He had a last name nobody could pronounce, looked more like a rockstar than a race driver and got his education on European road courses. But even though nothing about his upbringing or demeanor would have indicated it, Arie Luyendyk became fast friends with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and made his considerable mark in American motorsports at the famed oval.
Twice he captured the Indianapolis 500, three times he won the pole position and today still holds the track record at 16th & Georgetown Road. “It was pretty intimidating at first but I grew to love that place,” said the native of Dutch descent whose long hair and quiet confidence became staples
of his 17 starts at Indianapolis. “Let’s be honest, I made my career there.”
From rookie-of-the-year in 1985 with a seventh place finish, Luyendyk (lion-dyke) did a good job with mid-pack teams his first five years at the Speedway before breaking through. In 1990, driving for Doug Shierson, he qualified third and spent the day dueling with Emerson Fittipaldi and Bobby
Rahal before breaking away to beat them to the checkered flag by 10 seconds.
“He was sneaky fast,” said runner-up Rahal. It was his first Indycar win and he followed it up in 1991 with a pair of victories at Phoenix and Nazareth for Vince Granatelli. Luyendyk nearly won Indy again in 1993 after taking the pole, leading 14 laps and staging a furious duel with Nigel Mansell and Fittipaldi only to finish second by two seconds.
The split in open wheel racing in 1996 left most of his longtime competitors on the CART side but Luyendyk gave Tony George’s Indy Racing League some instant credibility when he signed with a start-up team owned by Fred Treadway. But it made sense because the IRL was all ovals and that was his forte.
In qualifying, he smashed the 235 mph barrier with a lap of 237.498mph on his way to the IMS 4-lap record of 236.986 mph that still stands today! But it came on the second day so he had to start 20th and his charge to the front ended when he got speared by another driver while exiting the pits. The following May, he won the pole, led 61 laps and beat teammate Scott Goodyear into Victory Lane to put his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy for a second time.
Just a few days after his Indy triumph, Arie made headlines again when he got knocked down by A.J. Foyt after correctly protesting he’d been robbed of the win (which the IRL agreed the next day). “He come into victory lane mouthin’,” claimed the 4-time Indy winner. Showing his usual droll sense of humor, Luyendyk said, “I was just trying to save them from doing all that celebrating because I knew we’d won.” After snaring the pole for the third time in 1999, Luyendyk was storming towards win No. 3 when he hit the wall while lapping a slower car. He would only lead one more lap at Indianapolis (in 2001) before hanging up his helmet in 2002.
While he was weaned on road racing Arie’s prowess came on ovals – where he won all six of his races. He led eight times at Indy for a total of 188 laps and was always right at home turning left in May.