1977 Indianapolis 500

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61st Indianapolis 500
Indy500winningcar1977.JPG
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis 500
Sanctioning body USAC
Season 1977 USAC Trail
Date May 29, 1977
Winner A. J. Foyt, Jr.
Winning team A. J. Foyt Enterprises
Average speed 161.331 mph (259.637 km/h)
Pole position Tom Sneva
Pole speed 198.884 mph (320.073 km/h)
Fastest qualifier Tom Sneva
Rookie of the Year Jerry Sneva
Most laps led Gordon Johncock (129)
Pre-race ceremonies
National anthem Purdue band
"Back Home Again in Indiana" Jim Nabors
Starting Command Tony Hulman
Pace car Oldsmobile Delta 88
Pace car driver James Garner
Attendance 250,000 (estimated)
TV in the United States
Network ABC
Announcers Jim McKay and Jackie Stewart
Nielsen Ratings 15.6 / 32
Chronology
Previous Next
1976 1978

The 61st International 500 Mile Sweepstakes was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 29, 1977. Considered one of the most historically significant editions of the Indianapolis 500, several sidebar stories complemented the unprecedented accomplishment of race winner A. J. Foyt. Foyt became the first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times. As of 2014, Foyt's record has been tied by Al Unser and Rick Mears, but still stands as an Indy record.

The race was sanctioned by USAC, and was part of the 1977 USAC National Championship Trail. After rain-shortened races in three of the past four years (1973, 1975, 1976), the 1977 race was run the full distance under hot and sunny conditions.

Two major stories headlined qualifying. During time trials, pole position winner Tom Sneva became the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier at the Speedway. On the final day of time trials, Janet Guthrie broke the gender barrier by becoming the first female driver to qualify for the Indy 500.

During the summer of 1976, the entire track was repaved in asphalt. It marked the first time since the bricks were laid in the fall of 1909 that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was repaved in its entirety. The surface was allowed to cure over the winter, and during a tire test in March, Gordon Johncock ran a lap of 200.401 mph, an unofficial track record.[1]

This would be the final Indy 500 for track owner Tony Hulman, who would die of heart failure on October 27, 1977. IMS Radio Network anchor Sid Collins did not call the race for the first time since 1951. Collins committed suicide on May 2,[2] just before opening day, after being diagnosed with ALS. Collins was replaced by new "voice of the 500" Paul Page.

Other historical milestones during the month included the first grandson of a former driver entering (Teddy Pilette) and the first father and son combination attempting to qualify for the same race (Jim and James McElreath, Jr.). However, neither Pilette nor McElreath, Jr. succeeded in making the field.[3]

Race schedule[edit]

Race schedule — May, 1977
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
Opening Day
8
Practice
9
Practice
10
Practice
11
Practice
12
Practice
13
Practice
14
Pole Day
15
Time Trials
16
Practice
17
Practice
18
Practice
19
Practice
20
Practice
21
Time Trials
22
Time Trials
23
 
24
 
25
 
26
Carb Day
27
Mini-Marathon
28
Parade
29
Indy 500
30
Memorial Day
31
 

 

 

 

 
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

Time trials[edit]

Pole Day - Saturday May 14[edit]

Tom Sneva's pole-winning car

During the first week of practice, several drivers flirted with the elusive 200 mph barrier. Mario Andretti, A. J. Foyt, and Johnny Rutherford all ran unofficial practice laps over 200 mph. All three became immediate favorites for the pole position.

Pole day was sunny and warm, and an estimated 200,000 spectators arrived anticipating a record-setting day. No drivers broke the 200 mph barrier during practice on the morning of pole day, but participants and observers expected the record to fall during official time trials. At 11:00 a.m., A. J. Foyt was the first driver to make an attempt. His four-lap speed of 193.465 mph was far short of the record. Al Unser, Sr. (195.950 mph) went faster and took over the provisional pole position about a half hour later.

At 11:51 a.m., Tom Sneva took to the track. He set new all-time one- and four lap track records, becoming the first driver to break the highly anticipated 200 mph barrier at Indy.

  • Lap 1 - 44.91 seconds, 200.401 mph (new 1-lap track record)
  • Lap 2 - 44.88 seconds, 200.535 mph (new 1-lap track record)
  • Lap 3 - 45.54 seconds, 197.628 mph
  • Lap 4 - 45.68 seconds, 197.032 mph
  • Total - 3:01.01, 198.884 mph (new 4-lap track record)

Though his last two laps dropped off, Sneva's four-lap average was fast enough to secure the pole position. Sneva was rewarded by having 200 silver dollars poured into his helmet.[4] The symbolic gesture, performed by Phil Hedback of Bryant Heating and Cooling Company,[4] mimicked Parnelli Jones, who broke the 150 mph barrier in 1962, and was awarded with 150 silver dollars poured into his helmet.[5]

About an hour later, USAC officials retracted A. J. Foyt's qualifying time, stating that during post-inspection, they discovered that his pop-off valve was fractured and malfunctioned. Since the infraction was not Foyt's fault, he was allowed to re-qualify. Foyt's speed of 194.563 mph was faster than his previous attempt.

Bobby Unser (197.618 mph) put himself in the middle of the front row, bumping his brother Al to the outside. Johnny Rutherford, an early favorite for the front row, waved off his first run, then stalled on his second run. The day ended with the field filled to 16 cars, with Rutherford among those not qualified. Sneva was the only driver to run any laps over 200 mph all afternoon.

Second Day - Sunday May 15[edit]

Johnny Rutherford (197.325 mph) put in the third-fastest speed in the field, but as a second day qualifier, he was forced to line up behind the first day qualifiers in 17th position.

Five cars completed runs, filling the field to 21 cars. Clay Regazzoni wrecked during his attempt, but was not seriously injured. Regazzoni was planning on running both Indy and the Monaco Grand Prix, but the crash complicated his travel schedule.

Third Day - Saturday May 21[edit]

Clay Regazzoni started the day in Monte Carlo, but rain washed out his chance to qualify for the Monaco Grand Prix. Car owner Teddy Yip made plans to fly him back to Indy and attempt to qualify for the 500. Mario Andretti, who put in a safe qualifying time at Indy the weekend before, remained in Monaco to compete in the race.

Qualifying was sparse during the early parts of the day, with at least 12 cars taking to the track, but only two attempts run to completion. At the end of the day, the field was filled to 27 cars. Clay Regazzoni did not make it to the Speedway in enough time, and he would have to wait until Sunday.

Bump Day - Sunday May 22[edit]

The final day of time trials became a historic milestone in auto racing history. Janet Guthrie was the first car to take the track, and she became the first female driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Her four-lap average of 188.403 mph put her safely in the field, and she was the fastest car of the afternoon. Like he did for Tom Sneva a week earlier, Phil Hedback poured 188 silver dollars in her helmet,[4] matching her qualifying speed, which was also a female closed-course speed record.[6]

After a hectic travel burden, Clay Regazzoni finally put a car in the field.

At about 3:30 p.m., Salt Walther (184.549 mph) completed a run, followed later by Bubby Jones (184.938 mph), and the field was filled to 33 cars. Cliff Hucul (187.198 mph) bumped out Walther. With about an hour to go, Eldon Rasmussen bumped out Vern Schuppan, and John Mahler bumped out Joe Saldana.

The final hour of qualifying saw several drivers try, but fail, to bump their way in. Young rookie Rick Mears was too slow on his two attempts, and he failed to qualify. Jim Hurtubise once again was the center of attention for a few minutes, as he rolled out his Mallard/Offy to the qualifying line. After one slow lap he waved off, and it was the final qualifying attempt ever made by a front-engined car at Indy.

As the 6 o'clock gun fired, James McElreath, Jr. was the final car on the track, but his speed was too slow to make the field. Jim and James, Jr. were trying to become the first father and son to qualify for the same Indy 500. James, Jr. fell short, however, and would die in a sprint car crash later in the year, never having a chance to race together.

Carburetion Day - Thursday May 26[edit]

After qualifying closed, the team of Salt Walther purchased the qualified car of Bill Puterbaugh from owner Lee Elkins. Salt's father George and brother Jeff were responsible for the purchase, and paid a reported $60,000 for the entry, and subsequently fired Puterbaugh from the ride.[7] Salt Walther was named the new driver for the car, and it was repainted in his livery. According to the rules, the car would have to move to the rear of the field on race day. Almost immediately, the situation received significant negative criticism. A day later, Puterbaugh was reinstated to the ride.[8]

The final practice day saw Johnny Rutherford (194.533 mph) set the fastest lap. Mike Mosley was the only incident of the day, suffering a broken piston. Later in the afternoon, Jim McElreath's #73 Carrillo team won the first annual Miller Pit Stop Contest.

Starting grid[edit]

Row Inside Middle Outside
1 United States Tom Sneva United States Bobby Unser (W) United States Al Unser (W)
2 United States A.J. Foyt (W) United States Gordon Johncock (W) United States Mario Andretti (W)
3 United States Danny Ongais (R) United States Pancho Carter United States Mike Mosley
4 United States Wally Dallenbach, Sr. United States Johnny Parsons United States Sheldon Kinser
5 United States George Snider United States Bobby Olivero (R) United States Al Loquasto
6 United States Jerry Sneva (R) United States Johnny Rutherford (W) United States Roger McCluskey
7 United States Lloyd Ruby United States Jim McElreath United States Gary Bettenhausen
8 United States Tom Bigelow United States Bill Vukovich II United States Lee Kunzman
9 United States Steve Krisiloff United States Janet Guthrie (R) Canada Cliff Hucul (R)
10 United States Bill Puterbaugh Switzerland Clay Regazzoni (R) United States Dick Simon
11 United States John Mahler Canada Eldon Rasmussen United States Bubby Jones (R)

Alternates[edit]

Failed to qualify[edit]

Race summary[edit]

Pre-race[edit]

After Janet Guthrie became the first female driver to qualify for the Indy 500, controversy began to surround the famous starting command, "Gentlemen, start your engines!" Speedway management did not want to alter the traditional phrase.[9] During the week before the race, the management announced that they would not change the wording of the command, but numerous suggestions were being offered by various promoters and members of the media around the country. Looking for an excuse, the management insisted that the cars were actually started by male crew members with an electric hand-held starter from behind the car. Guthrie and her crew were quite displeased by the stubbornness of the Speedway management, considering her unprecedented accomplishment. The crew reacted by assigning Kay Bignotti[9] (wife of George Bignotti) as the crew member to operate the inertial starter at the back of Guthrie's car. The Speedway's argument fell apart, and they decided upon a special amended command for that year. They did not announce beforehand what the special command would be,[9] and Hulman's highly anticipated phrase was the following:

First half[edit]

At the start, Al Unser swept from the outside of the front row, and led into turn one. Tom Sneva took second. Bobby Unser settled into third. Johnny Rutherford over-revved the engine, and dropped out with gearbox failure. Janet Guthrie was in the pits early with engine trouble. She would suffer a long day of numerous frustrating pits stops.

Gordon Johncock took the lead for the first time on lap 18. After Johncock pitted, A. J. Foyt led laps 27-51.

Lloyd Ruby crashed in turn two and brought out the yellow on lap 49. It would be Ruby's final Indy 500. During the sequence of pit stops, Gordon Johncock came to the lead, and lead most of the laps to the midpoint.

Eldon Rasmussen brought out the yellow for a spin on lap 69. He was able to continue. It was only the second, and would be the last, on-track incident of the race.

At the halfway point, attrition had taken its toll during the hot day. Only 17 cars were still running. After numerous attempts to re-joined the race, Janet Guthrie finally dropped out around the halfway point, having completed only 27 laps.

Second half[edit]

Gordon Johncock was the dominating leader in the second half. He took the lead again on lap 97, and led through lap 179. A. J. Foyt, Tom Sneva, and Al Unser were the closest pursuers.

A long stretch of green flag racing continued until lap 159, when George Snider and Pancho Carter stalled on the track.

Two cycles of pit stops remained for the leaders. Gordon Johncock continued to lead A. J. Foyt. Tom Sneva was also still on the lead lap. The three leaders made the next-to-last pits stops within one lap of each other. Johncock was beginning to complain of dehydration and heat exhaustion, and the crew doused him with water. Johncock, however, managed to return to the track with a lead of about 15–20 seconds.

Finish[edit]

A. J. Foyt's 1977 winning car

With 20 laps to go, Johncock still led Foyt by 10 seconds. Sneva was lurking in third place. With Johncock physically ailing, A. J. Foyt began to close the margin. Johncock made his final stop on lap 181. He took on fuel only, and the crew again doused him with water. He pulled away after a 14.7 second stop. Two laps later, Foyt made his final stop. Foyt took on right side tires and fuel, and was away in only 12.9 seconds. Johncock re-assumed the lead, but it was down to only 7 seconds.

Suddenly as Johncock hit the mainstretch the next time around to complete lap 184, a huge cloud of smoke came from his car and he veered to the inside. Johncock parked the car in turn one with a broken crankshaft. Foyt inherited the lead with only 16 laps to go. Johncock climbed from his car, and hopped into the infield creek to splash some water on himself to cool off.

Foyt now held a nearly 30-second lead over second place Tom Sneva. Foyt was able to cruise comfortably over the final 15 laps and became the first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times.

The historic accomplishment was highly revered, and Foyt invited track owner Tony Hulman to ride with him in the pace car to salute the fans. It was the first and only time that Tony Hulman rode with the winner of the race as he died the following October.

Box score[edit]

Finish Start No Name Qual Rank Laps Led Status
1 4 14 United States A.J. Foyt (W) 194.563 5 200 46 Running
2 1 8 United States Tom Sneva 198.886 1 200 3 Running
3 3 21 United States Al Unser (W) 195.950 4 199 17 Flagged
4 10 40 United States Wally Dallenbach, Sr. 189.563 13 199 0 Flagged
5 11 60 United States Johnny Parsons 189.255 14 193 0 Flagged
6 22 24 United States Tom Bigelow 186.470 25 192 0 Flagged
7 24 65 United States Lee Kunzman 186.384 27 191 0 Flagged
8 18 11 United States Roger McCluskey 190.992 10 191 0 Flagged
9 25 92 United States Steve Krisiloff 184.691 33 191 0 Flagged
10 16 36 United States Jerry Sneva (R) 186.616 23 187 0 Flagged
11 5 20 United States Gordon Johncock (W) 193.516 6 184 129 Crankshaft
12 28 16 United States Bill Puterbaugh 186.799 22 170 0 Valve
13 32 58 Canada Eldon Rasmussen 185.119 31 168 0 Flagged
14 31 42 United States John Mahler
(Relieved by Larry Cannon; Laps 150-157)
185.242 30 157 0 Flagged
15 8 48 United States Pancho Carter 192.452 9 156 0 Engine
16 21 98 United States Gary Bettenhausen 186.596 24 138 0 Clutch
17 23 84 United States Bill Vukovich II 186.393 26 110 1 Wing Strut
18 2 6 United States Bobby Unser (W) 197.618 2 94 2 Oil Leak
19 9 5 United States Mike Mosley 190.064 12 91 0 Timing Gear
20 7 25 United States Danny Ongais (R) 193.040 8 90 0 Header
21 33 72 United States Bubby Jones (R) 184.938 32 78 0 Valve
22 27 29 Canada Cliff Hucul (R) 187.198 21 72 0 Gearbox
23 20 73 United States Jim McElreath 187.715 19 71 0 Turbocharger
24 13 18 United States George Snider 188.977 16 65 2 Valve
25 14 78 United States Bobby Olivero (R) 188.452 17 57 0 Piston
26 6 9 United States Mario Andretti (W) 193.351 7 47 0 Header
27 19 10 United States Lloyd Ruby 190.840 11 34 0 Crash T2
28 15 86 United States Al Loquasto 187.647 20 28 0 Magneto
29 26 27 United States Janet Guthrie (R) 188.403 18 27 0 Timing Gear
30 29 38 Switzerland Clay Regazzoni (R) 186.047 28 25 0 Fuel Cell
31 30 17 United States Dick Simon 185.615 29 24 0 Overheating
32 12 97 United States Sheldon Kinser 189.076 15 14 0 Piston
33 17 2 United States Johnny Rutherford (W) 197.325 3 12 0 Gearbox

Broadcasting[edit]

Radio[edit]

The race was carried live on the IMS Radio Network. Following the suicide of chief announcer Sid Collins on May 2, Paul Page was elevated to the anchor position and became the new "Voice of the 500." Lou Palmer reported from victory lane. Fred Agabashian returned for his 12th and final year as the "driver expert." At the opening of the broadcast, Jack Morrow reported on the death of Collins to the worldwide listening audience, then introduced Page as the new anchor.

Paul Page had been groomed by Sid Collins to be his eventual replacement. Despite the bereavement of the crew regarding Collin's death, the broadcast was a flawless affair, and ushered in a new era for the network. In the coming years, Page would upgrade the workings of the broadcast, including enhanced communication with the reporters, and new talent at the positions.

This would be the 30th year for Jim Shelton on the crew, reporting from his familiar fourth turn position. Darl Wible debuted on the crew in 1977, reporting from the backstretch location. Bob Forbes served as the wireless roving reporter in the garages. Among the celebrities interviewed in the pits were Evel Knievel, Sam Hanks, and Formula One commentator Anthony Marsh.

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

Chief Announcer: Paul Page
Driver expert: Fred Agabashian
Statistician: John DeCamp
Historian: Donald Davidson

Turn 1: Ron Carrell
Turn 2: Howdy Bell
Backstretch: Darl Wible
Turn 3: Doug Zink
Turn 4: Jim Shelton

Jerry Baker (north pits)
Chuck Marlowe (north-center pits)
Luke Walton (south-center pits)
Lou Palmer (south pits)
Bob Forbes (garages)

Television[edit]

The race was carried in the United States on ABC Sports on a same-day tape delay basis. Jim McKay anchored the broadcast. The broadcast took place in the midst of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians strike at ABC. Unlike previous years during this era, ABC-TV got the first interview with the race winner, as Bill Flemming spoke with A.J. Foyt prior to Lou Palmer.

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

ABC Television
Booth Announcers Pit/garage reporters

Host: Chris Schenkel
Announcer: Jim McKay
Color: Jackie Stewart

Chris Economaki
Bill Flemming

Gallery[edit]

Notes[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Howell, Glenn (May 1977). Fastest Indy ever! 147 (5 ed.). Popular Mechanics. pp. 89–91. 
  2. ^ "Collins found dead". People in Sports. The Register-Guard. 1977-05-03. Retrieved 2013-02-13. 
  3. ^ The Talk of Gasoline Alley - 1070-AM WIBC, May 2, 2007
  4. ^ a b c McQueeney, Ron (2012-04-00). "IMS Photo Recalls the Year 1977". Official Blog (Indianapolis Motor Speedway). Retrieved 2012-04-02. 
  5. ^ The Talk of Gasoline Alley. May 19, 2006. Network Indiana.
  6. ^ "Janet makes field despite ailing car". The Gadsen Times. 1977-05-23. Retrieved 2012-04-01. 
  7. ^ Salt Walther Buys Spot in Indianapolis Feature
  8. ^ Walther steps aside, Puterbaugh reinstated
  9. ^ a b c 1977 Indianapolis 500 Telecast: ABC-TV, May 29, 1977

Works cited[edit]


1976 Indianapolis 500
Johnny Rutherford
1977 Indianapolis 500
A.J. Foyt
1978 Indianapolis 500
Al Unser