- Tom Sneva
Tom Sneva (born Thomas E. Sneva:
June 1, 1948) is a former Indy Car driver that was named to the prestigious Motorsports Hall of Fame of Americain 2005. Sneva is best remembered for winning the 1983 Indianapolis 500. Nicknamed "The Gas Man," Sneva was an outstanding qualifier, winning the pole position for the Indianapolis 500three times (1977, 1978, 1984). He was also the fastest qualifier on a fourth occasion in 1981, but because of qualifying rules did not start the race from the pole position. Sneva's unique abilities to get the most out of his car also led to him winning two consecutive USACNational Championships for Indycars in 1977 and 1978.
Sneva was born in
Spokane, Washington, and worked as a school principal before becoming an auto racer. His brother, driver Jerry Sneva, also competed at Indy.
May 14, 1977, Sneva drove his famed Norton Spirit McLaren M24/Cosworth racer for car owner Roger Penske, becoming the first driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 at a speed more than 200 mph. His one-lap track record was 200.535 mph.
May 12, 1984, Sneva became the first driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 over 210 mph in his Texaco Star March 84-C/Cosworth driving for the new Mayer Motor Racing team. His one and four lap track records were 210.689 mph and 210.029 mph.
Sneva's career at the Indianapolis 500 was known for fast qualifying, second place finishes, near misses and several crashes. Three times (1977, 1978, 1980) Sneva ended up the bridesmaid by finished second. Finally, Sneva broke through in dramatic fashion in 1983 after a thrilling late race duel with
Al Unser, Sr.and the lapped car of Unser's rookie son, Al Jr. It was Sneva's 1983 win in his Texaco Star March 83-C/Cosworth for Bignotti-Cotter Racing that led to his nickname of "The Gas Man." That win was also famous for it being the last of George Bignotti's record seven Indianapolis 500 wins as a chief mechanic.
Sneva's second-place finish in 1980 is notable as it is one of only two occasions of such a finish by a driver starting last. Several other times Sneva was in contention for the win, but did not make it to the end of the race. In 1981, Sneva charged hard from his 20th starting position to lead early in the race, but his newly untested Blue Poly March 81-C/Cosworth was fragile and his clutch failed early on. One year later, Sneva was in a duel with eventual winner
Gordon Johncockand eventual runner-up Rick Mearswhen his engine in his Texaco Star March 82-C/Cosworth began losing power and eventually failed near the end of the race. In 1984, Sneva was dueling with Mears only 32 laps from the finish, when his CV joint failed, enabling Mears to win. The 1985 race was an amazing testament to Sneva's ability as he drove a normally ill-handling Skoal Bandit Eagle/Cosworth to second place before exiting in a crash with the lapped car of Rich Vogler. It was this series of near misses combined with second place finishes and hard charging qualifying and racing style that made Sneva a fan favorite at Indianapolis.
He suffered one of the most famous crashes at Indianapolis during the 1975 race. After touching wheels with
Eldon Rasmussen, Sneva flipped up into the catch fence and tore his car in half. Sneva would walk away with only minor burns. In 1986, Sneva was warming up his car during the pace lap, but lost control and crashed before the race started. In 1987, Sneva crashed three cars, two in practice, and one during the race. He would ultimately suffer crashes during the Indianapolis 500 in 1975, 1979, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1992, a record for crashes during the race.
Sneva showed his versatility by competing in eight
NASCARWinston Cup (now Sprint Cup Series) events in his career, spanning from 1977 to 1987. He earned one top-ten, a 7th in the 1983 Daytona 500.
Sneva retired after the 1992 race with 13 career Indy car wins and 14 pole positions.
Tribute by Robin Miller
The following short article was written by the great racing journalist Robin Miller regarding Sneva's entry into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
He was the first man to break the 200 mph barrier at Indianapolis and the first back-to-back national champion to be fired. He was adored by the fans and media but managed to get sideways with A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford and both Unser brothers during his career. Mechanics loved his savvy behind the wheel, yet wanted to strangle him because he was never satisfied with the chassis. He was well-spoken and outspoken -- but never at a loss for words.
Gordon Johncock once said: "If nine people pushed the up button in the elevator, Sneva would press down."
And that combination of talent, bravado, personality and unpredictability is what made Tom Sneva one of Indy-car racing's most entertaining performers for the better part of two decades.
He quit driving a school bus for Indy cars in 1973, packing up his wife and two young daughters and moving from Spokane, Wash. to Indianapolis where he immediately received instant respect and victories in the tough USAC sprint series.
Sneva qualified for his initial Indy 500 in '74 with a low-buck team and ran so quick all season that Roger Penske signed him up for '75. That was the start of a tumultuous four years where arguments ran a close second to success.
After surviving one of the most spectacular crashes in IMS history in May of 1975, Tom came back to score his first win at Michigan a few weeks later. By 1977, nobody in the USAC paddock was quicker. The day after crashing and drawing the ire of his team for trying to run through Turn 4 flat out, Sneva stormed back to run the first 200 mph lap and win the pole position.
And, even though he captured the USAC title in '77 and '78, Penske didn't like drivers who thought outside the box or freely gave their opinion so he fired the national champion. Sneva soldiered on and by 1981 he had hooked up with George Bignotti. They fought like the Honeymooners but got along well enough to win six races together—including Indy in 1983.
A bridesmaid three times at the Speedway, "The Gas Man" (as he was nicknamed by fellow driver Johnny Parsons) drove the Texaco Star around Big Al Unser and into Victory Lane in a win that was as popular as it was overdue.
Sneva set another track record for his third Indy pole in 1984 and was fixin' to have a shootout with Rick Mears for the win when he lost a CV joint. He did triumph three times and lost the CART title to Mario Andretti by 13 points.
As road racing became more and more prominent, The Gas Man became an Indy-only specialist and competed for the final time in 1992. His career stats read 14 poles, 13 wins, two titles and 1,695 laps led. He was a master in traffic, especially at Phoenix and Milwaukee.
And whether he made you laugh, cuss or shake your head in awe, whenever he strapped on his helmet, Tom Sneva was always worth the price of admission.
Indy 500 results
He was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2005.
* [http://www.racing-reference.info/driver?id=snevato01 NASCAR Stats from Racing-Reference.info]
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