1969 Indianapolis 500

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53rd Indianapolis 500
Indy500winningcar1969.JPG
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis 500
Sanctioning body USAC
Season 1969 USAC season
Date May 30, 1969
Winner Mario Andretti
Winning team Andy Granatelli
Average speed 156.867 mph (252.453 km/h)
Pole position A. J. Foyt
Pole speed 170.568 mph (274.503 km/h)
Fastest qualifier Foyt
Rookie of the Year Mark Donohue
Most laps led Mario Andretti (116)
Pre-race ceremonies
National anthem Purdue Band
"Back Home Again in Indiana" Mack H. Shultz
Starting Command Tony Hulman
Pace car Chevrolet Camaro SS
Pace car driver Jim Rathmann
Attendance 300,000 (estimated)
TV in the United States
Network ABC's Wide World of Sports
Announcers Jim McKay, Rodger Ward
Chronology
Previous Next
1968 1970

The 53rd International 500 Mile Sweepstakes was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, May 30, 1969. Mario Andretti led 116 laps and won for car owner Andy Granatelli. Hard luck driver Lloyd Ruby was leading the race just after the midpoint, but during a pit stop, pulled away with the fueling hose still attached. He ripped a hole in the fuel tank, and was out of the race. The incident put Mario Andretti in the lead for rest of the way.

Polesitter A. J. Foyt led the race in the early stages, looking to become the first four-time winner of the 500. Near the halfway point, however, a lengthy pit stop to repair a broken manifold put him many laps down.[1] Despite a hard-charging run towards the end, he wound up managing only an eighth place finish, 19 laps down.

For 1969 not a single front-engined car managed to qualify for the race, and ultimately, one would never do so again. All 33 cars in the field were rear-engined, piston-powered, machines. After the historic failures of the controversial STP Granatelli Turbine machines in 1967 and 1968, USAC imposed additional restrictions that effectively rendered them uncompetitive. The annulus inlet was further reduced from 15.999 in² to 11.999 in², and the Granatelli team parked them forever.

After five drivers were killed at the Speedway in the decade of the 1960s, the month of May 1969 was run relatively clean, with no major injuries. The only injuries for the month were during two practice crashes. Mario Andretti suffered burns to his face, and Sammy Sessions, who suffered a fractured knee cap. Al Unser, Sr. actually suffered the most serious injury of the month, when he crashed his personal motorcycle in the infield. He suffered a broken leg the night before time trials was to begin, and had to sit out the race. Bud Tingelstad served as his replacement in the Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing entry.

The car in which Andretti won the 1969 500 is on display at the Smithsonian, while a replica made from the original blueprints sits on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame and Museum.

Race schedule[edit]

Race schedule — May, 1969
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat

 

 

 

 
1
Opening Day
2
Practice
3
Practice
4
Practice
5
Practice
6
Practice
7
Practice
8
Practice
9
Practice
10
Practice
11
Practice
12
Practice
13
Practice
14
Practice
15
Practice
16
Practice
17
Pole Day
18
Time Trials
19
Practice
20
Practice
21
Practice
22
Practice
23
Practice
24
Time Trials
25
Bump Day
26
 
27
 
28
Carb Day
29
Meeting
30
Indy 500
31
Banquet
Color Notes
Green Practice
Dark Blue Time trials
Silver Race day
Red Rained out*
Blank No track activity

* Includes days where track activity
was significantly limited due to rain

Practice and Time trials[edit]

The track opened on May 1 to light activity for the first few days. By Tuesday May 6, activity had picked up, and the top drivers were lapping in the 165 mph range. On Wednesday May 7, A. J. Foyt turned a lap of 169.237 mph, establishing himself as the top driver during the first week of practice.

During the second week of practice, Mario Andretti took over the speed chart. On Monday May 12, he ran a lap of 170.197 mph, then followed it up on Wednesday May 14 with a lap of 171.657 mph. Al Unser, Sr. was close behind with a lap of 169.141 mph.

On Thursday May 15, A. J. Foyt joined the "170 mph" club with a lap of 170.875 mph. By the end of the week, three drivers were over 170. Roger McCluskey posed a 170.283 mph on Friday May 16, the day before time trials was scheduled to begin. Through two weeks, though, no drivers had topped Joe Leonard's track record of 171.959 mph set in 1968.

Saturday May 17 - Jigger Sirois[edit]

Pole day was scheduled for Saturday May 17. However, rain threatened to wash out the afternoon. At the time, the rules did not specifically provide for rain delay extensions during the pole round. Only cars that made an attempt before the rains came (and the track being closed at 6 o'clock) might be eligible for the pole. Rookie Jigger Sirois drew the #1 qualifying spot in the order.

At 4:12 p.m., the track finally opened for qualifying, and Sirois took to the track. He completed his first three laps at:

  • Lap 1 - 161.783 mph
  • Lap 2 - 162.279 mph
  • Lap 3 - 160.542 mph

However, on his fourth and final lap, his crew waved off the run, and it was aborted. Arnie Knepper was the second car in line, and pulled away for his warm up laps. Rain began to fall again before Knepper even saw the green flag. The track closed for the day.

That evening, Al Unser, Sr., who had won the season opener at Phoenix, took to the infield to pass the time during the rain delay. He climbed on his motorcycle, and started doing tricks. While attempting a wheelie, he toppled and landed on his left leg. He suffered a compound fracture to his left tibia, and was taken to the hospital.[2] Unser was put in a cast, and was sidelined for a month and a half.

Sunday May 18[edit]

Rain washed out time trials for the second day in a row. It was the first time in modern history that the entire first weekend of time trials was lost due to rain. Pole day was rescheduled for Saturday May 24.

At 1:04 p.m., a few cars make it out on the track for practice, but that lasted for only 18 minutes. Heavy rain and a tornado watch in the area closed the track for the day.

It was quickly noticed by media and fans that had Jigger Sirois' crew not waved off his final lap on Saturday, he would have been the lone qualifier of the weekend. He would sat on the coveted provisional pole position for an entire week.

Saturday May 24[edit]

After 23 days of waiting, and two rainouts, the field was finally ready to begin time trials. One day earlier, pole favorite Mario Andretti suffered a serious crash in turn four during a practice run. He suffered burns to his face, but no other serious injuries. Andretti would have to qualify a back-up car.

A. J. Foyt won the pole position with a speed of 170.568 mph. A total of 25 cars completed runs. After his crash on Friday, Mario Andretti qualified for the middle of row one. Mario's twin brother Aldo stood in for him during the traditional front row photo session.

Sunday May 25[edit]

The field was filled to 33 cars with two cars bumped. For the first time in modern history, the field lined up coincidentally by speed from top-to-bottom.

On the second weekend of time trials, Jigger Sirois waved off his second attempt, and also waved off his third and final attempt when his speed was not fast enough. As it ended up, Sirois's first attempt on May 17 would have been fast enough to qualify for the race. Sirois never managed to qualify at Indy in subsequent years, and became a source of popular folklore.

Race recap[edit]

Start[edit]

On the grid, LeeRoy Yarbrough's car failed to start, and the field pulled away, leaving him behind. On the pace lap, Yarbrough was able to get his car cranked, and frantically charged to catch up to the pack. He jockeyed to find his rightful starting position in row three, but managed only to make it mid-pack as the field took the green flag. Going into turn one, Mario Andretti took the lead from the middle of the front row, with polesitter A. J. Foyt following in second. Bruce Walkup, meanwhile, was out on the first lap with a transmission failure.

First half[edit]

Andretti led the first five laps, then Foyt took the lead going into turn one. Foyt would lead for 66 laps in the first half. The early stages of the race saw heavy attrition and a series of unscheduled pit stops. Several cars were out before lap 30, including Art Pollard, Ronnie Bucknum, Johnny Rutherford, and Jim McElreath, who had a rather spectacular fire as the car went down into turn one. McElreath was able to stop the car in turn 1 and scurried out uninjured, bringing out the first of only two yellow light periods. Heading to the pits early was Gordon Johncock and Bobby Unser, as well as Jack Brabham, who's Repco engine would eventually suffer ignition failure.

The second of two yellow light periods came out on 87 when Arnie Knepper broke a suspension piece, causing him to crash in turn 4. He hit the outside wall and came to rest near the entrance to the pit area. Wally Dallenbach spun under the yellow and dropped out with a bad clutch.

On lap 99, A. J. Foyt headed to the pits with a split manifold. He spent over 20 minutes in the pits as the team made repairs. However, he did return to the race.

In the first half, Andy Granatelli's three-car effort was down to one as both Art Pollard and Carl Williams were out early. Mario Andretti was the only Granatelli car still running. After years of disappointment, including the frustrations of the turbines the past two years, Andretti was still in position to finally give Granatelli his first 500 victory.

Second half[edit]

After leading ten laps up to that point, Lloyd Ruby went into the pits on lap 105. As the team was refueling the car, Ruby started to pull away too soon, and the hose was still attached. A large hole was ruptured in the side of the fuel tank, and all the fuel spilled out onto the pavement. Ruby was out of the race, leaving Mario Andretti alone in front.

On lap 150, Joe Leonard was black-flagged for leaking fluid. He made a long pit stop to replace a punctured radiator, returned to the race, and managed a 6th place finish. A. J. Foyt, after returning from repairs, was now among the fastest cars on the track. His hard charging second half saw him finish a respectable 8th place.

Mario Andretti dominated the second half, and won comfortably over second place Dan Gurney. But Andretti's race was not without incident. On one occasion, he nearly hit the wall in turn two. On his final pit stop, he knocked over Clint Brawner, and nearly stalled the engine as he was pushed away. His transmission fluid was low, the clutch was reportedly slipping, and the engine temperature was running high.[3] Despite the complications, Andretti maintained over a full-lap lead late in the race and cruised to victory. Car owner Andy Granatelli, who abandoned the turbine cars after the heartbreaks of 1967 and 1968, planted a famous kiss on Andretti's cheek in victory lane.

There were no yellow lights during the second half, and the final 110 laps were run under green. Andretti ran the whole race without changing tires.

Box score[edit]

Finish Start Car
No.
Name Qualifying
Speed
Laps Laps
Led
Status
1 2 2 United States Mario Andretti 169.851 200 116 Running
2 10 48 United States Dan Gurney 167.341 200 0 Running
3 3 1 United States Bobby Unser (W) 169.683 200 0 Running
4 24 9 United States Mel Kenyon 165.426 200 0 Running
5 33 92 United States Peter Revson (R) 160.851 197 0 Flagged
6 11 44 United States Joe Leonard 167.240 193 0 Flagged
7 4 66 United States Mark Donohue (R) 168.903 190 0 Flagged
8 1 6 United States A.J. Foyt (W) 170.568 181 66 Flagged
9 31 21 United States Larry Dickson 163.014 180 0 Flagged
10 32 97 United States Bobby Johns 160.901 171 0 Flagged
11 13 10 United States Jim Malloy 167.092 165 0 Flagged
12 23 11 United States Sammy Sessions 165.434 163 0 Flagged
13 22 90 United States Mike Mosley 166.113 162 0 Piston
14 6 82 United States Roger McCluskey 168.350 157 0 Split Header
15 18 15 United States Bud Tingelstad 166.597 155 0 Engine
16 15 84 United States George Snider 166.914 152 0 Flagged
17 14 59 United States Sonny Ates (R) 166.968 146 0 Magneto
18 25 42 New Zealand Denis Hulme 165.092 145 0 Clutch
19 5 12 United States Gordon Johncock 168.626 137 0 Piston
20 20 4 United States Lloyd Ruby 166.428 105 11 Fuel Tank
21 19 22 United States Wally Dallenbach, Sr. 166.497 82 7 Clutch
22 21 29 United States Arnie Knepper 166.220 82 0 Crash T4
23 8 67 United States LeeRoy Yarbrough 168.075 65 0 Split Header
24 29 95 Australia Jack Brabham 163.875 58 0 Ignition
25 30 57 United States Carl Williams 163.265 50 0 Clutch
26 9 8 United States Gary Bettenhausen 167.777 35 0 Piston
27 27 62 United States George Follmer (R) 164.286 26 0 Engine
28 7 38 United States Jim McElreath 168.224 24 0 Engine Fire
29 17 36 United States Johnny Rutherford 166.628 24 0 Oil Tank
30 16 45 United States Ronnie Bucknum 166.636 16 0 Piston
31 12 40 United States Art Pollard 167.123 7 0 Drive Line
32 26 98 United States Bill Vukovich II 164.843 1 0 Rod
33 28 16 United States Bruce Walkup (R) 163.942 0 0 Transmission

Alternates[edit]

Race statistics[edit]

Tire participation chart
Supplier No. of starters
Goodyear 25 
Firestone 8*
* - Denotes race winner

Broadcasting[edit]

Radio[edit]

The race was carried live on the IMS Radio Network. Sid Collins served as chief announcer and Len Sutton served as "driver expert." At the conclusion of the race, Lou Palmer reported from victory lane. The broadcast came on-air with a 30-minute pre-race.

The broadcast was carried on over 950 affiliates, including AFN, shortwave to troops in Vietnam, and the CBC. Foreign language translations were made in French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. The broadcast was also carried in Mexico City on XEVIB. The broadcast reached an estimated 100 million listeners.

Among the many visitors to the booth were O. J. Simpson, Oscar Robertson, Earl McCullouch, Irv Fried (Langhorne), Wally Parks, Dale Drake, Sam Hanks, and Duke Nalon. For the second year in a row, Senator Birch Bayh visited the booth, along with his teenage son, future senator Evan Bayh. Later in the race, Senator Vance Hartke also visited, accompanied by Secretary of Transportation John A. Volpe.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network
Booth Announcers Turn Reporters Pit/garage reporters

Chief Announcer: Sid Collins
Driver expert: Len Sutton
Statistician: John DeCamp
Historian: Donald Davidson

Turn 1: Mike Ahern
Turn 2: Howdy Bell
Backstretch: Doug Zink
Turn 3: Ron Carrell
Turn 4: Jim Shelton

Chuck Marlowe (north pits)
Luke Walton (center pits)
Lou Palmer (south pits)

Television[edit]

The race was carried in the United States on ABC's Wide World of Sports. The broadcast aired on Saturday, June 7. Jim McKay anchored the broadcast with Rodger Ward as analyst and Chris Economaki as pit reporter.

The telecast featured a summary of time trials as well as pre-race interviews. During the race, McKay and Economaki served as roving pit reporters, and their interviews were edited into the final production.

The broadcast has re-aired on ESPN Classic starting in May 2011.

ABC Television
Booth Announcers Pit/garage reporters

Announcer: Jim McKay
Color: Rodger Ward

Chris Economaki

Gallery[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 2001 Indianapolis Record Book - Indianapolis Star/News
  2. ^ Unser's luck bad again at Indianapolis
  3. ^ "Indianapolis 500 Centenary Countdown: The One That Didn't Get Away". Racer.com. 2011-02-23. Archived from the original on 2013-09-28. Retrieved 2013-09-25. 
  4. ^ The Talk of Gasoline Alley - 1070-AM WIBC, May 14, 2004

Works cited[edit]


1968 Indianapolis 500
Bobby Unser
1969 Indianapolis 500
Mario Andretti
1970 Indianapolis 500
Al Unser
Preceded by
152.882 mph
(1968 Indianapolis 500)
Record for the fastest average speed
156.867
mph
Succeeded by
157.735 mph
(1971 Indianapolis 500)