by Kyle Ealy
Springfield, Ill. (August 18, 1972) - Al Unser of Albuquerque, N.M., pulled off the USAC sweep in his first visit to the Illinois State Fairgrounds, winning the 100-mile stock car opener of the doubleheader on Saturday, August 18 and the Tony Bettenhausen 100-mile championship dirt car finale on Sunday, August 19.
Driving Rudy Hoerr's '71 Ford, Unser soundly whipped the 30-strong stock car field after his strongest challenger, Jack Bowsher, retired his ailing Ford on the 44th lap. Despite seven lead changes, Unser's mastery of the one-mile dirt oval was exquisite. His 20 second advantage over Butch Hartman as the checkers waved might have been more. Only three other drivers, Hartman, Ralph Latham and Don White completed the distance.
Unser's quick one-lap (37:80) qualifying mark put him on the pole he led the bunched field into turn three where Jim Tobin promptly lost control of his '71 Dodge and caused an eight-car pile-up, which immediately brought out the red flag.
It took 40 minutes and cutting torches to get Jigger Sirois off the wall. There were no injuries but Tobin, Sirois, Verlin Eakers and Ron North were finished. Ramo Stott, Tom Klippel, Art Bormet and Joe Bodher restarted with three-lap "deficiencies".
On the complete restart Unser and Bowsher started some spectacular dicing until the Ohioan's motor gave out. Unser acknowledged later on that was the turning point in the race. Only Don White appeared strong at the finish but his leisurely pace early in the contest cost him that chance.
A paid crowd of 15,000 people were expecting a highly anticipated USAC vs. NASCAR battle but that never materialized. Tiny Lund's car was a late arrival and was never permitted a proper set-up and the highly popular Roger McCluskey had an ill-advised pit stop early on that put him a lap down before the quarter mark of the race.
Hartman's second place finish moved him into the lead in the point standings ahead of McCluskey by a faint 17 points.
On Sunday afternoon, the Viceroy Ford driver finished six second ahead of A.J. Foyt in the championship dirt car main event. Foyt was competing in his first race since a spectacular crash at DuQuoin a month ago. Lee Kunzman of Guttenberg, Iowa finished third.
Pacing the field at the start was Kunzman and Ronnie Burke. At the green Kunzman led Burke, Foyt and Ralph Ligouri into the first turn as crewman worked frantically to get Billy Vuckovich's car into the race. They were unsuccessful; the engine was vapor locked.
By the 10th circuit, the field was sorting itself out with both Foyt and Unser getting by Kunzman. Burke held on to fourth followed by Ligouri, Johnny Rutherford, Greg Weld, Sam Sessions, Bob Williams and George Snider. Another 10 laps sliced the last four drivers from the elite 10 and Tom Bigelow, Billy Puterbaugh, Rollie Beale and rookie Bill Englehart replaced them.
Foyt gave way to pressing Unser on the 28th lap but despite two yellow's that bunched up the field, he was not a contender. Duane "Pancho" Carter brought out the first caution when he looped his Rogala Offy in turn one on lap 13 and Sam Sessions stalled his King O' Lawn Special in turn four on the 74th lap. Three laps later, Burke's flirtation with fame came to an end when his oil line popped.
When the green dropped for the last time. Foyt gave it the old college try but without too much success. After the race, Unser graciously requested that 20,000 race fans in attendance acknowledge Foyt's comeback.
After Burke's retirement, little changed in the final results. Billy Englebart got his Conklin Chevy into eighth and Arnie Knepper coaxed a sick Elder Cadillac Chevy up to 10th. Bigelow's sixth place finish kept him his championship dirt car division lead intact.