1973 Indianapolis 500
|Indianapolis Motor Speedway|
|Season||1973 USAC Trail|
|Date||May 28-29-30, 1973|
|Winning team||Patrick Racing|
|Average speed||159.036 mph (255.944 km/h)|
|Pole position||Johnny Rutherford|
|Pole speed||198.413 mph (319.315 km/h)|
|Fastest qualifier||Johnny Rutherford|
|Rookie of the Year||Graham McRae|
|Most laps led||Gordon Johncock (64)|
|National anthem||Purdue Band|
|"Back Home Again in Indiana"||Jim Nabors|
|Starting Command||Tony Hulman|
|Pace car||Cadillac Eldorado|
|Pace car driver||Jim Rathmann|
|TV in the United States|
|Announcers||Jim McKay, Jackie Stewart, Chris Economaki|
|Nielsen Ratings||16.5 / 30|
The 57th 500 Mile International Sweepstakes was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday, May 30, 1973. The race was held over three days due to rain and suffered two major accidents. After 133 laps (332.5 miles), rain halted the race, and Gordon Johncock was declared the winner. It was the first of two Indy triumphs for Johncock (1973, 1982).
Going into the month, the mood was bright and excitement was high for record speeds. Competitors, media, and fans were eagerly anticipating the possibility of breaking the elusive and daunting 200 mph barrier during time trials. By the end of the month, however, the mood had turned tragic after several incidents.
Miserable weather plagued the track throughout the month, and effectively delayed the race for two and a half days. Accidents during the month and during the race took the lives of three competitors (two drivers: Art Pollard and Swede Savage; and one pit crew member, Armando Teran). The terrible accident of Salt Walther on Monday May 28 left him critically injured, and several spectators were also injured, as burning fuel and debris rained into the grandstand.
Due to the tragic circumstances, weather problems, rain-shortened finish, and overall glum mood during the month, the 1973 race is widely considered the worst year for the running of the Indianapolis 500. In contemporary accounts, it was called "jinxed" by Dan Gurney, Chris Economaki and Jim McKay. Likewise, national media opinions were highly critical in the aftermath of the race, focusing namely on the lack of safety measures. The circumstances led to sweeping rule changes for 1974, involving wing sizes, turbocharger "boost" settings, fuel capacity, as well as safety improvements to the track itself.
Off the track, the Speedway completed construction of its first VIP Suites outside of turn two. Following in the footsteps of Ontario Motor Speedway, Indianapolis becomes the second major race facility to feature luxury boxes.
- 1 Race schedule
- 2 Practice and time trials
- 3 Race running
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 Box score
- 6 Broadcasting
- 7 Notes
In 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act took effect, moving Memorial Day from the fixed date of May 30 to the final Monday in May. For 1971-1972, the race was scheduled for the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. The Speedway still maintained a policy of not holding the race on Sunday. For 1973, the race was scheduled for the Monday Memorial Day holiday itself.
The 500 Festival Committee had a desire to move their annual parade downtown to Saturday afternoon. Previously it had been held at night during the week. For 1973, the parade was held Saturday, the public driver's meeting was scheduled for Sunday, and the race was scheduled for Monday. A decision had been made that starting in 1974, the race would ultimately move to Sunday.
Practice and time trials
Just one year prior, USAC began allowing bolt-on wings. The increased downforce increased lap speeds nearly 30 miles per hour in just three years. The dramatic rise went from 170 mph in 1970, to flirting with the 200 mph barrier for 1973. During Goodyear tire tests in late March, Gordon Johncock set an unofficial track record of 199.4 mph. Experts and officials agree that the safety features in the cars were not prepared for the speeds attained. In addition, engine development with the turbocharged version of the venerable I-4 Offenhauser had resulted in horsepower readings in high-boost qualifying trim in excess of 1,100 hp. According to Mario Andretti, this was sufficient to induce rear wheelspin on the 1/8-mile "short chutes" between turns 1 and 2 and turns 3 and 4—an unnerving sensation for even the bravest, most skilled and experienced of drivers.
The track opened on Saturday April 28 with Gary Bettenhausen earning the honor of first driver on the track. Rain and winds plagued practice during the first week, while drivers started creeping up the speed chart. On Monday April 30, chief steward Harlan Fengler lifted the 180 mph speed limit and speeds climbed quickly. Gordon Johncock set an unofficial lap of over 190 mph to set the early pace. Johnny Rutherford was another member of the "190 mph club" with several laps in the mid-190 mph range. On May 5, Swede Savage upped the speed chart to 197.802 mph, inching closer to the elusive 200 mph mark.
On Sunday May 6, three drivers left the grounds to race in the NASCAR Winston 500 at Talladega. A huge crash, described as the worst crash in the history of NASCAR, put Bobby Allison out of that race. Gordon Johncock and Dick Simon, however, escaped the incident, with Simon coming home 7th. All three would return to qualify at Indy.
Rain and high winds kept speeds down in the second week of practice. Mario Andretti turned a lap of 192.967 mph on Thursday May 10. The final day of practice before pole day was Friday May 11. From April 28—May 11, there were only three accidents reported in practice that involved wall contact, none of which caused serious injuries.
By the eve of pole day, no drivers had eclipsed the 200 mph barrier according to published reports, but conditions were favorable for pole day, and anticipation was high.
Pole Day - Saturday May 12
Pole day dawned sunny with high temperatures in the 70s (°F). Brief showers put out the yellow light a few times during the day, but did not significantly affect the proceedings. An enormous crowd estimated at 250,000 arrived, anticipating the first ever 200 mph lap at Indy. Practice opened promptly at 9:00 a.m., but was quickly marred by the crash of Art Pollard. At 9:37 a.m., Pollard hit the outside wall in turn 1, spun to the inside, then flipped over, coming to a rest in turn two with flames and heavy damage. Pollard suffered pulmonary damage due to flame inhalation, and burns over his hands, face, and neck, as well as a fractured right arm. Pollard was pronounced dead at Methodist Hospital one hour after the crash.
Despite the crash, time trials began on time at 11 a.m. Peter Revson was the first driver in the field, with a fast run of 192.606 mph. The next car out, Gary Bettenhausen, upped the mark to 195.599 mph, just short of the existing track record.
At 12:29 p.m., Swede Savage took to the track, and was the first to set records. His first lap of 197.152 mph set a one-lap record, and his four-lap speed of 196.582 mph was also a record. The run put him tentatively on the pole.
At 1:37 p.m., Johnny Rutherford took to the track, and electrified the crowd into a frenzy. His third lap of 199.071 mph was just 0.21 seconds shy of the elusive 200 mph barrier. his four-lap average of 198.413 mph secured the pole position.
Defending race winner Mark Donohue squeezed onto the front row with a run of 197.413 mph. In the final hour, Bobby Unser was the last driver of the day with a shot at history. He came close to Rutherford, but his four-lap average of 198.183 mph was good enough only for second starting position.
At the end of the day, the field was filled to 24 cars. A. J. Foyt (188.927 mph) and Sam Posey (187.921 mph) were the two slowest. Foyt, who was over 192 mph during the week, waved off once, and had to settle for a slow run.
Second day - Sunday May 13
A fairly busy second day of time trials saw six cars added to the field without incident. John Martin (194.384 mph) was the fastest of the day. Posey and Foyt were still the two slowest cars in the field.
Third Day - Saturday May 19
Rain kept cars off the track most of the day. Lightning, hail, and a tornado warning, emptied the grandstands at 3 p.m. In the final ten minutes, two cars (Tom Bigelow and Sammy Sessions), made attempts. but neither were successful. Bigelow spun on his warm up lap, and Sessions waved off.
Bump Day - Sunday May 20
With three spots left open in the field, the final day of time trials was expected to be busy, but saw only moderate action. Sammy Sessions was the first car out, and completed his run, slightly slower than his run a day earlier. After a down period in the mid-afternoon, the field was filled to 33 cars at 5:37 p.m. Tom Bigelow was on the bubble.
With 15 minutes left in the day. Jim McElreath bumped out Bigelow. Sam Posey was now on the bubble. Next out was Jim Hurtubise, who went out but was 4 mph too slow. With one minute left before the 6 o'clock gun, George Snider got in a Foyt backup car and a fast run of 190.355 mph bumped Posey from the field.
Monday May 28 - Salt Walther crash
On Monday, morning rain delayed the proceedings until 3 p.m. Tony Hulman gave the command to start engines, and the field pulled away for the pace laps. Bob Harkey's car did not fire, and his crew wheeled the car back to the pits. It was discovered earlier in the day that the engine had failed, and rather than withdraw (and give their starting spot to Tom Bigelow, the first alternate), the crew gridded the car as normal. They worked on the car briefly to give the impression that the engine failed when the starting command was given.
At the start, an 11-car accident on the mainstretch stopped the race immediately. Salt Walther's car edged towards the outside wall, tangled wheels with Jerry Grant, and climbed over Grant's left-front wheel into the catch fence. It sent burning fuel into the grandstand, dousing many spectators and injuring at least eleven of those spectators. Walther's car also significantly damaged portions of the fence itself. As the front of the car dug into the fence, the nose was sheared off and Walther's legs were exposed. The car flung back onto the racing surface upside-down, and spun wildly down the mainstretch, spraying burning fuel in all directions. The spinning car was hit by at least two other cars, and a total of at least ten other cars became involved in the crash. Several cars were damaged extensively, with debris and burning fuel now littering the track.
Walther's car came to rest upside-down near the pit exit. Walther suffered severe burns and injuries to his hands. The race was red-flagged, and the start was negated. Safety crews attended to the crash scene, aided injured spectators, and also started repairing the catch fence. The other drivers involved in the crash suffered only minor injuries, but Walther was transported to the hospital, and took no further part in the event. Before all the cleanup and the repairs could be completed, rain began to fall again. The rest of the day was washed out, and officials rescheduled the start for 9:00 a.m. Tuesday.
Tuesday May 29
On Tuesday May 29, rain fell in the early morning, delaying an attempt at the start until 10:15 a.m. All cars that were involved in the crash Monday were allowed to make repairs. In addition, Bob Harkey's team found time to install a new engine. Salt Walther, however, was seriously injured and withdrew. A decent-sized crowd arrived for Tuesday, however, it was down from the attendance on Monday.
Officials announced that the race would restart from scratch, and the single lap driven on Monday would not count in the scoring. Car would be gridded in their original starting positions, sans Walther, who was credited with 33rd place. A heated drivers meeting was held with the drivers and officials, and the subject of the crash and the speed at the start was the focus. Drivers were complaining that the pace of the start (80 mph) was too slow, and pointed to the ragged start of 1972 as well as reason to increase the pace car speed to 100 mph.
The 32 remaining cars fired, and pulled away for the warm up laps. On the second parade lap, a light rain began to fall, and the track was red-flagged. The cars were halted on the main stretch to wait out the shower. Rain continued to fall most of the day, and around 2:00 p.m., the race was postponed until Wednesday.
Fans began to leave the grounds, and after two days of revelry, the infield was overwhelmed with mud and garbage.
Wednesday May 30
On Wednesday, morning rains threatened to wash the race out for the third day in a row. Most fans had left entirely, and the mood around the garage area was glum. Crews were exhausted, and drivers were apprehensive. Johnny Rutherford later quipped that if a poll had been taken around the garage area, the consensus would have been to leave and move on to the next race at Milwaukee. Media had already nicknamed the race the "72 Hours of Indianapolis", a play on the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
At midday, the sun finally came out for a few hours, and the track surface dried. The race finally was able to get started at 2:10 p.m. The grandstands were only partially full as the field took the green flag. Some estimates put the Wednesday attendance as low as 35,000. On the pace lap, the car of David Hobbs began smoking heavily. He pitted, and later rejoined the race.
The first fifty laps were mostly clean, however, there was considerable attrition. A bevy of mechanical failures were plaguing numerous teams. For a brief time, it appeared that the race was finally on-track, and had settled into its typical mid-race stretch. Bobby Unser took the lead at the start, and led the first 39 laps. Bobby Allison blew his engine at the completion of the first lap, Peter Revson brushed the wall in turn four on lap 3, and Mario Andretti broke a piston on lap 4.
The first yellow light came out on lap 17 when Bob Harkey's engine seized. It spilled oil, causing him to spin out and stall on the backstretch. Mark Donohue was the only one of the leaders that chose to pit during the yellow. Bobby Unser continued to lead, with Gordon Johncock running second, and Johnny Rutherford third. A. J. Foyt coasted to a stop in the pits after 37 laps with a broken rod bolt. Bobby Unser made his first pit stop on lap 40, briefly handing the lead to Johncock. Unser's pit stop dragged on for almost 45 seconds, and Swede Savage took over third.
Johncock led laps 40-42, then made a pit stop. The lead was assumed by Swede Savage on lap 43, with Al Unser now second. Joe Leonard brought out the yellow for two minutes when he spun on lap 45 in the northchute between turns 3 and 4. Savage and Al Unser battled closely for several laps, with the lapped car of Roger McCluskey also in the mix. Unser was able to get by McCluskey on the backstretch on lap 53. He then made a slingshot pass around Savage for the lead going into turn one on lap 54.
On lap 55, Johnny Rutherford was given the black flag and went to the pits to check for leaking fluid. At the same time, Mark Donohue's car slowed and he went to the pits (and later dropped out) with a bad piston.
Swede Savage crash
On the 57th lap, Swede Savage made a pit stop. His car was filled with 70 gallons (500 lb.) of fuel and a new right rear tire. Two laps later, he lost control as he exited turn four. His car twitched back and forth, and then slid across to the inside of the track at nearly top speed. It hit the angled inside wall nearly head-on. The force of the impact, with the car carrying a full load of fuel, caused the car to explode in a plume of flame. The force of the fuel exploding was so great that some structural rivets were blown rearward out of the car. The engine and transaxle tumbled end-over-end to the pit lane entrance while Savage, still strapped in his seat, was thrown back across the circuit. Savage came to rest adjacent to the outer retaining wall, fully conscious and completely exposed while he lay in a pool of flaming methanol fuel. The other cars on the track quickly stopped in turn four and the red flag came out. The track was blocked with debris and fire.
The race was halted at 3:05 p.m., and track crews rushed to Savage's aid. Moments later, 22-year-old Armando Teran, a crew member of Graham McRae's car (Savage's teammate at Patrick Racing) was serving as the pit board man, started sprinting up the pit lane towards the crash scene. At the same time, a fire truck was signaled to head to the scene. Cleon Reynolds, the Chief of the Speedway Fire Department, signaled for fire/safety truck driver Jerry Flake to proceed northbound up the pit lane to the crash scene. Flake was stationed at the south end of the pits. Flake, driving northbound, struck Teran and tossed his body about 50 feet. Teran suffered crushed ribs and a broken skull, and was pronounced dead at 4:23 p.m. The incident was witnessed by thousands of spectators, as it occurred on the pit lane right at the start/finish line. It was erroneously reported by media that Flake was driving the wrong way, and was at fault; at the time, safety trucks were permitted to drive in the opposite direction of the racing cars. The following year, USAC prohibited safety trucks from driving in the opposite direction.
Savage was taken to the hospital with serious injuries, but was in stable condition. One hour and eleven minutes after the accident, the debris was cleaned up, and the race was resumed. After witnessing the Savage crash, George Snider decided to step out of the car, and turned it over to A. J. Foyt, his car owner. Foyt's own car had already dropped out.
The race restarted with Al Unser leading. Attrition continued to take a huge toll on the field. On lap 73, Jimmy Caruthers blew his engine, and a connecting rod flew out, punctured, and violently blew his right front tire on the mainstretch. He was able to maintain control of the car, and coasted around to the pit area. Al Unser's day ended with a blown engine on lap 75.
Gordon Johncock took the lead on lap 73 after Al Unser's engine blew. As the race drudged past the 101-lap mark, it became official. Only 11 cars were still running, with most running many laps down. Track officials began assembling victory lane, as dark skies were looming, and the race was not expected to go the full distance. Bill Vukovich had climbed all the way up to second position, running about 27 seconds behind Johncock. In quick succession, no less than six cars dropped out around the halfway point, including Bobby Unser, A. J. Foyt (in George Snider's car), and Dick Simon.
After about two hours in the pits making repairs, Jerry Karl, running over 100 laps down, returned to the race, and moved up to 26th place.
On the 129th lap a light rain began to fall, and the yellow light came out with Gordon Johncock, another of Savage's Patrick Racing/STP teammates, leading. Only ten cars were still on the track. After 133 laps, at about 5:30 p.m., the rain started to fall much harder, forcing the race to be stopped. A short time later, officials declared the race official, and the tragic race was over with Johncock the winner. Johncock led the most laps with a total of 64. The traditional victory banquet was canceled, and the victory celebration was muted. Johncock left the track soon after the race to visit Swede Savage at the hospital. Later in the evening, the lowly day was summed up as a tired Johncock and crew had a "victory dinner" which consisted of a fast food hamburger at Burger Chef.
On July 2, Savage died in the hospital from complications arising from his injuries and treatment.
The 1973 race was the shortest "500" on record at the time (332.5 miles), with the exception of the 1916 race, which was actually scheduled for 300 miles. Three years later, the 1976 race was halted at an even shorter distance (255 miles).
Sweeping changes would come about in Indy car racing at Indianapolis the following year, all in the interest of safety. The incidents at the 1973 race highlighted the fact that the track had not been adequately updated to reflect the speed and dangers associated with the machines of the 1970s. Fuel capacity was drastically reduced (from 75 gallons to 40), the large wings used in 1972-1973 were cut back in size, and pop-off valves were introduced to the turbochargers to reduce horsepower. The changes were designed to slow the cars down. At the track, several changes were made. The angled inside wall at the northwest corner of the track (which had also played a role in the Dave MacDonald/Eddie Sachs double-fatality in 1964) was removed, and the pit entrance was widened. Retaining walls and catch fences were improved around the track. In addition, the spectator areas were moved back away from the track, and many rows of "trackside" seats were removed. There was not another on-track fatality at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway until 1982.
As of 2015, Savage's death in 1973 is the last fatality at the Speedway that occurred as a result of a crash during the race itself. It would not be until the 2010 motorcycle grand prix weekend that a fatality occurred during an actual race at the Speedway.
|2||16||2||Bill Vukovich II||191.103||20||133||Running|
|10||21||98||Mike Mosley||189.753||28||120||Rod Bolt|
|12||30||84|| George Snider
(Relieved by A. J. Foyt; Laps 59-101)
|13||2||8||Bobby Unser (W)||198.183||2||100||Blown Engine|
|15||3||66||Mark Donohue (W)||197.412||3||92||Piston|
|16||13||60||Graham McRae (R)||192.030||15||91||Header|
|17||26||6||Mike Hiss||191.939||16||91||Drive Train|
|19||18||48||Jerry Grant||190.235||24||77||Blown Engine|
|20||8||4||Al Unser (W)||194.879||8||75||Piston|
|22||4||40||Swede Savage ✝||196.582||4||57||Crash at T4; died July 2, 1973 as result of injuries|
|23||33||35||Jim McElreath||188.640||33||54||Blown Engine|
|24||20||62||Wally Dallenbach Sr.||190.200||26||48||Broken Rod|
|25||23||14||A. J. Foyt (W)||188.927||32||37||Rod Bolt|
|26||28||30||Jerry Karl (R)||190.799||21||22||Flagged|
|28||32||9||Sammy Sessions||188.986||31||17||Out of Oil|
|29||31||28||Bob Harkey||189.734||29||12||Seized Engine|
|30||6||11||Mario Andretti (W)||195.059||6||4||Piston|
|31||10||15||Peter Revson||192.607||12||3||Crash T4|
|32||12||12||Bobby Allison (R)||192.308||14||1||Rod|
|33||17||77||Salt Walther||190.739||22||0||Crash FS|
- First alternate: Sam Posey (#34) - Bumped (Posey was disqualified and stripped of first alternate status)
- Second alternate: Tom Bigelow (R) (#27)
Failed to Qualify
|Tire participation chart|
|Supplier||No. of starters|
|* - Denotes race winner|
The race was carried live on the IMS Radio Network. Sid Collins served as chief announcer and Fred Agabashian served as "driver expert," replacing Len Sutton. Fred Agabashian returned after a six-year absence. The race was held over three days, and the network covered activities live on all three days.
This would be Mike Ahern's final race with the network crew. For 1973, the turn two reporting location was moved to the new VIP Suites, which had just been constructed. Bob Forbes served as wireless roving reporter, concentrating on the garage area.
At the conclusion of the race, Lou Palmer reported from victory lane.
|Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network|
|Booth Announcers||Turn Reporters||Pit/garage reporters|
Turn 1: Mike Ahern
|Chuck Marlowe (north)
Luke Walton (center)
Lou Palmer (south)
Bob Forbes (garages)
The race was carried in the United States on ABC Sports on a same-day tape delay basis. The race was scheduled to air on Monday May 28 at 9 p.m. EDT for a two-hour same-day tape delay broadcast. However, the race suffered the crash of Salt Walther and rain prevented it from being restarted. ABC filled the television window with a movie instead. On Tuesday May 29, the race was to be rescheduled for 9 a.m., but ABC announced they would not be airing coverage of the race Tuesday night. It was tentatively planned to air the race possibly the following Saturday. However, Tuesday was rained out as well. On Wednesday May 30, the race was finally held, and ABC planned to air the broadcast in primetime on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. EDT. The broadcast featured clips from Monday's aborted attempt at a start, as well as the conclusion on Wednesday.
Analyst Jackie Stewart was to be the color commentator, but was only able to be at the grounds on Monday and Tuesday. Stewart left the Speedway Wednesday for Formula One commitments. Chris Economaki substituted for Stewart in the booth on Wednesday. On Wednesday, Chris Schenkel rode and reported from inside the pace car.
The race was billed on ABC as "Goodyear Presents the Indianapolis 500 Race."
The broadcast re-aired on ESPN Classic for the first time on August 12, 2011. The broadcast was slightly edited from the original airing, as a scene in the immediate aftermath of Armando Teran's fatal accident was omitted. The broadcast was shown again on ESPN Classic on May 30, 2013 (the 40th anniversary).
|Booth Announcers||Pit/garage reporters|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to 1973 Indianapolis 500.|
- Indy 1973 ABC News Report
- Grimsley, Will (1973-05-30). "Lack of safety devices scored". The Windsor Star. Retrieved 2013-10-23.
- "Indianapolis 500 race lunacy; savage aberration". AP/Ottawa Citizen. 1973-06-01. Retrieved 2013-10-23.
- "Hulman Is Force behind Indy 500". The Telegraph. 1973-05-15. Retrieved 2012-05-14.
- This was mentioned during the IMS Radio Network Broadcast; and thus was not a response to the tragic circumstances of the 1973 race.
- 1973 Daily Trackside Report - #4, 5/1/73
- Indy 500 Officials Opt for Saturday race start
- Dorson, Ron (1974). Indy 500 An American Institution Under Fire. Bond/Parkhurst Books. pp. 200–201. ISBN 0-87880-025-5.
- Indianapolis 500: The 70's DVD
- Chapin, Kim (1978-05-28). "He's Batting 1.000 On The 500". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2012-04-11.
- "1973 International 500 Mile Sweepstakes". ChampCarStats.com. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
- 1973 Indianapolis 500 Press Information - Daily Trackside Summary
- Indianapolis 500 History: Race & All-Time Stats - Official Site
- 1973 Indianapolis 500 at RacingReference.info
- 1973 Indianapolis 500 Radio Broadcast, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network
|1972 Indianapolis 500
|1973 Indianapolis 500
|1974 Indianapolis 500