Indy journal: 1972

Historic Indy 500 journals — By on June 15, 2008 7:00 pm
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Probably the biggest news at the Speedway this year was the tremendous speed increase from last year.There was an increase of 17 mph between Peter Revson’s pole position speed of last year and Bobby Unser’s 195.940 mph pole speed of this year.This is the largest single-year increase in speed in the history of the Speedway.Another qualifying record was established when the slowest car in the starting field qualified faster than the fastest car in last year’s race.Other memorable features of this year were the death of Jim Malloy in a practice run on May 14th and the confusing start and finish of the race.

Dad, Bobby, Dixie, and I saw the first day of time trials on Saturday, May 13th.We left Springfield at 3:00, stopped at the Colonial Kitchen for breakfast, and arrived at the Speedway about 7:30.It rained over half the time going over, and it was coming down quite hard at the Speedway.We were lucky enough to get seats in the Paddock section by the start-finish line and under a roof.

It was a long, frustrating day.The rain came down almost all day long, and the sun didn’t shine until about 4:00.It wasn’t until 5:00 that the track was declared in racing condition and the cars were allowed to practice.The caution light came on several times, and it wasn’t until after 5:30 that any qualification attempt was made.

A couple drivers started their trial runs but came in and didn’t finish.A few minutes before 6:00, the crowd received its biggest thrill of the day when A.J. Foyt took the green flag and started his four-lap run.That thrill was short-lived, however, when a few seconds later, the PA announcer said that Foyt’s car had blown its engine and was coasting into the infield on the backstretch.Before another car could get onto the track, the 6:00 deadline whistle blew, eliminating any qualification attempt and ending a frustrating day.On the way home, we stopped at the Colonial Kitchen for supper and arrived home about 11:30.

On Friday, May 26th, I ate dinner at Dalbey’s, and after eating we loaded Bobby’s car and got everything ready to go.I transferred all of my equipment to Bobby’s car and then put my car in her space in the garage.We checked to be sure we had everything we intended to take, and at 12:42 we said goodbye to Mother and started on our trip.

I drove, and Bobby sat in the front seat and Dad behind her.I took the same streets we usually take, North Grand, 6th Street, 5th Street, and Sangamon Avenue, and shortly we were leaving town.It was a warm, sunny day, and there wasn’t enough traffic on the highway to make driving unpleasant.We arrived in Decatur about 1:30, and the traffic was about the same as it usually is.The traffic remained fairly light, and about 2:15 we passed through Tuscola.

About 10 minutes after we left Tuscola, I noticed a strange sight ahead of us, and a few seconds later we realized there was a wreck ahead of us and we would have to slow down.We were the second car coming from the west, so apparently we just missed by a few seconds being in the wreck.I realized we might be there for a while, so I stopped, turned the engine off, and got out to investigate.

It looked as if three cars were involved in the mess.One car was going west and one car and a semi-trailer truck were going east.The truck looked as it if had jack-knifed to the right and into the utility pole, knocking the pole partly over.The car going east was parked a few feet to the left of the truck.The car going west was in the worst condition.It was in two pieces on the north side of the road, with the truck in one place and the remainder of the car several feet west of the truck lying upside down.

There were two men at the overturned part, and when I arrived there I discovered there was a woman in the car and the men were trying to free her.The car was so smashed in that the men had to loosen the seat and open the door before they could get the woman out.The woman was groaning quite a bit, so we thought she might be in bad condition.We finally got the car opened and the seat pushed back so that we could pull her out.There was a blanket by the car, so I spread it out and the two men placed her on it.The woman had blood over a large portion of her body and small pieces of glass stuck in her skin in several places.She was in considerable pain and particularly so in her left thigh, which she thought might be broken.Despite her bad condition, she was conscious and wanted us to try to free her friend from the car.

The other woman’s head and neck seemed to be out of position, and we were fearful some damage had been done to them.We managed to get her out of the car and laid her down by the other woman. An ambulance had been called, so while we waited for it I surveyed the scene.The damaged car was a Chevrolet, and it had really been damaged.There were pieces of glass and metal scattered over a wide area.There was a bean field several feet from the highway and a trench between the field and the highway.The trench was loaded with broken car pieces, and some pieces had even gotten into the bean field.In my survey, I also discovered several primary education books scattered about, so I thought maybe at least one of them was an elementary school teacher.

By now, a few other cars had stopped, although most of them continued on their way without stopping.Although there were several people on the scene, nobody seemed to know just what had happened or any of the details.Fortunately, it had happened right in front of a house located on the highway, so it didn’t take long to get to a telephone.

While we were waiting for the ambulance, I took Bobby’s snow sweeper from the car and swept some of the metal, glass, rocks, and other debris from the highway.It was a small broom for such a big job, but it cleared a lot of the debris off the highway.In a few minutes, the ambulance and the local sheriff arrived, and the women were taken to a nearby hospital.One of the men on the scene before we arrived directed traffic while I continued sweeping the highway.

After a while, I decided there was no need to stay around any longer, so we decided to continue on our way.Just as we were ready to leave, a State Trooper arrived on the scene.I thought he might want to talk to us, so I waited a minute or so, but he didn’t come over to the car, so we went on.It was 2:55 now, so we had spent 30 minutes at the accident scene.All three of us were shaken up by the accident, and we talked about it as we continued on to Chrisman.

It was 3:18 when we arrived at the Colonial Kitchen.There were two customers when we arrived, but a few more came after we did.We each had a cup of coffee, and Bobby and Dad had a piece of pie and I had a dish of orange sherbet.The refreshments felt good, and when we finished we used the restrooms, paid the bill, and continued on our way.It was 3:44 when we left.

We drove north on Route 150/1, and at 4:13 we got onto I-74 south of Danville.Five minutes later, we crossed the Indiana line, and from there on it was smooth sailing until we arrived at the Route 136 and I-74 intersection on the west side of Indianapolis.The traffic was heavy but it was moving, and in a couple minutes we arrived at the Standard Station and had the gasoline tank filled while we used the restrooms.We continued east on Crawfordsville Road, and at 5:25 we arrived at Kramer’s.

Mr. Kramer is usually on the scene and directs all the traffic as it comes into his yard.This time, however, he wasn’t there, so we backed in at about the location we wanted to park.A couple minutes later, a woman came over and introduced herself and said Mr. Kramer had just left to go downtown but should be back any minute.The four of us talked for a few minutes, and then she excused herself to go talk to some other customers.We wanted to park in front of the front porch but didn’t want to do so without Mr. Kramer’s approval, so we stayed where we were and got out lawn chairs out and sat on them for a few minutes.There were a few customers who arrived before us, but most of the yard was still empty.

A few minutes before 6:00, Mr. Kramer arrived home and started getting his customers located.When he arrived at our car, he gave us a warm greeting and said he was glad to have us back again.We asked him about parking in front of his porch and he said that would be fine with him, so I backed the car into our spot and parked it.Bobby asked Dad and me if we wanted to eat now or later, and we decided to walk down by the Speedway and then come back and eat.

The pedestrian traffic wasn’t real heavy until we arrived at the Speedway Museum, and then it increased considerably.There was a line of people extending outside the museum waiting to get in, but the patrolman at the door kept the line moving right along, so we didn’t have long to wait.Many of the cars on display we had seen before, but there were a couple new displays sponsored by accessory companies which made for interesting viewing.We spent about half an hour in the museum and then walked back to the car.It was about 7:00 now.

By now, we were rather hungry.Dad and I got the stove out and set it up while Bobby got the food out and prepared it for cooking.For supper, we had hamburgers, baked beans, potato chips, salad, and coffee.It tasted real good, and the weather provided an excellent atmosphere for eating.It hadn’t gotten dark yet, there was only a slight breeze, and the temperature was just right.Bobby had brought along quite a bit of food, but we ate almost everything she cooked.When we finished eating, we cleaned out our equipment and put it back in the car.I had bought a newspaper shortly after we arrived, so we sat in our chairs and read it while it was still light enough to see.

When I finished reading the newspaper, I told Bobby and Dad I was going to take a walk and see what was going on closer to the Speedway.They said they didn’t feel like going, so I went by myself.

The traffic, both auto and pedestrian, had increased considerably in the last few hours.There was still a line of people waiting to go through the museum, and there were several persons who either wanted to buy or to sell race tickets.I walked east on the north side of 16th Street, and it looked about the same as it does every year.The cars were bumper to bumper for several blocks in both directions, and many of the cars were convertibles with young, loud, offensive people in them.It always disturbs me to realize how foolish these people are, both in their drinking and their reckless driving.

As I continued on, I approached the Speedway Motel and noticed a few other walkers walking toward it.I had always wanted to see the motel but thought there would be policemen or other security personnel to keep me from doing so.This time, I decided to attempt it.If I couldn’t get in, somebody would tell me and I would leave.There were two policemen directing the cars entering and leaving the motel parking lot, but they didn’t say anything to me when I walked by them, so I continued on my way.

When I entered the lobby, I heard an organ being played and somebody singing.I turned to the left and came upon the bar room.A middle-aged woman was doing both the playing and the singing, and she seemed to be quite happy doing it.There was a large crowd present, most of whom were drinking and a few of whom were singing along with the music.I stepped inside and took a look around the room and then stepped back out of the way so that I wouldn’t be in the way.I listened to the music for a few minutes and then walked around and saw another room, the dining room.

From there, I went outside and walked around the grounds.The sidewalk by the lobby led to the rear of the motel, and there I could see the outside wall of the southeast turn of the racetrack and some of the outside wall of the back straightaway.In the distance, I could see the Control Tower.Also in the rear of the motel was a large, revolving floodlight.I turned back and walked west across the front sections of the motel.There were several guests either leaving or entering their rooms.When I reached the end of the motel, I turned around and went back to the lobby.There was still a lot of noise coming from the bar room, so I decided to check it out again.The crowd was making quite a bit of noise, but I was able to shut them out enough so that I could hear the music.I listened for several minutes and then decided it was time to leave.As I walked back to 16th Street, the policemen were still directing traffic, but they didn’t stop me, so I went on.

I wanted to cross the street and walk back on the other side, but the traffic was so heavy and the drivers so wild that I decided it would be best if I stayed where I was.When I reached Georgetown Road, I used the pedestrian crosswalk and got across when the light changed to green.I continued walking west and went into the drug store at the intersection of 16th and Main Streets.I wanted to buy another Indianapolis newspaper, but the only ones for sale were copies of the edition I already had.

With no luck there, I went south on Main Street another block and went into the next drug store.They didn’t have any newspapers either.The other drug store was filled with customers, but there was almost nobody in this one.My feet were aching from all my walking, so I sat down on the fountain stool and ordered a Coca-Cola.It felt good to get off my feet and to have a cold drink.There was only one other customer at the fountain when I sat down, but while I was there, a young couple came in and sat down a couple seats from me.I took my time drinking my soda so that I could rest a little while, and then I paid my bill and left.

From the drug store, I walked north on Georgetown Road to Gate 6.There was a large crowd of pedestrians, mostly young, wild, drinking people, but mobile police wagons prevented any trouble from getting out of hand.From here, I went back to the car, but on the way I stopped at the discotheque place to see what was happening.It is located next door and to the rear of the White Castle hamburger shop.Last year, I could stand in the doorway and watch the go-go girls for nothing, but this year everybody had to pay before entering the building, so I decided not to go in.I stood outside and listened to the music for a few minutes and then went back to the car.

It was about 11:15 now.I opened the car trunk to get my sleeping bag and pillow and was real careful in so doing so that I wouldn’t wake Bobby.I decided I would try sleeping on the ground this year because of the noise in the garage caused by men talking as they came in to use the restroom.Unfortunately, my plan didn’t work so well.Across the street from the garage was a group of boys who were drinking and yelling and racing the motor of their car.This continued for a long time and precluded any sleep.

The main problem, however, in my being unable to sleep was my stopped-up nose.Every year, around the end of May and the first part of June, something gets into my nose and causes it to get stopped up.I am constantly blowing my nose and have trouble sleeping because I can’t breathe.I lay on the west side of the garage, and every time I would almost get to sleep, I would wake up because I couldn’t breathe.I tried sleeping in the garage and by the car, but it didn’t do any good. I had to remain standing because when I lay down my nose would become stopped up and I couldn’t breathe.The condition also caused my eyes to water, and I spent a good part of the night getting rid of my tears and blowing my nose so that I could breathe easier.I didn’t get much sleep.

At 5:00, I heard the opening bomb and decided to give up on sleeping.I got up and walked around and found most of Mr. Kramer’s customers still asleep, some in cars, some in sleeping bags, and some on the ground.I got up and walked around a little bit.The cars were lined up on Crawfordsville Road but weren’t moving very fast.On my way back to the sleeping bag, I ran into Dad.He had awoken and was standing by the garage trying to get some fresh air and wake up.The two of us talked for a few minutes about the terrible noise we heard all during the night and how it kept us from sleeping.I went back and folded up my sleeping bag while he folded up his cot and blanket, and then we took them to the car to put them away.

Bobby was awake but not very much.When she got out of the car, she said she had to use a restroom but didn’t want to go to the filling station because she didn’t want to have to stand in line.She wondered if she could use Kramer’s restroom, and when I asked Mr. Kramer about it, he said that would be fine.That was really a lucky break for Bobby.When she returned, we got our Thermos bottles and took them to the filling station to be filled.The filling station, however, wasn’t selling coffee this year, so we had to walk to the White Castle restaurant and have them filled there.

It was about 7:00 when we arrived back at the car.By now, we were hungry for breakfast, so Dad and I got the stove ready to use while Bobby got out the food and eating equipment.While Bobby was cooking, Dad and I read our newspapers and listened to the radio.The aroma of bacon frying in the pan was real pleasant to our noses and made us hungrier than we were previously.Bobby cooked quite a bit of bacon, but we ate all of it she cooked plus the scrambled eggs and coffee.When I finished, I felt fuller and more awake.When we finished eating, we cleaned our equipment and stacked everything neatly in the trunk.

It was about 8:00 now, and we sat in the car a few minutes and listened to the radio and commented on the activity around us.The pedestrian traffic going to the Speedway was getting heavier, but the automobile traffic was not as heavy as it had been a couple hours ago.Almost everybody in Kramer’s yard was awake now and getting ready for breakfast or to go to the Speedway.We straightened things up in the car and then got all of our equipment gathered up and ready to go.We checked to see if we had the most important item, the tickets, and then locked the car and started on our way.

Although we had several items to carry, our load was light compared to that of some of the other race fans, particularly those carrying ice chests.We saw several groups of persons who had to stop and rest because of the weight of the coolers.

Every year on our way to the Speedway we come upon a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars who wants everybody to donate a quarter and buy a VFW pin.Sometimes they get almost demanding, but we always ignore them and keep walking.I noticed that most of the other fans were doing the same thing.

When we reached the White Castle restaurant, Bobby and Dad remained outside and watched our equipment while I went in and had the Thermos bottles refilled.There were four persons in front of me but the line moved fast, and in a couple minutes I had the bottles filled and was ready to go again.While we were arranging everything, we decided to take an individual ticket so that, in case we got lost in the mob, we would be able to get into the grounds and to our seats.

There was a huge crowd waiting to get into the main gate, but the ticket-takers were doing their job well, and in a few minutes we were inside the gate.We bought two official programs from the first vendor we saw and then walked on.It was getting harder to walk because of the large crowd and the ice chests, but pretty soon we came to the sign directing us through the tunnel under the track.The traffic here moved real well, and in a couple minutes we were on the infield and in daylight again.We continued walking in the same direction, and in another minute or so walked through the subway and then came back to the rear of the Tower Terrace and turned and went right to our entrance.

The ticket-taker took our tickets, and we walked up the incline for our first view of all the activity on the straightaway.Pit crews were making final checks on their cars, the bands were parading on the track, the pit area was filled with visitors, and the overall picture was really something to see and hear.We found our seats in section 43, row J, seats 5, 6, and 7, put our equipment under our seats and sat down and rested for a few minutes.It was now 9:00.

For a few minutes, we just sat and watched the activity and commented about the bands, people, cars, etc.We checked our programs to see what cars were stationed within our view.When I felt rested, I took both the still and the movie cameras and walked along the pit area from the north end to the entrance to Gasoline Alley.This is always interesting to me, and there were many other persons doing the same thing.It is really a thrill to get almost within touching distance of some of the drivers, cars, pit crew members, and any famous celebrities who might be walking through the pit area.Among the drivers I recognized were Mel Kenyon, A.J. Foyt, and Mario Andretti.I took both still and motion pictures of them, as did many other camera fans.

The pit crews were working feverishly in this last hour of preparation for the race.Many of the car engines were running, and some pit crew members were still running back to the garage area for supplies.The combination of noise from the engines, and the sight of the thousands of persons in their seats along the straightaway, and the sight and sound of the bands marching on the straightaway easily brought a smile to my face and tears to my eyes.It was really magnificent.I stayed in this area until about 9:45 and then walked back to my seat.

At 10:00, the Chief Steward, Harlan Fengler, told the pit crew members to line their cars up on the track for the start of the race.Within the next few minutes, more than a dozen cars were being pushed north through the pit area and out the entrance and then forward on the track to their starting positions.While this was going on, the many celebrities were driven around the track for all the fans to see.Among the celebrities this year were the recording artists the Osmond Brothers, Colonel Sanders of fried chicken fame, singer Phil Harris, and TV personality Dick Clark.

At 10:30, Harlan Fengler and a couple other USAC officials made their final inspection of the track.Only 30 minutes remained, and the tension was increasing.Almost every seat in view was filled.At 10:40, the Purdue University Band played The Star-Spangled Banner as the crowd rose to its feet, and a couple minutes later, at 10:45, the band played Taps in honor of those servicemen who had died in the service of the country.By now, most of the drivers were in their seats, and everybody but the pit crews were off the track.

At 10:50, the last song, Back Home Again in Indiana, was played while the pit crews inserted their starters into the cars and the huge display of balloons was released behind the Tower Terrace section.When the band finished playing, a huge cheer went up from the crowd as the big moment was only seconds away.The loud buzz of the crowd was broken when the PA announcer said the big moment had come and then introduced Speedway President Tony Hulman.Tony, in a loud clear voice, said those four famous words that always send the fans wild, “GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES!”

The roar of 33 engines came into the air, and in a few seconds, one member of each pit crew put one of his arms up in the air to indicate his car and driver were ready to go.About a minute later, the Hurst/Olds pace car slowly pulled away.Former race winner Jim Rathmann was the driver, and his passengers were Tony Hulman, Robert Draper, astronaut Pete Conrad, and Mrs. Dolly Cole, wife of the president and chief officer of General Motors Corporation.She was the first woman ever to ride in a pace car.

Thirty-two cars moved out for the start.The one exception was none other than A.J. Foyt, who started in the middle of the sixth row.A huge moan went up from the audience when the announcement was made.His crew worked desperately to solve the problem while the field continued on its way.As the field came through the fourth turn, Harlen Fengler almost screamed over the PA system for the crew to get the car to the inside wall immediately, which they did.The field presented a beautiful sight as it went by and received the cheers and applause of the crowd as it finished the parade lap and started the pace lap.

Everybody was looking to the fourth turn now as the big roar was only a minute or so away.As the pace car came out of the turn and headed for the pit area, Foyt’s car still hadn’t started.There was the possibility of another trip around the track, so the field wasn’t moving too fast, but then, at the last second, starter Pat Vidan waved the green flag for the confused start.It was confusing because the yellow caution lights were on all around the track at the same time the green flag was waved.Whether the track condition was green or yellow, the field took off and the race was on.

Bobby Unser jumped into the lead from his pole position and put a considerable distance between him and the other cars.Revson, Donahue, Bettenhausen, and the other front starters fought among themselves in a battle to catch Bobby.

The first car out of the race was rookie Salt Walther, whose car coasted to a stop in the second turn on his fourth lap.On his 10th lap, another rookie, Swede Savage, left the race with a broken rod bearing.

After seven laps, Mike Mosley had moved from 14th to 8th position, and Bobby Unser had started lapping the tail-end cars.He led Mark Donohue by 17 seconds, and Gary Bettenhausen was third.

On the 18th lap, both Bettenhausen and Peter Revson caught Donohue and passed him. Meanwhile, Johnny Rutherford had pitted twice in the first 12 laps but continued in the race.

An unpleasant surprise occurred on the 23rd lap when Revson pulled into the infield between the first and second turn with a broken gearbox and was out of the race.

The standings at 20 laps were Bobby Unser, Revson, Bettenhausen, Donohue, Mosley, Jerry Grant, Mario Andretti, Sam Posey, Bill Vukovich II, and Foyt.The average speed was 179.901 mph.

After 28 laps, Unser led second-place Bettenhausen by 24 seconds, and only four other cars were on the same lap with them.This situation, however, was about to change.

On the 30th lap, much to everybody’s surprise, Unser very slowly came into the pit area and was hardly able to make it to his own pit area. His crew tried to fix the car, but it was no use.An ignition rotor had broken, and he was out of the race.His car had been the fastest one all month long, but now with the race less than one-quarter completed he was out of the running, and the nature of the race changed tremendously.

While Bobby was in the pits, Mel Kenyon, Dick Simon, and Carl Williams made pit stops.The first yellow flag of the race came out during this period but only for a couple laps, and then the green flag came out again.At 35 laps, the first five were Bettenhausen, Mosley, Grant, Donohue, and Vukovich.

At 40 laps or 100 miles, the standings were Bettenhausen, Donohue, Grant, Vukovich, Andretti, Mosley, Al Unser, Lloyd Ruby, Gordon Johncock, and Roger McCluskey.

Bettenhausen pitted for the first time on his 42nd lap, and so did Andretti.A big moan came from the fans as Andretti very slowly entered the pit area.His engine wasn’t even running and everybody feared the worst, but fortunately, as it was learned later, he was only out of fuel.

Meanwhile, Johnny Rutherford and Roger McCluskey had left the race, and Carl Williams had to come into his pit twice because of being black-flagged.

Bill Vukovich’s good luck also ended early.He was in fifth position when he pulled into the south chute grass area on his 55th lap.On the 56th lap, Foyt returned to the race after a long pit stop to install a new turbocharger.

On the 55th lap, Mosley passed Bettenhausen for the lead, but his luck was about to go sour, too.As he came through the fourth turn on his 57th lap, he crashed into the outside wall, slid across the track nearly hitting the inside wall, and then slid back and hit the outside wall again and slid backward against the wall down the track. The car caught on fire, and Mike was out of the car and rolling around on the track trying to extinguish his burning clothes before the car had hardly stopped.The caution lights came on, and firemen were on the scene immediately.He had second and third degree burns on his legs and minor burns on his hands and face.This was almost the exact spot where Mike crashed last year with Bobby Unser, and his injuries were the same as last year.Pieces of his car went flying in every direction, and Gary Bettenhausen, running second behind Mike, just barely missed crashing into the mess.

With Mosley out of the race, Bettenhausen moved back into the lead, and at 60 laps the first 10 were Bettenhausen, Grant, Donohue, Johncock, Al Unser, Roger McCluskey, Jim Hurtubise, Sam Sessions, and Mel Kenyon.Grant moved into second position and after 73 laps was less than five seconds behind Bettenhausen.

Grant and Bettenhausen both pitted a few laps later and Donohue took the lead, but he also pitted and that put Bettenhausen in front again.

Carl Williams was black-flagged again, and this time his crew pushed the car to the garage area.At the same time, Foyt’s car was also pushed back to the garage area.

At the halfway mark, the standings were Bettenhausen, Grant, Donohue, Johncock, Unser, Leonard, Andretti, Hurtubise, Sessions, and Ruby.The average speed was 162.112 mph.

Jim Hurtubise’s car rolled to a stop on the backstretch after going 99 laps, and at 120 laps, Johncock was forced out of the race with a broken piston.John Mahler and Steve Krisiloff also dropped out with mechanical problems.

Bettenhausen, Grant, and Donohue continued to lead the field as new speed records were set and other cars dropped out of the running.Denny Zimmerman, Mel Kenyon, and Lee Kunzman left the race for different reasons as the race approached the three-quarter mark.

Wally Dallenbach was the next driver to leave the race.Wally started in last place, and on two of his pit stops his car caught on fire.Now, he was finished for the day.

Bettenhausen, Grant, and Donohue continued to hold the first three positions, but then somewhere around the 180 lap mark Gary’s car started misbehaving.It had been running perfectly, but all of a sudden it sounded terrible and he slowed down considerably.His change of luck evoked a great moan from the audience, and a few laps later Jerry Grant caught him and took the lead, although Gary stayed in the race.

Although it was getting late in the race, there was still much excitement left.Grant’s crew, he