Suddenly, unexplainably (Had fuel spilled on his hot exhaust pipe? Had a spark ignited the tank when the filler cap was closed?), Jones's car was afire. The flames rolled out from under the chassis as he pulled away, and he looked back over his shoulder into a sheet of fire. He bailed out and the car turned into a torch, slamming into the pit wall while crewmen scrambled away.
It was now 1:35 p.m., 55 laps were in, and Foyt had the lead for good. Ward once closed to within 12 seconds, but his subsequent pit stops put him out of the fight. Foyt was more than a lap ahead at the end. Then came Ward, Lloyd Ruby in an Offy and rookie Johnny White in an Offy. The first four had all broken Jones's 1963 record of 143.137 mph.
The rush of the slipstream around Foyt had frayed a hole in the right elbow of his racing uniform and his lips were cracked and raw. "You guys," he rasped to reporters in his garage, "didn't come right out and say it—but you sort of hinted I would lose. You thought this so-called antique front-engine roadster couldn't hack it against the high-powered Fords, against the rear-engine cars." He shrugged. "We just didn't think the Fords would make it. We couldn't believe it. We were right."
There was backstage drama as well. On the night before the race, his chief mechanic, George Bignotti, had been forced to install a new engine in Foyt's car after the other had developed a strain during practice. And, gambling on not changing tires (Foyt, on Firestones, was the first winner ever to drive the race on one set), Bignotti removed the front air-jacks from the car to lighten it.
Indy Champion Foyt looked at his car and the garland of roses perched crazily over the cockpit. "We are," he mused, "thinking about something real drastic for next year. We are going to go into streamlining. Maybe something with an enclosed cockpit. I can't tell you more about it because I don't know myself what it will look like, but...."
Said Bill Ansted, Indianapolis auto parts millionaire and Foyt's sponsor: "We will, of course, buy him anything he wants for next year."
Firestone was in the same mood. Within an hour after the race was over, company officials were standing by with a new contract to test tires. The mercurial Texan, a Goodyear tester through the past year, had switched on the first day of qualifying from Goodyears to Fire-stones, then half-switched back and wore a Goodyear driving uniform in the race. He vowed not to accept Firestone's $7,500 in prize money if he won the race. "We have made out the check," said a Firestone official. "Whether or not he accepts it is up to him."
The race had other startling aspects. Ford, in lending its powerful new overhead camshaft engines to private car owners for the race, had kept a tight rein, specifying that they must run on gasoline during the actual race. Ford, in fact, had forbidden the crews to tear the engines down and had provided a supply of fresh, new ones from Detroit as replacements. All seven Fords in the race, said company spokesmen, had raced on gasoline as ordered. Not so, said A.J. Watson, the builder of Rodger Ward's car and his chief mechanic. He had, he said, closed his garage doors to Ford's engineers one night and converted the engine to alcohol. Ward had burned alcohol during the race.
As for the Lotus-Fords, fuel was not the problem. The engines ran beautifully on gas. Marshman's trouble was oil. Both Clark and Gurney were put out by mishaps with their Dunlop tires. The tread began to peel from Clark's left rear tire, and the resulting vibration, Lotus Builder Colin Chapman said, caused the suspension to fail. Gurney complained that a tire sounded "funny," had it replaced and finally was called in for keeps on Chapman's orders.
The stage thus was set for another year of ferment at Indy: design changes were in the offing, a fight over fuel was shaping up and the tire companies were squaring away to fight anew.