Monday, January 21, 2008

Indy 500 Memories - 1982

Arguably one of the greatest Indy 500's ever took place in 1982 when Rick Mears chased down Gordon Johncock over the final 11 laps, knocking a second per lap off of "Wee Gordie's" lead and challenging him in Turn 1 on the white flag lap. Gordie's chop job was classic although Mears still almost pulled it off. At the time, it was the closest finish in 500 history.

My vantage point was above Victory Lane that year with the ladies of the Indy 500 Festival, the Queen and her Court, one of whom I was fortunate to be dating. I had borrowed a camera from a friend of mine to take to the race - no motor drive, maybe a 135 mm lens, and I was just beginning to learn how to shoot. The day began with no sleep after a party at the house I was sharing lasted into the early hours of race day. My date and her Festival sponsor picked me up in the Camaro pace car around 6 a.m. and we started off with a breakfast reception at the former Indiana National Bank Tower, then followed a police escort caravan of all the Festival pace cars to the track. We were part of the pre-race ceremonies where the ladies sat on the roof of the cars on a lap around the track. I was squeezed into the tiny back seat trying to take pictures as we circled the oval. When that was over, we went to the reserved seating area above Victory Lane for the race itself.

Then the carnage began. At the start, Kevin Cogan bounced off of AJ Foyt, (that "damn Coogan" as AJ later said over the PA system) and slid to the inside wall and collected Mario who had started on the inside of Row 2 and tried to get through a gap between the spinning Cogan and the pit wall. In the back of the pack, one of the Whittington brothers, Dale, ran over Roger Mears so four cars were out before the field even got to the yard of bricks. The Whittingtons had their own story (more on them another time) but Dale had no business being in the race. During the red flag, we could see AJ hammering on his car with a rubber mallet trying to get the car out of gear. Cogan later said he thought a CV joint broke, but I will always believe that he just lit up the tires when the turbo kicked in coming down for the green flag. And Mario - well, he seemed to be cheating up from his row mates and if he hadn't jumped the start himself, he might have been able to miss Cogan.

At any rate, Cogan's career was forever damaged by this incident, and he never took his helmet off as he walked back down pit lane, out of the race before it even began. He probably thought someone would take a swing at him. Keeping his helmet on was likely a good decision. The whole mess was really terrible for Cogan, since he was seemed very talented. Photogs still talk about people running the "Cogan line" as he could run higher in the turns that about anyone I ever saw at Indy. As I recall, he lost his ride with Penske after the 82 season. In 86, was leading the race when he got snookered by Bobby Rahal on a restart with only a couple of laps to go. I still remember Sam Posey trying to talk to Cogan on the 86 ABC telecast during that last yellow, and Cogan responding, "I'm kinda busy right now"!

During that 82 race, the Festival folks took us all up in the scoring tower just past the halfway point. It was my first time being up there and the view was spectacular. I remember bumping into TV personality Joyce DeWitt who was one of the celebrities attending that year. As the race wound down, the crowd couldn't sit down as Mears chased Gordie down and everyone realized a fantastic finish was possible. It was the only time I can recall at the 500 that the crowd noise drowned out the cars and it was impossible to be heard by the people next to you. Gordie never lifted and was a popular winner, as Mears was still a relative newcomer and his day would come. The pictures I've posted today are from film and scanned from 25 year old prints, but they are representative of my early work at Indy.

Wild start. Great finish. Victory Lane seats. Awesome day from beginning to end. Is it any wonder I haven't missed a 500 since 1976?

Indy 500 1982

No comments: