By: Spencer Neff
May 2, 2019 | 8:30 AM
The 1960s was a decade of revolution at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Over that 10-year span, several innovations were brought to, from new safety measures to new engine ideas and car designs.
Included in this decade of revolution were several legendary names who made their mark in the record book. For this week’s IndyCar Flashback, we look at the last “500” of the ’60s.
Although the winner of this race never returned to victory lane at Indianapolis, his global racing success made him a household name.
Andretti Dominates for First “500” Win
After two unsuccessful attempts with the turbine engine, Andy Granatelli returns to the speedway with a Plymouth V8 from Chrysler. While testing the new engine in the iconic wedge-shaped car,
Art Pollard experiences a number of setbacks. Pollard and teammate Mario Andretti switch to a Lotus chassis powered by Offenhauser.
Andretti is considered to be among the favorites to capture the pole position. When Pole Day begins on Saturday, May 17, rookie Jigger Sirois runs three laps at over 160 MPH.
The fourth lap saw Sirois’ team wave off his time, fearing it would be too slow. Rain hit soon after, preventing anyone else from qualifying that say. Sirois does not make the field. He is unable to do so in the following years he attempts to qualify for the 500.
The following Wednesday, three-time winner A.J. Foyt set an unofficial track record with a lap at 172.315 MPH. Moments later, disaster strikes for Andretti.
After losing a wheel, the two-time polesitter crashes into the Turn 4 wall. Andretti is forced to a backup car (a Hawk-Ford) and even worse, suffers minor burns on his face.
On Saturday, Foyt earns his second pole with a four-lap average of 170.568 MPH. Foyt is the lone driver to top 170 MPH. Andretti will start second, with defending winner Bobby Unser in third.
With Andretti still recovering from his burns, he has twin brother Aldo take his place for post-qualifying photos.
When the race begins on May 30, Andretti storms out to an early lead, pacing the first five laps before Foyt powers ahead. On Lap 25, the engine in Jim McElreath’s Hawk-Offy catches fire. He stops along the Turn 1 wall and emerged from his car uninjured, but brings out the first caution of the day.
Despite a high rate of attrition, the race is run at a clean and fast pace. Foyt leads 66 of the first 78 laps before trouble starts brewing. On Lap 79, Foyt’s engine loses power.
A few laps later, Foyt pits to cool his tires and receives a new turbocharger in his Coyote-Ford. Despite spending 23 minutes on pit road, he continues on.
With Foyt’s issues, the race becomes a battle between Andretti and Lloyd Ruby, who had become known for his bad luck in the race. Andretti and Ruby swap the lead twice over the next 26 laps.
On Lap 105, Ruby’s hopes of victory are dashed on pit road. Ruby rips a hole in his fuel tank while leaving before his crew disconnected the hose. Ruby is unable to continue, finishing in 20th (his starting position).
1968 pole sitter Joe Leonard makes his way up to second place before debris causes a hole in his radiator. Despite spending 14 minutes in the pits, Leonard continues on.
Meanwhile, there is no stopping Andretti. After taking the lead from Ruby on Lap 106, the fifth-year driver never looks back. Andretti crosses the Yard of Bricks nearly two minutes ahead of the competition. After issues on his pit stops, Andretti completes the race on one set of tires.
Slowed by just two cautions, the race is run at a record 156.867 MPH average speed. For the second year in a row, Dan Gurney earns a runner-up finish at Indianapolis. Bobby Unser finishes third. Mel Kenyon is the final car on the lead lap, racing from 24th to 4th.
Despite climbing from last on the grid to fifth place, Peter Revson does not earn Rookie of the Year.
That honor goes to Penske Racing’s Mark Donohue, who started fourth and overcame magneto issues to finish seventh. Leonard recovers from a broken radiator to finish sixth while the pole sitter, Foyt, finishes eighth.
After several injuries and fatalities throughout the decade, Andretti and Sam Sessions (fractured left kneecap) are the lone on-track injuries during the month. Sessions is able to compete and races from 23rd on the grid to 12th in the race.
Meanwhile, Al Unser misses the race after breaking his leg due to an infield crash on his motorcycle. Unser is replaced by Bud Tinglestad, who starts 18th and finishes 15th.
While his dominant win set the stage for Andretti to become one of racing’s biggest icon, he never returned to victory lane at Indianapolis.
Andretti makes 29 starts at the 500 and finishes second in 1981 and 1985, also winning pole in 1987. In 1984, his son Michael entered his first 500. In 1991, the two were joined by Mario’s younger son, Jeff and nephew, John.
Michael retires following the 2003 race but returns in 2006 and 2007 to race with son Marco. With 73 starts and just one victory between the five men, family’s hard luck at the 500 becomes part of the infamous “Andretti Curse”.
Despite Michael (1991 runner-up) and Marco (2006 runner-up) also seeing victory slip past them over the years, Michael has tasted Indianapolis 500 glory as a team owner.
Dan Wheldon brought home Andretti Green Racing’s first triumph in 2005. The team (now known as Andretti Autosport) has won the Indianapolis 500 another four times (2007, 2014, 2016, 2017). The five wins make Michael the most successful car owner behind only Roger Penske.
This May, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Mario’s 1969 triumph. With the Andretti name and legacy so synonymous with the Indianapolis 500 and racing, it will undoubtedly be a popular celebration.
Header Image By INDYCAR