Bonus Seven With Steve: NASCAR Stars At Indianpolis.

With Kurt Busch testing an IndyCar at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today it’s time to look at some previous NASCAR notables that have crossed over and made the trip north to Indianapolis. Recently the flow of talent has been more southerly in nature as more IndyCar drivers have made the switch to NASCAR then vice versa. But at one time some of NASCAR’s best tried their hand at the Indianapolis 500. Here are seven of the most recognizable of those and how they fared.

Junior Johnson was the first of two NASCAR notables that came to the Brickyard in 1963. Johnson, a winner of 50 races as a driver and 132 races as an owner drove an Offenhauser powered Kurtis with a full roll cage. He failed to pass rookie orientation and returned to finish a very successful season on the the NASCAR Grand National Circuit.

Curtis Turner was the second NASCAR notable that made an attempt to qualify for the 1963 Indianapolis 500. In 1960, Turner built the the Charlotte Motor Speedway and in 1961 he was part of a group that tried to form a drivers union in NASCAR. This earned him a five year ban from the sport. He continued to race in other series which included a trip to the Brickyard in 1963. Car builder and noted innovator Smokey Yunick chose Turner to pilot his Offy powered Fiberglass Special. Their month came to an end during practice when Turner hit the outside wall and damaged the No. 12 beyond repair.

Cale Yarborough won 83 races in NASCAR and also three straight Winston Cup Series Championships while driving for Junior Johnson. One of four notable NASCAR stars that ventured north during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Yarborough made 4 attempts to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. In 1966 he drove a Ford powered Vollstedt to a 28th place finish after qualifying 24th. His 1967 effort was cut short when he crashed during practice. In 1971, Firestone sponsored his Ford powered Mongoose to a 4th row start and 20th place finish. Yarborough’s most successful trip to Indianapolis came in 1972 when he drove a Bill Daniels owned, Foyt powered Atlanta to an impressive 10th place finish after starting on the last row.

Noted for his prowess on super-speedways in a stock car, LeeRoy Yarbrough made a yearly trip north to Indiana for six straight years from 1966 through 1971. The winner of 14 races in NASCAR qualified for the race three times in six attempts. His first attempt in 1966 ended in a practice crash. In 1967, Yarbrough started 26th in his Ford powered Vollstedt and came home 27th after a lap 87 incident. Yarbrough failed to qualify in 1968 and ended the 1960’s with a 23rd place finish after qualifying 8th in a turbo-charged Ford Eagle. 1970 was LeeRoy’s most successful year at Indianapolis when he drove his Eagle to a 19th place finish. 1970 also saw Yarbrough compete in the USAC Champ Car California 500 where he was leading until his Offenhasuer let go with only nine laps remaining. He returned to Indianapolis with Gurney in 1971 and unfortunately suffered a practice crash that cut his driving career short.

A member of the famed Alabama Gang, Donnie Allison was the most successful of the Southern interlopers. Best known as Bobby’s younger brother and for his fisticuffs with Cale Yarborough at the end of the 1979 Daytona 500, the 10 time NASCAR winner made two very successful starts at Indianapolis. Driving an Ford powered Eagle for A.J. Foyt Racing, Allison took home Chase Rookie of the Year honors by finishing fourth. He returned for Foyt in 1971 and brought his Ford powered Coyote home in 6th place.

Donnie’s older brother and leader of the “Alabama Gang”, Bobby Allison also made two starts in the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing”. Driving for Roger Penske, the 1983 Winston Cup Series completed only one lap in his Offy powered McLaren in 1973. Allison had a contract to race in the 500 with Penske again in 1974 but Roger tore it up after Allison’s wife was horrified by the tragic events of 1973. Penske prodded Allision to test an IndyCar again in late 1974 and by the time 1975 rolled around he had convince Bobby and his wife to drive for him at Indianapolis and three other super-speedway races. Qualifying 13th, Allison made it 112 laps before a broken gear box relegated him to a 25th place finish.

Bobby Allison protege Neil Bonnet came to Indianapolis in 1979. Bonnet drove an AMC powered Spirit for his NASCAR sponsor Warner Hodgdon. The 18 race NASCAR winner had problems getting the National Engineering sponsored car up to speed and it was eventually qualified by the more experienced Jerry Sneva who came home in 31st place.

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Written 05-09-2013, 06:41 am
Updated 05-09-2013, 06:49 am
Written by S. Wittich
Photography Furniture Row Racing / CIA Stock Photography, Inc

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