Cogan had been waiting four years for this. Redemption day. His 1982 Indy 500 could not be forgotten. That was the year of the contretemps just before the start, triggered when Cogan's car swerved from its front-row spot and hit A.J. Foyt's. Mario Andretti then rammed into Cogan. Both Foyt and Andretti berated the younger driver publicly on the spot. Millions saw the confrontation on TV. Things suddenly got chilly for a hot young driver. He was dropped by the Penske team at the end of that season.
Cogan steadfastly claims that something broke on the car. A universal joint was in fact found broken on Cogan's car, but doubt as to whether it was the cause or an effect of the crash remained. In any case, Cogan took the rap. "Until you've been booed by 90,000 people, you can't appreciate what it feels like," Cogan says.
After he grabbed the lead from Rahal, Cogan began to speed away. With only 12 laps remaining, it was as if he were running from 90,000 booing ghosts. It was the most spectacular driving of the day; one time he slid out of Turn 2 so close to the wall you couldn't have fit a razor blade between wheel and concrete. "As long as I don't touch it, I don't care how close I come," Cogan says. Running close is his style. "But some day he's going to run up next to somebody to intimidate them, and they're not going to move for him," Rahal says. Adds Al Unser Jr., who finished fifth, "I ran two laps next to Cogan with him on the outside, and he stayed right there. I couldn't believe it!"
"I was really having fun," said Cogan.
And he appeared to have victory sewed up. But motor racing isn't that cut and dried. With six laps remaining, Dutch-born driver Arie Luyendyk cut a tire in the fourth turn and spun toward the pit entrance, bringing out the yellow flag for the sixth and final time and allowing Rahal to close back up on Cogan. At first it appeared that the race would end under yellow. As the track crew hustled to remove Luyendyk's car, the crowd shouted, "Green! Green! Green!"
"I was hoping to see trash all over the place," said Cogan later, which would have meant a parade to Victory Lane for him. "The course workers should be congratulated for cleaning it up so quickly," said Rahal with a grin.
But Rahal hadn't been grinning in his car, because his red low-fuel warning light had been blazing at him. "Christ, not now," he said to himself. When word came over the radio from his crew, "We're going for it," it was more a confirmation than an instruction.
The Corvette pace car preceding the leaders speeded up and pulled into the pit entrance as they neared the end of the third-from-last lap. That was an indication that the green flag would come out a the start-finish line. Then it would be a two-lap, five-mile, high-stakes sprint to the finish.
Cogan, Rahal and Mears were tail to nose, but Mears looked like an also-ran having already been passed convincingly by the other two. "I was just setting bad there watching them," he said, more resigned than disgusted.
Rahal knew he was in a good position "On a restart, if the guy who's second has got his wits about him, he's got an advantage," Rahal said. Sure enough. He had kept back a bit as they entered Turn 3 behind the pace car, afraid of being buffeted in Cogan's turbulence and of Cogan possibly mashing the brakes and then jamming the throttle to throw him off. But after the pace car pulled off, Rahal anticipated the green perfectly, flooring the accelerator when instinct told him it was time and building up an unanswerable head of steam.