Johnny Rutherford’s 1974 Indianapolis 500 winning car on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. (Johnson photograph)

The 58th Indianapolis 500 was held on Sunday May 26, 1974. Johnny Rutherford charged from 25th starting position to win his first of his three Indy victories. It was the lowest starting position for a winner since Louis Meyer in 1936 (28th). Only twelve months displaced from the tragic 1973 race, the 1974 race was run relatively clean with no major accidents or injuries. Sweeping changes had come about at Indy, involving new rules, safety improvements, as well as race scheduling.

During Time Trials, a controversy erupted whereby several entries charged that they were not provided with an opportunity to make a qualifying attempt. Qualifying had been reduced from four days down to two days (in response to the ongoing energy crisis) and rain threw a heavy curveball into the already tight schedule. Qualifying closed with the traditional 33 cars comprising the starting grid, and all of the pre-race favorites had made the field. But as many as eleven cars were left waiting in line at the 6 o’clock gun. A protest was subsequently filed, followed by a federal court injunction request, to give certain drivers a fair chance to still qualify for the race. The protest was denied, and the injunction was thrown out on a technicality. In 2024, it will mark fifty years since one of the less-remembered controversies in Indy 500 history.


Rule changes

Following the 1973 race, several rules changes were implemented, some in time for that year’s Pocono 500 in June. By May 1974, rear wings were reduced in size from 64 inches to 43 inches. On-board fuel capacity was reduced from 70 gallons to 40 gallons, and fuel tanks were only allowed to be mounted on the left side of the car (with the exception of a 2-1/2 gallon pick-up tank). The total fuel allotment for the 500 miles was reduced from 375 gallons to 280 gallons. During time trials, all cars were required to carry a pop-off valve to control turbocharger “boost.” Maximum boost levels were set at 80 inHG. These rule changes resulted in a speed reduction of about 8-10 mph.

In addition to car changes, numerous safety improvements were made to the track. The outside wall was raised, the pit lane was lengthened, and the entrance to the pits was extended all the way back to turn four.

Schedule changes

The pit entrance was widened in 1974. Screenshot from the 1974 ABC telecast.

In 1974, the ongoing energy crisis prompted changes to the race schedule. Earlier in the year, NASCAR reacted by cutting their races distances by 10%. The 1974 Daytona 500 was run for a distance of only 180 laps/450 miles. The 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring were cancelled outright. Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials did not want to alter the traditional 500-mile race distance, and instead made other changes to the schedule to reduce fuel consumption.

Prior to 1974, the opening day of practice was traditionally scheduled for May 1. More aptly described, the track was customarily ‘made available for practice’ on or no later than May 1st. In some years, it was earlier (roughly two weeks prior to Pole Day), which put it as early as April 28 in some years. For 1974, USAC opted to eliminate one week of practice.

Opening Day was set for Monday May 6. Time Trials was reduced from four days down to two days. In addition, practice would open at 11 a.m. each day instead of 9 a.m. In general, the schedule changes were well-received. In subsequent years, Opening Day would stay on the weekend prior to Pole Day. However, in 1975, four days of time trials were reinstated.

Older qualifying rules

Some of the problems that arose in 1974 stem from various rule changes that had been made in previous years. Prior to 1965, there was no set qualifying order. On Pole Day, cars would line up in the qualifying line in a first-come, first-served order. It was not uncommon for teams to even start claiming their spots in line the night before. The queue would typically stretch down the pit lane and into Gasoline Alley. Inevitably, there would be cars and crews scrambling around, leading to collisions, unfair situations, and sometimes heated exchanges. The rush to be first in line – and get to qualify in what was normally considered the best track conditions – was a race in itself.

After sometimes chaotic situation, the officials decided to bring some order. Starting in 1965, the qualifying order for Pole Day would be set by a blind draw. Each car on the entry list (at least those intending to make a qualifying attempt) would take part in the draw held on Friday evening. This draw set the qualifying order, but did not necessarily guarantee a car/driver the opportunity to make a qualifying attempt. It also did not (yet) guarantee that each car/driver would have an opportunity to make an attempt in the pole round.

In both 1969 and 1970, rain interrupted Pole Day qualifying. In 1969, Jigger Sorois famously made the first qualifying attempt (and his crew waved him off after three laps). Minutes later, rain closed the track for the day. Had the crew not waved him off, he would have been the only qualifier on Pole Day – and might have been declared the pole position winner. The rules at the time left very little room for interpretation. The fastest driver at the end of the first day of time trials won the pole. In 1970, rain closed the track on Pole Day at 3:42 p.m. Several cars were left waiting in line, having not yet gotten a their turn. USAC deemed them ineligible for the pole, and they were forced to be Second Day qualifiers.

In 1971, a new rule was put into place where all cars that took part in the qualifying draw Friday evening would have the opportunity to make at least one qualifying attempt during the Pole round, regardless if the Pole round were to be interrupted by rain and/or pushed into another day(s). This rule established the familiar policy that the pole position went to the fastest qualifier at the end of the first day (“Pole Day”) or the first trip through the qualifying draw order – whichever came last. As long as the cars/drivers presented themselves in the qualifying line at the appropriate time, the pole round would not end until the last car in the draw had their “guaranteed” turn in line. In abbreviated or expedited sessions, if a car/driver waved off their guaranteed run, had an incomplete run (crash or mechanical failure), took warm-up laps but failed to take the green flag, or failed to appear in line to begin with, their “guaranteed” attempt (at least for the Pole round) would be forfeited. Subsequently, this rule was invoked several times, including 1978, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1994, and 1995. In 1978 and 1983, the entire first weekend of time trials was rained out – pushing pole qualifying to the third day. In both 1981 and 1990, on-and-off rain interrupted the pole round, causing it to stretch across three days. In 2003, Saturday was a complete wash out, and Indy Racing League officials elected to treat Sunday as a full Pole Day (not just ‘one trip through the line’).

On Pole Day 1991, a Newman-Haas crew member waves a green flag to signify that driver Mario Andretti is intending to start his qualifying attempt. (Screenshot from Legends of the Brickyard)

As was the case for many years, all cars were permitted up to three attempts. If the crew decided to “wave off” before receiving the checkered flag, one attempt would be charged. However, if the driver went out for his warm-up laps, but returned to the pits prior to taking the green flag, an attempt would not be charged. A new rule for 1974 provided that a crew member for the car would be stationed up at the north end of the pit lane to wave a green flag (to indicate the desire to start the attempt). Previously, the driver himself would hold up his arm. This was deemed unsafe, hard to judge, and increasingly difficult to do due to rising speeds and the confines of the cockpit. Also, the crew member would be given a yellow flag. If the crew was unsatisfied with the run, they could “wave off” the run at any time (before the car crossed the finish line) by simply waving the yellow flag.

USAC at the time, also had a rule whereby every car on the entry list bearing a final certification sticker was guaranteed at least one opportunity to make a qualifying attempt (the day which that attempt was made was irrelevant) provided that:

  1. It is presented to the qualifying line before the end of the final period of practice
  2. No car making a second attempt gets to the line ahead of a first-timer
  3. There is no “break” in the qualifying line

New for 1974 was the availability and use of a jet dryer to facilitate drying the track. USAC partnered with Technology Products and the Air National Guard to try out an experimental, propane-burning blower, mounted to the front of an army truck. The machine had previously been employed to melt snow off of runways in Minnesota. The truck was expected to make about four laps per hour to help dry the groove, and quicken the drying process.

Special qualifying format

USAC scheduled Time Trials for two days – Saturday May 11 and Saturday May 18. If the first day were to have been completely rained out, plans were made such that the “First Day” of qualifying would shift to Sunday May 12 (scheduled to be a practice day only). If the second day were to be completely rained out, plans were also made to shift “Second Day” qualifying to Sunday May 19 (originally scheduled for no track activity). However, this was only going to be put into effect if either one of the days were entirely rained out.

During this timeframe, individual cash prizes were offered to the fastest qualifier on each of the four qualifying days. But since there were only two days, there was motivation to make up for it. In an effort to mimic the traditional four days of time trials, USAC decided to split each of the two days into two sessions – an “Early” session and a “Late” session. The “early” session would be scheduled for 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and the “late” session would be from 2:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The First Day/Early Session was slated to be the Pole round. The fastest qualifier during the early session of the first day would win the pole position. The First Day/Late Session qualifiers would line up behind the First Day/Early Session qualifiers, followed by the Second Day/Early Session qualifiers and finally the Second Day/Late Session qualifiers.

Going into qualifying, brand new chief steward Tom Binford was fairly adamant that he was preparing to have the gun fire at 2:30 p.m. to end the Pole round. Observers were quick to note that 3½ hours was cutting it close to be able to get through the qualifying draw order. Even if there were no interruptions, and ideal weather conditions, that provided sufficient time for only 25-30 cars at best. With as many as 46 cars in line, it seemed inevitable that not everyone was going to get out before 2:30 p.m. There was a strong belief that the pole position would not go to the overall fastest car in the field (that in itself was not an anomaly, it could and did happen from time to time). But there was as much concern that numerous fast cars would end up gridded in the back of the pack. This was a safety concern for some who were worried about faster and slower cars on top of each other at the start. Unfortunately, rain threw a wrench into the entire plan and the schedule.

Entry list

The 1974 entry list featured 68 cars, which included primary cars and various back-up cars. By the end of the month, 61 unique cars had arrived and had been seen in the garage area. At least five cars never arrived and/or did not exist. Of the 61 cars at the track, at least 51 recorded practice laps. As was typically the case, as the month wore on, a number of drivers switched cars, and some cars had more than one driver takes laps in it during practice. Some drivers took laps in more than one car, taking time to shake down a back-up, or possibly prepare it for someone else. Various entry list revisions are reflected below as best as possible. By the end of Time Trials, for practical purposes, there were at-most a total of 45 realistic car/driver combinations going after the traditional 33 starting positions.

# Driver Entrant Notes
1 Roger McCluskey Lindsey Hopkins
3 Johnny Rutherford McLaren Cars Ltd.
4 Bill Vukovich II Jerry O’Connell
5 Mario Andretti (W) Vel’s Parnelli Jones
8 Gary Bettenhausen Penske Racing
9 Lloyd Ruby Unlimited Racing
10 No driver A.J. Foyt/Gilmore Racing Foyt back-up car; did not practice
11 Pancho Carter (R) R.L. Fletcher
12 Bobby Unser (W) All American Racers Did not arrive
14 A.J. Foyt (W) A.J. Foyt/Gilmore Racing
15 Al Unser Sr. (W) Vel’s Parnelli Jones
16 Mario Andretti Vel’s Parnelli Jones Back-up car
17 Tom Bigelow Vollstedt Enterprises Practice crash
18 Bill Simpson (R) Richard Beith
19 Mel Kenyon Lindsey Hopkins
20 Gordon Johncock (W) Patrick Racing
21 Jimmy Caruthers R.L. Fletcher
24 Tom Sneva (R) Grant King Racing
25 Jigger Sirois (R) Cicada Racing
26 Bentley Warren Grant King Racing Originally Sneva’s back-up car
27 Tom Bigelow (R) Vollstedt Enterprises
28 Lee Brayton (R) Eisenhour-Brayton Wrecked in practice 5/7
29 Lloyd Ruby Unlimited Racing Practice crash
30 Sam Sessions Smokey Yunick
31 Denny Zimmerman MVS Inc.
32 Billy Vukovich II Jerry O’Connell
33 Salt Walther Walmotor Inc. Did not arrive
38 Bill Puterbaugh (R) Carl Gelhausen
39 Larry Rice (R) Robert LaWarre
40 Wally Dallenbach Patrick Racing
41 Roger McCluskey Lindsey Hopkins
42 Jerry Karl Lindsey Hopkins
44 Dick Simon Dick Simon Ltd.
45 Jim McElreath Fred Gerhardt
46 Jim McElreath Fred Gerhardt McElreath back-up car
48 Bobby Unser (W) All American Racers
51 Jan Opperman (R) Vel’s Parnelli Jones
52 Jerry Karl Lindsey Hopkins
53 Bruce Jacobi (R)
John Cannon (R)
Patrick O’Reilly
55 Jerry Grant R.L. Fletcher
56 Jim Hurtubise Gohr Distributing
58 Eldon Rasmussen (R) Rassmussen Racing
59 Larry Cannon (R) Richard Hoffman
60 Steve Krisiloff Patrick Racing
61 Rick Muther Eisenhour-Brayton
63 Larry McCoy (R) Larry McCoy Sr.
66 No driver Penske Racing Penske back-up car; Did not arrive
67 No driver Jim Robbins Co. Did not practice
68 Mike Hiss Penske Racing
69 John Mahler Roy Wood Racing
70 No driver Racing Associates Did not arrive
73 David Hobbs McLaren Cars Ltd.
74 John Mahler Roy Woods Racing
76 John Cannon (R)
Lee Brayton (R)
Webster Racing
77 Salt Walther Walmotor, Inc.
79 Bob Harkey Lindsey Hopkins
81 No driver Eisenhour-Brayton
82 George Snider J.H. Greer
86 Al Loquasto (R) K & L Racing
87 No driver K & L Racing Did not practice
88 Dick Simon Dick Simon Ltd. Did not practice
89 John Martin Automotive Tech.
91 No driver Frank Curtis Did not arrive
94 Bentley Warren
Johnny Parsons (R)
Vatis Enterprises
95 John Hubbard (R) Vatis Enterprises Did not take rookie test
96 Jim Hurtubise Gohr Distributing Did not practice
97 Mike Mosley Agajanian-Leader Cards
98 Mike Mosley Agajanian-Leader Cards

Qualifying draw

On the evening of Friday May 10, the qualifying draw was held. A total of 46 cars drew for spots. A.J. Foyt drew the coveted first-in-line spot.

  1. #14 A.J. Foyt
  2. #18 Bill Simpson (R)
  3. #82 George Snider
  4. #11 Pancho Carter (R)
  5. #94 Bentley Warren
  6. #19 Mel Kenyon
  7. #48 Bobby Unser
  8. #53 Bruce Jacobi
  9. #60 Steve Krisiloff
  10. #40 Wally Dallenbach
  11. #61 Rick Muther
  12. #10 No driver (A.J. Foyt team backup car)
  13. #30 Sam Sessions
  14. #55 Jerry Grant
  15. #73 David Hobbs (R)
  16. #98 Mike Mosley
  17. #79 Bob Harkey
  18. #46 Jim McElreath
  19. #9 Lloyd Ruby
  20. #21 Jimmy Caruthers
  21. #16 No driver (Mario Andretti back-up car)
  22. #8 Gary Bettenhausen
  23. #32 Billy Vukovich II
  24. #56 Jim Hurtubise
  25. #1 Roger McCluskey
  26. #3 Johnny Rutherford
  27. #97 Mike Mosley
  28. #74 No driver
  29. #51 Jan Opperman (had not yet passed rookie test)
  30. #24 Tom Sneva (R)
  31. #20 Gordon Johncock
  32. #68 Mike Hiss
  33. #59 Larry Cannon
  34. #15 Al Unser Sr.
  35. #69 John Mahler
  36. #77 Salt Walther
  37. #4 Bill Vukovich II
  38. #86 Al Loquasto
  39. #44 Dick Simon
  40. #27 Tom Bigelow (R)
  41. #45 Jim McElreath
  42. #42 Jerry Karl
  43. #5 Mario Andretti
  44. #89 John Martin
  45. #25 Jigger Sirois (R)
  46. #76 John Cannon

The following cars on the entry list did not participate in the Pole Day qualifying draw. Most of the cars were back-up cars, and a couple were rookies that were not yet eligible to make an attempt. Cars that never arrived at the track are omitted.

  1. #17 Tom Bigelow (back-up car)
  2. #26 Tom Sneva (back-up car)
  3. #28 Lee Brayton (crashed on May 7)
  4. #29 Lloyd Ruby (back-up car)
  5. #31 Denny Zimmerman
  6. #38 Bill Puterbaugh
  7. #39 Larry Rice (did not pass rookie test)
  8. #41 Roger McCluskey (back-up car)
  9. #52 Jerry Karl (back-up car)
  10. #58 Eldon Rasmussen (not delivered to track until May 13)
  11. #63 Larry McCoy
  12. #67 No driver
  13. #81 No driver
  14. #87 Al Loquasto (back-up car)
  15. #88 Dick Simon (back-up car)
  16. #95 John Hubbard (did not pass rookie test)
  17. #96 Jim Hurtubise (back-up car)

By the end of the second week, USAC would report that 51 total cars were certified for qualifying.

Time trials

Saturday May 11

The first day of Time Trials dawned sunny, but with a 60%-70% chance of rain. During the morning practice session, pole contender Johnny Rutherford blew an engine. His car was wheeled back to Gasoline Alley and the crew went to work on an engine change. Al Unser’s car also stalled out on the track with engine trouble. At approximately 10 a.m., A.J. Foyt set the fastest practice lap of the month (192.513 mph), establishing himself as the favorite for the pole.

A.J. Foyt pulls away for his qualifying attempt. Screenshot from Indy 500 The Classics

Qualifying for the “First Day/Early Session” session began on-time at 11 a.m. A.J. Foyt was the coveted first car in the field. Both Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser were deemed ineligible to take their drawn spots in line because their cars were not ready at 11 a.m. Apparently they were instructed to push their cars to the back of the line. They were understandably angry, and it was curious to some that a so-called “11 a.m. rule” even existed. Nevertheless, both Rutherford (McLaren) and Unser (VPJ) obliged. Even without a rain interruption, their chances of getting to the front of the line before 2:30 p.m. (and having a shot at the pole) were pretty much impossible.

QA Time # Driver Lap 1 Lap 2 Lap 3 Lap 4 Average
1 11:05 am 14 A.J. Foyt 192.555 192.226 191.489 190.275 191.632
2 11:13 am 18 Bill Simpson (R) 182.519 181.452 180.072 180.144 181.041
3 11:22 am 82 George Snider 186.355 183.899 183.262 182.519 183.993
4 11:30 am 11 Pancho Carter (R) 181.050 181.196 179.856 180.325 180.605
11:38 am 94 Bentley Warren Pulled in before taking green flag
19 Mel Kenyon Car not presented to the line
5 11:40 am 48 Bobby Unser 186.220 185.759 185.071 183.673 185.176
53 No driver Car not presented to the line
6 11:47 am 60 Steve Krisiloff 182.704 182.667 182.223 182.482 182.519
7 11:58 am 40 Wally Dallenbach 190.718 190.074 188.838 189.115 189.683
61 Rick Muther Car not presented to the line
10 No driver Car not presented to the line
30 No driver Car not presented to the line
8 12:06 pm 55 Jerry Grant 182.704 180.941 181.708 181.781 181.781
9 12:14 pm 73 David Hobbs (R) 184.461 185.071 185.071 184.729 184.833
10 12:21 pm 98 Mike Mosley 185.720 185.185 185.338 185.033 185.319

Immediately after Mosley’s run, at 12:25 p.m., the yellow light came on for rain. A three-hour rain delay ensued. During the red flag, numerous fans and rowdies (including streakers) from the infamous “Snake Pit” invaded the track at the south end. On the mainstretch, another streaker ran out onto the track and proceeded to climb the flagstand. He snatched one of the flags from starter Pat Vidan, then fell back to the ground. He was arrested, and prompted police to beef up law enforcement.

The infamous flag stand streaker – Pole Day 1974.
(Russ Thompson collection)

After a delay of 3 hours and 6 minutes, the rain had stopped and the track was dried. Police successfully cleared the course of fans, and the track was ready to go. Qualifying resumed at 3:31 p.m. with Lloyd Ruby the next car in line. With as many as 30 cars still in the qualifying line, the plan to conduct Saturday as two sessions was destined to be scrapped.

QA Time # Driver Lap 1 Lap 2 Lap 3 Lap 4 Average
79 Bob Harkey Car not presented to the line
46 Jim McElreath Car not presented to the line
11 3:31 pm 9 Lloyd Ruby 182.113 182.260 181.050 181.378 181.699
12 3:41 pm 21 Jimmy Caruthers 184.653 185.300 183.786 182.482 184.049
16 No driver Car not presented to the line
13 3:49 pm 8 Gary Bettenhausen 185.109 185.147 184.200 183.524 184.492
14 3:57 pm 32 Billy Vukovich II 181.525 183.076 183.262 182.149 182.500
56 Jim Hurtubise Car not presented to the line
1 Roger McCluskey Car not presented to the line
3 Johnny Rutherford Car not presented to the line (blown engine)
97 Mike Mosley Car not presented to the line
74 No driver Car not presented to the line
51 Jan Opperman (R) Car not presented to the line
15 4:13 pm 24 Tom Sneva (R) 186.220 185.912 184.805 183.673 185.147

Tom Sneva initially pulled out for his first qualifying attempt at 4:08 p.m., but rain started falling during his warm-up lap. He came back to the pits and waited for three minutes until officials dispatched him again. He took the green flag at 4:11 p.m., and after he completed his run, a heavy rain began to fall.

Only five cars had a chance to go out after the track re-opened at 3:31 p.m. It managed to stay open for only 42 minutes. The track was officially closed for the day at 4:20 p.m. As many as 16 cars from the original draw were still waiting in line. A.J. Foyt led the day, and the provisional starting grid was as follows:

Row Inside Middle Outside
1 A.J. Foyt Wally Dallenbach Mike Mosley
2 Bobby Unser Tom Sneva (R) David Hobbs (R)
3 Gary Bettenhausen Jimmy Caruthers George Snider
4 Steve Krisiloff Billy Vukovich II Jerry Grant
5 Lloyd Ruby Bill Simpson (R) Pancho Carter (R)

Since they were able to get more than halfway through the original qualifying draw, USAC deemed it unnecessary to conduct any time trials on Sunday May 12. While they were tentatively reserving Sunday (which was also Mothers Day) as a rain date, that was only going to be used if Saturday was a complete washout. Per the rules put in place in 1971, pole qualifying would pick up where it left at 11 a.m. on Saturday May 18.

Practice – Week 2

The teams went back to work during the second week of practice. Sunday (May 12) was a normal practice day, but only eleven cars took laps. For a few days, media attention focused on Wally Dallenbach of Patrick Racing. His #40 Eagle/Offy qualified (tentatively) second, but was utilizing a controversial “king-sized” turbocharger. Despite a protest by the team, USAC officials ruled that Dallenbach would be required to start the race with the larger turbo. The team had wanted to switch out the turbo for with a conventional, more fuel-efficient, model. Chief steward Tom Binford, in his ruling, explained that the intent of the rules is to prevent a car from qualifying and racing in significantly different performance configurations.

Rain washed out practice on most of Monday and nearly all of Friday. Heavy winds on Thursday affected practice time as well. Despite the lack of practice time during the week, USAC made a point to announce that no make-up practice time would be provided on Saturday morning. They planned to stick to their original 90-minute practice session (9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.) and not add any additional time. The forecast for Saturday was questionable, and by Friday evening, had gotten worse. Rain continued to fall overnight.

Saturday May 18

Time trials resumed on Saturday May 18. Due to overnight rain, the track was damp and morning practice was delayed. The decision to not add any extra “make-up” practice on Saturday morning was moot, and the track did not open until 10:32 a.m. anyway. Chief steward Tom Binford announced that a minimum of thirty minutes of practice would be provided prior to qualifications. That was down from the 90 minutes originally scheduled. Collectively almost ten hours of practice time had been lost to rain for the week. The numerous non-qualified cars would have to make their runs with minimal practice laps on Saturday, as there was also not expected to be any breaks in the line – and thus no free practice time during the afternoon.

When the track finally opened up for practice, 29 cars came out of the pits “like bees out of a hive“. No incidents were reported.

The cars that were still in the original qualifying line on the previous Saturday (for the pole round) were put back in line to start the day. USAC officials were still planning to conduct the day as a “two-session” method. The pole round cars would go first, followed by the “Second Day/Early Session” lasting until 2:30 p.m., followed by a “Second Day/Late Session” from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Like the previous weekend, rain would again throw a wrench into the plans.

QA Time # Driver Lap 1 Lap 2 Lap 3 Lap 4 Average
16 11:17 am 20 Gordon Johncock 186.567 186.490 186.335 185.759 186.287
17 11:30 am 68 Mike Hiss 187.422 187.891 187.227 187.422 187.490
59 Larry Cannon Car not presented to the line
15 Al Unser Sr. Not eligible for pole; blew engine on 5/11
18 11:35 am 69 John Mahler 179.497 180.687 Waved off
19 11:43 am 77 Salt Walther 183.711 184.124 184.162 183.711 183.927
4 Bill Vukovich II Car not presented to the line
11:51 am 86 Al Loquasto Pulled in before taking green flag
20 11:59 am 44 Dick Simon 182.778 184.275 185.875 185.109 184.502
21 12:06 pm 27 Tom Bigelow (R) 181.452 179.856 179.784 179.497 180.144
45 Jim McElreath Car not presented to the line
22 12:12 pm 42 Jerry Karl 182.593 182.113 181.269 179.856 181.452
23 12:18 pm 5 Mario Andretti 186.645 186.374 185.644 185.452 186.027
24 12:26 pm 89 John Martin 181.855 180.361 180.000 179.426 180.406
25 Jigger Sirois (R) Car not presented to the line
76 No driver Car not presented to the line

At approximately 12:30 p.m., the original qualifying draw for the Pole Day (“First Day/First Session”) qualifiers had reached its end. The pole position round was over, with A.J. Foyt officially winning the pole position. Mike Hiss squeezed his way on to the front row, and John Mahler waved off after two laps due to engine trouble. A total of 26 cars were “presented” to the front of the line during the drawn-out pole round. Two cars pulled into the pits on their warm-up laps without taking the green flag, and 24 cars officially took the green flag to start their qualifying attempt. Only one car waved off. At 12:30 p.m., the field was filled to 23 cars, leaving ten spots open on the grid.

Shortly after completing his qualifications run, 1973 winner Gordon Johncock’s car was impounded by the officials for further testing and inspection. Like his teammate Wally Dallenbach, Johncock was utilizing a controversial “king-sized” turbocharger. USAC officials were concerned that his engine was exceeding the allowable turbocharger “boost” pressure of 80 inHg. Johncock’s 4th-place starting position – and his chances to even be in the race – were in jeopardy, pending the findings of the investigation. At 9 o’clock on Saturday night, three hours after Time Trials had closed, USAC announced they were allowing Johncock’s car to start the race.

Combining the 46 cars that participated in the draw, and the 17 that did not, there were at-most 63 “legitimate” cars in Gasoline Alley. As of 12:30 p.m., 37 cars had not yet gotten their so-called “guaranteed” qualifying attempt. At the conclusion of the pole round, the starting grid was as follows:

Row Inside Middle Outside
1 A.J. Foyt Wally Dallenbach Mike Hiss
2 Gordon Johncock Mario Andretti Mike Mosley
3 Bobby Unser Tom Sneva (R) David Hobbs
4 Dick Simon Gary Bettenhausen Jimmy Caruthers
5 George Snider Salt Walther Steve Krisiloff
6 Billy Vukovich II Jerry Grant Lloyd Ruby
7 Jerry Karl Bill Simpson (R) Pancho Carter (R)
8 John Martin Tom Bigelow

The cars in line intending to be “Second Day” qualifiers were reported to be following:

  1. #61 Rick Muther
  2. #79 Bob Harkey
  3. #46 Jim McElreath
  4. #3 Johnny Rutherford
  5. #56 Jim Hurtubise
  6. #15 Al Unser Sr.
  7. #59 Larry Cannon
  8. #45 No driver
  9. #25 Jigger Sorois
  10. #63 McCoy
  11. #53 John Cannon

At 12:33 p.m., the “Second Day/Early Session” of time trials commenced. Rick Muther was the first “Second Day/Early Session” qualifier. These qualifiers would line up by speed rank behind the qualifiers from the pole round.

QA Time # Driver Lap 1 Lap 2 Lap 3 Lap 4 Average
25 12:33 pm 61 Rick Muther 179.176 180.868 180.396 179.533 179.991
12:43 pm 79 Bob Harkey Pulled in before taking green flag (rain)

The yellow light came on for rain during one of Bob Harkey’s warm-up laps. He returned to the pits to wait out the shower, but the wait would turn into over three hours. It was only 12:45 p.m., and the field was filled to just 24 cars (nine spots were still empty on the grid). Muther’s car was gridded 24th (outside of row 8). He lined up behind the “First Day/Pole Round” qualifiers. At the stroke of 2:30 p.m., Muther was deemed the lone “Second Day/Early Session” qualifier.

The rain caused a delay of 3 hours and 37 minutes. The rain eventually stopped and track was dried. The track reopened for qualifications at 4:20 p.m. Since it was after 2:30 p.m., officials deemed that it was now the “Second Day/Late Session”. Any qualifiers from here on out would line up behind the “First Day/Pole Round” qualifiers and behind the lone “Second Day/Early Session” qualifier (Muther). Only 1 hour and 40 minutes remained until the 6 o’clock gun. Harkey’s car was pushed back to the front of the line.

QA Time # Driver Lap 1 Lap 2 Lap 3 Lap 4 Average
26 4:24 pm 79 Bob Harkey 176.713 176.540 177.270 176.229 176.687
27 4:32 pm 46 Jim McElreath 177.200 178.077 177.620 176.091 177.244
28 4:41 pm 3 Johnny Rutherford 191.123 191.042 190.517 189.115 190.446
29 4:48 pm 56 Jim Hurtubise 182.667 181.781 178.501 178.288 180.288
30 4:56 pm 15 Al Unser Sr. 184.275 184.540 183.824 182.927 183.889
31 5:05 pm 59 Larry Cannon (R) 173.947 173.947 174.081 173.879 173.963

Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser Sr. (both of whom had engine trouble the previous Saturday and missed out on the pole round) qualified strongly. Rutherford (190.446 mph) was the second-fastest car overall in the field, but had to line up 25th – a situation that made him ‘sick’. At 5:07 p.m., Jim McElreath’s team withdrew his already-qualified car (#46). McElreath got into his team’s other car (#45) to re-qualify.

QA Time # Driver Lap 1 Lap 2 Lap 3 Lap 4 Average
32 5:12 pm 45 Jim McElreath 177.620 177.725 176.852 176.922 177.279
33 5:21 pm 25 Jigger Sirois 173.812 174.757 172.944 171.953 173.360
5:31 pm 63 Larry McCoy Pulled in before taking green flag
34 5:33 pm 1 Roger McCluskey 180.542 181.378 180.977 181.123 181.005
35 5:43 pm 31 Denny Zimmerman 174.995 173.511 173.010 172.778 173.569

At 5:46 p.m., with the completion of Zimmerman’s run, the field was filled to 33 cars. At this juncture, of the 63 aforementioned “legitimate” entries, 37 had gotten a chance to make their “guaranteed” one attempt. A total of 26 cars had not yet had their “guaranteed” attempt. However, omitting back-up cars belonging to drivers that were already safely in the field, wrecked cars, unassigned cars/drivers, and cars/drivers that had indicated (or otherwise implied) that they were not going out, there were at-most 13 cars waiting to qualify. At least 12 of them were still waiting for their “guaranteed” one qualifying attempt. With only 14 minutes left until the 6 o’clock gun, consternation and confusion was swirling up and down pit lane.

With each qualifying attempt taking on average, upwards of 7-10 minutes, it was going to be impossible to get everyone out before 6 p.m. The question was beginning to be asked if qualifying would be extended beyond the 6 o’clock deadline, or possibly pushed into Monday. Fans in the stands were even reported as yelling for an extension. The 13 waiting cars were as follows (in numerical order):

  • #4 Bill Vukovich II (Jerry O’Connel)
  • #19 Mel Kenyon (Lindsey Hopkins)
  • #30 Sam Sessions (Smokey Yunick)
  • #38 Bill Puterbaugh (Carl Gelhausen)
  • #51 Jan Opperman (Vel’s Parnelli Jones)
  • #53 Bruce Jacobi (Patrick O’Reilly)
  • #58 Eldon Rasmussen (Rassmussen Racing)
  • #63 Larry McCoy (Larry McCoy Sr.)
  • #74 John Mahler (Roy Woods Racing
  • #76 John Cannon (Webster Racing)
  • #86 Al Loquasto (K & L Racing)
  • #94 Johnny Parsons (Vatis Enterprises)
  • #97 Mike Mosley (Agajanian-Leader Cards)

Johnny Parsons had taken over the #94 car from Bentley Warren. A week earlier, that car had originally selected No. 5 in the qualifying draw, but on May 11 Warren pulled in on his warm-up lap before taking the green flag. By rule he was not charged with an “attempt”. Parsons’ crew got the car to front of the qualifying line. Chief steward Tom Binford declared that since the #94 was now presenting to the front of the line as a ‘second-timer’, that the qualifying line was “broken”. Parsons qualified with a strong 180.252 mph average. After two previous years failing to qualify, Parsons was greeted in the pits by his father, Johnnie Parsons – the 1950 “500” winner.

Johnny Parsons pulling into the pits at the conclusion of his run. Screenshot from Indy 500 The Classics.
QA Time # Driver Lap 1 Lap 2 Lap 3 Lap 4 Average Notes
36 5:51 pm 94 Johnny Parsons (R) 180.650 180.759 179.319 180.288 180.252 Bumps #25 Sirois
37 5:58 pm 51 Jan Opperman 176.644 176.125 175.884 176.091 176.186 Bumps #31 Zimmerman
Jan Opperman finishes his run Screenshot from Indy 500 The Classics

Jan Opperman got out onto the track with less than two minutes remaining. Sam Sessions was the next car waiting in line. In incensed crowd was realizing what was unfolding in front of them. As Opperman was going through turn one on his first lap, an official fired the traditional 6 o’clock gun. An angry fan threw a bottle at him. Opperman bumped Denny Zimmerman and qualifying came to a close. Zimmerman was assigned as the First Alternate. The cars waiting in line were reported as follows (specific order unconfirmed):

  • #30 Sam Sessions (Smokey Yunick)
  • #38 Bill Puterbaugh (Carl Gelhausen)
  • #74 John Mahler (Roy Wood Racing)
  • #58 Eldon Rasmussen (Rassmussen Racing)
  • #19 Mel Kenyon (Lindsey Hopkins)
  • #26 Bentley Warren (Grant King Racing)
  • #63 Larry McCoy (Larry McCoy Sr.)
  • #76 Lee Brayon/John Cannon (Webster Racing)
  • #86 Al Loquasto (K & L Racing)
  • #69 John Mahler (Roy Wood Racing)

Almost immediately, owners for the cars still waiting in line surrounded track vice-president Joe Cloutier, and demanded that qualifying be extended. Cloutier refused, and explained that Johnny Parsons “broke” the qualifying line, and thus they were simply out of luck. The owners were furious, stating that USAC never informed them what time they had to get in line for their “guaranteed” attempt to be recognized and honored. Though they were physically in the qualifying line, they argued that no effort was made by anyone (particularly the officials) to make sure that the “first-timers” were lined up in such a fashion that they were ahead of “second-timers”. Furthermore, owners claimed they were promised by officials on pit lane that their “guaranteed” attempts were still going to be honored, as long as they were in (and stayed in) line.

With the rain since pushed through, it had turned into a rather pleasant evening weather-wise. It was still an hour and fifty-five minutes until sunset (7:55 p.m.) and some fans in the stands were yelling “one more hour!” Later on, it was suggested even that Opperman – who realized he was going to be the last car to get out, took “four easy laps just to get in the field“, knowing that he had no chance of being bumped. On the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network – which was broadcasting live during the final hour – Sid Collins signed off expressing some uncertainty as to what was unfolding.

Cloutier tried to calm the situation by allowing the “left-out” cars to circulate a petition around the garage area to re-open qualifying. The crowd eventually broke up, and fans headed for the exits. The cars were wheeled back to Gasoline Alley, and for the moment, it appeared the disputing was over. Out of a scheduled 14 hours (840 minutes) across two days, rain had cut Time Trials to only 298 minutes. The starting grid for race day was set as follows:

Row Inside Middle Outside
1 A.J. Foyt Wally Dallenbach Mike Hiss
2 Gordon Johncock Mario Andretti Mike Mosley
3 Bobby Unser Tom Sneva (R) David Hobbs
4 Dick Simon Gary Bettenhausen Jimmy Caruthers
5 George Snider Salt Walther Steve Krisiloff
6 Billy Vukovich II Jerry Grant Lloyd Ruby
7 Jerry Karl Bill Simpson (R) Pancho Carter (R)
8 John Martin Tom Bigelow Rick Muther
9 Johnny Rutherford Al Unser Sr. Roger McCluskey
10 Jim Hurtubise Johnny Parsons Jim McElreath
11 Bob Harkey Jan Opperman Larry Cannon

First alternate: Denny Zimmerman
Second Alternate: Jigger Sorois

Sunday May 19

Roy Woods Racing brought in Connecticut attorney Wright Hugus Jr. to negotiate a plan to allow at least six (or as many as 11) of the “left-out” cars another opportunity to qualify. The owners filed an official protest with USAC, which was swiftly denied. Chief steward Tom Binford and USAC officials met with the principals on Sunday to come up with some proposals. Binford meanwhile granted a 25-hour extension for the the “left-out” cars to circulate their petition to re-open qualifying. So far signatures representing twelve of the qualified cars were on the petition, with assurances from several others that they were interested.

As part of their arguments, Hugus and Woods pointed out that on Saturday morning, USAC officials had the qualifying order mostly confused from the get go. They started off logging the first four or five cars as they were being pushed through the pit gate (the gate that separated Gasoline Alley from the pit lane) as the first cars cars in line. They provided no clear instructions or procedure for lining up, and made no effort or attempt to distinguish cars that were “first-timers” versus “second-timers”. Furthermore, they apparently stopped doing it that way after only a few minutes, and instead cars just started lining up on their own further down the pit lane. It was disorganization that likely allowed the #94 car to get in line before several “first-timers”.

Uninterested in taking any further action, and accepting their fate, Smokey Yunick, owner of the #30 (Sam Sessions) and his team went home.

Monday May 20

Attorney Wight Hugus represented the “left-out six” cars. Image from The Indianapolis Star (5/21/1974)

Signatures were obtained from 25 of the 35 qualified cars (33 starters and 2 alternates), with verbal agreements from 7 more. Larry “Boom Boom” Cannon’s owner Richard Hoffman refused, ostensibly because Cannon was the car “on the Bubble” (the 33rd and slowest car in the field), and did not want to do anything to jeopardize their spot in the field. Tom Binford maintained that the petition would have to be unanimous for qualifying to be re-opened.

At 12 noon, attorney Wright Hungus held a press conference along with local attorney Don A. Tabbert. Hugus was representing four owners serving six cars: Roy Woods Racing, George Morris, Webster Racing, and Carl Gehlhausen. Hugus made two proposals to USAC officials. The first was to add a 12th row (re-instate the two alternates; and allow one qualifier from six “left-out” cars) for a field of 36 cars (up from the traditional 33). Any car in already in the field of 33 was protected and could not be bumped. Another more contentious proposal was to let the “left-out six” cars qualify, and bump anyone. Even though Woods offered to pay the bumped cars any money they would lose, it was an unpopular idea that was promptly rejected.

With their protest denied, their petition falling short of the required signatures, and officials not giving up any ground, Hugus announced he was going to court to file an injunction. Joe Cloutier said, on behalf of the Speedway, that their “hands were tied” and they could not change (the rules) without getting all qualified cars to agree.

Tuesday May 21

Hugus and Tabbert filed a lawsuit, on behalf of six owners, in Marion County Superior Court seeking $1 million in damages and at least one opportunity for each of their cars to make a qualifying attempt for the race. Hugus stated that USAC and IMS were acting in bad faith, as they did not entertain their proposals, and made no effort to provide any counterproposals.

Car owner Lindsey Hopkins, who elected not to take part in the lawsuit, expressed his anger at the situation. He managed to get three of his cars in the field, but noticed as the day went along that there was “no way” that all of the cars were going to get a fair attempt. He said he protested up and down pit lane trying to get a straight answer out of anyone, as well as trying to formulate a compromise. He said that the idea of the checking the cars at the garage gate – to put them in the qualifying line – was unusual and not told or distributed in any bulletin. He only found out about the procedure after his driver Roger McCluskey just so happened to overhear about it while they were pushing their cars out to the pits early Saturday morning.

Wednesday May 22

Judge Frank Stymmes Jr. Image from The Indianapolis Star (11/13/1974)

Marion County Superior Court Judge Frank A. Symmes Jr. presided over a hearing at 9:30 a.m. regarding the lawsuit filed Tuesday. The suit called for six cars to be allowed to make a qualifying attempt, for an injunction to be put into effect to halt the running of the race until they are allowed to qualify, and for damages of at least $1 million. The defendants named were the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. and United States Auto Club (USAC). Attorney James Donadio represented the Speedway, and Henry C. Ryder represented USAC.

Initially seven plaintiffs were named as part of the lawsuit:

  • Roy Woods Racing (#69 and #74 for John Mahler)
  • Rasmussen Racing Products (#58 Eldon Rassmussen)
  • Carl Gehlhausen (#39 Larry Rice)
  • Larry McCoy Sr. (#63 Larry McCoy)
  • K&L Racing (#86 Al Loquasto)
  • Grant King Racing (#26 Bentley Warren)
  • Marvin Webster (#76 Lee Brayton)

However, Grant King sent a telegram stating he did not authorize his participation and requested his name be struck from the suit. He was quoted as saying “I don’t like the way the Speedway has handled things, but I’m not going to court to tell them what I have already told them in private”. Marvin Webster, who supported the suit and said USAC “[had] it coming to them”, nevertheless also withdrew his name from the list of plaintiffs. Judge Symmes ordered them dropped from the litigation.

The suit alleged that USAC “failed to comply with and follow their own supplementary regulation 5(a)”. The pertinent part of the rule in question was as follows:
“If at all times during the posted qualification time there has been a car at the line properly presented for qualifications for the first time when posted qualifications end, qualification time will be extended until there is not a car at the line properly presented for the first time except that any extension shall end if it might interfere with preparation for the race.”

The suit went on to enumerate numerous additional allegations against USAC and IMS.

  • They “failed to comply with other prescribed rules and regulations and customs and usage regarding conduct of qualification trials…”
  • They “did not allow sufficient time for each entered car to attempt to qualify”
  • They “did not allow sufficient practice time before each qualification session”
  • “(A)d hoc regulations were put into effect” that were said to be “arbitrary, capricious, and placed the right of the plaintiffs in jeopardy” and that the “ad hoc rules and decisions were not properly communicated to entrants”.

USAC subsequently released a counterstatement addressing the respective status of the six cars in question. Of note, it was stated that the #69 had made one attempt (wave off) on Saturday and was technically in line as a “second-timer”. Car #63 (Larry McCoy) was also noted to have presented to the line once already on Saturday. However, he only took two warm-up laps before pulling in and did not take the green flag to start his guaranteed attempt. It was somewhat ambiguous, but generally understood (whether through a gentlemen’s agreement or established bulletins) that a ‘presentation to the line’ was technically not an attempt (until the driver took the green flag).

USAC also made the bold, but specious statement that “45 cars drew for position in qualifying, and had they maintained their position in line would have been guaranteed a first attempt”. This was mostly immaterial and unsupportable since only 37 cars made it out before 6 o’clock, and it ignored the fact that entries were not required by the rules to participate in the Friday night blind draw in order to be eligible to make a qualifying attempt (and thus receive their one “guaranteed attempt”). The Friday night draw was a tool used only to set the order for the Pole round. It had no bearing on subsequent rounds, or overall qualifying eligibility. With 61 cars in the garage and 51 cars receiving qualifying stickers, the 45 who drew spots on Friday did not represent everyone in attendance.

Opinions around the garage area were mixed. Many seemed to feel that the six “left out” cars were victims of an unfair situation, but that there was little that could be done. Johnny Rutherford – who himself was relegated to be a second day qualifier, said they got the “short end of the stick”, but was not sure whether it was right or wrong. Dan Gurney felt it was unfortunate, but they probably did not have a case.

Mike Delvin, crew chief for Lloyd Ruby said “morally they might have been right, but not legally”. He went on to say that he did not feel they “did their homework in reading the rulebook”, and that placing an injunction to halt the race was “jeopardizing other people” and that they were not “making many friends”.

The plaintiffs subpoenaed 47 witnesses, including Joe Cloutier and chief Stewart Tom Binford. With Binford on the stand, he testified that officials were planning on extending qualifying beyond 6 p.m., up until the moment that Parsons’ car got out onto the track. It was also reiterated that, due to the numerous rain delays, and the fact that each qualifying attempt took an average of 8 minutes, it would have been impossible for all 51 eligible cars to get out prior to 6 o’clock. USAC attorneys moved to postpone the case, requesting a venue change and flippantly called the whole suit a “charade. Judge Symmes overruled and refused to dismiss the case.

The hearing dragged on slowly through the day, and Symmes recessed until Thursday morning.

Thursday May 23

Owners for the “left-out six” cars testified that race officials (in particular, USAC technical inspector Clay Ballinger) reassured them that additional time would be provided for qualifications since rain cut track time from 14 hours to 5 hours. Testimony then established that race officials firmly closed qualifying at 6 p.m. since one car (the #94 Vatis Racing entry of Johnny Parsons) had made a second overall attempt. The hearing ended without ever establishing who authorized the #94 car to get in line and go out ahead of the other cars. Carl Gelhausen testified that Parson’s car was initially behind his car, but was “pushed to a position about eight cars in front of us towards the front of the line”.

Lindsey Hopkins, though not part of the suit, testified on-behalf of the “left-out six”. He said that Joe Cloutier told him the line was broken and to go ‘read the fine print’. Eldon Rassussen testified that the word had gone down the pit lane that qualifying would be extended past 6 p.m. to allow everyone a chance.

At about 2 p.m., after listening to a day and a half of testimony, Judge Frank A. Symmes Jr. dismissed the portion of the lawsuit that sought an injunction to halt/postpone the race. Symmes agreed with the defendants that the “left-out six” cars did not have a right to judicial review because they had failed to exhaust their remedies under USAC rules before going to court. However, Symmes stopped short of throwing out the suit based on its merits.

During testimony, attorney Don Tabbert apparently argued that the reason the “left-out six” owners did not follow through with filing an appeal with USAC (after USAC rejected their protest) was time. The rulebook stated that USAC had thirty days to act on an appeal. The owners believed that if they filed an appeal, USAC would have simply stalled, and not acted on the appeal until well after the running of the race. The race was only six days away, and Tabbert believed that a court injunction was the only way to ensure the issue was acted upon before race day. The judge essentially rejected this line of thinking, insinuating they went against rulebook and entry list protocol.

No court appeal was made due to the lack of time. However, the portion of the suit seeking $1 million in damages was still being pursued. That night, an appeal to USAC was filed at 8:45 p.m.

Friday May 24

USAC announced they were rejecting the appeal on the grounds that it was submitted too late. According to Dick King, director of competition for USAC, the rulebook requires that an appeal be filed by midnight the third day following the incident.

Don Tabbert disagreed, saying the third day should have been considered Thursday, since USAC delivered in writing the denial of the protest on Monday at 11 a.m.; interpreting the word “incident” as the moment that USAC denied the protest. USAC seemingly interpreted the phrase “incident” as the actual on-track proceedings, which took place Saturday evening, hence the Tuesday night deadline.

At this juncture, the controversy came to a halt. The “left-out six” had lost their protest, appeal, and injunction, and were not going to get a chance to qualify for the race. The race went on as scheduled, with Johnny Rutherford charging from 25th starting position to a popular win.

Civil suit

After the injunction request was thrown out, and after USAC denied the official appeal, the five plaintiffs filed a $1 million civil suit in Marion County Superior Court. Later that summer, the case was transferred to Hancock County Superior Court (east of the Indianapolis area). In the spring of 1975, Hancock County Judge Richard T. Payne agreed to proceed with the case, overruling a motion to dismiss the case. The litigation dragged out for more than a year.

On December 2, 1976, after a day and a half of testimony, Judge Payne dismissed the civil suit. Similar to the injunction decision, the suit was dropped on a legal technicality, not on the merits of the case. Payne agreed that the five owners failed to pursue the potential remedies that were available to them directly through USAC. They should have appealed USAC’s decision (and allowed the appeal to be denied) before getting the courts involved.

After almost a year and a half, the controversy was over. Of the teams and drivers involved, most of them would be back and eventually raced in the “500” again.


Nearly five decades later, the controversy from Time Trials in 1974 is seldom discussed. While it made headlines in the local newspapers during race week, it quickly fell out of the news cycle. The 1974 highlight film did not even mention the situation, and as the summer dragged on, most people forgot about it. The Speedway and the officials took note, however, and some changes were in store for 1975 and beyond, to help avoid such a situation again. Time Trials reverted back to four days, and would stay at four days through 1997. Another change/clarification was made, regarding “guaranteed” attempts. First, during qualifying days, all teams would set up their pit equipment in pit stalls north of the start/finish line. This would provide better room for the qualifying queue area and technical inspection area. It would also eliminate some of the overlap that existed between pit stalls and the qualifying line – and prevent cars from cutting in line. It was reiterated/clarified that every car that drew for a spot in the qualifying line (typically held Friday evening) would be guaranteed the opportunity to make an attempt during the pole round. Furthermore, the draw results (recorded on paper) would be the official order. Any so-called “11 a.m. rule” that may have existed was eliminated, and drivers/cars were simply required to get in the qualifying line when their turn. This was especially practical for cars that drew a very late spot in the order. A car/driver no longer had to be physically in line at exactly 11 a.m. to confirm their spot in the line. A car/driver needed only to time their queuing such that they got out to the pit lane, went through technical inspection, and pushed to the front of the line when their spot was called. If the car/driver passed up on their turn in line, waved off, or pulled in during a warm-up lap (before taking the green flag), their “guaranteed opportunity” was henceforth forfeited. An attempt (of the allotted three) would only be charged in the event of a wave off (driver took the green flag).

Despite the protest being rejected, the appeal being denied, and the lawsuits being tossed, there still appears to have been some merit to their case. Of the “left-out six” cars, the case can definitely be made that at least four never got a fair chance to qualify. That does not include at least two additional cars from owners that did not participate in the protest/suit. The way Speedway and USAC officials reacted, it seems obvious they knew things had gone awry. They were able to hide behind the rulebook and entry list – which is, in essence, a binding contract. They were also aided by the fact that the “left-out six” usurped the proper protocol.

Historian Donald Davidson, who was present at the track that day, years later expressed dissatisfaction on the way the whole situation was handled. He opined that he was convinced there some “inside information” as to how Johnny Parsons’ mysteriously car got pushed ahead of some of the so-called “first-timers”. In any case, poor planning, poor execution, poor communication, and poor weather, all prevented multiple cars from a fair chance to qualify. Nearly all of the fault points towards the officials. In the end, the rulebook stipulated that the Speedway had the authority to fill the field as they saw fit, and they had the ability – even without getting signatures from the other owners – to re-open Time Trials and extend it beyond the 6 o’clock deadline. They chose not to.

Five years later, in 1979, a controversy regarding illegal turbocharger inlet pipes created a similar stir during qualifying. In that year, after several days of protest, officials arraged for a special last-chance qualifying session (on the day before the race) to allow certain unqualified cars another chance to qualify. Two cars met the requirements, and the 1979 race had a 35-car field.

Additional works cited

  • Fox, Jack C., “The Illustrated History of the Indianapolis 500”, Fourth Edition, Carl Hungness Publishing, 1994.
  • Popely, Rick, “Indianapolis 500 Chronicle”, Publications International Ltd., 1998.
  • “The Talk of Gasoline Alley”, 1070-WIBC-AM: May 27, 2005
  • “The Talk of Gasoline Alley”, 1070-WFNI-AM: May 18, 2009
  • “The Talk of Gasoline Alley”, 1070-WFNI-AM: May 16, 2015
  • “The Talk of Gasoline Alley”, 1070-WFNI-AM: May 6, 2016