Indy journal: 1996

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 continued this ritual until his final year of attendance in 2019, at which time his health precluded him from continuing the practice. 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.

(Logo courtesy of doctorindy.com)

There were many outstanding events at the Speedway this year, but the most outstanding was probably this year’s race being run for the first time under the new Indy Racing League. Other highlights included the battle for the pole position between Scott Brayton and Arie Luyendyk, the shocking death of Scott Brayton after he had won the pole position, the third closest finish in race history, and the wild last lap crash between the 4th, 5th, and 6th place finishers.

On the personal side, it was the first time we didn’t park on the Speedway infield for the time trials, the first time we didn’t stay at the Lebanon Holiday Inn Motel for the time trials, and the first time Paul did any of the driving on our trips.

Our trip to the time trials began at 4:30 the morning of Saturday, May 11. Dixie got up to see us off and tried to get us to wear heavier coats, but we thought we would be warm enough. For transportation, we took our 1984 Caprice Classic.

We took Jefferson St., Madison St., and Clear Lake Avenue to exit Springfield, and then got on I-72. As we traveled, we talked about what had happened at the Speedway so far and of Paul’s recent trip to New Orleans with the Springfield High School band. As we got close to the Indiana border we were able to dial in Indianapolis radio station WIBC.

The weather report was unpleasant, but that was nothing new to us in the many years we have been coming to the track.

We pulled off I-74 at the US 231 intersection north of Crawfordsville and stopped at the Holiday Inn Motel. When we got out of the car we were hit by a big blast of cold, windy weather. Now I wished I had worn some heavier clothing.

We already knew we were eating the buffet breakfast, so we didn’t have to wait for a waitress. There was a large selection of food and we chose French toast, pancakes, bacon, eggs, potatoes, cereal, orange juice, milk, and coffee. Both of us were hungry and ate heartily. Everything tasted fine and we ate as much as we could because we wouldn’t eat like this again until supper.

It was 7:50 when we left the motel to finish our trip. It was raining but only slightly. We knew from listening to the radio that there would be no activity on the race track for quite some time.

Last year when we came to the time trials, I decided that from now on we would park where we do for the race and save a lot of time and patience. I pulled off at the 20th St. intersection and drove to the First of America Bank parking lot. I paid the $5 fee and the parking attendant said we could park anywhere we chose, so we parked in one of the spaces running parallel to Crawfordsville Road. It was 8:40 when we stopped.

Because there was no rush to get to the Speedway, I suggested to Paul that we lie down on the seats and try to get a few minutes of sleep.

Although the atmosphere was conducive to sleeping, I think we only dozed for a few minutes. About 9:30, we decided we may as well go to the Speedway, so we checked to be sure we had everything, secured the car, and started our walk. The cool temperature, misty rain, and stiff wind made an unpleasant combination, but we stuck it out.

Because of the small crowd there was no problem finding a seat, so we decided to walk around for a little while. We walked to the top of the Control Tower and got a good view of the main straightaway and the fourth and first turns. When we came back down to ground level, we went inside to see if anything was happening. Among those persons waiting for the weather to improve was PA announcer Tom Carnegie. We asked him if we could have our picture taken with him, and he was happy to oblige.

From here we decided to go to our usual time trial seats and sit down for a while. Our seats were directly behind the start-finish line across the track from the Control Tower. Paul listened to his headset radio, I read the Indianapolis newspaper, and we tested each other on the questions shown on the electronic message boards.

By now it had quit raining and Speedway trucks and blowers were going around the track to try to dry up the moisture. About 11:45, the track was open for practice under the yellow flag, and at 11:53, the green flag was displayed and the cars were allowed to practice at full speed.

Because of several yellow light periods, it took a long time to run the two thirty-minute periods of green practice time.

About 1:00, we decided to eat the Famous Recipe chicken and biscuits we had brought for our dinner. I bought soft drinks for us, and the food tasted good and would hold us over until supper.

With dinner out of the way and the two 30-minute practice periods completed, it was not time to get down to the main business of the day – qualifying for the race.

The first qualifier was Lyn St. James in the No. 45 Spirit of San Antonio car. It was not an outstanding run, but her four lap average of 224.594 mph was certainly good enough to get into the race.

Any lethargy brought on by the slow activity up to now came to an end when the next qualifier, Buddy Lazier, went out for this run. He ran four consistent laps, all in the 231 mph range, for a four-lap average of 231.468 mph. His car was the No. 91 Hemelgarn Racing – Delta Faucet machine.

The next qualifier carried the name of one of the most famous names in Speedway history – Unser. This time it was Johnny Unser, a cousin to Al Jr. He was the first rookie to qualify for this year’s race and drove the No. 64 Ruger Titanium/Project Indy car to a four lap average of 226.115 mph.

Second year driver Alessandro Zampedri had a 229.595 mph run, and then Davy Jones replaced Buddy Lazier as the temporary pole driver with an outstanding drive of 232.882 mph for a new track record in the No. 70 Delco Electronics High-Tech car from the Rick Galles team.

Mike Groff and Richie Hearn made their runs, and then rookie Tony Stewart brought the crowd to its feet when we surpassed Jones’s record with a run of 233.100 mph in the No. 20 Menards/Glidden/Quaker State Special.

After Stewart’s run, twelve more drivers made qualifying runs until about 5:30. In the meantime, when there was little activity on the track, Paul and I decided to change our seat locations.

We walked around for a little while and then sat in one of the sections at the south end of the Tower Terrace area. It was behind the photographers’ area and we got a closeup view of Michele Albereto and John Paul, Jr. when they finished their qualifying runs and had their pictures taken.

After sitting here for a short time we moved again, this time to Grandstand E.

About 5:30, PA announcer Tom Carnegie brought some excitement to the crowd when he announced that Arie Luyendyk was going out for his qualifying run. His first lap was 231.756, the second jumped to 233.058, the third one increased to 234.742, and the fourth was slightly less at 234.028. The four-lap average was 233.390 mph, and for the third time today a new four-lap average had been set.

Earlier in the afternoon, Scott Brayton had qualified his No. 2 Glidden Menards Special at 231.535 mph, but after Arie Luyendyk made his qualifying run, car owner John Menard withdrew the No. 2 car, and at 5:45 Scott left the pit area to try to qualify the No. 32 Menards car.

He was most successful. All of his four laps were in the high 233s, and his average speed was 233.718 mph, which was 0.328 mph faster than Luyendyk. When he pulled into the photographers’ area, a feeling of ecstasy erupted over the entire Speedway.

The only other driver to make a qualifying attempt after Brayton’s run was Scott Sharp in AJ Foyt’s #11 car. He had two laps of 231 and 232, but then something happened and the car lost speed, so he returned to the pit area.

At 6:00, the closing gun sounded, ending a day that started with a cold wind, mist, and a gloomy sky, and ended with sunshine, twenty qualifiers, and Roberto Guerrero’s 1992 four-lap qualifying mark being broken four times.

We gathered up our equipment and started walking to the car. It was a great feeling not having to waste an hour of our time just sitting in the infield. When we arrived at our car, we were able to leave immediately, and in a few minutes we were at the MCL Cafeteria.

Our arrival was timely as there was almost no waiting line. For my meal, I had beef and noodles, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, beets, and water. Paul chose fish almondine, mashed potatoes, broccoli and cheese, and Pepsi-Cola.

When the cashier handed me our receipt, the time was 6:32. It had taken only 32 minutes from the time the closing gun sounded at the Speedway for us to walk to the car, drive to the cafeteria, and get through the serving line. This was certainly the quickest time we made in all the years we’ve come to the time trials.

The food tasted good and we felt better when we left about 7:00.

We got onto I-465 and stayed on it until we came to US 421. From here, it was a couple minutes to the Holiday Inn Motel at the Pyramids.

I had paid for the reservation several weeks earlier, but when we registered the desk clerks couldn’t find any record of the payment. After an exasperating wait of several minutes and frantic searching by two clerks, one of them said everything was okay and gave us our room keys.

To get to our room on the second floor we rode in a glass elevator, which was an exciting experience. Our room was real nice. In addition to the usual amenities of a motel room, it had a hair dryer and hair shampoo and a small coffee maker with instant coffee provided for it. It also had a sliding glass door which opened to a small patio with two chairs.

We watched TV for a few minutes and then Paul went swimming in the spacious indoor pool.

While Paul was swimming, I took a walking tour of the motel. It was a busy place and as I was walking I heard what sounded like piano music. At first I thought it was coming through the PA system, but then I discovered it was coming live from the mezzanine area.

I climbed a small flight of stairs and saw a distinguished looking man playing a shiny black grand piano. I was surprised that there was no one listening to him. I sat down in a chair from the keyboard and became a captive audience of one.

He played several songs from the big band age and then stopped and visited with me. He seemed real pleased that I liked his music. He then played a medley of Duke Ellington songs and asked me to sing along if I so desired. When he finished that, he played some Glenn Miller music and told me he had played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra for some time after World War II. I listened to his music until 10:00 when he quit for the evening. He thanked me sincerely for listening to him and being interested in him and his music. It had been a sincere pleasure for me.

I returned to my room to see the 10:00 news. One news item really surprised me. Arie Luyendyk’s second fastest qualifying speed of the day of 233.390 mph had been disallowed because the car was too light when it was weighed during technical inspection after the time trials ended.

While the news was on, Paul returned from the swimming pool and watched the rest of the news with me. By 11:00 both of us were tired from having been awake since 4:00 and decided to retire for the night.

It was about 6:00 when I woke up Sunday morning. I did some reading and TV viewing, then got dressed and went to the lobby area and bought an Indianapolis newspaper.

I went back to the room and looked through the newspaper and my other reading material. Paul woke up shortly after 8:00 and we watched TV for a while. About 9:00, we went to the motel restaurant and had a buffet breakfast of pancakes, French toast, hash brown potatoes, sausage, bacon, cereal, and biscuits and gravy.

Everything tasted good and when we went back to our room we were sure we wouldn’t be eating for a long time. Paul watched TV and I alternated between reading and watching TV. Shortly after 10:00, we got all of our equipment together and went to the registration desk and checked out. It was 10:30.

I drove down the street a few blocks and filled the car with gas while Paul went inside and bought us some soft drinks. We went back the opposite way until we came to the I-465 South exit. I followed this road until we reached the I-74 West exit. A few miles later, at the first rest stop, I stopped and let Paul take over the driving job.

As we drove along, we listened to “FIRST DAY” on WIBC, broadcast live from the Speedway infield in the garage area. When we reached the first rest stop west of Danville, we stopped and used the restroom. There was a pond behind the building and several ducks and geese going in and out of the pond. We, along with several other travelers, watched them for several minutes and found them fascinating.

When we left, I decided to do the driving. I took I-74 to Champaign and then I-72 to Springfield, arriving home at 2:30.

On the following Friday, May 17, the auto racing world was shocked when Scott Brayton was killed in a practice run. He crashed in the second turn and received fatal head injuries.

On Saturday morning, May 25, Paul and I left home at 10:00 to start my 42nd trip to the 500 mile race. We took Sangamon Avenue to leave town and then took old Route 36 to Decatur. This road is in poor condition, but it still holds many fond memories for me, so that is why I take it.

When we left Decatur, the condition of the highway was much better. In my search for something to listen to on the radio, I found a station in Mattoon that was playing popular music from the 1950s. It was a good program with only a few interruptions, and it added much to the trip.

As we drove along we noticed that almost every farm field was under water from the heavy recent rains. I was hoping it didn’t rain at the Speedway tomorrow.

It was 12:16 when we arrived at the Kolonial Kitchen restaurant. There were several customers already there, but there was room for more business too.

Paul and I went through the buffet line and had corn, hot rolls, potatoes, beef and noodles, chicken, coffee, and soda. Everything tasted fine, so we decided to have second helpings. When our stomachs were full, we used the bathroom, paid the bill, and at 12:50 started on the remainder of our trip.

We drove north on Route 1. The people in the small towns on the route were doing the same things they did in all our previous trips through them – walking on the sidewalks, shopping, cutting grass, and visiting with their friends and neighbors.

When we reached I-74, we took it east until we came to Lynch Road. It was 1:30 when we arrived at the Ramada Inn Motel.

We registered at the front desk and then went to our room, which was on the east side on the ground level on the pool side. I checked out everything in the room and it was okay. We watched TV for a few minutes and then Paul went swimming. Instead of using the outdoor pool, he swam in the new indoor pool, which had been built since last year.

I watched old 500 mile race films on ESPN for a while and then took a walk to see what was going on at the motel.

In one of the ballrooms there was a large Indian wedding reception. The people were from the country of India, not Americans. There was a lot of food, live music, and a large crowd of people having a good time.

I walked around for a few more minutes and then went back to our room and watched some more race films. About 4:30 Paul returned and joined me.

Between 5:00 and 5:30, I took a bath, shaved, and combed my hair. About 5:45 we left the motel to do our usual three Saturday night jobs.

Our first stop was the Famous Recipe chicken place, where we got some chicken and biscuits. From here we started our return trip to the motel and stopped at a gas station on Voorhees Street and filled the gas tank. From here we went a few blocks further east and stopped at George’s Buffet. Between the two of us we had chicken livers, cabbage, corn bread, scalloped potatoes, corn, fried chicken, and lettuce. We had second helpings on most items, and when we left we didn’t want anything to eat for a long time.

It was 7:15 when we arrived at the motel. I did some reading while Paul watched TV, and then at 8:00, I watched some of the movie entitled, “Heaven Knows Mr. Allison,” the main characters of which were played by Robert Mitchell and Deborah Kerr. I saw this movie when it was first released in April 1957, when I was a junior in high school. As I watched the movie I could not remember much of the story, but I remembered its general theme. I watched it for an hour or so, and then we watched another program.

I got the tote bag loaded with everything we would need for tomorrow and put everything else in the suitcase.

Shortly after 10:30 Paul went to sleep. I made sure the alarm clock would work in the morning and about 11:00 secured the door, turned off the lights, and pulled the sheets over myself. I couldn’t go to sleep right away but tried to relax as much as I could, thinking this might help. A long day lie ahead for us.

About 4:00 Sunday morning the alarm clock sounded. I immediately turned it off before it awakened Paul. I got up and washed and shaved as Paul got in a few more minutes of sleep. When I finished I woke Paul and he got up and got ready.

Sometime during the previous afternoon, when we weren’t in the room, somebody brought a notice around to each room. The notice stated that because of high waters and flooding conditions a bridge a short distance across the Indiana line would be washed out and I-74 traffic would have to be detoured. As a result of this, the motel and restaurant manager decided to open the motel restaurant at 4:45 instead of the usual 5:00.

We watched TV until 4:45 and then walked to the restaurant. We were among the first customers to arrive and decided to have the buffet breakfast.

Our selection included pancakes, french toast, hash brown potatoes, bacon, sausage, cereal, orange juice, coffee, and water. Everything tasted fine and we had 2-3 helpings of everything.

We went back to our room, brushed our teeth, locked the suitcase, and then went to the car. It was 5:18 when we left the parking lot of the motel.

As we drove along we looked for detour signs and water on the highway, but we were happy to see there weren’t any and the road was clear. The news on WIBC was not real encouraging. It had rained during the night but had stopped for now and trucks were going around the track in an attempt to dry it out.

It was shortly after 6:35 when we reached the I-465 interchange. Here we received another pleasant surprise as there was little traffic on Crawfordsville Road and it moved quickly. I kept thinking it would suddenly stop for a long time but it didn’t and we got all the way to the 20th Street turnoff with no delay. There were several residents who had available spaces in their yards, so we took one. I paid the $10 fee, took our tote bag, and locked the car. It was now 6:40.

The walk to the Speedway was cool and damp. There were many people still sleeping in cars, vans, and trucks along the street, and vendors were busy selling their usually line of merchandise.

When we arrived at the main gate of the Speedway, we gave our tickets to one of the attendants and entered the Speedway grounds. The first thing we did was buy two official Speedway programs.

From here we walked to the area between Grandstands E and B. It is always exciting to be able to stand on the race track and pretend there are race cars coming down the straightaway toward you. We stayed for several minutes and enjoyed the scenery.

From this area we walked to the south side of the garage area and joined hundreds of other fans to see if we could see any race cars or famous people. Some of the cars were pushed to the gasoline pumps for their first fillup of the day. The sound of engines being revved up was a common one.

From the garage area we walked with the heavy traffic to the Fan Fest area. There was a multitude of activities to entertain the race fans, but there was not enough time to really see everything. We took a quick look at most of the exhibits, and then we sat down for a few minutes in front of the WIBC radio booth.

When we left the Fan Fest area we walked around the garage area to the tent area behind the Control Tower. We stopped for a couple minutes and looked inside the tent which holds the balloons which are released before the start of the race. It was interesting to see the thousands of balloons and learn how they are released into the sky.

After seeing the balloons, we walked through some crushing pedestrian traffic to the north end of the Tower Terrace section. I handed the attendant our tickets. He tore off the Tower Terrace stub and returned them to us. We walked the short distance to our seats and joined the thousands of other race attendees in watching the pre-race activities. It was now 9:45.

Speedway trucks and dryers were taking laps around the track in an effort to dry it out. The pit area was busy with pit crews making last minute adjustments to their cars. The PA announcers were busy interviewing famous people and giving the audience information about the race.

I decided to walk along the pit area fence and see the pit action, while Paul elected to stay in his seat. I was able to walk to the entrance to Gasoline Alley. Tony Stewart was sitting on the pit wall signing autographs and shaking hands with well-wishers while John Menard was making last minute checks with his pit crew.

When I returned to my seat, Malcolm McKean had arrived, and he and Paul were working with Malcolm’s short-wave radio.

Because of the rain delay, the pre-race activities were running 15-20 minutes late, and at 10:35, “On the Banks of the Wabash” was played by the Purdue University Band as the pit crews started pushing their cars to their starting positions on the track.

New Chief Steward Keith Ward made the customary final track inspection, and a couple minutes after his return the crowd rose to its feet as the PU Band played the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

The crowd remained on its feet as the invocation was given, and then the solemn “Taps” was played in honor of US Armed Service Veterans.

Crowd favorite Jim Nabors was given a warm reception as he song “Back Home Again in Indiana,” and then Mary Hulman recited those four famous words, “Gentleman, Start Your Engines!”

The crowd responded with cheers and applause as the 33 engines came to life. One pit crew member for each driver raised an arm to indicate his driver was ready to go.

The Dodge Viper GTS pace car started moving slowly, and one by one the cars started moving behind it. One car wouldn’t start – the No. 52 driven by Hideshi Matsuda in the the 30th position. Luckily it started a minute or so later and Hideshi quickly joined the field.

As the field came down the front straightaway it was in ragged formation but still received a loud cheer from the crowd. The balloons were released from the tent behind the Control Tower and made a pretty spectacle as they sailed skyward.

By now Matsuda’s car had started and the crowd cheered as he hurried to his starting position.

The second time by the field was in better formation but not the even eleven rows of three each that some of the old timers like me would like to have seen.

The noise and excitement of the crowd increased and everybody along the front straightaway was on his feet and looking to the fourth turn. A minute or so later the Dodge pace car came through the turn and sped through the pit area. A few seconds later another cheer went up as the field came through the turn and down the straightaway. Duane Sweeney waved two green flags and the race was on.

Tony Stewart jumped into the lead from the pole position and the first ten positions after the first lap were filled by Stewart, Eliseo Salazar, Davy Jones, Roberto Guerrero, Buddy Lazier, Eddie Cheever, Alessandro Zampedri, Michel Jourdain, Jr., Mike Groff, and Davey Hamilton.

The first yellow flag of the day came on Lap 3 when debris was sited in the north chute. Three laps later the green flag came out. Stewart was increasing his speed with little trouble.

At the end of 10 laps, three cars were already out of the race. Johnny Unser had transmission trouble before the race started and was unable to complete a lap.

Paul Durant was done after 9 laps with a blown engine, and John Paul, Jr.’s day ended after 10 laps with ignition trouble.

Tony Stewart continued to lead by a wide margin, and by Lap 17 had a 5.7 second lead over Guerrero. He remained in front until Lap 32 when he made his first pit stop, and Guerrero took the lead for six laps.

Buddy Lazier led for the first time and led for four laps, at which time Stewart regained the lead.

At 40 laps, 100 miles, the first ten leaders were Lazier, Stewart, Guerrero, Salazar, Luyendyk, Johnny Parsons, Davey Hamilton, Stephan Gregoire, and Mike Groff.

During the next ten laps, three more drivers were forced out of the race. Michele Alboreto was done after 43 laps when his gear box quit working. Johnny O’Connell was out with no fuel pickup, and veteran Johnny Parsons left after 48 laps because of radiator malfunction.

At the 50 lap mark, there were eight drivers on the lead lap. On his 54th lap Salazar made a pit stop but it wasn’t routine. He killed his engine twice, causing him to drop a few positions in the standings.

Tony Stewart was slowing his pace, and on Lap 55 Guerrero passed him for the lead. Roberto retained the lead for 16 laps, but lazier was gaining steadily on him.

On Lap 69, the yellow flag came out for the fifth time, and again it was for debris on the track. The front runners took advantage of the caution period and made pit stops.

This time it was Guerrero who had pit stop trouble. There was fuel nozzle trouble and then Roberto killed the engine, making for a total time in his pit of one minute and fifty-five seconds.

In the meantime, Stephan Gregoire, a teammate to Buddy Lazier, was out of the race after 59 laps because of a coil pack fire. Marco Greco, driving one of AJ Foyt’s cars, had to leave after 64 laps with engine failure. Racin Gardner, the man with the proper name for racing, was done for the day with suspension trouble after 76 laps.

With Guerrero having pit stop trouble, Davy Jones went into the lead for the first time on Lap 71.

At 80 laps, 200 miles, the first ten positions were held by Jones, Lazier, Stewart, Luyendyk, Zampedri, Salazar, Guerrero, Groff, Richie Hearn, and Buzz Calkins.

By now Tony Stewart had slowed considerably, and after 82 laps he pulled into his pit with smoke coming from his engine. He had had an outstanding month and had not been lower than fourth in the race, but now he was finished with a malfunctioning pop-off valve.

On Lap 94, the yellow flag was shown again for debris on the track. While the caution period was on, rookie Brad Murphy crashed in the No. 2 turn wall and was out of the race with suspension trouble.

On Lap 98, one of the more dramatic events of the race occurred when Luyendyk and Salazar made pit stops. As they were going through the south warmup lane, Salazar bumped into the right front side of Luyendyk’s car. Arie’s car had right front wing and nose cone damage. Arie came around to his pit and his crew spend several minutes trying to repair the damage. Salazar returned to his pit to get a new right rear tire.

At 100 laps, 250 mile, the first five positions were held by Jones, Lazier, Guerrero, Groff, and Zampedri, and eleven cars were out of the race.

The green flag returned the field to racing speeds at Lap 106. Jones was 10+ seconds ahead of Guerrero, and by the 110th lap, Zampedri had passed Groff for fourth place.

Between the 100th and 110th laps, two more drivers made their exodus from the race. Joe Gosek was black-flagged after 106 laps, and his pit crew found a leaking radiator to be the cause. Fermin Velez’s car had a water hose break which caused a rear end fire and ended Fermin’s day after 107 laps.

The fire in Velez’s car also brought out the seventh yellow flag of the day.

Davy Jones pitted on his 120th lap, and in doing so gave the lead back to Lazier.

About the same time Mike Groff pitted and had the misfortune of having his car erupt in fire, marking the end of his day.

At 120 laps, 300 miles, the first ten positions were held by Jones, Guerrero, Lazier, Zampedri, Groff, Hearn, Mark Dismore, Scott Sharp, Danny Ongais, and Buzz Calkins.

The yellow light came out again on the leader’s 132nd lap when Dismore hit the backstretch wall because of a blown engine.

A series of pit stops followed, and in the processes Lazier gave up the lead to Guerrero.

Green flag racing speeds resumed on the 141st lap and Roberto slowly increased his lead. He led until the 159th lap when he made a pit stop, and Jones led for two laps until he pitted, giving the lead to Lazier.

At 160 laps, 400 miles, the ten top leaders were Jones, Lazier, Hearn, Zampedri, Guerrero, Sharp, Salazar, Ongais, Robbie Buhl, and Matsuda.

In the meantime, Jim Guthrie was out of the race after 144 laps with a dead engine, and Buzz Calkins, whose pit was directly in front of us, was done after 148 laps with rear brake trouble.

After 149 laps, Arie Luyendyk was done for the day. It was the end of an up and down month for Arie. He had the second fastest qualifying time on the 1st day of time trials, only to be disqualified. On the second qualifying day, he ran the fastest qualifying speed of anybody in the starting field, only to have to start in 20th position. On race day, he got as high as 2nd position, only to have Eliseo Salazar run into him as they were leaving the pit area.

The ninth caution period came on the leader’s 162nd lap when Scott Harrington and Lyn St. James got together between the first and second turns. Scott received a bruised right leg injury, and Lyn received a broken right wrist.

During the caution period, Guerrero made a pit stop, but it was not routine. Fuel leaked out from the fuel hose and caught fire but was quickly extinguished. His pit stop time was 1:42, but he remained on the lead lap.

The green light flashed on again on lap 169. It was now that one of the outstanding events of the race occurred. As Jones and Salazar came down the front stretch together, Salazar suddenly shoved Jones into the inside wall, allowing Zampedri to take the lead.

This move by Salazar drew a strongly negative reaction from the crowd, which was intensified when USAC officials did not issue a penalty. A dangerous, multiple car collision could have resulted from Salazar’s irresponsible driving, but luckily that did not happen.

Zampedri remained in the lead, but Jones was gaining, little by little. Finally with only ten laps remaining, Jones regained the lead. One lap later, Lazier also passed Zampedri. The next time around, he passed Jones for the lead.

On the 196th lap, the yellow flag again came out as Scott Sharp crashed into the Turn 2 wall.

With one lap remaining, Duane Sweeney waved both the green and white flags, but Buddy was able to stay ahead and took the checkered flag 0.695 seconds ahead of Davy.

As the two frontrunners crossed the start-finish line, a wild melee erupted in the fourth turn. Guerrero spun and Zampedri and Salazar crashed into him. Zampedri’s car leaped into the fencing on the outer wall and then crashed down onto the track. Alessandro received serious injuries to his lower legs, ankles, and feet. He was taken to Methodist Hospital where he remained for several weeks. Salazar and Guerrero were uninjured.

While ambulance crews and rescue personnel took care of the 4th turn melee, Lazier, Jones, and third place finisher Richie Hearn returned to the pit area, as did the remaining seven cars still in the race.

Lazier was interviewed in Victory Lane and then driven around the track in the Dodge pace car for everybody to see. The remaining drivers and pit crews relaxed for a few minutes and then returned their equipment to the garage area.

The three of us decided it was lunch time so Paul and I ate our chicken and biscuits and Malcolm ate what he had brought. The chicken and biscuits and cold Pepsi tasted real good.

When we finished eating, we sat and visited for a few minutes and then decided it was time to leave. We walked south behind the Tower Terrace and across the track at the same place we had entered before the race. We made one last use of the men’s room and then started our walk back to the car.

There were concession stands operating along Crawfordsville Road, just as they were before the race. Paul wanted a souvenir of this year’s race, so I bought him a sweater he said he wanted.

By the time we arrived at the car, most of the other parked cars were gone, but the street traffic was bumper to bumper. We put our equipment in the back seat, and at 4:25 left for our return trip to the motel. Thanks to two courteous drivers who let us in ahead of them, it only took us a few minutes to get onto Crawfordsville Road. We had hardly gotten into the 65 mph area when the sky opened up and the rained started falling. I stopped at the first rest stop because Paul had said he wanted to drive part of the way.

We stopped for a couple minutes and then left, occupying the opposite side of the front seat we had before. As we continued, the rain increased, the sky darkened, and thunder sounded. It was a practical lesson for Paul in learning to drive under adverse conditions. He had to slow down for a while, but the rain gradually decreased and finally stopped. It was 5:55 when we arrived at the motel.

We took our shoes off and lay down for a few minutes. Then we left for George’s Buffet for our supper. We didn’t eat at the motel restaurant because of its high prices. For supper we had roast beef, chicken livers, corn bread, potatoes, beets, corn, lettuce, Pepsi-Cola, and coffee.

When we got back to the motel, we went to the lounge to see a tape of the race. The quality of the tape was poor, and after about 50 laps of the race, we returned to our room.

We watched TV for the rest of the evening, and about 10:30 Paul fell asleep on his bed and didn’t wake up until the next morning. I stayed up about an hour and did some reading and then went to sleep. It had been a long day for sure.

It was shortly before 6:30 when I awoke on Monday morning. When I looked out the window it was quite dark and looked as if it could rain at any minute. A few minutes before 7:00, the rain started, and in a couple minutes there was wind, thunder, and lightning. The heavy rain continued until 7:15 when it started decreasing in intensity, and in a few minutes it stopped.

I walked to the lobby and got a cup of coffee and bought an Indianapolis newspaper. Upon returning to our room, I did some reading and TV watching while waiting for Paul to awake, which was about 8:15.

I took a bath, shaved, and put on clean clothes, and when I finished, Paul got cleaned up. After that we were both ready for breakfast, so we walked to the motel restaurant. Business was slow so we were seated right away. We decided on the buffet breakfast and had sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, potatoes, corn flakes, french toast, orange juice, and coffee. Everything tasted good, and we ate until we were stuffed.

Paul decided not to go swimming so we went to our room and watched TV while we got ready to leave. About 11:15, I checked to be sure we had everything and we took our belongings to the car. I stopped at the registration desk to turn in our keys and make reservations for next year, and at 11:30 we left the motel for our trip home.

We went south on Route 1 and stopped at the home of the lady who sells Granny Goose clothes. This was the fourth year we have stopped here, and she always makes us feel welcome. She showed us her line of merchandise and we chose two outfits that we thought Dixie would like. We visited with the lady for several minutes and then continued on our trip.

We went south to Route 36 and then west. When we arrived at Tuscola, we stopped at the Dixie Truck Stop. Business was good, but it took only a couple minutes for us to be seated. Both the food and the service were good. When we finished eating, we browsed in the gift shop for a few minutes and then left.

Paul wanted to drive so I gave him the keys and got in on the passenger side. About the time we got to Decatur he said he wasn’t feeling so good and needed to stop somewhere. When we came to the McDonald’s restaurant, he stopped and rushed to the bathroom. It was quite some time before he came out. He said he had a touch of diarrhea, but was feeling okay now.

We had something to eat and then left. As we were leaving the city, we got on old Route 36 and took it all the way to Springfield. It was about 3:30 when we got to our house. Another trip to the big race was over, and like all the other trips, it left us with many memories for years to come.

EPILOGUE

When the results of the race were released on Monday morning, they showed that Buddy Lazier had won the race in 3 hours, 22 minutes, 45.753 seconds, for an average speed of 147.956 mph, well below Arie Luyendyk’s race record of 1990. It was also the first victory for car owner Ron Hemelgarn, who had been a sponsor or car owner for 29 years. Lazier received serious back injuries in a crash at Phoenix in March, and no one knew for sure if he would be able to get into a race car.

Davy Jones finished second behind Lazier by 0.695 seconds. This was the third closest finish in race history, exceeded for closeness only by Rick Mears in 1982 and Scott Goodyear in 1992. Driving the Delco Electronics Team Galles car, Davy might have won the race if it hadn’t been for some questionable driving by Eliseo Salazar. He had both his highest start and finish.

Highest finishing rookie honors went to Richie Hearn, who finished third. Despite his outstanding finish, he was defeated for Rookie of the Year honors by Tony Stewart. He drove the No. 4 Della Penna Motorsports car, started 15th, and moved steadily up to his finishing position.

In only his second year at the Speedway, Alessandro Zampedri started the No. 8 Mi-Jack/AGIP/Xcel machine in 7th place and came home in fourth position. He was never out of the top ten positions all day, but his unfortunate accident on the last turn of the last lap prevented him from finishing the 200 laps.

It was a real delight to see Roberto Guerrero finish in 5th position. He had been the victim of rotten luck in his last seven races, after doing so well in his first four races. He drove the No. 21 WavePhor/Pennzoil car and started in 6th position. He may have finished higher had it not been for the pit stop when fire occurred.

Although he had a good year at the Speedway starting 3rd and finishing 6th in the No. 7 Cristol/Copec Mobil car, Eliseo Salazar will be remembered for his two questionable race stunts involving Arie Luyendyk and Davy Jones. He was also involved in the fourth turn crash on the last lap, but he escaped with only minor injuries.

A pleasant surprise to the finishing order this year was that of 7th place finisher Danny Ongais. This was Danny’s 11th race, but it was his first since 1986. He drove the No. 32 Glidden Menards car. It was the original pole position car and was qualified by Scott Brayton, who was killed in a practice crash on May 17. Because of the circumstances, he had to start in 33rd position. He drove a good steady race and was among the top ten leaders during the last half of the race.

Eighth place was claimed by Hideshi Matsuda in the #52 Team Taison/Beck Motorsports car. He qualified on the last qualifying day to start in 30th place. The car didn’t want to start before the race, but it finally did so, and Hideshi did a good job of moving through the field.

Rookie Robbie Buhl did well in his first race by bringing the No. 54 Coors/Beck Motorsports car home in ninth place. He started in 23rd position and advanced 14 positions by the end of the race.

Rounding out the top 10 positions was Scott Sharp in the No. 11 Conseco machine owned by AJ Foyt. He was among the top ten leaders during the last half of the race and was in 6th position at 190 laps, but his 194th lap crash dropped him to 10th place in the final standings.

The total purse for the race was $8,114,600, of which winner Buddy Lazier received $1,367,854.

There were many people who predicted a poor quality race because of so many older cars and the large number of rookies, but it turned out to be one of the more interesting of all the races ever run.

There was only one former winner in the race, Arie Luyendyk, and he went out after 149 laps, so that guaranteed there would be a new winner.

CART and IRL still are fighting with each other and it remains to be seen whether such drivers as Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi, and Bobby Rahal, to name a few, will ever race at the Speedway again.

Pace Car – Dodge Viper GTS

500 Festival Queen – Jamie Danielle Norris

3 thoughts on “Indy journal: 1996

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s