Indy journal: 1992

Historic Indy 500 journals, History — By on April 9, 2013 2:32 pm
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This year’s race will go down in history as one of the weirdest and most unexpected in history, highlighted by the large amount of caution time, cold weather, and the closest finish in the race’s history.

Four drivers made the most news at the Speedway this year.  They were Roberto Guerrero, Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., and Scott Goodyear.

There was rain on the first day of time trials for the third consecutive year.

There was also a driver fatality for the first time in 10 years.

Due to a schedule change at school Paul was able to leave an hour early, so at 2:05 the two of us, on Friday, May 8, left to begin our trip to the time trials in our 1984 Chevrolet Caprice.  We went north on 11th Street to Washington Street, then east to the Clear Lake exit, and then got Clear Lake and onto I-72.  The weather was fine, the traffic wasn’t heavy, and we enjoyed visiting with each other.  When we reached Champaign, I was pleased to see that the highway had been repaved during the past year.  This made the drive through Champaign much better for both us and the car.

We continued east on I-74 and could hear Indianapolis radio station WIBC and its good racing coverage.  It was about 4:00 when we crossed the state line, and at 5:20 we stopped at the Amoco gas station across from the Howard Johnson Motel.  I filled the gas tank, washed the windows, and used the restroom.  We drove by the Speedway on Georgetown Road but didn’t go in because of the time.  We then went west on 25th Street, south on High School Road, and east to the Speedway Shopping Center.  It was about 6:00.

We parked and walked to the MCL Cafeteria.  There was a long waiting line, but it moved quickly.  Paul had cornbread, mashed potatoes and gravy, parsley potatoes, applesauce, fish, and Pepsi.  I had cornbread, potatoes, macaroni salad, and water.  Everything tasted fine, and we left feeling better than when we arrived.

From there we walked to the Kroger grocery store and bought our Saturday dinner.  It was a busy place as usual on this Friday night, but it didn’t take us long to get waited on.

With these three jobs done, we drove north on I-465 and I-65 until we came to the Holiday Inn Motel at Lebanon.  It was 7:30 when we arrived.  I had already paid for the room reservation, so all I had to do was fill out the registration form.

As soon as we got to our room, Paul changed clothes and left for the swimming pool.  I stayed in the room and checked to see that everything worked okay.  I watched TV for a few minutes, read for a few minutes, and then walked to the swimming pool.

The Holidome area was busy, and Paul was enjoying the swimming pool.  I stayed for several minutes and then left to check out the rest of the motel.  The lounge and restaurant were doing a good business, and every room was taken for the night.

It was about 9:15 when I returned to the room.  I turned on the TV set and then went through the suitcase and put everything in the tote bag that we would need for the next day. While I was doing this, Paul returned to the room.  He changed into warmer clothes and joined me for some TV viewing.

We watched the 10:00 news.  When it was over, Paul was ready to go to sleep.  I did some reading, but by 11:00 I was too tired and joined him for some sleep.

It was 5:00 when I woke up Saturday morning.  I lay in bed for a few minutes and then got up and washed and shaved and dressed.  At 5:30, I woke up Paul so that he could be getting ready.

While I was waiting for Paul, I opened the outside door and was unhappy to see rain.  We got to the motel restaurant at about 6:05 and were shown to our seats.  Paul wanted the buffet breakfast but it wasn’t ready yet, so we waited a few minutes and I decided to have it, too.  We had scrambled eggs, hashed brown potatoes, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, coffee, and orange juice.  I was hoping there would be more on the menu, but it was enough to fill us up.  I paid the bill, and then we went back to our room to brush our teeth and get the tote bag.  I checked to see that we had everything, and at 6:51 we left for the Speedway.

It rained all the way but not very hard.  When we got onto Crawfordsville Road, the traffic got heavier and slowed quite a bit.  While we waited on the traffic we listened to WIBC and watched the activity around us.

At long last, we got onto Georgetown Road and up to Gate 7 where we entered and were directed to a parking space on the infield.  It was 8:12.

I made sure the windows were rolled up and we had the tote bag.  The walk to our seats was wet, but it was not as bad as in some other years.  We walked the length of the pit area from the Gasoline Alley entrance to the pit entrance near the fourth turn.  There was no activity in the pit area, but many people were doing the same thing we were.  We browsed through two gift shops and then walked through the tunnel to the grandstand area.

Our seats were behind the start/finish line and gave us a good view of activity on the track.  Because there was no activity either on the racetrack or in the pit area, the spectators had to entertain themselves.  We read the newspaper and listened to the radio for a few minutes and then decided to go walking for a few minutes.

Paul had been wanting to buy a new stopwatch since we had come over here one weekend in January and gone through the museum gift shop and seen it.  We had a serious talk about the cost and care of the stopwatch.  He said he would take good care of it, so we went in and bought it.

As we were walking back to the grandstand area, we walked by the infield hospital.  The Speedway Medical Director, Henry Bock, was being interviewed on ABC-TV by Jack Arute.  We stopped and watched the event, and then Dr. Bock consented to Paul to have him take a couple of pictures.

We took our time walking to our seats.  When we got there, we listened to the radio and tried to answer the questions that came on the electronic score boards every so often.

The rain quit falling at about 9:00, but it remained dark and cool for a long time.  The main problem at that point was water coming from under the track.  For some reason, the maintenance crews were unable to get the leaks stopped.

It was between 2:30 and 3:00 when the track was pronounced dry enough for use.  A huge cheer erupted from the crowd as announcer Tom Carnegie said the track was open for practice.

The cars were allowed 30 minutes of green light practice, but it took a long time to get in those 30 minutes due to several yellow light periods.

Before this happened, Paul and I ate our box lunches.  Paul’s lunch was mostly chicken, while I had an apple, brownie, ham sandwich, baked beans, and two pieces of chicken.  It tasted good and would hold us over until supper.

The drivers finally got their 30 minutes of green practice time.  The cars were pushed back to the garage area for refueling, and then at 4:00, five hours after the scheduled time, the track was opened for qualifying as the audience roared its approval.

Eighteen cars qualified during the two hours available for runs.  The top star of the show was Roberto Guerrero.  Roberto had been among the fastest during practice runs, and when it came time to get serious he came through like a champion.  Driving the Quaker State 1992 Lola Buick, he turned four record-breaking laps of 232.186, 232.516, 232.618, and 232.606 mph for an average of 232.482 mph.  He was given a huge applause by everybody as he came through the pit area to the photographers’ stand.

The second-fastest qualifier was Mario Andretti, almost 3 mph slower than Guerrero.

Probably the biggest disappointment was AJ Foyt.  AJ’s first three qualifying laps were in the 226 mph range, 3 mph faster than his practice laps, but about halfway through his fourth lap his engine quit running.  When Tom Carnegie made the announcement, a huge moan came from the crowd.

When qualifying ended at 6:00, the 18 qualifiers were only a tentative lineup as several drivers didn’t get a chance to qualify, including Eddie Cheever, Michael Andretti, Jim Crawford, and Danny Sullivan.  They would be heard from on Sunday.

I checked to be sure we hadn’t left anything, and then we left for the car.  The cars in the area where we parked were going nowhere, and it stayed that way for a long time.  Finally, after too long a wait, we started moving.  Once we got out of the Speedway the traffic moved quite well, and it was about 7:30 when we arrived at the MCL Cafeteria.

There was almost no waiting line, so that was a big help.  Paul had baked cod, baked potato, applesauce, cornbread, and Pepsi.  I had chopped steak, lima beans, Harvard beets, tossed salad, and cornbread.  Everything tasted good, and when we finished we were ready to leave for the motel.

Paul changed his clothes and left for the swimming pool while I took off my shoes and watched TV for a few minutes.  Then I walked to the Holidome and joined Paul and the other motel guests there.  There were more people than the night before, not only in the swimming pool but also in the exercise room, the game room, and playing ping-pong.

I stayed for 15-20 minutes or so and then checked out the rest of the motel.  Like the night before, the desk clerks were turning away potential customers because all the rooms were full.

I returned to my room and turned on the TV set to see the 10:00 news.  A few minutes later Paul returned and got out of his wet clothes.

The TV station we watched had good time trial coverage, including the entire four-lap run of Roberto Guerrero.  When the program ended at 10:00, Paul said goodnight and went to sleep.  I did some reading until 11:15, and then I discovered I couldn’t go any longer.  I checked the door, turned off the lights, and got into my big double bed.

It was about 5:30 on Sunday morning when I awoke.  I did some reading and watched TV while Paul continued sleeping.  I tried going back to sleep, but it was no use.  At about 7:00 I went to the motel lobby and bought an Indianapolis newspaper.

Shortly after getting back to my room, Paul woke up and turned on the TV set.  He turned on ESPN, and it was showing USAC championship car racing from the early 1960s.  It showed some racing at the defunct Longhorn Speedway and featured such drivers at AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Rodger Ward, Jim Hurtubise, Jim McElreath, and Don Branson.  One of the announcers was Chris Economaki, editor of National Speed Sport News.

We decided it was time for breakfast, so we walked to the motel restaurant.  Business was good, but we were able to get seated right away.  Both of us had the buffet breakfast.  Paul limited himself to biscuits and gravy and orange juice while I had a more diversified meal of eggs, ham, hash browned potatoes, toast, orange juice and coffee.

After eating we returned to our room, brushed our teeth, watched TV for a few minutes, and then went outdoors and used the playground equipment for a while.  We always have fun and get a few laughs from doing this, and we did so this year, too.

When we finished having our fun, we went back to the room, got our equipment put in the suitcase and tote bag, and left to check out of the motel.  We turned in our room keys to the desk clerk and then started our drive home.  It was 10:07.

We took a different route for the first part of our trip.  Instead of going south on I-65 to I-465 to Route 36, we took Indiana Route 39 from the motel to its intersection with I-74.  From there we went west on I-74 to its intersection with Route 150 at Danville and then south on 150 to Route 36.  While we were traveling we listened to radio station WIBC and its live broadcast from the Speedway.

Because of the huge Mother’s Day crowd at the Colonial Kitchen, we drove on to the Dixie Truck Stop at Tuscola for dinner.  There was a waiting line there too, but it was shorter and moved quickly.  Paul had fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, jello cubes, and Coke, while I had meat loaf, baked potato, green beans, and coffee.  The waitress, service, and food were all really good, and it made for an enjoyable time.

When we finished eating we browsed in the gift shop for a few minutes as we usually do.  Paul found a little figurine entitled “World’s Greatest Mom” and asked if we could buy it for Dixie.  I thought it was a good idea, so we bought it for her.

We continued west on Route 36 all the way to Springfield.  It was 3:25 when we arrived home.  In spite of the Saturday morning rain and the trouble it caused at the track, it had been another enjoyable trip for Paul and me.

During the week before the race Paul and I got our suitcases packed, and at 10:11 on the morning of Saturday, May 23, we left on our trip to the race in our 1984 Chevrolet Caprice.  Paul hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, so we stopped at the Hardee’s restaurant at Jefferson and Walnut Streets and he ordered two sausage and cheese biscuits.  I gave the attendant a $10 bill and then received over $15 in change.  I told him I had given him only a $10 bill, but he said it was a $20 and the change was correct.  I felt wrong in accepting the change but did so to avoid an argument and not delay the line of customers behind us.

I drove on Walnut Street to North Grand Avenue, east to 8th Street, north to Sangamon Avenue, and then east out of town.  I took Old Route 36 to Decatur.  The weather was cloudy and overcast with rain a possibility.  At Decatur, we got on regular Route 36 and continued eastward.  It was 12:38 when we arrived at the Colonial Kitchen.

The restaurant was doing a good business, but it wasn’t filled.  We were shown to our table and decided to have the buffet dinner.  Between the two of us we had cabbage, new potatoes, corn, green beans, hot rolls, beef and noodles, lettuce salad, carrots, celery, and potatoes and gravy with Coke and coffee to drink.

While we were eating I looked out one of the windows and saw that it was raining.  When we finished eating we used the restroom and paid the bill.  It had already quit raining.

It was 1:15 when we left the restaurant and started our drive north to Danville.  Within five minutes it started getting brighter, and in a few more minutes we were back in dry territory.  Everything went smoothly along the way, and it was 1:54 when we arrived at the Ramada Inn Motel at Danville.

I had already paid for the reservation, so all I had to do was fill out the registration form.  When we got to our room Paul made the coffee and changed into his swimming trunks while I looked the room over to see if everything was working okay.

While Paul was swimming I did a little reading and TV viewing and then decided to see what was going on elsewhere at the motel.  There were a few customers in the restaurant, but the lounge was closed.  When I went by one of the ballrooms, I saw something that looked interesting.  A tool company from somewhere in Indiana was showing all their merchandise and a few other items, too.  It was an interesting show.

While I was looking around Paul had returned to the room, changed his clothes, and left to find me, which he did.  We stayed for quite a while and made two purchases.  Paul bought a pair of sunglasses, and I bought a bundle of potpourri for Dixie.

When we returned to our room, we noticed that the temperature was dropping and the wind was increasing.

The ESPN channel had a lot of coverage of the 500-Mile Race, not only from this year but from many other years.  It was good programming.  At around 5:00 I took a bath, shaved, and changed clothes, and at 5:50 we left the motel and drove into town to do our usual three jobs.

The first place we stopped at was the Famous Recipe chicken place.  Instead of getting only chicken as we did in other years, we got boxes with chicken and biscuits in them.

After getting the chicken, we changed our routine a little bit.  Several times while in Danville on race weekend I had seen a family steakhouse that looked like a nice place to eat.  For some reason I couldn’t find the restaurant this year, so we went to a Ponderosa steakhouse.  It was a big mistake.  There was only a small buffet to choose from, and many of the items I didn’t like.  Also, the restaurant wasn’t clean.  There were food scraps and dirt on the floor throughout the building.  Our waiter wasn’t so good and got us the wrong drinks.  Both of us were glad to leave and were still hungry when we left.

We drove north on Vermillion Street and stopped at a Hardee’s restaurant and got cheeseburgers, french fries, and an ice-cream cone.

The weather started to change before we left the motel, and it was dark and gloomy, windy, and cold.  We had on short-sleeve shirts and light jackets and we were chilly.

Before we stopped at Hardee’s I saw a gasoline station that was selling gasoline for $1.08 per gallon while most other stations were charging $1.15.  It was a short distance from Hardee’s, so after leaving there I took advantage of the low price and filled the tank.

With our three jobs done and the weather being what it was, we were glad to return to the comfort of our motel room.  It was 7:43 when we arrived.

At 8:00 we watched an interesting program on ESPN.  It was a pre-race program telecast live from the Speedway museum with Dave Despain and Derek Daly as the broadcasters.  They showed a lot of the action from the practice and time trial periods and discussed the possibilities of what could happen in the race.  It was really interesting.

After the race program we watched some more TV programming while I got the tote bag ready for the big day.  We watched the 10:00 news, and then I checked to be sure the door was locked and chained.  I also checked the alarm clock to be sure it was set and working, turned off the lights, said goodnight to Paul, and got under the sheets.

It was 4:15 when the alarm clock rang indicating that race day had begun.  I lay in bed for a couple of minutes, then got up and dressed, washed, and shaved.  While doing this I woke up Paul.  It took him several minutes to get up, but he made it and quickly got dressed and ready to eat breakfast.

The air was brisk, and it was 4:55 when we arrived at the motel restaurant.  We were among the first customers, and the restaurant employees were putting the buffet items on display.

The hostess showed us to our table and told us to help ourselves to the buffet table.  We had biscuits and gravy, bacon, sausage, hashed brown potatoes, and pancakes.  I had coffee and orange juice to drink while Paul had orange juice.

We ate a big breakfast because it would be a long time until we ate dinner.  Business increased considerably while we were eating, and I could tell by the way the people looked and talked that they were going to the same place we were.

When we were full I paid the bill, and then we returned to the room.  We cleaned our teeth and then checked to be sure everything was put away, got the tote bag, and walked to the car.  It was 5:37 when we left our parking space and started our trip to the race.

A couple pf minutes later we were in Indiana.  I turned on both the radio and the heater.  Station WIBC had up-to-the-minute traffic and weather reports, while the warmth of the heater protected us from the unusually cool weather.  The traffic moved well, and most of the travelers were headed for the same destination.  It was about 6:50 when we reached I-465 and traffic came to a halt.  From there on the traffic moved slowly and only a few feet at a time.  I turned left onto 20th Street and then left again to the end of a dead-end street.  The owner of the house directed us to his backyard where there were a few other cars.  It was 7:08 when I turned off the engine.

Because of the urgency of the occasion, I asked the man if we could use his restroom.  He was most accommodating and told us to help ourselves.  His wife was just as pleasant as he was.  When we were ready to leave I thanked them again for their hospitality, and they responded by wishing us a nice day and a good race.

We walked back to Crawfordsville Road and then toward the Speedway.  The cool weather was really playing havoc with some of the revelers along the way.  Instead of drinking beer and making loud noises, many of them were wrapped up in heavy blankets and drinking coffee or some other warm drink.

The sights along the road were much like any other year with one big exception.  The White Castle hamburger place, located at the three-street intersection across from the Speedway’s main entrance, was gone and the lot was vacant.  It had been there for many years, and I thought back to the many years Bobby, Dad, and I stopped there and got our Thermos bottles filled with coffee before entering the Speedway grounds.

We stood for a few minutes and watched some of the thousands of persons going through the turnstiles, and then we decided to join them.

The first thing I did was buy two Speedway souvenir programs, one for us and one for my post office racing friend, Fred Fry.  From there we proceeded to the gate on the outside wall of the track at the entrance to the first turn.  Many people stop and take pictures from there.  It is the only time that most race fans get to walk on the racetrack itself.

From there we went to the garage area.  It was a busy area.  The sight of the cars and roar of the engines were attracting a large crowd.  The crews were pushing their cars to their pit areas.  We stayed there until we didn’t see or hear any more cars and then started our walk to our seats.  It was then that I had one of my most unpleasant experiences in all my years at the Speedway.  When we reached the entrance way to Gasoline Alley, we were stopped by the Speedway patrol to allow the crews to push their cars to the pit area.  After a few minutes a few spectators had turned to a crowd of several hundred, and they became more and more impatient at not being able to cross the entrance and get to their destinations.  As the minutes ticked away, it was becoming harder for me to understand that the Speedway management would allow this situation to exist.  I could hear the bands marching on the racetrack, and I was unhappy at not being able to see them.  As the size of the crowd increased, panic and impatience also increased.  After an hour-and-ten-minute wait (longer for some people), the barriers were removed and the mob surged forward.  I put my hand around and held tightly to Paul’s arm as near hysteria broke out.  We hurried along and went straight to our seats.

We sat for a few minutes and then took a walk along the fence behind the pit area.  Pit crews were busy with their last-minute jobs as hundreds of spectators watched.  At 9:45, the command was given to push the cars to their starting positions on the track, so we returned to our seats.

As the cars were pushed through the pit area and onto the racetrack, the parade of celebrities started slowly around the track.  In addition to the human celebrities, there was a parade of 11 front-engine Offenhauser roadster race cars.  Four of the drivers were former race winners.  Jim Rathmann, Rodger Ward, and Parnelli Jones drove their 1960, 1962, and 1963 winning cars, while 1952 winner Troy Ruttman drove the 1961 winning car of AJ Foyt.  The remaining cars were driven by drivers of the 1962 race, including Len Sutton, Johnny Boyd, Gene Hartley, Roger McCluskey, and Chuck Hulse.  Seeing these cars tour the track brought back fond memories to thousands of fans like me who could remember seeing them in action here at the Speedway.

Other stars of the parade were Mickey Mouse and his friends, who were also the stars of the 500 Festival Parade in downtown Indianapolis the day before.

At 10:30, Chief Steward Tom Binford and other USAC officials made the final inspection trip of the track.  At 10:35, Florence Henderson sang America the Beautiful and was followed at 10:40 by Sandi Patti singing The Star-Spangled Banner.

At 10:45, Father Michael Welch delivered the invocation.  Father Welch was a newcomer to race day activities, replacing Bishop O’Meara who had passed away since last year’s race.

To regress a little bit, my race companion since 1977, Malcolm McKean from Central Baptist Church, had joined us at about 10:00 to join in the day’s festivities.

The invocation was followed by Taps played by the Purdue University Band in observance of the meaning of Memorial Day.  This was followed by a flyover of US Navy jets going from north to south.

The solemnity of the occasion became more relaxed as Jim Nabors was introduced to the crowd to sing Back Home Again in Indiana.  While Jim was singing, the multitude of balloons behind the Tower Terrace area was released and made a beautiful sight as they sailed skyward.

A couple of minutes later, the pre-race tension and excitement reached its climax as Mary Hulman gave a varied version of the famous command, “Lady and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!”  The change in command was necessitated by the qualification of Lyn St. James.

The engines came to life, and a huge applause erupted from the audience.  A member of each pit crew raised his arm to indicate his car was ready to go, and a minute or so later the two Cadillac Allante pace cars, one driven by former winner Bobby Unser, slowly pulled away.

Two cars, those of Gordon Johncock and John Paul, Jr., had trouble getting started and were left at the starting line.  Gordy’s car fired up a few seconds later, but it was a minute or more before John could get going.

The first pre-race lap went off without incident, although the field looked really ragged, but on the second lap the first of a long series of mishaps occurred.  Pole-sitter Roberto Guerrero was starting down the backstretch when he suddenly lost control and spun to the left.  He bounced over an earth bank and damaged his rear suspension, not badly but enough to prevent him from getting into the race.  When I heard the news, first from Malcolm McKean and then from Tom Carnegie, I, along with everybody else, was thoroughly stunned.

A few seconds later, there was another spinout when rookie Philippe Gache spun coming through the fourth turn.  Everybody got by him okay, and he was able to drive to his pit.  The race was already started when he got going again.

The two pre-race spinouts necessitated the running of two extra pace laps with second-place starter Eddie Cheever charged with bringing the field to the start.  Obviously the race didn’t start at 11:00, but a couple of minutes later Bobby Unser came charging through the pit area.  A few seconds later the field came through the fourth turn as another cheer came from the crowd.  Cheever and third-place starter Mario Andretti came down together, and then Duane Sweeney waved his two green flags.  At last, the race had started.

Cheever led into the first turn but was passed immediately by Michael and Mario Andretti.  As they came by us for the first lap, the standings were Michael, Mario, Arie Luyendyk, Cheever, Gary Bettenhausen, Scott Brayton, Danny Sullivan, Emerson Fittipaldi, Bobby Rahal, and Rick Mears.

Michael increased his lead on each succeeding lap as those behind him changed positions.  As Michael completed his fifth lap, Gache finally left his pit and entered the race.

On the sixth lap, the first yellow flag of the race came out when rookie Eric Bachelart blew his engine going through the first turn.  The yellow remained on for four laps and then the green reappeared but only for two laps.

Coming through the fourth turn, Tom Sneva, driving the #59 Menards-Glidden Lola Buick, crashed into the fourth turn wall.  I saw the last few seconds of the crash, and it looked potentially bad.  Parts were flying in all directions as the car slid along the outside wall.  Rescue personnel were on the scene within seconds.  Luckily, no other cars were damaged by the debris and Tom was not injured.

The accident provided a chance for the new “open” and “closed” pit procedure to be used.  Under this plan, all cars had to be lined up single-file behind the pace car before any of them could make a pit stop.

It took about 15 minutes to get the track cleared of debris and Tom taken to the infield hospital.

On the 20th lap, the green flag appeared and racing speeds resumed.  The first 10 positions were held by Cheever, Michael Andretti, Scott Brayton, Luyendyk, Fittipaldi, John Andretti, Scott Goodyear, Danny Sullivan, and rookie Ted Prappas.

One of the biggest surprises so far was Scott Goodyear.  In 20 laps, he had gone from 33rd to 7th.

Michael maintained his comfortable lead as Cheever, Brayton, Luyendyk, and Fittipaldi fought among themselves behind him.  As the first 100 miles were completed, the pit area became a busy place as the second round of pit stops took place.

When John Andretti came in, he couldn’t stop in time and slid.  When he did so, two of his pit crew members were injured and required hospitalization.  John had to make another lap around the track, which was costly.

The standings at 40 laps were Michael, Cheever, Brayton, Luyendyk, Fittipaldi, Rahal, Gary Bettenhausen, Jim Crawford, John Andretti, and Al Unser, Jr.

The next car out of the race was that of Scott Pruett in the #10 Budweiser Truesports entry.  His engine blew after 52 laps, but he was able to get into the infield and not bring out the yellow light.

Michael continued his fast pace, staying about 30 seconds ahead of Cheever while Brayton, Luyendyk, and Fittipaldi waged a battle for third place.  Michael’s pace was such that he was able to lap Brayton and Luyendyk and then on the 62nd lap also Fittipaldi.

Also on the 62nd lap, the yellow flag came out for the third time when the #92 Lola Buick of former winner Gordon Johncock expired with engine problems.  Four laps later, on the leader’s 66th lap, the green returned.

It remained on for less than 30 seconds, though.  As he came through the first turn, Philippe Gache spun, hit the outside wall, and stopped in the middle of the track.  He was then hit by Stan Fox, whose right front wheel hit the left front part of Gache’s car, sending it into another half-spin.  Fox’s car became airborne twice as he slid down the track, into the infield, and back onto the track in turn two.  Fox got out of his car immediately, but Gache had to be freed by rescue personnel.  There was a large amount of debris around his car.  The yellow flag remained out until the 75th lap, but the green flag was out for only 23 seconds.

Going through the first turn, Jim Crawford, in the #26 Quaker State Lola Buick, lost control and spun directly in front of Rick Mears.  As Crawford’s car backed into the wall it took the front of Mears’s car with it, and both of them crashed into the wall and out of the race.

At the same time, Fittipaldi spun in the turn and crashed into the wall, eliminating himself from the race as well.

It took 14 minutes to clean up the mess, and the green came out a few seconds before Michael Andretti finished his 83rd lap.

The standings at 80 laps, 200 miles, were Michael, Cheever, Luyendyk, Rahal, Unser, Jr., Brayton, Goodyear, Tracy, Al Unser, and Sullivan.

The green flag was out for 11 seconds when Mario Andretti spun in the fourth turn, caused apparently by tires losing traction because of the cool weather.  The car crashed almost head-on into the outside wall, forcing Buddy Lazier and Dominic Dobson to take evasive action to avoid the debris.  Mario suffered extensive injuries to both of his feet.

The yellow flag remained out until the 89th lap.  Michael continued to lead, and then on the 94th lap, while running in the top five, Scott Brayton lost his engine while going down the backstretch.

The green flag came out on Michael’s 97th lap, but it had been out only a few seconds when rookie Jimmy Vasser crashed in turn one.  Jimmy was unhurt, but his car was badly damaged as he stopped in the south short chute.

At the same time, rookie Paul Tracy was having race-ending trouble with his #7 Penske Chevrolet and finally pulled into the infield.

Michael completed 100 laps in 1 hour, 59 minutes, and 10 seconds, for an average speed of 126.321 mph — a long way from being a new record.  The other nine drivers in the top 10 positions were Cheever, Luyendyk, Unser, Jr., Rahal, Goodyear, Unser, Sullivan, Gary Bettenhausen, and AJ Foyt.

The green flag came out on the 103rd lap and remained out for nine seconds.  Coming through the fourth turn, rookie Brian Bonner spun and crashed into the outer wall.  He was uninjured, but the car was too damaged to continue.  This incident used 12 minutes of yellow time, and the green flag appeared on Michael Andretti’s 110th lap.

Bobby Rahal, only a few seconds out of first, had a leaky tire and had to have it replaced, costing him 12 seconds and a drop in the standings.

On the 115th lap, the yellow flag came out again.  This time, Jeff Andretti lost a wheel and crashed head-first into the wall in front of the VIP Suites in the second turn.  The wheel rebounded across the track and hit the car of Gary Bettenhausen.  Gary spun into an earth bank, putting the car out of the race but not injuring himself.  Jeff suffered serious injuries to his feet and ankles and would not be able to race for a long time.  It took 18 minutes to get him out of the car and clean up the mess caused by the wreck, dropping the race average speed to only 119 mph.

At 120 laps, 300 miles, the first 10 leaders were Andretti, Luyendyk, Cheever, Unser, Jr., Unser, Goodyear, Rahal, Sullivan, Boesel, and Foyt.

The green flag came out on lap 122 as Michael kept a safe distance over the rest of the field.  Things went smoothly for several laps, but then on lap 135 the yellow flag came out again.

Arie Luyendyk, running in second position, lost control in the fourth turn and crashed into the outside wall.  He slid along the wall for some distance, damaging the car somewhat but himself only slightly.

Luyendyk’s departure immediately increased the position of everybody by one except for Michael Andretti.

It took 12 minutes to clean up the mess, which, of course, dropped the race average speed once again.

During the caution period Michael had pitted and given up the lead to Al Unser, Jr., who led through lap 151.

On the 150th lap the yellow flag came out, this time because of Buddy Lazier.  His engine expired on the backstretch, thus slowing the race for six laps.

At about the same time, Ted Prappas, driving the #51 PIG Lola Chevrolet, was forced out with transmission failure, leaving Lyn St. James as the only rookie still running.

The race returned to green flag racing on the 155th lap.  Andretti jumped to a big lead with Goodyear, Unser, Jr., Unser, and Cheever following behind.

At 160 laps, 400 miles, the first 10 positions were held by Andretti, Goodyear, Unser, Jr., Unser, Cheever, Sullivan, Rahal, Boesel, Foyt, and John Andretti.

On his 166th lap, Andretti turned in the fastest lap ever driven in the race — 229.118 mph.  He was 13 seconds ahead of Goodyear with Unser, Jr. and Unser 16 seconds behind.

As the 170th lap went into the record books, all the remaining cars started making their final pit stops.  Andretti and Goodyear each made 17-second stops.  This put Al Unser in the lead for laps 174-177 until he came in for his final stop.

Around then, a huge cheer went up from the crowd as the sun made its first appearance of the day.  It was certainly a welcome sight.

Cheever pitted on the 183rd lap, which moved Goodyear, Al Jr., and Al Unser up one position.

On lap 188 Al Jr. passed Goodyear, and a lap later Andretti passed Unser, increasing his lead over Al Jr. to 28 seconds.

As Michael headed down the backstretch, the unbelievable happened.  Something broke and his car quit running.  The Andretti misfortune had struck again.  He coasted down the backstretch and stopped in the third turn.  The yellow flag came out as Unser, Jr. and Goodyear moved into the first and second positions.

The remaining field of 12 cars came down together for the green flag on the 193rd lap, with the two front runners directly behind the pace car.

Unser, Jr. and Goodyear proceeded to engage in a terrific battle for the lead.  There was only a fraction of a second between them.  On the 196th lap, Al Jr. turned in his fastest lap of the race — 223.981 mph.  On the next lap, Goodyear turned in his fastest race lap — 224.624 mph.

Because of Michael Andretti’s dominance and the extraordinary amount of caution time it had been an uneventful race, but at the end it had become really exciting.

Goodyear was getting closer.  At the 198 lap mark, the difference was about 1/3 of a second.  When the white flag was displayed the next time around, the difference was smaller yet.  The crowd was getting more excited with each passing lap.

They raced almost glued to each other as time was running out.  A huge cheer rose from the main straightaway crowd as they came through the fourth turn and down for the checkered flag.  As they went by us, it looked as if Goodyear was catching him on the inside.  When they crossed the line, I couldn’t tell how they finished, but a few seconds later I knew that Unser had emerged victorious.

The difference in distance was less than a car length as Goodyear’s front tires were even with the rear tires of Unser.  In time the difference was 0.043 seconds, closer than the 1982 finish between Gordon Johncock and Rick Mears.

As the two front finishers came slowly through the pit area, they received a tremendous ovation from the crowd as the remaining cars returned to their pit areas for the last time.

We sat in our seats for a few minutes and talked about the race as the drivers and pit crews relaxed after an unusually long race.

When most of the crowd had left, we got out our chicken and biscuits while Malcolm McKean got out some sandwiches.  We hadn’t eaten anything since 5:30, so it tasted really good.

While we were eating, Al Unser, Jr. was interviewed by Tom Carnegie and then driven around the track with his family and car owner in the Cadillac pace car.

When we finished eating, we got everything packed and left.  Before leaving the grounds, we walked to the Speedway museum to see the Indy 500 Expo.  It was held next to the museum parking lot by the second turn, but when we got there we discovered that it was held before, not after, the race.  We looked around for a few minutes and then started our exit from the Speedway.

We used the restroom before leaving the grounds and then started our walk down Crawfordsville Road.  Before going very far, we stopped and watched a bungee jumping exhibition.  Bungee jumping was a new fad sweeping the nation, and this exhibit was attracting a large crowd.

After seeing two or three jumpers, we continued on our way and saw the usual loud drunks and bumper-to-bumper cars with their impatient, horn-honking drivers.  Upon arriving at the car we sat for a few minutes to rest our feet, and then at 4:57 we started our trip to the motel.

It took only a few seconds to get onto Crawfordsville Road, and then after a few minutes of stop-and-go traffic we were on I-74.

After driving for a few minutes we stopped at the first rest stop, as did many other race fans.  I washed my hands and face with cool water, hoping it would keep me from getting sleepy while driving.

As we continued our driving we listened to periodic post-race reports on WIBC and various music programs.  It was 6:20 when we arrived at the motel.

Because of the cool weather Paul had no desire to go swimming, so we stayed in our room, took off our shoes, lay on our beds for a while, and watched TV.

About an hour later we decided it was time for supper, so we walked to the motel restaurant.  We ate from the buffet serving line and had roast beef, fried chicken, corn, green beans, roast pork, dressing, carrots, celery, and cake.

Everything tasted fine, and when we finished we walked to the off-track betting area of the motel.  There, we watched a VCR rerun of the race.  It was interesting to watch, but by around 9:30 Paul’s eyes would hardly stay awake, so he decided to call it a day and returned to the room and went to bed.  I was interested to see the film as it showed all the action that we couldn’t see from our seats.

When the film ended, I returned to our room.  I watched TV for a few minutes and then went to bed.  It had been a long day.

It was about 6:00 when I woke up Monday morning.  I did some reading and then went to the car to check on something.  Yesterday when we started to leave the motel, the engine didn’t want to start.  I thought it might be an indication of trouble, but when I started the engine to leave from Indianapolis, it worked fine.  I was still worried about possible trouble, but when I turned the key it turned right over.  That gave me a feeling of relief.

I returned to the room and watched TV for a few minutes, and then I did some more reading.  It was about 8:30 when Paul woke up.  We watched TV for about 30 minutes and then walked to the motel restaurant for breakfast.  We had the buffet breakfast with french toast, bacon, sausage, pancakes, hashed brown potatoes, orange juice, and coffee.  Business was rather slow but about the same as usual on this holiday morning.

It was still too cold for Paul to go swimming, so we watched TV and did our packing.  It was nice not to be rushed as we were the previous morning and to enjoy the peaceful quietude of the morning.

We carried our tote bag and suitcase to the car, stopped at the registration desk to check out, and at 10:50 started our trip home.

I decided to do something different this year, so we went to the Forest Glen Preserve about 10 miles south of Danville.  It was almost deserted with only a few people present.  There was a tall observation tower that overlooked the Vermillion River.  We started to climb it, but I chickened out after four flights and returned to earth.  Paul continued on and went to the top.  He stayed there for several minutes, and when he came back down we walked around for a little while and then left.

It was 12:52 when we arrived at the Colonial Kitchen.  Marilyn Compton was the cashier and seemed happy to see us.  We were still full from our late breakfast, so Paul had a grilled cheese sandwich and Pepsi and I had a grilled tenderloin sandwich and a cup of coffee.  Marilyn came over and visited with us for several minutes.

When we finished eating and visiting we used the restroom, paid our bill, and left to continue our trip.  When we arrived at Decatur we didn’t go to the boat races as we had last year, but we did stop at the Holiday Inn Motel and browsed for a few minutes.  We watched the basketball game between the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers for a few minutes and then left.

I drove the rest of the way on old Route 36, and at 5:00 we arrived home to complete another memorable trip to the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

EPILOGUE

When the official race results were posted on the morning after the race, there were two changes made in the standings.

Eddie Cheever was moved from sixth to fourth position.  He was penalized during the race for passing under the yellow flag, but he was given the lap back when the drivers he passed revealed that they had waved him around them.

A scoring error was discovered after the race, and it moved AJ Foyt from 10th to 9th position and dropped John Paul, Jr. from 9th to 10th.

After finishing in the top five positions in five of the last six races, Al Unser, Jr. got to Victory Lane in his 10th race and became the first second-generation driver to win the race.  Little Al had had only a mediocre performance during practice and time trials and qualified 9.49 mph slower than Roberto Guerrero’s pole speed of 232.482 mph.  His Galmer chassis was new to the Speedway.  He started in 12th position and didn’t get into the top 10 positions until the 100-mile mark, but then he moved up steadily.  He seemed destined to finish second until lap 189 when the Andretti bad luck struck again.  His 0.043-second winning margin was the closest in Speedway history.

Scott Goodyear put on one of the greatest performances ever seen at the Speedway.  In 1980, Tom Sneva came from 33rd starting position to finish second, but it wasn’t as exciting as Scott’s run.  His qualifying speed of 221.801 mph was far from outstanding, but when the green flag came out for the start of the race Scott took off like a shot and was in 7th place at the 20-lap mark.  He was among the leaders for the remainder of the race, and his 11-lap duel with Little Al was one of the most exciting in Speedway history.

Another surprise finisher was Al Unser.  Al did not have a ride for last year’s race, and he had a ride this year only when Nelson Piquet crashed and was too injured to drive.  He started in 22nd starting position and moved up steadily to 3rd at the end of the race, giving the Buick engine its best finish ever at the Speedway.

Eddie Cheever had a good year at the Speedway this year.  He had the second-fastest qualifying time, and he was near the front of the field for the entire race.  His original finishing position was sixth with a one-lap penalty for passing during a caution period.  The penalty was later rescinded, thus giving him 200 laps and the 4th position, only 0.001 seconds behind Al Unser.

Fifth-place honors went to Danny Sullivan in the #18 Molson Kraco Galmer Chevy, a teammate to Al Unser, Jr.  The 1985 winner started 8th and was still running at the finish for only the third time in 10 races.

Finishing in 6th position was another former race winner, Bobby Rahal.  He started 10th in the #12 Miller Genuine Draft Lola Chevy and continued his record of doing well in even-numbered years.  He may have finished higher if he hadn’t had to make an unscheduled pit stop for a flat tire.

Raul Boesel finished 7th in the #11 Panasonic Lola Chevy from the Dick Simon stable.  He was never a contender for the lead, but he drove a good, steady race.  This was his sixth race, and he finished in the top 10 positions in three of his last four races.

Of the four Andrettis in the race, the best finish was that of John, who finished 8th.  John drove the #8 Pennzoil Lola Chevy from the Jim Hall Racing team.  John’s chance of finishing higher was cancelled by two pit stops, one of 30 seconds and the other of 3 minutes and 17 seconds.

Like Ol’ Man River AJ Foyt just keeps rolling along, and this year he rolled along to 9th place in the race.  AJ missed by less than a lap of having a 226+ mph qualifying run on the first day of time trials, which would have given him a third row starting position.  Instead, he qualified at 222.798 mph and started in the eighth row.  Although he was never in contention for the lead, he drove a steady race and stayed out of the way of all the broken debris from crashed race cars.  This was AJ’s 35th race, and although he hasn’t been a serious contender for the winner’s circle for many years, he has finished in the top 10 in three of his last four races and was running at the finish in all three of them.

John Paul, Jr. had his best year at the Speedway as he drove the DM Mann Development Lola Buick to a 10th-place finish.  This was his fourth race, and he had his fastest qualifying speed, best starting position, best finish, and most number of laps completed.  It was also the first time he was running at the finish of the race.

Lyn St. James made a name for herself this year.  She was only the second woman to qualify for the race ever, Janet Guthrie being the first.  She was also the only rookie still running at the end of the race, and she was voted Rookie of the Year for her performance in the JC Penney #90 Lola Chevy.

The total purse and the winner’s share again set new records.  The total purse was $7,527,450, of which Al Unser, Jr. won $1,244,184.

This year’s race would have to be classified as unusual.  I don’t think anybody would have predicted that 13 cars would leave the race via accidents.  Although nobody knew it at the time, the pre-race crash of polesitter Roberto Guerrero was a harbinger of things to come.  Also, I don’t think anybody would have predicted that the time of the race would be 3:43:05.191 with the winner’s speed being 134.477 mph, the slowest race since 1958.

Race day weather was unbelievable.  Having experienced so many hot and humid race days, it seemed strange to see people dressed in winter coats and wool blankets.  The occasional north gusts of wind that swept the Speedway literally put a chill on the day’s activities.

Last year no speed records were set during the race, and this year only three were set, those being for 1, 2, and 4 laps.  This was due, of course, to the large amount of caution time.

Despite all that went wrong this year, I hope to be back again next year to see the Greatest Spectacle in Racing — the Indianapolis 500.

Pace Car – Dodge Viper
500 Festival Queen — Mary Troyer

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