IndyCar Flashback: 1965 Indianapolis 500


Thank You as always to everyone who participated in our Twitter poll for IndyCar Flashback. This week, as part of our “Innovations at Indy” series, we profile the 1965 Indianapolis 500. The 1960s were a decade filled with revolutions and evolutions, and 1965 is one of the prime examples of that.

Clark Romps Field in 500 Victory

The buildup to the 1965 Indianapolis 500 was headlined by a major rule change and a shift in technology . The 1964 500 was marred by the deaths of Dave MacDonald and Eddie Sachs in a fiery crash.

As a result, USAC implemented regulations that made methanol a much more competitive fueling source than gasoline. 32 of 33 teams would use methanol as their sole fuel source. The advantage in horsepower came at the expense of fuel mileage. The Agajanian team, with Parnelli Jones behind the wheel, utilized a blend of the two fuels.

The changes in rules and technology did not decrease the rising speeds the speedway had seen years prior. Rookie Mario Andretti was the first to break the track record, turning in a four-lap average of 158.849 MPH on Pole Day.

Formula 1 standout Jim Clark would top Andretti’s run and be the first driver to break the 160 MPH barrier at the speedway, with a lap of 160.772. Clark averaged 160.729 MPH and looked set for the pole, until 1961 and 64 winner A.J. Foyt toppled Clark’s times. The two-time winner set one- and four-lap records (161.958 and 161.233) and won his first 500 pole in his eighth race.

Eleven rookies would make the field for the 49th 500, headed by Andretti, who started in fourth. 27 rear-engine cars would start the race, just four years after Sir Jack Brabham pioneered the change and despite Foyt winning the previous year in a front-engine car.

Among the drivers to miss the field were 1959 and 62 winner Rodger Ward. Ward would join ABC’s Wide World of Sports broadcast, which would show highlights of the race the following week on network television for the first time.

The race began as a battle between Foyt and Clark, with the latter driver taking the lead on Lap 1, then again two laps later and running up front for the ensuing 62 laps. After being slowed by two cautions in the first 25 laps, the pace picked up during the remaining laps.

Foyt took back the for 9 laps on Lap 66, before Clark’s Lotus-Ford roared back and dominated the rest of the way, with just a four-lap caution on Lap 118 for Bud Tinglestead’s crash slowing him.

Clark, who skipped the Monaco Grand Prix to participate, became the first foreign-born driver to win the race since Dario Resta in 1916. Jones would run out of fuel on the final lap, but pushed his car home in second, nearly two minutes behind Clark.

Andretti would finish third and earn Rookie of the Year. Just three years after the 150 MPH mark was broken by Jones in qualifying, Clark won the race with an average speed of 150.686 MPH.


More than 50 years after its conclusion, the 49th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing stands out as one of the most important of its era. Here’s a look at how things progressed following that race.

Jim Clark and Colin Chapman would be one of the most prolific owner-driver combinations in motorsports history

Jim Clark 

Despite missing Monaco to run at Indianapolis, Clark would win the 1965 World Driving Championship.

The scotsman returned to the speedway in 1966 to finish second to Graham Hill and 31st in 1967. Clark would be killed during a Formula 2 race at Hockenheim in Germany the following April. He is often regarded as one of the best drivers not only in his era, but of all time.

Team Lotus 

Lotus’ 1965 efforts at Indianapolis left their mark on history in several facets. Clark’s win was aided in part by NASCAR’s Wood Brothers, who were hired as his pit crew for the 500.

The influence of Stock Car Racing on the team was also seen in Clark’s teammate, Bobby Johns. Johns skipped the World 600 in Charlotte to run his first 500, where he finished seventh.

Guided by the brilliant mind of Colin Chapman, Lotus would dominate Formula 1 in the 1970s after shifting focus back to the series. Drivers like Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti and Jochen Rindt would earn championships while driving for the team.

In 2012, Lotus returned to the Indianapolis 500 with Fan Force United’s  Jean Alesi and HVM Racing’s Simon de Silvestro.

Unfortunately, the cars were unable to keep pace with the rest of the field and parked within 10 laps. Lotus’ struggles continued throughout the season and they withdrew from IndyCar as an engine manufacturer at the end of 2012.

Parnelli Jones

A second 500 victory eluded the 1963 champion. He would run at Indianapolis twice more, including the 1967 race that saw him falter two laps from the finish after dominating the day. Jones would step away from the 500 as a driver prior to the 1968 running, but found great success as an owner. He won the race with Al Unser in 1970 and 1971.

Mario Andretti would be the star of an incredible rookie class in 1965

 1965 Rookie Class

In addition to Andretti’s impressive performance, the rookies from 1965 would take five of the top ten spots.

Included in that group were Al Unser and Gordon Johncock. The 1965 rookie class would combine to win nine IndyCar championships and 123 races, including seven Indianapolis 500s.

Images courtesy of INDYCAR Media.

Spencer Neff

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