The sensational time trial run of Tom Sneva, the first new winning average speed in 12 years, and seeing the first scheduled day of time trials with one of my children were the highlights of this year’s activities for me.
I allowed Mark to take a day off from his 4thgrade class at Dubois School, and at 9:38 on Friday morning, May 11th, we left for the start of our trip.
Our first stop was my parents’ house where we left Paul to be taken care of until Dixie picked him up after school. We were there for only a few minutes and then left. After leaving Springfield, we drove on old Route 36 to Decatur and arrived there at about 10:40. There was no trouble getting through the city, and a few minutes later we were on the open road again.
There wasn’t much work being done in the corn and bean fields along the highway because much of the land was under water. It was 11:54 when we stopped at the Colonial Kitchen Restaurant to have a little snack for dinner.
Both of us had bar-b-que sandwiches with French fries to eat. For drinks, I had coffee and Mark had a Pepsi-Cola. It wasn’t a full meal, but it was enough to last until we arrived at the Speedway. We used the restroom, paid the bill, and at 12:20 left and drove east again on Route 36.
The farmland in Indiana was in the same condition as that in Illinois — under water. All the little towns along the way looked about the same as they did in other years, and it was about 2:00 when we came onto the four-lane Rockville Road leading into Indianapolis. When were reached Lynhurst Drive, we stopped at the Amoco gas station and had our car, the 1975 Chevrolet Caprice, filled with gas.
We went north on Lynhurst to 16th Street, then went east to the Speedway. The police would not allow left turns from 16th Street into the Speedway grounds, so we drove to Luett Avenue, went north a block or so and turned around and then came back to 16th Street and went west.
The traffic moved slowly but steadily, and in a few minutes we paid our $4.00 and drove under the track to the museum parking lot. It was 2:28 when we found a parking space and stopped. We had made the trip without any trouble.
I put all of our possessions in the trunk of the car, and then we walked to the museum. As usual, it was crowded in the gift shop and finding a reasonably priced gift was difficult. I decided to shop the other gift shops before buying anything, so we left and started our walk to the Tower Terrace area. Along the way, we went by the Speedway hospital and the garage area, where there was much work being done. Before sitting down to see the race cars in action, we browsed through the two gift shops behind the Tower Terrace area, but we didn’t buy anything.
We bought a box of popcorn to hold us over until supper and then watched the speeding race cars from the Tower Terrace seats. While we were walking along the pit area fence, we came within touching distance of two drivers — Howdy Holmes and Pancho Carter. They were signing autographs and visiting with race fans. The pit area was a busy place with cars entering and leaving and pit crews working on them when they were stopped. When we reached the north end of the Tower Terrace, we turned around and walked back to the control and sat down for a few minutes.
Shortly after 4:30, a surge of excitement went through the crowd when the PA announcer announced that Mario Andretti had just turned a lap of 212.414 mph, almost four mph faster than the previous top speed set by Tom Sneva. A couple of minutes later, Gordon Johncock did almost as well with a 211.118 mph lap. It was really exciting for the spectators.
It was shortly before 6:00 when we left our seats and started walking to our car. There were several thousand persons in attendance, but we had no problem getting to the car. There was a steady flow of cars exiting onto 16th Street, but a patrolman let us in, and in a couple of minutes we were on Crawfordsville Road and headed for the MCL Cafeteria.
It was 6:20 when we stopped in the parking lot in front of the cafeteria. Mark had talked about eating here again ever since we ate here last year, and now that time was here. The waiting line was about half way back to the door, but I knew from experience that it would move fast, and it did.
A few minutes later, when we sat down to eat, Mark had sauerkraut and polish sausage, strawberries, potatoes and gravy, broccoli, jello pudding, Pepsi-Cola, and a cinnamon roll. Across the table from him, I had chicken and noodles, potatoes and gravy, tossed salad and dressing, beets, macaroni, hot roll, and Pepsi-Cola. Both of us were quite hungry when we started, but when we finished, neither one of us could put another bite of food into our mouths.
From the cafeteria, we walked to the Kroger grocery store and bought our dinners for the next day at the delicatessen section of the store. With that important job out of the way, we did some window shopping around the shopping center and bought a couple of items at Kane’s Drug Store.
By then it was close to 8:00, so we left and drove a couple of blocks to the I-465 intersection, turned right, and in a few seconds were on our way to our home for a couple of nights.
We had hardly merged into the flow of traffic when that dreaded fear of race fans struck again — rain. It increased in intensity as we continued, and when we arrived at the motel about 15 minutes later, it was still coming down quite hard. Since I had already paid for the night’s lodging, it took only a couple minutes to register.
The room looked and smelled real clean. I checked the TV set to be sure it was working okay. We did a little unpacking and then took a little walk and checked out the rest of the motel. Mark played some of the electronic games, but because it was after 9:00, we decided not to go swimming. We wanted to get back to our room by 10:00 to see the news on TV.
There was some good coverage of activity at the Speedway, and the weatherman said chances of rain at the track were slim, so that was good news. At 10:30, we saw a 30-minute program about activity at the Speedway with hosts Paul Page and Roger Penske. It was a fine program, and when it was over we decided to call it a day and get to sleep. Mark had looked forward to sleeping in a double bed by himself, and he had no trouble doing it.
The alarm clock did its job, and at 5:30 I awoke to start my day. I lay in bed for a couple of minutes and then got up and washed, shaved, and dressed. While I was doing this, Mark awoke and rose to start his day. When he finished washing and dressing, we left and walked to the motel restaurant.
Breakfast was probably the most frustrating event of our trip this year. We were looking forward to a big buffet breakfast because we wouldn’t have another regular meal until supper. The hostess showed us to our seats, and it was then that I noticed there was no food in the buffet serving area. I asked the waitress about this and she said the buffet breakfast wouldn’t be ready until 8:00. What a letdown that was! The only choice we had now was to order from the menu. Mark had pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs, orange juice, and milk, while I had scrambled eggs, sausage, hash brown potatoes, toast, coffee, and orange juice.
Not being able to eat buffet style turned out to be only the first of our problems in eating breakfast this morning. After the waitress took our order, we waited for what seemed an eternity. Both of us became more and more impatient as the precious time went by. I don’t know whether the problem was caused by the shortage of food or help in the kitchen, but I think we could have eaten five breakfasts in the time we spent waiting for one. It was a most exasperating and unnecessary occurrence.
To top off our unpleasant effort at eating breakfast, whoever added up our bill overcharged us $5.00, charging us $11.00 and some cents instead of $6.00. I called the error to the attention of the cashier, who re-added the figures and came up with the same amount I did, although she didn’t seem upset by the miscalculation.
When we left the restaurant to return to our room, I was quite unhappy and had nightmares about not being able to get a good seat at the Speedway. Fortunately, we had done our packing the night before, so all we had to do was brush our teeth and be sure our suitcase was locked.
It was a few minutes before 8:00 when we left the motel parking lot and headed south on I-65. When I took the US Route 36 exit and came onto Crawfordsville Road, I was happy to discover that the traffic was moving real well and presented no problem in getting to the Speedway. We went north on Georgetown Road to Gate 8, paid our $10.00 admission charge, and drove under the track and onto the infield where Speedway patrolmen directed us to a parking space. It was 8:25 when I stopped and turned off the engine.
We got our equipment and walked quickly to the Tower Terrace section, stopping only for a quick trip to the men’s room. I wanted to sit between the Control Tower and the Gasoline Alley entrance, but just as I thought would happen, we had little choice as to where we sat. Our luck this morning finally took a turn for the better when a young couple moved over a couple seats and said we could sit next to them. We sat down and put our equipment under our seats, and then I expressed my profound appreciation to the young couple for their thoughtfulness.
The race cars were in the pit area and the roar of the engines provided pre-practice excitement for the spectators. I managed to get in a few minutes of reading the morning Indianapolis newspaper, and then at 9:05, PA announcer Tom Carnegie elicited a loud applause from the fans when he announced that the track was open for practice.
The two practice periods were marred by the crashes of Derek Daly, Stan Fox, and Steve Krisiloff, with Krisiloff receiving the most severe injury — a broken left leg. The large amount of caution time necessitated the cars running until 11:42 to have enough green light time.
Practice time ended at 11:42, and this was followed by the parade of bands and the playing of On the Banks of the Wabash and The Star-Spangled Banner.
The cars were lined up in the order in which they would attempt qualifying, and at 12:15 Tom Carnegie announced that the track was open for qualifications. The fans responded with a large applause as Dennis Firestone drove down the pit area and onto the race track to try to become this year’s first qualifier. His car, however, proved unready and he returned to the pit area without taking the green flag.
The next driver out was Rick Mears in his #6 Pennzoil Penske. He set new records of 208.502 mph for one lap and 207.847 for four laps, good speeds but not what he and his crew were hoping for.
Michael Andretti was the first rookie to qualify for the race. He followed Mears in the qualifying order and had an outstanding 207.805 mph in the Electrolux/Kraco car.
The next outstanding run was made by Michael’s father, Mario. Mario’s 212+ mph practice lap the day before was the fastest unofficial lap ever run at the Speedway. Now, everybody wanted to see if he could make it official. His first lap was 209.687 mph, his second and third laps were in the 208 mph range, and then bad luck visited Mario again. As he exited the fourth turn on his last lap, his electrical system went sour and dropped his lap speed to 202+. His four-lap average was 207.467 mph.
It was 2:00 when last year’s winner, Tom Sneva, left the pit area in his Texaco Star to start his qualifying run. His first lap was 209.113, and the remaining three set new records. They were 209.898, 210.423, and 210.689 mph. The four-lap average was 210.029 mph, about 2.2 mph faster than Mears’ two-hour old record.
About 3:30, AJ Foyt started his run with a 209.137 mph lap, and then a burned piston ended his run.
Shortly before 4:00, Sneva’s teammate Howdy Holmes took his Jiffy Mix machine onto the track and posted the second fastest qualifying time — 207.997 mph.
With the 6:00 closing time coming closer and closer, AJ Foyt went out for his second try at 5:39. This time, his car held together for a 203.860 mph average, considerably slower than his earlier 209+ lap, but definitely fast enough to make the big show.
The last qualifier of the day was popular Danny Ongais in his familiar #25 Interscope. His four-lap average was a respectable 203.978 mph, 11th fastest of the day.
It had been an interesting but long and sometimes hot day. Mark was ready for a big supper and an evening at the motel. Earlier in the afternoon, we had eaten the box dinners we bought the night before at the Kroger store. They had fried chicken, baked beans, brownies, ham sandwiches, and apples. It was a good meal, but we were ready to eat again.
We gathered up our belongings and walked back to the car. It was 6:20 when we left our parking space and got into the heavy flow of traffic.
After getting out onto Georgetown Road, I somehow missed the 25th Street turnoff and had to go down to Crawfordsville Road. As we were moving slowly along, I got to thinking that when we reached Lynhurst Drive the police might make us go south, which we didn’t want to do. To avoid that calamity, I turned onto one of the side streets and went north to 25th Street. I turned left, and a couple blocks later we came to Lynhurst. Our hope of crossing the street and getting to the MCL Cafeteria a few minutes later received a crushing blow when the policeman made all traffic go south. I was unhappy to be in the situation I had gone out of my way to avoid just a few minutes earlier. All was not lost, however. Suddenly, I was struck with the idea of turning onto the campus of Speedway High School, located on the southwest corner of the intersection, and driving around the school and back to 25th Street. I made a quick decision and decided to see if my plan would work. I followed the road and luckily didn’t encounter any road blocks or hiding policeman. A minute or so later, I turned left onto 25th Street and we were on our way again. If we had had to stay on Lynhurst, it certainly would have been a long time before we got to the shopping center. A few minutes later we arrived at the cafeteria, ending the most unusual trip I’ve even taken to there from the Speedway.
The waiting line was much shorter than it was the night before, so we were able to get through the line and to eating sooner, which was fine with us. Mark chose ham and beans, potatoes and gravy, strawberries, broccoli, peach pie, and Pepsi-Cola for his supper, while I had biscuits and gravy, potatoes and gravy, beets, corn bread, salad and dressing, and Pepsi-Cola. We ate everything we ordered and felt better when we finished.
There was nothing we wanted to do at the shopping center, so we got into the car and left for the motel. It was about 8:15 when we arrived there.
We went to our room, watched TV for a few minutes, and then walked around the motel to see what was happening. The restaurant had a few late diners in it, but the lounge, with live entertainment, was doing a booming business. Mark had a hard time deciding if he wanted to go swimming, but after playing the electronic games, he said he was too tired and it was too late, so we went back to our room.
It felt real good to take off our shoes and relax on our soft beds. The 10:00 news had good coverage of the time trials, and the 10:30 program with Paul Page and Roger Penske was also good, but I had to poke Mark a couple items to keep him awake. At 11:00, Mark went to sleep and I watched TV for a few minutes, and then joined him in sleepville. It had been a long but enjoyable day for us.
I woke up about 6:30 and got up and did some reading while Mark continued sleeping. About 7:15, I decided it was time to clean myself of the dirt and grime from the Speedway, so I ran my bath water and took a nice, warm bath. When I got out and dressed, Mark had awakened but hadn’t gotten out of bed. I brushed my teeth and shaved and then had Mark take his bath.
By then, it was after 8:00, so the buffet breakfast was available. It was nice not to be rushed as we were the morning before. I stopped at the front desk and bought an Indianapolis newspaper, and then we went to the restaurant.
The hostess showed us to our seats, and then we filled our plates in the buffet area. We had biscuits and gravy, sweet rolls, bacon, sausage, hash brown potatoes, pancakes, orange juice, and coffee. It was a good breakfast and we ate everything on our plates.
When we could eat no more, I paid the bill and we took a slow, leisurely walk back to our room. We read a little bit of the newspaper and watched TV for a few minutes and then did our packing for our trip home. I did a thorough check to be sure we hadn’t left anything, and then we took our baggage to the car.
I stopped at the front desk to turn in our room key, and at 9:51 we left to begin our trip home. We went south until we reached the US 36 west turnoff, where we turned right to get on the road we would use to Springfield. As we rode, we listened to Indianapolis radio station WIBC. They broadcasted live from the Speedway and had an interesting program. Because it was raining, there was no action on the track to report, so the announcers talked about the activities at the track, like yesterday’s time trials and who might qualify today if anybody had a chance.
Traffic was light on the highway, and at 11:47 we arrived at the Colonial Kitchen to stretch our legs and have a snack to eat. We found an empty table to use, but business was increasing rapidly with dinner patrons. Mark and I both had barbecue sandwiches while Mark had a Coca-Cola and I had a cup of coffee to drink. It wasn’t much, but we were still full from our big breakfasts and didn’t need much.
Before leaving we paid the bill and used the restroom, and then at 12:23 we left to start the last 100 or so miles of our trip. Traffic was light in Illinois as it was in Indiana, and it was about 1:30 when we arrived at Decatur. I took old Route 36 to Riverton and then onto Camp Butler Road, which becomes Sangamon Avenue in Springfield. It was 2:35 when we pulled into our driveway to end our trip. It was a trip that would provide us with many memories in future years.
On Saturday, May 26th, I checked to see if I had everything I needed for my trip and then waited to see if the mailman brought my weekly issue of National Speed Sport News. Luckily, he did, and at 11:46 I left in my 1975 Chevrolet Caprice to begin my 30th trip to the Indianapolis 500 mile race.
I took old Route 36 to Decatur and arrived there at 12:45. The traffic on Eldorado Street was heavy as it always is when I drive through Decatur on the day before the race. The flow of traffic on Route 36 was also about the same as it usually is this day, and it was about 2:10 when I arrived at the Colonial Kitchen in Chrisman.
There were a dozen or so customers in the restaurant, and most of them were farmers at one table having their afternoon coffee. I also had coffee plus a barbeque sandwich served with potato chips. Both of them tasted good, and after using the restroom and paying my bill, I resumed my trip to Danville at 2:38.
The towns on Route 1 were busy as usual on this Saturday, and it was 3:16 when I arrived at my motel in Danville. For the past two years I had stayed at the Ramada Inn just inside the Indiana line, but when I called to make my reservation for this year in January, they were already sold out for the night. I stayed at the Holiday Inn every year from 1976-1981, but I had changed motels because the condition of the rooms I had stayed in seemed to worsen every year. I decided I’d try the place once more, and when I called to check about a reservation, the desk clerk told me that it was no longer a Holiday Inn. It was now a Quality Inn Motel. Since I needed a room, I went ahead and made a reservation, not knowing for sure if I had made a good decision. Now, I was going to see for sure about it.
Since I had already paid for my room, all I had to do was complete the registration form and get my room key. The comparatively low room charge of $25 had aroused my curiosity about the quality of the motel, but after checking everything in my room out, I decided it was pretty good. I made a special point to check out the TV set and be sure I could get Channel 17 in Decatur so I could see the telecast of the race the next night. It checked out fine, so that possible problem was solved.
I lay on the bed for a few minutes and watched TV, and then at about 5:00 I took a bath and shaved, which made me feel somewhat better. When I finished that, I left the motel for the usual three stops I make the night before the race.
My first stop was a few blocks from the motel at the Famous Recipe Chicken place. I bought a medium size box of chicken for my dinner after the race tomorrow. From here I drove to Vermillion Street, then north to Vorhees Street, then east to the Derby station where I filled the gas tank. If everything went okay, I would be able to get home before I had to do this again.
The third stop was a couple minute drive further east on Vorhees Street to George’s Buffet. Business was good, but I was lucky and arrived at a time when there were only a half dozen or so persons going through the serving line. For my main meal of the day, I had cornbread, liver, ham and beans, corn, salad, mashed potatoes and gravy, beets, chocolate cake, and Coca-Cola. I was particularly pleased with being able to eat all the liver I wanted. It was a good meal, and when I left I felt as if I wouldn’t be eating again for quite a while.
With my three important jobs done, I returned to the motel for an evening of relaxation, but before going to my room I stopped at the front desk and paid for my reservation for Sunday night.
In the quietude of my room, I got caught up reading some of my newspapers and magazine. At 10:00, I turned on one of the Indianapolis TV stations for the news. All three parts of the news — regular, weather, and sports — centered on tomorrow’s big race. There was coverage of the 500 Festival Parade and the drivers’ meeting. The weatherman predicted clear skies through mid-afternoon and then a 70% chance of rain later in the day.
At 10:30, I turned the TV set off, made sure the alarm on my clock was turned on, read for a few minutes, and then retired for the night.
My alarm clock did its job and awoke me between 3:45 and 4:00. I lay in bed for a couple of minutes and then got up and washed, shaved, and dressed. When I finished, I walked to the motel restaurant in anticipation of breakfast. Upon arriving there, I found that the restaurant didn’t open until 5:00, although I was certain the hostess last evening had told me it would open at 4:00. I returned to my room and turned on the TV set to kill time until 5:00. Some of the cable TV stations had 24-hour telecasting, and one of them had a western movie with Randolph Scott playing a lead role. I have always liked his movies and felt the same way about this one. I watched it until 4:55, and then I made my second trip for breakfast. It was just opening when I arrived, and there were only four other persons there.
I went through the buffet line and partook of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hash brown potatoes, pancakes, coffee, and orange juice. In anticipation of the long day ahead of me, I ate until I was stuffed and then returned to my room to brush my teeth and be sure I had everything that I would need.
At 5:40, I left the motel parking lot to begin my trip to the big race. I drove south through town to the I-74 turnoff and turned right and was on my way. I turned the radio on to Indianapolis station WIBC to hear its fine pre-race programs. It gave traffic reports every few minutes plus other information about the upcoming race. The traffic was quite heavy, as it always is, and I could tell that a majority of them were going to the Speedway. A few minutes after 7:00, I reached the I-465 overpass and blended into the traffic flow on Crawfordsville Road. I turned onto the last side street before reaching Lynhurst Drive and looked for a parking space. There were none available on the road paralleling Crawfordsville Road, so I turned around and drove north a block or so until I found one. I turned off the engine and paid the attendant my $5. It was 7:28.
The walk to the Speedway presented its usual scene of bumper-to-bumper traffic, along with hundreds of people going by foot. When I reached the White Castle hamburger place, I turned right and went to Rosner’s Drug Store. I didn’t see anything I wanted, so I left and walked the block to the main entrance to the Speedway. The mass of humanity going through the turnstiles was elbow to elbow, and at 8:07 I became one of them.
I walked a few steps when I met the first vendor who was selling Speedway programs. I bought four of them — one for my racing friend Fred Fry, one for my aunt Bobby Dalbey, one for Dad, and one for myself. From there, I continued walking north to the tunnel entrance to the infield. It seemed that the closer I came to the tunnel, the larger the crowd became.
The infield area behind the Tower Terrace area and around Gasoline Alley was real busy. Hundreds of people were looking through the Gasoline Alley fence, trying to see some racing personality or car as he or it was going to the pit area. The infield crowd was getting larger and larger, and when I reached the north end of the Tower Terrace area, it was hard to raise an arm without hitting somebody. The ticket attendant tore off the second stub on my ticket, and a few seconds later I got my first view of the activity in the pit area and on the race track. I walked to my seat — Section 47, Row J, Seat 5 — and sat down. It was 9:00.
The many marching bands put on a great show and were well-received by the fans. When my feet and legs felt rested, I took a walk along the pit area fence to the entrance to Gasoline Alley. The pit area was a big mass of humanity. Pit crew members were busy checking everything on the cars for the last time. It was about 9:45 when I started back to my seat. As I was walking, PA announcer Tom Carnegie gave the order for the pit crews to push their cars to their starting position on the race track.
While the cars were being pushed onto the track, the caravan of stars got started. Probably the most famous celebrity in this year’s parade was David Hasselhoff of Knight Rider fame.
In addition to the people, three former race cars were among the attractions. The Cummins Diesel car, driven in the 1934 500, was driven around the track by former driver Fred Agabashian. The #9 Dean Van Lines Special dirt car, driven to second place in the 1954 500, was driven by former driver Norm Hall and received a warm reception from the crowd. The third car was the 1974 winning car of Johnny Rutherford, now driven by former driver Johnny Boyd.
During the parade activity, my two racing companions since 1977, Barbara and Malcolm McKean, arrived and got settled in their seats.
At 10:35, Chief Steward Tom Binford made a final inspection lap of the track and pronounced it fit for racing.
Immediately after that, the Purdue University Band played the first of the three traditional pre-race songs, the Star-Spangled Banner, as the crowd rose to its feet and stood in silence.
Next was the invocation given by a local minister, and then the US Armed Forced Color Guard played Taps in honor of war veterans in the true meaning of the Memorial Day weekend as the crowd stood in solemn observance.
Now there was only one song left, the one that bring tears to many eyes, Back Home Again in Indiana. When it is accompanied by the rich voice of Jim Nabors, as it was now, it is even more dramatic.
The excitement and tension were at their peak now as everybody awaited the famous command. A couple of minutes later, at 10:51, Mary Hulman issued the order made so famous by her late husband Tony — Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!
The excitement that had been building erupted in a huge roar as the 33 engines roared into life.
The first of the three Pontiac Fiero pace cars slowly moved away driven by John Callies, a Pontiac engineer who did much of the designing of the Fiero car. The second and third pace cars were driven by IMS President Joe Cloutier and Tony George, respectively.
As they came down the front straightaway for the first time, the second and third pace cars pulled off the track, leaving the field to be paced by John Callies. The field was given a warm applause along the straightaway as they started the parade lap. When they came by the second time to begin the pace lap, they were lined up considerably better and presented a beautiful panorama of color and sound.
Everybody was standing and looking to the fourth turn in nervous anticipation of the start. Several seconds later, the pace car appeared and sped through the pit area. A roar went up from the crowd as Sneva, Holmes, Mears, and the rest of the field came onto the straightaway. Sneva picked up the pace, and when they were a few feet from the starting line, Duane Sweeney waved two green flags and the big race was on.
Rick Mears jumped ahead of Sneva as Michael Andretti moved into third position. As they came by for the first lap, Mears had only a slight lead over Sneva, and they were followed by Michael Andretti, Mario Andretti, Howdy Holmes, Roberto Guerrero, Gordon Johncock, Al Unser, Herm Johnson, and AJ Foyt. Mears’s speed was 194.818 mph, which broke Foyt’s two-year-old record of 194.342 mph.
Mears’s second lap speed jumped to 200.387 mph, and as the rest of the field completed the second lap, eighth-place starter Geoff Brabham came slowly through the pit area, leaving clouds of black smoke behind. He was done for the day with a broken fuel line. It had to be bitterly disappointing to Geoff after the spectacular race he drove last year in coming from 26th to 4th at the finish.
Gordon Johncock was having obvious trouble and pitted on his seventh lap after having dropped several laps. He was in for two minutes and had a faulty electrical box replaced.
At 10 laps, the 10 front runners were Mears, Michael Andretti, Sneva, Mario Andretti, Holmes, Guerrero, Al Unser, Al Unser, Jr., Herm Johnson, and AJ Foyt. The average speed was 199.258 mph, 4+ mph faster than Foyt’s record of two years ago.
Holmes was slowing considerably and pitted with a problem quite similar to that of Gordon Johncock. At 20 laps, the leaders were Mears, Sneva, Michael Andretti, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Al Unser, Jr., Roberto Guerrero, Bobby Rahal, Teo Fabi, and Johnson.
During the next 10 laps the first series of pit stops was completed, and for the first time there was a change in the lead position as Sneva and then Mario Andretti took over. After 30 laps, the front runners were Mario Andretti, Mears, Sneva, Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., Guerrero, Rahal, Fabi, Danny Ongais, and Al Unser.
Howdy Holmes returned to action after losing 8.5 minutes and 11 laps. His success in qualifying certainly had not extended to the race.
At 40 laps, 100 miles, the first 10 were Mario Andretti, Sneva, Mears, Al Unser, Jr., Guerrero, Michael Andretti, Rahal, Ongais, Fabi, and Al Unser. The average speed was 192.724, a new record.
Rookie Emerson Fittipaldi from Brazil was the second driver out of the race when his bright pink W.I.T. Promotions car quit after 37 laps with oil pressure problems.
The three front runners were Mario Andretti, Sneva, and Al Unser, Jr., and they were separated by only a third of a second. On the 48th lap, Sneva got by Mario to retake the lead, and then came the first yellow flag of the race.
Spike Gelhausen, in the Little Kings Express, spun coming out of turn one and continued that way into turn two, missing the outside wall by only a few feet.
Many drivers took advantage of the caution period and made their second pit stops. At 50 laps, the first 10 positions were held by Mario Andretti, Mears, Sneva, Al Unser, Jr., Guerrero, Al Unser, Fabi, Michael Andretti, Al Holbert, and Ongais.
The green light came on again on the 53rd lap, and one lap later Mears had retaken the lead. Gordon Johncock, running several laps behind but with a clean track ahead of him, turned a lap at 204.815 mph, fastest ever in an Indy race and still so at the end of the race.
On the 58th lap, the caution light came on again for what was to be the most serious accident of the day. Coming through the third turn, Pat Bedard spun and hit the infield bank. The car disintegrated, and parts went in all directions. The cockpit section, with Bedard in it, landed upside down. It was one of the worst wrecks in race history, and everybody immediately feared the worst. Miraculously, Pat not only survived but was conscious in the ambulance, having suffered a broken jaw and severe concussion.
During the caution period, Guerrero and Danny Sullivan tangled and Sullivan became airborne. When he came down, he broke the right front wheel and suspension on his car and was out of the race.
The yellow remained on for ten laps, and during that time Fabi moved into the lead. The green flag returned on the 68th lap, and at 70 laps the leaders were Fabi, Ongais, Al Unser, Jr., Mears, Sneva, Holbert, Al Unser, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, and Rahal.
Chip Ganassi was the next departure from the race when his Old Milwaukee #40 refused to restart after getting a new ignition box.
Ongais took the lead position on the 71st lap and held it for three laps. Fabi then regained the lead for seven laps. Al Unser, Jr. and Sneva also passed Danny, dropping him to fourth place.
After 80 laps, the ten front runners were Fabi, Al Unser, Jr., Sneva, Mears, Ongais, Holbert, Al Unser, Mario Andretti, Rahal, and Guerrero, and the average speed was 154.553 mph.
Fabi came in for a pit stop and Sneva jumped ahead of Unser, Jr. to take the lead. Two laps later, Al took the lead from Sneva and led for four laps. Al then pitted, giving the lead back to Sneva.
In the meantime, Derek Daly had left the race after 76 laps with handling problems. Then, 10 laps later, his teammate in the Provimi Veal racing team, Tony Bettenhausen, was forced out with a burned piston.
At 100 laps, half the race, Sneva had a four-second lead over Al Jr., and they were followed by Fabi, Holbert, Guerrero, Al Unser, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Ongais, and Rahal. Sneva’s average speed was 160.784 mph, about 1.4 mph slower than Gary Bettenhausen’s record set in 1972.
Four laps later, Fabi’s strong performance came to an end at the north end of the pit area with fuel system problems.
As Teo’s pit crew started pushing the car through the pit area, one of the most dramatic events of the race occurred. Gordon Johncock hit the outside wall coming through the fourth turn. His car then slid into the pit area and crashed into the inside pit wall. From there, it bounced back across the pit lane, onto the grass, then into the inside retaining wall, just missing by a few feet a couple of pit board workers. Had he hit the north end of the inside retaining wall, there probably would have been more serious consequences. When the car finally stopped, Gordon had a broken ankle, but he was released from the hospital after two days.
The yellow light was on for eight laps, during which time several drivers made pit stops. The crash provided much excitement at the north end of the straightaway, and McKeans and I were able to see the last few seconds of it.
The green flag reappeared on the 115th lap, and after 120 laps, 300 miles, the first 10 positions were held by Mears, Sneva, Al Unser, Jr., Guerrero, Holbert, Al Unser, Michael Andretti, Mario Andretti, Ongais, and Rahal.
Dick Simon had spent most of the race in his pit, including one stop of 81 minutes. By the end of the race, he was credited with 112 laps and 23rd finishing position.
Johnny Rutherford was the next driver out of competition. Johnny has certainly had his trouble the last couple of years. He was to drive for the Domino’s Pizza team, but the car never performed well enough and Johnny left the team. On the second Saturday of qualifying, AJ Foyt bought a car for him and Johnny qualified it at 202.062 mph. Now he was done after 116 laps with engine failure.
On lap 124, Al Jr. passed Sneva for second as Sneva gradually fell 4.5 seconds behind Mears and Al. These three remained in their positions until lap 131 when an unexpected change took place. Al Jr. pulled into his pit and was out of the race when his Coors Light Silver Bullet incurred water pump trouble. He had really made a fine showing of himself while he was in the race.
Al’s exit moved Sneva back to second position as Mears continued to lead with some laps over 204 mph. At 140 laps, the 10 leaders were Mears, Sneva, Guerrero, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Ongais, Michael Andretti, Holbert, Rahal, and Herm Johnson.
In the next 10 laps, the front runners made pit stops. Mears came in after 142 laps, yielding the lead to Sneva for two laps until he too stopped for new tires and fuel, giving the lead back to Mears.
As the race neared the three-quarter mark, two more drivers dropped out. Kevin Cogan’s pit crew had been unable to remove the right rear wheel to change it, so he was forced out of the race after 137 laps. Pancho Carter was the next dropout when his American Dream machine went out after 141 laps with engine failure after mishandling all day.
On the leaders’ 153rd lap, the yellow light came on. Roberto Guerrero, in third position, spun coming through the second turn. He spun several times and stopped on the track facing in the right direction. Luckily, the engine didn’t die, so slowly he picked up speed again, and the green light came on after four yellow laps.
At 160 laps, or 400 miles, the first 10 drivers were Mears, Sneva, Unser, Holbert, Michael Andretti, Ongais, Guerrero, Rahal, Foyt, and Johnson.
On the 163rd lap, Scott Brayton brought out the yellow flag when his car stalled because of transmission trouble. He had to be towed to the pit area and was credited with 150 laps, good for 18th finishing position.
During the Guerrero caution, Mario Andretti again became the victim of the bad luck that has plagued him so many times at the Speedway. He was starting through the pit area when Josele Garza suddenly turned left in front of him, damaging Mario’s nose cone to the extent that he had to leave the race. He was awarded 17th position with 153 laps. For the last three years, he has been the victim of some other driver’s poor judgment.
As starter Duane Sweeney was getting ready to show the green flag again, a sudden change took place. Sparks were flying from the left rear corner of Sneva’s car. When the green light flashed on, Sneva came into his pit instead of going back to racing speed. Fans along the straightaway stood and moaned in disbelief as the #1 Texaco Star went by them. When he stopped, his pit crew discovered a broken CV joint, putting him out of the race.
With Sneva gone, Mears’s lead increased to two laps over Unser, who moved up to second place. If Mears stayed out of trouble, the big battle would be for second place.
At 180 laps, the first 10 positions were held by Mears, Unser, Holbert, Michael Andretti, Ongais, Guerrero, Rahal, Foyt, Garza, and Johnson. The only change in the next few laps was that of Ongais. His familiar #25 Interscope encountered electrical problems, and he had to have a new spark plug box and battery installed, which cost him time and positions.
The next departure from competition was rookie Tom Gloy in his Simoniz Finish car. He had run well all day but was finished now after 179 laps with engine failure.
By the 190th lap, Guerrero had moved into second place by not pitting when the others did. He was still a lap and 23 seconds behind Mears, although his lap speeds were over 200 mph. On Mears’s 195th lap, Roberto finally came in for fuel and was gone in 16 seconds, his lead being big enough that he left his pit still ahead of third-place Unser. Unser tried to overtake him, but Robert’s 200 mph laps were too much for him.
Four laps later, Rick Mears came down the straightaway for his 200th lap and the checkered flag for the second time in his career. The red flag also was displayed, locking in all positions behind Mears.
Rick pulled into Victory Lane for the victory celebration, while the remaining drivers pulled into their pits for the last time, shut off their engines, and took a well-deserved rest.
Al Holbert’s pit was directly in front of McKeans and me and his pit crew was a happy group of men, as they should have been. Their driver had made an excellent showing of himself in his first Speedway race.
As the pit crews gathered up their equipment and began returning to the garage area, McKeans and I, as well as my acquaintances from Michigan on my right, got out our box lunches and had a late Sunday dinner. It felt good to be able to eat at a leisurely pace and not have to worry about spilling something on somebody or missing some of the action on the track. It was an enjoyable time, not only of eating, but of relaxing and visiting with friends.
It was during this time that Malcolm informed me that the electronic scoring equipment of USAC and the Speedway had not been working during most of the race. I had noticed that the scoring on the pylon at the south end of the pit area was a mess. Also, there was no report from the PA announcer Tom Carnegie on the finishing position as there usually is. The only thing most people knew for sure was that Rick Mears was the winner.
Shortly before 3:00, my friends from Michigan decided to leave, so we shook hands and said we’d see each other next year at the same time and place, unless fate stepped in and dictated otherwise.
I got my equipment together and packed it in my tote bag and a few minutes later said goodbye to McKeans, who were also about ready to leave. It took quite a while to get off the infield and through the tunnel, but then the traffic moved faster. When I arrived at the main entrance, I stopped and took one last look around, knowing it would be another year until I saw this area of the Speedway.
As is usually the case, I made better time walking along Crawfordsville Road than did the automobile traffic. When I arrived at the car, I took off my shoes for a few minutes and sat on the grass. Most of the other cars were gone, and a couple of minutes later I put my shoes back on, turned the engine on, and at 3:55 started my trip to Danville.
The police were directing westbound traffic south on Lynhurst Drive, so I had little trouble getting to the I-74/465 interchange. A state policeman directed me, and a few minutes later the traffic pattern changed considerably. I found a radio station that was playing music from the Big Band era, and that made the trip a pleasant one. It was about 5:30 when I crossed the Illinois line, and at 5:43 I arrived at George’s Buffet for supper.
My supper meal consisted of cornbread, liver, ham and beans, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, beets, dressing, salad, Coca-Cola, and chocolate cake for dessert. The food was good, and when I left for my motel room at about 6:30 I felt much better.
I drove back to the motel and relaxed on the bed for a few minutes before doing a little reading and TV viewing. At 8:00, I watched the same-day presentation of the race on ABC television. I enjoyed the telecast because I got to see much of the action that I was unable to see from where I was sitting.
The telecast ended at 11:00, after which I took a hot bath and then went to bed. It had been a long but enjoyable day, and I was ready for a good night’s sleep without having to think about being awakened by the alarm clock.
It was between 6:30 and 7:00 when I opened my eyes for the first time Monday morning. It was dark and rainy outdoors. I turned the TV set on and watched it for a few minutes and then did some reading. The quiet, relaxing atmosphere was a sharp contrast to the morning before. Even outdoors it was quiet, the slow-falling raindrops being almost the only noise.
About 8:30, I groomed myself and then packed my equipment into the suitcase. I watched TV for a few more minutes, and then shortly after 9:00 I checked out of the motel and started the trip home.
There was very little traffic due to the fact that it was a holiday and most people weren’t working. The weather was also conducive to sleeping late. As I drove south on Route 1, the traffic increased slightly but not much. I guess there wasn’t much reason for most people to be out in the holiday rain. It was between 9:30 and 9:45 when I arrived at the Colonial Kitchen for breakfast.
Business was light, with the majority of the customers being farmers having their morning cup of coffee. I had pancakes, hashed brown potatoes, orange juice, and coffee. It was a good breakfast. I used the restroom, paid the bill, and then started the remainder of my trip home.
The traffic was pretty light. A local radio station was doing a special program of Benny Goodman music, so that provided me with good entertainment for about half of my trip. When I was on the east side of Decatur, the Memorial Day boat races were in progress and a large crowd was in attendance. When I left Decatur, I took old Route 36 the rest of the way to Springfield. It was about 1:15 when I arrived home. Another trip to the big race was completed safely, and like all the others before it, it would provide many memories for the future.
The official results of the race were posted Monday morning and confirmed that Rick Mears had won the race in the record time of 3:03:21.66 for an average speed of 163.613 mph. He led for 119 of the 200 laps.
Roberto Guerrero deserves much credit for finishing second. In the first place, he was a rookie, and in the second place, he was in trouble three times. During the Pat Bedard accident, his car was hit by Danny Sullivan, but it was not damaged. Later, he overshot his pit area and had to take another lap around the track. Luckily for him, this happened during a caution period. Then, on lap 154, he spun several times in the second turn but didn’t hit anything and was able to continue on. His high lap speeds late in the race enabled him to finish second in the #9 Master Mechanic Tools car with George Bignotti as chief mechanic.
Al Unser continued his fabulous record at the Speedway by finishing in the top 10 for the 11th time. He may have finished higher, but he was plagued all day with a mishandling machine. Being in a Roger Penske car was certainly a big help.
Al Holbert’s fourth-place finish was special to me because his pit area was directly in front of me. He encountered only two problems during the race. On his fifth pit stop his engine stalled, costing him valuable seconds. Then, on his last pit stop, his pit crew put on some faulty tires, which caused his speed to drop considerably.
Fifth position went to another rookie, one with a quickly recognizable last name — Michael Andretti. He was the fastest rookie qualifier and ran near the front of the field all day in his #99 Electrolux/Kraco machine.
Sixth position went to the Speedway’s only four-time winner, AJ Foyt. Not only has he won more races than anybody, he has started more — 27. Although he has curtailed his racing schedule somewhat in the last few years, he is still among the most popular drivers with race fans.
Seventh position was awarded to Bobby Rahal, driving in his third race. Like Al Holbert, he may have finished higher if his engine hadn’t stalled on one of his pit stops.
Herm Johnson, driving in his second race, started in ninth position with a fine 204.618 mph qualifying speed and then drove a smooth, steady race to finish in eighth position.
Fan favorite Danny Ongais brought the familiar black #25 Interscope Racing car home in ninth place. He is another driver who may have done better if he hadn’t had mechanical problems. He had to have a new spark box and battery on his last pit stop, and that ruined his hopes of finishing any higher.
Completing the first 10 finishers was Josele Garza, driving in his fourth race in the #55 Machinists Union creation. This is the first time he was running at the finish.
The remaining drivers still running at the finish were George Snider, Dennis Firestone, and Howdy Holmes.
Rookie of the Year honors went to both Roberto Guerrero and Michael Andretti, but I think the honor also should have been given to Al Holbert.
The purse this year also set a record — $2,795,299. That was $383,949 higher than last year. Rick Mears’s first-place share of $434,060.96 was also a record.
Another year has come and gone, and like all of its predecessors, this year’s race provided its participants and followers with a multitude of memories to last a long time.
Pace Car — Pontiac Fiero
500 Festival Queen — Christine Giles