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Indy 500 Qualifying : Late Afternoon Flurry Fills Field for Sunday’s Race

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Just when it appeared as if the Indianapolis 500 might not have 33 cars in the field for the first time since 1947, a flurry of qualifying late Sunday afternoon brought it up to the magic number.

Three positions remained open when the final day of qualifying began at noon. At 4:45 p.m.--with a little more than an hour left--there still were three open.

As the long afternoon wore on, thousands of Hoosiers endured 90- degree temperature with nothing to do but watch one another sweat.

The track, with its strangely meandering 2 1/2-mile black groove of rubber and oil, was too hot and menacing to give up speeds capable of making next Sunday’s starting field.

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The few remaining teams with unqualified cars kept the machinery in the garage, anxiously watching their neighbors for a sign of movement. As a car would appear in the garage area, being towed to the refueling pumps, or to the pits, the other camps would stir.

Is Chassey going to try again? Did Moran get that new engine? What’s Ferguson doing? Can Krueger get his car fixed in time? Will anyone get in under 200?

These, and many more like them, were the questions stirring the rumor mill as nervous drivers and crews debated among themselves what to do.

The curious, at least those fortunate to have a little tin badge that would let them through the gates of Gasoline Alley, peered into the Raynor Motorsports garage where mechanics were laboring over the battered remains of Phil Krueger’s Lola.

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Earlier in the day, the former Chapman College driver-mechanic got his Lola low in the first turn, slid across the track and hit the outside wall, then slid back into the infield grass where the car gyrated like a spinning top.

Krueger received only abrasions on both knees and received a clearance to drive later in the day.

The car got no such clearance.

Now and then, a familiar name--such as the already--qualified Tom Sneva, Al Unser Jr. or Gary Bettenhausen--would take to the track for a few laps of practice.

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Rocky Moran, the big 6-foot-3, 210-pound rookie driver from Pasadena, finally broke the tension at 4:54 p.m. Moran couldn’t get his March-Cosworth up to the speed he wanted, but he decided to gamble that a sub-200 m.p.h. speed might be enough.

With only one lap over 200, Moran took 199.157 for his four-lap average to become qualifier No. 31 and the first since Chris Kniefel in 1985 to make the field with less than a 200 m.p.h. qualifying speed.

This brought them all to the staging area, the limp and lame as well as the healthy.

Dominic Dobson was next, taking a speed only slightly better than Moran: 201.240.

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Then came the stunner. Davy Jones, a 22-year-old rookie protege of A.J. Foyt, who had waved off a 205-202 start a day earlier, started off with a 207.135 lap. In contrast with most other qualifying attempts, instead of getting slower each lap, Jones got faster.

By the time he ran his final lap he was up to 209.176 for a 208.117 m.p.h. average. This made him the fastest rookie--worth $10,000--by .079 m.p.h. over Fabrizio Barbazza of Italy. Jones will also collect $5,000 as the youngest starter.

That also filled the field and put Moran’s car on the bubble, which means it could be bounced by a faster car. And it was.

George (Ziggy) Snider, the Bakersfield veteran who has made a career of qualifying Foyt’s backup cars with a minimum of practice, knocked Moran out of the race with a 203.192. It was the 22nd straight year that Snider had qualified for the 500.

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Steve Chassey’s 202.488 took care of Dobson and left Swindell, the former World of Outlaws sprint car champion, in jeopardy. Swindell had gambled Saturday with a 201.288 in a March with a stock block Pontiac engine.

Ed Pimm, driving the familiar No. 98 made famous by the late J.C. Agajanian through the years here, squeezed the March into the show with a consistent 203.284.

This is the 40th year that a car carrying Agajanian’s name has been at Indy, although not all of them made the 500.

“I’m convinced I got the most that was in the car and that John (Buttera) and the crew had the car as close to perfect as it could be,” Swindell said. “This just proves that a naturally aspirated car is playing into a stacked deck against the turbocharged cars. I think that we’re all proud that we came as close as we did with as little as we had to work with.”

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Chassey, who only a few moments earlier had been the bumper, became the bubble bumpee.

Rick Miaskiewicz tried but never came close. Dick Ferguson never got his unsponsored ’85 March to the line.

Tom Bigelow waited, helmet in hand, while Dick Simon fine-tuned a spare Lola but was denied an opportunity when Speedway officials said he did not have time to take a refresher test. Bigelow’s last Indy ride was in 1982.

Chassey, a hometown Indianapolis driver who won the President’s Soldier’s Medal of Valor for a helicopter rescue in Vietnam, wept as the gun went off signaling 6 p.m. and the end of qualifying.

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The 33-car field, with six rookies, averaged 207.194 m.p.h. This was down 3.164 from last year’s record of 210.358.


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