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Auto Racing – 1986 – Indy 500 Time Trials – The Last Hour – Larry Rice & Paul Hawkey


The last hour of qualifying for the Indy 500 each year is a pressure packed situation each and every year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway…..and Bump Day, Sunday, May 21 1978 was no different only moreso….as tje car of Jim Hurtubise drew controversy on this particular day….as the final day of time trials opened with 13 spots unfilled….as Indy 500 legend A. J. Foyt (200.120 mph) was the fastest of this Bump Day…..when his speed was tied for second-fastest in the field….but as a final day qualifier….he would line up the 20th position. 

Roger Rager was the only major on-track incident on this day….when on his second warm-up lap…he hit the outside wall in turn four….and suffering an injured hand…which caused him to miss the race….while Larry Cannon brushed the wall on his second qualifying lap….and Dick Simon brushed the wall on the main stretch shaking down a car for Bill Puterbaugh….when the car lost two wheels and it was too late in the day for the car to be repaired.   

In the final hour, there was one spot left in the field when Bob Harkey was preparing to make his attempt….as driver Jim Hurtubise….who had once again entered his now-infamous Mallard/Offy front-engined car…when he was denied the permission to qualify….due to lack of speed…as the governing body of the Indy 500, the USAC had decided to set a 180 mph minimum speed in order to pass “final” inspection and receive the appropriate sticker…thus allowing Hurtubise to make a qualifying attempt. They deemed Hurtubise ineligible, claiming he had not broken 175 mph….despite some claiming he had lapped over 184 mph.   

Hurtubise considered the ruling a personal harassment, lies, and an effort by USAC, Goodyear, and the Speedway to single him out and keep him from qualifying…so, after being a popular fixture with all the fans for many years….several episodes of antics had caused some to begin to view Hurtubise poorly….which led to Hurtubise getting into a heated exchange with chief steward Tom Binford….then proceeding to climb into Harkey’s car, shouting “If I can’t qualify, no one can!”     

After a few minutes, Hurtubise was coaxed out of the car…allowing Harkey to climbed in to crank it up and out on the track….so, with some encouragement from the crowd…Hurtubise then jumped in front of Harkey and preventing him from pulling out of the pits….when he had to be restrained by safety patrol members….and Harkey managed to pull away. While Harkey was on the backstretch of his warm-up lap,   Hurtubise jumped over the pit wall and ran out on the race track in order to disrupt and halt the qualifying attempt.   Running down the mainstretch, several guards chased after him. Hurtubise was tackled by John Martin and was then detained by police.  By this time, the crowd’s opinion had changed, and they began booing and jeering Hurtubise for going too far by disrupting qualifying. Hurtubise was banned from the track for the remainder of the month.   

Harkey managed to finish his qualifying attempt without incident….but his speed was not fast enough to stand….and just twenty minutes later….Harkey was bumped by Joe Saldana. The day closed with Cliff Hucul bumping Graham McRae with two minutes left in the day. 

Although Jim Hurtubise might have “lost it a lil bit” on this day in May 1978….he was no slouch on the race track….having run in ten Indianapolis 500 races between 1960 and 1974….with his best finish being a 13th in the 1962 Indy 500….then in 1972 while running in contention towards the end of the race….when he ran out of fuel…but was towed through the infield….which resulted in his disqualification for crossing through the infield.  In the 1968 race, he ran the last front-engined car to date in the race….as he had attempted to qualify his front-engined car for the Indy 500 every year from 1975 to 1981…but failed to do so. On “bump day” May 21, 1972….Hurtubisehe put his Miller Beer sponsored car in line to make a qualification attempt shortly before the closing deadline of 6:00 pm…..but time expired before it was his turn to qualify….which resulted in removing the engine cover to reveal that the car didn’t have its usual front-engined motor, but instead,,,,5 chilled cases of his sponsor’s product….which he shared with the other pit crews and race officials. 

Due to the historic elements in play at the 1978 Indy 500 Time Trials on “bump day”….this video becomes a significant piece of auto racing history….cuz history like this….should be remembered.

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