Activity this year was highlighted by the first 220 mph qualifying lap, the first front row made up of the same team, Rick Mears’s third race victory, the first race ever to finish under the yellow flag, and the outstanding race performance of Jim Crawford.
On the personal side, it was the first race since Dad died, the first time I attended the race with one of my children, and the first time in 15 years somebody had gone to the race with me.
My trip to the time trials began at 3:32 Friday afternoon on May 13. My companions were John and Paul. For the first time since he started going in 1983, Mark didn’t go this year. We traveled in our 1978 Chevrolet Caprice wagon.
I drove north to North Grand Avenue, then east to 8th Street, north on 8th Street to Sangamon Avenue, and then east until we were out of town. When we reached Riverton, I turned off the road and got onto I-72 east.
By then, John was asleep in the back of the car, and Paul sat with me in the front seat. We had little trouble with the traffic, and when I-72 ended at Champaign we turned onto I-74 and continued on our way.
It was about 5:45 when we reached the Indiana line. As we traveled through Indiana, we listened to Indianapolis radio station WIBC. It did its usual fine job of covering the activity from the Speedway, which made for interesting listening.
As we approached Indianapolis the traffic increased in volume, and it was 7:11 when we arrived at the Speedway Shopping Center and ended our trip. My seat and right foot were quite stiff, but after walking around for a few seconds I felt okay.
We walked the short distance to the MCL Cafeteria, and when I opened the door the line of waiting customers stretched from the serving line to within a few feet of the door. That was discouraging, but the line moved steadily and within a few minutes we were getting our tray and silverware.
John had baked ham, peach halves, macaroni and cheese, cinnamon roll, and Pepsi. Paul had corn bread, gelatin fruit, beef and noodles, and Pepsi. I had tenderloin steak, combination salad, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and Pepsi. It was a good supper for all of us, and when we left we felt considerably better than when we arrived.
From the cafeteria, we walked the short distance to the Kroger grocery store and bought our box lunches to eat at the Speedway on Saturday.
The third and final job we had to do before going to the motel was to fill the gas tank. I drove to the Amoco station across the street from the Howard Johnson Motel. It took 11.3 gallons to fill the tank. We had driven 201.7 miles since I filled the tank in Springfield, which made our mpg average come to 17.8.
With the three jobs done, I drove to Crawfordsville Road and took the I-465 north turnoff. The traffic was heavy as usual on the Friday night, and about three miles later I took the I-65 turnoff. We listened to the radio and conversed among ourselves, and about 20 minutes later we arrived at our destination, the Holiday Inn motel in Lebanon. When we stopped I checked the time, and it was two minutes before 9:00.
I had already paid for the room, so I signed the registration card and the desk clerk directed us to our room. John and Paul were eager to go swimming, so they hurriedly changed clothes and left for the swimming pool. I checked to be sure everything in the room was working correctly and then turned on the TV set and watched it for a few minutes.
Shortly after 9:30, I took a walk to the Holidome area to see what was happening. It was a busy area with people swimming, playing ping pong, exercising, and playing electronic games. Others were sitting around the pool visiting with other people or reading books, magazines, or newspapers. John and Paul liked the swimming pool, and before I returned to our room I played a game of ping pong with each of them.
It was almost 10:00 when I got back to the room, so I turned on the TV set and watched the 10:00 news. All three segments of the telecast — news, weather, and sports — dealt with activity at the Speedway, both today’s and the next day’s. Shortly after the start of the telecast, the boys came back to the room and watched the remainder of the program with me. During the advertisements we got ready for bed, and at 10:30 I set the alarm clock, turned off the lights, and the three of us drifted into sleep.
The alarm clock rang at 5:30. I reached over and turned it off before it woke Paul and John. I lay in bed for a couple minutes and then got up and groomed myself for the day. While doing this, I woke the boys and gave them a few minutes to wake up.
When I finished using the bathroom the boys took their turn, and then we left for the motel restaurant. It wasn’t crowded when we arrived but the hostess was slow in seating us, and during that time a dozen or so more persons came in.
Upon seating us the hostess gave us menus, and we spent a few minutes deciding what we wanted. John had eggs, bacon, and toast, Paul had french toast, and I had pancakes. I had coffee to drink, and the boys had water. All three of us had a small glass of orange juice.
The food was good, but it took a long time to get it. There weren’t enough waitresses, and that made an unpleasant situation for everybody. Most of the customers were going to the Speedway, and it was really aggravating to have to sit and waste so much time.
It was shortly after 7:00 when we left and returned to our room. We brushed our teeth, got the tote bag, walked to the car, and at 7:20 left for the Speedway.
The traffic was heavy, but it moved well until we turned off onto Crawfordsville Road. From there until we arrived at the Speedway, it moved in spurts. While we were on Georgetown Road, we could hear Tom Carnegie make the announcement that the track was open for practice and the roar of the engines as the cars sped through the pit area.
It was 8:11 when we stopped in the infield and turned off the engine. I checked to be sure we had everything we needed, rolled up the windows, then got out and locked the doors. We walked to the tunnel and then through it and behind the grandstands. We sat just a few seats south of the start-finish line.
One thing I decided to change this year was the location of our seats. For the last few years, it had gotten really warm and humid during the afternoon while sitting in the Tower Terrace section. These two conditions worked adversely on us, so I decided it would be better to sit in the shade and be fresh all day, even if we didn’t have as good a view of the racetrack as we did from the Tower Terrace.
Shortly after we arrived at our seats, the first practice session ended at 8:40 with Mario Andretti turning the fastest lap at 220.372 mph. The second practice session lasted from 8:50 to 9:57, and Rick Mears had the fast lap with a 222.827 mph cruise. The third practice session was from 9:57 to 10:15, and Mario Andretti was the fastest of this session also with a lap of 220.102 mph.
At 10:15, the red flag was waved and the cars were returned to the garage area to be refueled and then returned to their qualifying positions in the pit area.
The main highlight of the opening ceremonies was a parade of 11 drivers who drove in the 1963 race, this being the 25th anniversary of that race. The 11 drivers were Parnelli Jones, Johnny Rutherford, Johnny Boyd, Duane Carter, Bob Christie, Bobby Grim, Jim Hurtubise, Chuck Hulse, Art Malone, Jim McElreath, and Ebb Rose. Bobby Unser was busy with his ABC TV job, and AJ Foyt was working on his car for this year’s race. They were driven around the track in official cars and received a warm reception from the large crowd.
The excitement continued to increase as the starting time came nearer, and at 11:00 a huge cheer came from the crowd as Tom Carnegie announced, “The track is open for qualifications.”
Mario Andretti was the first driver on the track. He and Rick Mears had the fastest times during the week of practice and the crowd was expecting a big performance, but it didn’t happen. His first lap was 217.014 mph, followed by 215.019, 213.9009, and 212.761 mph. An unhappy Andretti blamed a patch of oil dry powder that had been laid in the fourth turn area earlier in the day as a result of a slide by driver Tom Bigelow during the practice period. He claimed the powder damaged his right front tire and caused his drop in speed.
Tom Sneva qualified next at 208.659 mph, and Scott Atchison became the first rookie to qualify when he posted a doubtful 205.142 mph average.
AJ Foyt, Kevin Cogan, Howdy Holmes, Jim Crawford, and Bobby Rahal all had problems and were unable to make a four-lap run. Al Unser was next in his Hertz/Pennzoil car and did really well with a four-lap average of 215.270 mph.
Michael Andretti had a 210.183 mph average in his #18 Kraco car, Derek Daly did really well with a 212.295 mph average, and Scott Brayton did even better with a 212.624 mph average. Randy Lewis did well with a 209.774 mph run.
A big cheer went up when Tom Carnegie announced that Roberto Guerrero had gone out to qualify. Roberto was injured critically in a testing run at the Speedway on September 10, and for a while it was doubtful he would ever race again. He made an excellent recovery and posted a four-lap average of 209.633 mph.
Danny Sullivan was the next qualifier in his #9 Miller High Life Penske machine. As expected, he did really well with a new one-lap record of 217.749 mph and a four-lap average of 216.214 mph.
Phil Krueger qualified his 1986 March at 208.212 mph, and then came the moment everybody had been waiting for: Rick Mears was on the track in his #5 Pennzoil Penske. Would he set a new track record? A roar came from the crowd when Tom Carnegie excitedly announced his first lap speed of 220.453 mph. His succeeding laps were 217.887, 218.781, and 217.702, which made a four-lap average of 219.198 mph. He not only set one- and four-lap records but also broke the 220 mph mark.
The original qualifying line ended at 2:19, and after aborted runs by Rock Vogler, Johnny Rutherford, and Al Unser, Jr., the track was opened for practice at 2:53.
Paul had wanted me to take him to the upper-level grandstand, and I told him I would do so when there was a break in the action. By the time we got to the second of the three flights of steps, I knew I was in trouble. My head felt dizzy, my heart felt as if it was going to beat out of my chest, and I was wondering if I would make it to the top. When we got there, I stood still for a couple minutes until my head cleared up and my heartbeat slowed down. Paul said it had scared him, too. We stayed for a few minutes and then went back to our seats. The walk down was almost as bad as coming up. I tried to look at my feet and the steps and not the street. It felt really good to get back to ground level.
Shortly after 4:00, the boys started asking why we were staying when nobody was trying to qualify. At 4:30, I decided we had probably seen most of the activity for the day, so we gathered together our equipment and walked to the car.
The first thing I did was roll down the windows and let some of the hot air escape. We waited for about 10 minutes, and then I turned the engine on and we started our exit from the Speedway. The traffic was bad but not as bad as some other years, and in a few minutes we were on the main north-south street. A safety patrolman directed us to the left. After getting through the tunnel, I turned right and went north on Georgetown Road to 38th Street and then turned left. The 38th Street traffic was really heavy, but in a few minutes we found our destination and drove on to the parking lot of the Toys ‘R Us store.
We browsed through the store but didn’t buy anything. I get as much enjoyment looking at the merchandise as the boys do. Paul wanted a couple of items, but I thought they were too expensive or he could buy them in Springfield.
When we left, we went back to Georgetown Road, then south to Crawfordsville Road and west to the shopping center. Unlike the night before, there were only a few people waiting in line at the MCL Cafeteria, so there was little waiting.
John had lasagna, mashed potatoes, green beans, cinnamon roll, and Pepsi. Paul had fried chicken, gelatin cubes, peaches, and Pepsi. I had beef tips, salad, cloverleaf roll, broccoli and cheese, and Pepsi. All three of us enjoyed our meals in a quiet, relaxing atmosphere.
The boys didn’t want to do any shopping, so we left and drove straight to the motel, arriving there at 7:00.
It took the boys only a few minutes to make a change of clothes and get to the swimming pool. I stayed in the room, took off my shoes, read for a few minutes, and then turned on the TV set. Between 8:30 and 9:00, I took a walk to the Holidome to see what was happening. There was a large, active group in attendance. Most of the people were in the swimming pool or sitting in the lounge chairs reading or visiting with other people. Others were playing electronic games or using the exercise room. The boys wanted me to play ping pong, so I played a game with each of them. About 9:45, I returned to the room and turned on the TV set. The 10:00 news had much coverage of the activity at the Speedway, and during the program the boys returned to the room and watched the news with me. The coverage included some of the time trial runs and interviews with some of the drivers.
When the program ended the boys went to sleep, but I stayed up and watched a 30-minute special program on the time trials, which was hosted by Gary Lee. At 11:00, I decided I had had a long enough day, so I checked to be sure the door was locked and chained, turned off the lights, and joined the boys in sleepville.
It was shortly before 6:00 when I opened my eyes to begin the third and last day of our trip. I laid in bed for a few minutes and then got up and looked outdoors. It was sunny and bright. I sat in the chair and read some of the newspapers and magazines I had brought with me. At about 7:00, I got dressed and walked to the motel lobby and bought an Indianapolis newspaper. I went back to the room and looked at the newspaper for a few minutes, and then I got washed and ready for another day. The boys woke up between 7:30 and 8:00 and laid in bed for a few minutes and watched TV.
At 8:15, we walked to the motel restaurant. Business was good but not rushing, and everything seemed to be operating better than it was Saturday morning. We decided we would eat buffet style. The menu consisted of pancakes, French toast, bacon, sausage, biscuits, scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes, tomato juice, and orange juice. The food was good, and the only problem we encountered was having to wait for some of the food to be brought form the kitchen, but that was a short wait. We ate all we could eat and then returned to the room, brushed our teeth, and got ready to leave.
Before checking out, I told the boys they could play on the outdoor playground equipment for a few minutes. It was a big hit with both of them.
I stopped at the front desk to turn in my room key and got my room receipt. At 9:35, we started our trip home. I took I-65 south to the US 36 west turnoff. The traffic on Route 36 moved well, and the four-lane section of the highway has been extended to Danville, which allows for a faster and smoother drive. We continued on our way, and at about 11:45 we arrived at the Colonial Kitchen restaurant in Chrisman.
Since Mother’s Day was the previous Sunday, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away because of the huge crowd. The restaurant was doing a good business with its buffet dinner, but there was still room for the three of us to sit at a table and order from the menu. Paul had a hamburger and Pepsi, John had a cheeseburger and Pepsi, and I had a BBQ sandwich with coffee. All three of us had French fries with our orders. All of us felt better after getting out of the car and eating a little bit. About 12:15, we hit the road again.
It was 1:30 when we arrived at Decatur. When we left the city, we took old Route 36 to Springfield, arriving home at 2:30. It had been a fine trip for all three of us.
During the week before the race I packed my suitcase, and on Saturday morning I helped Paul with his packing. I checked to be sure I had everything we needed, particularly the tickets and money, and at 1:00 we left on my 34th trip to the 500-Mile Race. For the first time since 1973, the last year Dad and Bobby went with me, I had somebody riding with me to the race.
I drove east on North Grand Avenue to 8th Street, north on 8th Street to Sangamon Avenue, and east on Sangamon. At Riverton, I took old Route 36 and stayed on it until we arrived at Decatur. Every year as I drive this highway to the race, I think back over the many years that Dad, Bobby, and I drove this same road, and it brings back many fine memories.
It was a pleasant drive all the way. It was about 2:00 when we drove through Decatur and continued eastward. Paul had an Illinois map with him and followed our trip town by town. It was 3:14 when we stopped at the Colonial Kitchen for a break.
There were several farmers sitting at a table and drinking their afternoon coffee. There were only a few other customers. Paul had a pork tenderloin sandwich to eat and a Sprite to drink, while I had a BBQ sandwich and a Pepsi. French fries came with both orders. It tasted good and would hold us over until supper. When we finished, we used the restroom, paid the bill, and at 3:40 left for the final leg of our trip.
The towns along Route 1 were busy with people cutting their grass, shopping in stores, and visiting with each other. Shortly after 4:00, we reached I-74 and turned right to go east. I took exit 220, the last one in Illinois, and drove north to the Ramada Inn Motel. It was 4:18 when we arrived.
Because I had already paid for the room, all I had to do was complete the registration form. Our room was on the second floor on the east side. Upon entering the room, I checked to see if everything worked. It was then that I had a really pleasant surprise. There was a door on the south side of the room, and when I opened it I found a conference-kitchen room. The furniture included a refrigerator, stove, bar, two sofas, sofa table, and three chairs. I could hardly believe what I was seeing, and when I realized that we hadn’t paid any extra money for it I was even more surprised. We were really living right.
After I made a thorough inspection of the room, I took a bath, shaved, and put on clean clothes. By then, it was time for us to leave for supper.
We drove into town, and the first place we stopped at was the Famous Recipe chicken place. We bought a box of chicken for the two of us and then drove to the Derby gas station and filled the gasoline tank. I was really pleased to discover that we had averaged 18.9 miles per gallon in driving from Springfield to Danville.
From the gasoline station, we drove a couple of blocks to George’s Buffet. Business was good, but we arrived at the right time and didn’t have to wait in line. For his supper, Paul chose potatoes and gravy, hot roll, cornbread, green beans, roast beef, and Pepsi. I had tossed salad, lima beans, chicken livers, peas, chocolate cake, and Pepsi. Everything tasted fine, and when we left to return to the motel we felt that it would quite a while before we ate again.
It took five to ten minutes to drive to the motel. Paul watched TV for a while, and I went into the conference room and did some reading. It seemed strange for each of us to have a room to himself.
Later in the evening, I went to the motel lobby and bought each of us a can of Pepsi to drink in our room. I gathered up all of the equipment we needed for the next day and put it in the tote bag so that it would be ready to go. We watched the 10:00 news, and when that was done I set the alarm clock, turned off the lights, and then the two of us started getting our rest in preparation for what was to be a big day in our lives.
At 4:00, the alarm clock rang to begin our race day. I woke up but lay in bed for a couple of minutes before rising. I washed, shaved, combed my hair, and got dressed. While I was doing this, I gently woke up Paul. I had to call him a few times, but he finally opened his eyes. He got up and got dressed, and then we walked to the motel restaurant.
The buffet breakfast area was being prepared for opening, but since it wasn’t ready yet we ordered from the menu. Paul had biscuits and gravy with orange juice, while I had pancakes, coffee, and orange juice. The food was fine and made us feel better to get our day started right.
There were only four other customers when we entered the restaurant, but there were several more when we left, all of whom looked like they were headed for the same destination that we were.
We returned to our room, brushed our teeth, checked to be sure we had everything we needed, and at 5:27 we left for our trip to the Speedway.
A couple of minutes after leaving, we were in Indiana. I tuned in radio station WIBC to find out what was happening at the Speedway. The traffic was heavy, but it moved well and most of it was going to the race. I could tell by the caps some of the people were wearing and the equipment I could see. Shortly before we reached the I-465 interchange, the traffic slowed to a crawl but kept moving.
Most of the businesses in the area were closed, but there was still much activity. Newspaper vendors were busy selling their product from car to car, the police were moving traffic as fast as possible, and some people were walking to the Speedway. I took the last turnoff before reaching Lynhurst Road, went about a block, and followed the directions of a neighborhood resident to her backyard. It was 7:10 when I turned off the engine to end our trip.
I paid the $5.00 fee, checked to be sure we had everything, locked the car, and then we started our long walk to the Speedway. Paul was fascinated by the mass of humanity and its activity along the way. When we reached Georgetown Road, we crossed the street to the main gate area. I got our tickets out, and we joined the mob of people going through the turnstiles.
A few feet from the entrance, I stopped and bought three souvenir racing programs for myself, Bobby and Fred Fry. From here, we started walking to the tunnel entrance to the infield, but we stopped short when I saw that the gate on the outside of the track at the end of the straightaway was open. There was a multitude of persons taking pictures on the racetrack, so we joined the group. It gave me an eerie feeling to be standing on the asphalt that in a few hours would be covered with 200 mph race cars.
We walked across the track to the garage area and, like hundreds of other fans, watched the activity from outside the fence. There were a few cars being pushed through the area on their way to the pit area, and each one received close attention from the crowd.
From here, we walked to the grassy area behind the Control Tower and observed the thousands of race fans enjoying themselves. After sitting down and resting for a few minutes, we walked northward toward our seating area. At times, the size of the crowd was almost crushing, but we made it to the north end of the Tower Terrace. We used the mens’ room and then gave the gateman our tickets and went to our seats. It was about 8:45.
A crowd of hundreds of persons was walking in the pit area while the pit crews were getting their equipment in place and ready to use. The Purdue University Band and several high school bands were putting on a grand performance on the straightaway.
We sat in our seats for a few minutes and then took a walk along the fence behind the pit area. Paul was really interested in all the cars and who was driving them. I pointed out a few famous people I recognized, and he liked that, too.
At 9:45, as we were walking back to our seats, Tom Carnegie made the first of his pre-race announcements, that being for the pit crews to push their cars to their starting positions on the racetrack.
Between 10:00 and 10:30, the caravan of celebrities was driven around the track for everybody to see. At about 10:15, my other racing companion, Malcolm McKean, arrived on the scene and took his seat on the left of me. For the first time since we began sitting together in 1977, his sister, Barbara, did not come with him. She felt obligated to attend a family wedding, but Paul was happy to take her place.
The tension and excitement were steadily increasing as 11:00 came closer and closer. Paul and I made a final quick trip to the restroom and came right back.
At 10:40, the huge crowd rose to its feet as the Purdue University Band played The Star-Spangled Banner with Sandi Patti doing the vocal honors for the second consecutive year.
Next, a local clergyman gave the invocation, and Malcolm and I agreed it was appropriate for the race. The crowd remained standing in silence as the U.S. Armed Forces Color Guard played the solemn Taps in honor of the veterans on this Memorial Day weekend.
The silence changed to cheering when Jim Nabors sang Back Home Again in Indiana. Once again, as happens every year, tears of joy came to my eyes as I realized the big eruption of sound was only a few minutes away. While Jim was singing, the balloons were released behind the Control Tower, bringing more cheering and applause from the crowd.
At 10:51, Mary Hulman issued her electrifying edict, “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!” as the crowd erupted into a huge roar and the engines came to life.
Pit crew members raised their arms as a sign of readiness while drivers continued revving their engines. The trio of Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme pace cars slowly pulled away, and one by one the race cars did likewise.
As the field completed the warm-up lap, it was almost impossible to tell who was starting where because of the mess the cars were in. The parade lap was much better as the first two pace cars pulled off the track and sped to their resting places. Now it was up to Chuck Yeager to drive the pace lap and bring the cars around for the start of the race.
Thousands of eyes were focused on the fourth turn. A minute or so later, the pace car came off the track and hurried through the pit area as the cars came through the fourth turn and down the straightaway. The front row of Mears, Sullivan, and Unser was almost to the starting line when starter Duane Sweeney waved his two green flags, signaling the beginning of the race.
Sullivan jumped into the lead with Mears and Unser following. As they were going through the second turn, trouble erupted. Scott Brayton, starting in seventh position, lost control and spun around backwards into the wall directly in the path of Roberto Guerrero. Brayton slammed into the wall, and Guerrero slammed into Brayton. With the race only 10 seconds old, the field was already under yellow.
Tony Bettenhausen, seeing what had happened, slowed down, but he lost control and spun into the wall just a few feet from the other two cars.
All of the drivers escaped injury, but their cars were damaged extensively and were out of the race.
As the field came around slowly to complete the first lap, the first 10 positions were held by Sullivan, Mears, Unser, Unser, Jr., Mario Andretti, Arie Luyendyk, Emerson Fittipaldi, Derek Daly, Michael Andretti, and Tom Sneva.
With the yellow light still on, Stan Fox pulled into his pit and was out of the race with a blown engine. With less than one lap of green time, four cars were already out of the race.
The clean-up crew did an outstanding job of cleaning up the second-turn mess, and as the cars came by to complete their sixth lap, the green flag was waved.
Sullivan and Mears set a fast pace and after only 13 laps starting lapping the slowest running cars. It was about then that Mears started falling behind. In five laps, he fell from second to sixth position.
At 20 laps, the first 10 positions were held by Sullivan, Unser, Unser, Jr., Mario Andretti, Luyendyk, Mears, Sneva, Michael Andretti, and Jim Crawford. The average speed was 135.655 mph.
Another car was out of the race. Derek Daly had started in ninth position but was finished after 18 laps with gearbox trouble.
The first pit stops occurred between laps 20 and 30, and Mario Andretti and Teo Fabi were having problems. Andretti’s car was giving off smoke, and a few laps later he was shown the black flag. He stopped on his 30th lap but his problem wasn’t solved, and he came in again on his next lap. This time, a new gearbox rear section was installed.
Fabi made his first pit stop, and it proved to be his last. His left rear wheel was not properly put on and came off as he left his pit, causing him to spin and crash into the inner pit wall, damaging his car too much to continue.
Sullivan made his first stop on lap 30, and Al Unser led for three laps before Danny regained the lead.
At 40 laps, the first 10 drivers were Sullivan, Luyendyk, Unser, Unser, Jr., Fittipaldi, Michael Andretti, Crawford, Mears and Raul Boesel.
Sullivan remained comfortably ahead while Luyendyk managed to stay slightly ahead of the two Unsers.
Tom Sneva had been running a fine race, going from 14th to 2nd in 31 laps. Two laps later, fresh from a pit stop, he crashed coming through the fourth turn. The car hit the outside wall, spun down and hit the inside wall, spun again through the pit entrance, and finally stopped sideways across the pit lane. Tom was uninjured, but the car was done for the day. There was so much debris scattered about that USAC officials closed the pit area until the debris was cleaned up.
Sullivan continued to maintain a healthy lead as the race entered its second quarter. He had just completed 58 laps when the third yellow flag of the day occurred. AJ Foyt struck the second turn wall, spun down to the infield, and was finished for this race. The yellow light was on for six laps.
The green flag came out as Sullivan started his 64th lap, and a few seconds later the yellow flag came out again when Luyendyk bumped into the rear of Ludwig Heimrath’s car, causing it to spin and crash into the fourth turn wall. Heimrath was out of the race, and Luyendyk had to make three stops in the next five laps to have his front wings repaired.
The green light came on again as the front-runners started their 71st lap. Only Sullivan, Unser Jr., Crawford, and Unser were on the lead lap. Sullivan started pulling away, and at this point of the race he seemed uncatchable.
As Danny came by to complete his 82nd lap, the yellow flag came out again. Steve Chassey and Rich Vogler tangled in the fourth turn, and Chassey crashed into the wall, putting him out of the race.
Many of the drivers took advantage of the yellow time and stopped for tires and fuel. Fittipaldi and Crawford had wing adjustments made to their cars for better handling. Second-place runner Al Unser, Jr. stopped for three tires and fuel. As he was leaving the pit area, his car started jumping from one side to the other. He slowed drastically almost to a stop and made a really slow lap around the track to his pit. His pit crew knew immediately that the trouble was a broken constant velocity joint. It would take a long time to repair, and his hopes of finishing near the top of the field were shot for this year.
Meanwhile, the race continued. Al Unser, in second place, had to make two stops for wing adjustments as Crawford moved ahead of him into second place. Crawford was putting on a one-man show, and the crowd was loving it.
The yellow flag was shown again on the 93rd lap and stayed on for three laps because of debris on the racetrack. Sullivan came in for fuel and a wing adjustment, allowing Crawford to go into the lead.
The green flag reappeared on lap 96. Crawford was leading, but Mears was coming up fast. Jim was the leader at the halfway mark, 100 laps, but Rick was going faster and was only 2.5 seconds behind the leader.
The standings at 250 miles were Crawford, Mears, Sullivan, Unser, Boesel, Fittipaldi, Michael Andretti, John Andretti, Bobby Rahal, and Phil Krueger.
What was probably the most dramatic event of the race occurred two laps later. On his 102nd lap, Sullivan crashed into the first turn wall. He kept going into turn two where he hit the wall again before coming to a stop.
Crawford pitted and yielded the lead to Mears for two laps, but he led the next lap. He was called back for some work on his car by his pit crew, and in the process he yielded the lead to Al Unser.
The green light came on on the 108th lap, and Unser and Mears were running 1-2. The green flag was out for only 1.5 minutes when the yellow came on again. This time, a rabbit was running south on the backstretch and presenting a danger to the drivers.
By then, Al Unser, Jr., was back on the racetrack. He had been out of action for almost 24 minutes as his crew installed a new CV joint.
As Unser and Mears came by to complete their 112th lap, the green came on again. Mears passed his teammate and built a 2.5-second lead, only to have the yellow flag come on again on the 117th lap.
This time, it was caused by Johnny Rutherford crashing into the south wall at about the same place Sullivan had crashed just a few minutes before. Johnny wasn’t injured, but both of his right tires came off the car, thus eliminating him from the race.
Several drivers took advantage of the yellow period and made pit stops while rookie John Andretti, running in eighth position at 110 laps, was forced out of the race with engine trouble.
The first 10 positions at 300 miles were held by Mears, Unser, Crawford, Fittipaldi, Rahal, Michael Andretti, Boesel, Phil Krueger, rookie Dominic Dobson, and rookie Tero Palmroth.
At 130 laps, Mears had a 4.5 second lead over Unser, with Crawford, Fittipaldi, and Rahal also on the lead lap. One of the cars that I was noticing particularly was that of Phil Krueger. Running a low-budget operation, he was doing an excellent job with his two-year-old machine.
Mears had increased his lead to eight seconds over Unser at 140 laps when the 10th caution period of the day started. This time, Mario Andretti was going slowly and stopped in turn three. It took about 10 minutes to get his car on the wrecker and towed to the pit area. During this time, most of the drivers made pit stops. Rookie Bill Vukovich III, grandson of 1953 and 1954 winner Bill Vukovich, had his pit almost directly in front of us. He made a pit stop during this caution period and stalled the engine. When it wouldn’t restart, his crew had to change the spark plugs, which took a long time.
On the leader’s 160th lap, the yellow flag came out again when Tero Palmroth lost his engine and coasted into the infield. At about the same time, another rookie, Dominic Dobson, was black-flagged from the race when it was discovered that he was losing his engine coolant.
At 160 laps, 400 miles, the top 10 positions were held by Mears, Unser, Fittipaldi, Rahal, Michael Andretti, Crawford, Boesel, Krueger, Simon, and Luyendyk.
The green flag came out and a couple of minutes later went back in when rookie Rock Moran’s car blew its engine on the mainstretch and coasted into the infield, bring out the yellow flag. On the 170th lap, racing speeds resumed as Mears continued to hold a comfortable lead.
At about this time, it was announced that Fittipaldi was being penalized a lap for passing during a caution period. This, of course, threw the scoring into great confusion.
At 175 laps, the yellow flag was waved again by starter Duane Sweeney. This time, it was caused by Rich Vogler. Rich slid into the south wall but regained control. The yellow came out because there was debris on the track from his car. He made it back to his pit where the crew changed his tires, checked his car, and sent him on his way again. Before he completed a lap, he encountered tire trouble and crashed into the turn three wall. Although nobody knew it then, Vogler would be the last driver to drop out of the race.
The green flag came out again as Mears completed his 180th lap. It was announced that Fittipaldi had been given back his docked lap, so the top 10 positions were held by Mears, Fittipaldi, Crawford, Unser, Michael Andretti, Rahal, Boesel, Krueger, Simon and Luyendyk.
Crawford was getting closer and closer to Fittipaldi, but then a big moan came from the crowd as Jim pitted unexpectedly. He was given fuel and tires, but in the process, trouble struck. The left front tire wouldn’t go on and his total pit time was 1:40, killing any chance of finishing second or third.
It was announced then that Fittipaldi’s penalty had been reinstated and increased to two laps. Michael Andretti was doing well and closing in on Unser when his right sidepod came off, sailed into the air, and landed on the track almost directly in front of us. Once again, the yellow flag came out, this time with only three laps to go. For the fourth consecutive year, there was a caution period during the last 10 laps of the race.
A safety worker picked up the piece and got it out of the way, but the yellow flag remained out. The track was cleared, but Mears was only a few feet from the start-finish line. For the first time in the history of the race, it finished under the yellow as well as the checkered flag. Nobody wanted it to finish that way, but it couldn’t be helped.
The cars took a slowdown lap and returned to their pits and received a warm applause from the crowd. Mears received the usual winner’s ovation, but Crawford may have received an even bigger reception for his outstanding job. Rahal’s pit was directly in front of us, and he received a warm ovation from the area around us.
There were 15 cars still running at the finish of the race. They were driven by, in order of finish, Mears, Fittipaldi, Unser, Andretti, Rahal, Crawford, Boesel, Krueger, Simon, Luyendyk, Cogan, Howdy Holmes, Unser, Jr., Vukovich III, and Randy Lewis.
While the drivers and pit crews enjoyed a few minutes of rest and relaxation, most of the fans started to make their way from the Speedway. A few, like the three of us, stayed around a while and had a later Sunday dinner. I walked to the concession stand behind the seats and bought two glasses of Pepsi so we would have something to drink. Malcolm McKean got his food out, so the three of us had Sunday dinner together and rehashed the race. With the roar of the engines and the crush of the crowd now gone, there was plenty of room to stretch out and eat in silence.
While we were eating, Rick Mears and Roger Penske were driven around the track in the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme pace car for everybody to see and then were interviewed at the start-finish line.
By the time we finished eating the crowd was pretty well gone from the seats, so we cleaned up our mess, got our equipment together, and said goodbye to Malcolm. He was about to leave as well.
The traffic was heavy, but it moved well. When we reached the back side of the grandstands, we stopped to use the restroom one last time and then continued on our way. The traffic on Crawfordsville Road was bumper to bumper and moving slowly, and the people inside the cars were hot, tired, and impatient. Many of them were drunk.
By the time we got back to the car, Paul had discovered what I learned many years ago — the walk from the Speedway to the car after the race seems longer than the walk from the car to the Speedway before the race.
I opened all the car windows and let the car cool off for a few minutes. Then, I decided it was time to leave for the motel. The traffic on Crawfordsville Road was heavy and moving slowly but steadily. I had waited only a few seconds when a gentleman came along and let me go in front of him.
When we got onto I-74 the traffic thinned out considerably, and we had no trouble the rest of the way to Danville.
As soon as we arrived at our motel room, Paul changed his clothes and left for the swimming pool. I took off my shoes and laid down for a few minutes. The few minutes of rest on the soft mattress in the cool air revived me somewhat. I got up and went to check on Paul. He had the pool to himself and was having a good time, but a couple of minutes later we were joined by two young couples and a few minutes after that by a few more people. Paul stayed in for 1.5 hours, and then we decided it was time for supper.
I had thought we would go to George’s Buffet, but we decided to check out the motel restaurant first to see if we might like it. It took only a few seconds to make up our minds. The doors of the lounge adjacent to the restaurant were open and a large viewing screen had been set up. The program on the screen was the video tape of the big race. We knew for sure where we would eat.
The restaurant was serving both from the menu and buffet style. I decided the buffet style would be the best meal for us. Paul had roast beef, carrots, potatoes, and gravy, while I had Swiss steak, deviled eggs, salad, carrots, potatoes, gravy, and coffee. Everything tasted fine, and we ate until we couldn’t eat anymore. There was a good although not full crowd, and most of them were having a good time eating supper and watching the race movie. It was much different from our usual Sunday supper.
The movie lasted until 10:30, and near the end both of us were having trouble staying awake but we stuck it out. When we got back to our room, Paul undressed and went to bed right away. A few minutes later, I joined him. I had no idea the evening would turn out as wonderful as it did. It had been a long but enjoyable day for both of us.
It was about 6:00 when I opened my eyes to begin Monday, May 30, the day after the big race. Paul was still sleeping soundly, so I caught up on some of my reading, watched TV for a few minutes, and then bathed, shaved, combed my hair, and put on clean clothes. I felt more alert and ready to face the day after doing that.
I sat down and did a little more reading, and a few minutes later Paul woke up. He also took a bath and put on clean clothes. We watched TV for a few minutes and relaxed in our double room accommodations.
By then we were ready for breakfast, so we walked to the motel restaurant. The hostess seated us, and we ordered from the menu. Paul had sausage and biscuits with gravy and orange juice, while I had pancakes, coffee, and orange juice. There were only a few customers when we arrived, but several more came while we were there.
When we finished, I paid the bill and we returned to our room. We brushed our teeth, watched TV for a few minutes, and then packed our belongings for the trip home. I stopped to turn in our key and sign out and then we left.
I took I-74 to the Route 150-1 turnoff and went south. The traffic was light on this holiday morning, and we saw only a few persons in the towns along the way. When we reached the Route 36 intersection, we pulled off and stopped at the Colonial Kitchen.
I had a BBQ sandwich and coffee, and Paul had a grilled cheese sandwich and a Sprite. Business was light, but the farmers were having their morning coffee break. The snack tasted good, and when we finished we used the restroom, paid our bill, and started our drive west on Route 36. When we reached Tuscola, I stopped at a filling station to fill the gas tank and wash the windows. When we got close to Decatur, the traffic started increasing. When we arrived in the city, the Memorial Day boat races were in progress and traffic on both the streets and the lake was heavy. I took old Route 36 and drove it to Springfield, turning off at the Sangamon Avenue exit.
About 15 minutes later, we arrived home at 1:40. It was the end of a fine trip for both of us, one we would remember and talk about for a long time to come.
On Monday morning, May 30, USAC announced the official results of the race.
There was no question about Rick Mears being the winner. This was Rick’s 11th race, all of them being with Roger Penske’s team. He set one- and four-lap qualifying records and led 89 of the 200 race laps. He and Roger Penske have really been the model of perfection at the Speedway.
The scoring and timing crew finally decided that second-place belonged to Emerson Fittipaldi. The crew checked with Rich Vogler, and Rich stated that he had directed Emerson to pass him during a caution period; therefore, USAC rescinded the lap penalty and restored him to second place.
Al Unser continued his outstanding record at the Speedway by finishing within the first 10 positions for the 14th time, this time taking third place in one of Roger Penske’s cars. He led 13 laps of the race, and this gave him the distinction of being the all-time laps leader in Speedway history, certainly a record worthy of praise.
Fourth position was taken by Michael Andretti in the #18 Kraco March Cosworth. This was his fifth race and the fourth time he was running at the finish. He started in 10th position and was in the top 10 positions during the entire race.
Another famous Speedway name, Bobby Rahal, came away with fifth-place honors. He drove the #4 Budweiser Lola Judd. His pit area was directly in front of us, and when he pulled in at the end of the race he was given a standing ovation by the fans in our immediate area.
In my opinion, the greatest racing performance in this year’s race was done by Jim Crawford, not Rick Mears. Jim made an unbelievable comeback after sustaining serious foot injuries in a crash on the first day of qualifying last year. He qualified the #15 Mac Tools Lola Buick at 210.564 mph for 18th position and was in third position by the 60th lap. His car ran excellently all day, and if he hadn’t had to make an unscheduled pit stop on the 195th lap he was a sure bet to finish either second or third. His great performance was well-received by the large crowd.
Seventh position went to Brazilian Raul Boesel in the #30 Domino’s Pizza Lola Cosworth. This was his third race, and he started 20th with a 211.058 mph average. He drove a consistent race and gradually moved up to seventh position.
Most racing fans would probably say the second greatest racing performance of this year’s race was given by Phil Krueger. With no major sponsorships and a crew of volunteers, he qualified his two-year old March Cosworth on the first day of qualifying at 208.212 mph to start in the 15th position. Although never a serious contender for the lead, he drove a steady race and brought his machine home to a fine eighth-place finish. He was given a warm reception by the audience as he walked through the pit area after the race.
Ninth position was claimed by the oldest driver in this year’s race, 54-year old Dick Simon. He qualified his #22 Uniden-SounDesign Lola Cosworth at 207.555 mph to start in the 16th position, and he had driven 196 laps when the checkered flag came out. This was his second-best finish, topped only by last year’s sixth place finish.
Tenth place went to 1985 Rookie of the Year Arie Luyendyk in the #7 Provimi Veal Lola Cosworth. Arie was among the speed leaders all month, had an excellent qualifying speed of 213.611 mph to start sixth, and ran in second place for several laps during the early part of the race. His hopes for finishing near the front of the field were slashed when he ran into the rear of Ludwig Heimrath’s car. This required a long pit stop, and when he returned to the race he was four laps down and unable to improve on that misfortune.
Once again, a new purse record was established when $5,025,400 was given out at the Victory Dinner, with Rick Mears and the Penske team getting a record $804,853 for first place.
The unusually large amount of yellow time was responsible for this being the slowest race in many years. The average speed was 144.809 mph and the time was 3:27:10.204, a long way from Bobby Rahal’s 1986 records of 2:55 and 170 mph.
Another unusual feature of the race was that no new speed records were set for any distance. This, of course, was also caused by the high amount of yellow time.
Pace Car – Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme
500 Festival Queen – Sara Bassett