October 29, 2018 8:57 a.m.
Throughout its 102 runnings, 770 drivers have qualified for the Indianapolis 500.
Dozens more have attempted to make their way into “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, but were not or have not been successful.
Dedication is an adjective synonymous with each of these racers and their crews. On the track, they must be fast enough to compete in the race.
Off track and in the garage, they work tirelessly to squeeze any extra edge they can. This could be from themselves, or the high-speed machines they drive around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
A particular aspect of this commitment of such dedication that can be overlooked is often not from the drivers themselves. Family members, owners and others help make Indy dreams become a reality.
In this Faces of the 500, we profile Scott Harrington. Harrington’s journey to Indianapolis is one marred with perseverance and sacrifice.
Early Career Struggles
Born in 1963 in Louisville, Kentucky, Harrington attended college at the University of Louisville. His racing career started with a successful run on two-wheels in AMA Motocross and Supercross.
In 1988, Harrington would taste his first bit of success with a third-place finish in the Formula Atlantic series.
The following year, Harrington arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with U.S. Engineering.
In his first attempt to qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, Harrington practiced but did not make a qualifying attempt in his Lola-Chevrolet.
His IndyCar debut did happen later in 1989. At Road America, Harrington started 23rd. Despite finishing four laps down in the 50-lap race, the rookie worked his way up to 16th in the final running order.
An attempt to qualify for the finale at Laguna Seca in October proved unsuccessful. For the time being, it would be Harrington’s last appearance in an IndyCar.
Finding Success Elsewhere
Like many of his contemporaries, Harrington found success in sports cars. In 1992, he began an outstanding three-year run in the Shelby Can-Am Series.
During this time, Harrington won the 1992 Drivers’ Championship and earned more race victories than any other driver.
A few years later, the challenge of the Indianapolis 500 would beckon for Harrington.
With the IRL/CART dispute looming, several drivers were afforded an opportunity to attempt the Indianapolis 500 they might not otherwise have.
Harrington arrived at the track and passed his rookie test. On May 16, he crashed his primary car and his chances at qualifying were in major jeopardy.
Thankfully, John Della Penna came to the rescue, allowing Harrington to move to a backup car with his team. With 23 minutes remaining on Bump Day, Harrington turned in a four-lap average at 222.185 MPH and qualified 32nd.
Fellow rookie Joe Gosek moved Harrington to the bubble spot, but he held on to that spot.
By Race Day, Harrington moved back up to 32nd. Danny Ongais would replace fatally injured polesitter Scott Brayton.
When the ABC television cameras began airing, Harrington was among the first interviewed.
Pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch detailed the lengths he had gone through to make it.
Harrington sold his 1977 Porsche, his fiancee sold her Mustang. They were also served an eviction notice and had the lights shut off in their apartment. Punch asked Harrington if it was worth it, Harrington affirmed.
During the first caution, Harrington spun in Turn 3 trying to catch back up to the field. Other than the early miscue, the day went along quietly for Harrington.
On Lap 165, a crash with Lyn St. James in the south chute ended his day. With the high rate of attrition, Harrington would be credited with a 15th-place finish.
In 1997, Johansson Motorsports would field Harrington in a new G-Force/Infiniti entry for the race.
On Bump Day, the second-year driver was severely injured in a Turn 2 crash and did not make the race.
A year later, he returned to the speedway, but once again failed to qualify for the race. Harrington made his return to the IRL at Dover but completed only 1 lap before retiring with handling issues.
Although he did not make the race in 1999 or 2000, he did win IRL Rookie of the Year for 1999, earning a fifth-place at Phoenix and three additional Top 10s.
After dealing with off-track issues, Harrington’s last IRL start would come at Michigan in 2002.
Today, Harrington resides in Indianapolis with his wife and son. He remains heavily involved in racing as a driving coach.
Harrington has also made additional appearances at the speedway for its annual SVRA event in June.
Harrington will not go down as one of the more memorable names in the race’s history. Nonetheless, his grit and determination should be commended.
In an era where drivers often find sponsorship to fund their racing pursuits, Harrington’s path to the Indianapolis 500 includes tremendous personal sacrifice. For this, he and other drivers have earned the respect of the Indy faithful.
Header Image by Jim Haines/INDYCAR.