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Original Issue


You're going to have to discard the old-fashioned piston kind and get a turbine like Parnelli Jones's to stay in the Indianapolis 500, if last week's race was any clue—even though the turbine ultimately perished

Twenty hours after all the screaming had stopped, calmer, cleaner and $171,227 richer, Anthony Joseph Foyt Jr. sat at the Indianapolis Speedway Motel and ate hugely of steak, eggs, potatoes and hot toast. The dining room looks out through big windows on the first tee of the Speedway golf course, and there, a few yards away, stood Rufus Parnell Jones. He planted his black-and-white saddle shoes on the tee and prepared to slam out a drive on his frustrations. Beyond both of them lay the Speedway itself, where another group of men were waiting to take pictures of Foyt in his marvelous orange racing machine. And out around everybody, in a circle of spring green, lay all of Indiana, which can be described as a state of emotional wreckage.

This was last Thursday, a day to remember because, after the craziest Indy 500 ever, it was the day when people gradually began to realize that there docs not seem to be much old Indy can ever do for an encore, short of firing the drivers out of cannons.

Foyt, as everyone knows by now, won the race—his third 500 victory—and all that money in a scary finish. Jones, in the tradition-shattering turbine car, lost out at the very end after sassing along in front all day. But there was much more. Foyt's winning speed of 151.207 mph was a new record and his tires were Good-years, breaking the victory string Firestone had enjoyed since 1919. Jones, a Firestone man, broke so many track records it left everybody dizzy, and he led every lap but a few in the middle, when he whooshed in to fill 'er up with kerosene, and the four on the end that really counted. The race got off to the smoothest start in its history and went on to the smashingest finish, full of flying machinery. The 51st running of this hoary classic put up 32 glittering piston cars against the turbine, and one cannot be too sure that the jet really lost. A new era in Indy racing may have whistled in, and if it did, they might as well change the name of the old Brickyard to the Indianapolis Motor-Jet Speedway.

The unshakable Mr. Foyt won the race only by a bit of driving instinct so perfect it is slightly spooky. He could not sleep all last Wednesday night just thinking about it. He had pictured to himself the possibility of a last-lap smashup just seconds before it actually happened—then slammed on his brakes and avoided it.

On Thursday morning he gestured with a forkful of steak and said: "Man, I don't know what it was, but I just had this instinct and I put the binders on her and slowed down. I must of been going only about 100 miles an hour; hell, I could of walked faster than I was going. But I knew there was gonna be this crash.

"When I pecked around the No. 4 turn and saw all that smoke, I said, 'Oh, God!' I popped her into low and pulled down to the inside of the track. And as soon as I could see where everybody was spinning to, I stood on it again and drove her on through to the finish line."

Foyt was the only man who made it. After his orange car streaked through the smoke Race Starter Pat Vidan red-flagged everybody else. It was just as well. Even auto racing fans, who make pro football enthusiasts look like bird watchers, can stand just so many emotional peaks and put-downs. In the first place, anyone with a lick of sense could see on the morning of Memorial Day that it was going to rain. The day was grim, a chilled 56°; skies were elephant-colored and the weather bureau warned of a squall line moving toward the city.

Still, there were those 33 beautiful, siren cars out on the track, qualified at a record average speed of 164.173 mph. An estimated 275,000 overoptimistic people trooped to the Speedway dressed as though they were going to watch the Holmenkollen ski jumping championships.

Thirty-two cars revved up, spitting and barking. Jones's jet sat humming—a high, sinister whine that nobody could hear in the thunder of pistons. There was a burst of aerial bombs over the track and a splash of balloons—and away they went.

In the next 18½ minutes Jones ran 18 lovely laps, everybody chased him as well as they could, which was not very, and Indy saw the shape of things to come. The shape of things to come is a two-foot-high, six-foot-wide, 12½-foot-long, 1,750-pound hunk of insurrection. It has four-wheel drive, a horsepower output estimated at somewhere between 500 and 1,000, and if it stays legal every driver is going to demand one.

The perfect start on Tuesday was carefully designed. Chief Steward Harlan Fengler had called a secret meeting to acquaint the drivers with his low opinion of last year's first-lap debacle, and to threaten them with the stake should it be repeated. Pole-position man Mario Andretti brought the cars down in a line, all in step like mechanical Rockettes. There was a brace of low-hung, rear-engine Fords sitting alongside Andretti, those of Dan Gurney and Gordon Johncock, and behind them, neatly in a row, ran the Fords of Foyt and his teammate, Joe Leonard—and the turbine.

Halfway into the first turn, with the field cranked left and screaming, the monster car made a massive yet dainty right sidestep to the outside, where nobody goes. Nobody but jets. It ticked the leaders off one by one and, coming off the turn in a Day-Glo red swoop, slashed past Andretti. When it materialized out of the cold, gray air on the main straightaway, Jones, driving easily, waved at Sponsor Andy Granatelli, who was pacing on the sidelines football style in a raincoat that would contain two Bear Bryants.

Jones's speed for the first lap was 154.374, well over Jimmy Clark's 1965 record of 151.388, and Parnelli spent most of the rest of the race knocking out other records, despite frequent slowdowns for the yellow caution flag that came out for minor accidents.

But not all on the same day. The rain came. Unlike soccer and Grand Prix racing, Indy does not run in the rain. Jones pulled in, along with everybody else, put on a straw cowboy hat, lit a cigarette and drawled, "Ain't no use for everybody to risk their necks in the rain. If the car lasts through the race she'll beat everybody easy, and if she don't you ain't got a thing to worry about."

On the track, crews wrapped the cars in plastic bags, as though each one had just come from the cleaners, and the fans, who definitely do not have enough sense to come in out of the rain, milled around the infield, creating the world's biggest bog. Track Owner Tony Hulman finally postponed the show. Those who could stay in town restlessly awaited Chapter Two.

The Andretti crew installed a new clutch; Mario had spent the first part of the race in the pits after one big early move past Dan Gurney, who at that point led Foyt in the piston men's despairing pursuit of the turbine. Jones just relaxed that evening, and Foyt was so loose he dined with Hulman and needled him about the postponement. "I'm so sure I'm gonna win this race," he told Hulman, "that I ought to charge you for keeping my money overnight."

On the second day the crowd was down to perhaps 150,000. The fans filed in again, and in the next three hours there were two Indy 500s: Jones's jet division and the race among the suddenly obsolete piston cars. Foyt's strategy was amply clear. He was following—not chasing—Jones around the course, lurking between 13 and 55 seconds off the pace, fully ready to strike when the jet broke down.

"And I knew, I dead-certain knew inside me," he said, "that it was going to break."

But as the cars strung out over the 2½-mile track and the day wore on, the turbine looked as if it would not break in 5,000 miles of racing. Other cars did. Andretti's, reclutched and running nicely but an impossible six laps in arrears, threw a wheel on his 59th lap and was out for good. Scotland's Jimmy Clark, the 1965 winner, fell out after one pit stop in which his crew looked at the sparkplugs and found them bathed in oil. Graham Hill, last year's champion, was running last in a car that needed first aid. Scotland's Jackie Stewart conked out on the fourth turn—right where he conked out last year, when he had the race won.

Others had brief dashes at glory. For two splendid laps—so quickly that the scoreboard failed to record the fact—Gurney actually led, after a moment when Jones was nudged into the infield by another car and lost time wrestling the jet back under control. It was Gurney who was closest to Jones for 58 laps, until he had to pit prematurely with a stuck fuel tank valve.

With Gurney in trouble, Foyt was No. 2 and driving with that unearthly confidence of winning. On one pit stop, rolling past Jones's quarters, he waved to Granatelli with a cavalier gesture of nice vulgarity.

Jones was on his 197th lap with but three to go to the checkered flag when it happened. His pit crew had been flashing "easy," and "save fuel" signs at him. Parnelli had heeded them. But then, on the backstretch, the jet began to slow down. A $6 ball bearing had failed, crippling the gearbox. In effect Jones was in neutral, and all he could do was roll around to his pit.

Foyt came past his pit, nodding his grasp of the situation, and held up one orange driving glove, his thumb and finger together in a triumphant circle. As he headed around for his last lap, that sixth sense signaled danger. Ahead a pack of snarling cars was pouring out of the fourth and last turn. The suspension snapped on Bobby Grim's turbo-charged Offy. He slowed abruptly, and nearby Chuck Hulse and Carl Williams bumped. Williams careened into Grim. All three went skittering into the track walls while two more cars, those of Bud Tingelstad and Larry Dickson, spun out trying to avoid them. Driving slowly, Foyt studied the mess, then came through the field like a motorized quarterback, bursting out from under a blanket of smoke. He waved to the crowd as though it had been easy.

"With all respect to Parnelli," he said later, "that ol' jet car has twice the horsepower of anything here and it just ain't fair to run it in this engine class. If that kind of car isn't restricted to a fair place next year, everybody's going to have to get one to stay competitive. I'll get one myself if I have to."

Needless to say, Jones and Granatelli were sad about the breakdown, but at the same time thrilled over what the turbine had shown Indy. "At least I think I had the best car," said Jones. "I was driving the last four laps so slow I thought nothing could go wrong. It was like a Sunday drive down the highway."

By Thursday morning, while Foyt was at breakfast and Jones was on the links, another battle was developing—the one to decide the turbine's future. Obviously the gearbox troubles could be corrected with a little development work. The car's brakes, which had been suspect, too, had worked fine.

This week the United States Auto Club started debating ways to keep turbines in the 500 yet put them on a roughly equal footing with the piston cars. It appeared unlikely that turbines would be barred, and equally unlikely that turbines as powerful as Jones's would be let in again.

Either way, the old Brickyard clearly will never be the same. There will be no keeping them down on the farm now that they've seen the jet.

As for Granatelli, he announced that he aimed to stay in the turbine business and was getting a steady stream of inquiries about copies of the Jones car. "Soon as we have firm orders," he said, "we'll build 10 of them for Indy and championship racing next year. Although we were knocked out in the final minutes, we proved without question that this car is the racing machine of tomorrow."

Foyt was not so sure. "Ah've always said," he drawled, "that the Indianapolis Speedway is a proving ground for cars, not airplanes."

It may be both. Perhaps Tony Hulman had better practice saying those historic words, "Gentlemen, light your afterburners."


All alone in the lead, Jones's wondrous turbine car outruns the Indy field for 196 of the race's 200 laps, only to be stopped by a gearbox failure


On the very first turn Jones's turbine cockily challenges the pole car of Mario Andretti, which it soon leaves behind.


His race run, Jones dejectedly mops his neck as Foyt and his wife Lucy accept winner's cheers with car owner's son.