Sunday, May 26, 2024

1974 – Rutherford Wins ‘500’

Johnny Rutherford waves to the fans from victory lane after winning the 1974 Indianapolis 500. – Steve Manning Collection 

Indianapolis, Ind. (May 26, 1974) – Johnny Rutherford, never even able to finish here in 10 previous times, came charging all the way from his 25th starting position to win Sunday’s Indianapolis 500-mile race in a relatively eventless, smooth-run race which contrasted sharply from last year’s race, which claimed the life of one driver.

Rutherford won the 58th running of auto racing’s richest spectacle by first wearing down polesitter A.J. Foyt and then beating bobby Unser by 21 seconds.

Foyt was foiled in his bid for an unprecedented fourth Indy victory after virtually running neck-and-neck with Rutherford for 300 miles. Foyt, however, was forced out on lap 143 with a broken gearbox.

Rutherford and Bobby Unser were the only two starters to run the full 500 miles. Rutherford’s official speed was 158.589 miles per hour and Unser was clocked at 158.278 miles per hour, considerably slower than the 162 mile per hour mark set by Mark Donohue in 1972. Billy Vukovich finished third.

Rutherford, who will earned an estimated $250,000 for his victory, predicted he would win the race after officials of the United States Auto Club had denied him a front-line starting berth despite a 190 mile per hour qualifying speed. USAC officials stated that Rutherford showed up late for his turn in time trials and penalized him for his tardiness by placing him in the ninth row.

Fuel became the critical factor in this year’s race with the new USAC rule limiting each car to 320 gallons. The issue became crucial on the 175th lap of the 200-lap contest when Rutherford came in for his final fuel stop, which lasted 26 seconds.

The Fort Worth, Tex., driver lost the lead briefly to Unser during the pause but regained it when Unser went in for a 16-second fuel stop on lap 176.

Rutherford, driving a McLaren, had only a 10-second lead on Unser, a former Indy winner driving an Eagle, and they battled the remaining 24 laps for auto racing’s richest prize. At the end of 190 laps, Rutherford pushed his margin to 15 seconds and his crew signaled on a blackboard that their was plenty of fuel remaining should he need another filling.

Only 12 of the 33 starters finished the race, which lasted 3 hours, 9 minutes, and 10.6 seconds. There were seven caution lights, lasting a total of 34 minutes and 21 seconds.

Rutherford’s victory marked the furthest that a challenger had to come to since Louis Meyer’s brilliant charge from 28th starting position to win the 1936 race.

Results –

1. Johnny Rutherford
2. Bobby Unser
3. Bill Vukovich 
4. Gordon Johncock
5. David Hobbs
6. Jim McElreath
7. Duane Carter
8. Bob Harkey
9. Lloyd Ruby
10.Jerry Grant
11.Bill Simpson
12.John Martin
13.Tom Bigelow
14.Mike Hiss
15.A.J. Foyt
16.Roger McCluskey
17.Salt Walther
18.Al Unser
19.Jerry Karl
20.Tom Sneva
21.Jan Opperman
22.Steve Krisiloff
23.Jimmy Caruthers
24.Larry Cannon
25.Jim Hurtubise
26.Johnny Parsons Jr.
27.Rick Muther
28.George Snider
29.Mike Mosley
30.Wally Dallenbach
31.Mario Andretti
32.Gary Bettenhausen
33.Dick Simon

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