This auto racing video showcasing the entire 1979 Indy 500 race is an “unpolished treasure” in our ImaSportphile video library….as the 63rd 500 Mile International Sweepstakes….or Indy 500 as we call it….was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana on Sunday May 27, 1979…..when 2nd year driver Rick Mears took the lead for the final time with 18 laps to go….and won his first of four Indianapolis 500 races….which was also Mears’ first of a record six Indy 500 pole positions….as brothers Al and Bobby Unser combined to lead 174 of the 200 laps….but Al dropped out around the midpoint with a blown engine….and Bobby slipped to 5th place at the finish nursing mechanical issues….for this also Roger Penske’s second Indy 500 victory as a car owner.
This race was the beginning of the first open-wheel “split”….so the month of May 1979 was filled with controversy on and off the track….as a court injunction was issued after USAC initially denied entries by some teams that were part of the CART series….when during the time trials….several cars were disqualified due to illegal waste-gate exhaust pipes….so, qualifying closed with the traditional 33 cars in the field…however, the day before the race…a special qualifying session was held to allow certain entries a last chance to qualify….which added two additional cars to the field of 35 cars….the most since the 1933 race.
The high tensions and numerous technical squabbles during the month attracted considerable negative criticism from sports writers and media….but the race itself was very competitive and entertaining…which completed without any major incident or controversy.
Among those in attendance was former president Gerald Ford….who served as the grand marshal of the 500 Festival Parade. The 1979 race is also notable in that it was the first to utilize the pace car during caution periods.