This year’s activity at the Speedway was highlighted by the dominance of Mario Andretti, the surprise race victory of Al Unser, and the large number of pre-race crashes. On the home front, my usual happiness at this time of the year was tempered considerably by the serious illness and hospitalization of Dad.
Dad was admitted to Memorial Medical Center on May 1 and almost died within the next week. Because of his serious condition, there was doubt if I would be able to go to the time trials, and it wasn’t until Friday afternoon, May 7, that I decided to go. Because I didn’t want to get Mark and John into trouble at school, I had already decided to wait until they arrived home before we left.
It was 3:33 when the three of us left the house in our 1978 Chevrolet Caprice wagon to start our trip. Because of the heavy traffic on North Grand Avenue, it took a long time to leave town. It was almost 4:00 when we reached Dirksen Parkway at Sangamon Avenue. I continued on east to Camp Butler Road and Riverton.
Because of our late starting time, I was certain we wouldn’t arrive in time to eat at the MCL Cafeteria if we took Route 36 as we usually do. Instead, we went by interstate highway all the way. I got onto I-72 at Riverton and then I-74 at Champaign all the way to Indianapolis.
It was a pleasant drive all the way. Just two weeks earlier, the speed limit on rural interstate highways had been changed from 55 to 65 mph, and this was a big help to us. Traffic moved smoothly all the way, and it was about 5:00 when we reached Champaign and switched to I-74.
When we reached the state line, I was disappointed to see that the Indiana speed limit was still 55 mph, but all I could do was comply with it.
Neither boy said anything about needing to use a bathroom and I felt okay, so we kept going. At 7:15, we arrived at the parking lot of the cafeteria. I found it hard to believe that it had taken us only 3 hours and 43 minutes to go from our house to the cafeteria and that included the tie-up on North Grand Avenue.
There was a line of waiting customers but it moved quickly, and a couple of minutes later we were in the serving line.
Mark had liver, potatoes and gravy, broccoli, cinnamon roll, and Pepsi. John had fried chicken, corn, broccoli, cinnamon roll, and Pepsi, while I had liver, potatoes and gravy, beets, lima beans, slaw, and Pepsi.
When we finished, we walked to the Kroger grocery store and bought our box lunches for the next day. The lunches were made of fried chicken, slaw, baked beans, and rolls.
From the grocery store, we drove across the street to the Amoco service station and filled the gas tank.
With these three important jobs finished, we left for our final destination of the evening. I took the I-465 turnoff and, a few minutes later, the I-65 turnoff. Some 15-20 minutes later, we arrived at the Holiday Inn motel at Lebanon.
We went to the front desk to register. I had sent in my payment for the night’s guaranteed reservation several weeks before, so I figured all I had to do was sign the registration card and go to our room. I had no idea of the surprise that lie ahead.
The clerk checked the records and discovered that I had a reserved room but that the room was already occupied for the night. The clerk and I were both real unhappy. The clerk summoned her supervisor to see what should be done. The supervisor checked the files and said the only room available was the wedding suite. It was a $110 room, but she would let us have it for only the price we had already paid. I had no choice, so I took it.
I drove to the rear of the motel, still wondering what we were getting into. When we opened the room door and walked in, the boys went wild with excitement. It was two long rooms joined together in an L-shape. There were two full bathrooms, two color TV sets, two large sofas, and one king-size bed. It also had windows from which we could see the Holidome area.
The boys were eager to go swimming, so while they were in the pool, I called home to Bobby to see how Dad was doing. She said he seemed about the same to her, which was good news.
After talking to Bobby, I walked through the motel to see what was happening. As usual on the night before time trials, it was a busy place. The Holidome, lounge, and restaurant were all doing a good business.
It was getting close to 10:00, so I returned to my room and turned on the TV set. The newscast devoted much time to coverage of activity at the Speedway. During the newscast, the boys returned and got ready for bed. We watched TV for a few minutes after the news, I set the alarm clock for 5:30, and then it was lights off for the night.
At 5:30 on Saturday morning, the alarm clock did its job and, after lying in bed for a couple of minutes, I got up and washed, shaved, and combed my hair. When I was about finished, I woke the boys and they got washed and dressed.
It was a few minutes after 6:00 when we arrived at the motel restaurant. John had scrambled eggs, toast, jelly, and orange juice. Mark had pancakes, sausage, and orange juice, and I had pancakes, milk, and orange juice.
There were only a few customers when we arrived, but the number increased steadily. The food tasted good, and when we left we felt as if it would be quite a while until we ate again.
We returned to our room and brushed our teeth and then got our equipment and walked to the car. It was 7:15 when we left the motel and got in the southbound lanes of I-65. Traffic was heavy, but it moved well until we reached the I-74 interchange. From then on, it moved slowly and in spurts. When we got onto Georgetown Road it moved a little faster, and a few minutes later I gave the attendant our money and we drove under the racetrack and onto the infield. It was 8:15 when we stopped.
We grabbed our equipment, locked the car, and started walking to our seating area between the control tower and the Gasoline Alley entrance. As usual, it was difficult to find seats, but we finally succeeded and sat down.
There was much activity in the pit area. While waiting for practice to start, we read some of the newspaper. A few minutes later, the cars went out for the pre-qualifying practice session which lasted until 10:15, when the track was closed to the race cars until 11:00.
The large crowd was entertained by marching bands and a few race cars from the 1930s. The excitement was increasing, and at 11:00 PA announcer Tom Carnegie issued the order, “The track is open for qualifications!”
Michael Andretti was the first driver on the track but pulled in on his third lap as his speed was dropping by two miles per hour on each lap.
Rick Mears became the first qualifier when he qualified the No. 8 Pennzoil Z-7 of Roger Penske at 211.467 mph, about six miles per hour slower than his qualifying speed of last year.
The next qualifier was last year’s race winner, Bobby Rahal. His fastest lap was his first at 214.133 mph, and his four-lap average was 213.316 mph, a really fine showing.
By 12:00 only two cars had qualified, and the slow pace would continue for the remainder of the day. Several qualifying attempts were made, but speeds were considerably slower than what most drivers and mechanics considered acceptable.
Shortly after 1:00, the crowd, which had become restless and impatient because of the inactivity, came to life when Mario Andretti moved onto the track. His Hanna Auto Wash Newman-Haas Lola had been the fastest car all week in practice, and now everybody was eager to see what he would do for qualifying. His first lap was 215.874 mph, the second was 216.320 mph, the third and fourth were only slightly slower, and his four-lap average was 215.390 mph.
It was about 20 minutes before there was another qualifier, and again it was a former race winner – Johnny Rutherford. His four-lap average in the Vermont American machine was 208.296 mph, not outstanding but certainly safe.
By 2:00 only four cars had qualified, but then at 2:13 a rather pleasant surprise came when veteran Dick Simon qualified his SounDesign Stereo Lola Cosworth at 209.960 mph, with a fast lap of 211.815 mph.
Jim Crawford ran three qualifying laps, but his crew waved off the run.
An hour of practice followed, and then Jim Crawford went out for his second qualifying attempt. Going into the first turn on his first lap, the car spun and crashed into the outer wall. He was taken to Methodist Hospital where it was discovered that he had two broken ankles and a broken right shin bone.
At about 4:30, Danny Sullivan qualified at 205.288 mph. Roberto Guerrero was next and did a fine job with a fast lap of 212.024 mph and a four-lap average of 210.680 mph.
The heat and humidity were both quite unpleasant, and the boys were becoming restless and impatient. Shortly before 2:00, we moved out of the Tower Terrace section and to the grandstands on the outside of the track. It made a pleasant difference. There was plenty of room to put our equipment and stretch out, and the roof over our heads kept the sun off us. It made all three of us feel better.
Arie Luyendyk was the next qualifier and returned with a four-lap average of 208.337 mph in his Provimi Veal March Cosworth.
Michael Andretti was the next driver on the track in his No. 18 Kraco Stereo car, but his car developed trouble during his run, and his average was a disappointing 206.129 mph.
It was about 5:00 then, but shortly after 4:30, when it seemed there would be little additional qualifying, we decided it would be a good time to leave and beat the traffic getting out of the Speedway. We got our bags packed and walked through the tunnel and onto the infield to our car. There were many other people leaving early also, but the traffic situation was not nearly as bad as the mess we encountered last year.
We were directed out to 30th Street and then went left to Georgetown Road, south to Crawfordsville Road, and then right to the shopping center.
During our ride, I listened to the qualifying activity on WIBC. Shortly after 5:00, the crowed really came to life when AJ Foyt went to qualify in his No. 14 Copenhagen-Gilmore. His first lap was 212.259 mph, and the other three laps were in the 210 mph range for an average of 210.935 mph, the fourth-fastest time.
Emerson Fittipaldi was the next qualifier and returned with a most disappointing 205.584 mph run after running at 211 mph during practice.
Josele Garza, Pancho Carter, Ed Pimm, and Tom Sneva made practice runs, but none of them qualified. At 6:00, the gun sounded, ending one of the weirdest and most boring first days of qualifications ever. The heat, humidity, poor track conditions, and technical problems on the cars were causes for the long day.
It was about 1:00 when we ate our box lunches, so we were ready for a good supper. There was only a short line of customers, and it moved quickly. John had fried chicken, broccoli, cinnamon rolls, potatoes and gravy, and Pepsi. Mark had Swiss steak, potatoes and gravy, broccoli, cinnamon roll, and Pepsi. I had mixed salad, potatoes and gravy, sausage and gravy, and Pepsi. Everything tasted fine, and it felt good to relax in an air-conditioned cafeteria after being outdoors all day.
The boys were eager to get to the motel, so we didn’t do any shopping and went straight there. It was about 7:30 when we arrived. They quickly changed clothes and went to the swimming pool. I took off my shoes, sat in one of the soft chairs, and read some of the reading material I had brought with me. A little later, I turned on the TV set and watched part of a couple of programs. When they were finished, I put my shoes on and walked to the Holidome. I sat in one of the poolside chairs and watched the swimming for a few minutes, and then the boys asked me to play ping pong with them. I played a game with each one and then left. The boys stayed in the Holidome area, and I walked to the front of the motel. The lounge had live entertainment and a large audience, and the restaurant had several late customers in it.
It was about 9:30 when I returned to my room. I did some more reading until 10:00 and then turned the TV on and watched the news.
Despite the slow pace of activity at the Speedway, there was adequate news for a telecast. The coverage was good, and the TV cameras can see activity that I can’t see sitting in one place at the track.
During the news, the boys returned from the swimming pool, got out of their wet clothes, and watched TV for a few minutes. At 11:00 I decided it was time for bed, so the boys went to their sofa beds and I to my king-size bed, turned off the lights, and retired for the night.
It was about 6:15 when I opened my eyes and took my first look at the clock Sunday morning. I turned the radio on by my bed and listened to it for a few minutes while I enjoyed the luxury of my king-size bed. Then I got up and looked at the Holidome area. After being so crowded and noisy last night, there wasn’t a person or noise in the place. I did some reading for a while, and at about 7:45 the boys awakened. They watched their TV set for a few minutes, and then we got washed and ready to go have breakfast.
The restaurant was doing a good business, and most of the customers were race fans as we were. Many of them read part of the Indianapolis newspaper while they waited for their breakfast. After talking it over, we decided we would eat from the smorgasbord. There was a menu of bacon, sausage, hash brown potatoes, biscuits and gravy, orange juice, pancakes, and tomato juice. Everything tasted fine, and we enjoyed not having to hurry as we had the morning before.
We left at about 9:00 and walked through the Holidome area to our room. We brushed our teeth and then got everything packed into our suitcases and bags. I checked everywhere to be sure we hadn’t left anything, and then we took everything to the car.
I stopped at the registration desk to turn in our room keys and get my receipt, and then at 9:30 we left the motel and started our trip home.
I turned left onto Indiana Route 39, and a few minutes later we reached the I-74 interchange. I turned right, and a few seconds later I was in the westbound traffic. It was about 10:45 when we reached the Illinois line. We continued on west until we reached Champaign and then took I-57 south to its intersection with Route 36 at Tuscola. We pulled off the road and stopped at the Dixie truck stop. It was 12:00.
The restaurant was busy with Mother’s Day customers, but the waiting line moved fast and we were seated in just a few minutes. John had a cheeseburger, French fries, and Pepsi. Mark had a hamburger, French fries, and Pepsi, and I had a grilled cheese sandwich, French fries, and coffee. When we finished eating, we used the restroom and then browsed in the gift shop for a few minutes, and at 1:00 we left and drove onto Route 36 for the remainder of our trip.
After leaving Decatur I drove on the new Route 36, and at 2:35 we arrived at the parking lot of the hospital. When we arrived at Dad’s room, mother and Bobby were there, so we stayed a while and visited with them. The boys were eager to tell them about the big motel room.
It was 3:30 when we left the hospital and 3:45 when we pulled onto the driveway at home, ending an unusual and memorable trip.
On Saturday morning, May 23, I rechecked my supply list and suitcase to be sure I had everything, and at 12:00 I left home in my 1978 Chevrolet Caprice wagon to begin my 33rd trip to see the big race. Before leaving town, I stopped at the hospital to see Dad for a few minutes, and at 12:35 I left there. I drove old Route 36 all the way to Decatur. I take the old way instead of the new way because it brings back memories of the first few years Dad and I went to the race and took this road because there was no such thing as interstate highways. This was the only way to go to Indianapolis. Although the road isn’t used much anymore, the fond memories return every time I ride on it.
It was 1:28 when I arrived at Decatur. The vehicular traffic in downtown Decatur was heavy but not the pedestrian traffic, which is the same way it is in downtown Springfield.
I continued on my way and at 2:53 arrived at the Colonial Kitchen at the Route 1-150 intersection. The scene inside looked the same as it usually does on the Saturday afternoon before the race — several farmers seated at a couple of tables drinking their afternoon coffee and a few other customers eating a late dinner. I sat at a table and ordered a BBQ sandwich, French fries, and coffee.
I used the restroom, paid the bill, and at 3:20 left and started my drive north to Danville. There was quite a bit of activity, as usual, in the towns along the route. People were shopping, cutting their grass, and just visiting with each other. It was 3:50 when I arrived at Danville and 3:57 when I got to the Vermillion Motor Inn.
I had already paid for my first night’s visit, so I filled out the registration form and then went to my room. Everything checked out okay but the light bulb in the reading lamp was too small, so at about 5:00 I drove to a downtown grocery store and bought a couple of brighter bulbs.
Before leaving the motel I had taken a bath, shaved, and put on clean clothes, so I was ready to eat supper and do a couple of other jobs. My first stop was the Famous Recipe chicken place where I bought my box of chicken for dinner at the Speedway.
From there, I drove to the Derby station and filled the gas tank so that I could get to the Speedway and back without stopping along the way. My next stop was a couple of blocks from the station at George’s Buffet. I filled my plate with noodles, chicken, livers, potatoes and gravy, hot roll, tossed salad, beets, chocolate cake, and Pepsi. Everything tasted fine, and I left with a feeling that I wouldn’t need anything to eat until morning.
I drove back to the motel and walked around for a few minutes before I returned to my room. I read some of the newspapers and magazines I had brought and then watched TV for an hour or so. At about the time it became dark, I took a short walk and bought a can of soda pop. The swimming pool area had been busy earlier in the evening, but everybody was gone now and the air was really quiet. When I got back to my room I got everything packed and ready for the next day, and at 10:00 I watched the news on TV. After that, I did some more reading, and at about 11:00 I set my alarm clock for 4:00. Earlier in the evening, I had called the Ramada Inn motel and found out that it was serving a buffet breakfast at 4:30. That sounded good to me, so I decided I’d better get up at 4:00.
The alarm clock did its job, and I wasted no time in getting up. I washed, shaved, dressed, and left the motel at 4:25. I took the I-74 route to the Ramada Inn. The restaurant offered a choice of ordering from the menu or eating from the buffet table. I chose the buffet style. I had bacon, sausage, hash brown potatoes, scrambled eggs, orange juice, and coffee. I had two big helpings of everything because I knew it would be a long time until I ate dinner.
When I could eat no more, I paid the bill, used the restroom, and at 5:20 left for the Speedway. A large majority of the cars I saw were going to the same destination. Radio station WIBC did its usual excellent job of traffic, weather, and Speedway reports. That made my trip more interesting.
As I got close to the Speedway the traffic became heavier, and it was about 6:35 when I reached the I-465 intersection. From there on, the traffic moved really slowly and only a few feet at a time. At last, I was able to pull off the road and find a parking lot with a vacancy.
I paid my $5, got my equipment, locked the doors, and started my walk to the Speedway. Before entering the Speedway, I stopped in Rosner’s Drug Store for a minute and then took some pictures from the Georgetown Road intersection.
It was shortly after 8:00 when I went through the turnstiles, and then I stopped and bought four souvenir programs.
As I walked northward behind the grandstands, I could hear the music of the marching bands and the voice of PA announcer Tom Carnegie. By the time I reached the tunnel to the infield, the traffic was elbow-to-elbow and continued that way until I reached the infield.
I didn’t go directly to my seat but instead walked around by the garage area a little bit. About 9:00, I arrived at my seat. The sight and sound of the marching bands on the racetrack and the frenzy of activity in the pit area brought tears to my eyes for a few seconds.
There were no people on either side of me yet, so I sat down and rested for a few minutes while enjoying all of the activity. At about 9:30, I started my yearly walk along the pit area fence to see if I could see any interesting attractions. Pit crews were busy making last-minute checks on everything while a large mass of humanity was walking through the pit area.
At 9:45, while I was sightseeing in the pit area, the call came over the PA system for the pit crews to push their cars onto the track and into their starting positions. This brought a cheer from the audience as pit crews hustled to comply with the order.
I returned to my seat. By then, it was 10:00, the seats were filling rapidly, and the tension and excitement were increasing. My acquaintance and his two sons from Michigan had arrived and were occupying three seats on my right side.
Between 10:00 and 10:30, the caravan of celebrities toured the track for everybody to see and applaud. Among the attractions was former driver Emil Andres driving a 1909 Buick. This was the 50th anniversary of the last year of the riding mechanic.
At about 10:15, my yearly race companions, Barbara and Malcolm McKean, arrived at their seats, ready to enjoy a day of racing.
At 10:30, Chief Steward Tom Binford and other USAC officials made the final inspection tour of the track and pronounced it ready for racing.
At 10:40, the crowd rose to its feet as Sandi Patti gave her vocal rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. This was followed by an inspiring and appropriate invocation.
The crowd remained standing in solemn silence as Taps was played in keeping with the true meaning of Memorial Day.
Following Taps the crowd sat down, and a few seconds later Tom Carnegie introduced the crowd to singer Jim Nabors. He received a rousing applause from the crowd as he stepped forward and sang Back Home Again in Indiana. As Jim was singing, the multitude of brightly colored balloons was released from the infield behind the Control Tower, making a beautiful sight as they soared skyward.
About a minute later, Mary Hulman was introduced to the audience. She stepped to the microphone and pronounced those words made so famous by her late husband, Tony, “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
The engines roared to life, the audience burst into applause, and the air was filled with excitement. Mechanics raised their arms to indicate their cars were ready to go, drivers continued revving their engines, and the crowd continued its cheering.
Two Chrysler LeBaron pace cars, driven by Speedway President Joseph Cloutier and Tony George, slowly pulled away, and a few seconds later the real pace car, driven by former race driver Carroll Shelby, pulled away.
One by one, the cars were pushed away as pit crews hustled to get their equipment back to the pit areas.
All eyes were on the fourth turn in anticipation of the seeing the field. A few seconds later, cheers erupted as the pace cars and the field came by. The second time around, the cars were aligned considerably better, and the first two pace cars pulled off the track, leaving the pacing work to Carroll Shelby.
A few seconds later, George Snider came charging into the pit area with flames shooting from the rear of his car. He was finished before he even started.
Another loud cheer erupted as the pace car came through the fourth turn and sped through the pit area. Andretti, Rahal, and Mears appeared and then the other ten rows showed up. Starter Duane Sweeney stood ready with two green flags as Andretti picked up the pace. Just before they reached the starting line, Duane cross-waved the green flags and the big race was on for 1987.
Andretti took the lead ahead of Mears and Rahal, but before the field got through the first turn, Duane Sweeney was waving the yellow instead of the green flag. Josele Garza spun, causing Pancho Carter and Stan Fox to spin also. There were no injuries, and the three of them were able to get around to their pits.
The yellow flag remained out for five laps so that the debris could be cleaned up, and then the green flag came out again. Andretti took off and gained on the field.
At ten laps, the first 10 positions were held by Mario Andretti, Mears, Rahal, Guerrero, Simon, Rutherford, Foyt, Michael Andretti, Luyendyk, and rookie Ludwig Heimrath.
Rookie Randy Lewis hardly got started before he was finished with gearbox trouble.
Andretti was setting such a pace that after only 13 laps he lapped Steve Chassey, who was running in last position, although Emerson Fittipaldi and Carter were in the pits. After 20 laps, the first 10 leaders were Mario Andretti, Mears, Guerrero, Rahal, Simon, Rutherford, Michael Andretti, Luyendyk, Foyt, and Heimrath.
Danny Sullivan, running in 11th position, passed Heimrath and Foyt during the next two laps to move into ninth place.
During the next few minutes, the pit area was busy as it was time for the first stop. Heimrath made his stop, but on his return lap his left rear wheel came off, causing him to spin out and bringing out the yellow flag. This brought several drivers in for pit service.
It seemed strange, but there were only seven cars on the lead lap then, those being driven by Mario Andretti, Rahal, Luyendyk, Guerrero, Sullivan, Rich Vogler, and Mears.
Kevin Cogan, who finished second to Bobby Rahal last year in the exciting finish, was finished for the day after 21 laps with oil pump failure. It was a big disappointment after doing so well a year ago.
Michael Andretti was the next pit stop casualty. He slowed considerably while on the mainstraight and pitted his next time around. When he stopped, his car erupted in fire. He exited safely, but then his pit crew discovered that the left rear constant velocity joint was broken, ending his race. This was the first time in his four starts that he was not running when the checkered flag fell.
The green flag came out again as Mario Andretti completed his 33rd lap. Luyendyk moved to second place ahead of Rahal, and a couple of laps later Bobby returned to his pit and had his spark plugs changed.
The yellow flag came out again on the 39th lap to remove debris from the racetrack, and it remained on for four laps.
At 40 laps, 100 miles, the first 10 positions were held by Andretti, Guerrero, Luyendyk, Sullivan, Mears, Tom Sneva, Rutherford, Johncock, Simon, and Scott Brayton.
Meanwhile, Davey Jones, the fastest-qualifying rookie and this year’s youngest driver at age 22, was out of the race after 34 laps with engine failure.
The green flag reappeared, and Andretti resumed his pace. His lead over Guerrero was five seconds, and by the 50th lap it had increased to 14 seconds.
The second round of pit stops came during laps 50-60. Andretti maintained his lead through lap 60, when he pitted. Danny Sullivan then took the lead for four laps until Mario regained the lead.
Mario reduced his speed to less than 200 mph, but he still maintained a 15-second lead over Guerrero. At 60 laps, the first 10 positions were held by Andretti, Guerrero, Sullivan, Luyendyk, Al Unser, Sneva, Johncock, Geoff Brabham, rookie Fabrizio Barbazza, and Foyt.
Back in the pits, Pancho Carter was out of the race after 45 laps in his Hardee’s March with valve failure.
Bobby Rahal came in on his 57th lap for his second unscheduled pit stop. Something definitely was wrong with his car, and it wasn’t being fixed. His crew worked feverishly for several minutes but finally had to give up and take the car out of the race with electrical trouble. The crowd gave him a huge applause when Tom Carnegie announced his departure.
The pace slowed somewhat from the 62nd to the 67th lap because of a yellow flag caused by track debris.
When the green flag returned, Andretti increased his pace ahead of Guerrero, Sullivan, and Sneva. Sneva was doing an excellent job of advancing. He had started 21st and was now in fourth, one lap and a few feet behind Andretti.
The same story applied to Al Unser. Al started 20th, next to Sneva, and he was now in fifth position.
At 80 laps, 200 miles, Andretti had an eight-second lead on Guerrero, and they were followed by Sullivan, Sneva, Al Unser, Luyendyk, Brayton, Simon, Foyt, and Barbazza.
Andretti and Guerrero had just completed their 80th lap when the fifth caution light of the day came on. Sullivan had spun in the fourth turn but didn’t hit anything. Danny came into his pit and had three tires changed, but he didn’t lose his third position because the yellow flag was out.
Back on the departure scene, Steve Chassey, this year’s slowest qualifier, completed 68 laps and was forced out of the race with engine trouble.
Geoff Brabham was the next retiree. He came in after completing 71 laps because his oil light was on and he didn’t want to blow the engine. After the car was retired, it was discovered that an electrical short was causing the light to come on, not a shortage of oil. He had left the race only to discover that there was nothing wrong with the car.
The next driver forced out was not used to being forced out. Rick Mears made two unscheduled pit stops, and on the second one he was forced out of the race with a broken coil wire. All three of last year’s first three finishers were out of the race.
Another two-time winner, Gordon Johncock, was the next driver out of the race. After being retired for two years, Gordon returned and qualified the STP Oil Treatment Special but was never a leading contender.
The green light returned on Andretti’s 84th lap, and once again he increased his speed. He was running consistently over 200 mph, and he was the only driver doing so. His average speed for 90 laps was 160.676 mph, well off Rahal’s record 174 mph pace of last year because of the high amount of yellow time.
On Mario’s 96th lap, the yellow flag came out again when Dick Simon ran out of fuel and was unable to get to his pit. It remained on for five laps, during which time several drivers made pit stops.
At 100 laps, 250 miles, the first 10 positions were held by Andretti, Guerrero, Sullivan, Luyendyk, Al Unser, Sneva, Barbazza, Foyt, Ed Pimm, and Brayton.
As Andretti completed his 101st lap, the green flag reappeared and racing speeds resumed.
Electrical problems seemed to be the main cause of pit stops and departures from the race. In addition to Bobby Rahal, Johnny Rutherford had to have a new distributor motor and spark box, Ed Pimm had to have new spark plugs and spark box, and Rick Mears had already left with electrical problems.
Andretti continued to set the pace while Tom Sneva and Arie Luyendyk were having problems and slowing considerably.
At 120 laps, 300 miles, the standings were Andretti, Guerrero, Sullivan, Al Unser, Luyendyk, Sneva, Barbazza, Brayton, Foyt, and Al Unser, Jr.
The next driver out of the race was Ed Pimm. He was one of the first 10 drivers, but after 109 laps his engine quit on him.
Another third-year driver, besides Pimm, was Rich Vogler, and he too was finished after 109 laps, his progress stopped by a broken rocker arm.
A few laps later, AJ Foyt came slowly through the pit area and was out of the race with a broken oil seal. This was AJ’s 30th race, a record in itself, but he was never a serious contender for the lead, and his familiar No. 14 Gilmore car was done for the year.
On the 127th and 129th laps, Guerrero and Andretti made pit stops, which gave Roberto a chance to gain a few seconds on Mario.
As Roberto was coming through the north chute on his 130th lap, an object appeared in front of him. The right-front tire of Tony Bettenhausen’s car had come off and was rolling down the track. There was no way for Roberto to miss it. It rolled over his nose cone and windshield and went straight up into the air. It sailed over the fence in front of Grandstand K and struck a man standing in the last row. The man was rushed to the Speedway hospital and pronounced dead shortly after his arrival. It was the first spectator death at the Speedway in 49 years. Both Guerrero and Bettenhausen were forced to pit to replace the missing parts on their cars.
Andretti continued his lead, and then on the 150th lap the yellow light was shown again. Tom Sneva, running in 9th position, had crashed into the turn 2 wall. Tom was uninjured, but his car was too damaged to continue racing. The yellow remained on for 11 minutes, and then full racing speeds resumed with the return of the green flag.
At 160 laps, 400 miles, the first 10 positions were held by Andretti, Al Unser, Guerrero, Barbazza, Brayton, Al Unser, Jr., Gary Bettenhausen, Simon, Fox, and Tony Bettenhausen.
After Foyt left the race, the next dropout was Arie Luyendyk. He had come in for a pit stop and crashed into a wheel that was to be put on his car. The crash damaged the right front suspension too much for Arie to continue racing.
Emerson Fittipaldi lost the power in his Marlboro Patrick Racing car after 131 laps and was finished for the day.
Derek Daly had just moved into 8th position when he coasted into his pit with a sour engine after completing 133 laps.
At this stage of the race, there were only three cars that had not encountered any trouble, those being the ones driven by Andretti, Al Unser, and Barbazza.
The green flag remained out for only four laps. On Andretti’s 162nd lap, Barbazza spun coming through the fourth turn. Luckily, he wasn’t hit by anybody, but the smoke from his tires presented a visibility problem and was the reason for the caution period. Fabrizio came into his pit and had all of his tires replaced.
While this was going on, Danny Sullivan pulled off the racetrack with engine problems and was finished for the day with 160 completed laps. He had been running with the front runners for most of the race, but he wouldn’t finish the race with them.
At 170 laps, Andretti was still in the lead with Guerrero and Unser a lap and a few feet behind, followed by Barbazza, Brayton, Al Unser, Jr., Gary Bettenhausen, Simon, Fox, and Tony Bettenhausen.
As the end of the race came closer and closer, everybody had the same question — would this finally be the year that Mario’s bad luck jinx ended and he won his second Indy 500? Although nobody knew it, the answer was only a few minutes away.
As Mario came down the straightaway to complete his 177th lap, he slowed considerably. The crowd jumped to its feet in unconstrained excitement. The Andretti jinx had returned, and the one driver whose race had thus far been without incident had it all come to an end.
Mario remained on the inside of the track and made it around to his pit. As he did so, Guerrero came charging across the start-finish line and into the lead as the crowd went wild with excitement.
Mario had led 170 laps, but he would not lead the 200th one. His crew went to work and discovered that, like many others preceding him, the problem was electrical.
With Andretti out of the race, the big question was whether, after finishing 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in his first three years, Roberto Guerrero could finally move up to number one. With the race 90% completed, the answer would be forthcoming shortly.
Roberto was flying, and on his 180th lap he lapped second-place runner Al Unser. On his 183rd lap, he came streaking through the pit area for his last scheduled stop. His tires were okay, so his crew filled his gas tank and pushed him away. He went a few feet and stalled his engine. Again, the crowd went crazy in disbelief. His crew restarted the engine and pushed him away. Again, he stalled. On the third try, he finally got going. As he was heading for the first turn, Unser came down the straightaway and into the lead.
As Al finished his 185th lap, he had a lead of one lap and three seconds over Roberto.
While all of this was happening, Scott Brayton was sidelined for the day while running in 5th position with engine trouble.
Mario Andretti returned to the track but completed only one lap and came in again.
Guerrero was really moving and gaining on Unser. He passed him on the 190th lap to get back on the same lap with Al.
Andretti went back onto the track but couldn’t complete a full lap. He stopped on the track, forcing officials to display the yellow flag. For the third consecutive year, there was a caution period during the final 10 laps of the race — and like the other two years, it would be a major factor in determining the winner of the race.
Once again, the crowd cheered in excitement, wondering if Guerrero could catch Unser before time ran out. As the field lined up behind the pace car, Al was first in line, followed by Rutherford, Simon, Al Unser, Jr., Garza, Barbazza, Gary Bettenhausen, Guerrero, MacPherson, and Fox.
On the 197th lap, the green flag reappeared. During the next two laps, Guerrero passed Bettenhausen, Barbazza, Garza, and Al Jr. but couldn’t advance any further.
As he came to the starting line to finish his 200th lap, Al raised his arm in a victory salute as the crowd cheered him on. Four and one-half seconds later, Roberto crossed the line to finish second, he and Al being the only drivers to complete the 200 laps.
When the checkered flag was waved the cars began slowing down, and the next time around they returned to their pit area. Al Unser moved slowly through the pit area on his way to Victory Lane, acknowledging the cheers of the crowd as he did so. He had won his fourth Indy 500, a feat previously done only by AJ Foyt.
For the first time since the early morning hours, there was no activity on the racetrack. Pit crews gathered up their equipment and returned it to their garages while the huge crowd started the long job of getting out of the Speedway. McKeans and I got out our food and had a late dinner. The fried chicken tasted good, and the relaxing atmosphere now prevailing made everybody feel more comfortable.
My friends from Michigan stayed for a while and then decided to leave. We shook hands and said we hoped to see each other a year from now.
McKeans and I visited with each other for a long time, and at about 3:15 I decided to leave. They were getting their equipment put away and were about ready to leave also.
It was a long, hot walk to the car. It seemed longer than the walk to the Speedway, but the heat, humidity, and traffic made it feel that way. When I arrived at the car, I opened all the windows so that some of the heat could escape and then sat down on the grass, took off my shoes, and drank a couple of glasses of water. A few minutes later, I put my shoes back on, got into the car, turned on the engine, and at 4:15 drove out of the parking lot and started my trip to Danville.
The traffic on Crawfordsville Road was moving quite well considering it was race day, and I waited only a minute or so before a thoughtful driver slowed and let me in ahead of him. It took several minutes to reach the I-465 intersection, but then the traffic thinned out and I had no trouble the rest of the way.
A few minutes before 6:00 I crossed the state line, and at 6:00 I arrived at George’s Buffet. For supper, I had cornbread, beets, noodles, chicken livers, potatoes and gravy, tossed salad, cake, and Pepsi. The food tasted good, and I took my time eating it.
I left at about 6:30 and returned to the motel. Many of the guests were also returning from the big race. I read some of the newspapers and magazines I had, watched TV for a while, and then took a bath. It was close to 10:00, so I bought a can of soda from one of the motel vending machines. I watched the 10:00 news while eating leftover fried chicken and Pepsi.
I watched TV until about 11:00, and then I decided to retire for the night. It had been a long but enjoyable race day.
I slept really well and awoke at about 6:15. I did some reading and TV watching, some of which included reports of the race. I got dressed, got my suitcase ready to go, checked out of the motel, and at 8:12 started my trip home.
The traffic on Route 1-150, both pedestrian and vehicular, was really light, as it always is on Memorial Day morning.
It was 8:50 when I arrived at the Colonial Kitchen. Several of the farmers were having their morning coffee while the other customers were having breakfast. I had pancakes, toast, orange juice, and coffee. Everything tasted fine, and I felt better for having eaten something.
I used the men’s room, paid the bill, and at 9:25 left the parking lot and drove west on Route 36.
When I reached Tuscola, I stopped at an Amoco station and filled the gas tank. It was about 11:00 when I arrived at Decatur. The annual Memorial Day boat races were being run, and the lake area was a busy place.
I took old Route 36 from Decatur to Springfield, arriving at about 12:00. Before going home, I stopped at Memorial Medical Center for a few minutes and saw Dad and then went home, arriving at about 1:00, ending my 33rd trip to see the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.
On Monday morning, the official finish was announced by USAC. Al Unser finished first in Roger Penske’s Cummins Holset Turbos car. Al did not have a car for this year’s race until May 13, after Danny Ongais had crashed his Penske car and was determined to be ineligible to drive because of a head injury. By leading the last 18 laps of the race, he tied a long-standing record at the Speedway. He and Ralph DePalma are tied for having led the most laps in the race at 613 laps.
Roberto Guerrero continued his amazing record at the Speedway again this year. In four years, he has finished 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 2nd, and he has completed 798 out of a possible 800 laps. His final pit stop proved again how fickle racing luck can be.
When the ballots were cast for this year’s Rookie of the Year, the choice was easy. Fabrizio Barbazza did an excellent job of going from 17th starting position to the 3rd finishing position in the #12 Arciero Winery sponsored car. Most people, including me, had never heard of him until this year, but his is a familiar name now.
Al Unser, Jr. had his best finish in the 500 Mile Race when he brought the #30 Domino’s Pizza car home in fourth place. During practice, the car went slower and slower, and it wasn’t until the second weekend of qualifying that his mechanics found the necessary speed to qualify.
Gary Bettenhausen had the second-best finish in his Speedway career when he finished 5th in the #56 Genessee Beer car. He started 15th and had completed 195 laps when the checkered flag was shown.
One of the happiest drivers at the end of the race, besides Al Unser and Fabrizio Barbazza, had to be Dick Simon. This was Dick’s 16th race, and for the first time he finished in the first 10. His 6th starting position was also his best start. His 193 laps were the most he ever completed, and at the age of 53 he was the oldest driver ever to start the race. If he hadn’t run out of fuel once during the race, he may well have finished higher.
Rookie Stan Fox did a fine job of bringing the Kerker Exhaust/Skoal car home in 7th place. He was one of four drivers driving for AJ Foyt and the only one still around at the end of the race. Another rookie, Jeff MacPherson, had made four pit stops before he ran 30 laps and had an ill-handling car, but he kept going to end up with 182 laps and an 8th-place finish in the Team MacPherson March Honda.
Mario Andretti was the fastest driver in practice, time trials, and about 90% of the race, but when it counted the most, he was in 9th position. Mario seemed to have his best chance at winning his second 500 Mile Race, but once again fate stepped in and dictated otherwise. His purse of $368,063 was second only to that of Al Unser.
Although he wasn’t running at the finish, Tony Bettenhausen’s 171 completed laps were enough for him to take home 10th place honors. Despite his high finish, his race was marred by the loose tire that killed a spectator.
If an award for persistence was to be awarded for this year’s race, I think the winner would have to be Josele Garza and his crew. Josele spent more than an hour in his pit but his crew never gave up, and when the checkered flag was shown he had completed 129 laps and was awarded 17th place.
Once again, a record purse was established when $4,001,450 was distributed at the Victory Dinner, although Al Unser’s winning purse of $526,763 was considerably less than Bobby Rahal’s $581,063 winnings of last year.
There were three features that made this a year to remember: 1) the large number of crashes in practice and qualifying; 2) lower than expected qualifying speeds; and 3) the driest May in Speedway history. It was the first year that anybody could remember when there wasn’t at least one day lost to rain.
It was also the first year of the electronic message boards. They were a tremendous help to everybody.
Pace Car — Chrysler LeBaron
500 Festival Queen — Pam Jones
P.S. On Monday, December 28, Dad died from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was in Memorial Medical Center from May 1 to August 17, when he was moved to Dirksen Care Home where he died.
It was he who, in 1954, took me to see my first Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. From that year on, through 1973, we saw every race except 1965. We had many fine times together on those trips, and the memories will live on forever.