This year’s race was certainly one that will be remembered for a long time by anybody who saw it. It was the:
- Closest 1-2-3 finish in race history;
- Second-closest 1-2 finish in race history;
- Second time in five years that the race was red flagged before it started;
- First race completed in less than three hours;
- First race to be telecast live;
- First time since 1915 that the entire race had to be postponed from its original scheduled date.
From a personal viewpoint, it was the:
- First time I took two of my children to the first day of time trials;
- First time I stayed at an Indianapolis motel on race weekend.
On the day before Mark and I were to leave for the time trials, John said he wanted to go, too. I was glad to have him, and so at 9:05 Friday morning, May 9th, the three of us started our trip to the Speedway in our 1978 Chevrolet station wagon.
We traveled old Route 36 from Springfield to Decatur and the regular Route 36 the rest of the way. It was 11:43 when we arrived at the Chrisman intersection and stopped at the Colonial Kitchen.
There were only a dozen or so other customer besides us. Mark and I had BBQ sandwiches, and John had a cheeseburger, along with our drinks. It was a tasty snack and would hold us over until we arrived at the Speedway. I used the restroom, paid the bill, and at 12:15 we resumed our trip.
About ten minutes later, we crossed the state line. The pretty green grass and the freshly emerging crops presented an attractive picture as we traveled on our way. From Danville to Indianapolis there is much road work being done on the highway, and it appears that when completed it will be a four-lane highway the entire distance between the cities. This will be a great improvement over what it was a few years ago.
It was between 2:00 and 2:15 when we arrived at the Amoco station at the Lynhurst intersection. The boys got out and stretched their legs while I filled the gas tank, and a few minutes later we were driving north on Lynhurst. I turned right onto 16th Street. The traffic was bumper-to-bumper in both directions and moving slowly. I had to go a couple of blocks farther east than usual before I could make a left turn. When we got into the flow of traffic into the Speedway, time seemed to stand still, but it really didn’t and a few minutes later we paid our admission fees and drove through the tunnel. All the spaces in front of the museum were filled, so we had to park in one of the side spaces. It was 2:40 when I turned off the engine.
I locked the car, and we walked to the museum and gift shop. There was activity everywhere. While race cars and drivers were busy on the racetrack, the thousands of fans in the infield were keeping busy with their own entertainment.
The gift shop was elbow-to-elbow with shoppers. We spent several minutes looking for inexpensive gifts. The boys bought pens and pencils, and I bought Paul and Dixie plastic drinking glasses.
Our next stop was the snack bar and gift shop a short distance from the museum. The boys had something to drink, and then we browsed through the gift shop for a few minutes.
Now, it was time to see some racing. We walked past the hospital, and then I got my first view of the new Gasoline Alley. It looked quite different from the old one. The old green and white wooden garages had been replaced with ones of steel and concrete. From here, we walked to the Tower Terrace and pit areas and sat down for a few minutes to watch the action.
The pit area was alive with cars entering and leaving and pit crews working hurriedly in hope of getting another mile per hour or two out of their cars before 6:00. When we were rested a little bit, we took a slow walk along the pit area and got a close-up view of some of the cars and drivers. We sat down again and watched the action until about 5:15, and then we visited the two gift shops behind the Tower Terrace area.
By now, the boys were getting hungry and eager to get to the motel room, so we walked back to the car. At 5:45, we drove through the tunnel and onto 16th Street. A few minutes later, we arrived at the MCL Cafeteria in the Speedway Shopping Center.
For supper, I had tuna casserole, macaroni, hot roll, tossed salad, and Pepsi. Mark had lasagna, strawberries, potatoes and gravy, corn, cinnamon roll, and Pepsi. John had breaded pork chop, peaches, cinnamon roll, corn, and Pepsi. The food was really good, and the pleasant atmosphere of the cafeteria made our supper an enjoyable experience.
From the cafeteria, we walked the short distance to the Kroger grocery store. There, we picked up our box lunches in the delicatessen section that we would take to the Speedway tomorrow. Each box had two pieces of chicken, baked beans, an apple, and a brownie.
There was no other business to do, so a few minutes before 7:00 we left the shopping center to start our trip to Lebanon. The volume of traffic on I-465 and I-65 was what it usually is, and at 7:20 we arrived at the Holiday Inn motel. I had already paid the first night’s fee, so all I had to do was sign the registration form and we could go to our room.
The room was really nice, and the boys quickly put on their swimming trunks and left for the pool. I checked the TV set to see if it worked okay and then sat down and read the Springfield paper. An hour or so later, I took a walk to the Holidome area to see what was happening. There was a large crowd of all ages enjoying the swimming pool, exercise room, game room, and snack bar. The boys were having a good time, so I went back to the room and read until about 10:00. They came back about this time, so we watched the 10:00 news together. The station had good coverage of the activity at the Speedway, and the weather forecast for tomorrow was encouraging. When the news ended, I set the alarm clock and turned off the lights. A big day lie ahead of us.
The alarm clock rang at about 5:30 Saturday morning. I got up, washed my face and hands, shaved, and then got dressed. Then I woke the boys so that they could get themselves ready. It was a few minutes after 6:00 when we left for the motel restaurant.
We were seated and waited on promptly. The buffet line wasn’t ready yet, so we ordered from the menu. While we waited for our food, several other customers came in, almost all of whom were going to the Speedway. The food was good, and we left feeling we wouldn’t be eating for quite some time.
We returned to our room to brush our teeth and get the tote bag with the equipment in it. I locked the suitcase, turned off the lights, and at 7:00 we started our trip to the Speedway.
The trip went fine until we reached Lynhurst Drive. Then, for some unknown reason, the police were diverting all traffic to go north. I turned off on a side street in an attempt to find a short cut, but I seemed to get farther away from my destination. After several frustrating minutes, I got to Georgetown Road and into the Speedway. I parked the car, made sure we had everything, locked the car, and then we left for the Tower Terrace area. Empty seats were hard to find, but we finally found three together near the top behind the camera area.
The practice session started at 8:00 and ended at 10:45. During that time, some unbelievably high speeds were turned in and left everybody wondering what lie ahead in the next few hours.
The highlight of the next 45 minutes was a parade around the racetrack in official Chevrolet Corvette cars of the surviving participants of the 1936 race commemorating the 50th anniversary of the event. There were nine drivers led by race winner Louis Meyer.
The tension and noise increased steadily as 11:00 approached, but the big moment came and went with nothing happening. A member of the marching band had passed out and had to be removed from the track. Finally, at 11:07, the big moment came and Dick Simon left the pit lane, but his run was aborted because of slow speeds.
The first big excitement of the day came when Mario Andretti qualified his Newman-Haas Lola at 212.300 mph. It was a fine run but not what he had wanted.
About 25 minutes later, Danny Sullivan made his presence known by breaking the qualifying record with a run of 215.382 mph and a record one-lap speed of 215.755 mph. He drove the No. 1 Miller American March of Roger Penske.
Randy Lanier became this year’s first rookie qualifier with a 209.964 mph run, and then Rick Mears went out in his Pennzoil March and erased Sullivan’s records with a fast lap of 217.581 mph. His four-lap average was 216.828 mph.
Shortly after 1:00, Michael Andretti left the pit area in his Kraco-STP car and returned four laps later with a 214.522 mph average, third fastest of the day.
Jacques Villeneuve and Roberto Moreno become the second and third rookies to qualify, and then Bobby Rahal took his No. 3 Budweiser March out for its run. He made a fine run, and his 213.550 mph average was good for fourth fastest thus far.
As the day went on, Kevin Cogan, Tom Sneva, Roberto Guerrero, and Al Unser, Jr. all qualified in the 211 mph range.
As the heat and humidity increased, it made a person feel tired and listless. We ate part of our box lunches at about 1:00, and a little while later I noticed John was almost asleep. I knew the heat was bothering him, so I decided we should leave and go sit in the grandstand area, which has a roof over it and is out of the sun. It turned out to be a wise move. It revived all three of us and made us feel better. There wasn’t much activity on the track right then, and as a result the size of the crowd had diminished somewhat, so we had plenty of room to ourselves.
About 4:00 or so, John started getting anxious to leave and go to the toy store he wanted to see. Activity on the track continue to be slim, so at about 5:00 I decided maybe we should leave and beat the 6:00 rush traffic. We gathered up our possessions and walked to the car.
Our high hopes of an early exodus from the Speedway were dashed when we discovered several hundred other persons had had the same idea. I managed to get turned around and headed north, but that was as far as we went for a long time. I thought we might have to wait a few minutes in line, but neither I nor the dozens of other drivers anticipated the mess ahead of us. As the minutes went by and we went nowhere, tempers got shorter and shorter. Some of the frustration was vented by periodic blasts of car horns. While this didn’t move the traffic, it provided a humorous break to the frustration. Fortunately, neither Mark nor John was upset by the long wait. Mark sat in the back of the car and listened to his radio while John sat in the front seat with me and listened to the car radio. At no time did I see a safety patrolman or policeman trying to move the traffic. It was between 5:45 and 6:00 when the traffic got onto the main road and headed toward the exit. I wanted to get out to Georgetown Road but was forced to keep going north to the 30th Street gate. To add worry to frustration, the heat light on the car started flickering off and on. Luckily, it stayed off most of the time, and at last we got to 30th Street. This was by far the worst traffic jam I was ever in inside the Speedway. The boys’ equanimity through the situation was really helpful and appreciated.
I turned left and went to Georgetown Road, then right on Georgetown Road to 38th Street and then left again. We were looking for the Toys ‘R Us store, but it is on the south side of the street, so we had to go several blocks until we could turn around and go east. At last, we arrived at the toy store, which was the main reason John wanted to go on the trip with Mark and me. John quickly found the toy he wanted, and in less than 10 minutes we were in the car again.
After driving for several minutes, it seemed we were out in the county somewhere. I guessed we had gone too far, so I turned around and went back. This time I found High School Road, which I missed the first time. I turned right and went south to 25th Street and then left to the Speedway Shopping Center.
It was a relief to go inside the MCL Cafeteria. The cool air provided relief from the heat and humidity of the outdoors, and the soft benches of the booth we sat at felt good after the hard seats at the Speedway.
For supper, I had liver, potatoes and gravy, broccoli, corn bread, salad, and Pepsi. Mark had liver, broccoli, potatoes and gravy, cinnamon roll, and Pepsi, while John had fried chicken, potatoes and gravy, cinnamon roll, and Pepsi. The food was really good, and we left feeling much better than when we arrived.
Because of the mess at the Speedway, we were running late and left right away for the motel. It was 7:45 when we arrived. The boys quickly got on their swimming trunks and went to the swimming pool. I turned on the TV set, took off my shoes, and relaxed for a few minutes. About 30 minutes or so later, I walked to the Holidome area to see what was happening. There was a large crowd, and the boys were having a good time in the swimming pool. I stayed for a few minutes and then took the long way back to the room. The motel lounge and restaurant and lobby area were all doing a good business.
At 10:00, I watched the news. As usual, the racetrack activity was the main news. The coverage was really good, as was the rest of the newscast. At 10:30, there was a 30-minute program about the time trials that I watched. Shortly after it started, the boys returned and got ready for bed. After 11:00, I read for a few minutes and then joined the boys for some sleep time. It was a good feeling to know the alarm clock would not be waking me up.
It was about 6:30 when my day started on Sunday. I lay in bed for a few minutes and then got up. I did some reading, and then at 7:00 I went to the lobby and bought a copy of the Indianapolis newspaper. When I got back, I glanced through the paper, but I didn’t really read it for several days. The boys woke up between 8:00 and 8:30. They took baths and put on clean clothes, and then we were ready for breakfast.
The hostess showed us to our seats, and this was the beginning of the most unpleasant time I’ve had at the motel restaurant. There was no water, napkins, or silverware on the table. When I told the waitress about it, she said the busboy would bring us what we needed, but after waiting several minutes, nothing was done. We decided to eat from the buffet line, and there we encountered more aggravation. Some of the food pans needed to be refilled, but there was a long wait for that. We wanted orange juice, but the bowl was empty, and there were no glasses to pour it into. When we sat down to eat the table service still hadn’t come, so I told the waitress again and this time she got what we needed. When the orange juice finally came we went and got some, but then they were out of plates, so the people going through had to wait for a plate before they could select any food.
At last, we finally got to eat, but I was upset to the extent that I didn’t enjoy it as I had hoped I would. We wasted no time in leaving and going back to our room. The only bright spot I could see about the disaster was that it happened today instead of yesterday when we were in a hurry to get to the Speedway.
We returned to our room, brushed our teeth, checked to see that we hadn’t left anything, took our suitcase and tote bag to the car, and then stopped at the registration desk and checked out of the motel. It was 10:15 when we left to start our trip home.
I drove south on I-65 to the I-465 turnoff, then took I-465 south to the US 36 west turnoff. The traffic moved well at first, but then we came upon an army caravan and our progress was slowed. The caravan moved slowly and it was hard to pass anywhere, so we had to be patient. Finally, at the US 231 intersection, it turned and went north. That was a big relief to me and all the other drivers affected by it. The traffic moved pretty well from then on. There was an overflow crowd at the Colonial Kitchen because it was Mother’s Day, so we didn’t stop. Instead, we drove on to Tuscola and stopped at the Dixie Truck Stop. Business was good here, too, but we had to wait in line only a few minutes before being seated. I had a grilled cheese sandwich and cup of coffee, John had a hamburger and a Pepsi, and Mark had a BBQ sandwich and a Pepsi. We paid the bill, used the restroom, browsed through the gift shop for a couple of minutes, and then left.
It was about 2:30 when we reached Decatur. I took the old Route 36 to Springfield, and it was 3:25 when we pulled into the driveway at our house. It was a trip the three of us would remember for a long time.
On Saturday, May 24th at about 12:00, I started my trip to see the big race. I stopped at the Amoco service station at Chatham Road and Washington Street and filled the gas tank on the 1984 Chevrolet, which I was taking to the race for the first time. It was 12:26 when I left.
As I was driving on Sangamon Avenue, a horrible thought struck me. I had forgotten to put the suitcase in the trunk of the car. With my heart feeling as if it was going to beat right out of my chest, I turned around and drove home. Sure enough, the suitcase was on the bed, right where I had left it. When I thought about arriving at the motel at Danville and opening the trunk and discovering no suitcase, I was almost paralyzed with fear.
It was 12:54 when I left the house for the second time. I took old Route 36 to Decatur, arriving there at about 2:00. From there on the traffic moved well, and it was 3:09 when I arrived at the Colonial Kitchen at the Chrisman intersection.
Business was light as usual on Saturday afternoon with about a dozen customers in the place, about half of whom were farmers having their afternoon coffee. I had a BBQ sandwich and a cup of coffee, which refreshed and awakened me a little bit. I used the men’s room, paid the bill, and at 3:35 started the northward leg of my trip. There didn’t seem to be as much activity as usual in the towns south of Danville. It was 4:11 when I arrived at the Quality Inn Motel in Danville.
I had already paid my first night’s fee, so I filled out the registration card and then went to my room, which faced Vermillion Street. It was a good room, and my biggest disappointment was the 40W light bulb in the lamp hanging over the table. It just didn’t put out enough light.
I watched TV for a few minutes and then took a bath and got ready to go out for a couple of hours or so. My first stop was the Famous Recipe Chicken place a few blocks from the motel. There, I bought a box of chicken for my dinner at the Speedway tomorrow. From there, I drove to the Derby filling station and filled the fuel tank on the car. Stop number three was George’s Buffet, where I enjoyed a fine supper. My meal consisted of fish, chicken livers, tossed salad, beets, potatoes and gravy, broccoli, hot roll, chocolate cake, and coffee. Everything tasted good, and I left feeling much better than when I arrived.
I went back to my room and started reading, but my visibility was limited because of the 40W light bulb in the ceiling lamp over the table. I asked the registration desk where a discount store was, and the clerk said there was a K-Mart store a few miles north on Vermillion Street, so I drove out there and bought a 100W bulb. It made a big difference in the amount of light in the room. I spent the time from then until 10:00 catching up on some of the reading material I had brought with me.
It was while watching the 10:00 news that I received my first notice of the unpleasant news: rain was predicted for central Indiana during race time the next day. I tried to tell myself it wouldn’t happen, but the worry and apprehension refused to leave. I watched TV until 11:00 and then got dressed for bed, set the alarm clock for 4:15, turned off the lights, and got under the covers. A big day lie ahead — at least, I hoped so.
The alarm clock did its job. At 4:30 on Sunday morning, I opened my eyes for the beginning of another race day. I lay in bed for a few minutes and then got up and washed, shaved, and combed my hair. It was about 5:00 then, so I walked to the motel restaurant to be sure to be there when it opened at 5:00.
I ate breakfast buffet style and had pancakes, sausage, bacon, toast, orange juice, and coffee. I ate until I felt full because I knew it would be a long time until I ate dinner. When I finished, I went back to my room, brushed my teeth, made a quick last check of everything, picked up my tote bag, and went to the car. It was 5:35 when I started my trip to the Speedway.
A few minutes later, I arrived in Indiana, turned on radio station WIBC, and heard the jolting news. It was raining in Indianapolis, including at the Speedway. The announcer said the rain was supposed to be gone by 8:00 and that the race should be able to start at 11:00, the regular starting time. Shortly after 6:00, I saw and heard the first few raindrops on the car. The further I drove, the heavier the rain seemed to become. At 6:57, I reached the I-465 interchange, and the slow bumper-to-bumper traffic started.
I paid my $5 fee, made sure I had what I needed, locked the car, and started my walk to the Speedway. Despite the rain, the size of the crowd seemed about normal. It was 8:15 when I gave my ticket to the attendant and entered the grounds. I stopped and bought four souvenir programs and then continued walking until I came to the tunnel entrance to the infield. There wasn’t much to see in the garage area except the new steel and concrete garages. The pit crews were keeping themselves and their cars in the dry indoors. From there, I went to my seat.
It seemed strange not to see any activity on the racetrack. In spite of the weather, there was a large crowd present. Between 10:00 and 11:00, my yearly race companions, Barbara and Malcolm McKean, arrived and joined the subdued festivities. They had made makeshift raincoats out of plastic garbage bags and were kind enough to give me one of them to use.
The drizzling rain stopped at about 10:45 but the sun didn’t appear, and little optimism was shown for improvement. At about 11:15, the 500 Festival Princesses and various TV and other celebrities took a tour of the racetrack for the fans to see.
At 12:55, three former winning race cars were driven around the track. There were the 1961 car of AJ Foyt, the 1928 car of Louis Meyer, and the 1911 car of Ray Harroun. They were well appreciated and applauded by the fans.
Before the parade of celebrities started, Speedway trucks and cars drove around the track in an effort to dry it. They were making some progress, but at about 1:15 it started raining again and harder than before. I felt quite certain that this would kill any hopes of racing.
McKeans and I spent the time visiting with each other and our neighbors, listening to our radios, and eating. At 3:35, the inevitable was made official when Tom Carnegie announced that the race had been postponed for the day and rescheduled for 11:00 the next morning.
The thousands of hopeful, dedicated fans started their mass exodus from the Speedway. I said goodbye to McKeans, not knowing for sure when I would see them again. It was 4:45 when I arrived at the parking lot and started my trip back to the motel.
It rained intermittently all the way, and when I reached Danville I stopped at a convenience food store and bought a quart of milk for supper. Since I hadn’t eaten much of my chicken dinner at the Speedway, for supper I ate the remains of it and my quart of milk in my motel room instead of going out somewhere to eat. I watched the 10:00 news, and the weather forecast for the next day was the same: rain. At 11:00, I went to bed not knowing what would happen the next day.
When I woke up at about 6:00 Monday morning, I looked out the window. The weather was a continuation of Sunday. I got cleaned up, ate breakfast in the motel restaurant, and at 7:07 left for the Speedway in a steady rain. It rained all the way. It was 8:49 when I arrived at the bank parking lot at Lynhurst Drive. Just as I was about to stop, it started raining so hard that it looked like a river flowing across the parking lot. I sat in the car for quite a while and then drove toward the Speedway in hopes of finding a closer parking space. I found an empty lot a short distance from the White Castle restaurant. By then, the rain had moderated somewhat, so I locked the car and walked to the Speedway.
There was almost nobody there, and the ticket-taker didn’t even ask for my ticket stub. I spent most my time by the announcer’s stand at the start-finish line. Tom Carnegie was visiting with race fans and keeping the minute audience informed of any new developments. As time went by, it became more and more obvious that there would be no racing that day. At about 11:30 I decided there was no need to stay, so I returned to my car and at 11:50 started my trip home.
There was almost no traffic, so the big news was the steady rain. I drove I-74 to Danville and then Route 1 south to Chrisman, where I arrived at 1:50.
Business was quiet. A few farmers were having their afternoon coffee, and a few other customers were having a late dinner. I had a BBQ sandwich, French fries, and coffee. It was a refreshing snack, and after using the restroom and paying the bill, I left at 2:19.
The farm fields along Route 36 were saturated with water. It was about 3:30 when I reached Decatur. From there, I took old Route 36 and arrived home at 4:43. As I was driving home, I heard on my car radio that the race had been called off for that day but no future date had been set. When I walked into the house, Dixie told me she had just heard that it had been rescheduled for Saturday at 11:00.
On Friday, May 30th, I found myself doing the same thing I had done last Friday: getting ready for my trip to the big race. When I went to bed Friday night, I set the alarm for 4:00.
The alarm clock did its job, and I got up and washed and shaved and combed my hair. Then I had my breakfast of Wheaties, toast, and milk. Then I brushed my teeth, got dressed, said goodbye to Dixie, and at 5:05 started on my second trip to see the big race. This time I took our 1978 Chevrolet station wagon.
To save time, I drove interstate all the way – I-72 to Champaign and I-74 from Champaign to Indianapolis. This was only the second time I had gone this way. Between Decatur and Champaign I listened to radio station WSOY, Decatur, and from Champaign I listened to WIBC, Indianapolis, to hear what was happening at the Speedway.
It was about 7:30 when I crossed the Indiana line and a couple of minutes past 8:00 when I stopped at one of the rest stops. I got out and stretched for a few seconds, used the restroom, got a drink of water, and then left. The traffic on Crawfordsville Road was rather heavy but it moved well, and a couple of minutes later I found a parking space close to the one I’d had on Sunday. I paid my $5, locked the car, and left for the Speedway. It was 9:05.
I walked rapidly to the Speedway without running, gave the gate attendant my ticket stub, and went directly to my seat. For a change, Malcolm and Barbara McKean were already in their seats and waiting for me. It was 9:30 when I sat down.
The cars were already in their starting positions on the track. There was no parade of celebrities, and the music was provided by the 74th Army Band instead of the band from Purdue University.
David Hasselhoff of the Knight Rider TV program sang the national anthem, and this was followed by the invocation. With the audience in a quiet, solemn mood, the band played Taps in honor of the country’s war dead, although the Memorial Day weekend was already gone.
Next came Back Home Again in Indiana sung by John Davies from the Indianapolis Opera Company. Then, it was time for the big moment. The drivers were strapped into the cockpits, starters had been inserted, and the crowd was ready.
Mary Hulman issued the famous order, “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!” and the air came alive with the roar of the engines and the applause of the audience. Pit crew members raised their hands to indicate their cars were ready to go, and a couple of minutes later the three Chevrolet Corvette pace cars slowly pulled away. They formed a reverse “V”. The front two were driven by Bob Schultz, a GMC VP, and Tony George, Mary Hulman’s grandson. Behind them was the official pace car driven by Gen. Chuck Yeager.
Ton Sneva’s Skoal Bandit machine didn’t want to start, but it finally came to life and Tom hurried to get into his seventh-place starting position.
After two laps, the front two pace cars left the track. The next time around would be the start. As the field went through the second turn, Sneva’s car suddenly turned left and crashed into the inside retaining wall. At the same time this was happening, the pace car and the first two rows, unaware of Sneva’s problem, were confronted with smoke bombs drifting across the backstretch. Then, Chuck Yeager’s passenger, USAC official Bob Cassaday, was receiving instructions to stay on the track instead of coming in for the start of the race. Cassaday relayed the message to Yeager and then raised his right arm to indicate to the drivers to slow down instead of speed up. As they came through the North Chute, he waved his arms up and down to further slow them down.
Then, the red flag was out as the field went slower and slower and finally stopped in about the same positions they had been in a few minutes earlier. The drivers left their cars and returned to their pit areas.
The Valvoline fuel truck came into the pit area and put three gallons of fuel in each pit fuel tank to replace the fuel used on the pace laps. When this was finished, the truck left the pits and the drivers returned to their cars.
While waiting for the restart, the main straightaway crowed amused itself by doing the wave and shouting the TV beer commercial “less filling” and its reply, “tastes great.”
At 11:34, Tony George announced over the PA system, “Gentlemen, restart your engines.” Once again, Chuck Yeager paced the field. They came around for a parade lap and then the pace lap. A couple of minutes later, the pace car came charging through the pit area as the field came through the fourth turn. Rick Mears brought the terribly misaligned field down as starter Duane Sweeney waited with two green flags. As they approached the starting line, the green flags were waved, and at last, the 1986 500-mile race was on!
Andretti and Mears raced each other for the first turn with Andretti winning. As they hit the starting line for the first time, the first 10 were Andretti, Mears, Kevin Cogan, Danny Sullivan, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser, Al Unser, Jr., Roberto Guerrero, Ed Pimm, and Emerson Fittipaldi. Andretti’s speed of 202.940 mph was a record for the first lap of the race.
Michael increased his speed to more than 206 mph on his second lap. On the fourth lap, Geoff Brabham made the first pit stop of the race, which was quite unexpected.
On his ninth lap, Andretti passed Dick Simon and George Snider, who were running in the last two positions, and in the next several laps he passed several other tailenders.
At 10 laps, the first 10 positions were held by Michael Andretti, Mears, Cogan, Rahal, Unser, Jr., Sullivan, Guerrero, Pimm, Fittipaldi, and Johnny Rutherford.
Michael was finishing his 14th lap when the first yellow flag came out. It was for none other than Michael’s father, Mario. His sour Speedway luck continued as his engine quit running and he became the second car out of the race. It also produced a large number of pit stops. Michael managed to get into and out of his pit without losing the lead.
Josele Garza had moved into second position because of not pitting but lost that position to Mears on the 24th lap. He finally pitted on his 27th lap only to stall his engine, which dropped him in the standings quite a bit.
Michael and Mears continued 1-2, but the distance between them was decreasing. At 40 laps, or 100 miles, there was less than a second between them. The rest of the first 10 drivers were Rahal, Cogan, Unser, Jr., Guerrero, Rutherford, Fittipaldi, Jim Crawford, and AJ Foyt.
The second round of pit stops started then. Michael Andretti came in, and for the first time since the race started, he gave up the lead. Between the 43rd and 49th laps, the lead was shared by Cogan, Unser, Jr., and Fittipaldi. Rick Mears took the lead on lap 49.
On Mears’s 52nd lap, the yellow light again came on. There was debris on the track near the first turn, enough to be considered a safety hazard. The debris was removed and the green flag reappeared on the 57th lap.
At 60 laps, 150 miles, the first 10 leaders were Mears, Rahal, Cogan, Unser, Jr., Fittipaldi, Andretti, Rutherford, Garza, Guerrero, and Sullivan.
Shortly after the 70th lap the third round of pit stops started, and after leading for 26 laps Mears gave up the lead when he pitted. Laps 75 to 82 were led by Rahal, Cogan, Unser, Jr., and Andretti.
Attrition had been low to this distance, but in the next few laps it asserted itself. Rookie Phil Kruger had been in his pit for several laps, but his pit crew gave up trying to solve the car’s problems and withdrew it from the race. It was given 31st position.
Scott Brayton was done after 69 laps with a blown engine, and Jim Crawford left after 70 laps with engine trouble. Tony Bettenhausen was the next victim of misfortune when he was forced out after 77 laps with valve spring failure.
The leaders at 80 laps, 200 miles, were Andretti, Fittipaldi, Mears, Rahal, Cogan, Unser, Jr., Garza, Guerrero, Sullivan, and Unser, Sr. Bobby Rahal had taken the lead on the 83rd lap and still had it at the 250-mile mark. His time was 1:25:06.356, a new track record. He was followed by Mears, Cogan, Unser, Jr., Andretti, Fittipaldi, Rutherford, Guerrero, Garza, and Rich Vogler. The speed average was 176.251 mph.
As Rahal finished his 101st lap, the yellow light came on for the third time when Johnny Parsons lost control of his machine in the second turn. He spun into the inside, but only slight damage was done to the car. Johnny was uninjured, although he was out of the race. The green flag came out again on the 107th lap.
Rahal continued to lead, and at 110 laps he, Cogan, Mears, Unser, Jr., and Andretti were all on the same lap. Second place was going back and forth between Mears and Cogan.
At 120 laps, 300 miles, the first 10 leaders were Rahal, Mears, Cogan, Andretti, Unser, Jr., Garza, Fittipaldi, Guerrero, Rutherford, and Vogler.
George Snider had been in his pit for a long time, but his pit crew finally quit trying to find the problem and pushed the car back to the garage area. He was given credit for 110 laps and 26th place.
On the 135th lap, Rahal and Cogan made pit stops and Mears took the lead. The field was running under the caution flag caused by Rich Vogler crashing into the turn three wall. He had been running in ninth position.
During this caution period, AJ Foyt came in for a pit stop. Just a few feet before he stopped, his front brakes locked up. The car spun around and hit the pit wall tail first. Pit crew members scattered everywhere. Nobody was hurt but the car was finished, and Foyt was out of his 29th race with a 24th-place finish.
At 140 laps, 350 miles, the first 10 leaders were Mears, Cogan, Andretti, Rahal, Guerrero, Unser, Jr., Fittipaldi, Rutherford, Sullivan, and Pancho Carter.
The green light came out again as Mears started his 142nd lap. He remained ahead of Cogan and Rahal, but Rahal was really moving and passed Cogan on the 157th lap.
Meanwhile, Danny Ongais, in his Buick-engined No. 25, was finished for the day with 136 laps because of ignition trouble. Al Unser was the next driver to join this year’s dropout club. Al drove one of Roger Penske’s cars and started in fifth position with an experimental Chevrolet engine in it. From the start of the race it didn’t handle correctly, and Al was forced out of the race after 149 laps because of vibration.
Chip Ganassi, driving the Bryant Heating and Cooling machine, a long time Indy car sponsor, was the next departure after 151 laps with engine failure.
Rookie Jacques Villeneuve followed Ganassi to the sidelines after 154 laps with engine trouble. Jacques had qualified for the last two races but was unable to start because of pre-race crashes.
At 160 laps, 400 miles, the standings were Mears, Rahal, Cogan, Andretti, Guerrero, Unser, Jr., Fittipaldi, Rutherford, Sullivan, and Carter.
On lap 166, the yellow light came on again when rookie Roberto Moreno stalled in the third turn. This started a series of pit stops during which the lead changed hands four times in four laps. The green light reappeared on the 169th lap. Mears, Rahal, and Cogan continued to lead the field, and at 180 laps, 450 miles, the first 10 positions were held by Mears, Rahal, Cogan, Guerrero, Andretti, Fittipaldi, Unser, Jr., Rutherford, Sullivan, and rookie Randy Lanier.
In the meantime, Josele Garza, after running in the first 10 positions most of the race, was forced out after a long pit stop with engine failure.
Ed Pimm, teammate of Tom Sneva in a Skoal sponsored car, was finished for the day after 168 laps with electrical problems.
Pancho Carter came in to his pit and was taken out of the race with a malfunctioning front wheel bearing.
On the 188th lap, Cogan passed Mears for the lead, and then Rahal passed Mears. With the end of the race only a few laps away, the battle for the lead was getting more and more exciting, and the crowd was really loving it.
At 190 laps, Cogan was 1.5 seconds ahead of Rahal and 2.8 seconds ahead of Mears. He increased it to three seconds on the next lap, but Rahal cut it to less than one second two laps later.
As Cogan completed lap 194, the yellow flag came out. What would happen now? Would this tremendous battle run its course or would there be a disappointing yellow finish?
Arie Luyendyk, running in 11th position, lost control in the fourth turn and crashed into the north pit wall. Rescue workers went to work immediately. The fifteen remaining cars lined up behind the pace car with Cogan, Rahal, and Mears occupying the first three positions.
A huge cheer went up from the crowd as the flashing yellow lights on the rescue trucks were turned off. The race would finish under green conditions. The pace car came through the pit area as the race leaders came down to finish their 198th lap.
Duane Sweeney waved the green flag. A second or so later, I saw Rahal turn to the inside and go around Cogan. The crowd was going wild. As they came around to finish lap 199, it was Rahal, Cogan, and Mears, with Rahal’s speed over 203 mph.
On the last lap, Rahal turned the fastest lap in race history — 209.152 mph. As he came down the straightaway to receive the checkered flag, a huge ovation erupted from the audience.
Cogan crossed the line 1.44 seconds later, and Mears was 0.44 seconds behind Cogan. 8.664 seconds later, Guerrero, almost unnoticed by everyone, including me, crossed the line to complete the 200th lap and finish fourth.
The cars took one more trip around the track and then came into their pits to stay. Rahal, Cogan, and Mears received a tremendous ovation as they came through the pit area and waved to the crowd. Rahal drove his red Budweiser #3 onto the new checkered mechanical lift located next to the PA booth. The lift hoisted its many occupants and the car several feet into the air and then rotated in a small circle so that the straightaway crowd could see them. A few minutes after this celebration, Bobby and car owner Jim Trueman were driven around the track in the pace car for the acclamation of the fans.
As the pit crews gathered up their equipment and returned it to the garage area, McKeans and I got our food and drinks and had a late dinner. I had bought a box of Famous Recipe chicken during the week and brought it with me. It felt good to relax and enjoy a leisurely meal after the excitement of the race. We visited among ourselves and a few other fans around us who were having a late dinner as well. Shortly after 3:00, we gathered all our equipment together and started the long exit from the Speedway.
The scenery along Crawfordsville Road was the same as other years after the race — block after block of bumper-to-bumper traffic with dozens of tired, drunk people in the cars and along the roadway. When I arrived at my car, I opened the windows so that some of the hot air could escape and make the car more comfortable. It was 4:20 when I left the parking lot.
On Tuesday morning, after talking to Malcolm McKean, I had made a reservation at the Motel 6 on Shadeland Avenue. Now, I had the job of getting through the post-race traffic to the motel. I drove west on Crawfordsville Road to High School Road and then went north. The traffic here was heavy, but it moved well. My plan was to drive to 38th Street, then go east to Shadeland Avenue. Everything went fine until I reached 38th Street. There, state police were making the traffic go either north or west, which I didn’t want to do. I drove across the street, turned around and drove south on High School Road to 34th Street, turned left and went east for a few blocks. I came to a north-south street that was fairly busy, turned left and hoped it intersected with 38th Street and I could go east from there. The traffic moved slowly, but when I got there, there was no policeman and the traffic was going east, so I turned right and joined it. As I approached Georgetown Road, there was a long stop in traffic movement. After what seemed an eternity, the police finally stopped the northbound traffic and let some of the east-west traffic proceed. The traffic remained heavy for a few more blocks and then began thinning out somewhat. As I continued driving, I noticed I was getting into an undesirable, slummy part of town. Broken or boarded-up windows in many buildings and a large amount of trash on the streets and sidewalks were much different than the city of Speedway. When I reached Shadeland Avenue, I turned right and went south a few blocks until I came to the Motel 6 on the east side of the street. I pulled into the parking lot and went to the office to register. It was 5:30.
Earlier in the day, before the race, I asked the McKeans if they would like to eat supper at the Paramount Music Palace. They thought it was a good idea, so after registering I stopped by their room and told them I would be ready to go as soon as I took a shower and put some clean clothes on.
My room was quite a letdown from the Holiday Inn at Lebanon, but it was about half the price and would be okay for one night. I showered, shaved, put on clean clothes, and then walked to Barbara and Malcolm’s room. We decided to go in their car and got there in 5-10 minutes.
Malcolm and I shared a pizza while Barbara had a large salad for her meal. The three of us shared a pitcher of Pepsi. The entertainment was provided by the Wurlitzer organ and the two organists who play it. I was surprised at how small the audience was. I thought there would be many race fans having supper there, but my guess was wrong. We stayed about an hour and then went back directly to the motel.
I did some reading until 10:00 and then watched the news on TV. The big story, of course, was the 500-mile race and all its details. At 10:30, there was a 30-minute race program with Tom Carnegie as host. Both the oral commentary and the pictures were outstanding. It was interesting to see the race from various locations around the track. When the program ended, I decided it had been a long day and was time to go to sleepville.
Sunday started about at 5:45 for me when I awoke to face another day and month. There wasn’t much on television this early in the morning that I wanted to see, so I turned it off and did some reading and radio listening. Shortly before 8:00 I decided it was time for breakfast, so I walked to the restaurant located immediately south of the motel. It was not an exclusive place, but neither could it be classified as a greasy spoon. I sat on a stool and right away a waitress was handing me a menu and friendly greeting. I had eggs, bacon, pancakes, coffee, and orange juice. Both the food and the service were a real delight.
Feeling quite a bit better, I paid the bill and returned to my room. I brushed my teeth, packed my suitcase, checked out of the motel, and at 8:45 started my trip home. I headed south on Shadeland Avenue and stopped a few blocks away at an Amoco service station. When I went inside to pay for the fuel, I saw a rack with various maps for sale. I had been wanting an updated Indianapolis map since 1981 when I bought my last one. Although I didn’t like the $2.25 price tag, I bought it anyway because it had much information on it that I wanted.
I continued south on Shadeland until I reached Washington Street, then turned right and went west to downtown. There, I turned right and went north on Illinois Street to 16th Street, then turned left and went west to Georgetown Road. I then went northwest on Crawfordsville Road to I-74. The traffic was really light, and I had no trouble getting through the city. As I drove, I listened to WIBC radio. The station had periodic highlights from the race, including Paul Page broadcasting the exciting final two laps of the race. I changed my route a little bit this year and stayed on I-74 to Champaign. From there, I took I-57 and drove south to the US 36 intersection at Tuscola. I had planned to eat at the Dixie Truck Stop, but it was doing a booming business and there was a long waiting line, so I used the restroom and then drove across the street and ate at the Hardee’s. From there, I drove west on Route 36 to Decatur and then took old Route 36 to Springfield. It was 2:10 when I arrived home to end one of my most memorable trips to the race.
On Sunday, the official standings of the race were posted. They confirmed that Bobby Rahal finished first with a record time of 2:55:43.480 and a record speed of 170.722 mph. This was Bobby’s fifth race, and it was as much a victory for his car owner, Jim Trueman, as it was for Bobby. Jim was dying of cancer and succumbed about two weeks later, but he achieved the greatest racing triumph of his life.
If there was an award for hard luck driver of the year, I think Kevin Cogan would be this year’s winner. He drove an excellent race and was close to the front all the time. There will be speculation about whether he would have won if there hadn’t been any caution period during the last few laps of the race. This was his sixth race, and in three of them he has finished second, fourth, and fifth.
Rick Mears had another outstanding year and might have won if his car had handled better in traffic. He led more laps than anybody, and he started from the pole position with new one- and four-lap records.
Roberto Guerrero had another fine race and brought the True Value Hardware machine home in fourth position. In his three races, he has finished second, third, and fourth and completed 198, 200, and 200 laps, which is amazing. Many people are probably wondering if he will finish fifth in next year’s race.
Al Unser, Jr. had his best finish in four starts at the Speedway when he brought his Domino’s Pizza #30 home in fifth position. He started in ninth position and was in the first 10 positions the whole race.
Another second-generation driver, Michael Andretti, claimed sixth position. In his three starts at the Speedway, he has finished fifth, eighth, and sixth and completed 198, 197, and 199 laps, certainly an excellent record. He had driven for the same team, Kraco Stereo, and this year started in third position.
Former world driving champion Emerson Fittipaldi finished in seventh position in the Marlboro #20 car. He started in 11th place and drove a steady, consistent race.
Eighth position went to a familiar name, Johnny Rutherford. This was Johnny’s 22nd race, and he started in 12th position in the Vermont American No. 21.
Ninth place went to last year’s winner, Danny Sullivan. His 215.382 mph qualifying speed was exceeded only by his teammate, Rick Mears. Unfortunately, his car was burdened with faulty handling from the start of the race, and he was never a major contender for the lead.
Tenth position went to the only rookie to finish in the top 10, Randy Lanier. His qualifying speed of 209.064 mph enabled him to start in 13th position, and his finishing position earned him Rookie of the Year honors.
A new record purse of $4,001,450 was shared by the 33 starting teams, with $581,063 of that total going to the winning Budweiser/Truesports team.
The fast time trial runs, the race postponement, and the exciting three-way race finish certainly made it an interesting and memorable year!
Pace Car — Chevrolet Corvette
500 Festival Queen — Wendy Barth