Minute for minute there is no sporting event in the world as throat-catching as the Indianapolis 500-mile race. It is periodically dogged by disaster, as it was last year when two drivers were killed; yet in any year it has moments of racing greatness. Those who come to the Speedway hover each year in a fearful, three-and-a-half-hour limbo to see which will predominate. The 500 is an event that spectators are not certain they want to see—but it is so powerful they dare not look away. This was one of the good years, full of history and innocent of catastrophe. It was the year of the Lotus, the year of the rookies and it was the year the Scottish bagpipers came out to play.
Calm young Scotsman Jimmy Clark won the race ("Mmmmmm, no, there were no real tense moments out there") in what was really a double victory, because just finishing was in itself a triumph. Clark's run was an exercise in the sure use of power. He snaked his 500-hp Lotus-Ford along a corridor that became a salvage yard at an average speed of 150.686 miles an hour—the fastest 500 ever and one with a special magnificence as the first beyond the 150-mph barrier. And in winning he became one of the most affluent tourists temporarily employed in this country, earning something like a $200,000 share of the richest purse in Indy history.
The Ford Motor Company, which had first entered this classic three years ago on the theory that the 500 is a rolling test track for automotive innovation and a great spreader of glamour over all Ford cars, was also a notable winner. Ford proved that The Lively Ones—dual overhead-cam engines buttoned into 1,300-pound cars—would go like bullets on a two-and-a-half-mile track.
When Clark wheeled into the winner's circle (he picked up an extra $50 bonus there from a dairy association for accepting a quart of milk), 10 cars were left in the race behind him. Twenty-two cars were sitting like dismal Pop art displays in the garages of Gasoline Alley.
In the morning, amid balloons and bands, 33 cars had started in a frightening snarl of engines, their bodies polished to a racing gloss. But by Monday afternoon many of the favorites were in various stages of mechanical disarray. Parnelli Jones, engine sputtering, gas tank empty and steering gone haywire, captured second place by a miracle of timing; another lap and he would not have finished at all. A.J. Foyt was completely out of the race; the transmission on his car had burst in a futile chase after Clark. Dan Gurney was out of it with similar trouble.
The race was run on a hot, bright day, and the Speedway was packed to the picnic baskets—a record crowd of 305,000 was present. Outside Indiana—everybody inside the state must have been at the track—thousands more had assembled to watch the race on closed-circuit television. The first lap around the Brickyard—with Clark thrusting out ahead of the pole man, Foyt, from the No. 2 starting position—was clocked at 151.380 mph, a new track record. Almost immediately a Novi was out of the race, spurting oil. All day that was the way it was: records and cars fell with almost every lap.
The records belonged to Clark, who, with roguish zest, seemed to toy with Foyt. That is a dangerous game: the second time around an angry Foyt rolled up beside Clark high on the outside of the first turn, a place where veterans never go, and popped free on the back-stretch. Behind the two battling leaders came Gurney and Jones, with rookie Mario Andretti running coolly in fifth position. The rest of the field, already looking over their shoulders for Clark, were, figuratively and in most cases literally, out of it all. By 10 laps Clark's speed was up to 154.424 mph; he had not only snapped back past Foyt but had opened up a 20-yard lead on him.
Gurney and Jones were running wheel to wheel in another match of speed and mutual respect, and the 25-year-old Andretti was exciting an audience of his own. His Ford-powered car was the only balanced, symmetrical one at Indy, sitting squarely between its wheels. "Look," he had said, "it is ready to take out on a road course right now without changing a thing. She can turn right, too, you see? Not just turn left, like most Indy cars." Turning right and left like a motorized Red Grange, he drove the rest of the field wild with fancy broken-track running. By lap 43 he was an impertinent fourth and in position to devour any falterers ahead.
The rest of the race came in flashes—flashes of Clark whirring by the stands, his $150 per round in lap prizes ticking inexorably higher; flashes of racing brilliance; flashes of despair.
By lap 44, when Clark's lap winnings had rolled beyond $6,450, Gurney came coasting into the pits. So far so good. Perhaps he needed fuel. But, no, he climbed out of the car and looked into the stands with a half-smile. It was over; the car had stopped running. The car was sponsored by Yamaha, a Japanese manufacturer, and in Gurney's pit crew was the Ford Cobra man, Carroll Shelby, a road-racing type who goes where the action is. Shelby usually turns up at these events in casual attire topped by a monstrous, battered 10-gallon hat. On Monday he wore a judo-style jacket for luck. He should have stayed with the hat.