1976: New Buildings, a Very Short Race, and an End to a Rainy Era

The modern face of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway began to take shape in America’s Bicentennial year. The current IMS Museum building opened, allowing for more old cars to be displayed. The building at the corner of 16th and Georgetown would become office space for IMS administration. The Speedway honored the new building with a rendition on the cover of the program.  A photo (below) in the program shows a much different space than we see now.

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Also new in the infield just west of the new Museum is the Louis Chevrolet memorial. The project had an estimated cost of $40,000. It would cost at least five times that today.

I believe this program was one of the last to have a memorial page, honoring drivers and others associated with the track and the race who had died since the last race. Three former winners grace the page, two who died early. Rene Thomas, winner of the 1914 500, died the previous September and at age 89. Other winners on the page are  1966 champion Graham Hill, killed in a plane crash in November 1975; and 1972 winner Mark Donohue, who died of injuries suffered in a testing crash in Austria.

USAC has what seems like a larger than usual presence in the program. There is an ad inviting fans to join the club and a feature by Donald Davidson recognizing the USAC’s 21st year. The article  includes the 1976 schedule:

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Other stories are a nice tribute to Mary “Mom” Unser, mother of Bobby, Al,  Louis, and Jerry, Jr., who died of a heart attack the previous December.  Mary was popular for her famous chili, which she cooked every May for the paddock.

I always enjoy looking through the old programs for the ads for products no longer in use. Champion spark plugs, Monroe shock absorbers, CAM2 racing oil, and Standard oil are immortalized in print.

The score sheet insert is one I had never seen before. It is a pamphlet which includes thumbnail biographies of the drivers, a brief history of IMS, and the current USAC Championship point standings, plus a brief explanation of the points system. Going into Memorial Day, Gordon Johncock led the standings with 530 points. Johnny Rutherford was second with 400 points.

The winner of the 500 received 1,000 points and the 12th place finisher took home 50. Points were not awarded outside the top 12.

 

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The race itself turned out to be the shortest in history. Rain stopped the event after 102 laps, 255 miles. The field completed just one lap more than the required distance to make it an official race. Johnny Rutherford won from the pole, leading 48 laps. It was Rutherford’s second win in three years. It was the last race won by a four cylinder engine.

1976 was the third rain shortened race in a four year period. The 1973 race was postponed two days and ran only 133 laps, and in 1975, rain halted the race after 174 circuits.  An odd statistic- the back to back rain curtailments  gave each winner- Bobby Unser won in 1975-  their second 500 title. There have been just two rain shortened races since then, in 2004 and 2007.

Some races have had starts delayed because of weather and then run to completion the same day.   Others have had postponements of a day or two. The longest postponement was in 1986, when the race ran the Saturday following its original Sunday date.

Later this week, my season previews will be on Wildfire Sports. The Pit Window will share news and commentary on the week’s Indycar happenings as well.

 

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