Racing people here point out that Indy cars run on methanol, or wood alchol. It is a far cry from pump gas. The fuel costs about $1.80 a gallon and today's racers hope to get three miles to the gallon. The cars are limited to a total of 280 gallons for the race, with 40 gallons on board, all on left-side tanks away from the concrete walls.
When Joel Thorne felt he had been deprived of a chance to qualify for the 1937 Indy race, he showed some class. The wealthy sportsman didn't run for a lawyer. He simply offered to buy every car in the race to get his chance. Track officials said they would only race with cars he didn't buy. Thorne gave up, qualified the next year and finished eighth.
Now that lawyers are permitted to advertise, car owners plan to solicit them to sponsor racers. Two-time winner Johnny Rutherford says his car will now have the names of the driver, owner, mechanic and "legal counsel" painted on its sides.
Two basic racing rules are being repeated in the garages here. "If you cheat, you eat," is attributed to Louie Unser, uncle of the Unser brothers. The terse, "Cheat neat," is ascribed to any number of stock car mechanics who are bound by many technical restrictions.
This race's greatest hard-luck story involves Miami banker Lindsey Hopkins. He's had from one to four cars in this race for 28 years and never won. Asked if he was discouraged, Hopkins said, "Hell, yes, but I'll keep coming." Johnnie Parsons drives the Hopkins entry today.
Defending champion Al Unser said, "This hasn't been a good month. It began with me spending three days in a court room fighting for my livelihood. That was fun." Unser drives the unique Pennzoil Special, a car that gives him great pleasure since it was one of the three fastest cars on the track every day it ran here.
His 17-year-old son, Al, pleases him even more. "When the kid starts looking good, it makes you feel good," he says of the youngster who is winning sprint-car races now. "He shows a lot of potential, but it's much too early to tell about the future."
Unlike brother Bobby, who owns his son's racer, Al confines his role to offering advice, not all of which is taken, he admits.
Only two cars using engines made from Mass-produced models are in the field. Phil Threshie's car is powered by a Chevrolet; Jerry Sneva's by an AMC model. At $10,000 each, they cost a quarter as much as the pure racing units.
Janet Guthrie is now one of the guys, striding through the garage area uninterrupted by the press or autograph seekers. Her car owner, Sherman Armstrong, who has three entries going today, is somewhat disenchanted with her. After she blew two engines, another motor gave out with Guthrie at the wheel. Armstrong had to go to Bobby Hillin to buy a replacement. Price: $32,000. At the March Ontario (Calif.) race, Guthrie couldn't get Armstrong's car up to qualifying speed. George (Ziggy) Snider got in it, qualified it and finished eigth.
A possible rival to Guthrie is visiting the Speedway. She is Devina Galica, a winning English road racer.