The third consecutive year of rain on the first day of time trials, the possibility of not being able to see the race because of rain, Rick Mears’s fourth race victory, and the appearance of Norman Schwarzkopf at the race were among the highlights at the Speedway this year.
Again this year, my youngest child, Paul, went with me. On Friday afternoon, May 10, I picked him up at Lincoln School. It was 3:07 when we started our trip in our 1984 Chevrolet Caprice. We went north on 11th Street to North Grand Avenue, east on North Grand to 31st Street, north on 31st Street to Sangamon Avenue, and east on Sangamon Avenue. We drove to Riverton, where we took I-72 and drove east. The traffic moved well until we reached Champaign, where it slowed somewhat but not badly.
As we traveled, we listened to Indianapolis radio station WIBC. Shortly after 5:00, about the time we reached the Indiana state line, the announcer said that rookie driver Mark Dismore had crashed in the fourth turn near the pit entrance and had sustained severe injuries.
The traffic around Indianapolis slowed us down somewhat, and it was 6:21 when we arrived at the Amoco service station at High School Road. It took 8.40 gallons to fill the tank, which came out to an average of 23.55 mpg, which I thought was really good.
From the gasoline station, we drove east about two blocks to the MCL Cafeteria in the Speedway Shopping Center. There was a long time of customers there, but it moved quickly. For his supper, Paul had baked cod, mashed potatoes and gravy, cinnamon roll, gelatin cubes, and Pepsi, while I had meat loaf with brown gravy, mashed potatoes and gravy, broccoli, cornbread, and Pepsi. Everything tasted fine, and we felt better for having eaten our supper. When we left, business was still good and the waiting line was the same length as when we arrived.
From the cafeteria, we walked to the Kroger store and bought our lunches for Saturday at the Speedway. The lunches were already made up and our wait time was only a few minutes, which was a great improvement over last year.
With these three important jobs taken care of, it was time to go to our motel. I went north on I-465 about three miles and then took the I-65 turnoff. The traffic was heavy in both directions but it moved well, and about 15 minutes later we arrived at the Holiday Inn Motel in Lebanon. It was 8:00.
I had already paid for my reservation, so all I had to do was register and get my room key. It was a busy area, and while I was registering two parties were refused rooms because there were no vacancies.
As soon as we got to our room, Paul changed his clothes and left for the swimming pool. I stayed in the room and checked out the lights, beds, bathrooms, and TV set. Then, I put everything we needed for the next day in the tote bag and put everything else in the suitcase. I then watched dTV for a few minutes.
At about 8:45, I went to the Holidome area to check on Paul. He was doing fine and had met a couple of new acquaintances. The Holidome was a busy area, but it wasn’t overcrowded. I stayed about 15-20 minutes and then left.
The lounge and restaurant were doing a good business, so it was a big night at the motel. It was about 9:30 when I got to my room. I did some reading, and at about 10:00 Paul came back.
We watched the 10:00 news and, as usual, much of the program was about activity at the Speedway, both for that day and the next day.
Shortly after 10:30 Paul dozed off to sleep while I watched a program about activity at the Speedway. At 11:00 I checked to see that the room door was locked, set the alarm clock for 5:30, turned off the lights, and went to sleep.
The alarm clock worked fine, and at 5:30 my day began. I got up and got washed, shaved, and dressed and then got Paul up. A few minutes later, we left and walked to the motel restaurant.
It was a few minutes after 6:00. There were only a few customers present, and we were seated right away. We decided to have the buffet breakfast. On the menu were biscuits and gravy, hashed brown potatoes, pancakes, scrambled eggs, tomato juice, and orange juice. Everything tasted fine, and while we were there there was steady increase in business. Almost everybody was going where we were going.
We went back to our room, brushed our teeth, got our equipment, and at 6:50 left for the Speedway.
The traffic, both on the highway and in Speedway, was heavy but moved well. Everything went smoothly until we reached Lynhurst Drive. There, the state police made all cars go north instead of continuing east and directed all northbound traffic east onto Crawfordsville Road. I drove to 25th Street and then went east to Georgetown Road and south on Georgetown to the infield entrance at Gate 7. I was pleasantly surprised to see the Speedway patrolman direct us to one of the entrance lanes.
When we got to the infield, I was surprised again when I saw the patrolman directing all cars to the main north-south road instead of the infield area behind the Tower Terrace. We drove all the way south to the area across from the hospital and the museum. It seemed strange to be parking there but everybody else was in the same situation, so I went where I was directed. When I found a space and got the car parked, it was 7:40.
On our way to the Tower Terrace area, we walked by the garage area. It was a busy area as many cars were being pushed to the pit area. Before going to our seats we took a slow walk to the north end of the pit area, and in doing so we tried to identify as many cars and persons as we could.
Bobby Rahal and his car and crew were at the far north end. Paul wanted to get his autograph, but he was busy checking on the car and talking to people, so we couldn’t get his attention. As we were walking back to the Control Tower, we stopped and sat in some Tower Terrace seats for a few minutes to rest our feet and observe the activity around us.
The cars ran practice laps from 8:00 to 10:00 and then were lined up in the pit area in the order in which they would qualify.
Before practice ended, we found some seats in the area behind the start-finish line and directly across from the Control Tower. Shortly after 10:00, the Ben Davis High School band paraded on the main straightaway and put on a fine show for everybody.
The noise and excitement continued to increase, and at 11:00 a huge cheer came from the crowd as PA announcer Tom Carnegie announced that the track was open for qualifications. The cheering continued as AJ Foyt drove his familiar #14 onto the track. AJ was seriously injured in a race at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, in September, and he had not been in a race car until the Speedway opened for practice a week ago.
His first lap was 221.174 mph, and the next three were 222.211, 222.932, and 223.469 mph. As he came slowly through the pit area to the photographers stand, he was given a thunderous ovation by everybody in the place.
As Foyt was being interviewed, Randy Lewis went out and made a couple of slow laps and then took the green flag. We were watching him in the first turn when he lost control and crashed into the outside wall, sending sparks and fire out of the car. It took about 30 minutes to clean up the mess.
The hot temperature and sun were making track conditions miserable for the drivers. There was not another qualifier until Danny Sullivan finished his run at about 11:50.
A few minutes later, Mario Andretti became the second-fastest qualifier with a 221.818 mph average in his K-Mart/Havoline Lola-Chevy.
Eddie Cheever, Bobby Rahal, Jeff Andretti, and Michael Andretti all made their qualifying runs, but only Jeff was pleased with his time. That was because he was bumped from the field last year.
Shortly before 1:00, Rick Mears went out in his #3 Marlboro Penske. He ran off laps of 223.447, 224.221, 224.244, and 224.447 mph, for an average of 224.113 mph. It was outstanding considering the track conditions, and it moved AJ Foyt to the middle of the front row.
After Mears qualified, there was little activity until about 3:30. Paul and I ate our box lunches. I had a ham sandwich, baked beans, two pieces of chicken, a brownie, and an apple. Paul had several pieces of chicken and some rolls.
An older man, probably in his 70s, sitting in front of us kept Paul entertained by doing various magic tricks with ropes. He said he was a farmer and had been doing the tricks for many years. His tricks were entertaining, not only for Paul but for many of the adults around us.
Shortly after 3:30, Al Unser, Jr. ended the dry spell and put his #2 Valvoline Lola Chevy in the field with a 219.823 mph average.
A few minutes before 4:00, one of the strangest (at the time) incidents of the day occurred. Emerson Fittipaldi went out in his #5 Marlboro Penske. He took the green flag and did three laps of 222.409, 222.899, and 223.369 mph, but as he came to the starting line to finish his run, car owner Roger Penske waved the yellow flag to nullify the run. It was later learned that Penske did this because he knew the time wouldn’t be good enough to challenge for the pole position.
Meanwhile, the weather was getting worse. It was raining in the third turn, and to the east of the Speedway the sky looked dangerously black.
At 4:00, John Andretti got into the starting field with a 219.059 mph average in his yellow #4 Pennzoil Lola-Chevy. John’s qualifying run enabled the Andretti family to become the first in Speedway history to have four drivers in the same race.
At 4:07, the yellow light came on as Speedway trucks sped to the third turn and track crews tried to soak the moisture off the track. While this was going on, thunder and lightning were getting closer and closer to the Speedway, arriving shortly after 5:00. This time, the entire Speedway area was hit. USAC officials gave up hope and at 5:45 closed the track for the day. All cars in line to attempt qualifications would line up the next day in the same order they were in when the track was closed.
Twelve drivers had managed to qualify despite the unpleasant weather and track conditions. On Sunday, three drivers topped AJ Foyt’s time, and one, Gary Bettenhausen, even did better than Rick Mears. Whether these runs would have occurred on Saturday, under good conditions, will never be known for sure.
As we walked to our car, there was a light rain all the way. Luckily, we got there before it got worse. We were lucky again when we exited the grounds and were allowed to turn right onto 16th Street and go west. Our lucked ended, however, when we reached Lynhurst Drive, where state police made everybody turn and go south. I turned right at the first stop light and kept going until I came to a street that had heavy northbound traffic. As it turned out, this was the street I wanted. The traffic moved slowly, but eventually we got to the MCL Cafeteria.
Unlike the night before, there were only a few people in the waiting line and we had to wait only a couple of minutes. Paul had cornbread, spaghetti and meatballs, baked cod, mashed potatoes, gelatin cubes, and Pepsi. I had tossed salad, cornbread, boiled cabbage, lima beans, country fried tenderloin, and water.
We were hungry for a good, hot meal, and everything tasted good. When we finished, we didn’t walk through the shopping center but went right to the motel. The volume of traffic was about the same as the night before. We listened to radio reports of the day’s activity at the Speedway, and it was 7:35 when we arrived at the motel.
Paul made a quick change of clothes and left for the swimming pool, while I stayed in the room and watched TV and read for a while. Some time later, I went to the Holidome to check on Paul. There was a larger crowd than the night before. Some were swimming, playing ping pong, using the exercise room, and playing the electronic games. Others were sitting by the poolside watching the swimmers or doing some reading.
I stayed for about an hour and then checked out the lounge, restaurant, and lobby. Every place was doing a good business, and the desk clerks were having to turn away potential customers because all the rooms were full.
It was between 9:00 and 9:30 when I arrived back at my room. I did some reading and then watched the 10:00 news. Shortly before the news Paul returned from the swimming pool, so we watched the news together. Paul conked out shortly after the news, while I stayed up until 11:00. I secured the door, turned off the lights, and got under the sheets. Pole Day 1991 had come to an end.
There was no rush to get up early the next morning, so I let Paul sleep although I woke up about 6:00. I tried to go back to sleep but I was unable to do so, so I got up and did some reading. At about 7:00 I walked to the newspaper area and bought the Indianapolis newspaper. When I returned, I read a little bit of the newspaper and watched TV for a few minutes.
It was about 8:30 when Paul woke up. He got up and used the bathroom and then got back in bed but didn’t go back to sleep. We watched TV for a few minutes, and then he got dressed. We then walked to the motel restaurant.
Business was good, but we were seated right away. Both of us had the breakfast buffet. We had pancakes, hash brown potatoes, biscuits and gravy, bacon, orange juice, and coffee. Like the morning the day before, there were many race fans talking about activity at the Speedway and reading the Indianapolis newspaper. We filled our stomachs to capacity, paid the bill, and returned to our room.
Back in our room, we watched TV while we cleaned our teeth and then got our belongings arranged in the suitcase and tote bag. I checked to be sure we hadn’t left anything and then took our equipment to the car.
Before checking out and leaving for home, we walked to the outdoor playground area and spent a few minutes using some of the equipment. The sunshine and fresh, pleasant air felt good. We played around for about 30 minutes and then checked out of the motel and started our trip home.
We went south on I-65 and I-465 until we came to the US 36 west turnoff. Paul said he was thirsty and wanted to stop for a drink, so when we reached Danville we stopped at a convenience store. I stayed in the car and listened to the time trials on WIBC, and I’m glad I did. Gary Bettenhausen was the fourth driver to attempt a qualification run, and he was doing a good job. His four-lap average was 224.468 mph, and his fastest lap was 224.843 mph, both of which were better than Rick Mears had done the day before. In addition to that, his engine was a Buick, not a Chevrolet, as was Mears’s.
Gary’s brother, Tony, qualified later in the day for the race. It was 30 years ago that day — May 12, 1961 — that their dad, Tony, was killed at the Speedway on a practice run.
We continued on our way, but we didn’t stop at the Colonial Kitchen because of the large Mother’s Day crowd. Instead, we drove on to Tuscola and stopped at the Dixie Truck Stop.
There was a line of people waiting to be seated, but it moved steadily and we didn’t have to wait long. Paul had a double cheeseburger with bacon and a cold drink while I had meatloaf and mashed potatoes with coffee. The service and food were both really good, and we felt better after eating.
We browsed through the gift shop for a few minutes and then resumed our trip. Everything went fine between Tuscola and Springfield, and it was about 4:30 when we arrived home to complete another memorable trip to the Speedway. For the third consecutive year it had rained on the first day of time trials, but unlike the previous two years it wasn’t a complete washout. At least we got to see a few cars qualify.
During the week before the race Paul and I got everything packed, and on Saturday morning I filled the gas tank. At 10:52, we left on our annual trip to see the race. This time, we took our 1989 Chevrolet Caprice station wagon. This was the first time we took this car to the Speedway. My oldest son, Mark, wanted the other car to use for the prom at Springfield High School.
The weather was unsettled, and before we got out of town it was drizzling on us. It lasted only a few minutes. We took old Route 36 to Decatur. As we were going through Decatur it rained rather heavily but quit a few minutes after leaving. It didn’t rain anymore on Route 36, but it gave me an uncomfortable feeling about what might happen the next day.
As we traveled between Tuscola and Chrisman we could hear station WIBC on our radio. The main news item was the 500 Festival Parade. It was 1:19 when we stopped at the Colonial Kitchen.
The dinner business was good but not overwhelming. We found an empty table and decided to have the buffet meal.
Paul had au gratin potatoes, cornbread, baked cod, green beans, hot roll, and a piece of cake. I had lettuce, carrots, celery, mashed potatoes and gravy, lima beans, hot roll, and corn.
Everything tasted fine, and we felt better when we finished. We used the bathroom, paid the bill, and at 1:52 left and started our drive north to Danville. In the towns along the way there were people cutting their grass while others were visiting with their friends and neighbors. Just south of Danville I took I-74 east, and a few minutes later, at 2:30, we arrived in the parking lot of the Ramada Inn Motel.
Since I had already paid for the room, all I had to do was register. I drove the car to our room, which was on the north side, and then we checked out our room. Everything seemed okay. Every room had a coffee maker and instant coffee, so Paul got it started and then changed into his swimming trunks.
While Paul was swimming, I watched TV and did some reading. About 30 minutes later I walked over to the other side of the motel to see what was happening. There was little activity in the lobby, restaurant, and lounge, but a new kind of entertainment had been added to the motel. A new room had been built on the west side for off-track betting on horse races. There was a large crowd in attendance. I stayed for a few minutes and then walked to the other side of the motel. A refreshment stand had been set up by a local charity organization to give free coffee and refreshments to travelers on I-74 to help keep them awake and alert for driving. I bought a cup of Pepsi and a doughnut and chatted with the workers for a couple of minutes.
I returned to my room and did a little more reading and TV viewing, and then I took a bath and got cleaned up. While I was doing this, Paul returned and changed his clothes.
When I finished cleaning up, we left the motel and drove into town. The first place we stopped at was the Famous Recipe Chicken place. There were puddles of water because of the rain that had fallen just before we left the motel.
From here we drove back to Vorhees Street and stopped at the gas station and filled the gas tank.
Then we drove two blocks east and stopped at George’s Buffet for supper. Paul had potatoes and gravy, chicken, corn, hot roll, and cake. I had chicken livers, catfish, lettuce, cornbread, au gratin potatoes, beef and noodles, corn, hot roll, and white cake. Everything tasted really good, and when we left we were full.
With these three important jobs done, I drove back to the motel. Paul went to the room while I checked out the other areas of the motel. The restaurant, lounge, and off-track betting areas were all doing a good business.
I returned to our room, and we spent the rest of the night watching TV. ESPN had films of several past 500-mile races, and it made for interesting viewing. Paul fell asleep on his bed between 10:00 and 10:30. Earlier in the evening I had put all of the equipment we needed for race day in the tote bag, so that important job was done. I checked the alarm clock and made sure it was working, set the alarm for 4:00, and put the clock on the table by my bed. Then I locked and chained the room door, turned off the lights, and got under the sheets. A long day lie ahead for the two of us.
The alarm clock rang at the right time. I lay in bed for a couple of minutes, then got up and got myself ready. At 4:15 I woke up Paul. It was hard for him to wake up, but he finally made it. At 4:30 we walked to the motel restaurant.
We were among the first customers. The employees were just finishing putting out the buffet items. For our breakfast we had french toast, bacon, scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes, orange juice, and coffee. It would be a long time until dinner, so we made sure our stomachs were full before we left. The crowd increased steadily while we were there, and I think everybody had the same plans for the day that we did. We paid the bill, hurried back to the room, cleaned our teeth, got the tote bag, and at 5:27 started our trip to the Speedway.
I turned on WIBC and received an unpleasant surprise. It was raining at the Speedway. The weather was okay, but unsettled, where we were. The rain was supposed to be out of Indianapolis by race time, but it was uncertain when the track would be ready for racing.
The traffic on I-74 was normal for race day morning, and then, about 20 miles west of Indianapolis, it started raining — not heavily but enough to cause anxiety among race fans. The traffic from the I-465 intersection moved slowly, and it was 7:30 when we turned onto 20th Street and found a place to park. I made sure the windows were rolled up, then we got out, locked the doors, paid the attendant, and started our walk to the Speedway.
The walk along Crawfordsville Road revealed sights similar to those of previous years — empty beer and soda cans by the hundreds, the aroma of frying eggs and bacon, people sleeping in cars, tents, and on the ground, and vendors selling many items pertaining to the race. It was shortly after 8:00 when we reached Georgetown Road and then entered the Speedway grounds.
The first thing I did was buy three copies of the souvenir program — one for myself, one for my aunt Bobby Dalbey, and one for my friend Fred Fry.
Our next stop was the gate across from the south end of the Tower Terrace section. It was closed temporarily for marching band units. Many of them were from military installations that had served in the recent Persian Gulf War. They put on a good show and were received warmly by the crowd.
When the marching units finished the gate was opened, and we walked across the track to the infield. There was a crowd at the garage area fence, and we joined them to see what was happening. Some of the engines were being tested before the cars were pushed to the pit area. Other cars were already being pushed to the track. We stayed there for quite a while, and then we walked toward our seats.
It was shortly before 9:00 when we finally worked our way through the mob of people and arrived at our seats. There were several bands parading on the track, and pit crews were busy with their cars. We sat for a few minutes and then took a walk to see what was going on in the pit area. There were a lot of people but few that I recognized.
Shortly after 10:00 I left my seat and was going to a concession stand when I heard some sirens blowing. A few seconds later, a caravan stopped and from one of the cars stepped U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle and his wife. They walked to the elevator and went to the seats in the Tower Suites.
Several minutes later I took another walk along the pit area when I heard somebody shout several times, “STAND BACK, PLEASE.” I turned to see what was happening, and there was the Vice President and his bodyguards. They were rushing to get to their cars for the celebrity parade.
The rain had stopped, but the track was still wet and Speedway trucks were trying to dry it.
General Normal Schwarzkopf of recent Desert Storm fame and his family were guests of the Speedway and were driven around the track for everybody to see. They were really popular with the fans and were given a tremendous ovation all the way around the track. Dan Quayle and his wife were also taken on a tour of the track.
It was about 11:15, and the cars were in their starting positions on the track. Another highlight of this year’s pre-race activities in connection with the 75th anniversary was the parade of pace cars from past races. This brought back many fond memories for me, particularly the Dodge of 1954, my first year at the Speedway.
At about 10:00, my race friend from Central Baptist Church, Malcolm McKean, arrived to claim his seat for another year. While walking along the pit fence I ran into his sister, Barbara, who attended the race with Malcolm from 1977-1987 but hadn’t been to the race since then. She came over with no ticket but hit it lucky and found a man trying to sell one at the front gate. In addition to that, it was in the Tower Terrace section immediately north of the Control Tower.
A few minutes later, Barbara came to our seats and visited with us for a few minutes. The four of us talked for several minutes, and then she returned to her seat.
The pit crews were allowed a few minutes to test their engines, and then Chief Steward Tom Binford took a tour of the track and said it was dry enough for racing.
At 11:38, the crowd rose in silent unison as Sandi Patti sang the National Anthem. This was followed by a new addition to the usual pre-race activities: the singing of America the Beautiful by Florence Henderson. She did a fine job and received a warm reception for her performance.
The invocation was given, and then Taps was played by the Purdue University Band. The rituals were particularly outstanding this year because they honored the fighting men of the recently conducted Persian Gulf War. In addition to this display of patriotism, the entire Grandstand K in the north chute was decked out with red, white, and blue flashcards that when put together made an American flag. It was certainly a thoughtful act.
With everybody still in a solemn mood, four U.S. Navy jets came roaring over the Speedway, going from north to south.
A less serious mood followed as Jim Nabors sang the traditional final song, Back Home Again in Indiana. The tension was peaking as the drivers were in their cars and the starters had been inserted, ready to do their work.
At 11:47, Mary Hulman gave the famous command of her late husband, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” A huge applause erupted from the crowd as the engines came to life. The drivers revved their engines for a couple of minutes, and then the Dodge Viper pace car, driven by Carroll Shelby, slowly pulled away. Unlike the past few years, there were no auxiliary pace cars.
One by one the cars were pushed away as another round of applause erupted from the crowd. Pit crew members hastily gathered up their equipment and hurried back to their pits.
When everybody got off the track, there was still one car left. The #20 Alfa Romeo of Danny Sullivan wouldn’t start. The crew worked feverishly, then quickly pushed it to the inside wall, south to the pit exit, and back to their pit area. The problem was a broken fuel pump cable. It was quickly fixed, but USAC officials refused to let him go until the green flag fell and the other cars were out of the way.
When the field came by on the first parade lap it was in ragged formation but improved somewhat the second time by. Tension was high as everybody looked to the fourth turn. The pace car pulled off the track and sped through the pit area. A few seconds later a cheer went up as Rick Mears, AJ Foyt, and Mario Andretti came through the turn. They picked up speed slowly as they came to the starting line, and then starter Duane Sweeney waved his two green flags. The race was on!
As the flags were being waved the starting bombs exploded, providing a double whammy of noise for everybody.
Going into the first turn, it was Mears, Foyt, and Mario Andretti. The two green flags were quickly replaced by the yellow flag as rookie Buddy Lazier spun and hit the outside wall, damaging his car too much to continue. He continued on around the track and returned to his pit, which was directly in front of us. That meant our best view of pit action was wiped out less than one lap into the race.
The first five positions after one lap were Mears, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Foyt, and Al Unser, Jr.
The debris was cleaned up quickly and the green flag reappeared as Mears finished his fourth lap.
Mears remained in the lead, and after six laps another rookie, Willy T. Ribbs, the first black driver in race history, pulled off the track and coasted to his pit. He was done for the day with engine problems.
As the field came down for the 12th lap, Mario had passed Mears and was leading. Michael overtook Mears for 2nd place.
Eddie Cheever slowed down on the 17th lap, and three laps later he walled it in the north end of the track, bringing out the second yellow flag of the day.
The timing was perfect as the cars came in for their first pit stops. After 20 laps, the first 10 positions were held by Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Mears, Unser, Jr., Bobby Rahal, Kevin Cogan, Emerson Fittipaldi, Foyt, Scott Brayton, and Arie Luyendyk.
The green flag came out again on the 23rd lap, but the yellow came out again on the next lap when Kevin Cogan and Roberto Guerrero tangled in the first turn. Parts of the cars scattered throughout the south chute, and one of the tires landed on the left front part of Foyt’s car. Guerrero was uninjured, but Cogan received a broken arm and remained hospitalized for a few days.
Foyt kept going, although slowly, for a couple more laps and then came slowly down the pit area. His suspension was too damaged to continue, and he received a huge applause from the crowd as he took off his helmet and got out of the car.
The yellow flag was out for 13 minutes, and as the leaders came by to complete their 33rd lap the green flag came out. Michael Andretti passed Mario and took the lead.
Mears seemed to be having handling problems as he was passed first by Rahal and then by Fittipaldi.
Scott Goodyear had been having problems for several laps and was finally forced from competition after 40 laps.
The standings after 40 laps, 100 miles, were Michael Andretti, Mario Andretti, Unser, Jr., Rahal, Mears, John Andretti, Fittipaldi, Brayton, Geoff Brabham, and Jeff Andretti.
Michael slowly increased his lead over Mario, and at 50 laps the difference between the two was 8 seconds with Unser, Jr., Rahal, and Fittipaldi behind them. They were the only eight cars on the lead lap.
Jim Crawford’s car was making a loud banging sound as he went by, and on his next time around he came really slowly through the pit area. He stopped for a few minutes, and his crew decided the problem was too serious to continue.
As the 60-lap mark approached, the second series of pit stops brought most of the front runners in. Unser, Jr. was given credit for leading lap 55, and then Michael took over again.
John Paul Jr. was black-flagged on his 36th lap for an oil leak and was in his pit for 25 minutes. He returned to the track for nine laps and was black-flagged again. After another 28 laps, his crew gave up and withdrew the car from the race.
Michael continued to increase his lead, and as the 80-lap mark approached he was 27 seconds ahead of Al Unser, Jr. Another round of pit stops occurred around the 80th lap, and then just as this ended the yellow flag came out again.
Tero Palmroth had blown his engine and was coasting through the third turn infield. He was awarded 23rd position and completed 77 laps.
Finishing directly behind Palmroth was rookie Mike Groff. He started 18th and had gotten up to 11th place, but he was forced out after 68 laps with a broken water pipe.
A few laps later, Gary Bettenhausen pulled into the pits and was finished with a broken radiator. After doing an outstanding job in qualifying, he had never been a contender for the lead and was out of the race.
At 100 laps, half the race distance, the first 10 leaders were Michael Andretti, Fittipaldi, Rahal, Mario Andretti, Mears, Unser, Jr., Brayton, John Andretti, Luyendyk, and Brabham.
The last driver to drop out of the running before the halfway mark was Pancho Carter. His #12 Arciero Lola Buick was forced from the race after 94 laps with engine failure and was awarded 21st position.
At about this time, both Michael Andretti and Al Unser, Jr., started experiencing trouble. Michael had a slow leak in his left rear tire that caused his handling to go off-balance. Unser, Jr. had a broken clamp on the wastegate system that was robbing him of boost and horsepower.
On his 103rd lap, Mario Andretti went from 4th to 8th place without being passed by anybody. He was penalized one lap by USAC officials for passing with all four wheels below the inside line of the track.
Michael relinquished the lead when he pitted on the 109th lap, giving the lead up to Fittipaldi, who held it for four laps until he pitted.
The surprise of the race right then was Scott Brayton, who at 110 laps was in 4th place.
At 120 laps, 300 miles, the leaders were Fittipaldi, Michael Andretti, Rahal, Mears, Brayton, Unser, Jr., Luyendyk, John Andretti, Mario Andretti, and Sullivan.
Fittipaldi continued to set the pace, and at 130 laps he had a 12-second lead over Michael.
It was then that the next departure from the race occurred, and this time it was a big name — Rahal! After being near the front for the entire race, he was suddenly out of the running with a blown engine.
Fittipaldi was right behind Brayton (in 4th place now) when Brayton’s engine went out in a puff of smoke, bringing out the yellow flag. He had driven a fine race and had gotten to 2nd position at 140 laps.
Just before Brayton’s departure, Bernard Jourdain’s race ended at 140 laps when he experienced gearbox failure.
The yellow flag was out for six laps, and then the field went green again. Michael passed Emmo for the lead. These two, plus Mears, were the only cars on the lead lap.
At 160 laps, 400 miles, the 10 front-runners were Michael Andretti, Fittipaldi, Mears, Luyendyk, Unser, Jr., Mario Andretti, John Andretti, Scott Pruett, Sullivan, and Stan Fox.
The next car out of the race was that of rookie Jeff Andretti. He was running in 8th position, but he was done for the day with a blown engine after 150 laps.
There were 16 cars out of competition and 17 still running.
On his 166th lap, Michael made a pit stop and Fittipaldi regained the lead with Mears moving to second. A couple of laps later Emmo pitted, but he had trouble getting away from his pit area. He had to be pushed quite a way before going on his own.
At 175 laps, Michael had a 10-second lead. Stan Fox had slowed down considerably, but he was still running.
Fittipaldi returned slowly to the pits, and he was out of the race with transmission failure.
At 182 laps, Michael had a comfortable lead over Mears when the yellow flag came out. Danny Sullivan’s turbocharger blew as he was coming through the fourth turn, and a big cloud of white smoke brought limited visibility.
Michael made a 10-second stop for fuel and gave up the lead to Mears.
After being out for 30 minutes, rookie Hiro Matsushita rejoined the field during the caution period.
The green flag came out at 186 laps as Rick and Michael went into turn one side by side. Michael was on the outside and passed Rick. One lap later, Rick did the same thing to Michael and passed him on the outside of turn one. Rick increased his lead by a couple of seconds.
In addition to this excitement Mario Andretti was slowing down, and on the 191st lap the yellow flag came out as Mario stopped at the entrance to the pit area. It stayed out for four laps, and then the field went green again at 195 laps. Rick was turning laps at 221 mph, and Michael couldn’t catch him.
The white flag came out after 199 laps, and the next time around Rick took the checkered flag 3.14 seconds ahead of Michael to claim his fourth 500-mile race victory.
The next time around, he was given a warm applause from the crowd as he drove to victory lane. The remaining cars returned to their pits. The drivers got out of their cars and relaxed for a few minutes with their pit crews and those who offered their congratulations for still being around at the finish.
Many people in the large crowd were already heading for the exits, while many others, like Malcolm McKean and us, stayed behind to relax and have a late dinner. Malcolm had some sandwiches and soda while we had fried chicken and Coca-Cola.
We hadn’t had anything to eat since 5:30, so the chicken tasted fine. We took our time and watched the pit crews push their cars and equipment back to the garages. It was about 3:30 when we got everything together and left our seats. Leaving is always sad, knowing it will be another year before we’ll be here again.
When we left the Speedway grounds we said goodbye to Malcolm as he went to Main Street to catch his bus and we started our walk back to the car.
The walk along Crawfordsville Road was like it was in other years with its bumper-to-bumper traffic, honking horns, loud and obnoxious drunks, and souvenir vendors. When we got past Lynhurst Drive, the atmosphere improved considerably. It was about 4:30 when we arrived at the car.
I opened the windows of the car so that the inside would cool down, and at 4:35 we started our trip back to the motel. I had little trouble getting onto Crawfordsville Road, and then the traffic moved sporadically. Once we got onto I-74 the traffic moved smoothly.
We stopped at the first rest stop we came to, as did many other travelers, many of whom were coming from the same place we were. I washed my face and hands in cool water, hoping it would refresh me and make my driving easier.
While I was waiting for Paul, I saw a man I thought I knew. I watched him for a few seconds and then spoke to him. He was Leonard Lambert, also from Central Baptist Church. He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. He had been to the race with his son-in-law. We talked for a few minutes and then left at the same time.
As we traveled on, we listened to music and race reports to keep us entertained. It was 6:22 when we arrived at the motel.
As soon as we got inside our room, Paul made a pot of coffee and then changed his clothes and went to the swimming pool. I took off my shoes, lay on the bed and relaxed for a few minutes and watched TV.
Paul swam for about 45 minutes, and then we went to the motel restaurant for supper. We decided on the budget meal so that we could have plenty to eat. I had roast beef, beef and noodles, corn, peas, celery, carrots, and lettuce, while Paul had pork tenderloin, potatoes and gravy, and corn. Everything tasted fine, and both of us had more than one helping of everything.
A large movie screen had been placed in one corner of the room, and a VCR tape of the race was shown for those who wanted to see it. Paul watched the tape for about 30 minutes and then went to the pool and swam for a while. When the tape finished, I left for my room and picked up Paul on the way.
When we got to our room we locked and chained the door, got into our sleeping clothes, and went to bed. It had been an enjoyable but long day, and it was time to quit and get some rest.
It was about 6:30 when I woke up on Monday morning. I did some reading and then decided to go back to sleep but couldn’t do so. I went over to the highway rest stand and got a doughnut and cup of coffee. When I got back to the room, I did some more reading and then took a bath and shaved. Shortly after this, Paul woke up. We watched TV for a few minutes, and then he got up and dressed and we went to the restaurant for breakfast.
There wasn’t much business in the restaurant, although a few people came in while we were there. We ate the buffet breakfast — french toast, bacon, eggs, hash brown potatoes, coffee, and orange juice.
After breakfast, Paul went swimming and I sat by the pool and did some reading. There was another man sitting a short distance from me. He heard Paul and me talking about the race and said he was acquainted with the Hulman family. He had gone to Purdue University with Mari Hulman and knew about their family business as well as their private problems and cornrows. It was interesting to hear what he had to say.
We stayed at the pool until about 11:00, and then we went to our room and got everything packed and ready to go. I checked out of the motel, and at 11:45 we started our trip home.
I thought we might do something new this year and go to Terre Haute before going home. I went back into Indiana and took Route 63 south. Paul wasn’t really pleased with the idea, so I asked him if he would rather see the boat races in Decatur. He agreed to that, so when we reached Route 36 we turned right and went back to Illinois. It was 12:35 when we stopped at the Colonial Kitchen.
My acquaintance from Springfield, Marilyn Compton, was cashier and hostess and greeted us warmly. For our snack, I had a BBQ sandwich with french fries and coffee, and Paul had a pork tenderloin and mashed potatoes with Diet Coke. Marilyn sat with us and visited for a few minutes. She seemed really pleased to see us.
When we left the restaurant, we continued west on Route 36 until we reached Decatur. The boat races had brought out a large audience to see them. We saw several short races and were impressed with the speed the boats could attain. We stayed about two hours and then went to the Holiday Inn Conference Center on the west side of Decatur. We walked around and saw some of the attractions and then left.
We took old Route 36 from Decatur to Springfield. It was 5:45 when we pulled into the driveway at our house to end our trip.
When USAC announced the official race results at 8:00 Monday morning, it confirmed the fact that Rick Mears had won his fourth Indy 500 race, and he joins AJ Foyt and Al Unser as the only four-time winners. His career with car owner Roger Penske is legendary, and if his luck holds up he could win the race again. His winning time and speed of 2:50:00.791 and 176.457 mph were not new records. Part of his outstanding record must be credited to Penske and his pit crews over the years.
If it had not been for the leaking tire and his last pit stop, I think Michael Andretti would have won the race if nothing else had gone wrong. He lost by 3.149 seconds and spent 14 seconds longer in the pits than Rick Mears did. He has been in eight races and finished in the top-10 five times. If typical rotten Andretti luck doesn’t overpower him, he could win this race someday. He would certainly be a popular winner.
Last year’s winner, Arie Luyendyk, came away with 3rd-place honors this year. Of the 33 starters, Arie had the 3rd-fastest speed. His progress this year was hampered by having to have a new set of spark plugs installed during the race, but he was able to make up some lost time and managed to complete 199 laps in the #1 UNO-Granatelli Lola Chevrolet.
Al Unser, Jr. finished in the top five for the fifth time in the last six races and in 4th place for the third time. About halfway through the race a clamp broke on his wastegate system, depriving him of needed power. Nothing else went wrong, and when the checkered flag fell he had completed 198 laps in his #2 Valvoline Lola Chevrolet.
It was a joy to see John Andretti finish in 5th position. In his three previous races, his best finish was 21st in 1988 and 1990. His car owner, Jim Hall, started the ground effects system on race cars in 1979, but he had been absent from the Indy scene for several years. John won the first CART race of the season in Australia. He drove a fine Indy race and was in the top 10 positions all day in his #4 Pennzoil Lola Chevrolet.
One of the most pleasant surprises of the race was Gordon Johncock finishing in 6th position. He did not have a car until the second week of practice, and he qualified on the last day of time trials with the slowest speed in the field — 213.812 mph. He ran consistently all day but didn’t get into the top 10 until 180 laps. Gordon finished higher than any driver without a Chevrolet engine, although he was nine laps behind John Andretti.
Mario Andretti had better-than-usual luck this year and brought the #6 K-Mart Havoline Lola Chevrolet home in 7th position. He started in 3rd position and led 21 laps of the race.
In his fourth race at the Speedway, Stan Fox brought the #91 Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria Lola Buick home in 8th position. He ran well all month long and had a fine qualifying speed of 219.501 mph, but on race day he encountered various mechanical problems.
Tony Bettenhausen had his second-best finish in ten races at the Speedway as he finished 9th in the Amax Coal #16 Penske Chevrolet. He started in 20th position, but on six of his seven pit stops he had to have more than just tires and fuel taken care of.
Tenth place was claimed by 1985 winner Danny Sullivan in the #20 Patrick Racing Lola Alfa Romeo. After his pre-race fuel pump problem was solved he ran fine until his seventh pit stop when he had to get a new battery and spark plugs. His turbo charger expired after 173 laps, but he still finished in 10th position.
For the first time in the history of the Speedway there were four members of one family — Andretti — in the race. Jeff was a rookie this year, and his 15th-place finishing position earned him Rookie of the Year acclaim.
An unusual event of this year was that no new speed records were set in either the time trials or the race.
Willy T. Ribbs and Hiro Matsushita were big names at the Speedway this year. Not only were they rookies, but they were the first black and Japanese drivers to qualify for the race.
Prize money awarded this year was a record $7,009,150, and Rick Mears’s 1st-place prize of $1,218,704 was also a record.
Pace Car – Dodge Viper