The third annual
Pocono 500 did not really end. It sort of ran down slowly, scattering a trail
of shredded brakes and fractured piston rings across the Pennsylvania
countryside. The race, from the now-standard, Indy-type first-lap crash to the
whacky finish that saw Roger McCluskey run out of fuel on the final lap and
thereby transfer a certain victory to a rather surprised A. J. Foyt, was not so
much a single competition as a series of ragged sprints. These moments were
roughly connected by 10 caution-flag slowdowns, a number of nasty crashes,
mechanical failures that eliminated three-quarters of the field and a
stupefying 245 pit stops.
ending was somehow symbolic of the entire affair, which was to proper
automobile racing what Olsen and Johnson and Hellzapoppin were to subtle humor.
Fortunately no one was seriously injured, even though Johnny Rutherford managed
to spin his McLaren in the middle of traffic on the first turn of the first
lap, and eight laps later Al Unser clouted the wall in the same corner so
lustily that he sprained his neck and caused the entire race to be red-flagged
for three-quarters of an hour while workmen welded and bolted the steel-plate
retaining wall back into place. "Here we are at the greatest race in the
East and we're at the mercy of the steel-workers' union," moaned one
enthusiast while the torches hissed and crackled.
From that point
on, the Schaefer Pocono 500, to use its properly commercial title, slipped
further away from reality, with the giant, sun-baked crowd of perhaps 75,000
watching an endless string of drivers assume the lead only to forfeit it with
visits to the pits. Thanks to hasty, post-Indy rule changes, the cars were able
to run only 50 to 55 miles between fuel stops, which meant that no one—not even
the fast men like Gordon Johncock, Mario Andretti and Bobby Unser—was able to
take command of the race.
perhaps the quickest man in the entire field, but a variety of turbocharger
ailments kept his red and white Parnelli in the pits for much of the afternoon
before it finally failed him completely in the closing laps. Johncock and Bobby
Unser ran at the front for much of the way, but a slipping clutch canceled
Unser's effort and Johncock blew a tire on the front straightaway, going into a
masterful 200 mph slide for life past the gasping throngs.
That left a pair
of USAC's hoariest veterans to scrap for the victory. Roger McCluskey, at 42
years one of the senior citizens of the Indy scene, and A. J. Foyt, who needs
little introduction, sailed into the final laps at the head of one of the
sorriest fields of cripples in the history of the sport. Behind them were a
meager six machines, most of which were staggering around the immense tri-oval
like refugees from an antique car rally. They ranged from Joe Leonard's
Parnelli and its ruptured transmission to Sam Posey's Eagle and its leaky oil
line to Mike Hiss' cranky, slow-running machine.
McCluskey, on the
other hand, was cruising in fine fashion, with a 12-second lead over Foyt as he
headed into the sunset. But Foyt had rushed into the pits seven laps from the
end to take on a few extra slurps of fuel while McCluskey, for some unexplained
reason, appeared to be trying to make it home without another stop. After all,
he had already come in 10 times for fuel and perhaps he objected to another
visit to the pits as a matter of principle.
This meant that
he was trying to squeeze an extra 15 miles from his allotment of methanol. His
gamble failed and he coughed to a stop just around the first turn, a mile and a
half from victory and a $94,000 payoff. Foyt simply motored past and took the
win—at an average speed of 144.944 mph—his fourth major 500-mile career victory
in this class, this one vaguely reminiscent of his 1961 Indianapolis triumph
when leader Eddie Sachs stopped to change a tire three laps from the end.
"We just miscalculated," mumbled McCluskey's crew chief from the
solitude of the loser's garage.
The fact that
Pocono was such a confusing, disjointed affair—lacking the smooth, balletlike
continuity of quality motor racing—was directly traceable to the pit stops, the
number of which were more than double that of any 500-mile championship race in
The Keystone Kops
routine that took place in the Pocono pits was part of the legacy of
Indianapolis and the black comedy that unfolded there four weeks ago during the
granddaddy 500-mile race of them all. Reeling from the barrage of criticism
following that sad and bloody event, the United States Auto Club, the
sanctioning body for Indy-style competition, met in emergency session and
adopted a series of stopgap regulations to lower speeds and increase driver
safety. There were three key changes: a reduction of total fuel allotment from
375 gallons to 340 gallons per car for the 500-mile races at Pocono and
Ontario; a slicing of the on-board fuel capacity of the cars from 75 gallons to
40; and the trimming of the rear airfoils or wings (whose aerodynamic downforce
has been primarily responsible for the big gains in lap speeds during the past
few seasons) from a width of 64 inches to 55 inches. As with many decisions
made in haste, certain unexpected flaws rose up to haunt the USAC
It took the crew
chiefs who maintain the Eagles, McLarens, Parnellis et al. about 15 minutes to
make the required changes—and to keep their 900 hp machines running every bit
as quickly as before. They merely removed the right side saddle tank as
required (the logic being that this container was most vulnerable to rupture in
collisions with the retaining wall) and filled the void with a variety of
nonflammable, energy-absorbing materials. Dan Gurney's crew, for example,
stuffed the space full of standard household insulation. The wings were
hacksawed down to the new dimensions, then more sharply angled to provide
essentially the same downforce as before, much as a pilot might use more flaps.
In fact, the "Pocono pruning," as the operation was called, was no
problem at all. The designer of the Andretti, Al Unser and Joe Leonard cars
simply snipped three inches from each end to meet the limit.