But on race morning, under a charcoal-gray sky and with a chill wind blowing across the Indiana plain, thoughts of the dangers of racing were submerged in a scene of festival gaiety. A band blared, celebrities paraded, a burst of colored balloons rose from the infield. Then, two minutes after the start of the race, some five minutes after Speedway President Anton Hulman had barked out his traditional "Gentlemen, start your engines," the fantastic series of accidents began.
Scotland's Jimmy Clark, his face taped for protection against the wind, jumped impressively into the lead from his pole position. His Lotus-Ford is so low-hanging that it looks like a water bug skimming along the track, and on the first lap—at a record 149.775 mph—he had pulled in front of the pack by some 200 yards. On the second lap he came whining past in a blur of British racing green at 154.613 mph. Behind him came disaster.
Twenty-six-year-old Dave MacDonald, a fine sports car man racing his first 500 in a Ford-engined car built by speed merchant Mickey Thompson, suddenly veered out of control rounding the last turn before the homestretch. He caromed like a deadly billiard shot off the low walls on both sides of the track, and flame exploded around him in a puff of orange. In the seconds that followed the race became a fiery tangle. Six other cars were caught in the path of fire MacDonald had painted across the track. Some made it through. Eddie Sachs, who had said before the race, "You will find me out there in the middle of things," did not. His Ford-engined American Red Ball Special slammed into MacDonald and spun away. An explosion made an enormous whoosh. Sachs was crushed against his steering wheel by the violence of the collision and was apparently already dead when fire engulfed his car. A huge, ragged pillar of black smoke rose above the wreckage.
Not far away Driver Ronnie Duman, his clothing afire, popped out of his burning Offenhauser, leaped a retaining wall and rolled on the grass to extinguish the flames. Bobby Unser in a Novi Ferguson, Johnny Rutherford in an Offenhauser and Chuck Stevenson in an Offenhauser threaded their way to safety.
The race was stopped, the first time ever due to an accident (rain interrupted the 1926 500). In the next hour, while work crews cleaned the track, the drivers regrouped on the track opposite the principal grandstand.
Over the public address system came the somber announcement: Sachs was dead. The crowd stood, uncovered and fell silent in a long moment of tribute. The drivers froze in a tableau of bright-colored uniforms. An hour and 45 minutes after MacDonald's fateful slide, the race began again.
But now, chillingly, the atmosphere had changed. The long-awaited battle between old and new, between Offenhauser and Ford, did not seem so important. The surviving cars lined up single file for the restart in the order in which they had been running. Foyt, in fifth place, pulled on red golfing gloves, banging his fists together like a boxer to tighten them across his knuckles. He rested coolly in his cockpit, three sticks of gum taped on top of the driveshaft housing, just below his left arm where he could reach them handily. At the head of the line Clark looked around at the crowd, at his crew. He fidgeted with his helmet, finally climbed into the Lotus.
The engines sounded again, and after the inspection lap by the pace car, Clark sprinted ahead once more. Bobby Marshman made a great rush at him in a 1963 Lotus-Ford that was the track's fastest in practice. He took the lead and poured it on, pulling away from Clark with astonishing ease. Behind Clark came Ward and next was Dan Gurney's Lotus-Ford. Those four Fords in front looked unbeatable as Jones and Foyt struggled in fifth and sixth place to uphold the old guard. On this day, however, nothing was sure or certain.
With only 40 of the race's 200 laps run, Marshman was out with a ruptured oil pan. A few minutes later Dave MacDonald died in Indianapolis' Methodist Hospital. Then Clark's car came down the homestretch with its left rear wheel cocked up at a crazy angle, sparks spewing from suspension parts dragging on the track. He fought to control the car for a hair-raising 600 yards and finally wrestled it safely into the infield.
Ward fell back, Gurney too, and suddenly the Fords had all but had it. Foyt and Jones were locked in a stirring, savage wheel-to-wheel duel for first place. This lasted seven laps, then ended abruptly as Parnelli pitted for fuel. His cheering section waited with a placard: "Parnelli, yes. Lotus, no."