Arie Luyendyk is a lanky, handsome and soft-spoken racing driver with flowing brown hair. He was born in Sommelsdyk in the Netherlands 36 years ago, and maybe the only reason he escaped being called the Flying Dutchman was this: There weren't many times in his seven years of racing Indy Cars in which he did much of what could be called flying. In fact, there have been moments in his heretofore winless career when he had to suffer the unwelcome and unfair tag of Arie Lightfoot. But, oh my, how little things—such as a competitive race car-can change a person's life.
And, for sure, Luyendyk's life will change. It already has, starting the moment on Sunday when he flew under the checkered flag that concluded the 74th running of the Indianapolis 500. He beat Bobby Rahal to the finish by 10.7 seconds and obliterated Rahal's 1986 record average speed of 170.722 mph with his own mark of 185.984 mph. Luyendyk's speed was a reflection of a very clean race: Only 26 laps were run under the caution flag, and the race was blemished by just two crashes.
Although Luyendyk started on the front row with the third-fastest qualifying speed, 223.304 mph, he was considered a dark horse. Very dark. He had competed in 75 Indy Car races since 1984, but had finished among the top three a mere three times. And his Indy 500 finishes of seventh, 15th, 18th, 10th and 21st places were hardly enough to cause defending Indy champ Emerson Fittipaldi or three-time Indy winner Rick Mears—Luyendyk's companions in the front row—to quake. But as anyone who understands the difference between a light foot and a lack of power can tell you, things are not always what they appear to be.
Luyendyk's trip to Victory Lane is a direct result of the turbocharged Chevrolet V-8 racing engine that came neatly wrapped in the new Lola chassis he drove on Sunday. The car belongs to Shierson Racing, the team he joined this season. Shierson Racing is owned by oilman Doug Shierson and sponsored by Domino's Pizza, whose founder, Tom Monaghan, also owns the Detroit Tigers. After finishing 10th in the PPG Indy Car points championship race last year, Luyendyk came to Indianapolis knowing he had to prove himself. "I said to myself, If you're not going to win races now, you better look at doing something else," Luyendyk said. And what a way to start winning. About all he has to look at doing now—besides getting ready for this week's race in Milwaukee—is spending his hefty share of the estimated $1.1 million that goes to the winner.
For most of the afternoon the race did not appear to be in the hands of a Flying Dutchman but under the control of that banzai-ing Brazilian, Fittipaldi, who was on the pole after a record qualifying speed of 225.301 mph. On Sunday, Fittipaldi glided up to his Penske-Chevy, which he calls his Woman in Red, just before the start. It was an expression of Fittipaldi's confidence that his face lit up with a toothy grin, and he wisecracked to Roger Penske, the anxious owner of his car, "I decided to show up." Judging from the first half of the race, it appeared that Fittipaldi had also decided to show up the competition.
At the drop of the green flag, he shot to the lead. For everyone else, that first lap lived up to its scary reputation. Said Dean Hall, a former ski racer who was starting his first Indy 500, in the 24th spot, "There was so much smoke and dust I couldn't see a thing. It looked like L.A. at five o'clock." Even Luyendyk is still awed at that initial charge into Turn 1: "It's amazing what you can do with your eyes. You're looking behind you, you're looking ahead of you, and you're looking beside you all at the same time."
All 33 cars got away cleanly, and after 10 laps Fittipaldi was leading Bobby Rahal's Lola-Chevy by about 500 yards, with Luyendyk hanging back in third and Al Unser Jr., Mario Andretti and Mears in fourth, fifth and sixth. But Andretti's infamous Indy snake would not wait long to bite again; he blew his engine on Lap 60. This was Mario's 25th appearance at the Speedway, but he has won only once, in 1969. Since then, he has endured the trials of an automotive Job: moments such as the breakdown he suffered while holding a comfortable lead (1987); seeing Danny Sullivan spin when trying to pass him, only to recover and take the lead on the way to a two-second victory (1985); being crashed into before reaching the starting line (1982); and being declared the winner of the race on the basis of a rules infraction by Bobby Unser only to have the decision reversed five months later (1981). Now there is fear that Mario's Brickyard bad luck is striking his family. On Sunday his son Michael had a failed wheel bearing and a flash fire in his pit before retiring on Lap 146; his nephew John spun entering Turn 1 on Lap 135.
Meanwhile, Mears had his hands full with an ill-handling machine that defied all attempts by him and his pit crew to tame it. He would eventually finish fifth, two laps down, after a 500-mile ride that was more like a 500-mile slide. It was a stunning disappointment to Mears, who had fine-tuned his chassis in the final practice on Thursday, then had confidently buttoned up his car under lock and key. Near the end of the race he was heard to moan, over the radio, to team owner Penske, "How could the car be so perfect on carburetion day [Thursday] and so bad today?"
Blame it on that old devil sun. For one of the few times this May, it shone steady and bright in Indianapolis. But because the drivers had not been able to practice on a warm track, the heat threw off the chassis setups. Most of the teams had to guess the setup that would give the best handling, and naturally some guessed better than others. And some may have guessed too well—Fittipaldi's team, for instance. The Woman in Red was purring, and he appeared to be running away with the race, leading 128 of the first 135 laps (Luyendyk led two laps; Rahal, five), some of them at a 220-mph pace. But his pace was literally blistering. His sliding tires overheated and chunked, and what with making pit stops to change them and slowing down to prevent more blistering, he dropped back, eventually finishing third, 41.7 seconds behind Luyendyk. "The Woman in Red was beautiful today," Fittipaldi said afterward. "She just needed a new pair of shoes."
Penske, Fittipaldi's boss, was having a bad day. How could a month that had started out so promising turn so sour? On Lap 20, Sullivan, running in eighth place in the third Penske car, radioed that he was feeling a vibration. Suddenly an axle broke and he walloped the wall in Turn 1. It had been a difficult month for Sullivan, despite the company of his new son, Daniel, born in March, on his father's 40th birthday.