The outstanding qualifying runs of Pancho Carter and Scott Brayton, the unexpected victory of Danny Sullivan, and the frustrating second-place finish of Mario Andretti were highlights of this year’s activity at the Speedway.
I took a day off from work and Mark took a day off from fifth grade at Dubois Elementary School, and at 9:28 AM on May 10th, we left the house to begin our trip to the Speedway. We took Paul to my parents’ house and then continued on our way. A few minutes later, we were on old Route 36.
It was 10:30 when we arrived at Decatur, and about ten minutes later we were leaving the city. The weather made driving a pleasure, and at 12:01 we stopped at the Colonial Kitchen to stretch our legs and have a little snack to eat. Both of us had a BBQ sandwich while I had coffee and Mark had a Coca-Cola to drink. There were about a dozen or so other customers, some of whom were eating a full meal while others were having only a cup of coffee and a bite to eat.
Although it was only a sandwich and a snack, we both felt better. We used the restroom, paid the bill, and at 12:34 started the second part of our trip. The Indiana landscape was pretty with the fresh green grass and emerging crops. As we traveled, we listened to Indianapolis radio station WIBC and heard the surprising announcement that Gordon Johncock had just retired from racing. That certainly would be big news at the Speedway.
As we were getting into the Indianapolis area, we were delayed by highway construction crews, and it was 2:10 when we arrived at the Amoco service station at Lynhurst Drive. I filled the gasoline tank and then drove north on Lynhurst to 16th Street and then east on 16th Street.
The police weren’t allowing left turns into the Speedway grounds, so we drove on and made the first left turn possible and then turned around and drove back to the Speedway entrance. The gate attendant took our money, and we proceeded through the viaduct and onto the museum parking lot. It was 2:45 when we found a parking space and turned off the engine. We had made it safely.
There was activity everywhere, both on the race track and in the infield. Our first stop was the museum gift shop, where it was elbow-to-elbow humanity. I wanted to get small gifts for John, Paul, and Dixie, but I decided to look in other gift shops first before buying anything.
From here, we went to the gift shop and snack bar just west of the museum and did some browsing, and then we walked to the garage and Tower Terrace areas. We looked in the two gift shops in that area and finally found something that was reasonably priced that they might like.
Now, for the first time, we were going to see the race cars in action. We walked from one end of the pit area to the north end of the Tower Terrace seats. The pit area was filled with drivers, pit crews, and other racing personnel trying to get that extra 2-3 mph out of their cars in the last few hours of practice before the start of time trials tomorrow.
Having been on our feet since we got out the car, we decided to sit down and watch the activity for a few minutes. When we felt rested again, we walked down behind the pit area and watched action there until about 5:30-5:45. Then we slowly walked back to the car. It was shortly after 6:00 when we left the parking lot and drove the few minutes to the MCL Cafeteria in the Speedway Shopping Center.
For supper, Mark had Salisbury steak, broccoli, potatoes and gravy, cinnamon roll, jello cubes, and Pepsi-Cola, while I had ham and beans, cornbread, potatoes and gravy, tossed salad, beets, and Pepsi-Cola. It tasted real good, particularly since we hadn’t eaten much since breakfast.
After supper, we walked to Hook’s Drug Store and bought Dixie’s Mother’s Day present and then walked back to the car as we window shopped at the stores along the way. It was about 7:30 when we left the shopping center and turned right onto Crawfordsville Road. I took the turnoff to I-465 north, and a few minutes after that I took the I-65 exit. The traffic moved real well, and about 10 or so minutes later we exited I-65 and turned left to the motel. It was 7:50 when we stopped for the night.
I had already paid for our first night’s lodging, so all I had to do was fill out the registration form and get the room key. When we went to our room, I checked the TV set to be sure it worked okay and also to see if we had plenty of supplies such as towels, soap, etc. I took off my shoes and lay on the bed for a few minutes, but Mark was eager to get to the game room and take in the action there, so he went over there.
The few minutes on the bed revived me considerably. I got up and checked out the TV programs, did a little reading, and then left to see what was going on in the Holidome area. It was a busy place with the swimming pool, play area, and game and snack areas all well-populated with customers. Mark said he was getting along okay, so I went back to the room and told Mark to be there by 10:00.
At 9:00, one of the TV stations had a special program titled Indy 500 Magazine with IMS announcer Tom Carnegie as the narrator. It showed pictures of driver Herm Johnson’s crash during practice earlier in the day, highlights of the meeting with members of the Oldtimers Club, including an interview with 1957 winner Sam Hanks, and interviews with wives and girlfriends of some of the drivers. It was a fine program, and I was glad I found it on the TV set.
Before the program ended Mark returned from the game room, and then we watched the 10:00 news. As usual, the main news events were the day’s activities at the Speedway and the weather forecast for the next day. By 10:30, Mark had fallen asleep on his bed, but I stayed up and read the morning paper, which I had brought from home. When I finished that, I was ready for bed, so I changed into my pajamas, made sure the alarm clock was set for the right time, turned off the lights, got under the sheets, and drifted off to sleep. It was the end of a real pleasant day for both of us.
At 5:30 Saturday morning, the alarm clock did its job and woke me up for the start of the big day. I lay in bed for a couple of minutes and then washed, shaved, and combed my hair. By now, Mark was trying to open his eyes and see what was going on. A few minutes later, he got up and walked to the wash basin and washed his face and hands.
It was 6:00 when we left our room and walked to the restaurant via the Holidome and breezeway. There were only a few customers there, but business increased steadily while we were there. Most of them were going to the same place we were.
The buffet area opened for business just as we were seated, so we decided to eat that way instead of from the menu. We had scrambled eggs, toast, biscuits and gravy, hashed brown potatoes, and orange juice. We ate until we couldn’t eat any more, paid the bill, and then walked back to our room. I had done the packing last night, so all we had to do was brush our teeth and be sure everything was in the suitcase and that the suitcase was locked. After that, we made sure the room door was locked, got into the car, and at 7:00 we left for the Speedway.
The traffic on I-65 was fairly heavy, and it was between 7:15 and 7:30 when we reached the Speedway turnoff and got onto Crawfordsville Road. The traffic here was also heavy but moved steadily, and a few minutes later we were on Georgetown Road. We drove north to Gate 8, which was the only gate open to automobile traffic. The ticket vendors took our $10.00 and directed us through the tunnel and onto the infield. From there, safety patrolmen directed us to a parking space in the vast infield parking area. It was a few minutes before 8:00 when I turned off the engine.
We went straight to the south end of the Tower Terrace in the area of the photographers’ stand, stopping only to use the bathroom. The Tower Terrace seats were already quite full, but we managed to find two seats together close to the top row.
The pit area was already busy with cars and pit crews working on them. The practice period went off without any major accidents, and at 10:15 it ended. A few minutes later, the prequalifying ceremonies began. Several marching bands paraded on the main straightaway, and then came the highlight of the ceremonies. Eleven of the twelve surviving starters of the 1946 race were taken for an honorary lap around the track in official Oldsmobile cars. This was done in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Hulman family owners of the Speedway and was well-received by the large crowd.
As 11:00 approached the tension and excitement increased, and at the magic moment Chief Steward Tom Binford gave the signal and announcer Tom Carnegie gave the famous command, “The track is open for qualifications.” The crowd erupted into applause, and Scott Brayton was pushed away to make the first qualifying attempt of 1985.
Scott got the show started with a bang with a new record lap of 211.815 mph. His second and third laps were in the 213 and 214 range, but on the fourth lap he encountered transmission trouble and slowed to a 210.256 average, which pulled his four-lap average speed down to 212.354 mph, a new track record but not what he had hoped for.
Tom Sneva and Danny Ongais were the second and third qualifiers, and then came Pancho Carter in his number 6 Buick Hawk. His first lap was 212.510 mph, followed by 212.721, 213.159, and 211.944 mph, for a new record four-lap average of 212.583 mph, beating out Brayton by 0.182 seconds.
Emerson Fittipaldi made a fine showing with a 211.322 mph average. Roberto Guerrero qualified at 208.062 mph, and then Arie Luyendyk became this year’s first rookie qualifier with a 206.004 mph average.
A round of applause could be heard when the next qualifier was announced — Mario Andretti — but once again Lady Luck turn her back on Mario as he qualified at a respectable but disappointing 211.576 mph.
AJ Foyt followed with an even more disappointing 205.782 mph average, but Al Unser did real well with a 210.523 mph average in the number 11 Penske Hertz.
Another rookie, Jim Crawford, qualified at over 205 mph, only to be disqualified two hours later when the post-qualifying inspection revealed the car to be 20 pounds underweight.
By now, Bobby Rahal was given the best chance of beating out Carter for the pole position, but his 211.818 mph average fell short of the mark but was nevertheless still an excellent run.
As the afternoon wore on, it became warmer and warmer. Mark was becoming quite restless, so I told him to get up and walk around in the shade somewhere and get something cold to drink. The hot sun and gusty winds made the fans uncomfortable and had lowered many qualifying speeds. When Mark returned, I left and did the same thing for a few minutes. Since there were no qualifying attempts being made, many of the spectators got out their food and had a late dinner. Mark and I had done likewise earlier in the afternoon, and it tasted real good.
At 4:04, the qualifying dearth ended when Geoff Brabham left the qualifying line and returned a few minutes later with a solid 210.074 mph performance.
By 5:00, the sun had moved westward and left parts of the Speedway, including the Tower Terrace, in the shadows, which lowered the temperature and made everybody feel better.
Danny Sullivan put himself into the show with a 210.298 mph run, and then came another crowd favorite, Rick Mears. Rick, however, like so many other drivers before him, didn’t do as well as expected and completed his run with a 209.796 mph average.
Michael Andretti qualified on his second attempt at 208.185 mph, and Kevin Cogan was the last qualifier of the day with a 203.793 mph average, which later was bumped from the field.
We decided to leave a little early to beat the big exodus at 6:00. It was 5:45 when we left the parking space and got onto Georgetown Road. The police made all cars go north, so I drove to the first side street, turned left and came back to Georgetown Road, then went south to Crawfordsville Road and then west to the MCL Cafeteria, arriving there between 6:15 and 6:30.
It had been a long time since we ate our box dinners, so we were ready for a good supper. The line moved quickly, and in a few minutes we were enjoying a good, hot supper. When we couldn’t eat anymore, we used the restroom and left. We didn’t have any shopping to do that night and Mark was anxious to get to the motel, so at 7:00 we left the parking lot and drove the 20 or so miles to our temporary home, arriving there about 7:30.
I relaxed in the room for a while with the TV set and my reading material while Mark enjoyed using the game room. An hour or so later, I journeyed to the Holidome area to see the action. Mark had a lot of company in the game room, and the other activity areas were also busy. I stayed for a few minutes and then went back to the room.
Mark came back at about 9:45, and at 10:00 we watched the TV news. The main local news, of course, was the activity at the Speedway. When the program ended at 10:30 Mark called it a day, and at about 11:00 I did likewise. It was the end of a long day.
There was no need for an alarm clock to wake us up on Sunday morning. I woke up at about 6:30, but Mark didn’t get up until about 7:45. While Mark was still sleeping, I did some reading and TV viewing. When Mark got up, we washed our faces, and I shaved while Mark got dressed.
By then we were ready for breakfast, so we walked to the motel restaurant. The buffet line was open, so we helped ourselves to eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, and orange juice. It was a good breakfast, and when we finished we bought an Indianapolis newspaper in the motel lobby and then returned to our room.
We glanced through the newspaper for a few minutes and then got all of our equipment together in the suitcase and tote bag. I checked to be sure we hadn’t left anything behind, and then we drove to the main lobby. I turned in the room key, and at 9:51 we drove out of the parking lot and started our trip home.
We drove I-65 south to its intersection with I-465 and then took that road to the US 36 west turnoff. Mark’s throat suddenly turned dry and he said he had to have something to drink, so we stopped at a small store on Rockville Road that had a soda pop machine in front of it. Mark bought a can of Pepsi-Cola.
The traffic on Route 36 was light. At about 11:45 we crossed the Illinois line, and at 11:54 we arrived at the Colonial Kitchen. The annual Mother’s Day crowd was converging on the building, and it made us look out of place. The hostess directed us to the serving line, but when I told her we wanted to sit at a table and order from the menu, she said we couldn’t do that because of the large crowd. This startled me because I had never been refused service here before, including Mother’s Day. I told Mark we would have to go elsewhere to eat, so we left. He seemed as surprised as I was.
I asked him if he minded if we ate at the Dixie Truck Stop at Tuscola, and he said that was okay with him. When we arrived, we ordered BBQ sandwiches. We encountered no problems either in being seated or being served. When we finished eating, I paid the bill and then we browsed in the gift shop for a few minutes before leaving.
It was a few minutes before 2:00 when we arrived at Decatur. When we passed the Holiday Inn, I took the first right turn and got onto old Route 36. About 45 minutes later we turned onto Camp Butler Road, and at 2:52 we drove onto our driveway to finish our trip for another year.
During the week before the race, I packed my suitcase so that I wouldn’t be so busy on Saturday. When Saturday, May 25th arrived, I did a few little jobs around the house while waiting to see if my National Speed Sport News would come in the mail. Luckily it came, and after eating dinner I said goodbye to my family. At 1:03, I started on my 31st annual trip to the big Speedway. For the first time, I drove our 1978 Chevrolet station wagon to the race.
I drove old Route 36 to Decatur, arriving there at 2:00. The traffic on Eldorado Street was heavy as it is every year on the Saturday afternoon before the race. I enjoyed the drive east of Decatur as I always do with its flat farm fields and straight stretch of highway. At 3:27, the pleasant drive ended when I arrived at the Colonial Kitchen and stopped for a few minutes. When I got out of the car, I stretched my legs and arms and then went in and had a bar-b-que sandwich and a cup of coffee. There were only a few customers present, most of whom were farmers having their afternoon coffee. The sandwich and drink felt good, and when I finished I used the men’s room, paid the bill, and at 3:49 started the northern leg of my trip on Routes 1-150.
The people in Chrisman, Westville, etc. were shopping, mowing grass, and visiting with one another. It was about 4:20 when I reached the Danville city limits and 4:25 when I arrived at the Quality Inn Motel.
I had already paid my first night’s fee, so all I had to do was complete the registration form. As usual, I checked everything in my room to see if it was working. Everything was okay except the TV set. All I could get on any channel was snow. I went back to the office and told the desk clerk about it, and she said there would be a repairman there in a short time. A few minutes later, he arrived and knew immediately what was wrong — no cable wire. He said he hoped to have one that evening and would install it as soon as he got it. My hopes for any TV viewing for the evening, including the 10:00 news coverage of tomorrow’s big race, seemed dismal.
By then, it was time to get cleaned up and make my usual three stops around the city. I bathed and shaved and then left my room to go on my errands.
My first stop was the Famous Recipe Chicken place a few blocks from the motel. I bought my dinner for tomorrow and then drove to the Derby gasoline station and filled the gasoline tank. From there, I drove a few blocks east to George’s Buffet for my supper. I treated myself to chicken livers, corn, salad, mashed potatoes, cornbread, cake, and Pepsi. It was a good supper, and when I finished it I returned to the motel.
I was dismayed, but not real surprised, to find the TV set still not working. That left me with two forms of entertainment — reading material and the radio. I could get only two stations on the radio, one of which had rock music and the second of which had a call-in question and answer program about money and legal problems. Neither of these programs appealed to me, so I read my National Speed Sport News and a couple of other magazine or newspapers I had until my eyes started going shut. I took the hint, and at about 10:30 I checked the door to be sure it was locked and chained and then made sure the alarm clock was set. I turned off the lights, got under the sheet, blanket, and spread, said my prayer for a safe race tomorrow, and drifted into Sleepville.
At 4:15 Sunday morning, the alarm clock did its job and started my day. Race day 1985 was underway. I lay in bed for a couple of minutes and then got up and washed and shaved. The night before I got my belongings put in my tote bag and ready to go, so I didn’t have that to do. By then it was 4:45, so I glanced through some of my reading material for a few minutes, and at 4:55 I left to go to the motel restaurant.
The restaurant was just opening when I arrived. The hostess showed me to my seat, and I, along with a few other customers, had to wait a couple of minutes until all the food was put out for serving. The breakfast was buffet and the menu was bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, toast, coffee, milk, orange juice, and tomato juice. I ate heartily, and when I finished, I felt stuffed. By then, business was real good, and I could tell that almost all the customers had the same schedule for the day as I did.
I returned to my room, brushed my teeth, locked my suitcase, and left for the Speedway. It was 5:35 when I left the motel. I drove south to the I-74 turnoff, and a couple of minutes later I was in the flow of traffic.
As usual, the majority of the persons I saw looked as if they were going to the race. The sun slowly made its appearance in the east as I listened to Indy radio station WIBC. They had periodic helicopter reporters on the traffic and activity around the Speedway. The traffic moved well, and at 7:00 I reached the I-465 interchange where traffic came to a temporary halt.
From here, it moved slowly. Just before reaching Lynhurst Drive, I turned left and drove down a small side street. A young man directed me to his back yard for parking. I paid the $5 charge and turned off the engine. It was 7:30.
I made sure I had my car keys, locked the doors, and joined several hundred other race fans walking along Crawfordsville Road to the Speedway. The sights along the road were similar to those of other years – empty beer cans, campers just waking up, people eating their breakfast on outdoor stoves, and vendors selling their merchandise.
When I came to the three-way intersection, I crossed the road and went to Rosner’s Drug Store. I wanted to see if they had any racing books I might be interested in but they didn’t, so I left and went to the intersection again. The intense activity at the main gate, with hundreds of people going through the turnstiles every minute, never fails to fascinate me. After a few minutes, I crossed 16th Street, got my ticket out of my tote bag, and became one of those hundreds passing through the turnstiles. It was now 8:10.
My first stop was just a few feet away where I purchased my souvenir programs from a busy vendor. From here, I took a long, leisurely walk behind the main stretch grandstands to the tunnel entrance to the infield. By then, it was almost elbow-to-elbow humanity, but when I reached the infield there was more room.
The infield presented its usual busy scene, with a large crowd around the Gasoline Alley fence, the gift shops doing a booming business, the concession stands doing likewise, while others stretched out on the grass and soaked up the morning sun. About 8:45, I started my walk to the north end of the Tower Terrace section, arriving there at about 9:00. I handed my ticket to the gateman and walked in.
The multitude of marching bands and all the activity in the pit area provided entertainment for everybody. I found my way to my seat and sat down for a few minutes to rest my feet and relax. When I felt revived, I took a walk behind the pit area. Pit crews were busy making final checks on their cars and equipment. Most of the drivers weren’t in the pit area, but I recognized some of the mechanics and car owners, including Paul Newman. As I was walking back to my seat, P.A. announcer Tom Carnegie gave the order to pit crews to push their cars to their starting positions on the track. A loud cheer came from the crowd as the pre-race activities started their yearly routine.
Between 10:00 and 10:30, the parade of celebrities made its way around the track so that everybody could see them. Among the famous people this year were Jim Garner, Dick Clark, and Mickey Mouse. Another attraction was that of Tony George, grandson of former Speedway owner Tony Hulman, driving around the track in the #16 Thorne Engineering Special that George Robson drove to victory in 1946. This was part of the 40th anniversary celebration of the Hulman reign at the Speedway.
About 10:15, I was joined at my seat by Barbara and Malcolm McKean, my race companions since 1977. At 10:30, Chief Steward Tom Binford and other USAC and Speedway officials made the usual pre-race track inspection and pronounced the track ready for racing.
At 10:40, the huge crowd rose for the playing of the second of the four traditional pre-race songs, the The Star-Spangled Banner. A couple of minutes later, the crowd bowed its head for the invocation, during which the minister thanked God for the beautiful weather and for the opportunity to witness the greatest speed classic in the world and wished all drivers well in the race.
Immediately after the invocation, the solemn Taps was played in keeping with the true meaning of Memorial Day and paying homage to US war veterans.
The solemnity of the morning changed to cheering when Back Home Again in Indiana was played by the Purdue University band, accompanied by a group of singers from Disney World.
Then came the climax of the pre-race festivities. Mary Hulman gave the traditional command, “Gentleman, Start Your Engines.” The response was electrifying as the 33 engines roared into life. The roar of the engines revving together brought tears to my eyes, and a couple of minutes later the first two pace cars pulled away. About a minute later, the real pace car, an Olsmobile Calais with Jim Garner driving, slowly pulled away. All 33 cars started, which was good news. The two leading pace cars pulled into the pit area after two laps as Jim Garner took the field around for the official lap and flying start. All eyes looked to the fourth turn, and a few seconds later the pace car came charging through the pit area as the front row of Pancho Carter, Scott Brayton, and Bobby Rahal came onto the straightaway. The other 10 rows followed in formation. The front three slowly increased their speed, and a second or two before they reached the starting line, Duane Sweeny waved two green flags and the big race was on.
Rahal beat Carter and Brayton to the first turn, and by the time they reached the third turn, Mario Andretti, starting fourth, had passed Brayton and Carter for second.
At the end of the first lap, Rahal had a 0.5-second lead over Andretti, and they were followed by Brayton, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Sr., Carter, Danny Sullivan, Geoff Brabham, Don Whittington, and Dick Simon.
At five laps, Rahal was still the leader, and his average speed had increased to 200.036 mph.
As the leaders completed their sixth lap, a groan came from the crowd as Pancho Carter came slowly through the pit area. Many people had questioned the durability of the Buick engines of Carter and Brayton, and now their fears were confirmed. His pit crew worked on the car for a few minutes and then pushed it back to the garage area, a bitter disappointment for all of those involved with the car.
At 10 laps, Rahal was still leading with a 200.469 mph average, with the remainder of the first 10 drivers comprised of Andretti, Brayton, Fittipaldi, Unser, Sr., Sullivan, Rick Mears, Brabham, Whittington, and Josele Garza.
On the leader’s 15th lap, the first yellow flag of the race appeared when George Snider stalled and stopped in the fourth turn. Two laps later, Garza’s fine performance ended when he was forced out with engine trouble.
The Snider stall brought about the first series of pit stops, and when it was over Andretti and Brayton had moved up a position and Rahal had fallen to third place.
After three yellow laps, the green flag reappeared. Brayton charged ahead, but as he entered turn one smoke appeared from the engine, and when he reached turn three he pulled over by the infield grass, bringing out the yellow flag again. Scott completed 19 laps and was forced out with turbocharger failure. Now, the second of the two cars powered by a Buick engine was out of the race.
The green flag came out on the 29th lap and Andretti continued to lead. At 40 laps, 100 miles, the first 10 leaders were Andretti, Rahal, Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Jr., Don Whittington, Roberto Guerrero, Brabham, Sullivan, Rick Mears, and Rutherford.
Tony Bettenhausen, this year’s slowest qualifier at 204.824 mph, was the next driver out of the race. He completed 31 laps and left with wheel bearing failure.
Andretti made his second pit stop on lap 49, thus relinquishing the lead to Fittipaldi, who led for two laps. Mario regained the lead on lap 58 and began increasing it. Tom Sneva was doing real well in his Skoal Bandit car and came within 0.5 seconds of Andretti when he came in for a pit stop.
By now, some of the fans’ attention had been diverted to the pit area, specifically that of AJ Foyt. It had not been a good year for AJ. He started in 21st position with a disappointing 205.782 mph average, and he wasn’t doing much in the race. The car was having right wheel trouble and, while stopped, fire started in the rear of the car. In desperation, AJ got out and tried to fix things, but it was useless. The car was pushed to the garage area with 62 laps completed, good for 28th finishing position.
At 70 laps, the first 10 leaders were Andretti, Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Jr., Don Whittington, Mears, Sullivan, Guerrero, Sneva, Brabham, and Rutherford.
On the 74th lap, the third yellow light of the day appeared when Derek Daly’s machine stalled on the backstretch. The car was towed in and restarted. On the 78th lap, the green flag was shown.
After 80 laps, 200 miles, the field was led by Andretti, Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Jr., Sneva, Brabham, Don Whittington, Sullivan, Rutherford, Al Unser, Sr., and Guerrero. Fittipaldi and Sullivan were gaining on Andretti, while Al Jr., Brabham, and Sneva were having their own battle with less than a second between them.
Meanwhile, Rahal and Dick Simon were experiencing mechanical problems in their pits. After a four-minute stop, Bobby was sent back onto the track but came back in the next time around and was finished with wastegate valve trouble. All three of the front row starters were now out of the race.
Dick had a long pit stop, went back onto the track, and returned two laps later with no oil pressure.
A low roar came from the crowd as Al Jr., a leading contender all day long, came slowly through the pit area and retired with a lack of oil pressure as well.
The halfway mark came and went with Andretti still leading, followed by Sullivan, Fittipaldi, Sneva, Brabham, Sullivan, Rutherford, Al Unser, Guerrero, Mears, and Johnny Parsons.
About this same time, another front runner, Don Whittington, driving the car Gordon Johncock left when he retired, was forced out of competition after 97 laps with engine trouble.
A series of pit stops followed, and from now through the 139th lap, the lead went back and forth between Andretti and Fittipaldi. Sullivan was gaining ground steadily and at 110 laps was in second place, less than four seconds behind Andretti. The distance between the two red cars continued to diminish. Going into the first turn on their 120th lap, they were side by side. A couple seconds later, they were involved in one of the most dramatic incidents in race history.
On the south chute, Sullivan was a car length ahead when suddenly his car bobbled to the right, then to the left. It spun completely around in front of Mario. Mario moved to the left and managed to avoid hitting anybody or being hit by anybody. When he quit spinning, Sullivan coasted to the inside of the track and without killing his engine kept going. Both he and Mario came into the pits as the yellow light came on. Mario got refueled and Sullivan got four new tires.
Most of the main straightaway fans didn’t see the spin, but Malcolm McKean heard about it on the radio and told Barbara and me about it. Nobody could believe it. It was nothing short of a miracle and certainly would be one of the biggest events in the race.
The green light came on, but only for three laps as trouble again broke out in the first turn. Going into the first turn, the left front side of Howdy Holmes’s car bumped into the right rear side of Rich Vogler’s car. Vogler spun in front of Holmes and then hit the outside wall. Andretti, Sneva, and Sullivan were right behind those two drivers, and Sneva lost control and also hit the outside wall. Luckily, Andretti and Sullivan got through okay. The yellow flag came out immediately as the track was littered with debris from the two crashed cars. Sneva was uninjured while Vogler had facial cuts and spent the night at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, but he was released the following morning.
During the 10-lap caution period that followed, Chip Ganassi and Rick Mears were forced out with problems. Chip had a car that was a teammate to AJ Foyt’s car. He completed 121 laps and left with fuel line trouble.
Rick Mears, still recovering from serious feet injuries suffered in a race the previous September, had a sub-par year for him. For the first time since his rookie year of 1978, he did not lead at least one lap of the race, and he finished 21st with 122 completed laps, quite unusual for a Roger Penske prepared car.
The green light came on again as Andretti and Sullivan finished their 134th lap. Andretti led until the start of the 140th lap when Sullivan pulled to the inside and moved ahead of Mario as they went through the first turn. Danny was increasing his lead when the yellow flag came out again on his 145th lap.
This time, the other Danny in the race, Danny Ongais, had stalled in the south chute just after moving into eighth position. His familiar black Interscope was out with 141 laps completed.
Another front runner, Geoff Brabham, was having trouble now. During a long pit stop, his pit crew put in a new ignition box, but when he returned to the race the car still wasn’t running correctly, so he pulled in and took the car out of the race.
Rookie Raul Boesel was having his problems too. During a long pit stop he had a new radiator installed, but that didn’t solve his problem. He finally quit with 134 laps completed.
Another rookie having problems was Jim Crawford, who was finished after 142 laps with electrical problems.
The green flag came out on the 150th lap, and Sullivan started increasing his lead with laps in the 202-203 mph range. As Danny started pulling away from Andretti, Mario encountered double trouble. Not only was Sullivan pulling away from him, but Emerson Fittipaldi was getting closer to him. As they started their 159th lap, Emerson pulled to the inside and passed Mario to take over second place.
At 160 laps, 400 miles, Sullivan had a 10-second lead, with the remainder of the first ten composed of Fittipaldi, Andretti, Guerrero, Rutherford, Unser, Parsons, rookie Ed Pimm, rookie Arie Luyendyk, and Michael Andretti.
Fittipaldi made a pit stop at 168 laps and had the misfortune of having the yellow flag come out just as he was leaving. This would bunch up the cars and subject him to being passed by Sullivan.
The caution period was caused by rookie John Paul, Jr. crashing into the third turn wall. John was uninjured, but the car was badly damaged. He was credited with 164 laps and 15th position.
The green flag came out again as Sullivan completed 176 laps. Fittipaldi and Andretti were getting closer to Sullivan because Danny was caught in slower traffic. At 180 laps, Mario had moved up to second place and was less than a second behind Danny. Guerrero was third, Fittipaldi fourth, with Unser, Rutherford, Parsons, Luyendyk, Michael Andretti, and Pimm finishing out the first 10.
A few laps later, Danny worked free of the traffic and started increasing his speed. At 190 laps, he had a five-second lead over Mario. Fittipaldi made a pit stop to check for possible trouble. His pit crew wanted to send him out again, but USAC pit officials said no, so he was finished for the day. The cause was given as fuel line trouble. He had made an excellent showing of himself, this being his second year at the Speedway. Despite his fifth place starting position, many people didn’t consider him to be a contender for the race, but he had proven them wrong and was given a warm ovation when he stepped from his car.
Sullivan was still leading after 192 laps when the caution flag came out again. This time, Bill Whittington had crashed into the third turn wall. A new wave of apprehension came over the crowd. What would happen now? Would the race finish under yellow, thus eliminating any hopes Andretti had of catching Sullivan? It was a definite possibility. Time was running out — eight, seven, six, five, four laps left.
Then, as Danny completed his 197th lap, the green light flashed on. Andretti was fourth in line behind Sullivan, Holmes, and Cogan. Howdy and Kevin moved over to give Mario a clear field. The next time around, the interval between the two front runners was 2.4 seconds.
Danny’s 199th lap was 204.466 mph, the fastest lap of the race. The same lap for Mario was also 204, but he was still two to three seconds behind. As Danny came down the straightaway to get the checkered flag, he was given a huge ovation by the fans. Just 2.477 seconds later, Mario did the same thing. A few seconds later, Roberto Guerrero crossed the finish line for the last time. These drivers were the only ones to complete 200 laps.
The audience on the main straightaway erupted in applause as Sullivan came out of the fourth turn and through the pit area to victory lane. The same applause was given to Mario Andretti, whose pit area was only a short visible distance from my seat. A few seconds later another round of applause came from my immediate area when Arie Luyendyk, whose pit was directly in front of me, returned there for good. He turned off the power and was surrounded by his happy pit crew, who helped him out of the car. He then turned around and waved to the cheering fans.
As the roar of the engines faded into silence, the fans began heading for the exits. McKeans and I decided it was time for dinner. They had sandwiches and soda while I had chicken and water. It was a time for relaxing and visiting, not only with McKeans but also with my friends from Michigan who sit to my right every year. While we were visiting and eating, Danny Sullivan was driven around the track in the pace car and then interviewed over the PA system.
About 2:45, my friends from Michigan said goodbye for another year, and a few minutes later I started my walk to the car. The traffic was heavy through the tunnel and then it slimmed down considerably. Just before reaching the main gate, I stopped and listened to a quartet of clarinet, trumpet, trombone, and drums. They have been playing in the same location after the race for several years, and they always attract a large crowd, including me. The traffic on Crawfordsville Road was its usual mess, and I made better time by walking. My arms and feet were aching before I reached Lynhurst Drive, and when I arrived at my car it felt good to unload my carrying bag and take off my shoes. All of the other cars were already gone. I listened to the radio for a couple of minutes, and then at 4:05 I left the parking lot, drove to Crawfordsville Road, turned right, and was on my way to Danville.
The traffic moved well, and a couple of minutes later I was on I-74. The radio, with its periodic reports of the race and good music, was good company, and at 5:40, I arrived at the motel.
I put my tote bag on the bed and turned on the TV set. It was a great feeling a couple of seconds later when a clear picture instead of snow appeared on the screen. The front desk people had kept their promise and fixed the set. Now I didn’t have to worry about not being able to see the delayed telecast of the race.
With a greatly relieved mind, I left and drove to George’s Buffet for supper. I had chicken livers, tossed salad, corn, potatoes and gravy, cornbread, chocolate cake, and Pepsi. It tasted good, and I felt as if I wouldn’t want anything to eat until morning.
It was about 6:45 when I arrived at my room, so I did a little reading and TV watching until 8:00 when the race telecast started. The program was quite good, and I enjoyed seeing some of the action I couldn’t see from my seat at the race. When the program ended at 11:00, I took my bath and then went to bed. Another long but enjoyable race day was gone for another year.
It was between 6:30 and 7:00 Monday morning when I opened my eyes to start another day. I lay in bed for a couple of minutes and then got up and did some reading and TV viewing. Some of the news telecasts had news of yesterday’s race. I got cleaned up and dressed and then got my suitcase and tote bag ready. I put them in the car, went to the registration desk, turned in my key, and at 8:45 drove out of the motel parking lot.
Traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, was almost non-existent in Danville and was real light all the way to Chrisman, where I arrived at 9:21. The farmers were having their morning coffee, along with a few other customers having their breakfasts. I had hashed brown potatoes, pancakes, coffee, orange juice, and water. When I was finished, I used the men’s room, paid the bill, and at 9:55 resumed my trip. It was about 11:00 when I arrived in Decatur, where the annual Memorial Day boat races were being held. I took old Route 36 from the west side of Decatur to Riverton, where I got onto Sangamon Avenue and then drove to my house, where I arrived at 12:15. My 31st trip to and from the big race had been safe and pleasant, and like the other 30 trips before it, it provided me with many memories for years to come.
The official race results were posted Monday morning. Danny Sullivan was confirmed as the winner with a time of 3:16:06.069 and an average speed of 152.982 mph, about 11 mph slower than Rick Mears’s record from last year. The drop in speed was caused by the large amount of yellow time. Sullivan’s win was the fifth for car owner Roger Penske, an outstanding record by anybody’s standards. His ability to maintain the lead after the lap 120 spin was one of the outstanding events of the race.
Mario Andretti’s second-place finish received almost as much applause and attention as Sullivan’s first-place finish. It was one of the biggest disappointments of his racing career. He looked real good until the 140th lap, but from then on he couldn’t keep up with Danny Sullivan. One thing he can be thankful for is being able to avoid his terrible luck of the past three years of being forced out of the race by another driver’s mistake. After 20 years, he is still one of the most popular drivers in Speedway history.
Roberto Guerrero finished in third place in the Master Mechanics #9 car, the same car he finished second in last year. Roberto started 16th and moved up steadily, driving to his fine third-place finish.
A familiar name in the top-ten list of finishers was there again this year — Al Unser. For the 12th time in his 20-year career at the Speedway, he was among the first 10 finishers, a remarkable record. Al drove one of Roger Penske’s cars and may have finished higher if he hadn’t been assessed a one-lap penalty on his first pit stop.
Another Speedway veteran, Johnny Parsons, took fifth-place honors. He took over Jacques Villeneuve’s car, qualified in 26th starting position, and did a good job of moving up through the field.
Another long time veteran, Johnny Rutherford, finished sixth. He made the best improvement of any driver in the race when he drove the Vermont American March from 30th starting position to its final position. He may have finished higher but was penalized a lap for passing during a caution period.
Arie Luyendyk was named Rookie of the Year for his fine job of bringing the Dutch Treats Lola home in seventh position. His pit was directly in front of me, and his crew was most happy with his performance.
Last year’s Co-Rookie of the Year, Michael Andretti, did another fine job of driving this year and brought his Electrolux/Kraco March to eighth position.
Another rookie, Ed Pimm, in one of the Skoal Bandit cars, finished ninth. The other two SB cars were driven by Tony Bettenhausen and Tom Sneva. He started 21st in the Dan Gurney owned car.
Howdy Holmes, driving the Jiffy Mix Lola, finished in 10th place. This was his fourth top-10 finish in five Speedway races.
At the victory dinner on Monday night, a record of $3,271,025 was distributed to the 33 drivers, mechanics, and car owners. The first-place amount of $507,662.50 was also a record.
This year was highlighted by the qualifying speeds of the Buick engine car of Pancho Carter and Scott Brayton and the 1-2 finishes of Danny Sullivan and Mario Andretti.
Pace Car – Oldsmobile Calais
500 Festival Queen – Jennifer Anne Klumpp