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1969 Indianapolis 500

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53rd Indianapolis 500
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis 500
Sanctioning bodyUSAC
Season1969 USAC season
DateMay 30, 1969
WinnerMario Andretti
Winning teamAndy Granatelli
Average speed156.867 mph (252.453 km/h)
Pole positionA. J. Foyt
Pole speed170.568 mph (274.503 km/h)
Fastest qualifierFoyt
Rookie of the YearMark Donohue
Most laps ledMario Andretti (116)
Pre-race ceremonies
National anthemPurdue Band
"Back Home Again in Indiana"Mack H. Shultz
Starting commandTony Hulman
Pace carChevrolet Camaro SS
Pace car driverJim Rathmann
StarterPat Vidan[1]
Estimated attendance275,000[2]
TV in the United States
NetworkABC's Wide World of Sports
AnnouncersJim McKay, Rodger Ward
Previous Next
1968 1970

The 53rd International 500 Mile Sweepstakes was an auto race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana on Friday, May 30, 1969. It was the third round of the 1969 USAC Championship Car season. 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.[3] Despite a hard-charging run towards the end, he wound up managing only an eighth-place finish, 19 laps down. Lloyd Ruby, a driver with a hard-luck reputation at the Speedway, was leading the race just after the midpoint. During a pit stop, he pulled away with the fueling hose still attached, 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.[4][5][6][7]

Mario Andretti led 116 laps total and won for car owner Andy Granatelli. With Andretti's finish time of 3:11:14.71, it was the fastest run Indianapolis 500 up to that date, breaking the previous record by nearly five minutes.[8] Andretti's victory capped off an up-and-down month of May. He entered the month as a favorite, but he crashed his primary car, a radical four-wheel-drive Lotus, during practice. Andretti suffered burns but was able to qualify a back-up car in the middle of the front row. Mario Andretti's 1969 Indy 500 win is the lone victory at the race for the storied Andretti racing family. As of 2024, no Andretti has won the Indianapolis 500 since. Likewise, it was a triumphant first victory for owner Granatelli, after a long presence at Indianapolis - and a long string of disappointments, first with Novis, and then with the Turbines.

While Foyt and Andretti qualified 1st-2nd, the most notable story from time trials was the plight of Leon Duray "Jigger" Sirois, whose pit crew inadvisedly waved off his qualifying run on pole day. It would go down in history as one of the most famous gaffes in Indy history.

After five drivers were killed at the Speedway in the decade of the 1960s, the month of May 1969 was 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 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 Indy 500 is owned by the Smithsonian, while a replica made from the original blueprints sits on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

Rule changes[edit]

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 famous near-miss 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 abandoned the project. USAC stopped short of an outright ban on turbine cars, and it was not last time one would be entered. However, a turbine car would never manage to qualify for the race again.

By 1969, USAC had slowly begun to relax the rules regarding wings. While bolt-on wings were still not allowed, similar devices such as airfoils and spoilers were permitted, as long as they were an integral part of the bodywork.[9] Several cars arrived at the track with a myriad of aerodynamic devices.[10]

Goodyear arrived at the track in 1969 with a new, low-profile, wider tire.[11]

Race schedule[edit]

The 1969 race was the most recent Indy 500 scheduled for a Friday; the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was implemented in 1971 and Memorial Day became a three-day holiday weekend (Saturday–Monday) annually. Only one other subsequent year (1973) would the race be scheduled for a weekday. In 1970–1972, the race was scheduled for a Saturday, and beginning in 1974, the race has been scheduled for a Sunday.

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




Opening Day
Pole Day
Time Trials
Time Trials
Bump Day
Carb Day
Indy 500
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 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 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. However, rain threatened to wash out the afternoon. At the time, the qualifying rules were a bit unclear and they did not necessarily provide extensions or provisions in case of a rain delay or a rain stoppage during the pole position round. Only cars that made an attempt before the rains came (and before the track was scheduled to close at 6 o'clock) might be eligible for the pole position. Rookie Leon Duray "Jigger" Sirois drew the #1 spot in the qualifying order.

At 4:12 p.m., the track was dry and finally opened for qualifying. Sirois took to the track for his first (of three allotted) qualifying attempt. 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 pit crew - seemingly dissatisfied with the run thus far - displayed the yellow flag and waved off the run, and it was aborted. At the time, the rules did not allow cars to make another qualifying run after completing one, and his crew were worried that his speed would not be enough to qualify for the race. 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 riding around. In a small jump over a ditch, he toppled and the kickstand came down and pierced his left leg. He suffered a compound fracture to his left tibia, and was taken to the hospital.[12] 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 and sat on the coveted provisional pole position for at least an entire week.

Saturday May 24[edit]

After 23 days of waiting, and two rainouts, the field was finally ready to begin time trials. On Wednesday May 21, 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. His four-wheel drive Lotus machine was destroyed, and 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 practice crash, Mario Andretti qualified the Brawner-Hawk for the middle of row one. Due to his facial burns, Mario asked his twin brother Aldo to stand in for him during the traditional front row photo session.

The news of Foyt winning the pole was relayed to the astronauts on Apollo 10.[13]

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 and possibly, depending on interpretation of the rules, the pole position. Sirois never managed to qualify at Indy in subsequent years, and became a source of popular folklore.

Starting grid[edit]

(W) = Former Indianapolis 500 winner; (R) = Indianapolis 500 rookie

Row Inside Middle Outside
1 6 United States A. J. Foyt  W  2 United States Mario Andretti 1 United States Bobby Unser  W 
2 66 United States Mark Donohue  R  12 United States Gordon Johncock 82 United States Roger McCluskey
3 38 United States Jim McElreath 67 United States LeeRoy Yarbrough 8 United States Gary Bettenhausen
4 48 United States Dan Gurney 44 United States Joe Leonard 40 United States Art Pollard
5 10 United States Jim Malloy 59 United States Sonny Ates  R  84 United States George Snider
6 45 United States Ronnie Bucknum 36 United States Johnny Rutherford 15 United States Bud Tingelstad
7 22 United States Wally Dallenbach Sr. 4 United States Lloyd Ruby 29 United States Arnie Knepper
8 90 United States Mike Mosley 11 United States Sammy Sessions 9 United States Mel Kenyon
9 42 New Zealand Denny Hulme 98 United States Bill Vukovich II 62 United States George Follmer  R 
10 16 United States Bruce Walkup  R  95 Australia Jack Brabham 57 United States Carl Williams
11 21 United States Larry Dickson 97 United States Bobby Johns 92 United States Peter Revson  R 


Failed to qualify[edit]

Race recap[edit]

The Eagle driven to 6th place by Joe Leonard


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. One of the weaknesses of the turbocharged Fords used by Andretti (and several other top drivers) was overheating. So Andretti eased slightly and Foyt took over. 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 fire as the car went down into turn one. McElreath was able to stop the car in turn 1 and got out uninjured, bringing out the first of only two yellow light periods. Retiring to the pits early was Gordon Johncock and Bobby Unser, as well as Jack Brabham, whose Repco engine would eventually suffer ignition failure.

The second of two yellow light periods came out on lap 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 twenty minutes in the pits as the team made repairs. However, he did return to the race. With the Foyt team scrambling to diagnose A.J.'s troubles, the team neglected to signal George Snider to the pits, and Snider ran out of fuel on the track. Snider was eventually pushed back to the pits and rejoined the race, but he lost a considerable number of laps.[16]

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, with the hose 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 in 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 chief mechanic Clint Brawner, and nearly stalled the engine as he was pushed away. His transmission fluid was low, the clutch was reportedly slipping, and despite an extra radiator added by Brawner behind the driver's seat after qualifying, engine temperature was running high.[17] 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.

In victory lane, an emotional happy Mario stated:

"I wanted to win this race so bad that you can't believe it. I will be having to pinch myself for the rest of the night. I am happy for Andy and STP. This is my biggest win and it's awesome."

Box score[edit]

The top four racers were allowed to complete the entire 500 mile race distance. Eight additional cars were running as of the race finish, but were flagged off the track not having completed the entire distance.[8] Andretti's race completion time of 3:11:14.71 was the fastest ever as of 1969.[8]

Finish Start Car
Name Chassis Engine Qualifying
Laps Time/Retired
1 2 2 United States Mario Andretti Brawner Ford 169.851 200 3:11:14.71
2 10 48 United States Dan Gurney Eagle Ford-Weslake 167.341 200 +2:13.03
3 3 1 United States Bobby Unser  W  Lola Offenhauser 169.683 200 +3:26.74
4 24 9 United States Mel Kenyon Gerhardt Offenhauser 165.426 200 +5:53.61
5 33 92 United States Peter Revson  R  Brabham Repco 160.851 197 Flagged, -3 laps
6 11 44 United States Joe Leonard Eagle Ford 167.240 193 Flagged, -7 laps
7 4 66 United States Mark Donohue  R  Lola Offenhauser 168.903 190 Flagged, -10 laps
8 1 6 United States A. J. Foyt  W  Coyote Ford 170.568 181 Flagged, -19 laps
9 31 21 United States Larry Dickson Vollstedt Ford 163.014 180 Flagged, -20 laps
10 32 97 United States Bobby Johns Shrike Offenhauser 160.901 171 Flagged, -29 laps
11 13 10 United States Jim Malloy Vollstedt Offenhauser 167.092 165 Flagged, -35 laps
12 23 11 United States Sammy Sessions Finley Offenhauser 165.434 163 Flagged, -37 laps
13 22 90 United States Mike Mosley Eagle Offenhauser 166.113 162 Piston
14 6 82 United States Roger McCluskey Coyote Ford 168.350 157 Split Header
15 18 15 United States Bud Tingelstad Lola Offenhauser 166.597 155 Engine
16 15 84 United States George Snider Coyote Ford 166.914 152 Flagged
17 14 59 United States Sonny Ates  R  Brabham Offenhauser 166.968 146 Magneto
18 25 42 New Zealand Denis Hulme Eagle Ford 165.092 145 Clutch
19 5 12 United States Gordon Johncock Gerhardt Offenhauser 168.626 137 Piston
20 20 4 United States Lloyd Ruby Mongoose Offenhauser 166.428 105 Fuel Tank
21 19 22 United States Wally Dallenbach Sr. Eagle Offenhauser 166.497 82 Clutch
22 21 29 United States Arnie Knepper Cecil Ford 166.220 82 Crash T4
23 8 67 United States LeeRoy Yarbrough Vollstedt Ford 168.075 65 Split Header
24 29 95 Australia Jack Brabham Brabham Repco 163.875 58 Ignition
25 30 57 United States Carl Williams Gerhardt Offenhauser 163.265 50 Clutch
26 9 8 United States Gary Bettenhausen Gerhardt Offenhauser 167.777 35 Piston
27 27 62 United States George Follmer  R  Gilbert Ford 164.286 26 Engine
28 7 38 United States Jim McElreath Brawner Offenhauser 168.224 24 Engine Fire
29 17 36 United States Johnny Rutherford Eagle Offenhauser 166.628 24 Oil Tank
30 16 45 United States Ronnie Bucknum Eagle Offenhauser 166.636 16 Piston
31 12 40 United States Art Pollard Lotus Offenhauser 167.123 7 Drive Line
32 26 98 United States Bill Vukovich II Mongoose Offenhauser 164.843 1 Rod
33 28 16 United States Bruce Walkup  R  Gerhardt Offenhauser 163.942 0 Transmission

 W  Former Indianapolis 500 winner

 R  Indianapolis 500 Rookie

Race statistics[edit]

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



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)


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.

For the fifth year, a live telecast of the race was shown in theaters on a closed-circuit basis; once more, Charlie Brockman called the action.

ABC Television
Booth Announcers Pit/garage reporters

Announcer: Jim McKay
Color: Rodger Ward

Chris Economaki




  1. ^ Fox, Jack C. (1994). The Illustrated History of the Indianapolis 500 1911-1994 (4th ed.). Carl Hungness Publishing. p. 22. ISBN 0-915088-05-3.
  2. ^ Tarpey, Michael P. (May 31, 1969). "Many Saw None Of Race But They Were Orderly". The Indianapolis Star. p. 15. Retrieved June 2, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.Open access icon
  3. ^ 2001 Indianapolis Record Book - Indianapolis Star/News
  4. ^ Taylor, Jim (May 31, 1969). "Andretti wins in Brawner's baby". Toledo Blade. (Ohio). p. 14.
  5. ^ "Andretti wins Indianapolis 500 race". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. May 31, 1969. p. 8.
  6. ^ "'Losers' roar to Indy 500 victory". Pittsburgh Press. UPI. May 31, 1969. p. 7.
  7. ^ Chapin, Kim (June 9, 1969). "La Dolce Indy". Sports Illustrated. p. 24.
  8. ^ a b c "Official Speedway Finish". The Indianapolis Star. June 1, 1969. p. 4-2. Retrieved 2017-07-22 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ "Racing Design Had European Accent". The Indianapolis News. May 29, 1969. p. 32. Retrieved January 22, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.Open access icon
  10. ^ Pruett, Marshall (December 30, 2019). "First wings at Indy, with Mario Andretti and Bobby Unser". Racer.com. Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  11. ^ "Goodyear Stars Work Again As Soon As '69 Race Ends". The Indianapolis Star. May 30, 1969. p. 40. Retrieved January 22, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.Open access icon
  12. ^ Unser's luck bad again at Indianapolis
  13. ^ Corrected Transcript and Commentary, Apollo Flight Journal (March 18, 2019). "Apollo 10 - Day 8 part 32: Housekeeping, navigation and comms tests". 172:53:37 Duke. NASA.gov. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  14. ^ The Talk of Gasoline Alley - 1070-AM WIBC, May 14, 2004
  15. ^ "1969 International 500 Mile Sweepstakes". ChampCarStats.com. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  16. ^ "No Board Shown Snider; Boss' Stop Proves Costly". The Indianapolis Star. May 31, 1969. p. 31. Retrieved August 8, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.Open access icon
  17. ^ "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.

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