This day in sports: 1981 Indianapolis 500 ends in controversy

Vehicles line up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 23, 2020, for a mobile food distribution event.
Vehicles line up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday for a food distribution event on what would have been the eve of the Indianapolis 500 before it was postponed because of COVID-19.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

The Indianapolis 500 ended in controversy on this date in 1981 when Mario Andretti, who finished second to Bobby Unser, was declared the winner after Unser made an illegal pass during a caution-flag period while coming out of the pits.

On Lap 149, Unser and Andretti left pit row together. By rule, they were required to blend in with the field as it headed toward Turn 2. But Unser accelerated and drove right to the front near the pace car.

The move put him 11 cars ahead of Andretti. After five months of appeal proceedings, the decision was reversed and Unser was credited with the victory, but he was fined $40,000.

Unser denied doing anything wrong. “Everybody would like me to say that the whole thing was Mario [should have won],’ ” he said. “The truth of the matter is it is not.”

Bobby Unser passes cars under caution during a controversial finish at the 1981 Indianapolis 500.


The Indianapolis 500 was scheduled for its traditional Memorial Day weekend run on Sunday, but it was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been rescheduled for Aug. 23 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

LAFC was set to play New York City FC in a Major League Soccer game at Banc of California Stadium.

In baseball, the Dodgers would have wrapped up a three-game interleague series with the Cleveland Indians at Dodger Stadium. The Angels and Athletics were set to end a three-game stand at Oakland.

Here is a look at other memorable games and outstanding sports performances on this date:

1936 — Batting in the No. 8 spot, Tony Lazzeri of the New York Yankees drives in 11 runs with a triple and three home runs, including two grand slams in a 25-2 rout of the Philadelphia Athletics at Shibe Park. Lazzeri, 32, is in his 11th season with New York and is the first player to hit two grand slams in one game.

1967 — Cincinnati is awarded a franchise in the American Football League to a group headed by Paul Brown. The former coach of the Cleveland Browns names the team the Bengals in recognition of the city’s previous pro football franchises from the 1930s and 1940s. The Bengals play their first season in 1968, and win their first two games before finishing with a 3-11 record.

Eric Stevens was relentless as a Cal football player. He battles ALS with the same approach.

1980 — Bobby Nystrom’s overtime goal gives the New York Islanders a 5-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 at the Nassau Coliseum for their first Stanley Cup title. Nystrom takes a pass from John Tonelli and backhands it past goaltender Pete Peeters at 7:11 of the extra period. It is the first of four straight Stanley Cup titles for the Islanders.

1990 — The Edmonton Oilers win their fifth Stanley Cup in seven seasons by beating the Boston Bruins 4-1 in Game 5 at the Boston Garden. Goaltender Bill Ranford, who limited Boston to eight goals in the series, wins the Conn Smythe Trophy for most valuable player in the playoffs. Glenn Anderson scores a goal and assists on another with a behind-the-back pass to Craig Simpson in the first period that gives the Oilers a 2-0 lead.

1992 — Al Unser Jr. wins the Indianapolis 500 with the closest finish in the race’s history, beating Scott Goodyear by .043 seconds, barely half a car length. It is Unser’s first victory at Indianapolis and he becomes the first second-generation driver to cross the finish line first at the Brickyard. Lyn St. James, the second woman to race at Indy, finishes in 11th place.

1995 — Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland Athletics pitches a scoreless ninth inning to become the sixth pitcher to record 300 saves in a 5-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles. Eckersley would go on to play three more seasons, the last with the Boston Red Sox, and retire in 1998 with 390 saves.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler answer questions on how they set their lineups for ‘the Golden Greats: I-5 Series.’

2001 — John Lieber of the Chicago Cubs throws a 79-pitch, one-hit 3-0 shutout over the Cincinnati Reds. The time of the game is 1:48, the shortest at Wrigley Field since the 1970s. It’s also the first shutout pitched against the Reds in 208 games, a National League record.

2009 — Brazil’s Helio Castroneves is the ninth driver to win the Indianapolis 500 three times. Castroneves, who won the pole position in qualifying, pulls away in the final laps to beat Dan Wheldon of England and Danica Patrick, who bettered her fourth-place finish as a rookie in 2005 by crossing the finish line in third place.

2010 — Lukas Lacko of Slovakia beats American Michael Yani in a 71-game tennis match that ties for the most in the French Open since tiebreakers were instituted in 1973. Lacko wins 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 12-10 in a first-round match at Roland Garros in Paris. The marathon begins on Sunday and finishes the next day.

2014 — Maya Moore scores 30 points on a record-setting night as the Minnesota Lynx defeat the New York Liberty 87-82 in a WNBA game at Minneapolis. Moore is the first player to score at least 30 points in four straight games. She makes four three-point shots in the opening minutes and finishes 11 for 19 from the field.

SOURCES: The Times, Associated Press