On the third lap, Kevin Cogan hit the outside wall coming out of Turn 4. His March-Cosworth ricocheted across the track into the inner wall of pit row, broke into pieces—as Indy Cars are designed to do to absorb impact—then shot to the outer pit wall and back again to the inner wall, the engine sliding to a stop beside Cogan's head. It was a scary crash, but Cogan walked away.
By 100 miles, Michael Andretti had made his presence known by moving his Lola-Chevy into third, behind his father. At 125 miles, Michael was in second as Mario's engine began faltering with an electrical problem. No one has a history of worse luck at the Brickyard than the senior Andretti; he would struggle with the engine throughout the race and finish a frustrated fourth, seven laps behind Fittipaldi.
The seven cars in the 500 that had Chevrolet racing engines seemed to enjoy an advantage in horsepower. But one by one, all save Fittipaldi's would drop out of contention or the race itself. All three Penske Racing entries failed. Danny Sullivan retired on Lap 42 with a slipping clutch. Al Unser Sr. followed on Lap 68 with the same problem. Mears struggled with turbocharger ills for 113 laps before his engine quit.
Fittipaldi controlled the race for most of the first 400 miles. Said rookie Scott Pruett, "When Fittipaldi smokes past you, the whole damn car rattles." Then on Lap 154, Michael Andretti slipped into the lead, and for the next eight laps he looked like he would be a winner on the 20th anniversary of his father's Indy victory. Mario was ahead of him on the track, but running rough and well off the pace. Michael radioed to their crew, "Tell Dad to get out of my way," but the next words he spoke were to announce he had blown his engine. "We were going good for a while, guys," Michael added. "I guess I inherited my dad's luck at Indy, too," he said later.
At each pit stop Emmo was urged to take it "easy! easy!" on his clutch. Meanwhile Little Al was running strong, his car seeming to get better and better. A confrontation was brewing. Fittipaldi and Unser had come together before, unpleasantly and controversially. At the Meadowlands Grand Prix for Indy cars last season in New Jersey, Fittipaldi was leading when he and Unser collided. That time, Emmo went out of the race, Unser went into Victory Lane. Last month at the Long Beach Grand Prix for Indy cars, Little Al hit Mario Andretti from behind and won. After that incident, according to Unser, Fittipaldi suggested that some of the drivers get together and have a word with Little Al about overly aggressive driving. But Unser was hardly affected; he dismissed the lecture as an attempt by Fittipaldi to psych him out. "I know what he's trying to do," said Unser. "And it won't work."
With that, the stage was set for the last 10 laps at the Brickyard. The race seemed over on Lap 196 when Unser grabbed the lead, but Fittipaldi had ducked into the pits for a final splash of fuel in order to make an all-out final run. Unser had not refueled and was gambling on stretching his dwindling supply through the final few miles. Fittipaldi's crew told him, "Keep going, Emmo. We think Little Al's fuel has to stop." The possibility became moot when Unser's race ended against the wall.
The first time Unser crashed at 200 mph was several years ago, and even he thought his reaction was strange. He was happy—overjoyed with relief at learning that he could live through such a collision. This time he seemed to take survival—that he would walk away from a wreck—for granted. Perhaps it was because there was so much to do and feel in this instance. And because the whole race had been such a great thing to be part of. "Fittipaldi's team deserved it," Unser said. "They led the whole way, and they did great. I congratulate Emmo and his whole crew."
As for Fittipaldi, who finished second to Mears last year, the dream of a lifetime had finally come true. In boisterous Victory Lane, with tears of joy filling his eyes, he said, "Today I achieved my big event. It was the most important race of my life, no doubt about it."