Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now
Further Review

Tom Sneva at Indy

By Charles Apple The Spokesman-Review

On this day 45 years ago, Spokane’s own Tom Sneva drove in his first Indianapolis 500 race. He’d go on to run 18 Indy 500s, win once, finish second three times and qualify to start in first place three times. Here’s a look at Sneva’s history in the Indy 500:

1974

STARTS: 8th

FINISHES: 20th

After failing to qualify for the 1973 Indy 500, Sneva is the fastest-qualifying rookie.

1975

STARTS: 4th

FINISHES: 22nd

Sneva is running fifth when he bumps tires with Eldon Rasmussen in Turn 2, launching Sneva’s car into the catch fence where the car rips in half and bursts into flames. Sneva is able to walk to the ambulance.

The Associated Press

1976

STARTS: 3rd

FINISHES: 6th

1977

STARTS: 1st

FINISHES: 2nd

Starts in the pole position after becoming the first Indy driver to turn a lap at more than 200 mph. Finishes second behind A.J. Foyt, who becomes Indy’s first four-time winner.

1978

STARTS: 1st

FINISHES: 2nd

Again, Sneva sits on the pole. Again, he finishes second — this time to Al Unser. Sneva will go on, however, to win a second consecutive USAC championship.d

1979

STARTS: 2nd

FINISHES: 15th

Crashes in Turn 4 with 12 laps to go.

1980

STARTS: 33rd

FINISHES: 2nd

Starts in last place but finishes in second — only the second time in Indy 500 history that’s happened.

1981

STARTS: 20th

FINISHES: 25th

Qualifies with the fastest speed but not until pole qualifying is over. Despite starting way back in the pack, Sneva leads for 25 laps before his clutch fails and his engine stalls on lap 58. He’ll fall 35 laps down before he re-enters the race briefly. His engine dies on lap 131.

1982

STARTS: 7th

FINISHES: 4th

Sneva leads for 31 laps and is in contention with Gordon Johncock and Rick Mears when he loses power with three laps to go. Johncock will go on to win and Mears will finish second.

1983

STARTS: 4th

FINISHES: 1st

Fortune finally smiles upon Sneva. He leads for 98 laps — nearly half the race — but with Al Unser in the lead late in the race, Sneva finds himself deliberately blocked by Unser’s son, Al Unser Jr. Sneva manages to pass them both with 10 laps to go and earns what will be the only Indy 500 win of his career.

The Associated Press

1984

STARTS: 1st

FINISHES: 16th

Sneva becomes the first driver to qualify with a speed of more than 210 mph and is rewarded with his third pole. Sneva leads for 31 laps and looks like he’s off to a second consecutive win before he breaks a CV joint with 32 laps to go.

1985

STARTS: 13th

FINISHES: 20th

Is still in the lead lap at the halfway point but attempts to avoid a crash and hits the wall in Turn 1.

1986

STARTS: 7th

FINISHES: 33rd

Sneva is warming up his car on the pace lap when he loses control and crashes at the exit of Turn 2. He’s out of the race before it officially begins.

1987

STARTS: 21st

FINISHES: 14th

It’s a rough month for Sneva. He crashes two cars in three days during qualifying and then, with 50 laps to go in the race itself, hits the wall in Turn 2.

1988

STARTS: 14th

FINISHES: 27th

Crashes coming out of the pits on lap 34.

1989

STARTS: 22nd

FINISHES: 27th

Hits 223.176 mph during qualifying but blows his engine before his run is over.

1990

STARTS: 25th

FINISHES: 30th

1991

Fails to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in 17 years.

1992

STARTS: 31st

FINISHES: 31st

After only four laps of racing, Eric Bachelart blows an engine and a yellow flag slows everything down so debris could be cleaned from the track. When the race restarts on lap 11, Sneva loses control and crashes into the Turn 4 wall.

Sources: Racing-Reference.info, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Motor Sport magazine, Spokesman-Review and Chronicle files