Sunday, March 12, 2017

Johnny Rutherford Born in Coffeyville, Kansas - March 12, 1938

March 12, 1938
Johnny Rutherford
(Photo; en.wikipedia.org)
Born in Coffeyville, Kansas, USA.
In 1959, Rutherford started driving modified stock cars in Dallas. He joined the International Motor Contest Association sprint car circuit in 1961 leading it for most of 1962. Rutherford later joined the United States Auto Club (USAC) starting in the Hoosier Hundred and later winning his first championship.

Rutherford set a world record for speed in his first qualifying effort in a stock car during qualifying for the 1963 Daytona 500. Later that year he also had his first start in the Indianapolis 500. Rutherford's first Indy car race win took place at the Atlanta 250. He won the USAC National Sprint Car Championship in 1965.

On April 3, 1966, Rutherford suffered a serious crash at Eldora Speedway. His car flipped out of the track, and he suffered broken arms, a broken finger, and a head injury. He was forced to sit out the 1966 Indy 500.

Rutherford won pole position at the Indy 500 in 1973, 1976, and 1980. In 1973, Rutherford set a one-lap track record of 199.071 mph, falling just shy of becoming the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier at Indianapolis. Victories at the Indy 500 for him came in 1974, 1976 and 1980. In 1984, at Michigan International Speedway, Rutherford set an all time Indy car qualifying lap speed record of 215.189 mph. He became the first driver to win all three 500 mile races, in 1986, by winning the Michigan 500. Rutherford recorded nine straight seasons with a victory making him one of just six drivers in Indy Car history to do so.

In October 1977, Rutherford travelled 'down under' to compete in Australia's most famous motor race, the Bathurst 1000 km (800 mi) touring car race at the Mount Panorama Circuit. There, partnering fellow Indianapolis racer Janet Guthrie, Rutherford drove a V8 powered Holden Torana for the team that had won the 1976 race, Ron Hodgson Racing. Driving a completely unfamiliar car, the steering wheel on the right side of the car, on a 6.172 km (3.835 mi) public road course carved into the side of a mountain, Rutherford qualified 26th out of 60 starters. During practice he complained about his car as it was not as good as the teams lead car driven by 1976 winners Bob Morris and John Fitzpatrick. Morris then got in the car and while not as quick as his own Torana, easily lapped over 5 seconds faster showing the problem was simply JR's lack of familiarity with the car and track. Wisely, JR made a cautious start to the race, but his race would come effectively to an end on lap 8 when he attempted to lap the Ford Escort RS2000 of 1966 winner Bob Holden. The Torana and Escort made contact and Rutherford ended up crashing into an earth bank at the top of The Mountain. The bent Torana was then brought back to the pits on the back of a tilt-tray truck (with the race still going at full speed and cars passing the truck going along the 2 km long Conrod Straight at over 150 mph (241 km/h)). It was then disqualified before being reinstated. Rutherford then completed another 5 laps before finally retiring with Guthrie not getting to drive.

Rutherford's NASCAR Winston Cup career included 35 starts from 1963 to 1988. He won in his first start, at Daytona International Speedway driving for Smokey Yunick. The win, in the second 100-mile Daytona 500 qualifying race, made him one of the youngest drivers ever to win in NASCAR history, in a full points-paying NASCAR race. In 1981, Rutherford drove twelve races, the most he ever raced in a single NASCAR season. In addition, Rutherford competed in five runnings of the International Race of Champions, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1980 and 1984.

Rutherford's 24th and final start at Indianapolis would be 1988. By that time he was running only a part-time schedule, and was splitting time working as a television analyst on NBC, ABC, CBS and ESPN and radio analyst on Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network. He also served as the pace car driver for the PPG Indycar series for most of that period. He failed to qualify at Indy in three attempts (1989, 1990, 1992) and was not able to find a ride in 1991 or 1993. Starting in 1989, Rutherford began serving as the driver analyst on the IMS Radio Network. He was never able to achieve his milestone 25th Indy start.

During the month of May 1994, Rutherford officially retired from racing. At its inception in 1996, Rutherford took a full-time position as an official with the IRL, serving as pace car driver and driver coach. Rutherford also served as a racing consultant for Team Pennzoil.

Johnny's wife Betty was a fixture at his side throughout his racing career. His first Indy 500 win in 1974, with Betty looking on from the pits, helped to end the taboo in American racing against allowing women in the pit area. Rutherford, whom has been invited to The White House on behalf of Indy on multiple occasions, is considered a popular ambassador and spokesman for the sport of Indy car racing.

He was Inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1993, the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1995, and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1996.

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