The prerace activities of Mario Andretti, the performance of the turbine car during the race, and the inclement weather were the main highlights of this year’s 500-mile race.
Although we ordered our tickets in July 1966, we did not receive them until the following May. We were apprehensive as to when we would receive them, but on Friday, May 5th, our worries ended.
On Saturday, May 13th, Bobby, Dad, my girlfriend, Dixie Mohr, and I saw the first day of time trials. We left Springfield at 5:05 Saturday morning and traveled in my 1965 Chevrolet. We stopped at Chrisman for breakfast, and at 9:05, exactly four hours to the minute after leaving our house, we stopped at our usual refilling place for gasoline. We arrived at the Speedway between 9:30 and 10:00. The weather was similar to that of last year, quite cold, cloudy, and windy. Our seats were a couple sections north of where we sat last year.
It rained slightly before we arrived, and this caused a delay in opening the track for practice. About noon, the officials decided the track had dried sufficiently for practice, and the green lights were turned on. For some reason, several drivers had trouble controlling their cars, and for quite a while the yellow light was on as much as the green light was. Everything finally got straightened out, but the drivers got only about one half hour of good practice time before the trials started.
The trials got off to a dismal start, but by the time 6:00 arrived, the fans had had enough excitement for all four days of trails. Mario Andretti’s year-old record of 165.899 was broken by six drivers, including Andretti himself. Joe Leonard was the first driver to break the old record with a four-lap average of 166.098. Dan Gurney brought a tremendous roar from the audience when he qualified with an amazing average of 167.224 mph.
Gurney hadn’t arrived at his pit yet when Andretti went out for his qualifying. The crowd was wild with excitement. Mario didn’t disappoint. His first lap was 168 plus, the second 169 plus, and then the third was 169.799, and the entire Speedway ground was almost shaking from the noise of the crowd. Everybody was thinking the same thing — could the next one be 170? It wasn’t. Somewhere, he slid slightly, and his fourth lap speed dropped a little. His four-lap average was an unbelievable 168.982, and when he drove to his pit, he received a standing ovation which left my ears ringing and my body shaking for several minutes afterwards. Andretti’s run made the remainder of the qualifying runs anti-climatic, although A.J. Foyt had a 166.289 and Parnelli Jones qualified the controversial turbine car at 166.075. Defending race champion Graham Hill made an attempt just seconds before the closing gun went off but was too slow and pulled in before taking any laps.
It was the end of a day that everybody who was there would remember for a long time. With Andretti, Gurney, Foyt, and Jones starting in the first two rows, the start of the race promised to be interesting and exciting.
We left for home about 6:15, stopped at the Colonial Kitchen at Chrisman for supper, and arrived home at 11:15.
Despite my optimistic prediction of perfect weather, a new attendance record, and one of the best races in history, Monday, May 29th was a bad day weather-wise and was an omen of what was to follow. On Saturday, I wrote my yearly list of items to be taken on our trip, and on Monday morning, we assembled all of them for the trip. As usual, it looked like a lot of equipment for such a short time, but we used about everything we had. Bobby handled the food, drinks, silverware, and table service, while Dad and I tended to the cots, blankets, coats, etc.
We finished eating dinner about 12:30 and then packed the car. The weather was not improving, and by now a light sprinkle was coming down. We checked to see if we had everything we were supposed to have, and then at 12:55 we said goodbye and started off in my car for Indianapolis.
I thought the weather might clear off after we left Springfield, but it didn’t. When we arrived at Decatur about 1:45, everything seemed normal except the weather. Because I couldn’t open the windows for getting wet, I used the air conditioner frequently to provide us with fresh air. I kept it on low, and it made the trip more pleasant.
At 3:05, we arrived in Chrisman and stopped for a few minutes. It had taken us 10 minutes longer than it had when we came over for the time trials, but the inclement weather was responsible for the slowdown. A cup of coffee and a little bit to eat refreshed us somewhat, and at 3:25, we resumed our trip.
The weather in Indiana was no better than it was in Illinois. At 5:05, we arrived at Lynhurst Drive and stopped at the Standard station for refueling. Traffic on Lynhurst Drive was heavy as usual, but about 5:30, we arrived at Kramer’s safe and sound.
We talked with Mr. Kramer for a while and then sat in the car and watched the activity around us. I still thought the rain would go away and race-day weather would be good. There were several pick-up trucks with young people, and they already appeared to have had too much to drink. It was supper time, so we got everything out and fixed ours. Dad got the stove warmed up, and Bobby put the beans on. While they were cooking, we got the other equipment out. Bobby had provided a variety of food, and we ate some of all of it. The hot coffee felt good in the cool weather. The radio was on during supper, and the weather predictions were sounding better and better.
When we had eaten all we could, we cleaned up the mess and put everything away. We listened to the radio and talked for a while and decided to walk down by the Speedway. The ditches along the street were filled with cars, and most of them had occupants who were eating, sleeping, or trying to keep warm.
Our plans of touring the Speedway Museum were squashed when we saw the line of people extended quite a ways back from the entrance. We walked east on the north side of 16th Street and saw the back of the new South Vista Grandstand. As we passed Gate 2, I saw the new Chevrolet Camper which had been given to Larry Bisceglia, the first person in line every year on the first day of time trials.
After we walked under the railroad tracks and came to the stop sign, we crossed the street and walked back west. The high school and college students, who are always present in large numbers, as usual made fools of themselves by their drinking and unpopular behavior. Some of them had no consideration for anybody, and we had to be careful to stay out of their way.
As we were nearing Georgetown Road, we heard a loud crash and looked to our right where one car had run into the rear of the one in front of it. The driver of the car in the rear looked like one of the college students. He was yelling and showing off in his open convertible. The driver of the other car was a quiet citizen minding his own business.
When we reached Georgetown Road, Bobby and Dad decided to return to the car, but I wanted to shop in a couple drug stores. I wanted to buy some souvenirs for Dixie Mohr, but neither store had much selection to choose from. Last year, they had a large selection. Even the selection of newspapers, usually so wide, was small. I bought what few items I could find and then took a walk down Georgetown Road.
This walked turned out to be one of the most memorable, though unpleasant, events of this year’s trip. Somewhere between Gates 5 and 6, my eyes started to itch and I immediately recognized the smell of tear gas. It had been almost six years since I had smelled tear gas during my Air Force basic training, but one whiff of it and I had no doubt as to what it was. As I continued walking, the smell became more pronounced, and there seemed to be more noise than usual.
As I neared Gate 6, I realized that a near riot was taking place. I saw State Police Jeeps with their red lights revolving and State Troopers standing beside the Jeeps. Almost all of the Troopers had German Shepherd dogs with them. A crowd of unruly youths were tormenting the troopers and dogs by throwing various objects at them and shouting insulting and profane remarks. The police were wearing gas masks and riot helmets and were carrying large clubs. Some of the dogs were snapping at the troublemakers, and the overall scene was frightening. It was another example of drunken college students making fools of themselves and life unpleasant for everybody. I stayed a few minutes, and it was apparent that a riot was imminent. The situation didn’t seem to be improving, so I decided it would be best if I turned around and went back to the car before I became involved in the trouble.
I walked back to Crawfordsville Road and then back to the car. Everybody was trying to keep warm, either by wrapping themselves in blankets or by building fires and sitting around them. There were several all-night street parties going on, replete with beer drinking, group singing, and warm fires.
I arrived at the car but found it locked and had to wake Bobby in order to get in. I took one of the cots from the trunk, then put one blanket on the cot and wrapped another one around me. I also put two more under the car in case I needed them. All the noise around us, plus my usual excitement the night before the race, prevented me from going to sleep right away. It was not raining when I lay down, but shortly after that, I felt a few drops coming down. I put a blanket over my head, a move which kept the rain out but not all the noise around us. Most of the noise was provided by several noisy boys on the other side of the street. It was quite a while before I could go to sleep, and the rain continued to fall, although only lightly. Once I fell asleep, I didn’t awake until 4:30. Dad woke up and, seeing that it was raining, opened the car and said I should get in out of the rain. I wasn’t wet but got in the car anyway. I tried to sleep some more but was unable to do so, and at 5:00, the opening bomb went off.
I was already awake and, a couple minutes later, Bobby and Dad ended their intermittent sleeping. It had been a cold, wet, windy night, but despite the elements, I thought I had slept more than I usually do. Dad and I used the restroom, and when we returned, Bobby walked down to the service station to use the ladies’ room. When she returned, the three of us read our newspapers and listened to the radio. The weather report still didn’t sound good, but it was as good as any we’d heard so far.
Shortly before 6:00, Bobby and I decided to walk down to Gate 6 and watch the cars go into the infield. Dad wanted to sleep some more, so just the two of us went. The cool weather hadn’t diminished the size of the crowd. The two lanes of traffic on the south side of Crawfordsville Road were bumper to bumper from the Speedway to a point beyond my range of vision. The same State Policeman who has been at Gate 6 for several years was at his same post this year. There is always somebody who tries to sneak in from the north, and he must contend with those people as well as all the other people who are going in correctly. There is a wide variety in the age of the cars as well as the passengers in them. At times, it seems as if they’ll never stop coming, but after two or three hours, it decreased a little. As we stood watching the cars, we could hear the Speedway PA announcer testing the PA system and some of the bands performing on the track. It was a wonderful sound. About 7:30, we decided we’d better go back to the car and eat breakfast.
We had to fight our way through the huge mass of cars and humanity, but we finally got back to the car. Dad looked fully awake and was reading the newspapers and listening to the radio. Bobby got the food out and ready to use while Dad got the oven ready. The sound and smell of eggs and bacon cooking on an outdoor grill on this cold and rainy morning was very pleasing to the senses. Besides bacon and eggs, we had coffee, sweet rolls, bananas, potato chips, cookies, and a few other items. Bobby and I sat in the front seats while Dad used the back seat. The food was savory, and as we ate, we listened to the radio and watched the people around us. The main news items in connections with the race were the possibility of rain for the race and the small disturbance at Gate 6 the night before. The news reports said scores of unruly revelers had been arrested and placed in paddy wagons, some of them in such bad condition that they were almost naked. The authorities had decided that the law-breakers would spend Memorial Day in jail instead of at the Speedway. In my opinion, the authorities had taken the correct course of action.
When we finished our hearty breakfast, we cleaned up our mess and straightened things up somewhat in the trunk of the car. It was nearing 9:00 now, so we decided it was time to leave for the Speedway. We gathered up our paraphernalia to take to the Speedway and then double-checked to see if we had everything and that the car was locked. The amount of equipment we carried was small in comparison with those persons who were carrying large coolers filled with beer, soda pop, and food.
The crowd at Gate 1 was large, and we were almost pushed though the entrance gate. I bought three souvenir programs right inside the gate, and a little further on, we made our last use of a restroom until the race was over. As we approached the tunnel going under the track and to the infield, the size of the crowd increased immensely. By the time we came within a few feet of the entrance, we were being crushed by the huge mob of people. We were almost separated, but when we started walking downward, we were still together. Traffic in the tunnel was heavy, but it moved right along. When we arrived on the infield, we walked through the first gate and on northward until we arrived at the back of section 43 of the Tower Terrace section. The gateman tore off a section of our tickets, and we went on. Our seats were row J and were numbers 5, 6, and 7. Because of the unsettled weather, most people had brought blankets and raincoats.
The Purdue University Band, along with several other bands, was parading on the main straightaway. Pit crews were giving their cars a final check, and the public address announcer was interviewing drivers, mechanics, car owners, and celebrities from the entertainment world.
At 10:00, the PU Band played On the Banks of the Wabash as pit crews were given the directive to push their cars onto the track and into their starting positions. The pre-race tension and excitement were beginning to build. Between 10:00 and 10:30, the many celebrities were driven around the track in official Chevrolet Camaro cars. At 10:30, USAC officials made their final inspection trip of the track. At 10:40, the enormous crowd stood en masse as The Star-Spangled Banner was played, and five minutes later, a solemn moment of silence was observed as Taps was played in keeping with the meaning of Memorial Day. A loud, steady buzz pervaded the Speedway as the pre-race excitement neared its apex. I could not sit still nor keep my arms and legs from shaking. Bobby and Dad were excited, too.
At 10:50, the last song, Back Home Again in Indiana, was sung. This was it. Drivers were situated in their cars and ready to go, starters had been inserted into the cars and were ready to be turned on. The pace car was in its place. Pit crew members patted their driver on the back and wished him the best of luck. At 10:52, Speedway president Tony Hulman said, loudly and clearly, “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
A huge explosion of noise filled the air as the engines came to life. We were seated across from the last four rows. One member of each crew held one of his arms in the air to indicate his driver was ready to go. While the drivers were revving up their engines and waiting to go, I noticed that the crew of Graham Hill, starting in the 31st position, seemed to be having trouble and the car wasn’t running.
The pace car moved out and, one by one, so did the race cars, but sure enough, Graham Hill wasn’t moving. His car wouldn’t start, and after a minute or so, his crew was ordered to move it off the track so that it would be out of the way of the other cars. It seemed like a long time, but finally I saw the pace car move onto the straightaway with the thundering 32 cars behind it. It was a beautiful sight as they went by us and started the official pace lap. Graham Hill’s car finally came to life, and he got into position before the race started.
Everybody’s eyes were stationed on the northwest turn, and a few seconds later, the pace car appeared and headed for the pit apron. As the field approached the starting line, starter Pan Vidan waved the green flag, and the 500-mile race was on!
Mario Andretti immediately jumped into the lead as they headed for the first turn. As they left the backstretch, Parnelli Jones, in the STP turbine car, took the lead. The field completed the first lap with Jones leading by a couple car lengths over Andretti. Rookie Wally Dallenbach’s car was smoking before the race started and continued to worsen. Jones continued in first as Andretti began having car trouble and lost ground. Gurney and Foyt moved into second and third positions.
Lloyd Ruby had the unhappy distinction of being the first car out of the race. Mechanical trouble wrote the end to his 1967 race as his car was pushed to the garage area.
While he was in the pits, the crowd was saddened by the sight of Andretti coming into his pits. His crew went to work to find the malfunction, and Jones continued to lead.
While the leaders were on their 17th lap, the red flag came out indicating the race was stopped. For a while, nobody knew what had happened, but then the PA announcer said it was raining on the backstretch and was heading westward. A few seconds later, we felt the first drops on us, and the sky opened up. The cars came creeping down the track and braked to a stop as they reached the starting line. Pit crews rushed out to put plastic covers on the cars as the drivers turned off the engines and activity on the track came to a halt.
For the first time in my thirteen races, it had rained on race day. Tony Hulman’s luck with the weatherman had run out. Everybody was dejected, but there was nothing anybody could do except wait and hope it ended real soon so that the show could get on the road again.
The rain continued, and pretty soon many fans took out their box lunches and ate their dinners. The three of us had a couple sandwiches and some coffee. We spread a blanket over our legs and put on the rain coats we had brought with us. It was unpleasant sitting in the rain, but there was nothing we could do. Some of the fans left to find overhead shelter, but most of them sat it out in the rain. After an hour or so, Speedway maintenance trucks drove around the track in an attempt to dry it out, but their efforts were futile as the rain continued. After about two hours, Dad decided it wasn’t going to stop raining for a while, so he and Bobby gathered up most of the equipment and went back to the car. I remained in my seat a little longer and then walked down to the entrance to Gasoline Alley. Mel Kenyon was still sitting in his car but had a covering over him to keep the rain out of the cockpit.
At the south end of this section of the Tower Terrace, there was a large crowd of people gathered, and when I arrived there, I saw that it was Andretti’s pit. The crew had the back end of the car jacked up so that they could replace the faulty part that was causing the trouble. Andretti was standing on the sidelines and using his charm and sense of humor on everybody he talked to. He has a magnetic personality and is always surrounded by people, all of whom seem to enjoy his company. He was thankful for the rain because if the race hadn’t been stopped he would have been out of it. Now, he still had a chance.
I watched Andretti and his pit crew work on the car for a while, and then I took a walk up to the northwest area of the Speedway, an area I had not seen before. The infield was filled with cars which were filled with race fans who were sleeping, eating, or just sitting with unhappy looks on their faces. The large area was a quagmire, and my shoes, stockings, and the bottom of my pants were thoroughly soaked. I watched the cars entering and exiting through Gate 8, and the traffic was fairly heavy.
Walking back to the Tower Terrace section was a wet, dirty job. The rain continued as everybody’s frustration grew. In addition to the rain, the fans were also upset because USAC officials wouldn’t make up their minds as to what they would do. The rain showed no signs of stopping, and it was obvious that, even if it did, it would be a long time before the track was dry enough to race on. I took another walk behind the pit area to see what was going on, and activity was just about nil. Race officials and members of the news media were huddled in front of the control tower, but there was still no announcement as to what actions would be taken.
I waited a while longer and then decided it would be impossible to do any more racing, so I sadly started my trip back to the car. It is always sad for me to take that last look up and down the straightaway and realize I won’t see it again for a year, and this year I had the same feeling.
It was about 3:45 when I arrived at the car. I thought maybe Dad and Bobby would be angry because I hadn’t returned earlier, but they didn’t seem to be. They were listening to the radio to see what would happened, but USAC officials still hadn’t made up their minds. We read our newspapers, ate a modicum of food, and talked about the activity of the day.
Finally, at 4:30, Sid Collins, chief announcer for the broadcast of the race, came on the air and said that race officials had called the race off for the day and it would be resumed tomorrow, Wednesday, at 10:00. This was the news everybody was waiting for because now they could decide whether to stay for the continuation of the race or pack up and go home. We were among those people.
I had Wednesday off from work and Dad and Bobby had all week off, so that was one problem eliminated. Dad, however, thought we should return home because of our accommodations. He and I didn’t have any way of shaving, and if we stayed, we’d really look bad. We also faced another night without sleep, which was an unpleasant thought. The weatherman was predicting continued rain until late Wednesday. We talked it over for a few minutes and decided to go home, although we really wanted to see the remainder of the race.
We checked to see that we had everything and then, shortly after 4:30, started the trip home. We had trouble getting onto Crawfordsville Road, but when we did, we took the first turn-off to the left and didn’t have any trouble getting onto Lynhurst Drive. The traffic was heavy all the way to Route 36, but it moved quite well. After a few miles, the traffic diminished, but the rain became heavier. This was the first time I could remember it raining like this as we were just starting home. The downpour continued until we crossed the state line, and then it gradually stopped. When we reached the Colonial Kitchen it had stopped, but the sky was very black and the possibility of more rain seemed imminent.
Our smorgasbord supper tasted good, and we partook heartily. Because of the cool, wet weather, we weren’t as hot, tired, and sweaty as we normally were. There were several other race fans there, and I heard several of them express their frustration with the weather. When we had eaten all we could eat, we used the restrooms, paid the bill, and then resumed our trip home.
The sky was still very black, and we had hardly started when I noticed rain drops hitting the windshield. It rained the rest of the way to Springfield, but I had one important factor working for me — I didn’t get sleepy. I was surprised to be feeling that way. Every other year, I was quite sleepy by the time I arrived home, but this year I was as alert and awake all the way home as I was going over. It was a tremendous help to me because, with the rain, it was much harder to see the road and drive. If I had been sleepy, as I was coming home from the time trials, our trip may have ended in disaster.
We arrived home at 9:15, and Mother had a look of disappointment and frustration when she met us. She had heard the broadcast of the race, so she knew what had happened. I left everything in the car and decided to do the unpacking the next day.
Thus ended a trip which was certainly unlike any of the others we had taken. We have had many experiences in our 13 trips to Indianapolis, but this was the first time a race had ever been stopped because of rain. We had had to contend with rain before but not as much as we had this year or during the race. Strong disappointment prevailed among the three of us, but Mother Nature had intervened with our plans and we would just have to wait until next year.
On Wednesday, May 31st at 10:00 AM, the race was resumed from where it was stopped on Tuesday — the 18th lap. Parnelli Jones maintained his lead as the rest of the field tried vainly to catch him. Mario Andretti’s car was running properly again, and he was making progress in making up lost time and positions when he lost his left front tire. He safely guided the car into the infield on the south short straightaway and was finished for the day.
Graham Hill and Jim Clark, the two previous race winners, were plagued with troubles and left the race early.
There were several spinouts, and the yellow light was on quite a bit, but there were no injuries.
Roger McCluskey and Jackie Stewart were near the front of the field for a long time, but both of them were stopped by mechanical trouble.
Jones’s dominance of the race made the first-place battle almost nil. A.J. Foyt was the only other driver to lead the race, and that was only during Jones’s pit stops. With the race nearing its end and Jones making a runaway of it, it was just a question of who would finish in the other positions.
Then, suddenly, without any warning, the action started. Some people had noticed that it was taking a long time for Jones to complete his 197th lap. The red number 40 came down the main straightaway very slowly. Something was wrong as it headed for the pit area instead of on down the straightaway. Everybody was startled into numbness. Andy Granatelli didn’t know what to do. At the same time, Foyt’s crew went wild with joy and rushed out to cheer their driver onto victory. As attention was focused on Jones’s misfortune, suddenly there was action further up the track. On Foyt’s 200th lap, there was a mishap at the north end of the main straightaway involving Carl Williams, Bob Veith, Bobby Grim, Bud Tinglestad, and Larry Dickson. All the cars were damaged, but the drivers were okay. The track was so littered with debris that USAC officials waved the red flag just as Foyt completed the race. Foyt himself had to drive into the infield on the fourth turn to avoid the pile-up.
There was more excitement in the last four laps than there had been in the other 196 combined.
The first 10 finishers were A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Joe Leonard, Dennis Hulme, Jim McElreath, Parnelli Jones, Chuck Hulse, Art Pollard, Bobby Unser, and Carl Williams.
Dad, Bobby, and I listened to the race on the radio and wished we were there in person as the sun came out and everything went off fine.
The big news at this year’s race was Jones’s turbine car and what its future at the Speedway will be. Only a broken ball bearing prevented it from making a rout of this year’s race. Car owners and drivers complained that their piston engine cars could not compete successfully with it. Since then, USAC has made rules restricting it against Andy Granatelli’s protest, but the results of the rules will have to wait until next year.
The rain made 1967 a rather disappointing year, but I’m happy I went and saw what I could. The inclement weather didn’t dampen my love one iota for the greatest sporting event in the world — the Indianapolis 500.
Pace Car — Chevrolet Camaro
500 Festival Queen — Janice Cruise