Note from Paul: In 1954, my father, David Dalbey, attended his first Indianapolis 500 with his father and aunt. Several years later, he started recording his experiences in detailed, handwritten journals. He has continued this practice all the way through the current year. Several of the earliest years were written many years later and may contain some errors in information. He was not a wordsmith, but nonetheless, I am pleased to present these journals in their original form without attempt to edit or correct any mistakes.
Probably the biggest news at the Speedway this year was the tremendous speed increase from last year.There was an increase of 17 mph between Peter Revson’s pole position speed of last year and Bobby Unser’s 195.940 mph pole speed of this year.This is the largest single-year increase in speed in the history of the Speedway.Another qualifying record was established when the slowest car in the starting field qualified faster than the fastest car in last year’s race.Other memorable features of this year were the death of Jim Malloy in a practice run on May 14th and the confusing start and finish of the race.
Dad, Bobby, Dixie, and I saw the first day of time trials on Saturday, May 13th.We left Springfield at 3:00, stopped at the Colonial Kitchen for breakfast, and arrived at the Speedway about 7:30.It rained over half the time going over, and it was coming down quite hard at the Speedway.We were lucky enough to get seats in the Paddock section by the start-finish line and under a roof.
It was a long, frustrating day.The rain came down almost all day long, and the sun didn’t shine until about 4:00.It wasn’t until 5:00 that the track was declared in racing condition and the cars were allowed to practice.The caution light came on several times, and it wasn’t until after 5:30 that any qualification attempt was made.
A couple drivers started their trial runs but came in and didn’t finish.A few minutes before 6:00, the crowd received its biggest thrill of the day when A.J. Foyt took the green flag and started his four-lap run.That thrill was short-lived, however, when a few seconds later, the PA announcer said that Foyt’s car had blown its engine and was coasting into the infield on the backstretch.Before another car could get onto the track, the 6:00 deadline whistle blew, eliminating any qualification attempt and ending a frustrating day.On the way home, we stopped at the Colonial Kitchen for supper and arrived home about 11:30.
On Friday, May 26th, I ate dinner at Dalbey’s, and after eating we loaded Bobby’s car and got everything ready to go.I transferred all of my equipment to Bobby’s car and then put my car in her space in the garage.We checked to be sure we had everything we intended to take, and at 12:42 we said goodbye to Mother and started on our trip.
I drove, and Bobby sat in the front seat and Dad behind her.I took the same streets we usually take, North Grand, 6th Street, 5th Street, and Sangamon Avenue, and shortly we were leaving town.It was a warm, sunny day, and there wasn’t enough traffic on the highway to make driving unpleasant.We arrived in Decatur about 1:30, and the traffic was about the same as it usually is.The traffic remained fairly light, and about 2:15 we passed through Tuscola.
About 10 minutes after we left Tuscola, I noticed a strange sight ahead of us, and a few seconds later we realized there was a wreck ahead of us and we would have to slow down.We were the second car coming from the west, so apparently we just missed by a few seconds being in the wreck.I realized we might be there for a while, so I stopped, turned the engine off, and got out to investigate.
It looked as if three cars were involved in the mess.One car was going west and one car and a semi-trailer truck were going east.The truck looked as it if had jack-knifed to the right and into the utility pole, knocking the pole partly over.The car going east was parked a few feet to the left of the truck.The car going west was in the worst condition.It was in two pieces on the north side of the road, with the truck in one place and the remainder of the car several feet west of the truck lying upside down.
There were two men at the overturned part, and when I arrived there I discovered there was a woman in the car and the men were trying to free her.The car was so smashed in that the men had to loosen the seat and open the door before they could get the woman out.The woman was groaning quite a bit, so we thought she might be in bad condition.We finally got the car opened and the seat pushed back so that we could pull her out.There was a blanket by the car, so I spread it out and the two men placed her on it.The woman had blood over a large portion of her body and small pieces of glass stuck in her skin in several places.She was in considerable pain and particularly so in her left thigh, which she thought might be broken.Despite her bad condition, she was conscious and wanted us to try to free her friend from the car.
The other woman’s head and neck seemed to be out of position, and we were fearful some damage had been done to them.We managed to get her out of the car and laid her down by the other woman. An ambulance had been called, so while we waited for it I surveyed the scene.The damaged car was a Chevrolet, and it had really been damaged.There were pieces of glass and metal scattered over a wide area.There was a bean field several feet from the highway and a trench between the field and the highway.The trench was loaded with broken car pieces, and some pieces had even gotten into the bean field.In my survey, I also discovered several primary education books scattered about, so I thought maybe at least one of them was an elementary school teacher.
By now, a few other cars had stopped, although most of them continued on their way without stopping.Although there were several people on the scene, nobody seemed to know just what had happened or any of the details.Fortunately, it had happened right in front of a house located on the highway, so it didn’t take long to get to a telephone.
While we were waiting for the ambulance, I took Bobby’s snow sweeper from the car and swept some of the metal, glass, rocks, and other debris from the highway.It was a small broom for such a big job, but it cleared a lot of the debris off the highway.In a few minutes, the ambulance and the local sheriff arrived, and the women were taken to a nearby hospital.One of the men on the scene before we arrived directed traffic while I continued sweeping the highway.
After a while, I decided there was no need to stay around any longer, so we decided to continue on our way.Just as we were ready to leave, a State Trooper arrived on the scene.I thought he might want to talk to us, so I waited a minute or so, but he didn’t come over to the car, so we went on.It was 2:55 now, so we had spent 30 minutes at the accident scene.All three of us were shaken up by the accident, and we talked about it as we continued on to Chrisman.
It was 3:18 when we arrived at the Colonial Kitchen.There were two customers when we arrived, but a few more came after we did.We each had a cup of coffee, and Bobby and Dad had a piece of pie and I had a dish of orange sherbet.The refreshments felt good, and when we finished we used the restrooms, paid the bill, and continued on our way.It was 3:44 when we left.
We drove north on Route 150/1, and at 4:13 we got onto I-74 south of Danville.Five minutes later, we crossed the Indiana line, and from there on it was smooth sailing until we arrived at the Route 136 and I-74 intersection on the west side of Indianapolis.The traffic was heavy but it was moving, and in a couple minutes we arrived at the Standard Station and had the gasoline tank filled while we used the restrooms.We continued east on Crawfordsville Road, and at 5:25 we arrived at Kramer’s.
Mr. Kramer is usually on the scene and directs all the traffic as it comes into his yard.This time, however, he wasn’t there, so we backed in at about the location we wanted to park.A couple minutes later, a woman came over and introduced herself and said Mr. Kramer had just left to go downtown but should be back any minute.The four of us talked for a few minutes, and then she excused herself to go talk to some other customers.We wanted to park in front of the front porch but didn’t want to do so without Mr. Kramer’s approval, so we stayed where we were and got out lawn chairs out and sat on them for a few minutes.There were a few customers who arrived before us, but most of the yard was still empty.
A few minutes before 6:00, Mr. Kramer arrived home and started getting his customers located.When he arrived at our car, he gave us a warm greeting and said he was glad to have us back again.We asked him about parking in front of his porch and he said that would be fine with him, so I backed the car into our spot and parked it.Bobby asked Dad and me if we wanted to eat now or later, and we decided to walk down by the Speedway and then come back and eat.
The pedestrian traffic wasn’t real heavy until we arrived at the Speedway Museum, and then it increased considerably.There was a line of people extending outside the museum waiting to get in, but the patrolman at the door kept the line moving right along, so we didn’t have long to wait.Many of the cars on display we had seen before, but there were a couple new displays sponsored by accessory companies which made for interesting viewing.We spent about half an hour in the museum and then walked back to the car.It was about 7:00 now.
By now, we were rather hungry.Dad and I got the stove out and set it up while Bobby got the food out and prepared it for cooking.For supper, we had hamburgers, baked beans, potato chips, salad, and coffee.It tasted real good, and the weather provided an excellent atmosphere for eating.It hadn’t gotten dark yet, there was only a slight breeze, and the temperature was just right.Bobby had brought along quite a bit of food, but we ate almost everything she cooked.When we finished eating, we cleaned out our equipment and put it back in the car.I had bought a newspaper shortly after we arrived, so we sat in our chairs and read it while it was still light enough to see.
When I finished reading the newspaper, I told Bobby and Dad I was going to take a walk and see what was going on closer to the Speedway.They said they didn’t feel like going, so I went by myself.
The traffic, both auto and pedestrian, had increased considerably in the last few hours.There was still a line of people waiting to go through the museum, and there were several persons who either wanted to buy or to sell race tickets.I walked east on the north side of 16th Street, and it looked about the same as it does every year.The cars were bumper to bumper for several blocks in both directions, and many of the cars were convertibles with young, loud, offensive people in them.It always disturbs me to realize how foolish these people are, both in their drinking and their reckless driving.
As I continued on, I approached the Speedway Motel and noticed a few other walkers walking toward it.I had always wanted to see the motel but thought there would be policemen or other security personnel to keep me from doing so.This time, I decided to attempt it.If I couldn’t get in, somebody would tell me and I would leave.There were two policemen directing the cars entering and leaving the motel parking lot, but they didn’t say anything to me when I walked by them, so I continued on my way.
When I entered the lobby, I heard an organ being played and somebody singing.I turned to the left and came upon the bar room.A middle-aged woman was doing both the playing and the singing, and she seemed to be quite happy doing it.There was a large crowd present, most of whom were drinking and a few of whom were singing along with the music.I stepped inside and took a look around the room and then stepped back out of the way so that I wouldn’t be in the way.I listened to the music for a few minutes and then walked around and saw another room, the dining room.
From there, I went outside and walked around the grounds.The sidewalk by the lobby led to the rear of the motel, and there I could see the outside wall of the southeast turn of the racetrack and some of the outside wall of the back straightaway.In the distance, I could see the Control Tower.Also in the rear of the motel was a large, revolving floodlight.I turned back and walked west across the front sections of the motel.There were several guests either leaving or entering their rooms.When I reached the end of the motel, I turned around and went back to the lobby.There was still a lot of noise coming from the bar room, so I decided to check it out again.The crowd was making quite a bit of noise, but I was able to shut them out enough so that I could hear the music.I listened for several minutes and then decided it was time to leave.As I walked back to 16th Street, the policemen were still directing traffic, but they didn’t stop me, so I went on.
I wanted to cross the street and walk back on the other side, but the traffic was so heavy and the drivers so wild that I decided it would be best if I stayed where I was.When I reached Georgetown Road, I used the pedestrian crosswalk and got across when the light changed to green.I continued walking west and went into the drug store at the intersection of 16th and Main Streets.I wanted to buy another Indianapolis newspaper, but the only ones for sale were copies of the edition I already had.
With no luck there, I went south on Main Street another block and went into the next drug store.They didn’t have any newspapers either.The other drug store was filled with customers, but there was almost nobody in this one.My feet were aching from all my walking, so I sat down on the fountain stool and ordered a Coca-Cola.It felt good to get off my feet and to have a cold drink.There was only one other customer at the fountain when I sat down, but while I was there, a young couple came in and sat down a couple seats from me.I took my time drinking my soda so that I could rest a little while, and then I paid my bill and left.
From the drug store, I walked north on Georgetown Road to Gate 6.There was a large crowd of pedestrians, mostly young, wild, drinking people, but mobile police wagons prevented any trouble from getting out of hand.From here, I went back to the car, but on the way I stopped at the discotheque place to see what was happening.It is located next door and to the rear of the White Castle hamburger shop.Last year, I could stand in the doorway and watch the go-go girls for nothing, but this year everybody had to pay before entering the building, so I decided not to go in.I stood outside and listened to the music for a few minutes and then went back to the car.
It was about 11:15 now.I opened the car trunk to get my sleeping bag and pillow and was real careful in so doing so that I wouldn’t wake Bobby.I decided I would try sleeping on the ground this year because of the noise in the garage caused by men talking as they came in to use the restroom.Unfortunately, my plan didn’t work so well.Across the street from the garage was a group of boys who were drinking and yelling and racing the motor of their car.This continued for a long time and precluded any sleep.
The main problem, however, in my being unable to sleep was my stopped-up nose.Every year, around the end of May and the first part of June, something gets into my nose and causes it to get stopped up.I am constantly blowing my nose and have trouble sleeping because I can’t breathe.I lay on the west side of the garage, and every time I would almost get to sleep, I would wake up because I couldn’t breathe.I tried sleeping in the garage and by the car, but it didn’t do any good. I had to remain standing because when I lay down my nose would become stopped up and I couldn’t breathe.The condition also caused my eyes to water, and I spent a good part of the night getting rid of my tears and blowing my nose so that I could breathe easier.I didn’t get much sleep.
At 5:00, I heard the opening bomb and decided to give up on sleeping.I got up and walked around and found most of Mr. Kramer’s customers still asleep, some in cars, some in sleeping bags, and some on the ground.I got up and walked around a little bit.The cars were lined up on Crawfordsville Road but weren’t moving very fast.On my way back to the sleeping bag, I ran into Dad.He had awoken and was standing by the garage trying to get some fresh air and wake up.The two of us talked for a few minutes about the terrible noise we heard all during the night and how it kept us from sleeping.I went back and folded up my sleeping bag while he folded up his cot and blanket, and then we took them to the car to put them away.
Bobby was awake but not very much.When she got out of the car, she said she had to use a restroom but didn’t want to go to the filling station because she didn’t want to have to stand in line.She wondered if she could use Kramer’s restroom, and when I asked Mr. Kramer about it, he said that would be fine.That was really a lucky break for Bobby.When she returned, we got our Thermos bottles and took them to the filling station to be filled.The filling station, however, wasn’t selling coffee this year, so we had to walk to the White Castle restaurant and have them filled there.
It was about 7:00 when we arrived back at the car.By now, we were hungry for breakfast, so Dad and I got the stove ready to use while Bobby got out the food and eating equipment.While Bobby was cooking, Dad and I read our newspapers and listened to the radio.The aroma of bacon frying in the pan was real pleasant to our noses and made us hungrier than we were previously.Bobby cooked quite a bit of bacon, but we ate all of it she cooked plus the scrambled eggs and coffee.When I finished, I felt fuller and more awake.When we finished eating, we cleaned our equipment and stacked everything neatly in the trunk.
It was about 8:00 now, and we sat in the car a few minutes and listened to the radio and commented on the activity around us.The pedestrian traffic going to the Speedway was getting heavier, but the automobile traffic was not as heavy as it had been a couple hours ago.Almost everybody in Kramer’s yard was awake now and getting ready for breakfast or to go to the Speedway.We straightened things up in the car and then got all of our equipment gathered up and ready to go.We checked to see if we had the most important item, the tickets, and then locked the car and started on our way.
Although we had several items to carry, our load was light compared to that of some of the other race fans, particularly those carrying ice chests.We saw several groups of persons who had to stop and rest because of the weight of the coolers.
Every year on our way to the Speedway we come upon a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars who wants everybody to donate a quarter and buy a VFW pin.Sometimes they get almost demanding, but we always ignore them and keep walking.I noticed that most of the other fans were doing the same thing.
When we reached the White Castle restaurant, Bobby and Dad remained outside and watched our equipment while I went in and had the Thermos bottles refilled.There were four persons in front of me but the line moved fast, and in a couple minutes I had the bottles filled and was ready to go again.While we were arranging everything, we decided to take an individual ticket so that, in case we got lost in the mob, we would be able to get into the grounds and to our seats.
There was a huge crowd waiting to get into the main gate, but the ticket-takers were doing their job well, and in a few minutes we were inside the gate.We bought two official programs from the first vendor we saw and then walked on.It was getting harder to walk because of the large crowd and the ice chests, but pretty soon we came to the sign directing us through the tunnel under the track.The traffic here moved real well, and in a couple minutes we were on the infield and in daylight again.We continued walking in the same direction, and in another minute or so walked through the subway and then came back to the rear of the Tower Terrace and turned and went right to our entrance.
The ticket-taker took our tickets, and we walked up the incline for our first view of all the activity on the straightaway.Pit crews were making final checks on their cars, the bands were parading on the track, the pit area was filled with visitors, and the overall picture was really something to see and hear.We found our seats in section 43, row J, seats 5, 6, and 7, put our equipment under our seats and sat down and rested for a few minutes.It was now 9:00.
For a few minutes, we just sat and watched the activity and commented about the bands, people, cars, etc.We checked our programs to see what cars were stationed within our view.When I felt rested, I took both the still and the movie cameras and walked along the pit area from the north end to the entrance to Gasoline Alley.This is always interesting to me, and there were many other persons doing the same thing.It is really a thrill to get almost within touching distance of some of the drivers, cars, pit crew members, and any famous celebrities who might be walking through the pit area.Among the drivers I recognized were Mel Kenyon, A.J. Foyt, and Mario Andretti.I took both still and motion pictures of them, as did many other camera fans.
The pit crews were working feverishly in this last hour of preparation for the race.Many of the car engines were running, and some pit crew members were still running back to the garage area for supplies.The combination of noise from the engines, and the sight of the thousands of persons in their seats along the straightaway, and the sight and sound of the bands marching on the straightaway easily brought a smile to my face and tears to my eyes.It was really magnificent.I stayed in this area until about 9:45 and then walked back to my seat.
At 10:00, the Chief Steward, Harlan Fengler, told the pit crew members to line their cars up on the track for the start of the race.Within the next few minutes, more than a dozen cars were being pushed north through the pit area and out the entrance and then forward on the track to their starting positions.While this was going on, the many celebrities were driven around the track for all the fans to see.Among the celebrities this year were the recording artists the Osmond Brothers, Colonel Sanders of fried chicken fame, singer Phil Harris, and TV personality Dick Clark.
At 10:30, Harlan Fengler and a couple other USAC officials made their final inspection of the track.Only 30 minutes remained, and the tension was increasing.Almost every seat in view was filled.At 10:40, the Purdue University Band played The Star-Spangled Banner as the crowd rose to its feet, and a couple minutes later, at 10:45, the band played Taps in honor of those servicemen who had died in the service of the country.By now, most of the drivers were in their seats, and everybody but the pit crews were off the track.
At 10:50, the last song, Back Home Again in Indiana, was played while the pit crews inserted their starters into the cars and the huge display of balloons was released behind the Tower Terrace section.When the band finished playing, a huge cheer went up from the crowd as the big moment was only seconds away.The loud buzz of the crowd was broken when the PA announcer said the big moment had come and then introduced Speedway President Tony Hulman.Tony, in a loud clear voice, said those four famous words that always send the fans wild, “GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES!”
The roar of 33 engines came into the air, and in a few seconds, one member of each pit crew put one of his arms up in the air to indicate his car and driver were ready to go.About a minute later, the Hurst/Olds pace car slowly pulled away.Former race winner Jim Rathmann was the driver, and his passengers were Tony Hulman, Robert Draper, astronaut Pete Conrad, and Mrs. Dolly Cole, wife of the president and chief officer of General Motors Corporation.She was the first woman ever to ride in a pace car.
Thirty-two cars moved out for the start.The one exception was none other than A.J. Foyt, who started in the middle of the sixth row.A huge moan went up from the audience when the announcement was made.His crew worked desperately to solve the problem while the field continued on its way.As the field came through the fourth turn, Harlen Fengler almost screamed over the PA system for the crew to get the car to the inside wall immediately, which they did.The field presented a beautiful sight as it went by and received the cheers and applause of the crowd as it finished the parade lap and started the pace lap.
Everybody was looking to the fourth turn now as the big roar was only a minute or so away.As the pace car came out of the turn and headed for the pit area, Foyt’s car still hadn’t started.There was the possibility of another trip around the track, so the field wasn’t moving too fast, but then, at the last second, starter Pat Vidan waved the green flag for the confused start.It was confusing because the yellow caution lights were on all around the track at the same time the green flag was waved.Whether the track condition was green or yellow, the field took off and the race was on.
Bobby Unser jumped into the lead from his pole position and put a considerable distance between him and the other cars.Revson, Donahue, Bettenhausen, and the other front starters fought among themselves in a battle to catch Bobby.
The first car out of the race was rookie Salt Walther, whose car coasted to a stop in the second turn on his fourth lap.On his 10th lap, another rookie, Swede Savage, left the race with a broken rod bearing.
After seven laps, Mike Mosley had moved from 14th to 8th position, and Bobby Unser had started lapping the tail-end cars.He led Mark Donohue by 17 seconds, and Gary Bettenhausen was third.
On the 18th lap, both Bettenhausen and Peter Revson caught Donohue and passed him. Meanwhile, Johnny Rutherford had pitted twice in the first 12 laps but continued in the race.
An unpleasant surprise occurred on the 23rd lap when Revson pulled into the infield between the first and second turn with a broken gearbox and was out of the race.
The standings at 20 laps were Bobby Unser, Revson, Bettenhausen, Donohue, Mosley, Jerry Grant, Mario Andretti, Sam Posey, Bill Vukovich II, and Foyt.The average speed was 179.901 mph.
After 28 laps, Unser led second-place Bettenhausen by 24 seconds, and only four other cars were on the same lap with them.This situation, however, was about to change.
On the 30th lap, much to everybody’s surprise, Unser very slowly came into the pit area and was hardly able to make it to his own pit area. His crew tried to fix the car, but it was no use.An ignition rotor had broken, and he was out of the race.His car had been the fastest one all month long, but now with the race less than one-quarter completed he was out of the running, and the nature of the race changed tremendously.
While Bobby was in the pits, Mel Kenyon, Dick Simon, and Carl Williams made pit stops.The first yellow flag of the race came out during this period but only for a couple laps, and then the green flag came out again.At 35 laps, the first five were Bettenhausen, Mosley, Grant, Donohue, and Vukovich.
At 40 laps or 100 miles, the standings were Bettenhausen, Donohue, Grant, Vukovich, Andretti, Mosley, Al Unser, Lloyd Ruby, Gordon Johncock, and Roger McCluskey.
Bettenhausen pitted for the first time on his 42nd lap, and so did Andretti.A big moan came from the fans as Andretti very slowly entered the pit area.His engine wasn’t even running and everybody feared the worst, but fortunately, as it was learned later, he was only out of fuel.
Meanwhile, Johnny Rutherford and Roger McCluskey had left the race, and Carl Williams had to come into his pit twice because of being black-flagged.
Bill Vukovich’s good luck also ended early.He was in fifth position when he pulled into the south chute grass area on his 55th lap.On the 56th lap, Foyt returned to the race after a long pit stop to install a new turbocharger.
On the 55th lap, Mosley passed Bettenhausen for the lead, but his luck was about to go sour, too.As he came through the fourth turn on his 57th lap, he crashed into the outside wall, slid across the track nearly hitting the inside wall, and then slid back and hit the outside wall again and slid backward against the wall down the track. The car caught on fire, and Mike was out of the car and rolling around on the track trying to extinguish his burning clothes before the car had hardly stopped.The caution lights came on, and firemen were on the scene immediately.He had second and third degree burns on his legs and minor burns on his hands and face.This was almost the exact spot where Mike crashed last year with Bobby Unser, and his injuries were the same as last year.Pieces of his car went flying in every direction, and Gary Bettenhausen, running second behind Mike, just barely missed crashing into the mess.
With Mosley out of the race, Bettenhausen moved back into the lead, and at 60 laps the first 10 were Bettenhausen, Grant, Donohue, Johncock, Al Unser, Roger McCluskey, Jim Hurtubise, Sam Sessions, and Mel Kenyon.Grant moved into second position and after 73 laps was less than five seconds behind Bettenhausen.
Grant and Bettenhausen both pitted a few laps later and Donohue took the lead, but he also pitted and that put Bettenhausen in front again.
Carl Williams was black-flagged again, and this time his crew pushed the car to the garage area.At the same time, Foyt’s car was also pushed back to the garage area.
At the halfway mark, the standings were Bettenhausen, Grant, Donohue, Johncock, Unser, Leonard, Andretti, Hurtubise, Sessions, and Ruby.The average speed was 162.112 mph.
Jim Hurtubise’s car rolled to a stop on the backstretch after going 99 laps, and at 120 laps, Johncock was forced out of the race with a broken piston.John Mahler and Steve Krisiloff also dropped out with mechanical problems.
Bettenhausen, Grant, and Donohue continued to lead the field as new speed records were set and other cars dropped out of the running.Denny Zimmerman, Mel Kenyon, and Lee Kunzman left the race for different reasons as the race approached the three-quarter mark.
Wally Dallenbach was the next driver to leave the race.Wally started in last place, and on two of his pit stops his car caught on fire.Now, he was finished for the day.
Bettenhausen, Grant, and Donohue continued to hold the first three positions, but then somewhere around the 180 lap mark Gary’s car started misbehaving.It had been running perfectly, but all of a sudden it sounded terrible and he slowed down considerably.His change of luck evoked a great moan from the audience, and a few laps later Jerry Grant caught him and took the lead, although Gary stayed in the race.
Although it was getting late in the race, there was still much excitement left.Grant’s crew, headed by former driver Dan Gurney, was naturally happy with the change of events, but their joy was to be quite brief.Jerry was in front and he seemed to be headed for victory, but then, with less than 15 laps to go, he had to make a pit stop for a new tire and fuel.It was here that the race was lost for Jerry.For some reason, his pit crew refueled the car from Bobby Unser’s regular tank.It was a mistake which nobody probably will ever forget.
While Jerry was in his pit, Donohue passed him and took the lead.With only about 10 laps to go, there was plenty of action.The Sunoco-McLaren crew, who were brooding over Gary Bettnehausen’s car, now made an about-face as victory seemed imminent to Gary’s teammate, Mark Donohue.Mark received the message from his crew and raised his hand in acknowledgment.
By the time Grant returned to the race track, there was too little time left for him to regain the lead, so he had to settle for second position behind Donohue, who finished the remaining few laps and received the checkered flag.Mark took two extra laps around the track and then slowly drove through the pit area on his way to Victory Lane.A few seconds later, Grant pulled into his pit area for the last time this year.He had driven a tremendous race and received a big applause from the crowd.Only a change of luck beyond his control had kept him from winning the big prize.Little did he or anybody else know that, in the next 24 hours, he would be involved in a big controversy over the finish of the race.
After Donohue and Grant, the remaining cars either finished the 500 miles or were red-flagged to their finish.
Behind Grant, in third position, was Al Unser. Al had gone almost unnoticed in the race because of the battle between Donohue and Grant, but at the end he was right behind them. His car had not performed as well as expected all month long, but it did excellently when it counted the most.
One of Al’s two teammates, Joe Leonard, also did real well and was near the front of the field during most of the race.His steady driving brought him fourth position.
Sam Sessions made his best showing at the Speedway by finishing fifth.
Finishing in sixth position was rookie Sam Posey.Sam was the fastest rookie qualifier this year at 184.379 mph and started in seventh position.He made an excellent showing of himself.
Seventh position went to the old pro and sentimental favorite to win the race, Lloyd Ruby.This was Lloyd’s 13th race, and his bad luck at the Speedway is one of the best-known stories in auto racing.Although he was in the first 10 positions during the last half of the race, he didn’t lead the race at any time, unlike his last four races.With each passing year, Lloyd becomes more and more the sentimental favorite to take the big prize, but Lady Luck has yet to say yes.He certainly deserves to win this race.If he ever does, there will be a huge multitude of very happy race fans.
Mike Hiss, another rookie whom many people expect to be a future star, made a good showing of himself in his initial 500 mile race and finished eighth.
In ninth position was Al Unser’s other teammate, Mario Andretti.Mario had an excellent qualifying speed of 187.617 mph and started in fifth position.He twice ran out of fuel before he reached the pit area, and this probably cost him a few positions in the standings.
Another rookie, Jimmy Caruthers, made a good showing and finished 10th.He had the second-slowest qualifying time and started in the last row, but he moved up steadily to his final position.
Other cars still going when the red flag was displayed were those of Cale Yarborough, George Snider, and Dick Simon.
The pits of Sessions, Ruby, and Yarborough were in front of us, so we were able to see quite a lot of pit action this year.
When the last car pulled off the track, Bobby and Dad decided they would go back to the car and rest for a few minutes, but I stayed and watched the activity for a while.Mark Donohue was driven around the track in the pace car so that everybody could see him and then held an impromptu press conference at the starting line.He answered questions from newspapers, magazines, radio, and television personnel over the Speedway’s PA system.
Lloyd Ruby and Sam Sessions were helped out of their cars by their pit crews.Their uniforms were thoroughly wet, and their faces were covered with grease, oil, and dirt, but they used a rag to get most of the mess off their faces.Lloyd sat on the back of his seat and talked to his pit crew while Sam walked around and stretched his arms and legs.
When all the cars had been pushed back to the garage area, I gathered up my equipment.As I was walking behind the pit area fence, I looked up and down the straightaway and at the thousands of seats for the last time until next May.Since I was by myself, I decided to go over to the garage area and see if I could see anything.I hadn’t done this for several years, and since I didn’t have to be at the car at any specific time, I took advantage of the situation and joined several hundred other fans who wanted a close-up view of the cars.There were only a few cars to see, and the mob of humanity behind the fence was several rows deep, so it was hard to get a close view of the car.I walked around for several minutes with hopes of seeing one of the drivers, but I didn’t see any, so I left and started my walk to the car.
The traffic moved right along through the tunnel, and a couple minutes later I was on the outside of the track.I turned around and took my last look at the Control Tower for this year.As I was walking behind the Paddock section to the main gate, I heard some loud noise coming from Georgetown Road.I looked to my right and saw two men, apparently under the control of liquor, having a shoving and shouting match.Their language was unpleasant, and a few seconds later they started to throw punches at each other.A couple race fans entered the scene and physically restrained the men, although they continued to shout at each other.They finally went their separate ways but not before making a nuisance of themselves with fans who were offended by the fighting and profanity.
As I neared the main gate, I bought a copy of the Flash Final Edition of The Indianapolis News.Its headline was “Donohue Wins 500.”At the same time, I heard some music in the distance.Pretty soon, I saw a crowd gathered in a circle.I stopped to see what the attraction was.A quartet of musicians was providing post-race entertainment for the fans.There was a drummer, a clarinetist, trombonist, and a trumpeter.They could play their instruments real well, and the race fans really enjoyed their music.I stood for several minutes and watched them and then continued on my way.
The traffic on Crawfordsville Road was bumper to bumper with hot, tired, dirty race fans eager to get on the open road.Some of the people in the cars were asleep while the others waited, some patiently and some impatiently, for the traffic to move.I managed to avoid getting hit by either a car or a pedestrian, and a few minutes later I arrived at Kramer’s.
Bobby and Dad were sitting in their lawn chairs by the car and watching the cars and people go by.I put my equipment in the car and then got my chair out of the car and took my shoes off.Most of Mr. Kramer’s customers had already left, but there were a few left, including two young couples sleeping on the ground in front of our car.
It really felt good to have my shoes off and to sit in my chair for a few minutes.I told Bobby and Dad about visiting the garage area, witnessing the fight between the two drunks, and listening to the musicians.Bobby said there was some food and coffee still left and that I could have them if I wanted them.The food consisted of a couple sandwiches and some potato chips.I had eaten a couple sandwiches during the race, but I still had room for a couple more.
About 4:30, we decided to start our trip home.We got all the equipment packed into the trunk and back seat and then had to awaken the two sleeping couples in front of the car so that they could move out of our way.Mr. Kramer was in his yard, so we said goodbye to him and started our trip.
I drove out of the yard right onto the highway and was real lucky to meet a polite driver right away who let us get in front of him.The next hour was one of great frustration as we moved very slowly and only in occasional spurts.It took us almost an hour to reach the I-74 intersection, and we were really glad to get on it.The traffic was no problem now, and about 6:30 we crossed the state line and a few minutes later took Route 150/1 south from Danville.It took us a little longer on this road but we still didn’t encounter any unusual problems, and about 7:00 we reached the Route 36 junction and pulled into the Colonial Kitchen parking lot.There wasn’t a parking space anywhere, so we knew there were a lot of people there.I had to make a space behind the restaurant and pulled off far enough to the side to allow traffic to go through.
We thought we might have a long wait ahead of us, but happily we didn’t.There was a big party going on in the east room, and that accounted for most of the cars in the parking lot.The regular dining room wasn’t crowded, and we got to serve ourselves right away.I put my plate on our table and then went to the restroom to wash my hands.When I returned, Bobby had ordered ice tea for all of us.I don’t like tea, but I guess Bobby didn’t know this and I didn’t have the nerve to tell her, so I drank it.I didn’t like the tea, but the cold ice really felt good in my mouth.I liked almost everything there was to eat and I really stuffed myself, and Dad and Bobby did likewise to themselves.We took our time in eating, and when we finished we used the restrooms, paid the bill, and left.I bought a Paris, Illinois newspaper as we were leaving because I wanted to see if it had information on the wreck we had seen yesterday.When I got to the car, I discovered it was Friday’s newspaper, so I just wasted a dime.
Feeling quite a bit better than when we stopped, we started the second part of our trip home and headed west on Route 36.When we reached the scene of yesterday’s wreck, I slowed down so that we could survey the area a little bit.The debris had been cleared from the road, but the two parts of the car on the north side of the highway were still in the same place they were yesterday when we left the accident area.
We arrived in Decatur shortly before 9:00, and the city was filled with people having their Saturday night outing.This made the traffic quite heavy, but we still managed to get through the city in about 15 minutes.It was a few minutes before 10:00 when we arrived at the Dalbeys’ house.
I stayed for a few minutes and then put all of my equipment into my car and headed for home.It was a couple minutes shy of 10:30 when I arrived home.I brought my equipment in but didn’t put any of it away.Unlike many other years, I didn’t feel dirty and tired, but I decided to go to bed anyway.Once again, our yearly sojourn to the 500-mile race had been a safe one without any accidents.Now, it was time to read and listen to all the stories that would be told about this year’s race.
I think this will be one of those years when a driver other than the winner received the most publicity.The other drivers and years that come to my mind are Bill Vukovich in 1955, Eddie Sachs and Dave McDonald in 1964, and Parnelli Jones in 1967.The driver this year was, of course, Jerry Grant.When the record purse of $1,039,242.31 was distributed at the Victory Dinner the following night, he was probably the most frustrated and disappointed driver there.
After the race, George Bignotti, crew chief for the team of Al Unser, Joe Leonard, and Mario Andretti, filed a protest with race officials.In his protest, Bignotti claimed that when Jerry made his pit stop on his 188th lap he was refueled from the tank of his teammate, Bobby Unser, instead of from his own fuel tank.This is an illegal practice, and when race officials checked into the matter, they discovered that Bignotti was right.The following morning, the officials made public the announcement that Jerry had been refueled from his teammate’s tank, that this is an illegal procedure, and that therefore he was dropped from second to twelfth position because his last twelve laps did not count and this is where he would have finished if he had gone out of the race at that time.It was certainly a cruel blow to Jerry and even more so because he had nothing to do with it.His pit crew chief, Dan Gurney, admitted that it was his fault, but that didn’t regain Jerry any of the $71,423.04 he lost by being dropped from second to twelfth position in the standings.
The incident received much attention and publicity during the next several days, and the general opinion seemed to be, “Why did Gurney do it?”This is a question for which I do not have the answer.Maybe, in his haste to get Jerry back on the track as quickly as possible in hope of retaining the lead, he forgot about the refueling law.Maybe he was aware of the refueling law but thought maybe he would take a chance and hope no USAC officials or other pit crew member would notice it.Dan is considered a smart and knowledgeable person in the field of auto racing, and this makes the question even harder to answer.Whatever the reason, Dan got caught doing it, and Jerry Grant paid a terrible price for his error.
In view of all that I have said about Jerry Grant, I in no way mean to discredit the performance of Mark Donohue.Mark drove a good race and was undisputedly the winner, but I think if one looks at the record he will have to admit that Mark won the race largely, if not mostly, on good luck.He was in the right place at the right time.By that, I mean he was in second position when the leader had to make his unscheduled pit stop.If misfortune hadn’t struck Jerry Grant in the form of a pit stop or any other situation in the remaining 12 laps of the race Mark would have finished in second position.
This, however, is another example of a “breaks of the game” situation, and that game can be auto racing, baseball, football, politics, driving a car, or any of a multitude of other situations.I have seen many cases where an individual or a team had a certain victory for sure, only to have some unforeseen misfortune strike at the last minute and turn victory into defeat.This was certainly true in the case of Jerry Grant this year.
Although it was Jerry Grant who was the newsmaker after the race, it was Bobby Unser who stole the speed show up until race day.His Olsonite-Eagle was in a class by itself all month, and he was the overwhelming favorite to not only win but run away with the race.His 195.940 mph qualifying speed was far above what anybody had thought possible.The 17 mph increase over Peter Revson’s 179 mph record of last year was almost impossible for anybody to believe.Peter himself came closest to Bobby’s qualifying mark, and his speed was more than three miles per hour below that of Bobby’s speed.
Bobby, however, proved one point during the race that many other drivers have also proven in previous years.That point is that although a driver may be far and away the fastest driver during the practice period and time trials, in no way does that guarantee that he will be the first one to receive the checkered flag.Bobby certainly had the race to himself while he was in it, but then, before anybody hardly knew what was happening, he was out of it.
As a result of the Jerry Grant decision, all positions from third through twelfth were moved up one; therefore, the finishing positions I listed earlier in this story are incorrect and should be one position higher than I have them listed.This includes the position of Al Unser through George Snider.
Mark Donohue’s winning speed average was 163.465 mph.This is almost six miles per hour faster than Al Unser’s record 1971 speed of 157.735 mph.
Unlike last year, my movie camera worked fine this year, and I took two good reels of the race and one of the first day of time trials.
I hope next year’s race will be as exciting and interesting as this year’s race.I plan to be there once again to see one of the world’s greatest shows — the Indianapolis 500 — the greatest spectacle in racing.
Note:This paragraph should have been part of the epilogue, but it was inadvertently omitted.When we arrived home and I gathered up my equipment to put in my car, I couldn’t find my pillow.I thoroughly checked Bobby’s car and everywhere in the house I had been but couldn’t find it.Luckily, when I arrived home, Dixie told me it was an old pillow and it didn’t matter if I had lost it.I was quite angry at myself.A couple days later, I wrote to Mrs. Kramer and explained the situation and asked her if she had found it and if she could return it to me.I was doubtful if I would ever hear anything about it.Two weeks later, I received the pillow well-packed in a cardboard box and with a note from Mrs. Kramer.She said she found it in the back yard by the garage and hoped somebody would write and claim it.I was very happy to get the pillow back and wrote a letter of appreciation and sent the money for the postage to Mrs. Kramer.
Pace Car — Hurst/Olds
500 Festival Queen — Elaine Scher