With all the
concern about hazards on the track, it was sadly ironic that the most dangerous
spot at the Speedway would turn out to be the top row of a grandstand between
Turns 3 and 4. This is where Lyle Kurtenbach, a spectator from Rothschild,
Wis., was killed by a wheel that had broken off Tony Betten-hausen's car and
rolled along the track directly onto the nose of Guerrero's March, which was
moving at 200 miles an hour. The wheel shot skyward, well over a catch fence,
and came down with deadly force. Guerrero, unaware of the tragedy, radioed to
his crew, "We were so lucky!"
After 325 miles
the order was Andretti, holding a lap on the field, then Guerrero, Sullivan and
Unser, Mears having fallen out on Lap 76. At 400 miles the steady Unser had
moved into third when his teammate Sullivan retired with no oil pressure.
It looked as
though that would be the parade order to the checkered flag. Guerrero seemed
unable to cut into Andretti's lead, and Unser could not gain on the former
Formula One driver from Colombia who was now in second.
There are two
ways to look at Andretti's jinx. One is the optimistic way, the way Mario tried
to look at it all month: After 17 years without an Indy 500 win, the law of
averages says the drought has to end. The other way is that a jinx is a jinx,
and jinxes don't give a damn about the law of averages.
Optimism lost the
day. "All of a sudden the engine backfired," Mario recounted. "It
looked like the fuel metering unit pitched." He pitted on Lap 177, then
went back onto the track, his car running poorly and Mario still looking for a
It seemed amazing
how calmly Andretti took it. Almost with resignation. "Believe me, I've
lost a lot of races like this," he said. "That's why the victories are
so sweet." But he couldn't help adding softly, "There was no one who
could challenge us today. No one."
Guerrero, now in
first with more than a lap lead on Unser, pitted for a final squirt of gas on
Lap 183. But as his car came down off the jacks, it stalled. After his crew
pushed him about 20 feet, it stalled again. "The——clutch is gone!" he
shouted over the radio. "I don't believe it!" By the time he was pushed
away again, Unser was ahead by one lap and six seconds.
Guerrero got back
on the same lap, and then the suspense began. The cause was none other than
Andretti, who brought out the yellow flag when he stalled for good on Lap 192,
with eight laps remaining. The pace car came onto the track in front of the
leader, Unser, allowing Guerrero to speed around to the back of the field.
There were now only seven cars between him and Unser, and the green light came
on with four laps remaining.
your best," Penske radioed to Unser.
Guerrero gave it
his own best shot and closed to within 4� seconds, but it wasn't enough.
"Just bring her around," Penske coached his once-again shining star. At
the sight of the checkered flag, he added in a cracking voice, "Nice job.