Cinderella does not drive at Indianapolis. Money wins here. Check the last 13 years. Only the high-rollers win. A.J. Foyt has won twice, Al Unser three times, Bobby Unser twice, Johnny Rutherford twice, and cars put together with greenbacks from STP and Roger Penske Corp. have won twice each.
Poor Lindsey Hopkins. He's a multimillionaire from Miami, a short, beefy man, 72 now, chairman of the board of Security Trust Co. and a director of Coca-Cola. Since 1951, he has bankrolled 39 cars in the Indianapolis 500 and has not won yet. His cars have finished second twice. In 1955, he hired Bill Vukovich to drive. Vukovich had won the race the previous two yers; in Hopkins' car, leading by so far "he could have made a pit stop for a beer and still won her," Vukovich crashed and died.
Jim Rathamn left the Hopkins team after those second place finishes in '57 and '59. Rathman won for another man in 1960. In 1961, Hopkins' driver, Tony Bettenhausen, showed in practice his car was the best. The day before qualifications, Bettenhausen tested a friend's car. A five-cent cotter pin on the steering broke, and Bettenhausen was killed.
"I had three cars in the race the year it rained ('73)," Hopkins said. "They called off the race with 67 laps to go, or I would have finished 1-2." Hopkins' cars were 3-4-7.
He sat in his garage in Gasoline Alley.On a wall was "my rogues' gallery," pictures of 16 men who have driven for him. Three of them have won the race for other owners. "God, if I had a cure, I'd quit coming here," Hopkins said, taking off his glasses and wearily rubbing a meaty hand across his red face. 'My first car here, it cost me $12,000 for the whole affair -- tires, wheels and all. Today, I won't tell you what it costs."
"The IRS," Hopkins said.
Some racing people believe the Internal Revenue Service, in its relentless duty to Uncle Sam's pocketbook, could destroy big-time automobile racing. In cases such as Hopkins', where he makes a fortune outside racing, the IRS can say his involvement in the sport is a hobby, not a business. If it's a hobby, he cannot write off the expenses as he could if it is a business. The mention of the IRS ruins Lindsey Hopkins' day.
For Roger Penske, the IRS holds no terror.
Auto racing is a big business for him. Only 16 years ago, Penske was a retired road racer with a Chevrolet dealership in Philadelphia. Now, at 43, he is the president of 14 companies with 1,500 employes world-wide producing annual sales of more than $200 million under the umbrella of Penske Corp. Whatever romance brings Lindsey Hopkins back here every May, it is big business that makes auto racing ultimately practical for Roger Penske.
He has three cars in Sunday's 500. His drivers are Rick Mears, who won the race for him last year; Bobby Unser, a two-time winner, and Mario Andretti, the 1969 winner.
The Mears and Unser cars will campaign the full Indy-car circuit of 12 or 13 races this season. Andretti's car will run maybe twice after Indy.
The Penske racing budget: $1.5 million.
As immaculately handsome as Penske is, with flashing blue eyes and salt-and-pepper hair -- Jim Garner could play the role nicely -- so is his racing operation without noticeable flaw.
Come race day, each Penske car will be attended to by a dozen people.
"Race day, we'll have five men over the wall," Penske said, meaning each crew has five men changing tires and pouring fuel.
"We'll have a dead man on the fueling, there for just an emergency. We'll have two girls scoring, we'll have a starter, we'll have two or three men there ready."
Ready for what?
On Thursday's last day of practice, Penske's garage had three spare engines waiting, just in case Mers, Unser or Andretti needed a new one. The Penske engine shop in Reading, Pa., has six men working even today turning out parts.
"It's 12 hours nonstop, one-way by truck," Penske said.
In this mad month of May, Penske's men have driven 12 engines back and forth between Indianapolis and Reading.
"The thrill of the chase," said Lindsey Hopkins, trying to say why he does it.
"We're in it because it's a great motivator for my employes," said Roger Penske."These cars are their cars."
Penske's publicity man, Dan Luginbuhl, writes a race report every Monday morning on how the Penske cars have fared. This report is transmitted to all 38 Penske offices. The bimonthly house organ, "The Inside Track," also carries news of the Penske racing operation.
In addition to boosting employe moral, the racing works as Penske's advertising. His companies, with headquarters in Piscataway, N.J., are organized into three business groups: energy and engines (diesels, turbines, portable power systems used from Alaska to the Middle East), transportation (leasing over-the-road tractors and trailors) and automotive performance (Penske owns Michigan International Speedway, sells racing tires, tests new cars for American Motors).
"For all our companies, we do almost no advertising," Penske said. "The racing does most of it. It shows we can handle the highest technology with the maximum results."
Penske first came to Indianapolis in 1969 with a baby-faced driver named Mark Donohue, like Penske an automotive engineer who knew how a car worked as well as he knew how to steer it at speed. The first trip set a pattern of success unbroken yet: Donohue was rookie of the year, finishing seventh.
Three years later, Donohue won the 500 for Penske at a record speed. Donohue was killed in a Penske car practicing for the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix.
When Mears won Indianapolis for Penske last year, it proved that Penske's operation is the foremost in racing. No American team has known greater success in the last decade, Penske winning on both sides of the Atlantic, in stock cars, Indy cars, Grand Prix cars.
That's why, if you're looking for a way to put your name on a Penske car, you should come with big bucks.
Gould, Inc., is an international manufacturer of electrical and electronic products. It had sales in excess of $2 billion last year. It employs 36,000 people. The Gould name will ride on the side of Rick Mears' car Sunday -- at a reported cost of $300,000 for the privilege.
Norton, Inc., the world's largest producer of industrial abrasives, sponsors Bobby Unser's car for Penske. And Essex petroleum company puts up petrodollars for Mario Andretti. At $300,000 a shot, you have $900,000 in the pot already -- a significant chunk of the Penske $1.5 million budget already covered before a wheel turns.
Penske's cars won $700,000 last year. About $450,000 of that went to the drivers and crew.
At season's end, he sold eight cars and engines, some at $85,000 a copy. He figures this year-end closeout brought in $500,000.
It was, then, a break-even year, which is the Penske goal.
Incidentally, six of those eight cars sold by Penske will run in Sunday's race. Maybe Lindsey Hopkins should have brought one.