Indy journal: 1976

Historic Indy 500 journals — By on June 15, 2008 11:00 pm
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My return to the first day of time trials after a two-year absence, the comparatively slow speeds turned in by the drivers, the first laps ever run at the Speedway by a woman, my first appearance at a Goodyear Motor Sports Club open house, the third rain-shortened race in the last four years, and the shooting death of Speedway vice-president Elmer George were the memorable events of this year for me.

On Friday afternoon, May 14th, I drove to Crawfordsville, Indiana, in my 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle, where I had a reservation at the Holiday Inn motel. I registered at the motel and then went to my room and took a bath and shaved. Immediately after that, I drove to the Speedway to attend the GMSC open house.

It was 7:00 when I arrived at the Speedway Motel and parked my car. The open house was held at the Goodyear building just east of the motel. Speedway radio network announcer Sid Collins was the master of ceremonies and interviewed many drivers. The drivers were available to sign autographs and talk to club members, and this was a popular attraction.

There was an abundant supply of doughnuts and Coca-Cola to be served, and since I hadn’t had any supper, I took full advantage of this part of the evening.

Among the drivers present were Mike Hiss, Duane Carter, Larry Dickson, Lloyd Ruby, Bobby Unser, Wally Dallenbach, Dan Gurney, Gordon Johncock, A.J. Foyt, Jackie Stewart, Eldon Rasmussen, Tom Sneva, Sheldon Kinser, Janet Guthrie, Dick Simon, Jim Hurtubise, Parnelli Jones, John Martin, and Bill Puterbaugh.

It was a fine event, and everybody there seemed to enjoy themselves. It lasted until about 10:00, and it was about 11:00 when I arrived back at my motel and retired for the night.

When I awoke about 5:30 on Saturday morning, I looked out the window and noticed that it had been raining for some time. I got myself ready for the day and left the motel about 6:15.

I drove through a steady rain for several minutes and then stopped for breakfast. The restaurant was about a mile south of the highway. My breakfast was pancakes and sausage with coffee and orange juice and a side order of toast. The service and food were both good, and there were other customers also, most of whom I guessed to be on their way to the Speedway.

As I drove to the Speedway the rain fell in spurts, and there were just a few drops coming down when I parked the car about two blocks from the Speedway.

It was 8:00 when I entered the Speedway grounds. There weren’t many people walking in the rain, so I went to the gift shop and bought a sweater for Mark.

From here, I walked to where I wanted to sit and saw the racetrack was under water, so I turned around and walked to the new Hall of Fame to see if I could sell my two extra race tickets.

Selling the tickets was no problem. There was another man who entered the building with me, and when I saw him looking at the seating chart, I asked him if he would like to buy my tickets. He looked at the price and location and then gave me the $50. We talked for a couple minutes, and then he left and said he’d see me at our seats on race day morning. I was happy to have the tickets sold and know there would be somebody sitting with me.

By now, the rain had stopped falling, but it looked as if it could resume at any minute. I took the long walk back to the Paddock area and found a seat just a few feet north of the start-finish line. The grandstands were filling now, and Speedway trucks were trying to dry the racetrack.

The usual 10:30-11:00 festivities were conducted with 33 small race cars and several marching bands attired in bicentennial uniforms being the main attractions. The festivities helped to alleviate the boredom of the crowd caused by not being able to see any race cars tour the track.

There was no further rain, and little by little the track dried sufficiently to be used. Shortly before 2:00, a tremendous roar went up from the crowd as it was announced that the track was opened for practice. The applause increased in sound as the engines were started and the cars pushed away.

Between 2:30 and 3:00, the track was opened for qualifying, and Larry Cannon was the first driver on the track and the first one to complete a qualification run for this year’s race. Seven other drivers made qualification runs. The eight, in order of speed, were Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock, Tom Sneva, Al Unser, A.J. Foyt, Duane Carter, Wally Dallenbach, and Cannon.

Bobby Unser lost his oil, and Mel Kenyon crashed on the backstretch. This not only killed their qualification attempts but closed the track for a long time.

At 6:00, a long, frustrating day ended, and I waited for about 30 minutes before leaving to allow some of the traffic to leave. The traffic was still heavy, so I decided to stop at the MCL Cafeteria for supper and thought maybe by the time I left the traffic wouldn’t be so bad.

I had a good supper of breaded pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes, beets, corn, and bread. My only food since breakfast had been two hot dogs, so it really tasted good. I was only one of many race fans who ate there.

It was 8:00 when I left the cafeteria, and the traffic was still bad. It took a long time to get to the highway, and while I was waiting it started raining again. It rained steadily off and on for the rest of the evening.

I arrived at the motel shortly after 9:00, turned the TV set on, and rested on the bed for several minutes. I watched the 10:00 news and a special show which covered the day’s activities at the Speedway and then retired for the night.

The alarm clock rang at 6:00 Sunday morning, so I got up and left for home about 6:30. I had taken a bath Saturday night, so I shaved and brushed my teeth and was ready to go. I took US 231 south to the Route 36 junction and went west. I stopped for breakfast at the Colonial Kitchen and then drove on home, where I arrived at 11:25.

On Saturday morning, I put all of my travelling equipment in my suitcase and checked my list to be sure I had everything. The three of us had a good dinner, and after eating I put my equipment in the trunk of our 1975 Chevrolet Caprice. Dixie took a picture of Mark and me together, and then at 1:28 I waved goodbye to them and started on my 22nd trip to the big race.

The traffic was quite heavy in Springfield and most of the way to and in Decatur. About a mile or so after I crossed Lake Decatur, I glanced to my right and saw Bob Allen, one of our neighbors, and his three boys and one of their friends in their station wagon. Dixie had told me that they were going to the race, but I hadn’t thought about meeting them on the highway going over there. I honked a couple times and waved at them, and when they saw who it was they did likewise. They stayed immediately ahead of me all the way to Tuscola, although most of the time there was a considerable distance between us. I finally caught up with them shortly before we reached Tuscola, and then as we were driving through the city they stopped at a filling station and I didn’t see any more of them.

It was 3:50 when I reached the Colonial Kitchen and stopped for a break. There were a few people having their mid-afternoon coffee, and I decided I would have the same thing, plus a heated sweet roll. I kept looking out the front window to see if Allens came by, but I didn’t see them. When I finished my second cup of coffee, I used the restroom, paid the bill, and at 4:18 left and drove to Danville. As is true with many small towns, the small towns on Route 1 were quite busy this Saturday afternoon. A few minutes before 5:00 I arrived in Danville, and after looking around for a few minutes, I found the motel.

The first thing I did was to go to the check-in counter and register. There were several people waiting to sign in, and I was glad I had a reserved room. My room was on the third level, and after putting my suitcase on the bed, I checked the TV set to see if it worked. I didn’t want to have an inoperative TV set as I did last year. There was no response when I turned the set on, so I went back to the check-in counter and told one of the employees what my problem was. She said there was a switch inside the room door that turned the TV and radio off and on. I went back and discovered what she was talking about, and happily for me the TV worked fine.

With that problem solved, I decided to go to the Standard Service Station a block north of the motel and have the gas tank filled. With a full tank, I would be able to get to Indianapolis and back safely. It was about 6:30 now, and I decided it was time for supper. The only place I knew that served food was the motel restaurant. I thought it might be expensive, but I decided to have a good meal and spend some money.

Luckily, when I arrived there were a few empty tables, and I was seated and given a menu right away. There was a wide variety of choices to choose from, and I chose beef liver with bacon. While my meal was being cooked, I partook of the salad bar. As I was eating my salad, there was a steady flow of people both entering and leaving the restaurant, and I was surprised at the informal atmosphere of the customers’ attire. There were business suits, long dresses, work clothes, slacks, and shorts all mixing with each other. There was also a wide range of ages, from young couples with small children to others well along in years. My meal consisted of two plate-length pieces of liver and a plate full of tasty, crisp bacon and a big baked potato. It was a delicious meal, and when I finished I knew I wouldn’t be hungry for some time. My bill was $4.63, and considering the excellent food and service I received, I think it was a bargain.

It was 9:00 when I returned to my room. I read three newspapers I had brought from home and at 10:00 watched the news on the Channel 6 Indianapolis station. They had a 30-minute program about the race at 10:30 which I watched, and then shortly after 11:00 I retired for the day.

I had set the alarm clock for 5:00, but I awoke a few minutes before that. I don’t know whether it was my usual night before the 500 excitement or the weather that awakened me. When I opened my eyes, I saw lightning and heard thunder. I looked out the window and saw the wind blowing the rain against the window, and there appeared to be a river of water rushing down the street.

That was a bad way to start race day, but I knew it was six hours until the race started and it may not be raining at the Speedway. As the rain continued, I got myself cleaned up and checked to see that I had everything I needed for my day at the Speedway. When I left my room at 5:30, the rain had stopped, although the water was still standing in the streets. I had planned to eat breakfast at the same restaurant I did on the morning of the time trials, but then, just as I was ready to start the engine, a thought entered my mind. Maybe, just maybe, the motel restaurant was serving breakfast. I went back to check, and it was one of the smartest things I did all day. Not only was the restaurant open, but a buffet style breakfast was being served. I decided to join all of those people, most of whom were going to the same place I was going to and who were taking advantage of the situation. The menu consisted of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, coffee, orange juice, and tomato juice. For some reason, I had a hard time getting full. I ate several pieces of bacon, sausage, and toast, plus three helpings of eggs and three cups of coffee. The charge was only $2.75 per person, and I’m sure I ate more than that. At last, I got my fill, and after paying my most reasonable $2.75, at 6:03 I left for the Speedway.

The rain started falling again shortly after I left the motel, and I drove in a steady rain all the way until I was 10 miles or so from the Speedway, and then it stopped. I was happy to see it stop, but I knew from experience not to get my hopes up too much. Until now, traffic had moved right along, but when I reached the I-465 intersection, everything came to a stop. I was prepared for a long wait until I parked the car, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover the traffic moved quite well — only a couple feet at a time, but it was never completely stopped for long. At Lynhurst Drive, State Policemen directed all traffic northward, so then I took the first street to the right and drove until I came to Fisher St. and then turned right again.

I stopped at Bud Kramer’s house and asked him if he had a spot for me. He almost said no, but at the last second, he found a place in front of his front steps. It was one of the tightest spaces I ever squeezed a car into, and after much back and forth maneuvering, the car was parked. It took me several seconds to slither out of the car, but I made it. I paid Bud his $5.00, chatted with him for a few seconds, and then left for the Speedway. It was now 8:00.

The sights along Crawfordsville Road between Kramer’s and Georgetown Road were much the same as in past years with beer cans, Styrofoam coolers, people sleeping in ditches, and people selling and buying tickets all in abundant supply.

Because I had not been in the vicinity the night before to do so, I decided to take a quick trip through Risner’s Drug Store at 16th and Main Streets. I wanted to buy something for Mark and Dixie, but I didn’t see anything that appealed to me. From the drug store I walked to the Speedway entrance, and at 8:20 the ticket-taker took my ticket as I entered the Speedway grounds. I walked only a few feet before I stopped and bought four Speedway souvenir race programs. With that important job done, I continued walking until I came to the tunnel entrance to the infield.

As I started down the tunnel, I caught my first view of the racetrack and the pit area, and it really brought a smile to my face. Before I went to my seat, I walked around in hope of finding something of interest for a camera fan but didn’t have much luck. I wanted to be in my seat by 9:00, so I put everything back into my carrying bag and left.

The crowd was quite large now, and when I put my carrying bag down to get my ticket out of it, I had a hard time finding a place to do so. When I arrived at my seat, it felt good to sit down and get off my feet for a couple minutes. The multitude of activity also made me feel better, including the marching bands, the work in the pits, and all the other activity.

Shortly after 9:15, I took a walk behind the pit area to look at some of the cars, pit crews, drivers, and anybody else I could see that I might recognize. The pit crews were making their last-minute checks and adjustments as the starting time was now less than two hours away. My sightseeing lasted for about 30 minutes, and I was on my way back to my seat when the announcement came over the PA system for the pit crews to push their cars to their starting positions on the racetrack. While this was being done, the first of the traditional pre-race songs, On the Banks of the Wabash, was played by the Purdue University Band.

With the zero-hour now less than an hour away, the many celebrities were driven around the track in official Buick cars for everybody to see. Among the celebrities present this year were Shirley Jones, Claude Akins, Clifton Davis, Jose Perez, Jo Anne Worley, Kent McChord, Ron Howard, Phyllis Diller, and Indiana University basketball stars Kent Benson and Wayne Radford. There was one celebrity who was driven around the track separate from the other celebrities. That was Bob Hope. He and Speedway owner Tony Hulman were driven around the track in their separate car and were given a warm reception by the huge crowd.

At 10:30, top USAC officials made their final inspection trip of the track and announced it was okay for racing. About 10:40, the national anthem was sung by Up With People with Tom Sullivan as the vocalist. It was an offbeat arrangement of the song, and it was rather coolly received by many of the spectators.

With everybody still standing, the invocation was given by Dr. Ray Montgomery, an Indianapolis minister, and then Taps was played in keeping with the true meaning of Memorial Day.

To regress a little bit, my two race companions had arrived at 10:00. I had begun to wonder if they had forgotten what day it was, but he said he and his wife had gotten a late start from their home in Michigan and then got caught in the heavy traffic around the Speedway. Although I have forgotten their names, they were strong race fans and made interesting companions.

After the playing of Taps, there was a pause of about a minute, and then the last traditional song, Back Home Again in Indiana, was played by the band and sung by Jim Nabors.

The huge crowd was abuzz with noise now as the last few seconds passed away before the famous command. Chief announcer Tom Carnegie introduced Speedway president Tony Hulman, and Tony slowly and distinctly gave his famous order, “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!”

The air was charged with electrifying excitement as the 33 engines came to life and the fans responded with cheering and applause. A few seconds later, a member of each pit crew raised an arm to indicate his driver and car were ready to go. Another minute or two went by, and then the Buick pace car, driven by country music singer Marty Robbins, slowly started away. One by one, the cars were pushed away and started getting lined up for the start of the race. Mike Mosley’s car was the last one to start but was soon in its proper position.

All eyes were on the fourth turn, and about two minutes later, a loud cheer came from the crowd as the pace car and the field appeared and came down the straightaway. It was a beautiful sight to see. The cars disappeared into the first turn but could be heard all the way around the track. Two to three minutes later, the pace car appeared and started through the pit area. The field stayed in good formation behind the pace car, and then starter Pat Vidan waved the green flag and the race was on.

From his pole position, Johnny Rutherford took the lead but kept it for only three laps when A.J. Foyt took over. He held the lead through the 13th lap. In the meantime, there was action occurring in the pits. Spike Gehlhausen, a rookie who started 25th, had oil pressure problems at the start and was unable to finish the first lap. On his second lap, Dick Simon was finished for the day with a broken connecting rod, and his car stopped on the backstretch.

About the same time, Bill Vukovich II pulled into his pit, and after a wait of a minute or so took off his helmet and was done for the day. The trouble was diagnosed as a broken connecting rod. Bill’s good record of finishing in the top 10 positions didn’t hold up this year.

On the 10th lap, the yellow light came on when Roger McCluskey spun in some oil in the southeast turn and crashed into the wall. Roger had a good car and one of the highest qualifying speeds, but his bad luck of so many years returned to plague him again.

While the yellow light was still on, David Hobbs, who started in 31st position as a teammate to Salt Walther, was finished after 10 laps with a water leak.

With only 10 of 200 laps completed, five cars were out of the race. The attrition rate was terrible, but little did anybody know that it was almost over for the day.

Meanwhile, back on the racetrack, there was much action. At the end of 10 laps, the first 10 were Foyt, Rutherford, Gordon Johncock, Tom Sneva, Wally Dallenbach, Duane Carter, Mario Andretti, Johnny Parsons, Gary Bettenhausen, and Mike Mosley.

Foyt and Rutherford both made pit stops during the yellow period for McCluskey’s accident. Duane Carter led laps 14-16 before being passed by Dallenbach, who led only two laps before being overtaken by Johncock. Gordon remained in front until the 37th lap when he made a pit stop. This put Sneva in front but only for one lap because he pitted on his next lap and Rutherford regained the lead.

Further back in the field, Andretti, Lloyd Ruby, Tom Bigelow, and Jan Opperman had moved up several positions and were giving a good account of themselves. Rutherford remained in first until the 60th lap when he made his third pit stop and Foyt regained the lead. After 50 laps or 125 miles, the first five positions were held by Rutherford, Foyt, Johncock, Carter, and Bobby Unser.

On his 53rd lap, Gary Bettenhausen came into his pits and was done for the day with mechanical problems. His pit was in front of me, and he and his pit crew were quite a dejected group when they discovered their problem.

By now, the fans were noticing the low attrition rate and it made the race quite interesting. At this stage in the race, Foyt’s pit crew began to notice his lead over Rutherford was getting smaller and smaller, but they didn’t know why. A.J. pitted on his 81st lap, and Rutherford took over again.

At the halfway mark, 100 laps, the standings were Rutherford, Foyt, Johncock, Dallenbach, Carter, Sneva, Al Unser, Andretti, Walther, and Bobby Unser.

Everything was going fine at this point, but it was only minutes away from coming to a most unhappy ending. I saw and felt it coming down but didn’t want to believe it. That ol’ culprit of the Speedway – rain – was here again.

A huge moan arose from the crowd as the jackets, caps, rain scarves, and plastic covers were put into use. On the racetrack, the cars slowed down as the yellow flag came out, which was followed a couple laps later by the red flag, which stopped all activity on the track and brought the drivers into their pits.

I sat in stunned disbelief and disgust, as did the thousands of other spectators, as the rain continued. Pretty soon it intensified and everybody scampered to get under dry protection somewhere. I went into the first men’s restroom behind the Tower Terrace section, made use of the facilities, and then stayed for several minutes to escape the rain, as did many other men.

Eventually, the rain diminished somewhat, although it was a long time before it stopped. By now, there were several trucks going around the track in an effort to dry it and get it ready for racing again. By 3:00, the track was dry enough to be used again, and pit crew members were instructed to line their cars up in single file in the pit area for the restart of the race.

Most of the fans returned to their seats and were eagerly awaiting Tony Hulman’s order to have the engines restarted. The cars were lined up, the drivers were in their cars and ready to go, and the starters were inserted into the cars. The only thing left to be done was for Tony to issue the order.

Suddenly, the sky opened again and drenched the Speedway. Within the next couple minutes, the fans again rushed for shelter and the exits. A restart was out of the question now. It was all over for this year. This second rain was almost a downpour, and the mad rush for the exits made for a most unpleasant situation.

I checked to be sure I had all of my equipment and then started the long walk to Gate 1. The pouring rain made the walk seem longer than it really was. At times while walking behind the Paddock area, there was no way to avoid walking through several inches of water plus being soaked from above by water falling off the grandstand roof.

When I passed through the gate, I walked across the street and stopped at the White Castle. I had eaten almost nothing since 6:00, so I ate a couple cheeseburgers and some french fries while I was getting out of the rain for a few minutes. The food didn’t fill my stomach, but I did feel somewhat better.

The rain had stopped for a few minutes, so I left for Kramer’s and hoped I arrived before it started again. Along the way, I encountered some race fans whose frustration and unhappiness about the weather was further aggravated by the failure of the traffic to move. Two carloads of such people across the street from Kramer’s almost tangled with each other but calmed down before any punches were thrown.

Kramer’s yard had only two cars left on it when I arrive, so there was no problem about getting out. Bud was picking up trash left by some of his other customers, and when I arrived the two of us talked for quite a while about the weather, the people, the race, and several other matters. I think it was about the longest and friendliest conversation the two of us ever had with each other because there was nothing or nobody to interrupt us. He finally excused himself to attend a birthday party for one of his grandchildren in the house and said I could sit on the front porch until I left.

Shortly after 5:00 it started raining again, and I went to the car so that I wouldn’t get any wetter. I was hoping the traffic would taper off somewhat before I left but it didn’t, and at 5:30 I decided I had to leave and would have to hope for good luck.

It took a few minutes, but finally somebody with a little compassion for me let me onto the highway. The traffic was so heavy that it took an hour and fifteen minutes to reach the I-74 junction. Next to the race being abbreviated by the rain, this was the most frustrating part of my trip. I encounter this same situation every year, and I have never been able to understand the necessity for this bottleneck. After what seemed like hours, about 6:45, I reached I-74 and finally started moving. I could tell by looking at some of the other people that I wasn’t alone in my thinking.

It rained intermittently all the way to Danville but the traffic moved well, and it was between 8:00 and 8:05 when I arrived at my room. I turned on the TV set, took off my wet shoes, and watched ABC-TV’s same-day coverage of the race. It was a two-hour program and a good one considering that only half a race was run and it wasn’t until 3:17 that the race was officially finished.

At 10:00 when the program ended, I checked to see if the motel restaurant was open. It was closed for the night, so I returned to my room and shortly before 11:00 retired for the night.

I woke up between 6:00 and 6:30 Monday morning and felt much better. I turned on the TV set and watched it for a few minutes and then took a bath, shaved, combed my hair, and put on clean, dry clothes. With that important job done, I checked to see I hadn’t left anything, took my equipment to the car, and then returned my motel key to the front desk and made sure I was checked out.

Danville was now a quiet city with little automobile traffic and almost nobody walking the streets when I left it about 7:30 and drove south to Chrisman. I stopped at the Standard Station in Georgetown for gasoline and then continued on and arrived at the Colonial Kitchen at 8:00.

There were about a couple dozen or so customers in the restaurant. Almost every time I stop here there is a group of farmers having their morning or afternoon coffee, and this time was no exception. I ordered pancakes, sausage, toast, hash browns, and coffee. It was a good, inexpensive breakfast, and when I left about 8:45, I felt refreshed and ready for the drive home.

There was no doubt in my mind that this area of the state had received quite a bit of rain in the past several hours. There was water standing in many fields, and the highway was wet in various degrees almost all the way to Decatur. In some places it was completely wet and in other places only along the center line. A few miles east of Decatur the rainy area seemed to end, and from here on to Springfield it looked as if there hadn’t been any rain.

It was about 10:00 when I reached Decatur. The city traffic wasn’t as heavy as it was Saturday afternoon, and in about 15 minutes I was out of the city and on the last 40 or so miles of my trip. Traffic was about normal most of the way, and it was 11:15 when I drove into my driveway. I carried my equipment into the house and started the job of unpacking and putting everything away. Another safe trip to and from the big race was complete.

EPILOGUE

The official finish was posted by USAC on Monday morning and listed Rutherford first, Foyt second, and Johncock third, all with 102 laps completed.

Wally Dallenbach had his best finish in his 10 races when he finished fourth in the Sinmast Goodyear Wildcat. He was a teammate of Johncock, and their mechanic was George Bignotti.

Pancho Carter had another fine year and finished fifth, having started in sixth position. In his three years at the Speedway, he had placed seventh, fourth, and fifth.

Tom Sneva had a fine year, starting third and finishing sixth. It was particularly pleasing after his spectacular crash of last year.

Al Unser finished seventh in his car with one of the new Cosworth engines in it after starting in fourth position.

Mario Andretti made news at the Speedway this year when he had the fastest qualifying run. His average was 189.404 mph, but he started in 19th position because he didn’t qualify until the third day of time trials. He moved up fast during the race but had two long pit stops which dropped him to eighth place at the finish.

Salt Walther was running at the finish for the first time in his five races. In three of those five years he finished last, so it was good to see him do so well.

Last year’s winner, Bobby Unser, was 10th after starting 12th.

Special mention must be made of 11th place finisher, Lloyd Ruby. Lloyd, the perennial sentimental favorite and hard-luck driver of the Speedway, was almost unheard of this year until the last day of qualifying, when he really made big news. He didn’t have a car until that day but then made an outstanding qualifying run of 186.480 mph. It was the seventh-fastest time in the field, but Lloyd started in 30th position because he qualified so late. If he had qualified on the first day, he would have started in third position on the first row, a row he has never started from. This was Lloyd’s 17th race, and he is second only to Foyt in that category. Once the race started, he advanced quickly and had worked up to 11th place when the rain ended the race. It would only be conjecture, of course, to say where he would have finished if the race had gone to completion, but he certainly gave a good account of himself in this year’s race. His many thousands of fans, including me, are still hoping to see him in Victory Lane some year.

The purse for this year’s race was a record $1,037,775 of which Rutherford received $256,121, and Foyt $103,296. The purse was distributed at the Victory Dinner on Monday night. Also at the Victory Dinner, Vern Schuppan, one of four rookies in this year’s race, was named the Rookie of the Year. The other rookies were Billy Scott, Al Loquasto, and Spike Gehlhausen.

Qualifying speeds were lower this year than they were in 1975 or 1974. The fastest four-lap average was 189.404 mph, compared to 193.976 in 1975 and 191.632 in 1974. The overall qualification average for the entire field was 183.785 compared to last year’s 185.057. Several reasons were given for the decrease in speed, including limited amounts of fuel and engine restriction mandated by USAC.

One of the biggest stories of this year was the appearance of the first woman driver in the history of the Speedway. Her name was Janet Guthrie, and every lap she ran and every word she spoke received much attention from the news media. As might be expected, she was not well-received at first by some members of the racing fraternity. This negative opinion, however, changed considerably after she passed her rookie test with flying colors. Unfortunately, she was troubled all month long with a sour-running car. Her Bryant Heating and Cooling Special, a teammate of Dick Simon’s car, encountered one mechanical problem after another, and when the qualifying deadline came, she was unable to qualify fast enough for the race. By this time, she had proven herself to be a race driver to almost everybody’s satisfaction, and her congenial personality won her many new fans.

It is hard to believe that this was the third rain-shortened race in the last four years. Before 1973, many fans had never seen a drop of rain at the Speedway, and now it seems to be becoming an almost yearly occurrence. Unlike last year’s sudden downpour, this year’s rain was gentler but lasted much longer. It is only speculation, of course, as to what would have transpired had the full 500 miles been run, particularly in regard to the Rutherford-Foyt battle.

This year’s activities came to an unpleasant ending with the shooting death of Speedway vice-president, Elmer George. George was the son-in-law of Speedway president, Tony Hulman, and was a former race driver, having driven in the 500 in 1957, 1962, and 1963. He and his wife were having marital problems, and earlier in the month she had filed for a divorce. He was killed at the Hulman farm in Terre Haute, apparently by a farm attendant. Both George and Tony Hulman were guests at the GMSC open house party on May 14th. I had no idea George would be dead before the month was gone.

Another year of activity at the Speedway was done. Like all others, it would have its outstanding events by which it would be remembered. When the time comes for the 1977 race, I plan to be in attendance to see The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Pace Car — Buick Century
500 Festival Queen — Rebecca Tippy

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