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Treasured Trinkets: Indy 500 Winners Cherish Special Keepsakes of Victory

Every driver saves treasured keepsakes from their career, moments that remind them of some of the best days behind the wheel. Here’s a look at items cherished by selected past Indianapolis 500 winners:

Gordon Johncock (1973, ’82 Winner)

Brass Proto Indianapolis 500 wheel hammer: “I have no idea why I’ve held on to it for all these years, but this was from my rookie year in 1965 when I finished fifth in a front-engine Offy. Boy, things sure changed over the years. The engines went to the rear, knock-off tires switched to air guns, and speeds just kept going up and up until I retired in 1992.”

Bobby Unser (1968, ’75, ’81 Winner)

1968 race-winning goggles: “1968 was so special for me. It was my sixth “500” and my first time on the front row. I just knew I had the best car that day, and when I lost top gear it was a super disappointment and made me drive even harder. Beating the turbines to win was something to remember. Mr. Hulman told me after the race that it the best Indy 500 he had seen.”

Al Unser (1970, ’71, ’78, ’87 Winner)

1970 team shoes, Vel’s Parnelli Jones/Parnelli Jones Enterprises: In the 1970s, not only were the cars radically changing at the Speedway, but so was fashion. The trendsetting Vel’s Parnelli Jones team was not only was fast on the track but looked fast, as well. Unser didn’t wear the team shoes on Race Day, but the crew did, sending Unser and the Johnny Lightning Special to the first of two consecutive “500” wins.

Arie Luyendyk (1990, ’97 Winner)

1997 sunglasses from Victory Lane: “I’ve just done a pretty good job of hanging onto my racing gear over the years. Sure, some things have been given to friends or charity, but when it came to Indy 500 wins, I wanted to keep everything. In 1997, I started on the pole and won. It took two days to do it, but other than that, it was just about perfect.”

Jim Rathmann (1960 Winner)

2000 Pace Car license plate: 1960 Indy 500 winner Rathmann drove the Pace Car for the race six times after he retired from driving. In 2000, officials presented Rathmann with a Pace Car license plate with number 4, the number of his Indy-winning car in 1960. Rathmann kept it in his office as a reminder of his epic duel with Rodger Ward that year.

Parnelli Jones (1963 Winner)

One of 150 silver dollars awarded to him for breaking the 150-mph barrier in 1962: “When I broke 150 mph in 1962, it was a great thrill. It was a big thrill, actually; it carried a lot of prestige. I came in from my run – I will never forget it 150.370 for four laps, and everyone was all smiles and Aggie (J.C. Agajanian) was hollering and hugging people. They had me put my helmet up there and emptied those 150 silver dollars into my helmet; I was in awe of the whole thing, obviously. Over the years, I have given lots of the silver dollars to friends as gifts, but I still have a few.”

Dario Franchitti (2007, ’10, ‘12 Winner)

Balloons released before the start of the 2010 race: Franchitti is a true historian of the sport and the Indianapolis 500. He has amassed an amazing collection of racing memorabilia over the years, and each year it continues to grow. From trading helmets with his fellow competitors to Jim Clark’s 1965 pit board to books to uniforms, Franchitti has it all. He has virtually kept everything from his three Indy 500 wins – helmets, gloves, shoes, uniforms and even the earplugs he wore on Race Day. So, when a friend gave him balloons that were part of the 2010 Race Day activities, he happily added them to his collection of unique artifacts from the “500.”

A.J. Foyt (1961, ’64, ’67, ’77 Winner)

Leather Champion Spark Plug 100 mph Club jacket presented following the 1961 race: To be eligible for this prestigious club, a driver had to complete the “500” without a relief driver and average over 100 mph. The club was formed in 1935 and ran through the early 1970s. There was yearly banquet in May honoring the club’s members and inducting members who met the standards the previous year. Drivers were awarded, among other items, a leather bomber jacket with the club’s patch, which most drivers proudly wore through the race season and year round after earning the honor. “It was one of the biggest honors a driver could earn at Indianapolis. I will always be proud of being part of that group of drivers who were in the club – all the greats were in it – Shaw, Bryan, Bettenhausen and Parnelli.”

Rick Mears ( 1979, ’84, ’88, ’91 Winner)

Ceremonial baton used by U. S. Army’s Green Beret Sport Parachute Team from Fort Bragg, North Carolina: “I have received a lot of unique awards and gifts and awards at Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the years, but this one is very special to me. In 1992 on the third day of qualifying, Armed Forces Day at IMS, this baton was brought into the track by a U.S. Army parachute team and awarded to me as the previous year’s winner. With the ‘500’ being on Memorial Day weekend, it truly makes you appreciate how lucky we are to have men and women defending our country every day of the year. This coming from the military makes it extra special for me.”

Scott Dixon (2008 Winner)

2008 driving gloves: “Indy is all about history and is the largest and greatest race in the world. After I won from the pole in 2008, I knew I wanted to remember the day in every possible way possible because who knows if it is ever going to happen again? I kept everything exactly as it was after the race – covered in sweat, milk and champagne.”

Johnny Rutherford (1974, ’76, ’80 Winner)

Ladybug: “I’ve got to tell you my story about the ladybug. Standing on the grid, the car’s on the grid and on the pole in 1980, Jim Hall is standing there with Steve Roby and other guys are around the car, looking at things checking and double checking and triple checking. I felt something in my hair and reached up looked over on my shoulder, and there’s a big orange ladybug that’s crawling around in a circle on my shoulder. And I told Jim and Steve, I said: ‘Hey, tell the rest of these guys to load up and go home. We just won this thing.’ We knew we had all the luck in the world. After the race, I told the story and fans from all over the world sent me all kinds of ladybugs.”

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