1980 Tony Bettenhausen 200

Twenty-five years ago, popular Johnny Rutherford of Fort Worth, TX known as ?Lone Star J.R.? in the yellow Pennzoil Jim Hall Racing Chaparral 2K-Cosworth held off offensives from Al Unser and Team Penske to win the 1980 AB-Dick Tony Bettenhausen 200 at The Milwaukee Mile.

The 200-miler was the first race sanctioned at The Milwaukee Mile by Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART). The previous Indy Car race in June of 1980, Championship Racing League (CRL) sanctioned the Gould Rex Mays 150, which was a short-lived amalgamation of both CART and United States Auto Club (USAC) organizations and officials. Front row starters for the 200-mile race were Rutherford and Unser who battled hard throughout the first two-thirds of the race.

Unser had left the Jim Hall team after aiding the development of the revolutionary ground-effects machine to join Bobby Hillin?s Longhorn Racing after the 1979 season. Unser drove one of his most competitive races of the year in the new Longhorn LR01-Cosworth.

The race was spiced with a spectacular accident on the 65th lap. Veteran Mike Mosley was running in fifth place substituting for flamboyant rookie Tim Richmond in the UNO-Starcruiser Penske PC7B-Cosworth. Apparently Mosley had a rear suspension failure at the end of the front straightaway causing the car to slam into the wall. The white and red car climbed up the wall causing it to become airborne, subsequently the car came down slamming the wall a second time. Mosley who was dazed in the accident came away uninjured.

Tom Sneva driving the Sugaripe-Jerry O?Connell Racing Phoenix-Cosworth spun and hit the north turn wall on the 137th lap. The O?Connell team was using the temperamental Phoenix chassis for the first time in place of their trusty McLaren M-24 dubbed ?Ol Hound.

Meanwhile Unser and Rutherford continued their battle, however on the 166th lap Unser’s right front upright broke sending the austere white #5 car hard into the north turn wall. Unser who led 136 of the first 165 laps was uninjured. Rutherford easily held off Penske teammates Rick Mears and Bobby Unser who were eventually penalized one-lap for pit violations however kept their second and third place finishes respectively.

Rutherford led the final 35 laps averaging 105.062 mph over the 200 miles and winning $20,150 of the then record $137,850 purse. Tom Bagley finished fourth in the Patrick Racing Phoenix-Cosworth and Spike Gehlhausen came home fifth in the Fletcher Racing Penske PC7-Cosworth.

Rutherford eventually won five races enroute to winning the 1980 CART championship.

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