Indy 500; May 30, 1973: The Day My Nightmare Came True

HAMMOND, IN: Having a recurring dream can be a pleasant experience. However, if the subject of your recurring dream is something you dread, what you then have is a recurring nightmare. Mine came true on May, 30, 1973.

Two days previously; Monday, May 28th, 1973, the 57th running of the Indy 500 had been scheduled to take place, but fate had other ideas. Those of us who were on hand to witness the events surrounding the 1973 “500” still shudder when we recall how it all went down.

I still remember the weather forecast I heard the night before the Race. Basically, we were told that a huge, low-pressure area had parked itself over Central Indiana, and “we don’t know when they’re ever going to get the Indy 500 run”. Unfortunately, the forecasters got this one spot-on.

History tells us that the Race got started under heavily overcast skies Monday morning only to be immediately red-flagged due to a huge 12 car crash on the main straightaway just after the green flag was displayed. With Salt Walther on his way to the hospital with critical injuries, another storm blew in before the track could be prepared for a restart and, after waiting several hours it became obvious that the rain would be unrelenting, and the Race was postponed 24 hours. The good news: all the cars involved in the accident, except Walther’s, would be repaired for the re-start. The bad news: most of us were wet out of beer and had no place to sleep other than our cars. Also, the weather forecast for the next several days was less that promising.

Tuesday morning, our worst fears were realized: a steady, day-long rain began as the 32 car field was on their pace lap prior to the start. Day Two of the 1973 Indy 500 was a total washout. And, with another dismal forecast for Wednesday, there was no choice other than to head home, 150 miles to the North re-stock and wait for a dry day.

As advertised, Wednesday morning dawned gray and rainy, offering very little hope of a race for the third straight day. I needed to either head for Indy again, or go to work, and the latter seemed to be the best choice. I worked as a salesman at a small Dodge dealership in beautiful downtown Hammond, IN, and had a radio on which I could just barely receive WIBC in Indianapolis, and could keep tabs every so often on the continuing rain situation at the Speedway.

You know what happened next. I suddenly heard WIBC talking excitedly about a “window over Terre Haute” that might allow the Race to be run. A few minutes later, it was reported that the rain had ceased at the Speedway, and track-drying efforts would begin shortly.

I suddenly realized that I was 2 1/2 hours from the Speedway, and in serious danger of missing my first Indy 500 since my first Race in 1956. Within seconds, I had called my buddie to get ready, grabbed the only new Charger R/T on the lot with a full tank of gas and headed South on I-65 as fast as my gut would allow.

It was then that I remembered my recurring nightmare.

It had happened for the first time many years before. Basically, the dream involved my missing the start of the Indy 500. Somehow, I would be delayed and the Race would begin without me. I would always be very happy to awaken and realize that it wasn’t really Race Day, and it had only been a dream.

That is, until May 30, 1973 when the dream became reality!

Even though I set a personal record blasting to the Speedway that morning of one hour and 35 minutes (normally a 2 1/2 hour ride), we didn’t make it until just before Swede Savage’s horrific crash on lap 57. And, of course, we all know the 1973 Indianapolis 500 ended prematurely when the rain returned with Gordie Johncock out front after only 133 laps.

I guess it would be safe to say that 1973 was, for many reasons, one of the lowest points in the 100+ year history of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. Personally, it was the year my nightmare came true.

May it never happen again

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