This year there was spectacular novelty. First, and most promising, there were the nimble, frameless Lotuses with chassis by Chapman and rear-mounted V-8 aluminum engines, made by the Ford Motor Company, which burned pump gasoline, not the usual racing alcohol. California's indefatigable Mickey Thompson, a man who feels guilty if he sleeps more than three hours a night, entered five Chevrolet-engined V-8s. A startlingly low, wide new model was qualified by veteran Duane Carter, at 50 the oldest of the drivers in the race. Its engine blew. A 1962 Thompson car was qualified by an unknown Indy rookie, 39-year-old Al Miller. It finished ninth. With General Motors on an antiracing binge, Thompson was denied the Chevrolet financial backing he might have been able to count on in other years. He seemed to be attempting too much too late on too thin a pocketbook.
Then there were the Novis—lovable, wailing, supercharged brutes which, since their first "500" appearance in 1941, had created a body of fans as deliriously faithful—and unrewarded—as those of the New York Mets. Astonishingly, three Novis made the 33-car starting field, with one driven by leadfoot Jim Hurtubise smack in the front row. One spun out in the second lap, another never really got going, but Hurtubise at least had the satisfaction of leading the first lap. His Novi, unfortunately, broke down in mid-race.
These intruders left 26 places for the conventional roadsters, and besides Parnelli such formidable drivers as former winners Rodger Ward, A. J. Foyt, Jim Rathmann and Troy Ruttman (who won the race in an Agajanian car in 1952).
Indianapolis pulsed with anticipation the night before the race. Thousands shivered through the chilly hours in and around their cars, ringing the speedway, and raced for the best infield viewing spots when the gates opened at 5 a.m. The majority were college boys having a high old beer-guzzling spree; as less impulsive racegoers drove in Thursday they saw a few flaked out, fast asleep, in bunkers of the golf course that is part of the vast infield.
Aerial bombs exploded, colorful balloons floated into the cloudless sky, Astronaut Gordon Cooper made one orbit of the track with Speedway Owner Tony Hulman, to ecstatic applause, and then at 11 o'clock, the "500" was rousingly, noisily on.
The race evolved in three distinct parts. From his starting position on the pole, Parnelli swooped away to an impressive lead. When he pitted first, his margin was half a minute, or approximately half a lap.
Always with the fastest flight of a dozen cars in the first phase, the Lotus-Fords of Clark and Gurney starred in the second segment, as they ran one, two. Distressingly, Gurney was not getting enough wear from his right rear tire to make the one-stop race both he and Clark had planned. He had to get new rubber after 92 laps, and knew then he could not win. "It took the heart out of me," he said later. "We didn't get the riggin' of Dan's car right," Chapman said. Thus another if: Gurney might well have joined Clark in that marvelous stern chase of Parnelli. Ultimately, however, he pitted again after 183 laps—and again one lap later to have a loose wheel tightened. Despite these misadventures he managed to place seventh.
When Clark made his pit stop Parnelli recaptured the lead and never again lost it. He earned every decibel of the ovation given him. And, just as surely, he knew that his might have been the last triumphant stand of the now outmoded roadster. New, smaller, fatter 15-inch tires of the kind used on the Lotus-Fords gave the Offies decidedly better wear than their old 18-inch rear and 16-inch front tires. Now most Offies should drive the "500" on only two stops. But two should be one too many.
"The old cars," said Miamian Lindsey Hopkins, long an owner of "500" roadsters, "have got to go."