A first day of qualifying unlike any others I had attended and the contrast in weather of the first scheduled qualifying day and of race day were events to remember about this year.
On Friday, May 12th, I left Mark and John, my two children, off at the house of Mrs. Frances Turner, their regular babysitter, and left for Indianapolis about 9:15. I traveled old Route 36 to Decatur and arrived at the Colonial Kitchen about 11:45. For dinner, I had a couple cups of coffee and a sweet roll. The light lunch gave me a lift as I continued on Route 36 until I came to the I-465 interchange west of Indianapolis. I went north on I-465 until it intersected with I-65 and then stayed on I-65 until I arrived at the Holiday Inn at Lebanon.
The desk clerk confirmed my reservation, and then I went to my room and got cleaned up. It was about 3:30 when I arrived at the Speedway Museum parking lot. After a cursory tour of the gift shop, I walked over to the Tower Terrace area and watched some of the drivers turn in practice laps.
I ran into a friend of mine from the Post Office, Ron Atkins, who was there with his wife and their two children. He and his wife had passes to the garage area, but since she didn’t want to use hers right then she loaned it to me, and Ron and I took a quick tour of the area.
Some good lap speeds were being turned, but the biggest cheer from the crowd came shortly before closing time when Mario Andretti turned a lap at 203+.
The track closed at 6:00, after which I drove to the Speedway Shopping Center where I ate supper at the MCL Cafeteria. Feeling better now with a full stomach, I walked around for a few minutes and did a little shopping before returning to the car. The car was our 1975 Chevrolet Caprice Classic.
About the time I reached the I-465 interchange, the radio station I was listening to started broadcasting the possibility of heavy rain and tornadoes hitting the Indianapolis area. The unwelcome weather was scheduled to arrive about 8:00, which was when I would arrive at the motel. When I reached Lebanon, I stopped at a Standard Service Station for fuel. While I was there, the first drops arrived. I went back directly to the motel and barely got my room door shut when the clouds opened up. As the rain continued, the temperature dropped and the wind increased.
Before settling down for the night, I took a little walk and saw some of the facilities of the motel. The front end had a registration area, restaurant, bar, and dance hall. There was a breezeway that led to the recreation area, which consisted of a children’s play area, a pool table, sauna baths, swimming pool, and snack area.
It was about 8:30 when I returned to my room. I did some newspaper and magazine reading, set the alarm clock for 5:00, and then about 10:00 retired for the night.
In the morning I woke up, got myself cleaned up, had a pancake and sausage breakfast in the motel restaurant, returned to my room for a few minutes, and then left for the Speedway about 6:45. The weather was generally the same as the night before, although the wind speed had decreased and the rain was a steady, heavy drizzle. The prospects of seeing any activity on the race track were dim, but of course, nothing is certain with the weather.
The traffic around the Speedway was so light that a person hardly knew anything unusual was happening in the area. I parked in the bank parking area at Lynhurst and Crawfordsville Road and then walked to the main gate. The grandstands had a few people in them, but the uncovered seats were almost entirely empty. The weather precluded any activity on the track, but it provided a gold mine for the gift shops, cafeteria, and anybody else selling anything. I went to the photo shop to buy some batteries for my movie camera, and while I was there I looked through a large collection of Speedway pictures that were for sale. After that, I did something I had wanted to do for many years. I got a look at the main straightaway from different angles, including the upper deck on the first turn, the upper deck at the start-finish line, and sections H and J. It was an interesting experience, but of course it would have been more so if there had there been race cars on the track.
As the hours slowly passed by, the weather showed no signs of improving, and at 3:15, Chief Steward Tom Binford announced that the track was closing for the day. With three extra hours I hadn’t planned for, I decided to go to the Lafayette Square Shopping Center north of the Speedway on 38th Street. It turned out to be a real pleasant time. I bought Dixie a Mother’s Day gift and some toys for Mark and John. Because of the bad weather, I didn’t expect many people to be there, but to my surprise they were almost wall-to-wall everywhere. It was one of the most enjoyable shopping trips I have ever had. I had no children crying or fussing about anything or wanting me to buy them something. I didn’t have to keep one eye on the clock to be sure to be somewhere by a certain time. I could stay until closing time if I wanted and browse at my own leisurely pace.
I ate supper at the MCL Cafeteria in the shopping center between 7:00 and 7:30 and then went back and did some more browsing. It was about 8:00 when I left for the ride back to the motel. The weather hadn’t improved any, and now it was unpleasantly cool and windy. I drove south on Georgetown Road to the three-way intersection at the main entrance to the Speedway and then turned right onto Crawfordsville Road.
Upon returning to the motel, I took a little walk to see what was happening. The restaurant was pretty quiet, but the bar was doing a good business. The ballroom was occupied by what seemed to be a high school prom. I went back to my room, did some reading, watched TV for a while, took a bath, and then went to bed.
On Sunday morning, I got up, got dressed, checked out of the motel, and started my trip home. I took the same route returning as I did coming, and when I reached the Colonial Kitchen, I stopped for breakfast.
While I was sitting at my table, I looked over and saw two women sitting in one of the booths. They looked familiar to me, but I couldn’t think how I knew them and I was too hesitant to go over and talk to them. Two weeks later in church, I saw the same two women. This time, I went over and talked to them. I explained the situation and they said it was they whom I had seen two weeks earlier. The remembered seeing me, and they too were too hesitant to come over and talk to me. It was about 12:45 when I arrived home and ended my enjoyable but unforeseeable trip.
A few days earlier, I had made my list of equipment to take with me, and on Saturday morning, May 27th, I got out one of my suitcases and put everything in it that was on my list. I ate dinner with Dixie and the boys, and then at 1:12 I said goodbye to them and started on my 24th trip to the big race.
Due to sentimentality, I drove on old Route 36 to Decatur instead of the new four-lane road. As I drove on, I often thought of the many times I had traveled on this road to the big event, particularly with Dad and Bobby. It was 3:36 when I reached the Colonial Kitchen and decided to stop for a little break. I had a couple cups of coffee and two dips of vanilla ice cream. The cafeteria was crowded, but there were several farmers at one table having their afternoon coffee break.
At 3:51, I left Route 36 and headed north on Route 1. Traffic was quite heavy in some areas. Many people were enjoying the warm weather and the beginning of the three-day weekend. I reached Danville about 4:30, and it was 4:34 when I arrived at the Holiday Inn motel. I checked in at the registration desk, and then I went to my room and checked on things. Everything looked good, so I took a bath and put on some clean clothes, which made me feel considerably better.
It was about 5:45 when I arrived at the Boston House for supper. The hostess seated me, and the waitress handed me a menu for me to look at. I had hoped to have liver and bacon as I had the last two years, but I was disappointed to find a different menu this time — one without the liver and bacon listed on it. I asked the waitress what was happening, and she said she was sorry but the hostess had made the change. I didn’t see much that appealed to me but ordered roast beef and all the trimmings. The trimmings included baked potato, coffee, ice cream, and whatever I wanted from the salad bar. The food was good, but I still missed the taste of the liver and bacon.
When I left the restaurant at 6:30, I drove over to the Famous Recipe chicken store and bought a box of chicken to take to the race for my lunch. From there, I went to the Standard Service Station about a block from the motel and had the gas tank filled. With those two important jobs done, I was ready to return to my motel room and retire for the night. I had brought several newspapers and magazines I wanted to read, and with nobody to bother me, this was a good time to do it.
At 10:00, I turned on the TV set to see if there was any race news. All of the Indianapolis stations had stories about the upcoming event, including the drivers’ meeting and the 500 Festival Parade. It made for interesting viewing. Sometime between 11:00 and 12:00, I turned off the lights for my night’s sleep, although I wasn’t as tired as I normally am at this time of the day.
My alarm clock rang at 4:45. I got dressed, washed my face, shaved, combed my hair, and then walked to the Boston House for breakfast. For breakfast, I had pancakes, sausage, hash brown potatoes, coffee, and orange juice. It was a good beginning of the long day. When I finished, I returned to my room to brush my teeth and then checked to see that I had everything I needed for the long day ahead.
It was 5:56 when I drove out of the motel parking lot to start my trip to the Speedway. The traffic on I-74 was fairly heavy, and most of the people looked as if they were going to the big race, too. The traffic moved well until I reached the I-465 interchange, and then it seemed to stop almost at once.
From here on, the traffic moved slowly but quite well. Considering the large amount of cars, I thought the police did a good job of moving them. As I approached Lynhurst Drive, I moved into the left lane, made my turn, paid my $5.00 parking fee, and then was directed to my parking space. It was 7:56 when I turned the engine off, two hours to the minute after I left the motel.
I locked the car, got my tote bag from the trunk, and started my walk to the Speedway. The north side of Crawfordsville Road looked much the same as it had for the past 23 years — empty beer cans, vendors selling their merchandise, people sleeping in trucks, cars, cans, and on the ground, while some of the others were trying to either sell or buy tickets for the race, and everybody looking forward to a big day at the Speedway.
I took a few pictures of the entrance area, and then at 8:30 I handed my ticket to one of the ticket-takers and made my entrance on the Speedway grounds. The area behind the straightaway grandstands was bustling with activity as the size of the crowd seemed to increase. At the end of the long walk, I turned right and walked through the tunnel to the infield. I went into the gift shop behind the Control Tower, but it was so hot and crowded that I only stayed a couple minutes. The heat was getting bad, and there were many cold drinks being consumed.
By now it was after 9:00, so it was time for me to get to my seat. Before going to my seat, I bought a small cup of Coca-Cola at the concession stand behind the far north end of the Tower Terrace section. It was between 9:15 and 9:30 when I arrived at my seat. I put my equipment under my seat and then sat down for a few minutes. I again had the same row J and the same seat 5 as I’ve had since 1967, but I was in section 47 instead of 43 as in previous years. Actually, all three were the same. Since last year’s race, a new addition had been built on the south end of the Tower Terrace. Consequently, all the old area had its section numbers raised by four.
The main straightaway was aglow with activity. All the cars were in their pit areas and being checked over by the pit crews. On the track itself, several bands were performing for the spectators. I took a walk along the fence down to the entrance to Gasoline Alley. There was some last-minute work being done in the pit areas. As I was walking back to my seat, the announcement came over the PA system for all cars to be pushed onto the track and into their starting positions.
At 10:00, the caravan of celebrities formed and drew cheers from the Tower Terrace fans as it headed for the track. As the caravan moved, the Purdue University Band played the first of the traditional songs, On the Banks of the Wabash. Among the celebrities touring the track was Louis Meyer, who won the race 50 years ago in 1928. He drove the golden Miller Special with which he won the race and received a warm ovation from everybody. Among the celebrities were US Senator Barry Goldwater, country singer Roy Clark, and TV star Norman Fell.
By now, my two race companions, Malcolm and Barbara McKean from Central Baptist Church, had joined me for the big race. They are big race fans just as I am.
At 10:30, USAC officials made their final inspection of the track and pronounced it fit for racing. The huge crowd rose in unison at 10:45 for the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner and remained standing for the invocation, which was given by a local minister. A minute later, this was followed by Taps in keeping with the true meaning of Memorial Day. It was now time for the final traditional song, Back Home Again in Indiana, sung this year by noted singer Jim Nabors. The pre-race excitement reached its climax as the big moment was only a couple minutes away now. There was much speculation about who would give the famous command this year. This, of course, was the first race since the death of Speedway president Tony Hulman in October. There had never been a public announcement about who was to do the honors. At 10:53, the speculation ended as one of the track announcers, Jim Philippe, introduced Tony’s widow, Mary, who gave the command, “LADY AND GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES!”
The engines came to life, and one member from each pit crew raised an arm to indicate his driver was ready to go. In a departure from tradition, there were three pace cars this year instead of one. The Chevrolet Corvette cars were driven by 1960 winner Jim Rathmann, astronaut Frank Borman, and Tony Hulman’s grandson, Tony George. Rathmann was in the lead car with Speedway president Joe Cloutier and was followed by Borman and George, who paralleled with each other and formed an upside-down V with Rathmann.
Thirty-two of the cars started right away, but John Mahler, starting in 17th position, had trouble with his car but finally got started before the field completed the first parade lap.
The black and silver Corvette, along with a multitude of colors on the cars, made a beautiful sight for the fans to behold, and the steady, low roar of the engines in unison added to the pleasure. Before the green flag had flown, Gary Bettenhausen stopped at his pit for a few seconds and then roared away to catch up with the rest of the field.
At the end of the second lap, Borman and George got off the track and left Rathmann to pace the cars to the start. Everybody on the straightaway stretched their necks to see the field come through the fourth turn. A big roar came from the huge crowd as Jim Rathmann pulled off the track and hurried through the pit area. The front row of Tom Sneva, Danny Ongais, and Rick Mears led the field to the starting line, and just before they got there, starter Pat Vidan waved the green flag and the race was on!
Ongais jumped into the lead with Sneva second, but Mears had trouble and fell behind somewhat. As they came down the straightaway to the finish line, Ongais had a big lead over Sneva. The remaining eight in the top ten were Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock, Al Unser, Mears, Johnny Parsons, Wally Dallenbach, Larry Dickson, and Steve Krisiloff.
At the end of the second lap, the yellow light came on, the reason being that Sheldon Kinser had stalled and was in the infield. His car was towed back to his pit, and as Ongais came by to finish lap four, the green light came on again. Along with Kinser in the pits were Gary Bettenhausen and Salt Walther. Kinser’s crew worked on the car for a few seconds and then sent him out again. As this happened, Cliff Hucul came in and was done for the day with a broken oil line. He finished only four laps and was awarded 33rd finishing position. Walther returned to the track after a four-minute stop while the pit crew of Bettenhausen continued working on his car.
At the end of 10 laps, the first five positions were held by Ongais, Sneva, Johncock, Rutherford, and Al Unser. The yellow flag came out for two laps for Kinser, and when the green came out again on the 12th lap, Sneva jumped ahead of Ongais. However, within a couple laps, the two positions were reversed again. Kinser and his crew gave up for good after 15 laps, and the car was retired with no oil pressure.
Jerry Sneva, starting 32nd, was finished after 18 laps with transmission failure, and rookie Phil Threshie was done after 22 laps with no oil pressure. After 20 laps, the leaders were Ongais, Sneva, Unser, Rutherford, and Johncock.
As the 25-lap mark approached, the pit area became quite busy. Sneva stopped and received fuel in only 13 seconds. Two laps later, Ongais pitted and had luck riding with him. The yellow flag came out again, this time because Spike Gehlhausen crashed in the second turn. Spike was only slightly injured, but the car was pretty badly damaged.
Salt Walther returned to the pits for a third time and finally called it quits after 24 laps with transmission trouble.
At 30 laps, there was a new leader, Steve Krisiloff. He had really been moving and now led Sneva, Ongais, Johncock, and Bobby Unser. One lap after Walther exited the pits, rookie Tom Bagley was through for the day with overheating problems. After 40 laps or one-fifth of the race, Krisiloff had dropped to 11th place because of a pacer light infraction, and Ongais had regained the lead with Sneva, Johncock, Al Unser, and Bobby Unser behind him.
Between the 40th and 50th laps, almost all of the drivers made their second pit stops. Ongais and Sneva both were able to get in and out without losing their positions. On the 48th lap, the yellow flag was displayed again because there was some debris on the track, and officials removed it before it caused any trouble. As Ongais completed his 52nd lap, the green light came on and full speeds resumed.
Danny increased his lead to 3.5 seconds over Sneva, and Al Unser passed Johncock for third place. Behind these four were Bobby Unser, Wally Dallenbach, Mears, Krisiloff, Rutherford, and A.J. Foyt. In third place, Al Unser steadily moved up, and on the 66th lap, he passed Sneva to take second place.
As the 75-lap mark appeared, so did the third round of pit stops. Ongais was the last of the leaders to stop. As he exited the pit area, Al Unser came charging down the straightaway in pursuit of him. The possibility of seeing a new leader brought the crowd to life. They weren’t disappointed as Al went into the lead and then increased it slightly.
At 80 laps, Al was 1.6 seconds ahead of Danny, and they, along with Sneva and Johncock, were the only drivers on the lead lap. The remainder of the top 10 included Bobby Unser, Mears, Rutherford, Dallenbach, Krisiloff, and Foyt.
Al increased his lead to three seconds, and then the yellow light came on again on the 84th lap, again because of debris on the track. Several drivers took advantage of the slowdown and came in to top off their tanks. Two laps later the green came on again, and Al increased his lead to 15 seconds as Sneva and Johncock fell 30 seconds behind. He completed the first 100 laps in 1 hour 37 minutes and was 21.6 seconds ahead of Ongais. Behind him in the top 10 were Ongais, Johncock, Sneva, Bobby Unser, Rutherford, Dallenbach, Krisiloff, Mears, and George Snider.
Meanwhile, back in the pit area, John Mahler had to quit after 47 laps because of a broken timing gear. His pit area was directly in front of me, and it was a disappointed crew and driver who had to admit defeat.
After 81 laps, veteran Roger McCluskey had to retire his AMC stock-block Eagle because of clutch failure. This was his 17th race and it was a disappointment to his many fans that he couldn’t have done better.
The next retiree from competition was popular Pancho Carter. Pancho was seriously injured while testing a car at Phoenix last year and was not expected to be racing for a long time. Through exercise and determination he made a strong comeback, and his 196.829 mph qualifying run was one of the highest in the field. The cause of his trouble was listed as a broken exhaust header.
As the second half of the race began, Ongais started decreasing Unser’s lead, as it had gone from 21 seconds to 15 seconds at 106 laps. On the 108th lap, Al pitted for fuel and was gone after 13.6 seconds. On the next lap, Ongais pitted for 16 seconds, and the first 10 at 110 laps were listed as Ongais, Al Unser, Johncock, Sneva, Dallenbach, Bobby Unser, Krisiloff, Rutherford, Foyt, and Snider.
Meanwhile, some more drivers had been forced from the race. Rookie Rick Mears was out after 104 laps with a blown engine. Rick made a big name for himself in practice and qualifying. He and Tom Sneva were teammates with the Penske cars. He had an outstanding run of 200.078 mph, which enabled him to start in third position and become the first rookie to start in the first row since Eddie Sachs in 1957.
Larry Dickson pulled in after 105 laps and was done for the day when his car lost its oil pressure. This was Larry’s first race since 1971, and he made a fine showing of himself.
Back on the track, Al Unser held a 15-second lead over Ongais. The standings at 120 laps were Unser, Ongais, Sneva, Johncock, Krisiloff, Dallenbach, Bobby Unser, Rutherford, Foyt, and Snider.
(By now, the heat was really making itself felt. Barbara, Malcolm, and I were all sweating and could feel it in our sticky clothes. The cold drink vendors were doing a good business. I had a Thermos bottle of ice water, but I had to be careful and stretch it out over the full length of the race.)
Tom Bigelow was finished after 107 laps with a broken connecting rod in his Armstrong Wildcat.
Ongais continued to cut Unser’s lead, and at 135 laps he was less than two seconds behind Al. Two laps later, both of them came speeding through the pit area and stopped for fuel. Al got away a few seconds before Danny and increased his lead to six seconds, but Danny started catching up again.
Veteran Jim McElreath left the race after 133 laps with a blown engine. At 50 years of age, Jim was the oldest driver in this year’s race, and this was his 13th race. A few laps later, Dick Simon pulled into his pit area and got out of his car, which had been disabled by wheel bearing trouble. This was Dick’s ninth race and one of his best finishes.
Ongais had closed the lead to 5.2 seconds when a huge groan quickly built up in the large crowd. Everybody jumped up to see what the trouble was. A few seconds later, the answer became apparent when Danny came through the pit area with grayish-white smoke coming from the rear of his car. His engine had blown, and he was done for the day. It was hard to believe because he was moving up on Unser and had sounded fine the last time he went by. Everybody behind Danny gradually moved up a position as Tom Sneva took over second position 28 seconds behind Unser.
After 150 laps, there were 15 cars left in the race. They were Al Unser, Sneva, Johncock, Krisiloff, Dallenbach, Bobby Unser, Foyt, Snider, Mario Andretti, Janet Guthrie, Larry Rice, Johnny Parsons, Rutherford, Jerry Karl, and Joe Saldana.
Back in the pit area, Mike Mosley was done for the day after 147 laps with gearbox failure. This was Mike’s 11th race and he had yet to finish one, although most people agree he has the talent to do better. Two laps later, Gary Bettenhausen was done with a blown engine. He had trouble at the start of the race, but perseverance kept him in the race as he and his pit crew managed to go almost three-fourths of the race.
As the race entered the last quarter, Unser maintained his lead over Sneva and the rest of the field. At 170 laps, the difference between the two leaders was 28.86 seconds. The advent of the 180th lap means the final pit stop for most of the cars. The standings at this point were Sneva, Al Unser, Johncock, Dallenbach, Krisiloff, Bobby Unser, Snider, Foyt, Guthrie, and Larry Rice. Sneva was given credit for first place because he crossed the starting line first while on his way to his pit. Unser had trouble as he overshot his pit and almost ran over the fuel hose.
As the two front-runners started their last 20 laps, Sneva started gaining on the leader. Was Al slowing down to save his engine or slowing down to conserve fuel? At 189 laps, the difference was 23.26 seconds, and Tom was driving seven mph faster than Al. The fans were getting a little excited.
On the 193rd lap, Al’s speed was only 177 mph, and the difference was 17.1 seconds. At 195 laps it was 14.6 seconds, which means Tom would have to gain three seconds on each of the remaining laps, a hard task to accomplish. On the 198th lap, Al’s speed was again 177 mph, and Tom was only 10.7 seconds behind him. The next time around, Al took the white flag, and 9.9 seconds later, Tom did likewise. The huge crowd was standing now in anticipation of the winner. As he exited the fourth turn, they applauded, cheered, and waved as Al Unser came by and received the checkered flag in victory. Eight seconds later, Tom took the same flag for a fine second-place finish.
Starter Pat Vidan waved the checkered and red flags together, ending the activity on the track. Unser took an extra lap and pulled into Victory Lane for the celebration. As the remaining cars returned to their pits and turned off their engines, a strange silence returned to the Speedway.
While the pit crews pushed their cars and equipment back to the garages and Al Unser was driven around the track and interviewed over the PA system, I talked with Barbara and Malcolm and ate some of the fried chicken I had brought with me. Before they left, I went to the concession stand almost right behind section 47 and bought a Coca-Cola to drink with the chicken. Because of the high heat and humidity, cold drinks were being sold faster than they could be chilled, so my warm drink did little to help my dry throat.
While I consumed my chicken and drink, Barbara and Malcolm decided to leave, so we said goodbye until we met again. I took a last look at the almost-empty seats along the straightaway and then started my exit from the Speedway.
Before leaving the infield, I went to the gift shop behind the Tower Terrace, but it was so hot and crowded that I only stayed a couple minutes and didn’t buy anything. As I got close to the main entrance, I heard what sounded like live music. I looked to the right, and there were four men playing clarinet, trumpet, trombone, and bass violin. They were playing good music and attracting a sizeable crowd.
It was hot walking along Crawfordsville Road, so I stopped at the Standard Service Station at Auburn Street and bought a can of Sprite. It wasn’t as cold as I wanted, but it still felt good and relieved my dry throat a little bit. The heat and humidity were affecting everybody as evidenced by the bedraggled appearances and short tempers. It was between 3:30 and 3:45 when I arrived at the car.
My feet were hot and tired, so I thought I would take my shoes off and rest in the car for a few minutes. That rest period lasted only a few seconds because the humidity was so high that my face started sweating profusely. I got out and stood by the car for a few minutes, then got back in, and at 3:55 I started the engine. Then, I drove a few feet and started the long job of getting onto Lynhurst Drive.
It was one of the most physically uncomfortable experiences I’ve ever had. The Lynhurst traffic wasn’t moving one iota, so I couldn’t get onto the street. During this waiting period, the sweat on my back went through my undershirt, my shirt, and all of them stuck to the back of the seat. The sweat on my face further aggravated the situation. After several minutes the traffic started moving, and I only had to wait a few seconds before some gentleman let me in the traffic.
It was a long time until I reached Crawfordsville Road, and when I got on it, the traffic was still bumper to bumper, but at long last, at 4:30, I reached the I-74 intersection and was on my way back to the motel. It had been an exasperating experience. While I was waiting in the traffic, I heard a radio announcer say it was 90 degrees.
Shortly after getting on I-74, I turned on the air conditioning. In a few minutes, I felt better than I had since early that morning. The car radio kept me entertained with different kinds of music and periodic stories of the race. It was about 5:45 when I crossed the state line and 6:00 when I arrived at the motel.
The first thing I did when I got to my room was to take off my shoes and shirt and rest on the bed for a few minutes. Then I walked over to the Eisner grocery store a half block north of the motel and got some food for supper.
My supper consisted of cold fried chicken, baked beans, macaroni, and a quart of milk. While I was eating, I watched part of the TV program 60 Minutes, and about the time I finished eating, between 7:30 and 7:45, the telephone rang. It was Dixie. She called to see if everything was okay and how everything had gone at the Speedway. She told me that Springfield had received a heavy rain storm about an hour earlier and then let me talk to Mark for a couple minutes.
When we finished talking, it was 7:45, 15 minutes before the ABC-TV telecast of the race. I cleaned up my supper mess and then settled back to watch the race.
Unfortunately, the TV reception was poor. The picture was in and out, and the audio portion was also poor. I still got to see portions of the action that occurred at places on the track I couldn’t see, so I was glad I was able to see at least part of the program.
After the network program, I watched another race program on one of the Indianapolis stations, which was narrated by Speedway PA announcer Tom Carnegie. By now it was 11:00 and the 18-hour day was getting to me, so I turned off the TV and lights and laid my head down to sleep.
It was about 6:30 when my day after the big day began. I took a bath, cleaned my teeth, shaved, combed my hair, and felt better for having done so. I put everything in the suitcase and carrying bag, checked the room to be sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, took my belongings to the car, and then checked out of the motel. It was 7:37 when I started my trip home.
The streets and highway had only real light traffic on this holiday morning. I stopped at a service station in Georgetown and was the first customer of the day. A few more miles of travel brought me to the Colonial Kitchen where I stopped for breakfast.
There were a few farmers having their early-morning coffee and a few other customers, but it wasn’t crowded. My breakfast consisted of pancakes, hash brown potatoes, toast, coffee, and orange juice. The food made me feel somewhat better, and it was just about 9:00 when I left and started my western drive on Route 36.
The traffic remained light almost all the way, and it was 11:20 when I arrived home. Another memorable trip to the big race was completed.
At the victory banquet on the day after the race, Al Unser received the highest purse ever received by a race winner — $290,363 — out of a record purse of $1,145,225. This was Al’s third 500 victory, and he became one of only four drivers to win that many races. It was his 13th race but ironically the first for his car owner, Jim Hall.
Tom Sneva finished 8.19 seconds behind Unser, which was the second-closest finish in the race history. For the second year in a row, Tom set new qualifying records, started on the pole position, and finished second. His qualifying records were 203.620 mph for one lap and 202.156 mph for the four-lap average.
Gordon Johncock made an excellent showing this year. He started sixth, finished third, and was never lower than fifth during the race. His car was tuned by six-time winning chief mechanic, George Bignotti.
In his best finish ever, Steve Krisiloff, a teammate of Johncock, finished in fourth position. Both Johncock and Krisiloff were penalized one lap for rule infractions. Had this not happened, the end of the race might have been even more exciting.
Bobby Unser finished fifth. Because of a misunderstanding with USAC officials he started 19th, although he had the 8th fastest qualifying time on the first day of time trials. Wayne Leary was the chief mechanic, and the car was a Dan Gurney owned Eagle.
Popular Wally Dallenbach finished sixth in his 12th race. His car was a McLaren Cosworth and had Jud Phillips as the chief mechanic.
Last year’s winner, A.J. Foyt, had problems this year and was never a serious contender for victory. Like Bobby Unser, he had his problems with USAC officials. His 200.122 mph qualifying speed was second-fastest (tied with Danny Ongais), but he started in 20th position because he qualified on the second day. On race day he got as high as sixth, but on three of his pit stops his engine died, and this was costly.
Veteran George Snider finished eighth in his 14th race. He was a teammate to Foyt.
Special mention must be made to ninth-place finisher, Janet Guthrie. For a long time, it looked like the first lady in Speedway history would not be present this year because of no sponsorship. Texaco Oil came to her rescue and provided her with a car known as the Texaco Star. She started in 15th position and ran a steady, consistent race all day. Her fine showing was popular with the crowd, and she received a tremendous ovation when she returned to her pit area at the end of the race. In a post-race interview, it was revealed that she had driven the race with a broken wrist, which she claimed she received two days before the race while playing tennis.
Finishing out the top 10 was Johnny Parsons, who started in eighth position in his Lightning/Drake Offy.
In addition to Janet Guthrie, special mention must be made of Mario Andretti. He was considered a contender for the pole position, but both of the first two qualifying days were washouts. This was particularly difficult for Mario because he was scheduled to drive in the Belgian Grand Prix the following weekend. Because of this situation, car-owner Roger Penske had driver Mike Hiss qualify the car. According to USAC rules, Andretti had to start in last place. He moved up several positions during the early part of the race but was plagued with mechanical problems and two long pit stops, and he eventually finished in 12th position.
Larry Rice and Rick Mears were co-Rookies of the Year. This was only the second time this ever happened, the other time being in 1961 when Bobby Marshman and Parnelli Jones shared the award. Mears made a name for himself in practice and qualifying while Rice started in 30th position and drove a steady race to finish 11th, higher than any other rookie.
On April 23rd, just thirteen days before the Speedway opened for this year, the auto racing world suffered a terrible loss when eight of its top officials lost their lives in an airplane accident. The accident occurred that night about 30 miles southeast of Indianapolis when the officials were returning from the 200-mile championship race at Trenton, New Jersey. Among those killed were Frank Del Roy, USAC technical director; Ray Marquette, VP for Public Affairs; Stanley Warley, registrar; Shim Malone, midget supervisor and championship car flagman; Don Peabody, sprint car supervisor; Judy Phillips, typographist; Ross Teeguarden, deputy technical director; and Dr. Bruce White, USAC physician. They were all highly respected persons, and their loss would be felt for a long time.
The 62nd 500-mile race is history now and, like all others before it, provided many memories by which to remember it. Come next year, on the last Sunday of May, I again plan to be present for the running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Pace Car — Chevrolet Corvette
500 Festival Queen — Sherri Kallbrier