Indianapolis, Ind. (May 30, 1968) – Bobby Unser, the hottest American driver this year, stomped out the turbine revolution Thursday in the 52nd edition of the 500-mile auto race. He won his first Indianapolis 500 with a record speed of 152.882 miles per hour.The Albuquerque, N.M., member of the famous racing family, pulled ahead to stay with 22.5 miles to go as a leading turbine failed for the second straight year.
Joe Leonard of San Jose, Calif., climbed out of his ailing turbine with his head hanging, just as Parnelli Jones had done a year ago when the original turbine quit with 7.5 miles left in the endurance race.
That was when Unser, in and out of the lead all the way, whizzed by and captured first place for keeps.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Unser said in the garage area after the race. “I just could believe it.”
Could he have caught the whooshing Leonard turbine if it had not quit?
“That’s something I’ll never know,” Unser replied. “I was sitting there in the car wondering the same thing myself at the time.”
Two other Lotus turbines entered by Andy Granatelli also failed to finish. Graham Hill of London, the 1966 winner, crashed after losing a wheel. Another turbine driven by Art Pollard of Medford, Ore., stopped minutes after Leonard’s quit.
It was a great day for Dan Gurney, America’s International racer and car builder from Santa Ana, Calif. Not only did he finish the race in second, but his All-American Eagles finished first, second and fourth.
Gurney’s teammate, 1967 world champion Dennis Hulme of Australia, finished fourth behind Mel Kenyon of Lebanon, Ind., the United States Auto Club midget car champion last year. Lloyd Ruby of Wichita Falls, Tex., was fifth in the unofficial standings.
Unser’s victory came on the same track where his brother, Jerry, was killed in practice run in 1959.
Another brother, Al, crashed in the first turn on Thursday, when a wheel came off.
Bobby thought a broken gear shift had all but killed his chances for victory.
“I figured I was losing half a lap with the slow acceleration on each of the second and third pit stops,” he said. “I thought that finished me.”
Bobby was fighting a major handicap after the first of three compulsory pit stops. His low gear went out and he had to run in only high gear, pulling out of the pits. Although it cost him precious seconds, it was a handicap only when going out of the pits and didn’t hinder him on the track.
Leonard, who won the pole position with a record qualifying speed, led the first seven laps only to find himself being passed by Unser and his Eagle-turbocharged Offenhauser.
Bobby led through the 54th circuit and was passed by Ruby on lap 55.
Bobby got back out front again on the 91st, yielded it to Ruby again on the 112th and got it back again on lap 117.
It was Ruby again, 167 – 175, Leonard from 176 – 191, and then Unser the rest of the way.
Bobby had won three other United States Auto Club races thus far this season at Trenton, N.J., Phoenix, Ariz., and Las Vegas, Nev.
The curly-haired 34-year-old driver had an Eagle owned by Bob Wilke, a Milwaukee, Wis., businessman who also owned cars driven by former 500 winner Rodger Ward.
1. Bobby Unser, Albuquerque, N.M.
2. Dan Gurney, Santa Ana, Calif.
3. Mel Kenyon, Lebanon, Ind.
4. Dennis Hulme, Tauranga, N.Z.
5. Lloyd Ruby, Wichita Falls, Tex.
6. Ronnie Duman, Indianapolis
7. Billy Vukovich, Fresno, Calif.
8. Mike Mosley, La Puente, Calif.
9. Sam Sessions, Nashville, Mich.
10.Bobby Grim, Indianapolis
11.Bob Veith, Santa Rosa, Calif.
12.Joe Leonard, Sam Jose, Calif.
13.Art Pollard, Medford, Ore.
14.Jim McElreath, Arlington, Tex.
15.Carl Williams, Grandview, Mo.
16.Bud Tingelstad, Hawthorne, Calif.
17.Wally Dallenbach, East Brunswick, N.J.
18.Johnny Rutherford, Fort Worth, Tex.
19.Graham Hill, London, England
20.A.J. Foyt, Houston, Tex.
21.Ronnie Bucknum, La Canada, Calif.
22.Jim Malloy, Denver, Colo.
23.Jerry Grant, San Diego, Calif.
24.Gary Bettenhausen, Tinley Park, Calif.
25.Arnie Knepper, Belleville, Ill.
26.Al Unser, Albuquerque, N.M.
27.Gordon Johncock, Hastings, Mich.
28.Larry Dickson, Marietta, Ohio
29.Roger McCluskey, Tucson, Ariz.
30.George Snider, Fresno, Calif.
31.Jim Hurtubise, North Tonawanda, N.Y.
32.Jochen Rindt, Pressassona, Switzerland
33.Marion Andretti, Nazareth, Penn.