Tom Sneva

Full Name:
Thomas E Sneva
Born:
1st June 1948 (Age 70)
Spokane, Washington
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Tom Sneva was a charismatic "nearly man" at Indianapolis for many years who finally won America’s most famous race at the 10th attempt.

Educated at Eastern Washington University and a talented basketball player, Sneva was a High School teacher before his racing career became serious. He competed in stock cars in the Pacific Northwest during 1969 before his switch to modifieds was rewarded with the Canadian-American crown in both 1970 and 1971.

Early Indycar career

Sneva made his Indycar debut at Trenton in 1971. He qualified a Kramer-Chevrolet on the last row before retiring from the race. Having started seven such races in 1973, Sneva returned for a full season in 1974 with Grant King. Second on the grid at Trenton and the quickest rookie at Indianapolis, his performances led to an offer to drive Penske Racing’s Norton-sponsored McLaren M16C-Offenhauser in 1975.

Success with Penske Racing

During his time with Penske, the often outspoken Sneva developed into one of Indycar racing’s leading stars. Although he would win back-to-back titles for the team, he struggled to translate his undoubted pace into victory in the Indianapolis 500. He was running fifth in the 1975 race when he misjudged lapping rookie Eldon Rasmussen into Turn 2. They touched and his car was launched into a lurid and fiery accident from which he was lucky to emerge with only minor burns to body and legs.

Sneva missed just one race and was soon back among the pacesetters. His breakthrough victory in the 1975 Michigan 150 was one of four podium finishes as he finished sixth in the championship.

He qualified on pole position for the 1977 Indy 500 and was officially the first driver to lap the Speedway at over 200mph. However, his McLaren M24-Cosworth finished in second position as A.J.Foyt became the first four-time winner in Indy 500 history. There was some consolation in the championship however. Sneva won at Texas and Pocono (his first 500-mile victory) to beat Al Unser to the title – Roger Penske’s first as a car owner.

Armed with the new Penske PC6-Cosworth for 1978, Sneva started the Indianapolis 500 from pole position once more but was again beaten into second in the race – this time by Al Unser. He retained his Indycar title that year after scoring 10 podium finishes without winning a race.

Subsequent season with Jerry O'Connell

That was not enough for Penske for Sneva was dropped in 1979 to accommodate sensational youngster Rick Mears. Instead, Sneva drove Jerry O’Connell’s Sugaripe Prune McLaren M24-Cosworth and came from the back of the grid in the 1980 Indy 500 to finish second once again. He also won the final race of the year at Phoenix – fittingly perhaps now driving O’Connell’s Phoenix-Cosworth.

Indianapolis 500 victory at last

He moved to George Bignotti’s new team for 1981 and won at Milwaukee and Phoenix – the first victories for a March chassis in CART-sanctioned Champ Car races. His third season with the Texaco-sponsored team finally delivered victory at Indianapolis. He qualified for the 1983 Indy 500 in fourth position and benefited from swift pit work throughout the race. He was closing on Al Unser’s leading car with 10 laps to go when slowed by Unser’s son. Sneva struggled to lap "Little Al" but he finally swept passed both Unsers on lap 191 to score a famous victory – the first for both Sneva and March Engineering.

Sneva had one final championship challenge left in his career – battling Mario Andretti throughout 1984 with Teddy Mayer’s March 84C-Cosworth. He won three times (including a fourth-successive Milwaukee victory) and became the first man to top 210mph at Indy. He arrived in Las Vegas hoping to snatch the title at the final race of the year. He won on a road course for the only time in his career that day but Andretti finished second to clinch the title.

Final Champ Car years

That proved to be Sneva’s last Champ Car victory. He raced on throughout the 1980s for Eagle (1985), Mike Curb (1986 and 1987) and Vince Granatelli (1989) among others before crashing out of his final appearance at Indy in 1992.

With interests in an Arizona golf resort, Sneva continued in racing as a commentator and working as a spotter from time-to-time. One of four racing brothers, his nickname was "Gas Man" due to the speed records he set and aggressive driving style on the track.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1992 PPG Indycar World Series
Team Menard
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1991 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Team Menard
0 (1) 0 0 0 0
1990 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Vince Granatelli Racing
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1989 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Vince Granatelli Racing
7 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
27th 3
1988 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Hemelgarn Racing
2 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1987 Winston Cup 101st 76
1987 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Mike Curb Racing
Group 44 Racing
10 0 1 0
0% win rate
14th 38
1986 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Mike Curb Racing
16 (1) 0 2 0
0% win rate
10th 82
1985 Winston Cup Grand National 101st 67
1985 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Gurney-Curb Racing
15 0 2 0
0% win rate
7th 66
1984 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Mayer Motor Racing
16 2 6 3
19% win rate
2nd 163
1983 Winston Cup Grand National 68th 213
1983 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Bignotti-Cotter Racing
13 1 3 2
16% win rate
4th 96
1982 Winston Cup Grand National 60th 285
1982 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Bignotti-Cotter Racing
11 0 3 2
19% win rate
5th 144
1981 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Bignotti-Cotter Racing
Sugaripe Prune Racing Team
9 1 3 2
23% win rate
8th 96
1980 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Sugaripe Prune Racing Team
12 0 4 1
9% win rate
3rd 2930
1979 USAC National Championship
Sugaripe Prune Racing Team
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
25
1979 SCCA/CART Indycar Championship
Sugaripe Prune Racing Team
13 0 4 0
0% win rate
7th 1360
1978 USAC Citicorp Cup National Championship
Penske Racing
18 7 10 0
0% win rate
1st 4153
1977 Winston Cup Grand National 108th 82
1977 USAC Citicorp Cup National Championship
Penske Racing
14 2 6 2
15% win rate
1st 3965
1976 USAC Citicorp Cup National Championship
Penske Racing
11 0 2 0
0% win rate
8th 1570
1975 USAC National Championship
Penske Racing
11 1 4 1
10% win rate
6th 1830
1974 USAC National Championship
Grant King Racers
13 0 0 0
0% win rate
18th 550
1974 SCCA/USAC F5000 Championship
Grant King Racers
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1973 USAC National Championship
Carl Gehlhausen
Leader Card Racers
Tipke Racing
7 0 0 0
0% win rate
31st 30
1971 USAC National Championship
Larry Kramer
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0