Johnny Rutherford

Full Name:
John Sherman Rutherford III
Born:
12th March 1938 (Age 80)
Coffeyville, Kansas
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Despite being born in Kansas, “Lone Star J.R.” was a Texan hero who was a colourful and popular star of open-wheel racing in North America for four decades. He is one of the few to have won the Indianapolis 500 on three occasions and was crowned National Champion in 1980.

Early racing career

Johnny Rutherford began racing modified stock cars at the Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Dallas during 1959. He progressed to sprint cars before making his Indycar debut in the 1962 Hoosier 100 on the Indiana State Fairgrounds dirt oval.

Rutherford also stunned NASCAR regulars at the start of 1963 driving Smokey Yunick’s Chevrolet. Fastest in practice for the Daytona 500, he won the second 100-mile qualifying race to become only the sixth driver at the time to win on his debut.

Indycar race winner and sprint car success

He was a regular Indycar driver for the next two seasons although his breakthrough had to wait until 1965. As well as winning the Indycar race at Atlanta that year with a Leader Card Watson-Ford, Rutherford was also 1965 USAC Sprint Car Champion.

However, Rutherford crashed at Eldora, Ohio in his first race defending his sprint car crown and was sidelined for a year having broken both arms. When he returned it was at Indianapolis in 1967 but this was a lean time for Rutherford. He joined Patrick Racing in 1969 and qualified second for the Indianapolis 500 a year later. However, his Indycar progress continued to be frustrating.

Indy 500 breakthrough for McLaren

That all changed when he signed to drive a works Gulf McLaren M16C-Offenhauser in 1973. Steady at the start of the season, he qualified on pole position at Indianapolis and won a qualifying heat for the California 500. Another victory at Michigan helped Rutherford finish third in the standings.

Among the pre-race favourites at Indy a year later, Rutherford missed pole day with a broken engine and so only lined up 25th on the grid. However, his McLaren steadily moved through the field to lead on lap 65 – Rutherford dominating thereafter to win America’s biggest race. Second in 1975 Indy 500, he won it for a second time in 1976 after qualifying on pole position and leading 48 laps. However, the championship title continued to elude Rutherford at the time and he finished as runner-up for three years in a row from 1974 to 1976.

Champ Car success with Chaparral

McLaren withdrew from the Champ Car World Series at the end of 1979 so Rutherford joined Jim Hall’s Pennzoil-backed team for the following season. Armed with the effective John Barnard-designed “ground effect” Chaparral 2K-Cosworth for 1980, Rutherford won first time out at Ontario before triumphing at Indianapolis for a third time – both victories achieved from pole position.

He scored another three wins in 1980 to finally clinch that elusive National Championship. However, his triumphant campaign came to a dramatic conclusion when he rolled during the final round at Phoenix.

That success was the zenith of his career. He won at Phoenix at the start of 1981 but Hall withdrew from the series at the end of 1982. As his competitive opportunities waned, Rutherford enjoyed popular final victories in 1985 and 1986 with Alex Morales’ March-Cosworth. A part-time driver from 1988, Rutherford concentrated on the 500 mile races until his final (failed) qualifying attempt at Indianapolis in 1992.

Johnny Rutherford has since worked as a television analyst and as an ambassador for the IndyCar Series. He retired a true star with 27 Indycar/Champ Car victories to his name.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1992 PPG Indycar World Series
Walker Motorsport
0 (1) 0 0 0 0
1990 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Stoops Racing
0 (1) 0 0 0 0
1989 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Stoops Racing
Team Menard
Machinists Union Racing
Gilmore Racing Team
2 (2) 0 0 0
0% win rate
27th 3
1988 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
AJ Foyt Enterprises
King Racing
2 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1988 Winston Cup 96th 46
1987 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Alex Foods Racing
15 0 0 0
0% win rate
17th 23
1986 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Alex Foods Racing
17 0 1 1
6% win rate
11th 78
1985 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Alex Foods Racing
14 (1) 0 1 1
8% win rate
11th 51
1984 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
AJ Foyt Enterprises
Penske Racing
Gilmore Racing Team
6 1 0 0
0% win rate
22nd 20
1983 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Patrick Racing
5 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1982 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Chaparral Racing
9 (1) 0 1 0
0% win rate
12th 62
1981 Winston Cup Grand National 34th 1207
1981 World Endurance Championship
Garretson Enterprises
1 0 1 0 123rd 19
1981 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Chaparral Racing
11 2 4 1
10% win rate
5th 120
1980 World Championship of Makes 3 0 0 0 0
1980 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Chaparral Racing
12 3 8 5
42% win rate
1st 4723
1979 World Championship of Makes 2 0 0 0 3
1979 SCCA/CART Indycar Championship
Team McLaren
13 2 5 2
16% win rate
4th 2163
1979 USAC National Championship
Team McLaren
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
20
1978 USAC Citicorp Cup National Championship
Team McLaren
18 1 7 2
12% win rate
4th 3067
1978 World Championship of Makes
Dick Barbour Racing
1 0 1 0 15
1977 Winston Cup Grand National 81st 183
1977 World Championship of Makes
Dick Barbour Racing
1 0 0 0 10
1977 USAC Citicorp Cup National Championship
Team McLaren
14 5 6 4
29% win rate
3rd 2840
1976 Winston Cup Grand National 84th 173
1976 USAC Citicorp Cup National Championship
Team McLaren
13 2 7 3
24% win rate
2nd 4220
1975 Winston Cup Grand National 67th 253
1975 USAC National Championship
Team McLaren
12 1 7 1
9% win rate
2nd 2900
1974 SCCA/USAC F5000 Championship
Hogan Racing
2 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
22nd 4
1974 USAC National Championship
Team McLaren
13 2 4 4
31% win rate
2nd 3650
1973 USAC National Championship
Team McLaren
13 2 5 2
16% win rate
3rd 2595
1972 USAC National Championship
Don Gerhardt
Patrick Racing
9 0 2 0
0% win rate
7th 1620
1971 USAC National Championship
Patrick Racing
Vollstedt Enterprises
10 0 0 0
0% win rate
19th 570
1970 USAC National Championship
Patrick Racing
14 0 1 0
0% win rate
13th 960
1969 USAC National Championship
Patrick Racing
Leader Card Racers
Delrose
13 0 0 0
0% win rate
11th 1130
1968 USAC National Championship
Michner Petroleum
Alan Green
Don Gerhardt
Eisert Racing Enterprises
17 0 0 0
0% win rate
18th 890
1967 USAC National Championship
Weinberger & Welseck Enterprises
16 0 0 0
0% win rate
24th 315
1966 USAC National Championship
Leader Card Racers
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1965 USAC National Championship
Racing Associates
Leader Card Racers
Walter Beletsky
J Frank Harrison
15 0 1 1
7% win rate
12th 993
1964 USAC National Championship
Racing Associates
Gordon van Liew
11 1 0 0
0% win rate
21st 270
1963 USAC National Championship
Racing Associates
Ed Kostenuk
Dayton-Walther
12 1 0 0
0% win rate
10th 640
1963 NASCAR Grand National
Smokey Yunick
1 0 1 1 0
1962 USAC National Championship
Fred Sclavi
Federal Engineering
Ollie Prather
4 0 0 0
0% win rate
25th 80