Indy journal: 1973

Historic Indy 500 journals — By on June 15, 2008 8:00 pm
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This, my 20th year of seeing the 500-mile race, was certainly unlike any of the other 19 years.It was, unfortunately, one of those years that will be remembered with sorrow and frustration.The deaths of drivers Art Pollard and Swede Savage and pit crew member Amrando Teran, and the persistently inclement weather, combined to make it a year that most persons would like to erase from their minds but can’t.

For me, there were two other events which made this an unusual year. It was the first time I ever made a trip to the Speedway by myself, and secondly, it was the first time the three of us slept in a private home and not in our car or in a garage.

After last year’s trips to the time trials and the race, I decided that some changes had to be made.Getting up at 2:00 AM and not getting to bed until about 12:00 midnight made too long of a day.It was particularly bad for me because I did the driving.On a few occasions I had almost gone to sleep at the wheel, sometimes going over there and sometimes on the return trip.I talked to Dixie and Bobby about the subject, and both of them agreed that a better way had to be found.

I finally came up with the idea of asking Mr. and Mrs. Kramer if they knew of some of their neighbors who might have room for us in their home.They gave us the name, address, and telephone number of a neighbor who they thought might be of help to us.Her name was Mrs. Vivian Bray, and she lived at 1804 North Auburn Street, a block east of Kramer’s and the first house north of Crawfordsville Road.

We received Kramer’s letter in early April, and on the first Sunday after receiving the letter, Dixie called Mrs. Bray to inquire about our getting a room for the race.She said the Kramers had talked to her about us and that she had a room for us if we wanted it.Dixie said that was fine and asked her to reserve it for the three of us.

The trip to the first day of time trials had two unusual features about it.It was the first time I went to the Speedway by myself, and it was the first time I had ever not made the trip over and back in the same day.

As I mentioned earlier, I had decided that the one-day trip was too strenuous.I went over on Friday morning and returned Sunday afternoon.

Bobby and Dixie both had social functions to attend on Friday night, and Dad decided he didn’t care to go to the time trials this year, so I was left to make the trip alone.

About two weeks earlier, I had written to Mrs. Bray and asked her if I could stay at her house on Friday and Saturday nights.She replied that that would be fine.

I left house about 9:20 Friday morning, May 11th, in our 1967 Chevrolet and drove to Tuscola where I stopped for a snack in a pizza parlor about 11:00.When I left Tuscola, I took I-57 north to Champaign.I had decided earlier to take a different route for part of the way and get out of the old routine for once.I drove north on I-57 until it intersected with I-74 at Champaign and then took I-74 to Indianapolis.

It was about 1:30 when I arrived at Mrs. Bray’s house. I introduced myself to her, and she seemed like a real fine person.I took my suitcase to my upstairs room, and then she showed me the rest of her house.We talked to each other for about 30 minutes, and then I left for the Speedway.

This was another feature about this year which was different from any of my other years at the Speedway.It was the first time I was there on a practice day.I paid my $1.00 admission fee and went into Grandstand E.It was the first time I had ever seen cars going around the track from a seat other than the Paddock or Tower Terrace sections.There were several hundred other persons in attendance, including a large crowd of frolicking youths on the southwest turn infield.

I sat in Grandstand E for several minutes and then walked east behind the bleacher seats on the south side of the Speedway.I discovered that it takes much walking to go just a short distance in the Speedway area, in this case from the first to the second turn.I sat in various seats and got several views of the main stretch, back stretch, and short south chute.It was interesting to observe the race cars from a viewpoint other than the main straightaway.There weren’t many persons in the Southwest Vista, Grandstand G, or Southeast Vista, and almost all of them were trying to protect themselves from the strong winds which had started just since I arrived at the Speedway.

I walked as far eastward at I could and then walked back to the Speedway Gift Shop located behind Grandstand A.There were many items on display, but all I bought was a $1.00 pillow cover.From the gift shop, I walked back to the Gate 2 viaduct and walked under the track and headed for the garage area.

There were a few cars in the garage area, and some of them were having their engines tested prior to being pushed onto the track.The roar of the engines attracted a large crowd of people.

From the garage area, I walked to the Tower Terrace section and observed the activity from various seats and then walked south to the front of the Control Tower.There were several cars practicing on the track, but there were also several in the pit area.The race fans, pit crew members, and race officials made a large crowd of people.

I stayed in the pit area about half an hour and then walked north and got a view of the scenery from the Terrace Extension and then the North Terrace.Our race seats were in the Terrace Extension seats in 1964 and 1966, but this was the first time I had been in the North Terrace.From here, I could see the cars on the north chute and all the way down the main straightaway.Both of these bleacher sections were in great need of repainting and general repair.It was shortly after 5:30 when I left the North Terrace and went back to the Tower Terrace and pit area.

The 6:00 deadline was approaching rapidly, and the pit area was abuzz with activity.Many drivers were sitting in their cars with the engines running and were eager to get onto the track.Some of them were still sitting when the 6:00 whistle blew ending all practice on the track for the day.

Right after the whistle blew, the drawing for the order of qualifications on Saturday was held in front of the Control Tower by the fence behind the pit area.Among the drivers I recognized were A.J Foyt, Al Unser, and Peter Revson.

When the drawing was finished, I went back to Mrs. Bray’s house.It was about 7:00 when I got back to the house, and I was ready for a good supper.As I was coming into Indianapolis, I noticed, to my left in the shopping center about a mile west of the Speedway, a cafeteria.I kept it in mind and now decided to see what it had to offer.The name of it was MCL Cafeteria, and it had a pleasant but not necessarily expensive appearance.I went on in and had a big supper.I hadn’t eaten much since breakfast, and now I was going to make up for that.The food, service, and atmosphere were all good, and I left feeling better than when I arrived.

Since I didn’t have anything definite to do for the rest of the evening, I decided to do some window shopping in some of the stores in the shopping center.I did this until about 9:00 when the stores closed, and then I went back to my temporary home.Mrs. Bray said I could watch her television if I wanted to, so I watched Mission: Impossible and the 10:00 news.There was quite a bit of news about the activity at the Speedway.Because I planned to get up early in the morning, I went to bed when the newscast was finished.

Saturday started unpleasantly.About 5:45, Mrs. Bray called to awaken me and tell me that the Speedway city police were starting to tow my car away.I immediately got dressed and rushed out to the car.The tow truck driver was raising the back wheels off the street, and a policeman was writing a ticket to me for parking in a no-parking zone.The policeman said the signs had been installed Friday night, but I hadn’t seen them when I returned from eating supper.He was a polite gentleman and let me retrieve my car, but still issued me a $2.00 ticket for parking in the no-parking zone.I felt lucky to get off so easily and owed much gratitude to Mrs. Bray and the friendly policeman for saving me from a possibly embarrassing situation.I parked the car in front of Mrs. Bray’s garage.

With that incident settled, I was awake now and went back to get cleaned up and dressed.Mrs. Bray told me on Friday that she would cook breakfast for me if I wanted her to, so I told her yes knowing I wouldn’t get a good breakfast anywhere else very close.It was a good breakfast of eggs, bacon, coffee, and milk.

It was about 7:30 when I gathered up all my equipment and left for the Speedway.Although it wasn’t 8:00 yet, the ticket lines were almost back to 16th Street, and it seemed like an eternity before I got my tickets, but I finally made it and got to my seat about 8:00.My seat was in the Paddock section, less than a yard south of the start-finish line.While I waited for the practice period to start at 9:00, I read the newspaper, listened to the radio, and observed the activity occurring around me.

Shortly after 9:00, the track was opened for practice, and several cars and drivers went out for practice runs.It was between 9:30 and 9:45 when tragedy struck.Art Pollard was among those drivers taking practice laps.As he was going through the first turn, his car got out of control, spun and hit the retaining wall, flipped several times, and slid upside down for several feet towards the second turn.Art was removed from his car in critical condition, taken to the track hospital, and then transferred to an Indianapolis hospital.News of the accident was not announced over the PA system for quite some time after it happened, and it was around noon when the sad news of Art’s death was announced.It was unfortunate that the day had to start so tragically.

The demolished car and the debris it left on the track had to be removed, and that took quite some time.The practice period ended at 10:30 and was followed by several marching bands and other pre-qualifying activities.

At 11:00, the track was opened for qualifying, and Peter Revson was the first driver to qualify for this year’s race.Several other drivers made good qualifying runs, and Swede Savage brought cheers from the crowd when he became the first driver to break Bobby Unser’s qualifying record of 1972.

The biggest news of the day came when Johnny Rutherford made his qualifying run.The crowd went wild when his third lap speed of 199.071 mph was announced.That was only about three-quarters of a second under the 200 mph mark.His fourth lap was slightly slower, and his four-lap average was 198.413 mph.He received a standing, cheering ovation when he returned to his pit area.

Several other drivers made their qualifying runs, and by 6:00, four drivers (Rutherford, Bobby Unser, Mark Donohue, and Savage) had broken the qualification record.

I arrived back at Mrs. Bray’s home about 6:45 and talked for a while with a woman who had been at the Speedway and was lodging at Mrs. Bray’s house.It was the first time I had seen her, and she and her husband had arrived after I went to bed on Friday night and were leaving for their home in Davenport, Iowa, on Sunday afternoon.

I left at 8:00 and had a good supper at the MCL Cafeteria.After that, I stopped at a doughnut shop for a couple doughnuts and drove around Speedway for a few minutes.It was about 10:00 when I returned to Mrs. Bray’s house, and I watched the 10:00 news on television.

Most of the newscast concerned the activity at the Speedway, and much of it was about Art Pollard and Johnny Rutherford.After the race news was over at 11:00, I went to my room and retired for the day.

On Sunday, I ate breakfast at Mrs. Bray’s house and left for home about 9:30.I stopped for gasoline on Lynhurst Road just before reaching Route 36 and then took Route 36 all the way back to Springfield.I stopped at the Colonial Kitchen for a few minutes but it was too crowded, so I went on my way and arrived home shortly before 2:00.

At 1:28 PM on Sunday, May 27th, Bobby, Dad, and I left from Bobby and Dad’s house in Bobby’s 1969 Chevrolet.The drive from Springfield to Decatur was ideal with a pleasant temperature and cloudless skies.A few miles east of Decatur, the good weather ended for the remainder of the trip.The sky suddenly darkened, and we were caught in a heavy downpour.It lasted only a couple minutes, and then the sun shone brightly again.Pretty soon, it became dark again and we had to go through another downpour.It was 3:33 when we arrived at the Colonial Kitchen for our break.Each of us had a cup of coffee and a little snack to eat and used the restroom before we left.

It was 3:57 when we started the second part of our trip, and at 4:32, we entered Indiana.We encountered intermittent showers all the way to Indianapolis.Because of the gasoline shortage and the possibility of being unable to get gasoline at Indianapolis, we stopped at Brownsburg and were able to get a full tank of gasoline.That ended our worry of not being able to get back to Springfield when we wanted to.

When we got into the heavy traffic on the outskirts of Indianapolis, we decided to go ahead and eat supper before going to Mrs. Bray’s house.It was about 6:00 when we arrived at the MCL Cafeteria. There was a fairly long line of customers but it moved well, and pretty soon we had our food and were seated.Before I ate, I called Mrs. Bray to let her know we had arrived and would be at her house in about half an hour.Our food tasted good, and it was definitely the best meal we had ever eaten at Indianapolis.

We left and drove east on Crawfordsville Road.It seemed strange not to turn on Fisher Street and be at Kramer’s.As soon as we got out of the car, a loud siren started blowing.I introduced Mrs. Bray to Bobby and Dad, and the four of us talked for a few minutes.She told us the siren was a tornado warning and that tornadoes were predicted all around central Indiana.The weather was certainly unsettled, and the prediction for race day wasn’t good.

We unpacked some of our belongings and then walked over to Mr. and Mrs. Kramer’s house and visited with them for a few minutes.They were happy to see us and showed no resentment over losing us as customers after 18 years.

The Speedway Museum was our next destination, and it was a popular attraction.Although we had seen most of the exhibits before, we enjoyed seeing them again.We didn’t know it at that time, but we had chosen just the right time to tour the museum.While we were there, another shower passed over the area, but it was okay when we left the museum.

When we arrived back at the house, it was a busy place.The backyard was full of tents, and some men were playing cards in the garage.Inside, several persons were talking to each other and Mrs. Bray was watching television, so we joined her for a while.It was about 11:00 when we retired for the day, and we hoped to get the first decent night of sleep we ever had on the night before the big race.

Although there was a lot of loud, unpleasant noise outside, it was many times quieter than sleeping outdoors or in the car.Once we got to sleep, we didn’t awaken until about 5:30.I got dressed immediately and went downstairs to wait my turn in line for the restroom.Having only one bathroom in the house made it uncomfortable for everybody, but by 7:00 the three of us had used the bathroom, gotten dressed, and were ready for breakfast.

Mrs. Bray did most of the cooking, but she had two other ladies who did most of the serving.We ate in the dining room and were served eggs, bacon, toast, coffee, and milk.It smelled and tasted real good and provided a good beginning for the day.When we finished, we got our equipment together and about 8:00 started walking to the Speedway.

Before crossing Georgetown Road, we stopped at the White Castle hamburger shop and had our two Thermos bottles filled with coffee.Business was good, but we didn’t have to wait long to be served.

The lines of race fans in line to get through the turnstiles were long but they moved steadily, and at 8:35, we entered the Speedway grounds.I bought two souvenir programs, and then we made use of the first restroom we saw.

The size of the crowd seemed about the same as that of other years, but when we reached the tunnel entrance, we did not have to endure the extreme congestion of many other years.The traffic moved slowly but steadily, and it didn’t stop once.We were now on the infield, and a minute or so later we were behind the Tower Terrace section.By 9:00, we were in our seats.

We got our equipment situated and then sat down and rested our feet for a few minutes.I told Bobby and Dad I was going to walk behind the pit area to get some pictures and then proceeded to do so.Just about every car was having last-minute work done on it by its pit crew, and the roar of the engines sounded good.

At 9:30, everything seemed to be going fine when I felt something hit me.I didn’t want to believe it, but there was no escaping the fact that it was rain.Although nobody knew it at the time, this was the beginning of one of the most frustrating, miserable, depressing, and saddest days in the history of the Speedway.

It was not a hard rain at first, but after a couple minutes, pit crew members were covering their cars and the spectators used their umbrellas and plastic lap covers.I was getting ready to return to my seat, so I didn’t linger any and got back in time without getting soaked.

After a few minutes, the rain stopped and the sun came out, brightening everybody’s spirit and raising hopes that the race would still start on time.These hopes, however, proved to be only dreams.Unlike the steady, all-day rain of 1967, there were intermittent periods of rain and sunshine.At first, the showers were light, but after a couple hours they became regular downpours.After almost every shower, the sun would appear and almost have the track dried out when suddenly it would disappear and those cool breezes, dark clouds, and rain showers would appear again.

The 11:00 starting time came and went with no indication of when the race would start.With each shower, frustration increased and tempers became shorter.It was highly frustrating for everybody, and nobody could do anything about it.Pit crew members sat dejectedly by their cars while the spectators tried to keep dry with umbrellas, rain coats, and lap covers.Many of them listened to their radios and consumed the food and drinks they had with them.

Before 11:00, during one of the brief dry periods, the caravan of celebrities was driven around the track for the fans to see.Among the celebrities this year were Joey Bishop, Jim Nabors, Chad Everett, Jackie Cooper, Hank Stram, Burgess Meredith, Lucy Arnez, and Miss Teenage America.

At 2:30, after five hours of great frustration and disappointment, chief steward Harlan Fengler gave the order for the cars to be pushed to their starting positions.A huge cheer and applause came from the crowd.Although the sun wasn’t shining, the track was dry, which was unusual.

In quite rapid succession, the Purdue University Band played On the Banks of the Wabash, The Star-Spangled Banner, Taps, and then was joined by singer Jim Nabors for the singing and playing of Back Home Again in Indiana.The multitude of balloons was released from behind the Control Tower, and a couple minutes later, Tony Hulman once again gave his yearly command, “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!”

The roar of the engines elicited a huge applause and approval from the frustrated but now happy crowd.Little did anybody know that was to be the happiest moment of the day for everybody.

After a minute or so, the cars were pushed away, and the pit crews returned to their pit area.Bob Harkey’s car, in 31st starting position, wouldn’t start and was pushed off the track for the time being.1960 race winner Jim Rathmann drove the Cadillac pace car, and the roar of the engines could be heard as the field moved through the two south turns and down the backstretch.

A few seconds later, the cars moved through the fourth turn and down the mainstretch to the applause of the fans.They were now on the official pace lap, and about two minutes later, the roar of the crowd increased as the pace car entered the main straightaway and headed for the pit entrance.It flashed through the pit area, the green flag was displayed, and the race was on.

I yelled, “Unser took it!” to indicate Bobby Unser beat Johnny Rutherford into the first turn, and at the same instant, it looked like the start of the 1966 race.I screamed in terror as I saw cars going in every direction.I also saw several parts from some of the cars flying through the air, and then I saw fire.It was really a mess.

The race was immediately red-flagged, and rescue equipment was on the scene almost before the cars and debris had come to a rest.Panic seemed to break out everywhere in the stands, in the pit area, with race officials, and of course at the accident scene.The rescue squad went to work immediately, and little by little, it was discovered who was in the wreck.The PA announcer said the following drivers and cars were involved: John Martin, Jim McElreath, Mike Mosley, Wally Dallenbach, Mike Hiss, Salt Walther, Dick Simon, David Hobbs, and Lee Kunzman.A few minutes later, it was determined that the main car in the wreck was that of Salt Walther.His car had gone out of control, hit a couple other cars, got airborne, landed upside down, skidded a long distance, and then caught fire.It was a miracle that Salt escaped with his life, but he was taken to a hospital and his condition was described as serious but stable.Some of the other drivers also had injuries but only minor ones.Thirteen spectators were also injured by flying debris from Walther’s car.

As the crowd sat or stood and waited in shocked disbelief, dark clouds appeared again, and a couple minutes later, another heavy rain covered the area.This was the coup de grace to a miserable day and sent thousands of the spectators heading for the exits as they knew the chances of seeing any more racing for the day were nil.It continued raining steadily as the debris was being cleared from the track.

Bobby and Dad packed some of our equipment and went back to the house, but I stayed to see if there were any further developments.It was about half an hour later when I decided I might as well leave.As I walked behind the pit area, I looked up and down the straightway, and it was a sad scene.There was only a trickle of people left, both in the stands and in the pit area, and that along with the constant rain and bad start of the race caused a feeling of pensiveness to come over me.

The traffic going through the tunnel was not moving, so I walked south to the end of the Tower Terrace section and was able to walk across the track to the area between Grandstands A and B.This was the area of the wreck, and there were visible marks on both the outer and inner walls.I took some movie and still pictures of the straightaway and then continued on my way.

It was about 4:30 when I arrived at Bray’s.We visited with Mrs. Bray for a while and then put our equipment in the car and got ready to leave.It was about 5:00 when we left Bray’s.I was tired of waiting in the long line of cars on Crawfordsville Road as we had done every year, so this year I decided to try a different and hopefully quicker way of leaving the city.I drove north on Auburn Street for several blocks until I came to a street that had one-way traffic going west.I moved into the flow of traffic, and it moved quite well for several blocks and then slowed somewhat.It was faster than Crawfordsville Road and gave us some new scenery to see.We arrived back at Crawfordsville Road at the end of the shopping center, and the traffic moved a little faster than in usually does.A few minutes later, we reached I-74 and started getting somewhere.

It was 7:45 when we reached the US 36 junction at Chrisman.We stopped at the Colonial Kitchen for a good supper.There were several other frustrated race fans there, and I’m sure the good, hot supper tasted good to all of us.We hadn’t eaten a meal since 7:00 in the morning, so we were ready for a big supper.We ate all we wanted and took our time doing it, and when we left at 8:30, we felt much better.

We arrived in Decatur about 9:45 and, as it is every Memorial Day night, Eldorado Street was alive with activity.It always seems to be a speedway for the young crowd.Not quite an hour later, we arrived at Dalbey’s.I helped Bobby and Dad unload their equipment and then drove home.

It was the most frustrating and disappointing of all my trips and certainly a sad way to celebrate my 20th year at the Speedway.I would have to wait another year and hope that everything would be better.

EPILOGUE

On Monday afternoon, the race was rescheduled for 9:00 Tuesday morning.9:00 came, and so did the rain.It wasn’t until 10:15 that Tony Hulman again gave the signal, “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines.”Before the cars could get through the third turn of the pace lap, rain began falling again, and by the time they reached the front straightaway, the red flag was out to stop the cars.It was about 2:00 when Harlan Fengler announced that the race had been postponed until 9:00 Wednesday morning.It was the first time in the history of the race that it had been postponed for two consecutive days by rain.

At 2:10 Wednesday, the race started again.I listened to it in the living room of my house.I was home recuperating from a chiropractic treatment I had received a couple hours earlier.Rain had delayed the start until afternoon.Many of the big-name drivers were out of the race before it was half finished.This included Mario Andretti, Lloyd Ruby, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Mark Donohue, and Bobby Unser.

On his 59th lap, Swede Savage was involved in one of the worst crashes in the history of the Speedway.As he was coming through the fourth turn, the car somehow got out of control, crashed almost head-on into the inside retaining wall, and exploded into dozens of pieces which were thrown as far as 300 yards from the point of contact with the wall.It was an impossible sight to believe, even to those persons who have seen many wrecks in many years at the Speedway.The race was stopped immediately, and rescue equipment was at the scene in a few seconds.Swede was taken to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis immediately and was still conscious but in critical condition.Once again, this year the race had been plagued by tragedy.

Within seconds after the crash, one of Swede’s pit crew members stepped onto the pit apron to see the crash scene and was struck from behind by a rescue truck rushing to the accident.He was rushed to a hospital and died less than an hour after he was hit.

It took about an hour to clean the debris from the wreck scene and make the track usable again.

Swede Savage remained in critical condition for four weeks, although at times he seemed to be improving slightly.During the fifth week his kidneys began malfunctioning, and on Monday, July 2nd, he died from the malfunctioning and the complications of his other injuries.

Al Unser was leading the race at the time it was stopped and continued to lead when it was resumed.He led until the 73rd lap when Gordon Johncock took over the lead.Gordon maintained the lead until the 131st lap when, once again, rain started coming down.Two laps later, Chief Steward Harlan Fengler ended the race as the rain gave no indication of stopping and it was now after 5:30.

Johncock was declared the winner, and the remaining first 10 positions went to Bill Vukovich II, Roger McCluskey, Mel Kenyon, Gary Bettenhausen, Steve Krisiloff, Lee Kunzman, John Martin, Johnny Rutherford, and Mike Mosley.Gordon completed 133 laps for 332.5 miles at an average speed of 159.020.It was the shortest “500″ ever run at the Speedway.

When starter Pat Vidan waved the red flag to end the race, it signaled the end of the most frustrating, disappointing, and certainly one of the most tragic years in the history of the race.It was one of those years that many persons would like to forget and erase from the record books, but of course that can’t be done.

The combination of the deaths of two popular drivers and a pit crew member and the troubles caused by the uncooperative weather were almost too much for many persons to incur in one year.

As was to be expected, there was much controversy and discussion about what caused all the trouble and what should be done to prevent its recurrence in future years.During the summer, the length of the rear wings on the cars was reduced, and the gas tank capacities were also reduced.There were also changes made to the racetrack.The outside retaining wall was raised 14 inches, the pit area was extended further northward, and the inside retaining wall on the fourth turn was removed.Nobody will know until next year whether these changes will be beneficial.

Another subject that will be discussed is whether Gordon Johncock could have maintained his lead for the remaining 67 laps if the race had gone its full distance.This is impossible to know because there are many situations that could have developed to change the course of the race.Auto racing is one of the most unpredictable activities in the world, and this race is an excellent example of that statement.

This will be a year to remember for several reasons.It was the first year I went to the Speedway by myself, it was the first time at a house other than Kramer’s, and it was the first time I subscribed to an Indianapolis newspaper during May.

As I look to the future, I hope that my third decade at the Speedway will begin much better than the second one ended…

Pace Car — Cadillac Eldorado
500 Festival Queen — Cynthia Foster

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