brabham, and record his first F1 victory in 1980 at the Long Beach Grand Prix.
1981 was a “breakthrough” season for Piquet, as he won three races and gained his first world championship in a thrilling duel with fellow South American Carlos Reutemann, which Piquet won by a single point. Piquet seemed to thrive on close point battles, and two years later he beat Alain Prost by two points to claim his second world championship, both for Brabham.
Leaving Brabham after the 1985 season, he joined the Williams team for the 1986 season and won four times, but lost the world championship to Prost. Piquet came back strong in 1987, and won his third title, this time over teammate Nigel Mansell. A rift between himself and Mansell, however, caused Piquet to look elsewhere for a ride the following year.
In 1988 and ’89, Piquet raced for Lotus, but went winless during those two seasons, and moved over to Benetton at the start of the 1990 season. He won the Japanese and Australian Grands Prix that year, and closed his splendid career in 1991 with a win in the Canadian Grand Prix.
DON “THE SNAKE” PRUDHOMME (1941 – )
Recognized as one of the greatest drag racers off all time, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme made his first mark in the world of motorsports in 1962 when he won Top Fuel class at “Smokers March Meet” in Bakersfield, California.
For the next 30 years, he was one of the elite, one of the drivers that brought drag racing into the motorsports mainstream. He won titles in two major classes, Top Fuel and Funny Cars, and posted victories in 49 career events, fourth on NHRA’s all-time list of wins. His driving career spanned 32 years and he won races in four different decades.
Prudhomme was extremely hard to beat in the finals where the competition is closest and the pressure is the greatest. In his career, “The Snake” reached the finals 68 times, winning 35 of 45 Funny Car finals and 14 of 23 Top Fuel finals. Overall, he won 389 of 589 rounds of competition for an incredible .660 winning percentage.
Along the way Prudhomme reached many important milestones and broke several barriers in drag racing. He became the first driver to win four consecutive Winston Series titles (1975-76-77-78). He won the U.S. Nationals seven times, was the first Funny Car driver to break the 250 mph barrier (1982), and was the first to post of run of less than 5.20 seconds (5.193 in 1989). Prudhomme became the first NHRA Winston World Champion in 1975 when he won an unprecedented seven of eight national events. He was the first driver to win both the U.S. Nationals and Winternationals in the same season (1965), and at age 51, he became the third Top Fuel driver to surpass the 300 mile per hour mark.
Unable to walk away from the sport he loved after his “Final Strike” farewell tour in 1994, Prudhomme continued his own Top Fuel team, but with a new driver, Larry Dixon. In 1997, he added a second team, with Ron Capps driving a Funny Car and now has strong entries in both.
Honors have come Prudhomme’s way since his retirement, and deservedly so. He was named one of the 100 Most Influential people in the high-performance industry, and has been inducted into the SEMA and Hot Rod Magazine Halls of Fame.
He lives with his wife, Lynn, in Rancho Santa Fe, California.
AYRTON SENNA (1960-1994)
Although his life was taken in a crash at the zenith of his career, Brazilian Ayrton Senna was nonetheless considered to be one of the greatest drivers of all time. The 34-year old native of Sao Paulo left a legacy of success unmatched by most who enjoyed full careers.
Senna was born in Sao Paulo on March21, 1960. He began his career in kart racing as a youngster, but quickly raced his way thru the ranks to a Formula 1 ride in 1984, winning championships at almost every level along the way.
On the Grand Prix circuit for only a decade, Senna posted some incredible numbers, many of which still remain records. In half a normal career, he won three world championships, set a record with 65 pole positions, led a record 3,024 laps and won 41 races, second only to the 51 victories of Main Prost.
Senna won the Formula Ford championship in 1981, his initial season on that circuit, then moved up to Formula Ford 2000 series in 1982, and won that title as well. He beat Martin Brundle for the Formula 3 title in 1983, then moved to Formula 1 the next year, driving for the British team of Toleman Hart.
Switching to Lotus in 1983, Senna gained his first win, in the rain in Portugal. In 1987, still driving for Lotus, Senna began a relationship with Honda, and when the Japanese automaker switched to McLaren in 1988, Senna cast his lot with them. Over the next six years, Senna would dominate Formula 1 in Honda-powered McLarens.
From 1988 through 1993, Senna posted 37 of his 41 career wins, sped to 46 of his 65 career poles, and won all three of his world championships. During the span, his battles with Prost were legendary. As teammates in 1989, Prost and Senna dueled into the last race of the season. Prost, refusing to yield when Senna attempted to pass, took out both cars and won the title. The very next year, on competing teams, the duo again raced for the title in the season’s last race. This time, it was Senna who took out Prost and claimed the title.
Ayrton Senna’s success has been attributed to his obsessive desire to win, his attention to detail and his analytical mind that functioned like a computer when he was driving, allowing him to get everything there was to get out of his race car.