Indianapolis — 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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
When: Sunday, May 29
Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
TV: ABC — Saturday, 4-6 p.m. (qualifying); Sunday, 1-3 p.m. (qualifying); May 29, 11 a.m.-12 (prerace), 12 p.m. (race); NBCSN — May 27, Noon-1 p.m. (Indy Lights Freedom 100)
Race: 500 miles (200 laps)
Practice: Wednesday, 12-6 p.m.; Thursday, 12-6 p.m.; Friday, 12-6 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m.-10 a.m.
2015 winner: Juan Pablo Montoya