We noted on this site few weeks back the opening of a new exhibit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum of interest to all fans of the Indianapolis 500—A carefully researched and well-illustrated exhibit honoring the 43 drivers who at least once finished second in the 500 but who never (as of Pato O’Ward’s 2022 runner-up finish) won the race.
Clearly, winning the 500 is a triumph limited to only a very few. “Over its 110-year history, 43 men were mere moments from claiming that triumph,” said a Museum spokesman, “never adding their name and likeness to the Borg-Warner Trophy. Five are still in pursuit.”
Finishing second in the Indy 500 has to be one of the most frustrating accomplishments in all of motor racing, coming oh-so-close in one of the most mentally challenging contests anywhere in the world. A runner-up finish is a huge accomplishment—as is indeed any finish in the Memorial Day classic!—but the names of those men who once claimed that finish but never took the checkered flag first are soon forgotten.
They were not forgotten by author/publisher Joe Freeman, racing historian (and brilliant author in his own right) Gordon Kirby and researcher Thomas Saal who, in 2015, collaborated on and released a superbly well-researched, 304-page hardcover compilation of profiles celebrating all of these men, from Ralph Mulford, runner-up in the 1911 inaugural, through to star-crossed Carlos Munoz in 2013.
Available in The RACER Store, “Second To One: All But For Indy” is a history book engaging right from the start, with an insightful Forward penned by Michael Andretti (who came within 3.1s of victory in 1991, argggh) and Afterward by 2004 runner-up Tony Kanaan who “wrote himself out of this book” with a superb win in his 12th attempt, 2013.
In between are detailed profile, lavishly illustrated, of the 30-some-odd (I should have counted) men who came with seconds, minutes and sometimes whole laps of victory in what, through the early years, was a nearly day-long race.
Some were lucky to finish that high; others clearly snake-bit. As with the winners, though, no discernible pattern emerged. Second in the Indy 500 was sometimes incidental to a brilliant career, sometimes a high-water mark but, as this book makes sure we understand, always worthy of applause.
“Second place is first loser?”
Whether you make the trek to the IMS Museum to spend hours ogling the 19 cars in the “Second” exhibit or not, you owe yourself a long-weekend read of this book—a peerless collection of triumphs, tragedies and what-might-have-beens through the profiles of America’s best and oft-forgotten.