INDIANAPOLIS: 500 miles.
Undated (AP) _ Meanwhile, the drivers killed time in their own way.
Bill Vukovich and Gary Bettenhausen played frisbee in the grassy area between the track and the pit road, while Mario Andretti and one of his mechanics kicked around a soccer ball in the garage area.
Other drivers napped, talked with friends or brooded.
″That was the worst situation I’ve ever experienced in racing,″ said Grant. ″By the time the race actually started, it was the first time I had ever not felt like running a race. The highs and the lows were monstrous.″
The rain continued and the race was rescheduled again for the next day.
By Wednesday morning, the sprawling Speedway resembled a muddy garbage dump.
Many of the grassy areas used for parking, both in the infield and outside the track, were swamps. And there was no chance for Speedway crews to clear away the paper, chicken bones, beer cans and other rubble that overflowed the garbage cans and was spread across the grounds after the two long days of waiting.
Rain checks were no longer necessary and the people in the small, quiet weekday crowd, estimated at 50,000 to 60,000, sat where they wanted to and looked lost scattered around the enormous stands. Parking was where you could find it around the mudholes. The health department was threatening to keep the race from being run the next day if it was rained out again.
There was a midmorning shower before the race finally began at 2:10 p.m. under continuing sullen skies.
The festive mood of Memorial Day was gone and the general feeling seemed to be one of urgency, simply to get the race over with.
The start was uneventful and the 32 starters got down to racing.
Then, on lap 57, tragedy.
Swede Savage, who was leading the race, hit the wall in turn four and the car, which had stopped for fuel only moments before, went up in a ball of flames.
Crewman Armando Teran, a member of the Andy Granatelli’s STP team, for which Savage drove, started running down pit road toward the crash. A fire truck, traveling the wrong way on the pit road, hit Teran, killing him instantly.
The race was red-flagged again while the fuel fire from Savage’s car was put out, the driver and crewman were attended to and the debris was cleaned.
The gloom was even thicker when racing resumed after a one-hour and 15- minute delay.
Finally, with Johncock, Savage’s teammate, leading the race on lap 133, the skies again opened up and a deluge of rain hit the Speedway, ending the ill- fated event.
″It was really terrible,″ said Johncock, who won the race again in 1982. ″We were all in shock over the accidents, and the rain was so bad that there wasn’t even a Victory Circle celebration or a victory banquet. And, at that point, I didn’t care.″
Granatelli’s son, Vince, now a car owner, returned to the Speedway last year for the first time since the 1973 race.
″That year was very difficult for us,″ Vince said. ″Art Pollard was an old friend, and we had a driver and a crewman killed.″
But Granatelli said it was Teran’s death that really hit him hard.
″It was a crazy, freak accident and it flat turned me off to racing,″ he said. ″I didn’t want to do it any more. Swede recognized the dangers, and his rewards would have been much more than a crew member’s. They both had the same penalty to pay, but the rewards weren’t even close.″
Savage died of the complications from burns two months after the race.
Roger McCluskey, who finished third in that race, behind Johncock and Vukovich, now is the competition director for the sanctioning U.S. Auto Club.
He, too, remembers that month well, and he says some good did rise from the tragedy.
″Those fires were really the final straw,″ McCluskey said. ″Everybody knew something had to be done and USAC made changes.
″They set up new rules to limit the amount of on-board fuel to 40 gallons, and made the teams put all of it on one side of the car. The total amount of fuel the teams could use in the race was also cut, and Goodyear’s new fuel cells were required in the cars the next year.″
Those changes practically eliminated fuel fires from Indy-car crashes, a fact that has saved dozens of lives in the past 15 years.
The Speedway also made changes, moving spectator seating away from the fence around the track.
″I guess some good comes of everything,″ McCluskey said. ″But that was a pretty awful time.″