VALLEY STREAM, N.Y. — Andretti Motorsports announced recently that Ryan Hunter-Reay, the defending IZOD Indy Car Series champion, will switch car numbers for the 2013 season and will proudly carry the coveted No. 1.
This doesn’t seem like much of a story, but to some it may be. For some very odd reason, No. 1 has become a bust in Indy car racing.
Car numbers have been awarded to owners for their respective finishes in the previous year’s standings. This goes back to the AAA, which sanctioned
Indianapolis racing even before the brickyard was built. USAC, CART and IRL continued the tradition.
Having No. 1 on your car gave one pride and the team got to display it all the next year. Most owners went that route. A few like J.C. Agajanian, who preferred No. 98, Murrell Belanger who used No. 99 and Dan Gurney, who took a liking to No. 48, used those numerals.
A.J. Foyt was assigned No. 14 for the 1973 season and for some reason, he kept it for the remainder of his career. As a car owner, he still has uses No. 14 on his primary car. Some thing that A.J. liked the fact Bill Vukovich won two straight races with No. 14. Foyt’s first two Indy 500 wins did come with No. 1
Getting back to No. 1 because the national champion used to wear that number, one would think it would be enormously successful. Its last Indy win came in 1971 with Al Unser. That’s an amazing 42-race slump. One has seven wins. No. 3 has 11 wins. It has become Helio Castroneves’ number of choice.
Because of the “slump,” No. 1 doesn’t even get to compete every year.
Michael Andretti in 2006 was the last to race at Indianapolis with No. 1. The Indy car gentry always has been the more superstitious of all racing venues.
Incidentally, No. 2 has been away from victory lane for a long time also. Al Unser also got its last win in 1979. No. 2 ranks second with eight wins.
Ryan Hunter-Reay can disprove the jinx theory come Memorial Day. If he doesn’t, one wonders if that famed lineage will disappear altogether.