Gordon Johncock

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Johncock's car at Pocono

Gordon Johncock (born 25 August 1936, Hastings, Michigan) is a former racing driver, best known as a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and the 1976 USAC Marlboro Championship Trail champion. Johncock was most often simply referred to as "Gordy."

Early career[edit]

Johncock's first USAC victory was scored at the Milwaukee Mile in August 1965. He won six further races before winning the Indy 500 in 1973.

At the 1973 Indianapolis 500, Johncock was racing for STP/Patrick Racing. A major accident at the start involving Salt Walther, coupled with two days of rain, postponed the race until late Wednesday afternoon. When the race was held, Johncock's teammate Swede Savage was severely injured in a fiery crash on lap 58. A moment later, Armando Teran, a pit crew member on the same STP/Patrick team, was struck by a fire truck going northbound in the pits, and was fatally injured at the scene. When the race resumed, Johncock who had led the most laps, was leading when rain fell again on the 133rd lap. Nearing 6 p.m. in the evening, the race was red flagged and declared over. After a short and muted victory lane celebration, Johncock went to visit Savage at the hospital. Afterward, the celebratory victory banquet was cancelled. Instead, Johncock and his crew went to a local fast-food joint for hamburgers. About a month later, Savage died from his injuries.

In the 1975 Indianapolis 500, he started the race on the front row but retired with ignition problems on the 11th lap. Johncock won the USAC national title in 1976, snatching the title from Johnny Rutherford in the final race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway. In 1976 and 1978 he finished third at Indianapolis, and in 1977 he was leading A. J. Foyt when the car's crankshaft broke with sixteen laps to go.

Johncock took a second Indianapolis 500 victory in 1982, winning by 0.16 second over Rick Mears. This remains the second closest Indy 500 finish in history (Al Unser Jr's 0.043 second victory over Scott Goodyear in 1992 being the closest). Mears was rapidly closing on Johncock in the final laps. In Mears' final pit stop, Mears' team made a miscalculation and filled his car with more fuel than it needed to finish the race. As a consequence Mears had to catch up a significant distance on Johncock, and on the 197th and 198th laps came from 3 seconds back to within car lengths. Johncock's tires were deteriorating by the lap, and with each turn the car understeered more severely. On the final lap, Mears tried to pass Johncock for the win, with Johncock making a decisive defense of first place in Turn One. Mears would later joke about watching the tape over and over to see if 'this time I get around Gordy'. Johncock, during a live interview on ABC years later, offered that if the dramatic duel had occurred two or three years later -- when Mears had additional experience -- the Californian would probably have pulled off the winning pass.

Johncock took another three Indycar races, including the 1982 Michigan 500 to complete two legs of what was then known as the Triple Crown before retiring from racing in 1985 (the three 500-mile (800 km) races on the USAC Marlboro Championship Trail were known as such from 1970 until 1989, and again since 2014 (there was a Triple Crown of Indianapolis, Pocono, and Fontana in 2013, but Pocono was a 400-mile race in 2013)). Legend holds that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway held off resurfacing the bumpy concrete pit lane until Johncock retired, as he was known for his high-speed trips through the pit lane. He returned for occasional appearances in 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991 and retired for good after the 1992 Indianapolis 500.

Johncock competed in twenty-one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events in his career. He earned three top-fives and four top-tens in his limited schedules. The best of those finishes were a pair of fourths in 1973 at Daytona and 1966 at Rockingham.

First retirement[edit]

Johncock abruptly retired from Indycar racing during the first week of practice for the 1985 Indianapolis 500, just before qualifications. He served on the IMS Radio Network in 1985, but decided to return to racing in 1986. He planned to enter the 1986 Indianapolis 500, but his funding for a car fell through. He wound up sitting out the race. He attempted another return in 1987. During the first week of time trials, Jim Crawford suffered serious injuries to his feet. Johncock was hired to drive in replacement, and qualified for the race.

Second retirement[edit]

Johncock completed a sixth place finish in the 1991 Indy 500. His final race was the 1992 Indy 500, where he dropped out with engine failure. Since his retirement, Johncock has distanced himself from motorsports, and focuses on his timber business in Michigan. He participated in a 2004 interview on ESPN Classic's "Big Ticket" review of the 1982 Indy 500. In the interview, he admitted that his interests in racing were now limited, and was no longer his daily focus. In discussing the tragic 1973 race, Johncock appeared to have made peace with the circumstances. While most discredit the race as being rain-shortened, and for its overall miserable memories, Johncock insisted that his car was undoubtedly the fastest on the track, led easily, and was not simply in front at the time of the red flag by chance.

Johncock chose not to attended the 2011 Indianapolis 500, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first race. Despite the fact that all living former participants, and particularly living former winners, were invited, Johncock did not attend any of the festivities, seemingly by choice. A year later, Speedway officials again invited him to attend, and he did return to the Speedway and participated in pre-race festivities at the 2012 race.

Awards[edit]

PPG Indycar Series[edit]

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position)

YearTeam1234567891011121314151617RankPoints
1979Patrick RacingPHX
1
ATL
4
ATL
9
INDY
6
TRE
3
TRE
5
MCH
1
MCH
4
WGL
3
TRE
16
ONT
15
MCH
13
ATL
2
PHX
4
3rd2211
1980Patrick RacingONT
3
INDY
4
MIL
3
POC
DNS
MDO
2
MCH
5
WGL
21
MIL
23
ONT
23
MCH
24
MEX
19
PHX
24
6th1572
1981Patrick RacingPHX
6
MIL
16
ATL
4
ATL
4
MCH
36
RIV
2
MIL
6
MCH
5
WGL
10
MEX
3
PHX
3
4th142
1982Patrick RacingPHX
5
ATL
2
MIL
1
CLE
5
MCH
1
MIL
11
POC
6
RIV
26
ROA
22
MCH
15
PHX
23
4th186
1983Patrick RacingATL
1
INDY
14
MIL
23
CLE
26
MCH
26
ROA
POC
RIV
MDO
MCH
CPL
LAG
PHX
16th20
1984Patrick RacingLBH
11
PHX
10
INDY
25
MIL
6
POR
9
MEA
12
CLE
18
MCH
4
ROA
9
POC
11
MDO
10
SAN
17
MCH
DNQ
PHX
13
LAG
CPL
DNS
14th39
1985Patrick RacingLBH
INDY
Wth1
MIL
POR
MEA
CLE
MCH
ROA
POC
MDO
SAN
MCH
LAG
PHX
MIA
NC-
1986Machinist UnionPHX
LBH
INDY
Wth2
MIL
POR
MEA
CLE
TOR
MCH
POC
MDO
SAN
MCH
ROA
LAG
PHX
MIA
NC-
1987American RacingLBH
PHX
INDY
22
MIL
POR
MEA
CLE
TOR
MCH
POC
ROA
MDO
NAZ
LAG
MIA
NC0
1988Granatelli RacingPHX
LBH
INDY
DNQ
MIL
POR
CLE
TOR
MEA
MCH
6
POC
6
MDO
ROA
NAZ
LAG
MIA
21st16
1989Hemelgarn RacingPHX
LBH
INDY
31
MIL
DET
POR
CLE
MEA
TOR
MCH
21
POC
15
MDO
ROA
NAZ
LAG
NC0
1991Hemelgarn RacingSRF
LBH
PHX
INDY
6
MIL
DET
POR
CLE
MEA
TOR
MCH
DEN
VAN
MDO
ROA
NAZ
LAG
20th8
1992Patrick RacingSRF
PHX
LBH
INDY
29
DET
POR
MIL
NHA
TOR
MCH
CLE
ROA
VAN
MDO
NAZ
LAG
NC0
1 Johncock was listed as the primary entry and participated in practice; prior to qualifying, Johncock announced he was withdrawing, and announced a retirement from driving.
2 Johncock announced he was coming out of retirement, and was preparing to drive a back-up car for the Machinst Union racing team, but funding fell through during the second week of practice.

Indianapolis 500 results[edit]

YearCarStartQualRankFinishLapsLedRetired
19657614155.0122052000Running
1966726161.059842000Running
196733166.5593121880Spun T3
196849166.775927370Rear End
1969125168.6265191370Piston
1970517167.0151328450Piston
1971712171.3881429110Crash T3
19722426188.5118201130Exhaust Valve
19732011192.55513113364Running
1974204186.287541980Flagged
1975202191.653231118Ignition
1976202188.5313310218Running
1977205193.516611184129Crankshaft
1978206195.833831990Flagged
197935189.753561970Flagged
19802017186.07515420011Running
1981204195.4297919452Engine
1982205201.8845120057Running
19832010199.74813141630Gearbox
1984205207.5455251030Crash T4
1985Withdrew during practice
1986Ride did not materialize
1987218207.9901222760Valve
1988DNQ - Bumped
19899123215.0721931190Engine
1990Did not enter
19919233213.8123361880Flagged
19929231219.2873229600Engine
Totals3158339
Starts24
Poles0
Front Row3
Wins2
Top 58
Top 1011
Retired14

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Achievements
Preceded by
Mark Donohue
Indianapolis 500 Winner
1973
Succeeded by
Johnny Rutherford
Preceded by
Bobby Unser
Indianapolis 500 Winner
1982
Succeeded by
Tom Sneva