Ahead of his appearance at our Legends Club at Circuit of the Americas™ for the United States Grand Prix™, 1985 Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan took some time out of his day to chat with us about his career’s humble beginnings, his jump into F1™, return to the States and National superstardom, to his thoughts on the future of American drivers in F1™.
A legend of motor sport, the path of becoming an F1™ driver, winner of the 1985 Indy 500 and a National superstar thereafter wasn’t necessarily something Danny Sullivan had seen written in the stars.
“Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, it wasn’t necessarily a big racing environment. Though there was a track nearby, I never actually went; I was more interested in driving and racing everything and anything. It wasn’t until my mentor and family friend Dr. Frank Faulkner, an academic doctor whose son I was friends with, pushed me. He had a Mini Cooper and had pictures of all the greats; Jackie Stewart, Sterling Moss and that’s when my interest became heightened. Reading his books and driving his cars out on his farm is where it all started.”
In 1983, a call from the Tyyrell team in England brought him to mainstream Formula 1™. How it came about he explains, nearly never came to be.
“The whole Tyyrell team goes back a long way. My mentor, Mr. Faulkner, was good friends with Ken Tyyrell. When I first came to England at the Russell driving school, I actually became a go-for within the Tyyrell team, and that’s where my relationship grew from. As my career went on, that’s how things developed. As a favor to Mr. Faulkner, Tyyrell asked me down to test their car and the offer came from there. I almost actually waked away from it. Prior to the contract being signed, I told him that offer wouldn’t cover me or my expenses so we re-negotiated.”
Though impressive showings throughout the 1983 season, Sullivan wishes he could have done things a little bit differently.
“As a driver you can always do things better, and I wished I was focused a little more than I was. I left one foot in Europe and one foot in America, probably because I was trying to stay close to sponsors back at home. Looking back, if I were to do it again, I should have packed up completely. Despite that, I did have some good results. My third race in the car, The Race of Champions, and almost won it on the last lap.”
Following his stint in Europe, he returned to compete in the CART series in 1984. A miraculous “Spin And Win” at the 1985 Indy 500 made him a National icon.
“At the time when I came back in ’84, nobody knew me and I was unfamiliar with Indy Racing. With the spin at Indy 500, I let Mario take me all the way to the apron. We collided just enough for the car to trip. At that point, I turned back into the spin. Luckily, we were far enough around the corner that I could straighten out. I really thought I was going to hit the wall. I was cursing my luck, thinking “Damn, I’m so close to winning the Indy 500. To this day, I don’t know what gear I was in because I was afraid the car would snap again. Luck, I felt, was on my side that day.”
Despite his famous victory on Memorial Day in 1985, his win in the 1988 CART Championship remains his crowning moment.
“Most definitely my win in the 1988 season was a crowning point. It put an exclamation point on my career. If you look this past week at the Tour Championship and Rory McIlroy winning, that’s one more box he can check off. At the time, a big question was can these guys who come from F1™ drive on ovals and I think I proved that.”
Danny Sullivan is part of a very select group of Americans who have won both the Indy 500 and competed on the Formula One stage. The future of American-involvement within, as he sees, is being in the right place at the right time.
“I’ve been involved in recruiting a long time. Make no mistake, Americans have the talent but what we need to teach drivers is the lifestyle. Here in the US, we are almost a spoiled society, whereas in Europe the respect for American drivers is not where it should be. We are always battling that stigma. You need to immerse yourself into your surroundings and integrate yourself into the racing community, similar to how Alexander Rossi has done. A lot of it has got to do with luck. You have to have the talent and be in the right place at the right time. Take F1™ for example this season; Massa and Button are retiring. You can be at the top of your game in GP2 but not get the break. It’s extremely rare for seats like that to open.
A lot of European drivers in my time were incentivized to drive; their living expenses taken care of. In my time, as an American, I had to take care of those arrangements myself. We battle against a lot of things going against us. There are a lot of alternatives too here that Europeans don’t have that make it tougher to leave.”
In what’s guaranteed to be a race to the finish for this year’s World Championship, Danny Sullivan is excited at the prospect of appearing at Our Legends Club.
“It’ll be great to meet a lot of folks and educate them about F1™ and the World Championship. I am looking forward to teaching those at the Legends Club about the personalities within F1™. A lot of these guys are unknown to the public. Being an F1™ steward, I know most of these guys personally so giving people an insight into that, as well as differences between F1™ and Indy racing will be sure to make it a great day at the Legends Club at Circuit of the Americas™.”
MEET DANNY SULLIVAN AT OUR LEGENDS CLUB!
Have lunch and participate in a question and answer session with Racing Legend Danny Sullivan, while indulging in gourmet lunch, soft drinks, beer, wine and champagne.
Your front row seating will include a meet-and-greet with the 1985 Indy 500 winner, as well as an autographed photograph.
From impeccable hospitality venues, to unmatched views of the track, celebrity appearance, Lunch with a Legend, music entertainment and much more.