Lewis Center, OH — The Road Racing Drivers Club will celebrate the career of racer Johnny Rutherford at its 10th Annual Legends Dinner April 12 at the Long Beach Hilton, prior to the 44th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Rutherford will join an elite group of the club’s previous honorees that includes the late Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti, Roger Penske, Jim Hall, Parnelli Jones, Brian Redman, Bobby Unser, George Follmer and Emerson Fittipaldi.
The dinner’s proceeds will help support the RRDC’s young driver initiatives, including its SAFEisFAST.com program and the Team USA Scholarship that provides opportunities for talented young American race-car drivers since 1990.
Rutherford is best known as a driver in what is considered IndyCar’s golden era, competing against A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, Rick Mears and the Unsers.
Dubbed “Lone Star JR” due to his Texas heritage (his dad moved the family from Kansas to Texas in the early ’50s), Rutherford is one of only 10 drivers to have won the Indianapolis 500 three times or more. His victories came in 1974, ’76 and ’80.
However, his career actually began racing modified stock cars in 1959, and he won his first NASCAR-sanctioned race in 1963, capturing one of the twin 125-mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500, driving for the legendary Smokey Yunick. That victory made him the youngest-ever NASCAR winner at that stage. At the same time, Rutherford was marking himself as a driver to watch on the open-wheel ranks, especially on the dirt.
Two years later, he won the USAC Sprint Car Championship. And the next year he broke both arms when his car flipped over the fence and out of Eldora Speedway.
Rutherford’s breakthrough at Indy came in the mid-1970s when he drove for McLaren and delivered two Indy 500 wins and a second place over three consecutive years. In 1980 he raced Jim Hall’s “Yellow Submarine” Chaparral, winning the series championship and dominating on the ovals.
He was an accomplished road racer as well, piloting a Porsche 935 to second in the 1978 Daytona 24 Hours.
“Johnny has always been a tough, accomplished racer on the track and an absolute gentleman off the track,” added Rahal. “He always has time to sign an autograph or pose for a selfie. He’s been the ultimate ambassador for our sport and the RRDC is privileged to honor him in Long Beach.”
The RRDC Evening with Johnny Rutherford Presented by Firestone starts with cocktails at 6 p.m., and dinner at 7:15 p.m. Tickets are $200 per person ($175 for RRDC members) if purchased by April 1, and space is limited. Sponsor packages are also available. The event is expected to sell out, so early reservations are recommended. Contact Jeremy Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.