Wednesday, September 28, 2022

1969 - Unser Passes Sacramento Test

Al Unser shows perfect form en route to winning the Golden State 100 at Sacramento. 

Sacramento, Calif. (September 28, 1969) – First came Greg Weld and Mario Andretti, then Billy Vukovich and last and most seriously Gary Bettenhausen to hurl challenges at Al Unser, who accepted and shook them off to win the Golden State 100-mile race wire to wire on Sunday afternoon.

Bettenhausen's bid to win fell short by a car length as Unser flashed across the finish line at the “Old Fairgrounds” with a broken rear suspension, which made the car about, as easy to handle as a loaded cement truck.

Unser traveled the distance in one hour, four minutes, 9:19 seconds (a 93.523 mile per hour average) for the second fastest time ever posted here. A. J. Foyt, who canceled out because of an important Ohio race, holds the track mark at 1:02:16:6 set in 1962.

So hard was Bettenhausen, who started 15th in the field of 18, charging at the end that he got out of the groove and spun almost through the first turn and came to halt in a cloud of dust while 10,969 fans heaved a sigh of relief.

Unser's share of the $29,342 purse from the gross $53,104 amounted to a little over $8,000.

But Unser, who won his eighth career championship, almost came away empty handed when the suspension on his Ford - powered car let go with two laps left.

“The sway bar broke and when it fell down it popped the torsion bar,” said the 30-year-old Unser. “After that the car was very hard to handle.”

Weld, of Kansas City, took the pole in qualifying rounds with a 36.90-second lap in his Plymouth - powered STP Special and chased Unser until the 37th lap when Andretti slipped past his teammate. Weld never threatened after that.

Andretti was traveling five to six seconds behind Unser, but Vukovich took the challengers spot away at the midway point and Mario subsequently went out at 84 laps with engine trouble.

On the previous lap, Unser had to call on his driving skills when he got too high in the grandstand turn and nearly hit the fence. It was at this point that Vukovich and Bettenhausen closed the gap to three seconds.

When the three leaders came hurtling out of the far turn near the end of the 93rd lap the right rear tire on Vukovich's car blew. Pit crews scattered as the J.C. Agajanian Offy slid to a stop. Exit Vukovich.

Results –

1. Al Unser, Albuquerque, N.M.
2. Gary Bettenhausen, Tinley Park, Ill.
3. Bobby Unser, Albuquerque, N.M.
4. Bruce Walkup, Downey, Calif.
5. Carl Williams, Kansas City
6. Bill Puterbaugh, Indianapolis
7. Johnny Parsons Jr., Encinitas, Calif.
8. Johnny Anderson, Sacramento
9. Wally Dallenbach, East Brunswick, N.J.
10.Larry Dickson, Marietta, Ohio
11.Bob Harkey, Speedway, Ind.
12.Greg Weld, Kansas City
13.Billy Vukovich, Fresno, Calif.
14.Art Pollard, Medford, Ore.
15.Mario Andretti, Nazareth, Penn.
16.Jim McElreath, Arlington, Tex.
17.Mike Mosley, West Covina, Calif.
18.Tommy Copp, Fresno, Calif.

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