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.
The dominance of the Penske cars driven by Al Unser, Jr., and Emerson Fittipaldi, the outstanding performance of rookie Jacques Villeneuve, the retirements of Al Unser and Johnny Rutherford, and the two periods of rain on the first day of qualifying were the highlights of this year’s activity at the Speedway.
On the personal side, it was the first time since 1976 that I didn’t go to the time trials on the day before the time trials, we had a rather unpleasant stay at the Holiday Inn in Lebanon, and we had to take the station wagon to the race because the radio in the 1984 car wasn’t working.
In 1976, I started going to the time trials on the day before the trials, but for the first time since then, I was unable to get off work, so our plans were changed a little bit. We left home at 4:30 Saturday morning, May 14, in our 1984 Chevrolet Caprice. We took I-72 to Champaign and I-74 the rest of the way to Indianapolis.
A few days earlier, I called the Holiday Inn Motel in Crawfordsville to see if it served a breakfast buffet on Saturday. The person who answered the telephone said yes, so we stopped there for breakfast. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip. The dining room had a bright and pleasing decor, and the food and service were great. There was a large and varied menu, and we ate until we couldn’t eat any more. Our meal consisted of pancakes, bacon, eggs, sausage, potatoes, oatmeal, orange juice, corn flakes, and coffee. It was shortly after 7:30 when we left the motel and resumed our trip. When we reached the I-465 interchange, the traffic became quite heavy and moved slowly the rest of the way.
A couple hours earlier, about the time we reached the state line, we were listening to WIBC radio when the announcer said that President Bill Clinton would be arriving at the airport in a couple hours and would spend most of his day in Indianapolis, although nothing was said about his coming to the Speedway. The president’s visit, the first day of time trials for the 500-mile race, and the Indiana Pacers NBA playoff game would give Indianapolis residents plenty of activity for the day.
The traffic continued moving slowly on Crawfordsville and Georgetown Roads, but finally, after paying our $20, we went through the tunnel and were directed to the third turn area. It was 8:50 when I stopped the car and turned off the engine.
We gathered our equipment and walked along with hundreds of other people toward the main straightaway area. The first place we stopped at was the North Terrace area. While we were sitting by the pit entrance, it started raining about 9:30.
It wasn’t a heavy rain, but it was enough to keep the cars off the track and send the spectators to the nearest dry area. We walked south along the pit area fence to the Control Tower and then through the tunnel to the area behind the straightway grandstands.
Paul had made an appointment with a friend via our home computer to meet behind the Northwest Vista at 10:30, so he left for his appointment while I found a seat in the grandstand area by the start-finish line.
It was nice to be able to sit in a dry area. To make the time go a little faster, I read the Indianapolis newspaper I had bought. At 11:30, I met Paul behind the grandstand as we had agreed to do earlier, and then we went back to the grandstands seats.
The rain stopped at 10:15, and then the Speedway trucks and the big blow dryers went to work. The Ben Davis High School marching band paraded on the main straightaway and stopped in front of us as they played the Star-Spangled Banner. About 12:15, USAC officials said the track was dry enough for racing, announcer Tom Carnegie said the track was open for qualifications, and rookie Hideshi Matsuda was the first driver on the track. His four-lap average was 222.545 mph, the fastest ever for a rookie.
Eddie Cheever, in the Menards’s Quaker State #27 machine, made the second qualifying run and averaged 223.163 mph for his four laps.
Dominic Dobson qualified at 222.970 mph, Scott Goodyear was called in after three seemingly fast enough laps, and then Raul Boesel became the first of Dick Simon’s cars to be qualified. All of his laps were in the 227 mph range, and his four-lap average was 227.618 mph, by far the fastest so far.
Dennis Vitolo put another Dick Simon car into the field with a 222.439 mph run, which broke Matsuda’s record of about 45 minutes.
After missing last year’s race because of Formula 1, Michael Andretti returned this year in the #8 Target/Scotch Video entry and made a good showing with 226.205 mph average.
Robby Gordon was called in after running two slow laps, and Jacques Villeneuve went out and really shook up everybody. His best lap was his second one at 227.061 mph, and his four lap average was 226.259 mph, second fastest of the day so far. For the third time today, a new rookie qualifying record had been set.
As great as Villeneuve’s run was, his glory was to be short lived. The next driver on the track was Al Unser, Jr., in the #31 Penske Marlboro. His first lap was a rather modest 225.722 mph, but then he turned two 228s and a 229, for an average of 228.011 mph.
It was shortly after 1:00 when we decided to have some dinner. I had bought the dinner on Friday in Springfield, and now we ate the friend chicken, biscuits, baked beans, and cole slaw. The food was fine, and we felt better with full stomaches.
Mike Groff and Bobby Rahal accepted seemingly too slow averages, and then Arie Luyendyk put his #28 into the show with a 223.673 mph average.
Last year’s Rookie of the Year Nigel Mansell drove his #1 K-Mart/Texaco-Havoline machine to a 224.041 mph average.
Stan Fox put his #91 Delta Faucet/Jack’s Tool Rental entry on the qualified list with a 222.867 mph run, and then the second visit of rain started falling on the Speedway, thus ending qualifying runs for the time being.
It was not a hard, thundering rain, but it was more than the morning rain and lasted for several minutes. We knew there would be no activity on the track for a while, so we decided to go sight seeing.
We started by walking through the south chute area and over to the back straightaway, along the straightaway and the two north turns, and then the front straightaway. When we got back, we walked to the top of the Control Tower to see what was going on. It was a good time to be there because radio and TV announcers Gary Lee and Bob Jenkins were recording a show.
We stayed in the Control Tower for quite a while and then it was announced that the race track had dried and qualifications would resume shortly.
For the final hour of activity, we sat in the first Tower Terrace section north of the Control Tower. Tom Carnegie and Tom Binford were right in front of us.
The track was reopened for qualifying shortly before 5:00, and rookie Scott Sharp was the first driver on track. He smoothly put his #71 PacWest Lola into the show with a 222.091 mph average.
John Andretti was next and did a fine job of qualifying at 223.263 mph in the red Lola Cosworth sponsored by Byrd’s Cafeteria and Bryant Heating & Cooling.
Next in line was Lyn St. James in another Dick Simon car, and her qualifying run was one of the highlights of the day. Her four laps were in the low 224s for an average of 224.154 mph. She received a large ovation when she came through the pit area and stopped at the photographers’ stand.
Rookie Brian Till did a fine job with a 221.107 mph average, as did another rookie, Bryan Herta, who ran a 220.992 mph average.
Another rookie, Mauricio Gugelmin, from Brazil, came through with a 220.460 mph average, and then track qualifying record holder Roberto Guerrero went out in the green #21 Interstate Battery Lola Buick and came back with a 221.218 mph run.
The final qualifying run of the day was made by Hiro Matsushita in the #22 Panasonic Duskin Lola Cosworth from the Dick Simon stable. He qualified successfully at 221.382 mph.
When the gun sounded at 6:00, 13 cars were still in line to try at qualifying, but only two of them, Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi, were given a chance to beat Little Al’s time.
The traffic trying to get out of the Speedway was heavy as usual. We had to wait a while, but at last a Speedway patrolman let us out, and we got into the line of traffic going out onto 30th Street. I was able to get into a lane of traffic that was going west and then went south on Georgetown Road to 25th Street. I then went west again on 25th Street until we arrived at the Speedway Shopping Center.
The waiting line at the MCL Cafeteria was short and moved quickly. Each of us was hungry and filled our trays. When we finished eating, we didn’t go to any of the stores in the shopping center but left right away for our motel.
When we got onto I-465, we drove a couple miles and then saw that we had to detour to get to Lebanon. The detour started on I-465 east for a short distance and then turned and went north. At times I thought I had gotten off the road somewhere, but after several anxious minutes, the detour took us back to I-65, and a few minutes later, we took exit 139 and arrived at the Holiday Inn Motel.
I had already paid for the room, but I had to fill out the registration form and get my key. Paul had a key, so he went ahead so that he could change clothes and get to the swimming pool.
When I arrived at the room, everything seemed to be okay, but upon closer inspection, I found the round table by the window was quite wobbly and the toilet seat was so loose that it would not stay in place when sat upon.
I turned on the TV set and was pleased to find a program honoring Bob Hope on his 91st birthday. Among the famous people on the program, either live or on tape, were Barbara Mandrell, Brook Shields, Jonathan Winters, Lucille Ball, and Phyllis Diller.
After the Bob Hope show ended, I tried several channels and found one with Red Skelton on it. He was putting on a show somewhere in Canada. I didn’t get in on the beginning of the program, so I didn’t know what city he was in. He put on a great show, and I laughed as much as anybody in the audience.
I didn’t see the ending of the show either because I wanted to get over to the Holidome area and see how Paul was doing. There were several people in the pool area, but it wasn’t crowded. Paul got out of the pool while I was there, and then the two of us played ping pong for a while.
It was a few minutes after 10:00 when we got back to our room, so we watched the rest of the news on TV and then got ready for bed. It had been a long day for the two of us and now it was time to get caught up on our rest.
It was about 6:00 when I woke up Sunday morning. I did some reading for a few minutes but got sleepy and went back to bed. I couldn’t go to sleep, so I got up again and got dressed.
At 7:00, I walked to the motel lobby and bought an Indianapolis newspaper. I also picked up a large cup of free coffee to take back to the room.
When I got back to the room, I glanced through the newspaper, but didn’t read it thoroughly. I did that a few days later. About 8:00, Paul woke up and turned on the TV set. We watched TV for a while, and then I took a bath and shaved and combed my hair. When I finished, Paul got washed up and dressed. About 9:00 we walked to the motel restaurant.
We had hopes of having a buffet breakfast, but they weren’t serving it this morning, so we had to order from the menu. Paul had biscuits and gravy, and I had French toast. When we finished eating, I paid the bill and we went back to our room.
Paul watched TV while I got our things together and packed it in our bags. About 10:30, we took our bags to the car and then walked to the playground area. We used the playground equipment for several minutes and then decided it was time to leave for home. I turned our room keys in at the front desk, and then we started our trip home. I took Indiana Route 39 to its intersection with I-74, then stayed on I-74 to Champaign. There, we took I-57 south to Tuscola where we stopped at the Dixie Truck Stop.
The restaurant was doing a good business, but we were seated almost immediately. Paul had a bacon cheeseburger with fries and Diet Coke, while I had meat loaf with mashed potatoes and apple sauce with coffee. Everything tasted fine. When we finished, I paid the bill and then we looked around the gift shop for several minutes.
We left the restaurant and continued on our trip via Route 36, and about an hour and a half later, we arrived home.
The first day of time trials had been a combination of the good and the bad. Despite two unwanted periods of rain, we were able to see more qualification runs than might have been expected. Now we would have to wait two weeks until the big show.
A few days before the race, Paul and I got our suitcases packed and about 10:00 Saturday morning, May 28, we left for our annual trip to the big race.
We went east on North Grand Avenue to 8th Street, north on 8th Street to Sangamon Avenue, and then took Sangamon Avenue out of town. Because the radio in the 1984 Chevrolet was not working, we took the 1989 Chevrolet. I drove the old Route 36 to Decatur. Although much of it isn’t in good condition, it still holds many fond memories of my first few years of going to the race. When we got through Decatur and onto the regular Route 36, the road was quite a bit better. We listened to several programs on the radio, and about 12:30, we arrived at the Colonial Kitchen restaurant at the intersection of Route 36 and Route 1.
We decided to eat from the smorgasbord menu. Among the items on the menu were potatoes and gravy, fried chicken, corn, peas, macaroni, hot rolls, and salad. We had a couple servings of everything we ate, and when we left, we both felt better.
About 1:15, we left and drove north on Route 1. There were various activities in the towns on the route — people cutting their grass, children playing in the parks, and some of the others shopping at different places. It was about 2:00 when we arrived at the Ramada Inn Motel of Danville. We went in and registered at the front desk. I had already paid for the room so all I had to do was register and get our room keys.
I inspected the room and everything seemed to be okay. The TV set and the coffee maker both worked fine, which was important to us. We watched TV for a few minutes and then Paul changed his clothes and went swimming for a while.
While Paul was swimming, I drank my cup of coffee and did some TV viewing and reading. Then I walked through the motel to see what was going on. Business in the restaurant and lounge was slow, but the off-track betting area was busy, and two of the large meeting rooms were being prepared for a wedding reception.
I walked back to my room but stopped along the way at the swimming pool to visit with Paul and observe the pool activity. When I got back to my room, I did some more reading and TV viewing. A little while later, Paul returned and got back into his regular clothes.
About 5:00, I took my bath, shaved, and put on some clean clothes. This made me feel better, and now Paul and I were ready to go eat supper. We drove into town and the first place we went to was the Famous Recipe chicken restaurant. We decided to get an order of chicken and biscuits. From there, we drove to one of the gas stations on Voorhees Street and filled the gas tank. From there, we drove a couple blocks east to George’s Buffet.
Among the items we chose for our supper were potatoes, corn, salad, broccoli, chicken, chicken livers, hot rolls, cake, soda, and coffee. We made sure we ate all we could eat, and when we left, we felt we had enough to last us until breakfast.
It was about 7:00 when we got back to the motel Unlike some other years, there was no courtesy station at the north end of the parking lot for drivers on I-74. For several years, local residents had manned the station and served coffee, tea, doughnuts, cookies, and other refreshments. I had always enjoyed patronizing the station and visiting with the workers, but this year there was no station.
Paul and I watched TV for a while and then I got the tote bag ready to take to the Speedway tomorrow. I separated the Speedway items from the non-speedway items. I paid extra attention to the race tickets and made sure I put them in the tote bag. The extra attention was caused by my mental lapse of last year of not putting the tickets in the bag and not remembering until shortly after we left the motel.
I did some reading, and at 10:00 we watched a news program. I set the alarm clock for 4:15 and tested it to be sure it worked. I secured the door, turned off the lights, and then we went to sleep. A long day lie ahead of us for tomorrow.
The alarm clock did its job and rang between 4:00 and 4:15. Race Day 1994 had begun. I lied in bed for a couple minutes, and then I got up, turned on the TV, and got washed. About 4:30, I woke up Paul. While he was waking up and getting dressed, I shaved, combed my hair, and got dressed.
About 4:55, we left to walk to the motel dining room. There were five or six persons ahead of us, so we were seated right away. The serving line was just opening, so we went through and had scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, juice, coffee, and water. Everything tasted good and we made sure we ate enough to last for several hours. By the time we left, the attendance had increased considerably, and almost everybody was going to the same destination.
We hurried back to our room, brushed our teeth, made sure the race tickets were in the tote bag, and then left. It was 5:35 when we started our trip. We turned the radio onto 1070 and listened to WIBC’s newscasts and reports from the Speedway area. As the sun continued to rise in the east, it got brighter and brighter. There was a heavy dew coming from the grass, trees, etc., but there was no fog to contend with, which made driving safer.
The traffic was normal for race day morning and moved well. It was between 6:45 and 7:00 when we reached the I-465 interchange. We now encountered a situation which came as a real pleasant surprise. There was almost no traffic eastbound on Crawfordsville Road from here to Lynhurst Drive. I could hardly remember this happening in all the years I had been here. I turned left at the 20th Street intersection and stopped and parked in a private yard. I was unhappy when the owner changed me $15, and I looked around and saw other places that were charing only $10. It was now about 7:00.
The houses and business on Crawfordsville Road had their front yards filled with party revelers trying to wake up after partying most of the night. As we got closer to the Speedway, roadside vendors were busy trying to sell their variety of merchandise.
Because of the construction work being done on the Speedway’s Administration Building, pedestrian traffic had to go a little further east and then backtrack to the turnstiles.
It was 7:25 when we handed our tickets to the gate attendant and entered the Speedway grounds. We walked a few feet and purchased our Speedway souvenir programs. From there, we walked to the area between Grandstands B and E.
The gates were open and the Speedway patrol was allowing pedestrian traffic to cross the race track. Like many other racing fans, we stopped and took a couple pictures.
From here, we walked to the Indy 500 Expo located close to the Speedway museum. The traffic enroute to the Expo was heavy, but moved better than the mess of last year.
The Expo was real popular with the fans. Many of the car accessory companies had exhibits, and Ford Motor Company had an exhibit showing all the pace cars it has had during the history of the race. All of the exhibits were well planned and warmly received by thousands of race fans.
From here we walked back to the garage area on our way to our seats. The traffic going from Gasoline Alley to the pit area was heavy and we had to wait several minutes to get across, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the fiasco of two years ago. By now, the huge crowd was almost crushing, but a few minutes later, it let up enough to allow us to walk through the tunnel and get to the north area of the Tower Terrace section
When I opened the tote bag to get the tickets, I nearly choked in panic – I couldn’t find them. I was sure I had returned them to the tote bag after entering the Speedway grounds but thought maybe I had left the bag open and somebody had reached in and stolen them. Without then, we were sunk. I frantically searched the bag and a few seconds later found them under everything else. I thought back to everything we had done since arriving at the Speedway, but I couldn’t remember putting them there.
I had to wait a couple minutes for my heart to stop beating so wildly and my hands to stop shaking. I handed the tickets to the gate attendant and we went to our seats and sat down at 9:05.
I visited with the people sitting on our left side for a few minutes and watched the parade of bands and the activity in the pit area. Then I decided to walk to the Control Tower to see what was happening. Paul stayed in his seat.
The area in front of the Control Tower was real heavy with racing people and other famous people visiting with each other. I stayed for several minutes, and as I was walking back to my seat, Tom Carnegie gave the command for the pit crews to push their cars into their starting positions on the track as the Purdue University Band played “On the Banks of the Wabash.”
A few minutes after getting back to my seat, our yearly racing partner, Malcolm McKean, arrived to take his pace among the huge crowd.
One of the highlights of the pre-race ceremonies was five of the old Cummins Diesel racing cars taking a trip around the track to the delight of the crowd.
At 10:35, Chief Steward Tom Binford and two of his assistants made the final inspection lap and said the track was ready for racing.
A few minutes earlier, Paul and I made our final use of the restroom so that we wouldn’t have to leave our seats during the race. When we got there, there was a multitude of people with the same idea, but the line moved quickly and we were back in our seats in just a few minutes.
At about 10:40, the huge crowd stood in silence as Florence Henderson sang the National Anthem. This was followed by the invocation given by Archbishop Daniel Buchlein. It was a fine prayer as he not only asked the Lord to watch over the thirty-three drivers, but also the Indiana Pacers who were contending for the NBA Championship.
Once again, a solemn silence pervaded the Speedway area as “Taps” was played in keeping with the true meaning of Memorial Day. A few seconds after the song ended, a flight of four P-51 Mustang prop jets came roaring over our heads, going from north to south.
The seriousness of the past few minutes eased slightly as Jim Nabors sang “Back Home Again in Indiana” and balloons were released from the tents behind the Control Tower.
About a minute later, Mary Hulman issued the long-awaited command “Gentleman, Start Your Engines” as the crowd erupted into cheering and applauding.
The drivers revved their engines for a couple minutes and then the three Ford Mustang pace cars slowly started moving. John Andretti’s car was the only one that didn’t start right away, but it finally came to life as the rest of the field went by him.
Two of the pace cars, driven by A.J. Foyt and Ford CEO Alex Trotman, returned to the pits after one lap and left Parnelli Johns to pace the last two laps. At the end of the second lap, the field was in terrible formation as it was the previous lap.
The cheering increased as the field came through the fourth turn. As they approached the starting line, I thought the yellow flag would stay out, but surprisingly Duane Sweeney waved his green flag, and the race was on. It had to be one of the worst starts in the history of the race as some of the cars were still coming through the fourth turn.
Despite the chaotic start, there were no spins or crashes as pole man Al Unser, Jr. took the lead, and as they came by to complete the first lap, he was followed by Emerson Fittipaldi, Michael Andretti, Arie Luyendyk, Mario Andretti, Eddie Cheever, Raul Boesel, Jacques Villeneuve, Nigel Mansell, and John Andretti.
The first caution period of the race occurred on the seventh lap when rookie Dennis Vitolo spun in turn four. He didn’t hit anything, and the green flag came back out on the ninth lap.
Unser continued in the lead, and on his fourteenth lap passed the bottom position holders – Marco Greco, Mike Groff, and Scott Goodyear.
At twenty laps, the first ten positions were held by Unser, Fittipaldi, Michael Andretti, Mario Andretti, Eddie Cheever, Mansell, Boesel, Villeneuve, Luyendyk, and John Andretti.
On the twentieth lap, the yellow appeared again when Roberto Guerrero spun in the first turn, slid through the south chute, and then crashed into the turn two wall. Roberto was not injured, but the car’s suspension was too damaged to continue, and Roberto’s finishing position was 33rd for the second time in three years.
The caution period caused a multitude of pit stops, including Unser, who killed his engine. As a result, he came back onto the track third behind Fittipaldi and Michael Andretti.
Among those who pitted was Mario Andretti, and when the green flag was waved on the 27th lap, he was still in the pits, a sign of serious trouble.
On the thirtieth lap, Dominic Dobson and Mike Groff collided in the first turn and crashed into the retaining wall. Debris from the two cars scattered all over the south chute, and it took ten laps of yellow flag time for the emergency crews to make the area clear for racing.
In addition to Groff and Dobson crashing out of the race, Scott Goodyear, Lyn St. James, and Adrian Fernandez had their cars damaged by debris from the crash.
The green flag was shown on the 40th lap, and at 100 miles, the first ten positions were held by Fittipaldi, Unser, Cheever, Michael Andretti, John Andretti, Mansell, Boesel, Jimmy Vasser, Robby Gordon, and Luyendyk.
Eddie Cheever, who started in 11th position, was really moving and was now in third position. On the 43rd lap, he was black-flagged and given a “stop and go” penalty for passing during a caution period. When he retuned to the track, he was in 15th position.
After sitting in his pit for 18 minutes, Mario Andretti was forced out of the race when his pit crew was unable to fix the fuel system problem on his Newman Haas K-Mart Texaco machine. He completed 23 laps and was awarded 32nd position. When Tom Carnegie announced what had happened, Mario was given a warm applause from the crowd. This was his last Indy 500, and this was not the way he had hoped to finish.
Fittipaldi and Unser comfortably maintained their 1-2 positions, and at 60 laps, the leaders were Fittipaldi, Unser, Villeneuve, Vasser, John Andretti, Gordon, Boesel, Scott Brayton, Hideshi Matsuda, and Mansell.
After doing real well early in the race, Luyendyk had fallen several positions while Rahal and Villeneuve were now moving up in the standings.
On their eighty-ninth lap, Unser and Fittipaldi made routine pit stops and many others did likewise.
About this time the yellow came on again when Matsuda crashed into the south chute wall and stopped on the inside of the race track.
While the yellow flag was out, another accident happened at the north end of the track when John Paul, Jr., lost control in the third turn and crashed into the outside wall.
While the emergency crews were busy with these two accidents, there was more action in the third turn. Dennis Vitolo catapulted over John Andretti’s car and landed crossways on top of Nigel Mansell’s car. Neither Mansell nor Vitolo were injured, but Mansell was taken to the infield hospital. Unhappy about what had happened, he verbally abused some of the medical staff, refused treatment, and then left the grounds in his private airplane.
Paul Tracy was forced out at the same time with turbocharger trouble.
Raul Boesel, after doing so well in last year’s race, had trouble from the start of the race and was out after 100 laps with a water leak.
At 100 laps, 250 miles, the first 10 leaders were Fittipaldi, Unser, Villeneuve, Rahal, Brayton, Michael Andretti, Vasser, Gordon, John Andretti, and Boesel.
Attrition was playing a big part in the race with the following drivers already out – Guerrero, Mario Andretti, Groff, Goodyear, Dobson, Fernandez, Greco, Vitolo, Paul, Matsuda, Tracy, Mansell, and Boesel.
Fittipaldi remained in the lead, and the distance between him and Unser increased. Positions among the first 10 drivers changed a little bit as Michael Andretti made a pit stop and Scott Brayton came in for a long stop.
At 120 laps, 300 miles, the first ten leaders were Fittipaldi, Unser, Villeneuve, Vasser, Gordon, Rahal, John Andretti, Cheever, Michael Andretti, and Teo Fabi.
Fittipaldi and Unser came in for scheduled pit stops, and Villeneuve took the lead for five laps before Fittipaldi regained it.
Brayton’s crew finally gave up trying to fix the car, and Scott was out of the race with 116 laps to his credit. This was the third time in four years he was knocked out of the race while running in the top five.
On his 133rd lap, Fittipaldi caused some excitement when he came into his pit after having been out only nine laps. It was an overheating problem caused by a plastic bag carelessly discarded by a spectator.
The next yellow flag came out on the 137th lap and stayed out for two laps as debris was cleared from the track. Unser, Rahal, Vasser, and Michael Andretti all made pit stops, and this caused the standings to change again.
Fittipaldi increased his lead again as Unser and Villeneuve got caught in slower traffic.
At 150 laps, 375 miles, Fittipaldi continued to lead the pack with Unser and Villeneuve the only other drivers on the lead lap. These three were followed by Gordon, Michael Andretti, Rahal, Vasser, Cheever, Fabi, and Bryan Herta. Emmo’s leading average of 161.503 mph was 17+ mph slower than Rahal’s 1990 record.
At 160 laps, Fittipaldi’s average increased to 163.885 mph, and he held a thirty-second lead over Unser. On his 164th lap, Emerson made his final scheduled pit stop and surrendered the lead to Unser, who kept it until the 168th laps when he pitted and gave it back to Fittipaldi.
Emerson was getting closer and closer to passing Unser and finally did so on the 181st lap. Now he had passed every car in the field.
On Emerson’s 185th lap, the most dramatic event of the race occurred. As he was coming through the fourth turn, he lost control and crashed into the outside wall, with the right rear part of the car absorbing most of the impact. The yellow light came on as Emerson regained control and was able to continue almost all the way to the start-finish line. Everybody on the main straightaway jumped to their feet in startled disbelief. Emerson climbed from the car, stepped over the pit wall, and was taken by ambulance to the infield hospital.
While track safety people cleaned up the debris, Gordon, Fabi, and Stan Fox made pit stops. Unser moved into the lead, and at 190 laps, the green flag came out.
Unser increased his lead with each lap, and then on the 197th lap, the yellow flag came out again. Fox, running in 10th position, crashed in turn one and parts scattered around the area. Stan, whose pit was directly in front of us, received cuts on his left elbow and lower back pain. The wreck marked the end of green flag time for the race because there was insufficient time to get the debris cleaned up and the car removed from the race track.
Two laps later, Duane Sweeney waved the white flag to the remaining 16 drivers, and the next time around, Al Unser, Jr., was the first driver to receive the double checked flags indicating victory in this year’s Indy 500. Eight and six-tenths seconds later, Jacques Villeneuve got the checkered flag, the only two drivers to go the full 200 laps.
To regress a little bit, on the leader’s 190th lap, Michael Andretti was assessed a penalty for passing Hiro Matsushita during a caution period. Because the pit area was closed, he could not come in for a stop and go penalty.
Instead, USAC officials gave him a one-lap penalty, which dropped him to sixth position and pushed Rahal, Vasser, and Gordon up one position in the final standings.
Unser received a warm applause from the crowd as he drove through the pit area on his way to the new circular-shaped Victory Circle.
While Al was enjoying the spoils of victory, the remaining driver returned to their pits for the last time. Pit crews gathered up their equipment and returned to the garage area as the huge crowd began its departure from the Speedway.
The three of us now ate our delayed dinners. The chicken and biscuits, washed down with cold Coca-Cola, tasted real good. While we were eating, Al Unser, Jr., his family, Al Unser, and Roger Penske were driven around the track in the Ford Mustang pace car.
We took our time eating and drinking and discussing the activities of the day, and then we left to begin our walk back to the car. We used the restrooms just before leaving the Speedway grounds, said goodbye to Malcolm at the main gate, and started our walk on Crawfordsville Road. The area was replete with young drunks, loud music, street vendors, and bumper to bumper traffic moving at a snail’s pace. When we got past Lynhurst Drive, the revelry subsided considerably, and a few minutes later, we arrived at our car. I opened the windows to let some of the hot air escape, and then about 4:15, we started our trip to Danville.
We got onto Crawfordsville Road almost immediately, and then the traffic moved in spurts for several minutes until we reached the I-465 intersection. From there on, it decreased in volume and moved well. A few minutes later, we stopped at the rest stop and used the bathroom and drank some cold water. Many other race fans were doing the same thing.
A few minutes later, we left, and as we traveled, we listened to the post-race report on WIBC. The station had reports of race highlights, finishing positions, and interviews with some of the drivers. It was about 5:45 when we arrived at the motel.
Paul made me a cup of coffee while I took off my shoes, and then we lay on the bed for a few minutes and watched TV. About 7:00, we decided we were hungry enough for supper, so we walked to the motel restaurant.
The restaurant was doing a good business as usual on race night, but there was room for us. The hostess directed us to our table. After looking at most of the prices on the menu, I decided we would eat from the buffet table, which we’ve always done anyways.
We had a choice of ham, beef, and chicken, along with a selection of vegetables and salads. While we ate, we watched a rerun of the ABC telecast of the race on the TV set by our table. It was interesting to watch the race because we could see the highlights of the race that we couldn’t see from our seats at the Speedway.
When the rerun ended, we paid the bill and went back to our room. It had been a long day for both fo us. It was about 10:30 when Paul went to bed. I stayed up a few minutes longer, and it was about 11:00 when I retired for the day.
It was about 6:00 when I awoke on Monday morning. I got up and did some reading for a while and then went back to bed to try to sleep a little bit. I couldn’t do so. I got up and got dressed and walked to the motel lobby and got a complimentary cup of coffee. When I got back to our room, I drank the coffee while I watched TV for a few minutes and did some more reading.
About 8:00 or so, Paul woke up, and we watched TV for a while. We got cleaned up and dressed, and about 9:15, we walked to the restaurant for breakfast.
There were several other people there, but it wasn’t crowded. We decided to have the buffet breakfast and had scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes, French toast, fruit, Cheerios, coffee, and orange juice. We took our time eating and ate as much as we could. It felt good not to have to hurry and get going right away as we did yesterday.
When we got back to our room, we cleaned our teeth, and then I got things put away in the suitcase and tote bag while Paul watched TV.
It was about 11:30 when we took our luggage to the car and drove to the front of the motel. We turned in our keys and made our reservation for next year.
Instead of going straight home, we decided to go back into Indiana and see some places we hadn’t seen before. We drove Route 136 to Covington, Indiana, although the first town we went through was Foster. From Covington, we drove north on Indiana Route 63 to West Lebanon. From here, we drove east on Indiana Route 28 and stopped at Williamsport.
There were signs directing traffic to the biggest waterfall in Indiana. It certainly wasn’t spectacular. We, along with five or six other people, watched the water for a few minutes, then we decided there wasn’t any more to see and left.
From Williamsport, we drove east to Attica and Odell. Then we turned around and came back to Attica and went south to Newton and Mellott. When we reached Route 136, we went back west through Veedersburg and Covington and then back into Illinois on the same road we had left. From Danville, we went south on Route 1.
I stopped at a convenience store on the highway in Georgetown and filled up with gas. We saw little activity in Westville, Georgetown, Ridge Farm, or Chrisman. Because of the holiday, many businesses were closed and there were few people to be seen.
When we reached the intersection of Route 36, we stopped at the Colonial Kitchen. Business was good, but the place wasn’t crowded. We were still quite full from our big breakfast so we ordered sandwiches from the menu. Paul had grilled cheese and Diet Coke, and I had bar-b-que and coffee. When we were finished, we used the bathroom, paid the bill, and then started our drive to Springfield on Route 36.
When we got to Decatur, the traffic increased considerably because of the Memorial Day boat races. We could see some of the race boats in action as we crossed the lake.
For the first time in several years, we didn’t stop at the Holiday Inn on the west side of town. This was probably because the Chicago Bulls weren’t in the NBA playoffs after being in them for several years.
We took Old Route 36 from Decatur to Springfield, arriving home around 7:00. Another trip to the big race was completed, giving us many pleasant memories to recall in years to come.
When the official race results were posted by USAC, they showed that Al Unser, Jr., had won the race in 3 hours, 6 minutes, and 29.006 seconds, a long way from the record of Arie Luyendyk set in 1990. He and his team won $1,373,813 of the record $7,864,800 payout for this year’s race.
Two years ago, Al won the race when Michael Andretti was forced out after 189 laps, and this year he seemed destined to finish second behind Emerson Fittipaldi, only to have Emerson crash out of the race after 184 laps. His running speed was 160.872 mph.
For the second year in a row, there was no competition for Rookie of the Year honors. Last year, Nigel Mansell finished third and came close to winning the race, and by doing so took Rookie of the Year honors. This year, Jacques Villeneuve had the fastest rookie qualifying speed and brought the No. 12 Players Forsythe-Green Reynard Ford home in second position. He was near the front of the field all day, falling behind only when he made pit stops.
Bobby Rahal was probably the happiest driver there was at the end of the race. Last year was a bitter one for Bobby when he failed to qualify for the first time since his rookie year of 1982. This year his first qualifying speed was too slow, and when he had an opportunity to get a better car, he took it and made an excellent showing with it.
Jimmy Vasser did a fine job of bringing the No. 18 Conseco Reynard Ford Cosworth home in 4th position. His pit area was within eyesight of us, and he might have finished higher if he hadn’t had to make an unscheduled pit stop to remove a discarded trash bag from his radiator.
Second-year driver Robby Gordon claimed the fifth-place position, but, like Jimmy Vasser, might have finished higher if he hadn’t had to make an extra pit stop. On his last scheduled stop, a safety device on the fuel nozzle malfunctioned, necessitating another pit stop to be sure there was sufficient fuel for the rest of the race. He drove the No. 9 Valvoline Cummins Lola Cosworth owned by Derrick Walker.
The Andretti family’s bad luck at the Speedway continued this year as Mario was forced out after 23 laps and Michael encountered two problems which kept him from finishing higher than he did. On his 41st lap, he had a punctured tire and had to pit under the green flag to have it replaced. On the 190th lap, he was penalized a lap for passing under yellow conditions. This dropped him from third to sixth in the final standings.
Teo Fabi finished seventh in the No. 11 Pennzoil Reynard Ilmor Indy owned by Jim Hall. Teo started 24th and may have done better, but his car lacked sufficient boost all day.
Eddie Cheever finished eighth in the No. 27 Quaker State Lola Menard. He was among the top ten drivers a good part of the day and had gotten as high as third, but a stop and go penalty early in the race prevented him from doing better. In his five races at the Speedway, Eddie has been running at the finish four of those times and has completed over 190 laps each time.
The second best finish by a rookie this year was that of Bryan Herta, who finished ninth in the No. 14 Copenhagen Lola Ford Cosworth owned by the legendary AJ Foyt. His 220.992 mph qualifying run was the slowest of the 33 starters, but his good finish made up for his mediocre run.
For the second year in a row, John Andretti finished out the first ten finishers of the race, and, like Al Unser, Jr., finished in the same position he started. He drove the red No. 33 Byrd’s Cafeteria Bryant Heating and Cooling Lola Cosworth. In the last four races, John has been running at the finish and completed at least 195 laps.
Probably the biggest news of the year was the new Mercedes Benz engine in the three Penske cars. Although Unser and Fittipaldi started first and third, there was much skepticism as to whether the new engine could last for 500 miles. Not only did they last, but they were 1-2 for almost the entire race. This was good news for fans of Roger Penske and his fellow workers, but it made the race boring for most of the spectators, including me. I hope that by the time next year’s race comes around the other racing teams will have caught up with the Penske team in technology and whatever else it takes to make them competitive with the Penske team. Everybody, both participant and spectator, will benefit from this change. Come next May, I plan on being at the Speedway to see if my hope has become a reality.
Pace Car – Ford Mustang Cobra
500 Festival Queen — Jennifer Swanson