Gordon Johncock (born 5 August 1937, 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."
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 the STP/Pat Patrick team. 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.
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.
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.
- In 1999 he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
- He was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2002.
(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position)
- 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.
- Johncock ranks 3rd on the list of laps completed at Indianapolis.
- Kallmann, Dave (1998). "Looking back: Tragedy of '73 burns in Indy history". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
- Moses, Sam (7 June 1982). "Wee Gordy wins big". Sports Illustrated.
- NASCAR Stats at Racing-Reference.info
- Greatest 33 Profile Article
|Indianapolis 500 Winner
|Indianapolis 500 Winner