'Curse Of The Smiths' Remains Part Of Indianapolis 500 Lore

Thursday, November 04, 2004

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Finally, the "Curse of the Bambino" has been exorcised by the Boston Red Sox in Major League Baseball.

But, hey, how about the hex of the Indianapolis 500 on drivers named Smith? Like the Energizer Bunny, it just goes on and on and on.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is looking ahead to the 89th running of the world's most famous auto race, the Indianapolis 500, next May 29. Actually, it will be the 96th year of the track's existence and 91st year of conducting races.

The track held its first races in August 1909, and the first Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1911. Babe Ruth was not traded, starting the supposed curse, to the New York Yankees until 1920. Indy is still waiting for a Smith to make the race.

The Hex on the Smiths has been for the entire life of the Indy 500. There's not one Smith among the 689 drivers who have taken the green flag in the race.

There are three drivers whose first name was Jules. There's a Luyendyk, a Borzachinni, a Goux and Gosek. But not a Smith. There have been Johnsons and Jones, but nary a Smith. Paul Goldsmith, who finished third in 1960, did carry the name as part of his in six races yet a Goldsmith is not a Smith as the nearly 3 million Smiths in the United States will attest.

The first Smith to be listed as a driver at the Speedway was Steve Smith, who failed to qualify in 1925, 1927 and 1928. Then came Carl Smith, who was also the car entrant. He did not qualify his No. 73 machine in 1931. Orville Smith came in 1934 to drive the Anglemyer Miller No. 61 car but was rejected by racing officials.

It wasn't until 1967 that another Smith appeared as a driver at Indy.

Al Smith, a USAC sprint car veteran from Dayton, Ohio, passed his rookie test but was unable to get the Autoteria Car Wash Manufacturers Spl. No. 11 up to speed for a qualifying attempt and was replaced by Masten Gregory.

Mark Smith was born in 1967, the same year Al Smith came to Indy the first time. In 1993, Mark Smith arrived at the track with what seemed to be the credentials to end the Smith jinx at the Speedway. The "Hex" got him four times.

Smith, from McMinnville, Ore., qualified the Frank Arciero car twice that May. First he was bumped by Geoff Brabham, but jumped in a second car 11 minutes later on the third day and bumped Eddie Cheever Jr.

Asked about the hex, Mark Smith said, "Call me whatever you want to, I just want to get into this race."

He didn't. On Bump Day he was knocked out of the field by Didier Theys with just six minutes left on the qualifications clock. He was first alternate, which isn't much of a consolation.

Mark Smith returned the next year and encountered the same fate driving for Derrick Walker. He qualified at 220.683 mph on the third day to fill the field, but 14 minutes later Bobby Rahal bumped him out. On Bump Day, Smith took one final shot with 15 minutes remaining and crashed his Craftsman Tools car in Turn 1.

The Hex won again.

Probably the best-known Smith at Indy was chief mechanic Clay Smith, who worked for car owner J.C. Agajanian.

But all Smiths should take heart. There's a Smith out there who at least has a perfect racing nickname although his job on race day is to change the front tires on Ricky Rudd's Wood Brothers car in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series racing. He handled those duties at the Brickyard 400 this past Aug. 8 at the Speedway.

Meet Mike "Andretti" Smith.

"A guy I used to drive against in go-karts gave it to me," Andretti Smith said of his famous nickname. "Hung it on me pretty good. There are people on the team that don't even know my first name."

Andretti Smith, 32, does fabrication work during the week. His brother John is a modified driver in North Carolina.

It's a shame Andretti Smith didn't stick with driving. Wouldn't that have been a great name to break the Hex of the Smiths at Indy? ***

2005 tickets: To purchase tickets, camping or parking for the 89th Indianapolis 500, contact the IMS ticket office at (800) 822-INDY or log on to www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com.