When this month of controversy began, car owner Roger Penske and his dissident Championship Auto Racing Teams hinted at staging their own Memorial Day race if denied entry here. There was no need. CART cars won seven of the top 10 places in the 500, with Penske getting his second victory here.His friend, the late Mark Donohue, drove a Penske car at a record-setting pace in 1972.
Rick Mears has been featured in "Dirt", a movie about off-road motor racing. He began racing 10 years ago and drove in his first Indy car event three years ago at Ontario, Calif. As a part-time driver for the Penske team last year, he won three races. His then teammate , national champion Tom Sneva, won none so Sneva was released and Mears signed for full-time duty this season.
The six caution flags delayed the race for only 34-laps, allowing records to be set for five intermediate distances. Drivers and fans like the new "bunch up" rule in which all cars get in single file behind a pace car when the caution flag is out. The restarts make for a new race and help everyone keep track of where the leader and his closest rivals are.
A gracious A.J. Foyt emerged in defeat. His engine went dead on the last lap so he coasted to the finish line, the crowd cheering him on. He responded, waving both hands over his head, as he glided down the home stretch. Afterwards, he congratulated Mears and predicted a great future for him. To most observers, it appeared Foyt's machine did not have the power to beat either Mears or his Penske teammate, Bobby Unser today.
Mears admitted he was pleasantly surprised when he overtook Unser with 45 miles to go.
"It sounded as though he lost a gear," Mears accurately guessed.
Unser had. It was fourth, the fast gear, forcing the two-time winner to plod along the third to the finish.
The day's best driving feat came early in the race when Wally Dallenbach's right rear wheel came off as he was going down the backstretch. He kept the car straight and guided it more than a mile to the pits. Fortunately, the field was under the caution flags at 80 miles per hour when the mishap occured.
Al Unser allowed it hadn't been "a good day at work" after he had to retire with a cracked transmission seal. He led all but 11 of the first 95 laps winning $17,000 in lap prizes at $200 per lap. Brother Bobby then took over and gathered in $17,800 in lap money. No one could keep up with Al Unser's new Pennzoil Special, which pulled out to leads of two to three seconds after restarts and easily made up lost time after pit stops.
Two-time winner Johnny Rutherford spent a half-hour in the pits with a busted transmission that left him in 18th place . . . The second-fastest qualifier, Tom Sneva, had the only serious accident, hitting the wall in Turn 4 near day's end. He was uninjured and finished 15th.