Johnny Rutherford – From Modified Stocks to NASCAR History


John Sherman Rutherford IIII or popularly known as Johnny Rutherford, is a former automobile racing driver. Rutherford is one of the ten drivers who won the Indianapolis 500 three times, winning in 1974, 1976, and 1980. In this article, we are going to learn more about John Rutherford, the man who modified stock cars to NASCAR history.


Johnny Rutherford started driving modified stock cars In 1959 in Dallas, Texas. Two years after that, Rutherford decided to join the International Motor Contest Association sprint car circuit, where he managed to lead it for a year. That is why not long after that, Rutherford decided to join the United States Auto Club, where he started in the Hoosier Hundred and eventually won his first championship.

1963, Rutherford was able to win his qualifying heat race during the Daytona 500, which made him the youngest winner of a Duel as a championship race. That same year, Rutherford had his first try in the Indianapolis 500. His first Indy car race win was at the Atlanta 250. In 1965, Rutherford won the USAC National Sprint Car Championship.

On April 3, 1966, Rutherford had a severe crash while he was racing at the Eldora Speedway. Rutherford’s car flipped out of the track, and he ended up with a broken finger, broken arms, and a head injury. Because of this injury, Rutherford was forced to let the 1966 Indy 500 pass and the rest of the season. The injury also left him struggling without a competitive ride for the next several seasons until he joined the McLaren team in 1973.

Johnny Rutherford

During the Indy 500 in 1973, 1976, and 1980, Rutherford was able to win the pole position. Aside from that, Rutherford also managed to set a one-lap track record with 199.071 mph, Just a little bit short of becoming the first-ever driver to pass the 200 mph barrier at Indianapolis. In 1984 at the Michigan International Speedway, Rutherford managed to set an all-time Indy car record with the lap speed record of a whopping 215.189 mph. Rutherford was 48 years old when he won in the 1986 Michigan 500; this made him the oldest winner of a 500-mile race, a record which still stands until today. From 1973 to 1981, Rutherford managed to set a record of having nine straight seasons with a victory during his career. This makes him one of just six Indy Car drivers in history to do so.

From 1963 to 1988, Rutherford’s NASCAR Winston Cup career included 35 starts. He won in his first start when he drove for Smokey Yunick at the Daytona International Speedway. The win made Rutherford one of the youngest drivers ever to win in NASCAR history. Rutherford drove twelve races in 1981; that was the most he ever raced in one NASCAR season. Aside from that, he also competed in five runnings of the International Race of Champions, particularly in 1975, 1977, 1978, 1980, and 1984.

Post-racing career

In 1988, Rutherford had his 24th and final start at Indianapolis. During that time, he was only running on a part-time schedule because he was splitting time working as a racing analyst on television shows on NBC, CBS, ABC, and ESPN. Aside from that, he was also a radio analyst Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network. In 1989 Rutherford began his career as the driver analyst on the IMS Radio Network, which is why he could never accomplish his breakthrough 25th Indy start.

In May 1994, Rutherford officially announced that he is going to retire from racing. After that, Rutherford decided to take a full-time position as an official with the IRL, where he served as a pace car driver and driver coach. Aside from that, Rutherford also became a racing consultant for Team Pennzoil.

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