INDIANAPOLIS — The red nose cone on Stefan Wilson’s car quickly gives way to a matte black hood. Just above the nose onto the black is a logo for sponsor Rembrandt Champs. A Chevrolet logo sits inches above that.
And above the logo, in white block numerals with a soft blue outline, is a nod to a previous Wilson whose racing career — and life — were cut short.
Wilson’s brother Justin died in 2015 after debris from a crash struck his helmet at Pocono Speedway. Older by 11 years, Justin had been one of Stefan’s role models; it had been Stefan’s dream to race in the Indy 500 against him.
Justin’s death made Stefan even more motivated to race in the 500, and he decided to bring a reminder of Justin with him to his first in 2016. That year and every season since, Stefan has raced with car No. 25, the number Justin was using at the time of his death. Andretti Autosport holds the rights to the number, but allowed Stefan to continue using it after he left the team in 2021.
“It’s not just that it means something to me, it’s that it means something to all the fans that remember Justin,” Stefan said. “They know why I’m using No. 25. It’s a way of remembering him. Not just me, I think it means a lot to a lot of people.”
Few have stories about their car number as personal as Wilson’s, but most drivers and teams in Indianapolis have a reason. The IndyStar reached out to every team participating in this year’s 500 and the rationales ranged from superstition to tradition to none at all.
Bobby Rahal uses multiples of 3
As a driver, Bobby Rahal won the IndyCar Series twice with No. 3. For his third, he drove No. 12. So when Buddy Rice won the 2004 Indy 500 for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with No. 9, that decided it: Everyone on the team would drive multiples of three.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s three current drivers, Graham Rahal, Christian Lundgaard and Jack Harvey, drive Nos. 15, 30 and 45, respectively.
“It kind of pays homage to teams that used to do similar kinds of things,” Rahal said. “If you look at Patrick Racing in the ‘70s they were 20, 40 and 60. That kind of pays homage to that kind of idea, too. That’s why it is the way it is.”
Why Helio Castroneves’ car is No. 06
This isn’t even the first time Harvey has been a vehicle for an owner’s superstition. Last season he drove No. 60 for Meyer Shank.
As Meyer Shank was attempting to establish itself in the early 2000s, it entered a partnership with former racer Mark Patterson. Patterson used No. 60 throughout his career, and Meyer Shank’s fortunes seemed to turn after that interaction.
The business grew, and the team picked up more clients and found success on the track as revenue soared. Ever since, someone on the team has used 60. Currently it’s Simon Pagenaud. When 60 is taken, another driver from Meyer Shank races with 6 or 06. Helio Castroneves won the 2021 Indy 500 with 06.
Indy 500 week: Here is the qualifying order for the 2022 Indy 500
No reason for some IndyCar teams
Mike Hull, managing director of Chip Ganassi Racing, insists there’s no rhyme or reason to how he assigns numbers.
“It’s just when we add a car, we look at the numbers that are available and we pick one,” he said. “It’s pretty simple.”
Marcus Ericsson, Scott Dixon and Alex Palou are Nos. 8, 9 and 10, but Hull says that wasn’t intentional. The likely exception on the team is Jimmie Johnson, who drives No. 48, the same number he had during his NASCAR career.
A spokesperson from Juncos Hollinger Racing told the Indy Star there is no story behind lone representative Callum Ilott’s car No. 77. Andretti Autosport said the same rega
rding its five drivers in this year’s field.
For other teams, the reasons behind the numbers are more administrative. Takuma Sato drives No. 51 because of Dale Coyne Racing’s partnership with Rick Ware Racing. Rick Ware primarily competes in NASCAR, but has used No. 51 for almost every series in which it has participated.
A.J. Foyt Enterprises’ numbers can be traced back to its namesake: Foyt, a four-time Indy 500 winner driving the No. 14 car. It has since become a staple of the team, currently driven by Kyle Kirkwood.
“I think everyone’s always pretty honored to drive the 14 with the success A.J. had and the history of that.” said team president Larry Foyt. “Other than that, I’m sure some drivers have superstitions with numbers. We haven’t really had any issues or anybody that’s had any.”
Dalton Kellett drives No. 4 and J.R. Hildebrand drives No. 11 for Foyt. The latter entered the rotation after Billy Boat took the pole with it at the 1998 Indy 500. In 2021, Hildebrand dropped a digit and competed in the 500 with No. 1. Chip Ganassi racing loaned the number — No. 1 is often driven by the defending series champ, currently Alex Palou — to Foyt in honor of the 60th anniversary of A.J. Foyt’s first win at the Brickyard.
That tradition dates back to 1994 with CART assigning numbers based on the season standing. Team Penske, then called Penske Racing, took the top three spots and hasn’t given up Nos. 2 (currently driven by Josef Newgarden) or 3 (Scott McLaughlin) since.
Current IndyCar series points leader Will Power uses No. 12 as a tribute to Mark Donohue, who drove No. 12 in Team Penske’s first Indy car in 1968.
Between 2006 and 2010, Ed Carpenter exclusively drove No. 20, mostly for Vision Racing. After a brief stint in the No. 67 car for Sarah Fisher Racing, he founded Ed Carpenter Racing in 2012 and brought his old digits with him. When Hildebrand joined the team in 2014, No. 21 was available and made for a natural second car. Rinus VeeKay took over No. 21 in 2020.
Carpenter has transitioned to driving part time over the past few years. In early 2022, he reassigned No. 20 to Conor Daly. The number had become meaningful to Carpenter and he wanted a full-time driver to use it.
Carpenter switched to No. 33. He wasn’t able to get either of the options, 22 or 19, that would have continued ECR numerical ordering. At the time, 33 didn’t have any particular significance to Carpenter, but he’s retroactively found meaning in the number.
“My birthday is March 3. It’s my parents’ 33rd wedding anniversary this year,” he said. “Jesus was on earth for 33 years. I think I’ve been racing 33 years since I first started when I was 8 years old. We found a lot of connections, so it seems like it was meant to be.”
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indy 500 2022: How drivers got their car numbers