THE INDY 500 : Confusion Is the Leader at Indy : Four-Car Accident Throws 500 Field Into Disarray
Carburetion day, the quaint old name by which the last practice for the Indianapolis 500 goes, seldom produces any real excitement, but on Thursday it produced a four-car accident.
And that, in the finest of Speedway traditions, produced confusion in abundance and changes in the starting lineup.
By day’s end, the easy questions had been answered, but veteran driver Dick Simon of Capistrano Beach, who has been in and out of the race twice already, was waiting to see if there would be a third time in, and Dennis Firestone of Pomona was waiting to see if he was still in.
Only one of those things will happen.
What is certain is that Roberto Moreno of Brazil and George Snider of Bakersfield will not be driving the cars they qualified, and that Josele Garza of Mexico picked a poor time to be in the pits.
Firestone, driving the Lola-Cosworth he had qualified for the seventh row, had been on the track only briefly when trouble struck. His car’s left rear wheel apparently disintegrated, throwing him into a violent spin coming out of the fourth turn. He hit the inside wall, slid sideways, then hit the wall at the entrance to the pits, tearing the car in two.
Moreno and Snider, traveling behind Firestone, tried to avoid it but got caught up in the accident, and Moreno, his car out of control, hit Garza’s car in the pits.
“I thought Snider was going to hit me but he slid by,” Garza said. “I knew there was someone else coming but I never saw Moreno till he drilled me. Actually, I was watching a tire off Snider’s car that was bouncing.”
None of the drivers suffered serious injury, and two crewmen and a spectator also were treated for minor cuts and bruises, but the damage to the cars was severe. Snider and Moreno had to get permission to switch to backup cars, and Garza’s crew has some serious work in store.
For Moreno, that means starting in the last row instead of the fifth, where he had qualified his Lola-Cosworth, but for Snider, at least for the time being, his starting spot is unaffected. He was going to start in the middle of the last row in one of A.J. Foyt’s spare cars and he still is, although it will be another car.
Meanwhile, because Moreno had to move to the back of the field, everyone who had qualified behind him moved up a position.
Practice resumed when the debris from the accident had been cleaned up and one of the cars on the track was Simon’s Lola-Cosworth, which had not been seen earlier in the day, for good reason. Simon had been bumped from the field last Sunday and was listed as the alternate starter. Alternates seldom start here.
It was first announced that Firestone’s car could not be repaired and that his crew would start working immediately on getting the backup car ready. Dave Thomas, the crew chief for Firestone’s team, said, however, that he wasn’t sure there were enough parts and pieces left in the team’s shop to do that.
Simon suggested that there probably weren’t and further suggested to Patrick Kehoe, the owner of Firestone’s car, that if Kehoe would withdraw the car, allowing Simon to start as the alternate, they could share starting money and whatever purse money Simon could earn in the race.
“We’re ready,” Simon said. “All we have to do is change gears and go. After I got bumped last Sunday, we had the car totally taken apart and the crew put the Milwaukee gears in.”
The race after the 500 is scheduled at Milwaukee June 1 and since the track there is a mile, as contrasted with the 2 1/2-mile layout here, cars have to use different gearing.
Simon had qualified his car on pole day at better than 208 m.p.h. but then was disqualified because his car was found to have a pop-off valve that wasn’t quite regulation.
After correcting the problem, Simon had to qualify again. “I took that qualifying run with an ill-handling car that just got worse and I finally tapped the wall slightly,” he said.
His speed of 204.978 m.p.h. on that attempt was good enough to get him back into the race, but not good enough to keep him there. Along came Snider, at 209-plus, making Simon the alternate.
“I’m a very competitive person,” Simon said, explaining his offer to Kehoe. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get in the race.
“I’ve been racing here for 17 years and I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. They will get all kinds of offers,” Simon continued, his pop-off valve working at peak efficiency now. “They will get people who want to sell them race cars, people who want to give them race cars and split the purse, people who want to get them into their backup car, fictitiously, and let them go two laps and pull in and collect starting money.
“I think and I hope that (Kehoe) is honest enough to take an offer from somebody who wants to race.”
At first, that seemed a strong possibility, although Kehoe was coming in from Chicago to assess the situation before making that decision.
As the afternoon wore on, however, it began to appear that Simon had made a needless proposal. Chief Steward Tom Binford explained that not only could Firestone not run in any newly purchased car but that his team did not even have a backup entered in the team’s name.
Anyone who had seen Firestone’s car after the accident discussed it in past tense and it began to seem that Simon, would be linining up at the end of the last row on race day.
Then, late in the day, Thomas, Firestone’s mechanic, announced that the crew had gone to work on the wrecked car and that he had made arrangements to have parts flown in from England. “It’s going to be marginal,” he said, alluding to the time. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
So will Simon. He said that his offer to Kehoe would stand through Thursday. Firestone’s crew, meanwhile, has until 9:45 Sunday morning to make something out of next to nothing.