List of Indianapolis 500 pole-sitters

List of Indianapolis 500 pole-sitters

Winners of the Pole position for the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. The pole position is the first starting position, and is held in high prestige at Indianapolis. Due to the nature of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, the polesitter is normally determined 15 days before the day of the race. Therefore, he/she receives considerable pre-race attention and accolades in the two weeks leading up to the race. In most years, but not necessarily, the polesitter is the fastest car in the field.

Peak motor oil currently sponsors a $100,000 award given to the pole winner. Rick Mears holds the all-time record with six career pole positons.


Since 1939, the pole position has been determined by 4-lap (10-mile) qualifying time trials. Each car takes to the track one at a time to establish a qualifying speed. In most years since 1952, there have been four days of time trials scheduled. The fastest qualifier on the first day (or first complete round) of qualifying wins the pole position. If a driver records a speed faster than that of the pole position winner on a subsequent day (or subsequent round) he does not win the pole position, but instead lines up behind the previous day's qualifiers. Subsequent to 1914, the last year of qualifications not determining the starting grid order, 16 occasions have seen the pole position-winning entry not recording the fastest overall qualifying speed.

In 1911, the starting grid was determined by the order that entries were received by mail. To qualify for the race, entries had to average 75 miles per hour along a one-mile measured segment of the track. In 1912, all cars were required to complete one timed lap (2.5 miles), but the grid order was still determined by the order the entries were received. From 1913-1914, all cars completed one timed lap. But overseas competitors voiced complaints about their entries arriving in the mail late, and thus unfairly starting deep in the grid. A compromise was made such that the grid was determined by a blind draw a few days before the race.

Starting in 1915-1919, the grid was set by one-lap qualifying speed. From 1920-1931, the grid was set using 4-lap qualifying runs. From 1932-1938, the grid was set using 10-lap (25-mile) qualifying runs. Since 1939, four laps have been used.

Beginning in 2008, the IndyCar Series began using the four-lap average qualification system of Indianapolis as the template for the remainder of oval track racing throughout the series, replacing the previous system for all races other than Indianapolis where the fastest of two laps determined the car's placement on the starting grid. In the event of a rainout of a qualifying session, however, the determination of the starting grid order by the respective positions of drivers in the year's national championship does not apply at Indianapolis, where a special abbreviated session is instead instituted to fill whatever remaining slots in the 500 field.


Pole position qualifying, generally referred to as "Pole Day," is currently held on a Saturday two weekends before the day of the race. Four days of qualifying are scheduled in total, the Saturday and Sunday two weekends before the race, and the Saturday and Sunday one weekend before the race.

After WWII, the Speedway management began to standardize the qualifying schedule. For a few years, six days (three weekends) of qualifying were held. Starting in 1952, it was reduced to four days (two weekends). In 1974, as a gesture to the ongoing Oil Crisis, qualifying was reduced to two days, the Saturday two weeks before the race, and the Saturday one week before the race. From 1998-2000, the schedule was reverted to two days of qualifying, the Saturday and Sunday one weekend before the race. From 2001-2004, the schedule was changed to three days of qualifying, the Saturday and Sunday two weekends before the race, and the Sunday one week before the race. Starting in 2005, the schedule was reverted back to the original four days, comprising of the two weekends before the race.

Springtime rain in the midwest is often a factor, and over the years, many days of qualifying have been delayed, ended early, or completely washed out due to rain. If pole day is rained out, it is moved to the next qualifying day scheduled. This happened most recently in 2006, when the first two days of qualifying were rained out. Pole position qualifying ended up being held on the third day, followed by what remained the fourth and final day.

Starting 2005, although due to rain it was not observed fully until 2007, the qualifying procedure was altered. The 33-car field would be split into three parts.
*On the first day of qualifying (pole day)- positions 1-11 would be filled; bumping amongst those 11 cars would occur
*On the second day of qualifying- positions 12-22 would be filled; bumping amongst those 11 cars would occur
*On the third day of qualifying- positions 23-33 would be filled; bumping amongst those 11 cars would occur
*On the fourth day of qualifying (bump day)- bumping begins immediately as the slowest car overall is "on the bubble," in danger of being bumped out by the next qualifier; all cars behind those bumped out are immediately slotted up one position regardless of their day of qualification, but no fourth-day qualifier is slotted ahead of first-, second- or third-day qualifiers still remaining in the field.

Indianapolis 500 pole-sitters

"Sixty-three drivers have qualified for the pole position, three less than the number of race winners."

Indianapolis 500 winners who started from the pole position

"Seventeen drivers have won the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race from the pole position. Two consecutive wins from the pole position has occurred once, in years 1922-1923, and three consecutive also once, in years 1979-1981."


"Indianapolis 500 Chronicle," copyright 1999, Rick Pope
"2006 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race Official Program"

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