MILLER: The 1970s – a decade in headlines

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MILLER: The 1970s – a decade in headlines

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MILLER: The 1970s – a decade in headlines

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1975

After two seconds and a third as a driver, Gurney finally finds Victory Lane at Indianapolis with Bobby Unser in a race called after 174 laps because of a monsoon.

A half-page ad in SSN says: “Let’s give automobile racing back to the racers” and asks fans for contributions to get Ralph Ligouri a good ride for the 1976 Indianapolis 500.

Donohue succumbs to head injuries after crashing during practice for the Austrian Grand Prix. He had come out of a brief retirement at age 38 to lead Roger Penske’s F1 effort.

Promising open-wheeler B.J. Swanson dies after suffering massive head and internal injuries at the start of the USAC/SCCA Formula 5000 race at Mid-Ohio.

Tiny Lund is killed in the NASCAR race at Talladega.

Lella Lombardi becomes the first female to ever score points in an F1 race after finishing sixth at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Ligouri takes his quest for a racing budget to the people in 1975.

Mike Mosley wins at Milwaukee and, at age 28, announces his retirement two weeks later, saying: “I wanted to quit a long time ago but so many people wanted me to keep going and it was all I knew how to do.” He’d suffered burns and many broken bones in 1971 and 1972 while charging to the front in an older car.

Jimmy Caruthers finishes third at the Hoosier Hundred and clinches the USAC Silver Crown championship, then dies six weeks later of cancer.

Chris Pook, a travel agent from England, stages a Formula 5000 race on the streets of Long Beach with some of open-wheel racing’s biggest names.

1976

Arlene Hiss becomes the first woman to start an IndyCar race when she takes the green flag in 21st starting spot and finishes 14th, 22 laps behind winner Bobby Unser. “What a joke, it’s a black eye for USAC racing letting her out there,” says Unser afterwards.

Pook brings Formula 1 to Long Beach and begins an eight-year run that produces big crowds and a renaissance of downtown.

Fans donate $11,000 to Ralphie The Racer, but nobody would give the popular 49-year-old USAC veteran a ride and he finally resigns himself to the fact he will never be in the Indy 500.

Janet Guthrie becomes the first woman to pass her driver’s test and attempt to qualify at Indianapolis, but numerous engine failures thwart her chances. A.J. Foyt puts her in one of his Coyotes on the final morning of qualifying and she runs fast enough to make the show. “I did it because Mr. Hulman asked me to,” confesses Super Tex.

Rutherford becomes the first Indy winner to walk to Victory Lane when the race is called after 102 laps, and another big storm unloads just before it is about to resume.

Before the World of Outlaws kicks off in 1978, there is Jan Opperman. The Racing Hippie barnstorms across the country, winning every big sprint car race there is, and even cuts his hair to run Indy for Parnelli in 1974.

But his summer of ’76 is a sight to behold: He wins a USAC sprint show on the high banks at Daytona, then beats Pancho (almost impossible) in a midget race at IRP in a car that never made the feature; another midget race at Little Springfield; and leads the USAC dirt race on the mile at Springfield when his car breaks down.

Opperman then finishes sixth in the IndyCar race at Ontario and flies back for the Hoosier Hundred, where, running second, he is caught up in someone else’s mistake and gets nailed squarely in the cage. He suffers severe head injuries, and while he recovers to drive again, he was never the same old Opp.

Niki Lauda is critically injured during the German Grand Prix and would have burned to death if not for the heroic rescue from fellow drivers Guy Edwards, Arturo Merzario and Brett Lunger. Lauda returns to competition six weeks later at the Italian GP.

Mosley reconsiders his decision to quit and is back in Victory Lane at Milwaukee.

1977

Mario wins USGP West and cements Long Beach’s popularity, as well as putting F1 back on the map in America.

USAC takes over the Robert Bosch Super Vee series from the SCCA to better prepare drivers for Indy cars. Bob Lazier is the first champion and Bill Alsup the second, and they both to go on to qualify at Indianapolis.

Guthrie becomes the first woman to qualify for Indy and starts 26th, and Tom Sneva becomes the first driver to best 200mph to take the pole position.

A.J. wins No.4 at Indy and Tony Hulman takes the victory lap with him in the pace car. The savior of Indianapolis dies five months later.

Hulman joins A.J. for the victory lap at IMS in 1977. Image by John Mahoney

In a USAC doubleheader at Salem on a 100-degree day just 24 hours after the Indy 500, Pancho Carter wins both midget features, one sprint main event and runs second in the other sprint show. He’s seriously injured in an IndyCar test at Phoenix a few months later, but recovers to win his first two races back in a USAC sprint car and the 1978 USAC Silver Crown championship.

Cale Yarborough wins nine times and collects his first NASCAR title.

1978

Al Unser wins Indy, Pocono and Ontario – the only Triple Crown winner in USAC history.

USAC stages a pair of races on two of England’s F1 bastions – Silverstone and Brands Hatch – with Foyt and Mears victorious.

Tom Sneva claims his second consecutive USAC national championship without winning a race and is not renewed for 1979 by Roger Penske. “I figured I might be in trouble when they invited everyone to a Cosworth party in England except me,” laughs The Gas Man.

Andretti’s six wins carry him to the 1978 F1 championship with Colin Chapman and the revolutionary Lotus that he developed, but his clinching of the crown at the Italian G.P. is ruined by the death of teammate Ronnie Peterson.

It’s rumored that Jim Hall is planning to bring a ground-effects car to Indy in 1979 after Andretti’s F1 dominance with Lotus.

Frustrated with USAC’s purses, lack of expansion, rules-making decisions and secrecy surrounding TV and back gates, Gurney sits down and pens a letter to his fellow owners. The ‘White Paper’ becomes the genesis for Championship Auto Racing Teams.

1979

A.J. Foyt shocks the racing world and everyone on West 16th Street by dropping out of USAC to join CART. “USAC has got a lot of things wrong lately,” he says. That was January. In early February, Super Tex announces he is resigning from CART’s board of directors and heading back to USAC. “I asked three questions which I already knew the answer to and received flat-ass lies,” he states. “They used me to get CART started, but they’re on an ego trip to conquer the racing world and I have no desire to do that.”

CART opens its inaugural season at Phoenix in a race won by Johncock, while USAC opens its IndyCar schedule two weeks later at Ontario with Foyt prevailing.

Hall unveils a gorgeous, sleek Chaparral designed by F1 wizard John Barnard – it’s yellow, sponsored by Pennzoil and is the obvious class of Gasoline Alley before it turns a wheel.

USAC files a suit to prevent the teams of Penske, Patrick, Hall, Fletcher, Gurney and McLaren from competing at Indianapolis. A federal court judge rules in favor of the CART teams, citing the right to work law among other things, and sends them out to practice at IMS.

Unser is long gone in the “Yellow Submarine” before breaking, and a kid named Rick Mears takes the checkered flag for Penske.

Ontario, which changed dates from Labor Day to March to August to September, is back on Labor Day weekend, but is also on its last legs as the crowds have become scarce. The rumor is that the track will either be shut down or bulldozed in the next two years.

Foyt wins five of the six USAC races for his seventh title while Mears parlays his three victories into his initial CART championship.

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