Front to back, especially front and back, the fastest lineup in history is set for next Sunday's field in the Indianapolis 500's Diamond Anniversary race.
Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, former winners who have a combined 71 previous starts and eight victories, comprise the first row.The final round of qualifications Sunday put a former winner who hasn't raced in two years at the opposite end of the lineup, along with the first black driver in the 75-year history of the race.
In between is the fastest qualifier, Gary Bettenhausen, who lost a gamble with the weather on the first weekend of time trials and will have to start from the fifth row.
Sunday's qualifications easily belonged to Willy T. Ribbs, 35, who will start from the middle of the 10th row.
"I'm glad everybody was here today to witness history. Because it can only be done once," said the jubilant Ribbs, who began waving his arms wildly in celebration even before his car came to a stop along pit road.
Ribbs bumped former winner Tom Sneva from the lineup with a four-lap average of 217.358 mph. His top lap of 217.997 was almost 3 mph faster than his best in practice.
"The car is good enough to do it. The car worked, and we did it," said Ribbs, one of five rookies who qualified for the race. "In practice and testing, you never show your hand.
"It's been my only life ambition. The only motivation I have for being a driver is that I enjoyed it, I loved it, and I wanted to pursue my passion."
He said his perspective about being the first black driver at Indianapolis might change in later years, though.
"Maybe when I'm a grandfather," he said. "Right now I'm looking at my success as a racing driver and as a racing driver only."
Two-time winner Gordon Johncock, one of four who filled the 33-car field on Sunday, will start from the 33rd and last position.