The Indianapolis 500 is Sunday and Danica Patrick will supposedly make her final start in a race before retiring from racing for good (she made her final NASCAR start in the Daytona 500 in February). Forty-five years ago in 1973, things did not go so well for the Indianapolis 500.
There have been many tragedies at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over its 100+ years of racing that includes drivers and spectators. One year of note was 1973 where the race cars were approaching lap speeds exceeding 200mph for the first time. The first event took place during practice on May 12 when Art Pollard lost control in the corner and when straight into the retaining wall killing him instantly. The race was scheduled for Monday, May 28 and after a somewhat scattered approach to the green flag, David "Salt" Walther's car was flung up into the catch fence, spewing fuel into the crowd and causing a huge wreck which brought about a red flag before a single lap could be completed. Walther was critically injured and several spectators had to be taken to the hospital, but no fatalities resulted from the incident.
Rain washed out the rest of the afternoon and the following day was also rained out. Finally, on Wednesday, May 30, the race finally got underway with more tragedy to come. Swede Savage lost control in turn four on lap 59 and slammed into an angled wall on the inside of the track that through his car in pieces and in flames back across the track. The race was red flagged so emergency crews could attend to Savage who survived the initial crash, but would pass 33 days later in the hospital due to complications arising from his injuries and treatment. As safety crews began to rush to the accident scene, pit crew members began to file into the pit road when a safety truck slammed Armando Teran, pit board man for Graham McRae. Teran's body was tossed 50 feet and died shortly after being transported to the hospital.
Gordon Johncock ended up winning the rain-shortened race.
After the 1973 race, USAC implemented new safety measures and Indianapolis Motor Speedway made changes in time for the 1974 event including the removal of the angled wall Savage had slammed into.
The 102nd running of the "Great American Race" is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 12:19pm on ABC.