Saturday, January 26, 2008

Indy 500 1986: Rain, Rain & Racin' on my Birthday

The 500 has had remarkable luck through the years with weather. 2007 was wet of course, but they got the race in (or most of it). 1986 was one of the marathon years, longer even than 1973, since the race had to be postponed a week after the slated date was washed out, and the following day it rained non-stop. I didn't even go to the track the second day as I recall. This photo is from the scheduled date and gives an idea of things fans used to do in the infield to kill time. You can bet alcohol was involved. There's another pic in the attached album showing another popular infield pastime, but this is a family blog so I won't go into details here. I tell people they postponed the race to my birthday in '86 and it was nice that they threw the biggest party in the world for me at 16th & Georgetown that year.

But getting the race run was a monumental effort. Back then, USAC ran the 500 under its rules, and CART ran all the other Indy-style races. The Speedway didn't want to run the 500 on a regular work day after the Memorial Day weekend (original race day Sunday, rain date Monday Memorial Day), as I am sure they were worried about a drop off in attendance. But CART had a race scheduled at Milwaukee the next weekend, so the Speedway and CART had to work together and Milwaukee got rescheduled so the 500 could be run on Saturday May 31, plus still have Sunday June 1 for an additional rain date if needed. Given the state of open wheel racing today with the IRL and Champ Car still at odds, the kind of cooperation demonstrated in 1986 is almost unbelievable in hindsight. But the powers that be made it work somehow. If only cooler heads could prevail today and get Indy racing unified again...

The 1986 500 was my third year working as a credentialed photographer at Indy for UPI. I was in the south short chute in '84, Turn 4 in '85 and Turn 3 for 1986. Turn 3 was a long way from everything back then with only one small section of stands across the track from my shooting position. Infield parking was a free-for-all and the police presence was virtually non-existent. The attitude seemed to be as long as no one got hurt, anything was OK, and just about anything could be seen at the track then. After all, the Speedway became the second largest city in Indiana every year on race day, so anything that happens in a city could (and would often) happen on race day. It was a human zoo.

That race was remarkable not only for the week's delay, but for the way it ended. We got paid off handsomely for waiting a week as Bobby Rahal charged past Kevin Cogan on a restart with a couple laps to go to win. Rick Mears finished third in the closest 1-2-3 finish at Indy up to that time. Sneva, Mario, AJ, Unser, Rutherford and all the historic big names were still racing, and the driver mix was eclectic as usual: Guerrero, Geoff Brabham, Roberto Moreno, Ongais. One of the more poignant elements of that year was the fact that Rahal's car owner, Jim Trueman, was dying with cancer but few people knew about it. I remember walking pit lane one day during practice and seeing him with the team and I barely recognized him. He was always so fit and tan in prior years, but it was clear that he wasn't his usual self that year. Not long after the 500, he passed away, leaving a legacy at Indy and at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course which he owned. God bless people like Jim Trueman for what they do (or have done) for racing.

It's hard to believe the changes that have occurred at the 500 since then. But I guess that just means I'm "experienced". Youth challenged. An old fart. Whatever. My pictures will outlive me and I've been blessed with the opportunity to be involved.

Indy 500 1986

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