The big names among this year’s drivers were Mark Donohue, Peter Revson, and Al Unser. Other highlights of this year’s activity included the pace car wreck at the start of the race, Al Unser becoming the first driver to win two consecutive races since Bill Vukovich in 1953-54, the return of Indianapolis to normal time, the 7 mph increase in qualifying speed, the large number of race accidents, and the first time the race was run on any day but Memorial Day.
On Saturday, May 15th, Bobby, Dixie, and I went to the first day of time trials in Bobby’s 1969 Chevrolet. Dad couldn’t go because he couldn’t get off work.
The weather was ideal, and we got to our seats about 8:00. At 9:00, the track was opened for practice, and that wonderful sight, smell, and sound came alive again.
A.J. Foyt was the first driver to break the old record, and by 6:00, 10 others had done likewise. Mark Donohue was the overwhelming favorite for the fastest time, and when he left the pit area, he was given a huge applause. He did very well, but his 177.087 was still slightly disappointing after almost going 180 mph in practice.
About midway through the afternoon, the biggest surprise of the day occurred when Peter Revson took another McLaren car out and qualified at the unbelievable 178.696 mph. Everybody was ecstatic. His fastest lap was over 179 mph.
By 6:00 quitting time, 16 drivers had qualified. The front row was made up of Revson, Donohue, and Bobby Unser, and Joe Leonard’s three-year old qualifying record was out the window.
It was the finest qualification day I had attended. The weather, our seats, and the activity on the track were all the best of my six trips.
The traffic was very heavy in getting to I-74, but then it thinned out and it was good driving the rest of the way. We stopped at the Colonial Kitchen and ate a good supper. For breakfast, we stopped at the little restaurant across the road because the Colonial Kitchen was closed. When we finished eating, we left and arrived home between 11:00 and 11:30.
On Friday morning, May 28th, I got all of my equipment together, checked my list to make sure I had everything, and then loaded it into the car. When I arrived at Dalbey’s, all of their equipment was on the back porch and ready to be put into Bobby’s car. Mother had a good meal cooked for me, so while I ate dinner, Dad loaded the car. When I finished eating, I put my equipment into the car. We got situated in the car, told Mother and Susan goodbye, and at 12:40 we left for the race.
Unlike last year, we didn’t have to contend with road repairing, so we got to and through Decatur a little faster than we did last year. The traffic west of Decatur was about the same as usual, but on the east side it was quite heavy for several miles, and it was quite a while before I could drive at full speed.
At 2:47, we stopped at the Colonial Kitchen for a little break. We each had a cup of coffee while Dad and Bobby had a piece of pie and I had a helping of orange sherbet ice cream. When we finished, we used the restrooms, paid our bill, and then left.
At 3:12, we left the parking lot and went north on Routes 150-1. Everything looked quiet and peaceful along the way. We came onto I-74 at 3:40. From there, it took us just one hour to get to the US 136 intersection west of Indy. The traffic became much heavier but moved quickly, and a few blocks later we stopped at the Standard station to fill the gas tank and use the restrooms.
With that important job done, we drove to Fisher Street and into Kramer’s parking lot. His yard was mostly empty, and it gave us a good feeling to know we’d have no trouble getting a space. Bud was outdoors and recognized us and guided us into a space. We got out, paid our $4.00 fee, and talked to Bud for a few minutes. He told us he already had a few customers and hoped they didn’t cause any trouble. I was surprised at the small amount of cars.
Bud excused himself, and the three of us got out our lawn chairs and sat down for a while. The westbound traffic was heavy with people going home from work, but the eastbound traffic was quite light. A newspaper boy walked by, and I bought a paper from him. That gave us something to read. As it is every year, the race was front-page news.
Around 6:00, we decided we may as well eat our supper. Bobby got the food out, and Dad and I got the portable oven out and got it started working. Our meal was baked beans and hamburgers, along with lettuce salad, potato chips, and coffee. It all smelled and tasted real good. It wasn’t as comfortable as sitting at a table, but that didn’t make the food taste any worse. When we finished, we wiped off our plates, glasses, and silverware, put everything else back in boxes, and took the oven apart and put it back in the trunk. It was still light, so we sat in our chairs for a few minutes and watched the activity around us. Already, there were more cars and people than there had been just two hours ago when we arrived.
About 7:30, we decided to leave and see what was going on closer to the Speedway. The filling station and concession stands were doing a good business. The intersection at the main gate was quite busy, but a policeman finally stopped the traffic long enough to allow a few persons to cross the street.
There was a long line of people waiting to get into the museum, but the line moved right along, so we didn’t mind waiting. Some of the exhibits we had seen before, but there are always some different cars, pictures, etc. that weren’t there the previous year. It is always a thrill to me to stand so close to some of the cars that have been in various 500-mile Indy races. The women at the souvenir stand were selling the official program for the race, so Bobby and I each bought one. That would save us some inconvenience at the Speedway in the morning. They had many books, postcards, pennants, and other items for sale and were doing a good business. The ticket office, located in the west end of the building, was also doing a good business. Every year, some people wait until the last minute to buy their tickets and then have their choice of only a few seats.
As we walked back to the car, the sound of loud music and unsteady, loud drunks and the smell of beer came more into evidence than it had any time previously. When we arrived at the car, we read some parts of our newspapers before it became completely dark. The parking lot had a few more cars than it did when we left. We also talked and listened to the radio for a few minutes. A large part of the local news concerned the race — the weather report, traffic conditions, the drivers’ meeting, and other items of interest.
About 9:30, I decided to go back and take in some of the free, informal entertainment that some of the fans always provide the night before the race. Bobby and Dad decided they would stay behind and try to get a start on their night’s sleep.
I decided to try something different this year. Instead of walking down Crawfordsville Road all the way, I went north on Fisher Street for three blocks and then right. I don’t remember the name of the street. It was different scenery, and it was much quieter than all of the noise just a few blocks away. There were a few neighbors out in their yards talking to each other, but that was about all that was going on. The noisy revelers could be heard in the distance, but the noise was not enough to be a nuisance.
When I reached Crawfordsville Road, I turned left and walked toward the Speedway. There was a new discotheque with go-go girls on the north side of the street, and I decided to check it out. There were a lot of other young people who were doing the same thing. The loud, swinging music, audible from the street, had aroused their and my curiosities. The music seemed loud until I opened the door. Inside, it was many times more so. The place was packed with young people seated at small, round tables for two. There were two girls on a tall platform dancing to record music which was so loud that it was almost impossible to talk to the person standing or sitting next to you. There was a $1 cover charge, and the only form of food or drink was beer and hard liquor. This was enough to discourage me and several others from entering, so we stood in the hallway and enjoyed the free entertainment. We saw as much as any paying customer could see. After a while, there was a break in the action. I waited several minutes for the action to resume, but when it didn’t, I left and went on my way.
I went north on Georgetown Road to see what was going on there. The extra lanes of traffic, one in each direction, had made it a much better street. There was the usual large amount of young, beer-drinking people, but they weren’t causing enough trouble for the police to get into action, but the police were keeping a sharp eye on the activity and were equipped with riot helmets and big, thick clubs.
I walked down to the Gate 6 underpass and then walked back on the east side of the street. The automobile traffic wasn’t real heavy, but I had to be careful to avoid all the people who were so drunk that they couldn’t walk straight.
At the main gate, I turned left and walked down the north side of 16th Street, about half the length of the Speedway grounds. Then, I crossed the street and came back west on the south side. The Holiday Inn seemed to be doing a good business, although I didn’t go inside the building. There were many concession stands on the south side, and most of them were doing a good business.
When I reached Main Street, I crossed the street and went in the corner drug store to see if I could buy any newspapers I didn’t have. I didn’t see any new papers but walked around the store a little bit to see if I could find anything interesting. I thought I might buy a race souvenir for Dixie but didn’t find any. I left that store and walked down Main Street to the next drug store. That store didn’t have any new newspapers either, so I turned around and went back to 16th Street. At the intersection, I turned left and walked a couple blocks. There wasn’t much activity, so I turned around, crossed the street, and came back toward the Speedway. I went into the store where 500-mile race magazines, books, and other items are sold but didn’t see anything I hadn’t seen before or anything that interested me, so I went on my way and, with much caution, crossed over to the north side of Crawfordsville Road.
Loud music was still coming from the discotheque, so I decided to stop and check it out. There was still a packed house and loud music, but no girls were performing. I waited a few minutes, but the girls didn’t do their thing, so I left.
There were a lot of beer parties and wiener roasts taking place on both sides of the street as the carnival atmosphere reached a new high. The filling stations were doing a good business, particularly the ladies’ restrooms.
About a block from our car, a large group of young drunks was making an unusually large amount of noise and making some risqué remarks. About a minute later, after I had passed them, I heard a police car siren and turned around. The policeman stopped and told the youths to disperse and stop the loud noise. At first, they gave the policeman a hard time and didn’t want to do as they were told, but they finally quieted down somewhat and went their separate ways. For a while, I thought there was going to be some ugly, unpleasant action, but the policeman was adamant and the youths apparently decided he meant what he said.
It was between 11:30 and 12:00 when I arrived at the car and was as quiet as I could be in getting my cot and sleeping bag out of the trunk. I set them up in the garage a few feet away from Dad. Although it was midnight, I couldn’t sleep, partly because I was excited about the race and partly because of the large amount of noise.
Shortly after I crawled into the sleeping bag, a carload of young men pulled up and parked across the street from the garage. They got out of the car and proceeded to make fools of themselves. They drank beer and made loud profane remarks for a long time. In addition to these problems, there was also the problem of men coming and going all night long as they used the makeshift men’s room. I finally managed to get some sleep but was awakened every once in a while by the noise. One time when I woke up, I checked and found that the young men across the street had gone elsewhere, so that was some help. There were also some drunks partying around the car, so I knew Bobby couldn’t be getting much sleep. The large number of drunks always seem to be having a grand time, but they are a big headache to the sober people who want to spend a quiet evening and get a good night’s sleep.
A couple minutes after 5:00, I heard a loud boom. I looked at my watch, saw what time it was, and knew that the opening bomb had just gone off. While I was still lying on the cot, Dad woke up and went outdoors for a few minutes. A few minutes later he came back, and the two of us folded up our cots and sleeping bags and took them out to the car. Our abbreviated night’s sleep was finished.
Most of Mr. Kramer’s customers were still sleeping in their cars, and there were a few even sleeping on the ground. It was quite cool, and I thought the combination of noise and cool weather would make sleeping difficult if not impossible, but it didn’t seem to bother most of the people. Bobby woke up shortly after we did, and the three of us sat in the car for a while and tried to wake up while we listened to the radio and observed the activity around us. The long line of cars on Crawfordsville Road was already past us when we woke up, and now a lot of the drivers were futilely honking their horns in an attempt to move the cars.
Between 5:30 and 6:00, we went down to the Satellite Hamburger Shop and got our Thermos bottles filled with coffee. We thought we would have to go down to the White Way shop at the Georgetown Road intersection but we didn’t, so that saved us a lot of time. When we arrived back at the car, Dad and I got the stove out while Bobby got the food, silverware, plates, and glasses out.
For some reason, the stove wouldn’t work. We pumped the gas into the burner as we always did, but this time the fire wouldn’t start. We pumped it several times and used several matches, but it didn’t do any good. A group of men who had a Coleman stove just like ours came over to see what our trouble was and see if they could be of any help. They tried for a few minutes but didn’t have any better luck than we did. Since they were finished with theirs, they offered to let us use theirs. They wanted us to try it first as they seemed doubtful of theirs now. It worked fine, so we went right to work and got our breakfast cooked.
Breakfast was scrambled eggs, bacon, and coffee. It really smelled and tasted good. Bobby had brought along plenty of food, and we ate until we couldn’t eat any more. It was between 7:00 and 8:00 now, and just about everybody was up and preparing or eating breakfast.
When we were finished eating, we put our equipment away, cleaned up the strove, and returned it to the owner. We thanked him again for the use of it, and he seemed more than happy to be of help to us. I don’t know what we would have done without it. I guess we would have had to stop at one of the hamburger stands and eat there. It was the first time I could remember having any trouble with the stove.
With that job done, we sat in the car for a few minutes and read the newspapers and listened to the radio. Between 8:00 and 8:30, we decided we had better get on our way, so we made sure we had everything we intended to have, locked the doors, and started the walk to the Speedway.
The traffic was fairly heavy, and almost everybody was carrying something. This included Thermos jugs, field glasses, cameras, umbrellas, Styrofoam coolers, and many other items. We stopped at the Satellite Hamburger stand to get some coffee, but they didn’t have any right then, so we went on down to the White Way and had our Thermos bottles filled there. It seemed to me that there was more than the usual amount of people trying to sell and buy tickets. I don’t know if there actually were, but it seemed that way. With our bottles filled, we crossed the street and got in line to go through one of the turnstiles.
There was a huge crowd of people, but the lines moved right along and we didn’t have to wait very long. A couple minutes later we were inside the main gate, and since we already had our souvenir racing programs, we didn’t have to make our usual stop to buy one. We decided to make one last use of the restrooms and then headed for the infield underpass. The traffic was getting heavier and heavier, and the people were going everywhere — upstairs, back towards the main gate, toward the underpass, and north on Georgetown Road. This is the worst area to get through between the main gate and our seats because there are several hundred persons trying to get through a narrow passageway, although it wasn’t as bad this year as it has been some years.
When we exited onto the infield, the crowd thinned out somewhat, and we had more room in which to move and breathe. We went east to the underground steps and walked under the street which runs from Gate 6 to the infield. Our entrance was the far north end, so we continued walking, glancing around every once in a while to see if we were still together. The gateman took our tickets, and we walked to the fence separating the pit area from the spectator area. This first view of the long straightaway and all the activity taking place on it always thrills me immensely, and this year was no exception. Many of the pit crews were running the engines of their cars while several multicolored bands were parading on the race track. It was a real pleasure to my eyes and ears. We stood there a couple minutes and then went to our seats, which were in section 43, row J, seats 5-7. It took a minute or so, but we finally got all of our equipment arranged either under or on our seats. The seats felt good after all the walking we had done. We watched the bands parade on the straightaway and used the insert pamphlet of the racing program to identify those drivers, cars, and pit crews within our viewing area. Among those we could see were Dick Simon, Mel Kenyon, Sam Sessions, Roger McCluskey, Larry Dickson, and Rick Muther.
I decided to use my new movie camera and take some pictures of the activity. The pit crews were busy on their cars, and I caught some of them at work on the camera. I spent quite a while looking at the cars and the crews working on them. The pit area was full of people walking around taking in everything. I arrived back at my seat about 10:00.
Just a minute or so after I arrived at my seat, the announcement came over the PA system for the pit crews to push their cars into their starting positions. As they did this, the Purdue University Band played On the Banks of the Wabash. Only one hour remained until the start. With the help of our racing program, we identified each car as it was pushed by us.
A few minutes later, the cavalcade of celebrities was driven around the track in official Dodge Challenger cars. Among the celebrities present this year were Clayton Moore, TV’s Lone Ranger, entertainment stars Bob Barker, Hugh Downs, and Amy Devine, Housing Secretary George Romney, Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, the Dodge Safety Sheriff, and Miss Universe. Many of them were interviewed on the track PA system either before or after their trip around the track. Also in the parade were the 500 Festival Queen and the 32 members of her court.
When the parade returned to the starting line, the Chief Steward, Harlan Fengler, and a couple other USAC officials made the final inspection lap of the track. The tension and excitement were greater than ever as only 30 minutes remained. Drivers and pit crew members stood around their cars and made last-minute plans.
At 10:45, the huge crowd rose to its feet and became very quiet as the band played The Star-Spangled Banner. When that was finished, the noise broke out again, but only for a couple minutes. At 10:50, a solemn moment of reverence was observed in honor of the occasion of Memorial Day as the band played Taps. By now, most of the drivers were in their cars, and all people who weren’t involved with the race were gone from the track. A couple minutes after Taps, Peter DePaolo, winner of the 1925 500-mile race, sang the final song, Back Home Again in Indiana. Pete is no singer, and he certainly did a bad job of singing this song. The reaction from the crowd was the same as mine.
A few seconds after that, colored balloons were released from the infield and received a big cheer as they rose into the air. It was now a matter of seconds until the big moment. The Speedway was buzzing with noise and excitement. The drivers were in their seats with safety belts and shoulder harnesses fastened and helmets, goggles, and gloves in place. The noise from the crowd was broken when the PA announcer broke in and introduced the president of the Speedway, Tony Hulman. Tony took the microphone and slowly but distinctly announced his famous command, “GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES!”
The air instantly was filled with the noise of both the cars and that of the audience. All the cars in our viewing area started as one crew member raised an arm to indicate his driver was ready to go and another member fanned away the obnoxious fumes. The roar of those 33 engines all at the same time is one of the greatest delights a racing fan can experience.
About a minute after Tony Hulman gave his command, the Dodge Pace Car slowly started moving, and then the cars were pushed away. I couldn’t see any car that didn’t start, and in a few seconds, the PA announcer announced the good news that all cars had started and were moving into their starting positions. This brought a loud burst of cheer from the audience. We could hear them all the way around the track as they got into position.
Everybody’s eyes were set on the fourth turn. The low buzz of noise from the crowd suddenly became a loud cheer as the field appeared in the fourth turn and headed down the straightaway. As they went by, the engines were roaring and some of the drivers were waving. It was a spectacular sight, and the audience waved, cheered, and clapped as they went by. Field glasses and cameras were ready to catch the flying start. Everybody seemed nervous and tense as they waited again with their eyes glued on the fourth turn. Pretty soon, the pace car appeared and headed for the pit entrance. It was really moving as it went by us, and a couple seconds later, the green flag was waved and the race was on.
Second-place starter Mark Donohue took the lead ahead of Peter Revson and Bobby Unser. His first-lap speed was 169.651, a new record. Before 10 laps were run, Steve Krisiloff and Dennis Hulme had spun, but there was no damage and both of them continued in the race.
About this time, as we were listening to the radio, we heard something which greatly upset us. The pace car had crashed into a photographers’ platform at the south end of the pit area and injured several persons. The car, driven by auto dealer Eldon Palmer with Tony Hulman and astronaut John Glenn as passengers, came into the pit area at a high rate of speed, and as they started to slow down the brakes apparently locked, sending the car into a skid. When it hit the platform, the impact upset about fifty photographers, injuring many of them. A Speedway guard and several spectators were also injured, some of them quite seriously. The three of us could not see the action, but we knew from hearing the radio that something was going on. It didn’t sound very good, and we hoped nobody had been killed. The front end of the pace car was heavily damaged.
Meanwhile, back on the track, the action continued. On his 10th lap, Steve Krisiloff spun in the northeast turn. Mel Kenyon spun to avoid Krisiloff and crashed into the wall. Gordon Johncock hit Kenyon and then crashed into the wall. Mario Andretti then crashed into them, and all four of them were out of the race. This brought out the yellow light for several laps.
Before the four-car wreck, George Snider had made a pit stop on his sixth lap, and he was done for the day. George has had real bad luck in every 500-mile race he’s been in.
The standings at 20 laps were Donohue, Revson, Al Unser, Leonard, Ruby, Bobby Unser, Rutherford, Tinglestad, Foyt, and Mosley.
On the 32nd lap, the green flag came out again. As Donohue continued to lead, the next few positions behind him kept changing. After 33 laps, Larry Dickson was out with engine trouble, and Sam Sessions was finished after 43 laps with a broken valve.
At 40 laps, Donohue was leading, and he was followed by Al Unser, Joe Leonard, Bobby Unser, and Lloyd Ruby, in that order.
Art Pollard pulled into his pit area and was done for the day with mechanical trouble.
The crowd jumped to its feet on the 50th lap as Donohue came through the pit area for his first pit stop. Al Unser was almost right behind him, so now Joe Leonard was in the lead. Joe’s lead was short, however, as he pitted on the next lap and gave the lead to Bobby Unser. Several other drivers also made pit stops.
Donohue was back charging for the lead and cutting down the time between him and Bobby Unser. His 57th lap was 173 mph. A few laps later, Unser made his pit stop and Mark took the lead again but not for long. On his 67th lap, he spun on the north chute, pulled into the grass, stopped, and got out of the car. The gearbox had broken. The audience was unpleasantly surprised when it found out what had happened.
Al Unser regained the lead, and he and Leonard staged a terrific fight for the lead for several laps. Leonard passed Unser on the 72nd lap and held the lead for 10 laps until Unser got it back on the 82nd lap. Leonard got the lead on the 87th lap, and the two of them were far ahead. Lloyd Ruby was third, 25 seconds behind.
Leonard made his second pit stop on his 92nd lap, and Unser went back in front. On the 97th lap Al pitted, and Lloyd Ruby took the lead for three laps. He had to make a pit stop, and Bobby Unser went to the front.
At the halfway point, the first 10 were Ruby, Bobby Unser, Revson, Al Unser, Leonard, Foyt, Cale Yarborough, Bill Vukovich II, Roger McCluskey, and Jim Malloy. The average speed was 159.471 mph.
Meanwhile, Wally Dallenbach was out after 68 laps with mechanical trouble, and Bob Harkey and Bentley Warren went out after 77 and 75 laps respectively with engine trouble.
On his 108th lap, Bobby Unser made his second pit stop, and Al Unser resumed the lead.
Also on the 108th lap, the main straightaway crowd jumped to its feet in terror as David Hobbs and Rick Muther collided with each other. The two were running close to each other just north of the starting line. Muther suddenly turned his wheels, and the two cars collided and went into terrifying spins. They spun several times, hit the outside wall, and Muther’s car almost turned over. It was on the right side, almost perpendicular to the track. It skidded across the starting line and came as close to turning over as it could without actually doing so. Parts of the cars scattered in all directions as race officials and pit crew members ran for safety. Only a few feet on the inside of the track were left for the other drivers to get through. Starter Pat Vidan went out onto the track and wildly waved the yellow flag in an effort to slow down oncoming cars and prevent more of them from crashing into the mess. The track was so littered with debris that the cars had to go single file right next to the inner wall in order to get by. Miraculously, neither driver was hurt and both immediately got out of their cars, but the cars were done for.
The spectators were in a state of shock. I screamed as I saw the cars hit each other, crash into the wall, and almost turn over. Everybody, including Dad and me, grabbed their radios to hear about the accident. I was shaking with fright, and so were some of the other people around me. Luckily, there were no other cars real close, and they were able to slow down enough to not cause any further trouble. A few minutes after the crash, the PA announcer announced that neither driver was injured, and that greatly reduced everybody’s apprehension. Speedway maintenance crews were immediately on the scene and went to work cleaning up the debris. There were big black skid marks from in front of us to the starting line.
At 120 laps, Al Unser and Joe Leonard were running first and second, but then Leonard’s car developed turbocharger trouble and he was forced out of the race. It was a real bad break for Joe, who had been running near the front the entire race.
Johnny Rutherford’s car quit after 128 laps with engine trouble, and Dennis Hulme’s car did likewise after 137 laps.
At 140 laps or 350 miles, the first 10 were Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Revson, Ruby, Foyt, Vukovich, Fullmer, Hulme, Malloy, and Allison.
Cale Yarborough was finished after 140 laps with engine failure, and George Fullmer’s car went out after 147 laps with a broken piston. Many people were surprised at how well George had been doing, and it was a shame he couldn’t have continued.
At 139 laps, Al Unser led with Bobby Unser 32.6 seconds behind and Revson 14.6 seconds behind Bobby.
Revson, Foyt, and Bobby Unser all pitted on the 151st lap, Al Unser on the 159th lap, and Ruby on the 160th lap. All made good, quick stops except Ruby. Lloyd killed his engine, and it was a minute and 33 seconds before he got back onto the track.
Dick Simon was forced out with engine trouble after 151 laps.
At 160 laps, the standings were Al Unser, Ruby, Revson, Bobby Unser, Foyt, Vukovich, Mosley, Tingelstad, Malloy, and Allison.
A few laps later, the yellow light came on again as fire and skidding cars were seen in the fourth turn. Once again, everybody jumped to their feet with fear and turned on their radios. Mike Mosley spun and hit the outside wall, then shot across to the infield and hit several cars involved in earlier wrecks. Bobby Unser spun to avoid Mosley and also hit the wall. Unser was unhurt, but Mosley had a fractured leg, fractured arm, and burns. The fires were put out, and then track personnel got Mosley out. Crashing into the other cars had crumpled his car in on him, and it took a while to get him out.
The yellow light was on for several laps, and during this time Lloyd Ruby was black-flagged because his engine was on fire. He came in, had the fire put out, and went out again but not for long. He came in again and was finished for the day. A deep groan went up from the crowd as the announcer sadly gave the news that Lloyd was out of the race. His unbelievable bad luck had struck again. For the fourth consecutive year, he had led the race at one time or another but was forced out with mechanical trouble. It was a sad moment for many people, including me.
The yellow light stayed on until the 188th lap when the green came on again.
At 180 laps, the standings were Al Unser, Revson, Foyt, Vukovich, Malloy, Allison, Tingelstad, McCluskey, Zimmerman, and Bettenhausen.
As the race neared its end, the crowd came to its feet and observed the last few laps. They were counting the laps, and pretty soon Al Unser received the white flag and then the checkered flag. He had won his second consecutive 500-mile race. He took two extra laps and then pulled into Victory Lane in front of the Control Tower.
About the same time Al pulled into Victory Lane, second-place finisher Peter Revson pulled into his pit for the last time. It had been a very good month for Peter. He started in first position with a record-breaking qualifying run and then ran with the leaders during the entire race and finished in second position, only 17 seconds behind Al Unser.
A.J. Foyt finished third. This was his 14th race, and his name and records are legendary by now.
Bill Vukovich II finished fourth in his fourth race. He finished seventh in his first race but had had bad luck the last two years, so it was good to see him come back strong.
Jim Malloy finished fifth in his fourth 500-mile race, and this was his first time at going the full distance.
Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Donnie Allison, was sixth, and Bud Tingelstad, in his 10th race, finished seventh. Bud missed last year’s race but made a good comeback.
Roger McCluskey’s rotten Indianapolis luck finally ended as he finished in eighth position. This was his 10th race and the first time he was still running at the finish.
Denny Zimmerman won Rookie of the Year by finishing ninth, and Gary Bettenhausen made his best showing by finishing 10th, although he completed only 179 laps.
When all the cars were off the track, Bobby and Dad left to go back to the car, but I stayed to take in some of the post-race activity. Al Unser was interviewed in Victory Lane and then driven around the track for everybody to see. While I was waiting for the announcement of the winning time, the wrecked cars of Kenyon, Johncock, Andretti, Krisiloff, Bobby Unser, and Mosley were towed through the pit area. It was a horrible sight to see, particularly Kenyon’s car. It was a complete wreck, and I thought to myself that Mel was lucky to get out of it alive.
It was announced that Al Unser’s winning speed was 157.735 mph and his time was 3 hours, 10 minutes, and a few seconds.
I took a last look around the track, stands, and pit area and then started back to the car. The traffic was real heavy but not as bad as I have seen it some other years, and it moved pretty well. Just before I reached the main gate, I bought a Flash Final edition of the Indianapolis News.
When I got to the car, Dad and Bobby were sitting in their lawn chairs, so I got mine out and did likewise. It felt good to take my shoes off and relax for a few minutes. I drank some of the remaining coffee while we sat and talked about the day’s activities and listened to the radio. We were hoping the traffic would thin out a little bit before we left, but it remained bumper to bumper and hardly moved.
It seemed like a hopeless situation, so we got everything arranged in the car, said goodbye to Bud Kramer, and at 3:57 drove to the highway and waited to get in line. After a couple minutes, a courteous driver stopped a few seconds and let me get in ahead of him. I was very thankful for his kind deed. It would be a long time now before we would reach I-74. We sat for several minutes and didn’t move an inch. We moved only a few feet at a time, and then we waited some more. It was real frustrating, and we felt the traffic should be moving better. When we reached Lynhurst Drive we moved only slightly faster, but we finally made it to I-74 at 4:40, 47 minutes after leaving Kramer’s. The traffic thinned out considerably, and we didn’t have much trouble from then on until we stopped at the Colonial Kitchen at 6:15.
There were several race fans already there, but there was still room for us, so we went through the serving line and helped ourselves. Since we hadn’t eaten a meal since about 8:00 that morning, it tasted real good. We had free entertainment while we ate. There was an anniversary party going on in the large room on the east side. The room was filled with people, and there was live organ music. It was a pleasure to sit and listen to the organ music and look at all the people. Dad and I helped ourselves to seconds with some of the food, but we finally filled up. We paid the bill, used the restrooms, and at 7:00 headed west again.
We hardly got started until we were stopped by a train at the first railroad crossing we came to. This was the first time I could remember being stopped by a train while driving home. The stop was only for a few minutes, and then we were rolling again. We arrived at Decatur about 8:15, and the city was alive with wild drivers. In about 15 minutes, we were out of the city and on the last 40 miles to Springfield. It was about 9:15 when we arrived at Dalbey’s.
We didn’t unload but went right into the house. Dixie was there, so all of us watched the last 15 minutes of the race on TV. ABC had taped the entire race and ran portions of it on prime time that night. We were sorry we couldn’t have seen the entire show, but what we saw was real good. After the telecast we talked for a few minutes, and then Dixie and I went home. It had been a fine trip, and now it was all over but the talking.
A record purse of $1,001,604 was distributed to the drivers at the Victory Dinner, and Al Unser received $238,454 of that amount.
The McLaren cars were, for the most part, a disappointment in the race. Peter Revson’s car was the only one that finished. Donohue led almost the entire time he was in the race, but the broken gearbox ended his chances. Dennis Hulme’s quit with engine trouble, and Gordon Johncock was in a crash.
The three big accidents, which were responsible for most of the caution time, were unfortunate but also unpredictable, and it is fortunate that they weren’t worse.
The pace car mishap will be an unpleasant reminder of this year’s race in future years. I do not know if it has been decided just who or what was responsible for the accident, but I feel sure there will be a thorough and complete investigation conducted in order to prevent such an occurrence from happening again.
This was the first year I used my new movie camera at the race. Unfortunately, the automatic lens wasn’t working correctly, and all my pictures of the race failed to develop, although all the still pictures I took turned out fine. I’m hoping for better luck in future years.
Despite the race crashes, bad movie camera, and cool weather, it was a real fine year, and we’re looking forward to 1972 when once again we plan on seeing one of the greatest events in the world — the Indianapolis 500.
Pace Car — Dodge Challenger
500 Festival Queen — Candace Cluster