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Not surprisingly, the concentrated attention of such an assemblage rattles the drivers considerably. By 9:35 a.m. Saturday, after two weeks of accident-free practice, two cars had slammed the wall and one other car had gone into a wild, uncontrollable spin.
Rodger Ward in a supercharged Offy was the first man to qualify—at a so-so speed of 159.468 mph. With steady, grinding swiftness the other drivers attacked Ward's mark, pushing him back into the field. Californian George Snider in a year-old Lotus-Ford burst around the track at 162.984, breaking Foyt's old one-lap record of 161.958. "It feels good," he said, after averaging 162.521 for four laps. "But I'm afraid somebody's gonna beat it."
The somebody Snider was waiting for—everybody was waiting for him—was Andretti, whose Ford-powered car was the terror of the track. Waiting nervously for Andretti in fact, was the pattern of the day. While fans howled "GO! A.J.! Go!" Foyt whirred by the stands at 161.783 miles an hour. It was a respectable speed, but he completed just one lap. Scowling, he pulled back in to wait for Andretti. Dan Gurney ran a dazzling warmup lap, but he also returned to the pits. Clark followed him and ran two practice laps timed by his pit crew at 164 mph. They all knew that Andretti had done 168 in practice that morning, and so they waited.
None of that nonsense for Graham Hill, however. Wait for Andretti, indeed. With square-rigged jaw and mustache braced against the chill, he then went out and qualified at 159.243 miles an hour. "I'm disappointed, rather," he said, in accents right out of Carnaby Street. "There seems to be a bit of popping in the engine."
At last, carried along by an ocean of swelling noise, Andretti drove onto the track. Andretti's made-in-America car, a copy of a made-in- Britain Brabham, flashed by in a long, thin streak of white on white. His first lap was 166.328 mph, the second was 166.113. And then came laps of 165.899 and 165.259 for a record-shattering average speed of 165.899. Those who suspected that no one could now deprive him of the pole position were correct.
"Oh, yeah," said Andretti, with the stinging casualness only a 5-foot-4 man could give it. "Oh, yeah. We been running a little quicker." He grinned. "Those guys wouldn't run before I did. You know those guys. They were waiting to see what I could do. But they may have waited too long."
One who had was Driver Chuck Rodee. Pressing to approach Andretti's record, he careened out of control and into the wall in a frightening slide. It was, the announcer solemnly informed the crowd not long after, a fatal slide. Rodee had died of multiple injuries at a hospital.
But at the track the chase continued. Parnelli Jones in a supercharged Offy blasted his way toward the front of the pack with an average of 162.484. "Not bad," he said. "For an old four-banger."
Foyt rolled out again, ready to practice for a run at Andretti's mark. It was then that he crashed. Within an hour after the smashup he was back in his garage talking speculatively about his new, still-untested reserve Lotus.
Then Gurney returned, but there were just too many horses in the American Eagle. He burned out the clutch, climbed from the car and walked away in disgust.