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Throwback cars giving 100th Indianapolis 500 retro look

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Indianapolis 500 fans might feel like they’re traveling through a time warp this month.

Scott Dixon’s traditional red-and-white Target Chip Ganassi car has brought back the yellow lightning bolt. At Team Penske, Helio Castroneves is driving the “yellow submarine” while teammate Simon Pagenaud climbs into the trademark neon yellow car former team owner John Menard used in the 1990s. And the paint scheme on the No. 35 of A.J. Foyt Enterprises rekindles memories of the cars he drove late in his storied career.

They’re winning every popularity contest in Gasoline Alley.

“The yellow submarine has always been a sharp looking car,” said Robert Arnold, a 58-year-old fan from Indianapolis. “But the Menard’s day-glow paint schemes, I enjoy those very much. That really brings me back to the ’90s. I just really like all of the throwback paint schemes. I think they should bring these back, no matter the occasion.”

Throwback days have become popular events in much of the sports world.

Teams in the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball all have donned uniforms from previous years. Last year, when NASCAR put Darlington back on its traditional September date, Sprint Cup teams celebrated by turning back the clock with old color schemes on the cars.

But the sudden penchant for going retro at Indianapolis Motor Speedway seems much more fitting given the circumstances – the May 29 race will be the 100th running of the 500.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

“I think this year there was more of an emphasis on the throwback,” said Dixon, the 2008 race winner. “The only question I had about the lightning bolt was why it took so long to get it back on the car because I think it looks fantastic.”

The lightning bolt first appeared on the team’s cars in 1995 and the decal remained there through 2001, a span in which Ganassi’s drivers combined to win four series titles and Juan Pablo Montoya won the 2000 Indianapolis 500.

Penske’s team drew raves when it initially brought back the canary yellow car in 2014 with the same colors Rick Mears popularized by driving to 500 wins in 1982 and 1984. Now Castroneves is hoping his seventh attempt to join Mears, Foyt and Al Unser Sr. as the only members of the four-time 500 winners club will come with just as much luck as Mears had in the ’80s.

“I’m super hungry,” Castroneves said. “I’ve been close, I’ve been fast, I’ve been competitive, but – and we don’t want to use that word but – we haven’t won it yet.”

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

Pagenaud’s uniquely bright car is still adding chapters to Menard’s storied reputation.

From 1995-2000, Menard’s team won three poles. Pagenaud did it again last weekend by taking the No. 1 qualifying spot for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and then did something Menard’s teams never could by winning at Indy. With back-to-back pole wins and three straight race wins, Pagenaud heads into this weekend’s qualifying as one of the pole favorites in a car people still embrace.

“The only way the Menard’s car would be better is if Tony Stewart was behind the wheel,” said 27-year-old Justin Whitaker, who lives in Indy. “And being the 100th running, I’m glad to see Penske pay homage to their storied past.”

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

But the history of Foyt’s car is not just imbedded in paint.

Canadian Alex Tagliani, the pole winner in 2011, will drive the Alfe Heat Treating car with a number that signifies two parts of Foyt’s incredible legacy: He was born in 1935 and he started a record 35 consecutive races at Indy.

For Alfe, this is the third straight year it’s sponsored a retro-look car and fans are hoping it won’t be the last.

“This will be my 20th (500), so I like seeing those throwbacks because I remember seeing them (as a kid),” said Evan Rauch, a 27-year-old fan from Indy. “It’s great for the sport, but it especially adds even more to this historic race.”

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?