The rainout of the first day of time trials, the strong showing of Emerson Fittipaldi, the disappointing performance of the Penske cars in the race, and the exciting battle between Fittipaldi and Al Unser, Jr. for the lead near the end of the race were the highlights of this year’s activity at the Speedway.
On Friday, May 12th at 3:31, John, Paul and I left our house in our 1989 Chevrolet station wagon for our trip to see the first day of time trials. We drove on North Grand Avenue, 8th Street, and Sangamon Avenue and got on I-72 at Riverton. We had no problems either with the traffic or the car, and at 5:46 we crossed the state line. As we traveled, we listened to radio station WIBC from Indianapolis. They had periodic reports on activity at the Speedway, which made interesting listening.
When we reached the I-465 interchange, the traffic slowed considerably but there was much activity around us. It was 6:57 when we parked in the Speedway Shopping Center and got out to eat at the MCL Cafeteria.
There was a long line of customers, but it moved quickly and our wait was only a few minutes. John had peaches, beef and noodles, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, cinnamon roll, and Pepsi. Paul had baked cod, gelatin, cornbread, mashed potatoes, and Pepsi. I had broccoli, beef and noodles, salad, lima beans, cornbread, and Pepsi. All three of us were hungry and felt better when we finished.
From here, we walked a short distance to the Kroger grocery store where we bought our box lunches for Saturday. It was here that we experienced the first big frustration of our trip. Our order was taken with normal speed, but then it seemed an eternity before we received it. I don’t know if they were out of some of the items or had to make them or what, but it took much longer than it should have to make up the boxes. There were other customers in the same situation, and they were equally as unhappy as we were.
As we were walking back to the car, we encountered another frustration. We were in front of the cafeteria when Paul shouted “STOP.” I turned around and saw the contents of Paul’s box strewn on the pavement. I bent down and put the food back in the box and rebuked him for not carrying the box correctly, which further aggravated the situation. We were just a few steps from the car when the same thing happened again. I examined the box and discovered that it was the box, not Paul, that was to blame. As we were putting the food in the box again, a lady drove up, stopped, and got out. She handed me a couple of pieces of food. She said she had seen what happened and that we had forgotten some of the lunch. Paul and I thanked her sincerely, and then she left. I apologized to Paul for rebuking him, and I hope he understood.
From there, we drove to a nearby gas station and filled the gas tank, and then we left for our motel in Lebanon. The traffic on I-465 and I-65 was heavy, but it moved well. At 8:56, we arrived at the Holiday Inn Motel.
I checked in and registered at the front desk, and then we drove to our room. The boys immediately changed clothes and went to the swimming pool while I sat down for a few minutes and watched TV.
After relaxing for a few minutes, I walked to the Holidome area to see what was happening, and then I went back to the room to see the 10:00 news. The news covered what had happened at the Speedway during the day and what was expected on Saturday. John returned during the newscast. When the news ended and Paul wasn’t back yet, I went to get him. I met him about halfway there. He had forgotten to take a towel and was thoroughly chilled. When we got back to the room, he dried off really well and got into bed for the night.
I set the alarm clock and turned off the lights. A long day lie ahead of us.
The alarm clock rang at 5:30. I laid in bed for a couple of minutes and then got up and looked out the room window. I was shocked at what I saw: RAIN. Mixed feelings of anger and disbelief came over me. I thought about letting the boys sleep another hour or so, but I decided to go ahead with the original plan. I got myself ready and then gently woke the two boys. They laid in bed for a few minutes, then got up and dressed and were ready for breakfast.
Upon arriving at the restaurant, we encountered another major frustration. There were only a few people waiting in line to be seated, but we still had to wait a long time before the hostess seated us. The other people waiting in line were as unhappy as we were. Their plans for the day were the same as ours.
When we finally got to our seats, the service from our waitress was fine. Paul had biscuits and gravy with milk and orange juice to drink. John had French toast and bacon to eat and water as his beverage. I had pancakes to eat with coffee and orange juice for my drinks.
We left feeling we couldn’t eat another bite, which was good because it would be several hours until we ate again. We went back to our room, brushed our teeth, got our equipment to take with us, and at 8:09 left the motel grounds for our trip to the Speedway.
It was not raining then, but the sky remained dark and looked as if it could open up again at any moment.
The traffic on Crawfordsville Road and Georgetown Road was lighter than usual, but it was still backed up on Georgetown Road. We went through the tunnel at the north end of the Speedway and followed the Speedway patrolman’s directions to a parking space. It was 8:46 when we stopped and I turned off the engine.
I checked to see that we had everything we needed, locked the car, and then we walked to the tunnel by the start-finish line, went through it, and got some seats a short distance south of the starting line.
There were several thousand fans in the grandstand area but almost none in the Tower Terrace section, which was to be expected because of the rain. PA announcer Tom Carnegie came on the air a few times to thank the fans for showing up in the unpleasant weather and asked for their patience with the situation.
Several GMC Speedway trucks and the jet dryers were used to help dry the track, but the refusal of the sun to make an appearance made the job more difficult.
In addition to the unwanted rain, there were unseasonably cool temperatures and brisk winds. John was the only one of the three of us who thought to bring a jacket. Paul and I shivered in our short-sleeved shirts. I kept hoping the rain would stop and the sun would come out, but conditions got worse instead of better. I finally decided that the only way Paul and I would get warm was to go to one of the gift shops and buy a jacket or long sleeve sweater.
We went to the shop by the main gate and discovered there were many other people in our situation. I looked for the cheapest sweater and jacket that would fit us. I chose a dark blue sweater with white speedway lettering on the front of it, and Paul chose a red sweatshirt with white lettering. They were about $15 each, and we put them on as soon as we left the shop. We both felt warmed and weren’t chilled as we had been before. We returned to our seats and rejoined John.
Tom Carnegie broke the monotony of the long day when he came on the air and interviewed NASCAR driver Richard Petty. Richard comes to the Speedway every year for the first day of time trials and received a warm welcome from the fans.
Another famous person in attendance was Oliver North, who had received much attention lately concerning the Iran-Contra affair. He was not as popular as Richard Petty and received applause of both cheers and jeers.
Around 12:30-1:00, our stomachs told us they were empty, so we got our box lunches out and ate some of the food in them. The baked beans, apples, ham sandwiches, and brownies all tasted good and would hold us over until supper.
The track was drying well, but then a heavy shower came and cancelled all the work the truck crews had done all morning. It also brought an exodus of many of the race fans.
By 2:00, the boys were getting restless, and I was becoming more and more doubtful that we would see any track activity, so I decided we may as well leave.
I had decided ahead of time that we would spend some of the afternoon downtown, so we took the 30th Street exit out of the Speedway, turned right and drove east to downtown. We had gone only a few blocks when the announcement came on the radio that chief steward Tom Binford had cancelled all racing activity at the track for the day.
The trip downtown was a waste of time. I drove around for a long time but couldn’t find a parking space anywhere, so I gave up and drove back to the Speedway Shopping Center. The traffic in the area of the Speedway was terrible. The state police were detouring it south onto Lynhurst Drive, and that caused another delay.
It was about 5:30 when we arrived at the MCL Cafeteria. Unlike the night before, there was only a short line of people, so we had only a short wait to get to the serving line.
John had meat loaf, potatoes and gravy, macaroni and cheese, cinnamon roll, and Pepsi. Paul had potatoes and gravy, baked cod, peaches, cinnamon roll, and Pepsi, while I had combination salad, potatoes and gravy, broccoli, meat loaf, and Pepsi. It had been a long time since we ate our box lunches, and it felt good to sit down and relax while enjoying our good meals.
When we left, I asked the boys if they wanted to go to any of the shopping center stores. They said no, so we left and went back to the motel.
They quickly changed into their swimming trunks and left for the Holidome area, while I stayed and watched TV and did some reading.
About an hour or so later, I walked to the Holidome to see what was happening. It was a busy area. Several families were sitting around or swimming in the swimming pool. Some people were getting a workout in the exercise room, while others were playing electronic games, using the sauna room, and playing ping pong. Everybody was having a good time, including John and Paul. Shortly before 10:00, I went back to the room so that I could see the news. John went with me, but Paul decided to stay a little longer.
Although there was no racing to show on the newscast, the station we watched showed the rain, people running to get out of it, and other human interest stories connected with the Speedway. At 10:30, Paul came back and the three of us watched TV for a few minutes, but by 10:45 the boys were asleep. I turned the TV off and read for a few minutes, but shortly after 11:00 my eyes got heavy, so I got into my pajamas, checked to be sure the door was locked and chained, turned off the lights, and joined the boys in getting our nightly sleep.
Before saying goodbye to Saturday, I want to mention two stories that happened at the Speedway but that I forgot to tell in the proper sequence of events.
First, to help the time pass a little quicker, we took a walk behind the Tower Terrace area. We went into the gift shop and looked for a few minutes. Paul got a speedway flag, and John got a lighted yo-yo. Paul still has his flag, but John’s yo-yo quit working less than a week later.
Second, during the same walk, Paul and I walked to the top floor of the Control Tower where the timing and scoring people work. When we arrived there, I recognized a famous person talking to some of the fans. The person was Donald Davidson, who is famous for his fabulous memory of 500-mile race stories, statistics, etc. I have heard him many times on WIBC radio.
It was about 5:45 when I opened my eyes on Sunday morning. I laid in bed for a couple of minutes and then got up and checked the weather. The sun was shining brightly, although it was still unseasonably cool. There was no need to wake the boys yet, so I did some reading and watched TV for a while with the sound turn down really low.
The boys woke up at about 8:00. A few minutes later, we walked to the motel restaurant for breakfast. Unlike previous years, there was no buffet this year, so we had to order from the menu. John had French toast, bacon, and water. Paul had sausage, biscuits and gravy, and orange juice, while I had French toast, bacon, coffee, and orange juice. The service and food were both fine.
We went back to our room and brushed our teeth, and then the boys went outdoors and played on some of the playground equipment. When they finished, we went back to our room and got ready to leave for home. I checked to be sure we hadn’t left anything, stopped at the front desk to turn in the key and check out, and at 9:43 we started on our trip home.
I took I-65 south to I-465 and then I-465 south to the intersection with US Route 36 west. Radio Station WIBC kept us entertained with its broadcast from the Speedway prior to the start of time trials. We didn’t stop at the Colonial Kitchen because of the large crowd observing Mother’s Day dinner but drove on to Tuscola and stopped at the Dixie Truck Stop. Paul had fried chicken with hot rolls and Pepsi. John had a cheeseburger with French fries and Pepsi, while I had a cheeseburger with French fries and coffee. We browsed in the gift shop for a few minutes and left at 1:15.
It was about 2:00 when we reached Decatur. From there, we took old Route 36 the rest of the way to Springfield. It was 3:06 when we arrived home, ending a disappointing but still enjoyable trip.
The day before we left for the race I packed my suitcase, and then on Saturday morning, May 27th, I helped Paul get all of his equipment packed. I checked again to be sure I had everything we needed, particularly the money and tickets, and at 11:20 we said goodbye to Dixie, John, and Mark and started my 35th trip to the 500-mile race in our 1984 Chevrolet Caprice.
We left Springfield the usual way, via Jefferson, Bruns Lane, North Grand, 8th Street, and Sangamon Avenue. We took old Route 36 to Decatur and arrived there at about 12:15. The traffic on Eldorado Street was busy as usual on this holiday weekend. It was about 12:30 when we left the city and continued on our way. We went through Tuscola between 1:00 and 1:15 and arrived at the Colonial Kitchen at 1:43.
We stretched our arms and legs for a few seconds and then went in and sat down. Paul ordered a cod fish sandwich and Pepsi while I had a BBQ sandwich and coffee.
There were a few people eating the buffet dinner and a few ordering from the menu as we did. Everything tasted fine, and after using the men’s room and paying the bill, we left at 2:12.
The traffic between Chrisman and Danville was fairly heavy, and there were many people working in their yards and visiting with their neighbors. We took the I-74 east exit and drove to the last exit in Illinois. There, we drove north to the Ramada Inn. I drove to a spot close to the front entrance and turned off the engine. It was 3:00.
I had already paid for my room reservation, so all I had to do was register. I checked over the room to be sure everything was working. We watched TV for a few minutes, and then Paul changed his clothes and went swimming while I stayed in the room, watched TV, and did some reading. About 30 minutes later, I went to the swimming pool and watched Paul and the other motel guests swim. It was a crowded place, but everyone seemed to be having a good time.
I went back to the room about 5:00, took a bath, shaved, and got ready to go to supper. While I was doing this, Paul came back and changed his clothes and said he was ready to eat.
The first place we stopped at when we got to town was the Famous Recipe chicken place. I bought two boxes of chicken for us to eat after the race.
From there, we went back to the street we came in on and stopped at a gas station and filled the gas tank. We had enough gas to go to the race and most of the way back home.
From the gas station, we drove east about two blocks to George’s Buffet Restaurant. Paul chose spaghetti, green beans, potatoes and gravy, noodles, fish, and chicken, while I had liver, lettuce salad, potatoes and gravy, corn, cornbread, and noodles. When we sat down at our table, our waitress brought us our water, and we ordered Pepsis as well for our drinks. Everything tasted good, and we went back for seconds of some of the selections. Our dessert was chocolate cake, and when we finished eating, we felt as if it would be a long time until we ate again.
With these three jobs done, we drove back to the motel for an evening of fun and relaxation. Before going to our room, we went to the front desk to inquire about breakfast on Sunday morning. The restaurant and lounge were both doing a good business, and the swimming pool was crowded, too. When we got back to our room, Paul said he wanted to open the door, but when he turned the key, it broke into two pieces. One piece stayed in the door, and I took the other piece to the front desk and told them what had happened. The clerk was understanding and said it wasn’t our fault. They had had several cases of this happening, and she said there was something wrong with the keys. She sent a repairman to our room right away. He was really friendly also, and he had the other broken piece out in a few seconds. He gave us a new key and said he was sure it wouldn’t break. Paul was crying for fear of what I would do to him, but I assured him it wasn’t his fault.
With that problem solved, we turned on the TV set and enjoyed the rest of the evening. I did a little reading but not much. Between 10:00 and 10:30, I got Paul to bed. I checked to be sure we had all the equipment ready to go in the morning, set the alarm clock, turned off the lights, and tried to go to sleep. A long day lie ahead of us.
The alarm clock did its job and woke me up at 4:15. I got up and washed, shaved, and dressed, and at 4:30 I woke up Paul. It took him a few minutes to realize what was happening, but in a few minutes he got up and got dressed, although he wasn’t necessarily awake.
Shortly before 5:00 we walked to the motel restaurant, which was just opening although there were a few other customers, too. It was a buffet breakfast, which was good for us because it would be a long time until dinner. The two of us together had bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, eggs, orange juice, grapefruit juice, and coffee. Everything tasted really good, and we left with full stomachs. We went back to our rooms, brushed our teeth, got our equipment, and walked to the car. It was 5:25 when we left the motel for our trip to the Speedway.
A couple of minutes later, we were on I-74 and in Indiana, joining hundreds of other cars going to the same destination. Radio station WIBC had its usual excellent coverage of activity from the Speedway. At this time of the day, the only things to report on were the traffic situation, the drivers’ meeting, and the 500 Festival Parade from the day before. The all-important weather forecast was given every few minutes and it was encouraging — sunshine, little wind, and no rain. The trip went smoothly, and it was between 6:15 and 6:30 when we reached the I-465 interchange and traffic slowed to a snail’s pace. From there, the traffic moved unusually well, and at 6:40 we arrived at the parking lot about a block west of Lynhurst Drive.
I paid the parking attendant the $5.00 fee, got our equipment, locked the doors, and then we started our walk to the Speedway. The traffic going to the Speedway, both vehicular and pedestrian, was heavy but it moved well.
When we reached Georgetown Road and 16th Street I took some movie footage, and then at 7:20 I handed our tickets to the ticket taker and we entered the Speedway grounds.
We stopped and bought three souvenir programs and then walked to the infield entrance at the end of the front straightaway. It always gives me a strange feeling to stand on the racetrack and realize that in a few hours race cars will be going by there at more than 200 mph.
From there, we went to the garage area and observed the activity from the south fence with several hundred other fans. This was a good time to see the race cars because many of them were being pushed to the pit area to beat the 8:00 deadline.
We walked around the garage area and came out behind the Control Tower and then continued walking across the grass and through the tunnel. By then, the mob of people was crushing at times, and I held on to Paul’s arm to be sure we didn’t separate from each other. We walked to the north end of the Tower Terrace section, handed our tickets to the ticket taker, and walked in. The sights and sounds of the activity on the racetrack were spectacular. It was 8:10 when we sat down in our seats.
The marching bands put on a wonderful show for everybody, and the pit crews were busy making final checks on their cars. About 8:30, we left and took a walk along the pit area fence. It was interesting to watch the mechanics and pit crews working on the cars, although I didn’t know what they were doing. When we got to the starting line area, I recognized some familiar faces including Sam Hanks, Duke Nalon, Rodger Ward, and Jim Rathmann. We walked to the Gasoline Alley entrance and then started back. We took our time and enjoyed looking at the cars up close.
It was at about this time that much activity was going on behind the Control Tower due to the arrival of a special guest, former US Senator and now US Vice President Dan Quayle. He arrived at 9:20 and was escorted to the Control Tower area, where he and his wife got into one of the Pontiac Trans-Am pace cars and were taken for a lap around the track. They watched the first 25 laps of the race from the Control Tower and the remainder of the race from the suites on the outside of the second turn.
While we were talking, Tom Carnegie came on the PA system and gave the order for the pit crews to move their cars into their starting positions on the racetrack. At the same time, the Purdue University Band played the first of the traditional pre-race songs, On the Banks of the Wabash.
Between 10:00 and 10:30, the parade of celebrities was driven around the track for the cheers and applause of the crowd.
At about 10:15, my race day companion since 1977, Malcolm McKean, made his appearance. We visited for a few minutes and watched the activity on the track.
When Malcolm got settled into his seat, Paul and I made our final trip to the men’s room because I didn’t want to leave during the race. When we got there, we discovered several dozen other men had the same idea.
At 10:30, chief steward Tom Binford and other USAC officials made the final inspection trip of the track and said it was ready for the race.
At 10:40, the huge crowd rose to its feet as the PU band played The Star-Spangled Banner as it was sung by Tom Hudnut, brother of Indianapolis mayor Bill Hudnut. This was followed by a solemn, pertinent invocation given by a local clergyman.
This was followed by the playing of Taps in keeping with the true meaning of Memorial Day.
After Taps, the crowd returned to a more jovial mood as Tom Carnegie introduced Jim Nabors to sing Back Home Again in Indiana. While Jim was singing, the multitude of balloons was released behind the Control Tower, making a beautiful site as they sailed skyward.
The crowd was in a frenzy as they knew what was about to happen. A minute or so later, Mary Hulman was introduced over the PA system and gave the command made so famous by her late husband, Tony – “GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES!”
A huge cheer came from the crowd as the engines came to life. One person from each crew raised his hand to indicate his car was ready to move. Two Pontiac Trans-Am pace cars pulled away, and a minute or so later, the real pace car, driven by three-time winner Bobby Unser and accompanied by USAC officials Bob Cassady and Rich Coy, slowly pulled away.
Rock Moran’s car wouldn’t start and had to be pushed back to its pit. Scott Brayton’s car started but stalled in the first turn, and his crew had to restart it. Gary Bettenhausen’s car started, but when the field came by the first time, he was going really slowly along the inside wall. He stopped by the pit exit, and his crew pushed the car back to its pit. His crew discovered a burned valve, so he was finished before the race started.
At the end of the second parade lap, the two front-running pace cars pulled off the track, leaving the official pace car. At the north end of the track, the pace car accelerated and a few seconds later came charging through the pit area. It was up to Rick Mears to pace the abbreviated field of 31 cars to the green flag. This was his fifth pole position, a Speedway record, so he had plenty of experience at the job.
The front row of Mears, Al Unser, and Emerson Fittipaldi stayed even with each other as they came down for the green flag, and most of the rest of the field was also lined up well. Duane Sweeney waved two green flags, and the race was on.
The front row stayed even for several yards, but Fittipaldi finally emerged and got into the turn first. He was followed by Mears, Unser, and Mario Andretti, who started fifth.
As they came by to complete the first lap, Emmo was about two seconds ahead of Mears and set a new first lap record of 209.200 mph.
As the field was coming by to complete the third lap, a spectacular crash occurred in the fourth turn. Kevin Cogan lost control, hit the inside wall, and seemingly burst into smithereens. The engine and tub separated from each other. Part of the car almost hit the north end of the pit wall head-on but missed by a few inches and hit the steel barrier that had been installed since last year’s race to protect crew members on the grass from out-of-control race cars. The cockpit turned on its left side, hit the inside wall, and bounced a few feet further south. Amazingly, before the cockpit had hardly stopped, Cogan was trying to get out. He did so quickly and appeared to be unhurt. He was taken to the infield hospital and then to Methodist Hospital, where he was released about an hour later. It was one of the worst crashes in Speedway history, and it was almost unbelievable that he survived, much less walked away under his own power.
During the caution period, several drivers made pit stops, including Rich Vogler, Pancho Cater, Davy Jones, John Paul Jones, and Gordon Johncock. Also during the caution period, Rocky Moran’s engine finally started and he joined the field on the track.
The yellow flag was out for 10 laps and went back in as Fittipaldi completed his 16th lap. Mario Andretti overtook Mears for second as Emmo increased his speed to 212 mph.
At 20 laps, the first 10 drivers were Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Mears, Al Unser, Jr., Al Unser, Bobby Rahal, Arie Luyendyk, Jim Crawford, Michael Andretti, and Raul Boesel.
The next driver out of the race was former winner Gordon Johncock, who was done after 19 laps with engine failure. Four laps later, the next retiree became Teo Fabi in the highly acclaimed Quaker State Porsche. His ignition system had failed.
Derek Daly, whose pit was directly in front of us, made the first of four long pit stops on consecutive laps to repair an electrical problem.
By lap 30, Fittipaldi had an 11-second lead over Mario Andretti as several drivers were making their first pit stops. John Andretti had moved to eighth position when he made his first stop. As he started to leave, he lost control and the car got sideways on the pit lane in the path of oncoming cars. His pit crew got him turned around and restarted after he had stalled.
At 40 laps, 100 miles, the 10 front-runners were Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Mears, Al Unser, Jr., Al Unser, Luyendyk, Rahal, Boesel, and Crawford.
Randy Lewis was the next driver out of the race. He started in 11th position but retired after only 24 laps with wheel bearing trouble.
Fittipaldi continued his hot pace but slowed slightly in the next few laps as Mario and Michael Andretti started getting closer to him.
The next car out of the race was a big surprise: the #1 Miller High Life Penske of Danny Sullivan. It had been a frustrating month for Danny. On May 11th, he had broken a bone in his right arm when he crashed in the third turn. He was unable to qualify until the second weekend, and then he only qualified at 216.027 mph, several mph slower than he had been practicing prior to his crash. He made his pit stop at 38 laps and had a problem with his right rear wheel. He made two more stops in the next three laps and was finished for the day with clutch trouble.
Mario Andretti had slowed somewhat as Michael was moving well and was only five seconds behind Emmo. On the 61st lap, the yellow flag came on for the first time since the Cogan crash when Bobby Rahal stalled at the north end of the track and needed a tow in.
About the same time, Tom Sneva was having his problems. He pitted on the 53rd lap, and his pit crew had trouble with the fueling nozzle on his car. Two laps later he returned to his pit, and this time the car caught on fire. Tom escaped uninjured, but he was done for the day.
Emmo continued his hot pace while Michael Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. continued in second and third, unable to gain any ground on Emmo.
The next driver to exit the race was John Andretti. He had started in 12th position but couldn’t advance any. He stalled his engine on his second pit stop, and he was done after 61 laps with ignition problems.
At about this same time, Al Unser was experiencing trouble. He had to make three pit stops in seven laps, and it was soon discovered his program was the same as Danny Sullivan’s: clutch trouble. He, too, was done for the day.
Emmo continued his winning way, and at 80 laps the first 10 positions were held by Fittipaldi, Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., Mears, Mario Andretti, Crawford, Brayton, Boesel, Luyendyk, and Dominic Dobson.
On the 87th lap, with a 10-second lead, Emmo made his third pit stop and surrendered the lead to Michael Andretti. Michael remained in the lead through the 92nd lap when he pitted. Fittipaldi regained the lead and increased it to 17 seconds over Michael as Al Unser, Jr. dropped back quite a bit.
At 100 laps, 250 miles, Emmo and Michael were the only two cars on the lead lap. The remainder of the top 10 consisted of Al Unser, Jr., Mears, Crawford, Luyendyk, Boesel, Brayton, Dobson, and Foyt.
Emmo steadily increased his lead over Michael Andretti and Unser, and then on the 112th lap he made his fourth pit stop. Although it was only 17 seconds, Michael managed to pass him and build a nine-second lead. He held the lead until the 124th lap when he made a routine pit stop and gave the lead back to Fittipaldi.
In the meantime, the huge crowd looked in disbelief as Mears came around the track and through the pit area with smoke pouring from his car. He, too, was the victim of clutch trouble.
It had been a most unusual day for the Roger Penske team. Not only were all three cars out of the race long before the finish, but none of the three had led a single lap of the race.
The standings at 120 laps, 300 miles, were Michael Andretti, Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Jr., Crawford, Boesel, Luyendyk, Dobson, Foyt, Brayton, and Scott Pruett.
Pancho Cater was the next retiree from the race with a blown engine after 123 laps, and then a big groan came from the main straightaway as the #9 machine of Arie Luyendyk blew its engine and started slowing down. He eventually stopped at the north end of the track and brought out the yellow flag for five laps. It was a tough break for Arie, who was running fifth at the time.
Fittipaldi pitted and Michael retook the lead. Unser was able to come back onto the lead lap because of Emmo’s long pit stop, caused by having to change tires after the car had been let down.
Five minutes after the green flag came out the yellow flag reappeared, this time because of Crawford. He slowed down on the backstretch and stopped in turn three, the victim of a faulty clutch. He had started in fourth position with a 221.450 mph average. On May 18th, he severely damaged his car in a third turn crash. The tub of the car was sent to England for repairs and arrived back at the Speedway on Wednesday, May 24th. His crew worked all night to get the car ready for racing.
At about the same time, Didier Theys became the first of the four rookies in this year’s race to drop out when his #12 Arciero machine developed an oil leak.
On their 140th lap Emmo and Michael made pit stops, and the yellow flag remained out until the 150th lap.
Green conditions returned, and on the 154th lap a roar went up from the crowd as Michael passed Emmo on the backstretch.
At 160 laps, 400 miles, the first 10 leaders were Michael, Emmo, Al Unser, Jr., Boesel, Brayton, Foyt, Mario Andretti, Pruett, Davy Jones, and Bernard Jourdain.
Michael was really flying and had built up a four-second lead over Emmo when misfortune struck. He was coming down the straightaway when he suddenly slowed with white smoke coming from the rear of the car. His brilliant drive had come to a frustrating end.
His departure brought out the yellow flag for four laps, and during this time Emmo and Al Jr. moved to the first and second positions. Emmo began increasing his lead, and at 170 laps he was about 10 seconds ahead of Al Jr. At 175 laps, he was 15 seconds ahead.
As Emmo completed his 181st lap, the yellow flag was displayed again. Tero Palmroth had just made a pit stop and was at the north end of the track when his left front wheel came off. Tero returned to his pit on three wheels, but he was finished for the day.
Emmo pitted for fuel, and when he returned to the track he was directly in front of Al Jr. in the procession of cars behind the pace car.
As the two leaders completed their 186th lap, the green flag came out again. Boesel, in third place, was having engine trouble, and the smoke and water from his engine was getting on Unser’s windshield and helmet. After three laps Al passed Boesel, and at 190 laps he was about two seconds behind Emmo.
Suddenly, with 10 laps to go, Fittipaldi didn’t have the race sewn up as everybody thought. Little Al was making a battle of it as his lap speeds were exceeding those of Emmo.
Two laps later, they were only half a second apart. The next lap, it was 0.2 seconds.
On the 196th lap, Unser passed Emmo in turn three as the crowd went wild with excitement. As they came down the straightaway, they were only a few yards apart. One lap later, Al was still in front by half a second time wise.
Going into the third turn on lap 199, they were side by side with Emmo on the inside and Al on the outside. Emmo came up just slightly to the white line, and when he did the two cars touched. Al lost control and headed for the outside wall. He hit flush on the left side of his car as smoke and fire appeared and the left-side tires went flying through the air. The car spun around again slowly and stopped, facing in the right direction.
Emmo almost lost control but brought his car under control and continued on around to receive the white flag.
Al’s accident immediately brought out the yellow flag, but Emmo was making his final lap of the race when the pace car got in front of him on the backstretch. As they went through turn three, Unser stood on the edge of the track and gave a thumbs-up gesture with both hands to Emmo as he went by. It was an excellent gesture of sportsmanship considering the tremendous disappointment and frustration he was enduring.
As Emmo came out of the fourth turn and down to the checkered flags of Duane Sweeney, he was given tremendous applause by the crowd. He was the winner of the 1989 Indianapolis 500.
Emmo and the other remaining 14 drivers took one last slow lap around the track and then came in to their pits to stay. Two of the remaining drivers, Davy Jones and Derek Daly, were in front of us, which made for interesting post-race activity.
A few minutes later, the remains of Al Unser, Jr.’s car were brought through the pit area on the end of a tow truck, eliciting a low moan from the crowd.
The three of us got out our dinners and ate a later Sunday dinner. The chicken and biscuits weren’t hot, but they still tasted fine since we hadn’t eaten since 5:30. Most of the people around us had left, but there were a few doing the same thing we were doing.
Paul wanted to get Derek Daly’s autograph, so I let him do that. It took several minutes to get his souvenir program to Derek and back again, but Paul was really pleased.
We took our time eating and visiting, and at about 2:45 we left and started the long walk to the car. The crowd behind the grandstands was still large, and it took several minutes to get to the exit.
The after-race traffic on Crawfordsville Road followed its usual pattern of bumper-to-bumper cars with many passengers long on drunkenness and short on patience. The walk back to the car usually seems longer and more tiring than the walk to the Speedway. It was between 3:45 and 4:00 when we arrived at the car.
I opened all the windows so that the hot air could escape and make the car more comfortable. We sat on the grass and took off our shoes for a few minutes. Then, we put them back on, got into the car, turned on the engine, and at 4:03 started our trip back to the motel.
We had to wait only a few seconds at the stop sign until a courteous driver stopped and let us into the heavy flow of traffic. The traffic moved in spurts, but there were no long, aggravating stops, and in a few minutes we were on I-74, where the traffic was back to normal.
Paul said he needed something to drink, so a few minutes later we stopped at the first rest stop. It was a busy place, and most of the people were coming from the same place we were. Paul had wanted a can of soda, but when I saw the price was 70 cents, I said no and he agreed with me. We used the men’s room and satisfied our thirst with cool water. It felt really good, and a few minutes later we were on our way again.
Sometime between then and our arrival at Danville, we almost had a possible tragedy. Being in the warm sunshine all day had made me sleepy. We were riding along when suddenly I heard Paul yell, “DAD!” It scared me, and when I looked up we were partly on the shoulder of the road. I stayed on the shoulder for a few seconds until I could get back into the flow of traffic. I felt terrible about what had happened and even worse when I thought of what could have happened. Fortunately, I felt okay the rest of the way, and at 5:37 we arrived at the motel.
Paul wanted to go swimming, but sometime during our trip a cool wave had arrived in the area and produced unpleasant swimming conditions. The drop in temperature, along with strong winds and no sunshine, killed the pool business. He went in but a few minutes later returned and was chilled to the bone. He took off his trunks, dried himself, got into bed, and stayed there for quite a while. There were no customers at the swimming pool the rest of the night.
We relaxed and watched TV for about an hour and then went to the motel restaurant for supper.
The meal was buffet style, and we had Swiss steak, potatoes and gravy, lettuce salad, corn, ham, and roast beef. It had been a long time since we ate, and everything tasted fine.
At 7:30, a movie of the race was shown in the lounge, which is adjacent to the restaurant and separated by a folding door, which was open. When we finished eating, we went to the lounge and watched the race. It was a tape of the ABC telecast of the race. We enjoyed watching it, but near the end Paul got really tired and I had to wake him a couple of times. It ended at 10:45, and we went right back to our room.
Paul got undressed and into bed and was asleep almost immediately. I joined him a few minutes later. It had been a long day.
It was about 7:00 when I woke up on Monday morning. Unlike the morning before, there was no alarm clock and no rush to get on the road. I watched TV and read for a while as Paul continued sleeping. Then I took a bath, got dressed, and took a short walk around the motel grounds. There was hardly a sound to be heard or a person to be seen.
Paul woke up at about 8:45 and laid in bed for several minutes before getting up. At about 9:15, we walked to the motel restaurant for breakfast.
There was no buffet breakfast that morning, so everybody ordered from the menu. Paul had biscuits and gravy with sausage and orange juice, while I had a waffle, coffee, and orange juice. The food and service were fine, and the waitress was really attentive to my coffee cup. The crowd was smaller and the atmosphere more relaxed than the morning before.
After eating, we returned to our room, brushed our teeth, watched TV for a few minutes, and then got everything packed and ready to go.
I turned our room key in, and at 10:55 we left for our ride home. We went west on I-74 and then south on Route 150/1.
There was little activity in the towns along the way. I assumed everybody was taking life easy on this holiday morning. When we reached the US 36 intersection, I turned right and drove to Tuscola. Activity there was also really quiet, and it was 12:20 when we stopped at the Dixie Truck Stop.
Business there was good although not rushing. Paul had a cheeseburger with French fries and a Sprite. I had a meat loaf sandwich with French fries and coffee.
After eating, we used the restroom and browsed in the gift shop for a while. It was 1:23 when we left the truck stop and headed west again.
As we were going through Decatur Paul said he needed to use the bathroom, so I stopped at the Holiday Inn motel. This turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. The motel was in the midst of a large remodeling program, and we were fascinated by the results. It looked like a newly built motel with a large variety of recreational activities and eating places. Everything seemed to sparkle with beauty and newness. We took our time and saw everything. When we left, I felt as if we had been through a shopping center or small city. I certainly had no idea when we stopped to use the restroom that we were in for such a pleasant time.
We took old Route 36 the rest of the way to Springfield and pulled into our driveway at 3:45. It was the end of another trip to the big race, and it was filled with many wonderful memories.
The official results of the race were announced on Monday morning by USAC. Emerson Fittipaldi and his #20 Penske Chevrolet would have clearly been the dominant cars of the race, even if he hadn’t won. He led 158 of the 200 laps, and his 85th lap speed of 222.469 mph was the fastest of the race. His winning average of 167.581 mph was the second-fastest in Speedway history, topped only by Bobby Rahal’s 170.722 mph in 1986.
Al Unser, Jr. certainly made the last 10 laps exciting. It will never be known for sure if he or Fittipaldi would have won if he hadn’t crashed. He was in the top five positions at every 10-lap interval. He set a record for the highest finishing position for a contestant not running at the end of a race that went the distance. His sportsmanlike salute to Fittipaldi on the last lap of the race earned him respect from everybody.
Raul Boesel took home third place honors in his #30 Domino’s Pizza Lola-Judd, although he completed only 194 laps. This was Raul’s fourth race and the third time he finished with more than 190 laps.
It was good to see Mario Andretti still running at the finish, as it was only the ninth time in his 24 races that he had done so. He started his K-Mart/Havoline car in fifth position, and he ran in second position for several laps during the race.
Of the 15 drivers running at the finish, probably the happiest (excluding Fittipaldi) was AJ Foyt. This was his 17th consecutive year of driving for owner Jim Gilmore, and it was a real pleasing to everybody to see him do so well.
Scott Brayton had his best finish in eight races when he brought his #22 Amway/Uniden Lola home in sixth position. This was especially pleasing after last year’s first-lap accident, which took out him, Tony Bettenhausen, and Roberto Guerrero. His car was owned by Dick Simon and started in the sixth position with a 220.459 mph average.
In only his second year at the Speedway, Davy Jones finished seventh in the Euromotorsport/Uno Lola #50. He may have finished higher if he had had faster pit stops, particularly his last one when he stalled the engine and had to be restarted. His pit area was almost directly in front of us, next door south to Derek Daly.
Eighth place went to Rich Vogler. This was Rich’s fifth race and by far his best finish, his previous best being 17th last year. For the second year in a row, he was the last driver to qualify on the last day of time trials. Three of his five starting positions have been in the last row, and this was the first time he was running at the end of the race. He is an outstanding midget car driver and five times has been USAC Midget Champion.
The highest finishing rookie of this year’s race was Bernard Jourdain, who finished ninth in the #69 Corona Beer/Monarch Sports Lola. His qualifying speed of 213.105 mph was the slowest in the field, and it wasn’t until 6:00 on the final qualifying day that he knew for sure that he would be in the race. His fine drive earned him half of the Rookie of the Year award.
The other half of the Rookie of the Year award went to Scott Pruett, who finished 10th. He was a replacement for Bobby Rahal on the Truesports Team and drove a fine race.
In addition to the new guard rail referred to in reference to Kevin Cogan’s accident, the entire track, including the pit area, was repaved since last year’s race. It really made a difference in the pit area.
The prize money distributed to the race participants again set a new record. The total was $5,723,725, with $1,001,604 of that going to the winning team.
Pace Car – Pontiac Trans-Am
500 Festival Queen – Jane Bizal