1976 Indianapolis 500

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60th Indianapolis 500
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis 500
Sanctioning body USAC
Season 1976 USAC Trail
Date May 30, 1976
Winner Johnny Rutherford
Winning team McLaren
Average speed 148.725 mph (239.350 km/h)
Pole position Johnny Rutherford
Pole speed 188.957 mph (304.097 km/h)
Fastest qualifier Mario Andretti 189.404 mph (304.816 km/h)
Rookie of the Year Vern Schuppan
Most laps led Johnny Rutherford (48)
Pre-race ceremonies
National anthem Tom Sullivan & Up with People
Back Home Again in Indiana Jim Nabors
Starting Command Tony Hulman
Pace car Buick Century
Pace car driver Marty Robbins
Attendance 250,000 (estimated)
TV in the United States
Network ABC
Announcers Jim McKay and Jackie Stewart
Nielsen Ratings 17.9 / 34
Chronology
Previous Next
1975 1977

The 60th 500 Mile International Sweepstakes was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 30, 1976. Polesitter Johnny Rutherford took the lead on lap 80, and was leading when rain halted the race on lap 103. Two hours later, the race was about to be resumed, but rain fell again. USAC officials called the race at that point, reverted the scoring back to the completion of lap 102, and Johnny Rutherford was declared the winner. Rutherford famously walked to Victory Lane, his second career Indy 500 triumph, having completed only 255 miles (410 km), the shortest official race on record.

During time trials, Janet Guthrie became the first female driver to enter the Indianapolis 500. However, her team was underfunded, and she experienced numerous mechanical and engine problems during the month. While she managed to pass her rookie test, she was unable to make an attempt to qualify. She would return with a successful effort a year later in 1977.

Hours after the race, IMS Vice President in charge of the IMS Radio Network and former driver Elmer George (husband of Mari Hulman George) was shot and killed during a confrontation.1 The confrontation was unrelated to the running of the race. In addition, 1976 would be the final Indy 500 for longtime radio anchor Sid Collins. After a surgery to repair a disk in his neck,2 Collins was still suffering muscular and neurological ailments,3 which made his work at the 1976 race physically difficult. He was later diagnosed with ALS, and committed suicide on May 3, 1977.3

Rutherford's victory would be the final win at Indy for the venerable Offenhauser engine. It was the beginning of the end of an era which saw 27 Indy 500 victories for the Offy powerplant.

The month was highlighted by the grand opening of the new Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum,45 located in the track infield.

Race schedule

The new Hall of Fame Museum officially opened April 5.
Race schedule — May, 1976
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat

 

 

 

 

 

 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
8
Practice
9
Practice
10
Practice
11
Practice
12
Practice
13
Practice
14
Practice
15
Pole Day
16
Time Trials
17
Practice
18
Practice
19
Practice
20
Practice
21
Practice
22
Time Trials
23
Time Trials
24
 
25
 
26
 
27
Carb Day
28
 
29
Parade
30
Indy 500
31
Memorial Day

 

 

 

 

 
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

The biggest story of practice was the appearance of Janet Guthrie, who was attempting to become the first female driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Considerable media attention followed her through the month, however, the first two weeks of practice were plagued with various troubles. Upon her arrival at the airport, her flight lost her luggage (which included her helmet and driving suit). On the first day of practice, teammate Dick Simon was shaking the car down, but suffered an oil leak. On the second day, he burned a piston and a turbocharger fire. Guthrie was unable to take to the track until Monday. Her first foray in the machine was short-lived, as she burned a piston after only seven laps at speed.

On Tuesday, Guthrie started her rookie test, and despite low oil pressure and overheating, she made it through the first phase. On Thursday, she was trying to finish the second phase, but rain cut the run short. She finally completed her rookie test on Monday May 17, with a top lap of 171.429 mph.

The veterans practice was led by Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser, Sr. and A. J. Foyt. In the third year of a rules package mean to slow the cars down, there was no expectations of record speeds for 1976. Top speeds were in the high 180 mph range, with the best lap (189.833 mph) going to Rutherford.

The most serious crash of practice was that of rookie Eddie Miller. He lost control coming out of turn one, and spun to the inside. The car hit an earth embankment, flipped over wildly, cleared two fences, then came to rest upside-down near the bleachers. Miller suffered a neck fracture, and would never return to Indy.

Pole day - Saturday May 15

Overnight rain delayed the start of time trials until 2:30 p.m. During practice, Johnny Rutherford finally broke the 190 mph barrier for the month, making him the favorite for the pole position.

Gordon Johncock (188.531 mph) put himself on the provisional pole position at 3:30 p.m. About an hour later, Johnny Rutherford (188.957 mph) took over the top spot and won the pole position. A. J. Foyt settled for fifth (185.261 mph), and Tom Sneva (186.355 mph) qualified for the outside of the front row.

Qualifying closed at 6 p.m. with nine cars in the field. Five drivers still eligible for the pole round, however, none of those left in line were considered a threat for the pole. The day closed with the front row consisting of Rutherford, Johncock, and Sneva.

Second day - Sunday May 16

Only two cars that were eligible for the pole round made runs, and the field was filled to 11 cars. Moments later, the "second day" of time trials officially commenced.

Mike Mosley (187.588 mph) and Bobby Unser (187.520 mph) were the quickest of the day, but as "second day" qualifiers, they lined up 12th and 13th, respectively.

Third day - Saturday May 22

Mario Andretti returned to Indianapolis after competing in the Belgian Grand Prix. Andretti was expected to get up to speed quickly, and did not disappoint. His qualifying speed of 189.404 mph was faster than the pole speed, and Andretti became the fastest qualifier in the field. However, since he was a "third day" qualifier, he was forced to line up behind the previous days' qualifiers. On race day, he would start in 19th position.

A busy day of time trials saw the field filled to 33 cars at 5:37 p.m. The day ended with two cars bumped, and at least five drivers looking to make the field on Bump day.

Among those who did not make an attempt yet was Janet Guthrie. Still having problems finding speed in her #27 entry, her best practice lap of 173.611 mph was still too slow to bump her way in. A rumor was already circulating around the garage area that Foyt was going to lend her one of his backup cars (#1) - a car in which he practiced at over 190 mph on Friday.

Bump Day - Sunday May 23

The story of the day was Janet Guthrie, who arranged a deal with A. J. Foyt to borrow his #1 entry for practice. Shortly after 10 a.m., Guthrie was in the car shaking it down. Her lap of 180.796 mph was easily her fastest lap of the month. Despite her considerable gains in speed, Guthrie did not end up making an attempt to qualify.

As the afternoon was winding down, the attention shifted to the cars trying to bump their way into the field in the final hour. David Hobbs bumped his way in at 4:55 p.m. Eldon Rasmussen was now on the bubble. Rasmussen survived three attempts, but at 5:59 p.m., Jan Opperman took to the track. Opperman's run of 181.717 mph bumped Rasmussen from the field, and the lineup was set.

After creating a media and fan frenzy, Janet Guthrie left the track without making the field. With the spotlight still on her, she quickly found herself an alternative. Promoter Humpy Wheeler consummated a deal for Guthrie to acquire a car from NASCAR owner Ralph Moody, and within 48 hours, flew her to Charlotte to qualify instead for the World 600.6

Race summary

Start

Race day dawned with blue skies and temperatures in the 60s. However, rain was in the forecast for later in the afternoon. Tony Hulman gave the command to start engines at 10:53 a.m. EST, and the field pulled away for one parade laps and one pace lap.7 Country singer, and part-time NASCAR driver Marty Robbins drove the Buick pace car.

At the start, polesitter Johnny Rutherford took the lead in turn one, and led the first three laps. A. J. Foyt moved up to second, then passed Rutherford for the lead on lap 4. Back in the pack, Mario Andretti charged quickly from 19th starting position to 7th in two laps.

Moments later, Dick Simon blew an engine and stalled on the backstretch, bringing out the first caution. By lap ten, Simon, Spike Gehlhausen, Bill Vukovich II, and David Hobbs were all out of the race early with engine-related problems.

The green came back out on lap 7 with Foyt leading. On lap 10, Roger McCluskey lost control in turn 3, hit the outside wall, then spun to the infield grass. Several leaders pitted under the caution. At lap 10, the top five was Foyt, Rutherford, Johncock, Sneva, and Dallenbach. A. J. Foyt was among those who pitted. As he pulled away, he snagged the crewman's wing adjuster, and he drove away with the long extension wrench still attached. Foyt was about to be black-flagged, but the adjuster fell off harmlessly. However, a debris caution came out on laps 14-16 to pick up the wrench.

First half

Gordon Johncock took over the lead on lap 20, following Foyt's mishap. Johnny Rutherford ran second, and Foyt dropped back to third.

At lap 50, Johnny Rutherford was now leading, with Foyt second, and Johncock fading to third. Pancho Carter and Wally Dallenbach were running in the top five, with Tom Sneva close behind. Also climbing into the top ten was Salt Walther, in his best run at Indy thus far.

After running in the top ten early on, Gary Bettenhausen dropped out on lap 52 with e broken turbo wastegate.

Johnny Parsons lost a right front wheel on lap 60, bringing out the yellow. Rutherford had already pit, and Foyt had stayed out. Foyt was able to pit under the caution, and gained enough track position to take the lead for the restart on lap 65.

Foyt led Rutherford by about 9.5 second on lap 70. At that point, Rutherford began to close the gap. The sky was darkening, and rain was being reported in nearby Brownsburg. Rutherford charged to take the lead on lap 80, and began to pull away. At the same time, Foyt was beginning to suffer from handling problems.

Jerry Grant ran out of fuel on lap 91, bringing out the yellow. The green came back out on lap 95 with Rutherford first and Foyt second. Rain was quickly approaching. The yellow came out for drizzle on lap 100. On lap 103, the rain began to fall harder, and the red flag was displayed, halting the race. The race was stopped at approximately 12:42 p.m. local time.

Rain delay

The cars were parked in the pits, with Rutherford leading and Foyt second. In order for the race to be ruled official, it had to complete one lap beyond the halfway point (101 laps). Since the race was on lap 103, it could be deemed official, and if the rains continued the rest of the afternoon, USAC could call the race at that point.

Since it was only 12:45 p.m., and with 97 laps still remaining, officials decided not to call the race prematurely. However, they did begin assembling the Victory Lane platform. By 1:15 p.m., it appeared that the rain had stopped, and track drying efforts were underway in earnest. About a half hour later, some light rain began to fall again.

Under the red flag, A. J. Foyt's team discovered a broken anti-roll bar linkage, and were able to make repairs. The team expected the car's handling to improve if and when the race was resumed.

At about 2:15 p.m., the rain was stopped, the sun was shining through the clouds. With safety trucks and a jet dryer circulating, the track was almost dry. At 2:45 p.m., chief steward Tom Binford announced that the race would be resumed in about 20 minutes, and the focus shifted to the restart procedure. The decision was made to restart the race in single file, and give the field three or four warm up laps.

At 3:00 p.m. the call was made for the cars to line up in the grid, anticipating a restart.

Finish

With the car lining up in the pit lane for a restart, observers around the circuit reported a dry track, but intermittent rain drops were falling at various locations. Soon after, umbrellas started opening up, and the rain began to fall harder around the track. Some fans began to look for cover, and the crews quickly covered up the cars with tarps.

At roughly 3:15 p.m., the rain was falling harder, and the officials decided that the track was "lost." They decided there was not sufficient time left in the day for the track to be dried, and declared the race complete. The scoring was reverted to the completion of lap 102, and Johnny Rutherford was declared the winner.

Before the crew was able to wheel the car to Victory Lane, Johnny Rutherford was surround by media and reporters, and famously walked to Victory Lane.

Starting grid

Row Inside Middle Outside
1 United States Johnny Rutherford (W) United States Gordon Johncock (W) United States Tom Sneva
2 United States Al Unser (W) United States A.J. Foyt (W) United States Pancho Carter
3 United States Wally Dallenbach, Sr. United States Gary Bettenhausen United States Bill Vukovich II
4 United States Larry Cannon United States Mike Mosley United States Bobby Unser (W)
5 United States Roger McCluskey United States Johnny Parsons United States John Martin
6 United States Dick Simon Australia Vern Schuppan (R) United States Bill Puterbaugh
7 United States Mario Andretti (W) United States Jerry Grant United States Billy Scott (R)
8 United States Salt Walther United States Steve Krisiloff United States Al Loquasto (R)
9 United States Spike Gehlhausen (R) United States Larry McCoy United States George Snider
10 United States Bob Harkey United States Sheldon Kinser United States Lloyd Ruby
11 United Kingdom David Hobbs United States Tom Bigelow United States Jan Opperman

Box score

Finish Start No Name Qual Rank Laps Led Status
1 1 2 United States Johnny Rutherford (W) 188.957 2 102 48 Running
2 5 14 United States A.J. Foyt (W) 185.262 10 102 29 Running
3 2 20 United States Gordon Johncock (W) 188.531 3 102 18 Running
4 7 40 United States Wally Dallenbach 184.445 12 101 3 Flagged
5 6 48 United States Pancho Carter 184.824 11 101 3 Flagged
6 3 68 United States Tom Sneva 186.355 8 101 1 Flagged
7 4 21 United States Al Unser (W) 186.258 9 101 0 Flagged
8 19 6 United States Mario Andretti (W) 189.404 1 101 0 Flagged
9 22 77 United States Salt Walther 182.796 17 100 0 Flagged
10 12 3 United States Bobby Unser (W) 187.520 5 100 0 Flagged
11 30 51 United States Lloyd Ruby 186.480 7 100 0 Flagged
12 14 93 United States Johnny Parsons 182.843 16 98 0 Flagged
13 27 23 United States George Snider 181.141 31 98 0 Flagged
14 32 24 United States Tom Bigelow 181.965 24 98 0 Flagged
15 11 12 United States Mike Mosley 187.588 4 98 0 Flagged
16 33 8 United States Jan Opperman 181.717 27 97 0 Flagged
17 10 69 United States Larry Cannon 181.388 29 97 0 Flagged
18 17 9 Australia Vern Schuppan (R) 182.011 21 97 0 Flagged
19 29 97 United States Sheldon Kinser 181.114 33 97 0 Flagged
20 28 96 United States Bob Harkey 181.141 32 97 0 Flagged
21 15 98 United States John Martin 182.417 18 96 0 Flagged
22 18 83 United States Bill Puterbaugh 182.002 22 96 0 Flagged
23 21 28 United States Billy Scott (R) 183.383 15 96 0 Flagged
24 23 92 United States Steve Krisiloff 182.131 20 95 0 Flagged
25 24 86 United States Al Loquasto (R) 182.002 23 95 0 Flagged
26 26 63 United States Larry McCoy 181.387 30 91 0 Flagged
27 20 73 United States Jerry Grant 183.617 13 91 0 Flagged
28 8 45 United States Gary Bettenhausen 181.791 25 52 0 Turbocharger
29 31 33 United Kingdom David Hobbs 183.580 14 10 0 Water Leak
30 13 7 United States Roger McCluskey 186.499 6 8 0 Crash T3
31 9 5 United States Bill Vukovich, Jr 181.433 28 2 0 Rod
32 16 17 United States Dick Simon 182.342 19 1 0 Rod
33 25 19 United States Spike Gehlhausen (R) 181.717 26 0 0 Oil Pressure

Alternates

Failed to qualify

Legacy

Rutherford capped off a three-year stint with finishes of 1st-2nd-1st from 1974–1976, tied for the best in Indy history. It was equaled by Wilbur Shaw in 1937-1940 (1st-2nd-1st-1st), Al Unser, Sr. in 1970-1972 (1st-1st-2nd) and by Helio Castroneves in 2001-2003 (1st-1st-2nd).

As of 2012, the 1976 race is the shortest Indy 500 on record, completing only 102 laps (255 miles) out of the scheduled 200. By USAC rule, the race was required to complete 101 laps - one lap beyond the halfway point - to be considered official. It is also regarded as the "shortest" 500 mile race in a major U.S. series. Among other rain-shortened 500-mile races, the 2007 Pocono 500 went 106 laps (265 miles), the 2003 Daytona 500 went 109 laps (272.5 miles), and the 1987 Southern 500 went only 276 miles due to rain.

Broadcasting

Radio

The race was carried live on the IMS Radio Network. The network celebrated its 25th anniversary. Sid Collins served as chief announcer for the 25th time. Unbeknownst to all involved, 1976 would be the final Indy 500 for longtime Collins. After a surgery to repair a disk in his neck,2 Collins was still suffering muscular and neurological ailments,3 which made his work at the 1976 race physically difficult. He was later diagnosed with ALS, and committed suicide on May 3, 1977.3

This would be the third and final time Paul Page reported from the pit area. The following year he would be elevated to the chief announcer position. In addition, third-year veteran Jerry Baker would report from the backstretch for the final time, in future years, he was promoted to a turn reporter. Bob Forbes served as the wireless roving reporter in the garages. The broadcast reached over 1,200 affiliates, including foreign language translations into Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese. It was picked up by Armed Forces Radio, and also transmitted to Japan, Central America and South America.

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

Chief Announcer: Sid Collins
Driver expert: Fred Agabashian
Statistician: John DeCamp
Historian: Donald Davidson

Turn 1: Ron Carrell
Turn 2: Howdy Bell
Backstretch: Jerry Baker
Turn 3: Doug Zink
Turn 4: Jim Shelton

Paul Page (north pits)
Chuck Marloe (north-center pits)
Luke Walton (south-center pits)
Lou Palmer (south pits)
Bob Forbes (garages)

Collins customarily ended his broadcasts with "words of wisdom," vignettes, or a set-piece monologue for the listeners. His final broadcast was closed with the following sign-off quote:8

So now, the 60th running of the 500 here is now history. Since 1911, the hypnotic effect of speed upon driver and spectator alike is never dim. The run from the green flag to the checkered and on to Victory Lane here is a pursuit only one man in the world can accomplish once a year. Today, once again, Johnny Rutherford etched his name and his achievement upon the granite of time. He reigns supreme as the champion of the sport of auto racing this day and forever more. The massive crowd of more than 350,000 has threaded its way towards the exit gates as their eyes have taken a final sweep over the track before departing. For some, this has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, others will come back, but in every case, it's always difficult to relinquish one's grasp on the pulsating emotion that is the 500. And at this microphone we share that reaction of having to say goodbye to you across the many miles that separate us. But, another icy Indiana winter will come and go, and before we know it, springtime returns, it will be May, and the roar of engines will once again breathe life into the lazy Hoosier sky and bring us back together. God willing, I'll be here to greet you for this annual reunion through our mutual love of auto racing and the Indianapolis 500...

...And now this final thought for our winner. Enthusiasm with wisdom will carry a man further than any amount of intellect without it. The men who have most-powerfully influenced the world have not been so much men of genius, as they have been men of strong conviction with an enduring capacity for work coupled with enthusiasm and determination. Johnny Rutherford showed these qualities today in becoming victorious over the Indianapolis 500...

...So until next May, this is Sid Collins, the Voice of the 500, wishing you good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, depending upon where in the world you are right now. We're here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, at the Crossroads of America. Goodbye.

Television

The race was carried in the United States on ABC Sports on a same-day tape delay basis. Jim McKay returned to anchor the broadcast, after sitting out the 1975 race.

ABC Television
Booth Announcers Pit/garage reporters

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

Chris Economaki

Notes

See also

References

  1. ^ Oreovicz, John (2011-05-16). "Indy at 100: Fatalities mar the '70s". ESPN.com. Retrieved 2011-08-02. 
  2. ^ a b "Sid Collins nearly missed 'silver' Indy". AP (The Modesto Bee). 1976-05-27. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Collins found dead". People In Sports (The Register-Guard). 1977-05-03. Retrieved 2012-03-26. 
  4. ^ ."1996 Indianapolis 500 Official Program". Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 1996-05-26. 
  5. ^ "Hall of Fame Museum". IndianapolisMotorSpeedway.com. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  6. ^ Aumann, Mark (2009-05-19). "Guthrie opens NASCAR to a whole new World in 1976". NASCAR.com. Retrieved 2012-03-27. 
  7. ^ Based on IMS Radio Network coverage
  8. ^ "1976 Indianapolis 500". 1976-05-30. IMS Radio Network.

Works cited


1975 Indianapolis 500
Bobby Unser
1976 Indianapolis 500
Johnny Rutherford
1977 Indianapolis 500
A.J. Foyt







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