Open main menu

Thomas E. Sneva (born June 1, 1948) is a retired American race car driver, the winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1983. He primarily raced in Indy cars, and was named to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2005.

Tom Sneva
TomSneva.jpg
Sneva in the 1980s
NationalityAmerican
Born (1948-06-01) June 1, 1948 (age 71)
Spokane, Washington
Achievements1977, 1978, 1982–83 USAC Championship Car champion
1983 Indianapolis 500 winner
Champ Car career
128 races run over 13 years
Years active19791992
Best finish2nd (1984)
First race1979 Arizona Republic Jimmy/Bryan 150 (Phoenix)
Last race1992 Indianapolis 500 (Indianapolis)
First win1980 XM Satellite Radio Indy 200 (Phoenix)
Last win1984 Caesars Palace Grand Prix (Caesars Palace)
Wins Podiums Poles
10 28 4
NASCAR Cup Series career
8 races run over 5 years
Best finish53rd (1982)
First race1977 NAPA National 500 (Charlotte)
Last race1987 Daytona 500 (Daytona)
Wins Top tens Poles
0 1 0

A former math teacher from Spokane, Washington, Sneva's win at Indianapolis followed several runner-up finishes and notable crashes. Nicknamed "The Gas Man,"[1] he was an outstanding qualifier, winning the pole position three times (1977, 1978, 1984). He was also the fastest qualifier on a fourth occasion in 1981, but because of qualifying rules did not start the race from the pole position.

Sneva won two consecutive USAC National Championships for Indy cars in 1977 and 1978.

CareerEdit

Born in Spokane, Sneva played football and basketball at Lewis and Clark High School and a year of college basketball at Eastern Washington State College in nearby Cheney.[2] After graduation from Eastern, he worked as a math teacher before racing full-time.[3] Sneva was the eldest of five brothers, all racers; the next oldest was Jerry, who also competed at Indy.

At Indianapolis in 1977, Sneva drove his famed Norton Spirit McLaren M24/Cosworth racer for car owner Roger Penske, and became the first driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 at a speed at 200 mph (321.9 km/h) or more. His one-lap track record on May 14 was 200.535 mph (322.7 km/h).[4][5]

Sneva won 2 races in 1977 and became the first driver in Team Penske history to win a championship. In 1978, Sneva did not win a race but with 5 second place finishes and 16 top fives, Sneva still won the championship. Despite this, Sneva was released by Penske after the 1978 season.

 
Sneva's March 84C at Laguna Seca in 1984

In 1984, Sneva became the first to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 over 210 mph (338.0 km/h) in his Texaco Star March 84C/Cosworth driving for the new Mayer Motor Racing team. His one and four lap track records on May 12 were 210.689 mph (339.1 km/h) and 210.029 mph (338.0 km/h).[6][7]

Sneva's career at the Indianapolis 500 was known for fast qualifying, second-place finishes, near misses and several crashes.[6] Three times (1977, 1978, 1980) Sneva ended up the bridesmaid by finishing second. Finally, Sneva broke through in dramatic fashion in 1983 after a thrilling late race duel with Penske driver Al Unser, Sr. and the lapped car of Unser's rookie son, Al Jr. It was Sneva's 1983 win in his Texaco Star March 83C/Cosworth for Bignotti-Cotter Racing that led to his nickname of "The Gas Man." That win was also famous for it being the last of George Bignotti's record seven Indianapolis 500 wins as a chief mechanic. For Sneva, the victory was sweet revenge, as he had been fired by Roger Penske in 1978 despite having won back-to-back USAC championships.

Sneva's second-place finish in 1980 is notable as it is one of only two occasions of such a finish by a driver starting last. It is also one of only three times the driver who started last (33rd) led laps during the race, a record matched by Alex Tagliani in 2016 and James Davison in 2017. Several other times Sneva was in contention for the win, but did not make it to the end of the race. In 1981, Sneva charged hard from his 20th starting position to lead early in the race, but his untested Blue Poly March 81-C/Cosworth was fragile and his clutch failed early on.

One year later, Sneva was in a duel with eventual winner Gordon Johncock and eventual runner-up Rick Mears when his engine in his Texaco Star March 82-C/Cosworth began losing power and eventually failed near the end of the race. In 1983, Sneva captured his first Indianapolis 500 win, engaging in a duel with Al Unser and his son in the final 20 laps. Al Unser Jr. was widely criticized after the race for trying to mess Sneva up to help his dad win, as well as having passed several cars under caution, and jumping the final restart, for which he received a two-lap penalty.

As defending champion in 1984, Sneva dueled with Mears only 32 laps from the finish, but his CV joint failed, enabling Mears to win. The 1985 race was a testament to Sneva's ability as he drove an ill-handling Skoal Bandit Eagle/Cosworth to second place before exiting in a crash with the lapped car of Rich Vogler. It was this series of near misses combined with second-place finishes and hard-charging qualifying and racing style that made Sneva a fan favorite at Indianapolis.

He suffered one of the most famous crashes at Indianapolis during the 1975 race, his second. After touching wheels with Eldon Rasmussen, 26-year-old Sneva flipped up into the catch fence and tore his car in half, but suffered mostly minor burns on 15% of his body in the fiery crash. He walked to the ambulance but was placed in the intensive care unit at Methodist Hospital, mainly for lung issues due to the fire retardant.[2][8] Describing the crash years later Sneva quipped, "In a situation like that it's important to talk to yourself: 'Faint, you coward, faint!'"

In 1986, he was warming up his car during the pace lap, but lost control and crashed before the race started. In 1987, Sneva crashed three cars, two in practice, and one during the race. He crashed during the Indianapolis 500 in 1975, 1979, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1992, a record for crashes during the race.

After Sneva's Indy victory in 1983, he never finished the race again. He dropped out of the race in 1984-1990, failed to qualify in 1991, and dropped out of the 1992 race as well. Some observers have attributed his decline in success to the switch to radial tires (the series transitioned to radials over a period from 1985–1987). His driving style was more apropos to bias ply tires.

Sneva showed his versatility by competing in eight NASCAR Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup Series) events in his career, spanning from 1977 to 1987. He earned one top-ten, a 7th in the 1983 Daytona 500.

Sneva's final start was the 1992 Indy 500. He arrived at Indy without a ride for 1993, and was unsuccessful in landing a car for the race. He retired with 13 career Indy car wins and 14 pole positions.

After Sneva retired from driving, he was a color commentator for ABC television network's Wide World of Sports program and called several Indy 500s. He is also heavily involved in the golf course business where he resides in Paradise Valley, Arizona.[9]

PersonalEdit

Sneva's father, Edsol ("Ed") was a local racer in the Spokane region.[10][11]

Sneva is the oldest of five brothers and one sister: Jerry, Jan, Blaine, Ed ("Babe")and Robin. He said the brothers were always racing something growing up.[10] Babe (1951–1976) succumbed to severe head injuries more than eighteen months after a race crash in British Columbia.[10][12][13][14][15]

Sneva was an ace in mathematics, and graduated from Eastern Washington State College in nearby Cheney with an education degree.[9] He became a math teacher in a school district outside of Spokane city limits, and drove the school bus.[3]

Motorsports career resultsEdit

American open-wheel racingEdit

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position)

USAC Championship CarEdit

USAC Championship Car results
Year Team Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Pos. Pts
1970 Vollstedt Enterprises Vollstedt 67 Ford 159ci V8t PHX SON TRE INDY MIL LAN CDR MCH IRP ISF MIL ONT DSF INF SED TRE SAC PHX
DNQ
NA -
1971 Larry Kramer Vollstedt 65 Chevrolet 320 ci V8 RAF RAF PHX TRE INDY MIL POC MCH MIL ONT TRE
21
PHX
DNQ
NC 0
1973 Tipke Racing Tipke 73 Offy 159 ci t TWS
26
TRE TRE INDY
DNQ
MIL 31st 30
Carl Gehlhausen Kingfish 72 POC
DNQ
MCH
21
MIL
14
ONT TRE
19
TWS PHX
14
Leader Card Racers Eagle 68 ONT
10
ONT
17
MCH MCH
1974 Grant King Racers Kingfish 73 Offy 159 ci t ONT
13
ONT ONT
12
PHX
15
TRE
11
INDY
20
MIL
14
POC
13
MCH
10
MIL
14
MCH
5
TRE
8
TRE
8
PHX
24
18th 550
1975 Penske Racing McLaren M16C Offy 159 ci t ONT
9
ONT ONT
6
PHX
7
TRE
6
INDY
22
MIL POC
29
MCH
2
MIL
3
MCH
1
TRE
13
PHX
2
6th 1830
1976 Penske Racing McLaren M16C Offy 159 ci t PHX
17
TRE
3
INDY
6
MIL
13
POC
7
MCH
6
TWS
16
TRE
3
MIL
13
ONT
26
MCH
5
TWS 8th 1570
Bruce H. Crower Eagle 72 Crower 160 ci F8 PHX
DNS
1977 Penske Racing McLaren M24 Cosworth DFX V8t ONT
14
PHX
16
TWS
1
TRE
10
INDY
2
MIL
2
POC
1
MOS
3
MIL
18
PHX
17
1st 3965
Penske PC-5 MCH
4
TWS
5
ONT
3
MCH
10
1978 Penske Racing Penske PC-6 Cosworth DFX V8t PHX
22
ONT
2
TWS
2
TRE
3
INDY
2
MOS
4
MIL
15
POC
3
MCH
2
ATL
8
TWS
5
MIL
15
ONT
23
MCH
2
TRE
3
SIL
3
BRH
2
PHX
16
1st 4153
1979 Jerry O'Connell Racing McLaren M24 Cosworth DFX V8t ONT TWS INDY
15
MIL POC TWS MIL NC 0
1980 Jerry O'Connell Racing McLaren M24 Cosworth DFX V8t ONT
2
INDY
2
MIL
6
POC
3
MDO
11
2nd 1970
1981–82 Bignotti-Cotter Racing March 81C Cosworth DFX V8t INDY
25
POC
16
ISF DSF INF 11th 635
March 82C INDY
4
1982–83 Bignotti-Cotter Racing March 83C Cosworth DFX V8t ISF DSF NAZ INDY
1
1st 1000
1983–84 Mayer Motor Racing March 84C Cosworth DFX V8t DSF INDY
16
18th 25
Source:[16]

PPG Indy Car World SeriesEdit

PPG Indy Car World Series results
Year Team Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Pos. Pts
1979 Jerry O'Connell Racing McLaren M24 Cosworth DFX V8t PHX
17
ATL
3
ATL
5
INDY
15
TRE
6
TRE
15
MCH
21
MCH
2
WGL
10
TRE
3
ONT
17
MCH
2
ATL
8
PHX
5
7th 1360
1980 Jerry O'Connell Racing McLaren M24 Cosworth DFX V8t ONT
2
INDY
2
MIL
6
POC
3
MDO
11
MCH
6
WGL
4
ONT
26
MCH
6
MEX
4
3rd 2930
Phoenix 80 MIL
16
PHX
1
1981 Jerry O'Connell Racing Phoenix 80 Cosworth DFX V8t PHX
3
8th 96
Bignotti-Cotter Racing Phoenix-March MIL
4
ATL ATL
March 81C MCH
23
RIV
24
MIL
1
MCH
19
WGL
21
MEX
20
PHX
1
1982 Bignotti-Cotter Racing March 81C Cosworth DFX V8t PHX
7
ATL
17
5th 144
March 82C MIL
4
CLE
20
MCH
32
MIL
1
POC
19
RIV
2
ROA
9
MCH
19
PHX
1
1983 Bignotti-Cotter Racing March 83C Cosworth DFX V8t ATL
14
INDY
1
MIL
1
CLE
5
MCH
25
POC
12
RIV
5
MDO
7
MCH
21
CPL
15
PHX
3
4th 96
Theodore T83 ROA
4
LAG
18
1984 Mayer Motor Racing March 84C Cosworth DFX V8t LBH
3
PHX
1
INDY
16
MIL
1
POR
5
MEA
6
CLE
19
MCH
2
ROA
20
POC
4
MDO
7
SAN
20
MCH
2
PHX
4
LAG
10
CPL
1
2nd 163
1985 Curb-All American Racers Eagle 85GC Cosworth DFX V8t LBH
8
INDY
20
MIL
2
MEA
6
CLE
11
MCH
3
ROA
21
POC
8
MDO
15
MCH
5
MIA
21
7th 66
Lola T900 POR
24
SAN
7
LAG
19
PHX
19
1986 Curb Racing March 86C Cosworth DFX V8t PHX
2
LBH
4
INDY
33
MIL
2
POR
4
MEA
17
CLE
5
TOR
9
MCH
18
POC
15
MDO
12
SAN
13
MCH
5
ROA
12
LAG
22
PHX
18
MIA
22
10th 82
1987 Curb Racing March 87C Cosworth DFX V8t LBH
3
PHX
17
MIL
13
POR
21
MEA
7
CLE
8
TOR
6
MCH
30
POC ROA MDO NAZ LAG 14th 37
March 86C Buick 3300 V6t INDY
14
Group 44 Racing Cosworth DFX V8t MIA
9
1988 Hemelgarn Racing Lola T88/00 Judd AV V8t PHX LBH INDY
27
MIL POR CLE TOR MEA 45th 0
Cosworth DFX V8t MCH
22
POC MDO ROA NAZ LAG MIA
1989 Vince Granatelli Racing Lola T88/00 Buick 3300 V6t PHX
DNS
INDY
27
MIL
22
DET
23
MEA
27
TOR MCH POC MDO ROA NAZ LAG 28th 3
March 86C LBH
10
POR
26
CLE
20
1990 Vince Granatelli Racing Penske PC-18 Buick 3300 V6t PHX LBH INDY
30
MIL DET POR CLE MEA TOR MCH DEN VAN MDO ROA NAZ LAG 44th 0
1991 Team Menard Lola T89/00 Buick 3300 V6t SRF LBH PHX INDY
DNQ
MIL DET POR CLE MEA TOR MCH DEN VAN MDO ROA NAZ LAG NA -
1992 Team Menard Lola T91/00 Buick 3300 V6t SRF PHX LBH INDY
31
DET POR MIL NHA TOR MCH CLE ROA VAN MDO NAZ LAG 62nd 0
Source:[16]
Indianapolis 500Edit
Year Chassis Engine Start Finish Team
1973 Tipke Offenhauser DNQ Tipke Racing
1974 Kingfish Offenhauser 8 20 Grant King Racers
1975 McLaren Offenhauser 4 22 Penske Racing
1976 McLaren Offenhauser 3 6 Penske Racing
1977 McLaren Cosworth 1 2 Penske Racing
1978 Penske Cosworth 1 2 Penske Racing
1979 McLaren Cosworth 2 15 Jerry O'Connell Racing
1980 McLaren Cosworth 33 2 Jerry O'Connell Racing
1981 March Cosworth 20 25 Bignotti-Cotter Racing
1982 March Cosworth 7 4 Bignotti-Cotter Racing
1983 March Cosworth 4 1 Bignotti-Cotter Racing
1984 March Cosworth 1 16 Mayer Motor Racing
1985 Eagle Cosworth 13 20 Curb-All American Racers
1986 March Cosworth 7 33 Curb Racing
1987 March Buick 21 14 Curb Racing
1988 Lola Judd 14 27 Hemelgarn Racing
1989 Lola Buick 22 27 Vince Granatelli Racing
1990 Penske Buick 25 30 Vince Granatelli Racing
1991 Lola Buick DNQ Team Menard
1992 Lola Buick 31 31 Team Menard

NASCAREdit

(key) (Bold – Pole position awarded by qualifying time. Italics – Pole position earned by points standings or practice time. * – Most laps led.)

Winston Cup SeriesEdit

NASCAR Winston Cup Series results
Year Team No. Make 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 NWCC Pts Ref
1977 Jim Stacy Racing 6 Dodge RSD DAY RCH CAR ATL NWS DAR BRI MAR TAL NSV DOV CLT RSD MCH DAY NSV POC TAL MCH BRI DAR RCH DOV MAR NWS CLT
27
CAR ATL ONT NA 0 [17]
1981 5 Buick RSD DAY
DNQ
RCH CAR ATL BRI NWS DAR MAR TAL NSV DOV CLT TWS RSD MCH DAY NSV POC TAL MCH BRI DAR RCH DOV MAR NWS CLT CAR ATL RSD NA - [18]
1982 Rogers Racing 37 Buick DAY
22
RCH
31
BRI ATL
15
CAR DAR NWS MAR TAL NSV DOV CLT POC RSD MCH DAY NSV POC TAL MCH BRI DAR RCH DOV NWS CLT MAR CAR ATL RSD 53rd 285 [19]
1983 Bay Darnell 53 Chevy DAY
7
RCH CAR ATL DAR NWS MAR TAL NSV DOV BRI CLT RSD POC MCH
32
DAY NSV POC TAL MCH BRI DAR RCH DOV MAR NWS CLT CAR ATL RSD 75th - [20]
1984 Harrington Racing 2 Buick DAY
DNQ
RCH CAR ATL BRI NWS DAR MAR TAL NSV DOV CLT RSD POC MCH DAY NSV POC TAL MCH BRI DAR RCH DOV MAR CLT NWS CAR ATL RSD NA - [21]
1985 Curb Racing 42 Pontiac DAY
DNQ
RCH CAR ATL
32
BRI DAR NWS MAR TAL DOV CLT RSD POC MCH DAY POC TAL MCH BRI DAR RCH DOV MAR NWS CLT CAR ATL RSD NA 0 [22]
1987 Jackson Bros. Motorsports 66 Olds DAY
29
CAR RCH ATL DAR NWS BRI MAR TAL CLT DOV POC RSD MCH DAY POC TAL GLN MCH BRI DAR RCH DOV MAR NWS CLT CAR RSD ATL 90th 76 [23]
Daytona 500Edit
Year Team Manufacturer Start Finish
1981 Buick DNQ
1982 Rogers Racing Buick 25 22
1983 Bay Darnell Chevrolet 22 7
1984 Harrington Racing Buick DNQ
1985 Curb Racing Pontiac DNQ
1987 Jackson Bros. Motorsports Oldsmobile 29 29

International Race of ChampionsEdit

(key) (Bold – Pole position. * – Most laps led.)

International Race of Champions results
Season Make Q1 Q2 Q3 1 2 3 4 Pos. Pts Ref
1977–78 Chevy MCH
11
RSD
12
RSD
11
DAY 11th - [24]
1978–79 MCH MCH
4
RSD RSD
8
ATL
5
7th - [25]
1979–80 MCH MCH
7
RSD RSD ATL NA 0 [26]
1984 Chevy MCH
11
CLE
11*
TAL
8
MCH
3
10th 29 [27]
1985 DAY
2
MOH
8
TAL
C
MCH
7
4th 32 [28]

AwardsEdit

He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2005.[29]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Herman, Steve (May 18, 1988). "Has Tom Sneva run out of gas?". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. p. D1.
  2. ^ a b Pash, Phil (June 22, 1975). "Tom Sneva: Fearless driver quite a celebrity these days". Wilmington Star-News. Wilmington, North Carolina. (New York Times). p. 6C.
  3. ^ a b Weaver, Dan (Oct 2, 1983). "Local boy does good". The Spokesman Review. Spokane: Cowles Publishing. pp. D5. Retrieved 14 September 2013.
  4. ^ "Sneva roars to pole position". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. May 15, 1977. p. D1.
  5. ^ Brown, Butch (November 4, 1977). "Spokane honors Tom Sneva". Spokesman-Review. p. 37.
  6. ^ a b Cash, Phil (May 17, 1984). "Sneva saved his best effort for qualifying". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 1, part 2.
  7. ^ Fleischman, Bill (May 23, 1984). "Tom Sneva: The radical?". Spokane Chronicle. Knight Ridder Newspapers. p. 21.
  8. ^ "Wife of Tom Sneva says driver to be all right". Spokane Daily Chronicle. May 26, 1975. p. 15.
  9. ^ a b Weaver, Dan (Oct 2, 1983). "Local boy does good". The Spokesman Review. Spokane: Cowles Publishing. pp. D1. Retrieved 14 September 2013.
  10. ^ a b c Weaver, Dan (Oct 2, 1983). "Local boy does good". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington): Cowles Publishing. pp. D10. Retrieved 14 September 2013.
  11. ^ "Ed Sneva wins speedway event". Spokane Daily Chronicle. (Washington). September 24, 1951. p. 16.
  12. ^ "Sneva is critical after accident". Spokane Daily Chronicle. (Washington). September 9, 1974. p. 13.
  13. ^ "Funerals: Edsol F. (Babe) Sneva Jr". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). March 31, 1976. p. 23.
  14. ^ "Private rites set for Sneva". Spokane Daily Chronicle. (Washington). March 31, 1976. p. 21.
  15. ^ "Edsol "Babe" Sneva, Jr". Find a Grave. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
  16. ^ a b "Champcar complete – Tom Sneva". OldRacingCars. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  17. ^ "Tom Sneva – 1977 NASCAR Winston Cup Results". Racing-Reference. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  18. ^ "Tom Sneva – 1981 NASCAR Winston Cup Results". Racing-Reference. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  19. ^ "Tom Sneva – 1982 NASCAR Winston Cup Results". Racing-Reference. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  20. ^ "Tom Sneva – 1983 NASCAR Winston Cup Results". Racing-Reference. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  21. ^ "Tom Sneva – 1984 NASCAR Winston Cup Results". Racing-Reference. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  22. ^ "Tom Sneva – 1985 NASCAR Winston Cup Results". Racing-Reference. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  23. ^ "Tom Sneva – 1987 NASCAR Winston Cup Results". Racing-Reference. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  24. ^ "Tom Sneva – 1978 IROC Results". Racing-Reference.
  25. ^ "Tom Sneva – 1979 IROC Results". Racing-Reference.
  26. ^ "Tom Sneva – 1980 IROC Results". Racing-Reference.
  27. ^ "Tom Sneva – 1984 IROC Results". Racing-Reference.
  28. ^ "Tom Sneva – 1985 IROC Results". Racing-Reference.
  29. ^ Tom Sneva at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America

External linksEdit

Preceded by
Gordon Johncock
Indianapolis 500 Winner
1983
Succeeded by
Rick Mears