Pole winner Johnny Rutherford has been a bit edgy these past few days but hasn't lost his good humor.
"He hasn't had a free moment since he won the pole," said a team member. "Last Thursday, he took the car out for carburetion tests, then gave 17 separate interviews to reporters."
"They don't like mass interviews," explained the Texan. "Reporters want to go one on one."
Rutherford has been writing a twice-weekly column for a daily here and making a nightly radio broadcast for a hometown Fort Worth station. His free time is spent in the garage with his Pennzoil Special working with the mechanics.
Three sets of brothers are entered in today's race and two others just missed making it. Bobby and Al Unser have five victories between them. Tom Sneva was twice the U.S. Auto Club national champion, while his brother Jerry is making his fourth start here. Bill and Don Whittington are both rookies. Roger Mears, brother of last year's winner, Rick, and Tony Bettenhausen, Gary's brother, failed to qualify.
The 71-year-old Speedway was "just another asphalt road to learn" to Hurley Haywood, a rookie here but the only man to have won the Daytona and Le Mans 24-hour road races in the same year.
"Veteran drivers can show you their line so you have a reference, but then you must create your own style," said the 30-year-old driver. "Road racers like myself tend to take a smooth arc through the corners, being very tidy. Drivers from the oval speedways tend to go into the turns deeper, then pitch the car through. Whatever is most comfortable is fastest."
Haywood feels the "concentration level" during the 500 must be very high. He may have an edge there as a long-distance racer: "I'm used to waiting for my opportunities to arise. I don't go out and charge from the start."
Larry Cannon, one of several owner-drivers in the race, can think of only two reasons why that arrangement is a good one. "You can't be fired and you're driving for the nicest guy in the world," said "Boom Boom."
Money is the big problem for the 40-year-old Danville, Ill., racer. His crew are unpaid volunteers; his equipment well-maintained but old.
His new sponsor, Kraco Car Stereo, signed up three days ago, just as the car was being painted. "That won't take us too far down the road. Making the race (with at least $18,000 to the last placer) will help me break even this month," he explained.
"Look, racing is a sickness and it's my sickness. Making the race and doing well on race day are what it's all about."
Some teams used radar guns this week to clock their entries on the straightaways. A. J. Foyt was quickest with a 207 mph clocking down the three-quarter mile backstretch during a practice session.
George (Ziggy) Snider is starting his 16th 500 and his eighth as Foyt's teammate. His best finishes have been a pair of eights. He gets no instructions from the four-time Indy winner."He just lets me do my own thing. I think he picks me to drive for him because we've about the same size so you don't have to do much to the car." They're both from Houston, too.
John Wood of Randallstown, Md., passed his rookie test here but a dropped value in practice ended his chances to qualify. "Actually, the car was down on power. I had to struggle to pass the rookie test at 170," he explained. "I'm 28 so I'll have other years to come here."
Wood said he wasn't "overawed" when he arrived. "I didn't get really nervous until the final stages of my test. Then I knew I had to pass." The test involves 50 miles at 160 and 50 miles at 170 under the eyes of experienced Indy drivers.
"When I got to the referee's office after my test, the observers had nothing but criticism of my drive. Then, he asked them if they would sign me in and they all agreed."
A road racer, Wood now will concentrate on speedway races in Indianapolis cars. "I can't go back unless I have a very competitive machine. Otherwise I'm not making progress."