Posted: Tuesday May 24, 2011 1:01PM ; Updated: Friday May 27, 2011 5:57PM
Bruce Martin
Bruce Martin>INSIDE RACING

Franchitti, Castroneves, others talk Indy 500 significance, legacy

Story Highlights

The drama and long history of the Indy 500 has helped maintain its popularity

Dario Franchitti, A.J. Foyt agree their first wins were incredibly memorable

SAFER barriers have been one of the most valuable Indy 500 contributions

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Dario Franchitti talks Indy 500
Source: SI
Franchitti says who is his biggest competition and what winning the Indy 500 would mean for his racing season.

INDIANAPOLIS -- With race day for the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 just around the corner, some of the sport's most notable figures discussed with SI.com the significance of the World's Greatest Race.

The roundtable includes two-time winner and defending Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti, three-time champion Helio Castroneves, as well as A.J. Foyt (the first four-time winner and a current team owner), Mario Andretti (1969 Indy 500 winner), Bobby Unser (three-time champion) and Al Unser Jr. (two-time Indy 500 winner).

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SI.com: How has this race stood the test of time for the last 100 years?

Dario Franchitti -- "I don't know about the early days but the years that I'm familiar with, starting from the 1960s to today, it has to do with what guys like Bobby Unser and A.J. Foyt did to build it up. Look at qualifying this year -- the emotion and the drama. It's one of those things that are successful. It was successful when it was built and it has built upon that success."

Helio Castroneves -- "I don't know anything else that has lasted for so many years. When you talk to people in America and you say something about Indianapolis and they say, 'My father took me' or 'My grandfather took me.' That, for me, says it all. It's a tradition that will never die, and as long as people manage it this way I'm honored just to be part of it."

Mario Andretti -- "I think it's such a powerful event and when it was created it took such a big bite -- 500 miles. I'm sure back then 500 miles was like three days. The idea was ambitious from the start.

"It started out as a big event and it grew from there. When you look at the history of certain individuals -- Eddie Rickenbacker, Wilbur Shaw all contributed to keep it going and Tony Hulman saw its ultimate power and brought it into its glory days."

Al Unser Jr. -- "The one who set the standard was Tony Hulman [who bought the track in 1945 after it had been shut down for four years because of World War II]. He made it what it is today. He had a vision and the vision came true for him. If it weren't for Tony Hulman and his vision of what the Speedway should be and all of that, it wouldn't have become what it is today. The race would have ended in 1941."

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SI.com: What is it about this race that cannot be duplicated?

Franchitti -- "People have tried but you cannot duplicate it. Why is the Kentucky Derby the Kentucky Derby? It's an organic thing. You can't manufacture it. It either works or it doesn't. You see that with the Indy 500. It is clearly something unbelievably special."

Castroneves -- "The crowd, the tradition, the history cannot be duplicated. You can't duplicate those three qualities anywhere."

A.J. Foyt -- "I've won 500 mile races all over, but [fans] only know me for winning this race. At the Kentucky Derby you can have a bad field of horses but regardless of what horse wins, he's the Kentucky Derby winner. That's the same thing with this race -- it makes your name."

Andretti -- "You will never duplicate this anywhere because it takes a lifetime-plus to build the history and the richness and the tradition. Anything after this would be somewhat anti-climatic. Look how many lives this place has touched over the years, careers that have been made and careers that have been destroyed. It's been a roller coaster for a lot of people, but all-in-all, from a driver's standpoint, I don't know any other race that I've competed in all over the world that can change your life like this one can."

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SI.com: What is your favorite Indy 500 memory?

Franchitti-- "The two wins. The first was very, very special because it was the first. Trust me, I felt when I won it once that was it. So when I got back and got to win it again that was a great feeling. There were times for me where the most special times were running up front and leading the pack. The feeling of doing that is amazing. I came back here in 2009 and was running around the front and that was a great feeling."

Castroneves -- "Apart from the wins, it was winning the pole position in 2003. I remember looking at Tim Cindric [Team Penske president] and we were not very confident we could put it on the pole because of the weather and conditions and he was very confident and said, 'let's work for it.' That day I won the pole and that was awesome."

Foyt -- "One of my favorite memories is being good enough to qualify for the race in 1958 and then being lucky enough to win it for the first time in 1961. Sure, I had three more wins, but you'll never forget how happy I was when I was the fastest rookie to qualify in 1958. It fulfilled my lifelong dream."

Andretti -- "Obviously I would have liked to have won more but when I look back at the amount of laps that I have led, at least I can say I was competitive throughout. I dominated this race and while it did not pay me back ultimately, I look at the records sometimes and I think I've been pretty fortunate. I started in the first and second row 20 times here.

"Tom Carnegie came up with the Andretti Curse, but I never looked at it that way. I look at all the things that we've gone through. Yes, Jeff paid a price, but that is the way it is. It makes you appreciate what we've got. As a family, to have four members in this race in 1992 is something that had never happened before, and now to have three generations in this race, as a family we have been fortunate here in many ways. For me, there is a lot more good than negative."

Bobby Unser -- "Racing here 19 years in a row, it is hard to find just one memorable moment, but it would have to be winning the 1968 500. But backing up, I couldn't have won the race in 1968 unless I made the race the first time in 1963 and kept getting better every year. Without 1963, the other accomplishments wouldn't have happened."

 
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