Indy 500 Memories
The 100th Indy 500 held this past weekend brought back fond memories of seeing the time trials in 1967 and the race itself in 1972 with a bunch of fraternity brothers attending General Motors Institute. Attending college at a place like GMI meant racing was in our blood. The 1967 time trials featured Parnell Jones in his controversial red No. 40 STP turbine-powered car owned by Andy Granatelli. The track record at the time was 167 (now 239) mph, and it was expected the turbine would break the record; however Jones “sandbagged” the trial so as not to risk having the vehicle banned. In the subsequent race itself, Jones had the lead for 171 laps when a $6 bearing failed with three laps to go, allowing AJ Foyt to win his third 500.
The 1972 Indy 500 was won by the Sunoco sponsored blue No. 66 driven by Mark Donahue and owned by Roger Penske, both pictured below. A little know fact about the pair was that earlier in their careers they would acid dip the race car body and chassis to reduce weight until they were caught in 1967, after which time they would still acid dip, but then use offsetting weights strategically placed around the vehicle for better weight distribution. The parts were so thin that no one was allowed to lean up against the body for fear of denting.
In 1972, Al Unser had won the 500 the previous two years so was the crowd favorite; however, since Roger Penske was affiliated with General Motors, we rooted for the Donahue/Penske team and were not disappointed. That also was the first year Jim Nabors, of Gomer Pile fame, sang “Back Home Again In Indiana”, a tradition that carried on for the next 36 years.
At both events, in order to avoid the notorious traffic jams entering the race track, our group arrived at the track around 3:00 in the morning, with most but not all of us crashing in our sleeping bags and blankets until race time on the infield grass in the first turn as shown in the photo below.
Here’s was the infield looked like at the Indy 500 this weekend:
Thanks to our GM ties, we were able to glean a couple pit passes, so before the ‘72 race, we took turns checking out the pits. I recall during my stint in the pits meeting Miss Hurst Shifter shown below in the Hurst Olds 442 pace car with the famous T-shifter.
The weather was perfect both days, just like this weekend, which meant lots of sun, sunburns and suds (slang at the time for beer). The cars were a blur as they zoomed by our infield spot but the well-stocked coolers keep us refreshed and having tons of fun throughout the time trials and race. Memorable times!