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1987 Indianapolis 500

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The 71st Indianapolis 500 was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana, on Sunday May 24, 1987. After dominating practice, qualifying, and most of the race, leader Mario Andretti slowed with mechanical problems with only 23 laps to go. Five laps later, Al Unser Sr. assumed the lead, and won his record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 victory. During the month of May, an unusually high 25 crashes occurred during practice and qualifying, with one driver in particular, Jim Crawford, suffering serious leg injuries.[3]

Al Unser's victory is considered one of the biggest upsets in Indianapolis 500 history.[4] Unser, whose driving career was beginning to wind down, had dropped down to part-time status a year earlier. He entered the 1987 month of May without a ride and without sponsorship money, which left him on the sidelines for the first week of practice. After Danny Ongais suffered a concussion in a practice crash, Unser was hired by Penske to fill the vacant seat. Unser proceeded to win the race with a year-old March chassis, and the venerable Cosworth DFX, the powerplant's tenth consecutive Indy victory. Unser's car, originally entered as a back-up, had been sitting in a hotel lobby in Reading, Pennsylvania, as a show car just weeks prior.

The race was sanctioned by USAC, and was included as part of the 1987 CART PPG Indy Car World Series. Of the notable statistics, the 1987 Indy 500 was the first such where the entry list did not include a single car built in the United States.[5]

During the race, a spectator was killed when an errant tire was hit into the grandstand, the first spectator fatality at the event in a racing-related incident since 1938.


Defending Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal went on to win the 1986 CART championship. During the offseason, his Truesports racing team made a highly publicized switch from the March chassis to the up-and-coming Lola chassis.[6] Truesports, however, stayed with the proven Cosworth engine. Rahal was a strong favorite to repeat as winner.

For 1987, the Ilmor Chevrolet Indy V-8 expanded its participation in Indy car racing. Penske Racing fielded a three-car effort with the powerplant, while resuming its in-house chassis program. The PC-16 chassis was the primary car for the team, but as a backup, three year-old March 86C chassis were also entered. Newman/Haas Racing joined the Ilmor Chevrolet program, pairing the engine in a Lola. Mario Andretti scored the engine's first victory a month earlier at Long Beach. Patrick Racing (Emerson Fittipaldi & Kevin Cogan) was the third team to utilize the Ilmor Chevrolet, but they used the 1987 March chassis.

Roberto Guerrero won the second race of the season, held at Phoenix. Guerrero was a rising star on the circuit, and the impressive victory at Phoenix made him a favorite for Indy. For 1987, his Vince Granatelli team was sporting a special paint job, a "throwback" day-glow orange which resembled the Andy Granatelli entries from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A new powerplant arrived at Indy in 1987. The Judd AV V-8 was badged as the Brabham-Honda, and was fielded by Galles Racing. Brabham and rookie Jeff MacPherson were the drivers.

During the offseason at Penske Racing, three-time Indy winner (1970, 1971, 1978), and three-time national champion (1970, 1983, 1985) Al Unser Sr. retired from full-time driving duties. Unser Sr. had been driving for Penske from 1983 to 1986. Businessman and media mogul Ted Field arranged a deal with Roger Penske to field Indy veteran Danny Ongais in the third Penske entry. Unser Sr. was unable to secure a ride before the month of May, and arrived at the track unemployed, albeit shopping around for a competitive car.

Goodyear arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time with a new radial tire. After a few years of development in the CART series, the radials were ready for competition in the Indy 500.

The most noticeable construction project completed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a series of electronic dot matrix scoreboards installed around the track.

Race schedule

Race schedule – April/May 1987
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
Pole Day
Time Trials
Time Trials
Bump Day
Carb Day
Indy 500
Memorial Day
Color Notes
Green Practice
Dark Blue Time trials
Silver Race day
Red Rained out*
Blank No track activity

* Includes days where track
activity was significantly
limited due to rain

ROP – denotes Rookie
Orientation Program

Practice – week 1

Rick Mears in a Penske PC-16 chassis during the first week of practice.
Rick Mears in a Penske PC-16 chassis during the first week of practice.

Saturday May 2

Practice started on Opening Day, Saturday May 2. Rookie Ludwig Heimrath, Jr. was the first car on the track. A somewhat light day of activity saw several drivers pass their rookie tests. Michael Andretti posted the fastest lap of the day, at 210.772 mph (339.205 km/h).[7][8] His father Mario, however, did not take any laps.[7]

Sunday May 3

The second day of practice saw increased activity. Mario Andretti posted the fastest lap of the day at 213.371 mph (343.387 km/h). Later in the day, the weather cooled, and wind picked up. At 5:58 p.m., Pancho Carter suffered a spectacular crash. His car spun in turn three,[7] air got underneath, and flipped upside-down. The car landed on the pavement on its roll bar, and proceeded to skid about 600 feet (180 m) through the North chute.[7] The car hit the outside wall in turn four, and came to a rest still upside-down. Carter, however, was not seriously injured.[7] His helmet had three major scrapes from rubbing along the pavement.[8] Carter later proudly showed off the helmet, showing where he had rotated his head to spread the abrasion damage.

Monday May 4

High winds kept the speeds down.[8] Dennis Firestone and Roberto Guerrero tied for fast lap of the day (211.565 mph), while Mario Andretti was third.[7][8]

Tuesday May 5

Tuesday saw the fastest lap in Indy history to date.[8] Mario Andretti blistered the track at an unofficial track record of 218.204 mph (351.165 km/h).[7][8] It made him the favorite for the pole position.[8] The next fastest time, turned in by Bobby Rahal was a full 5 miles per hour (8.0 km/h) slower. The second crash of the month occurred, involving Dennis Firestone. He spun and crashed in turn four, breaking bones in his left foot and fracturing his left leg.[8]

Wednesday May 6

Four crashes occurred during practice on Wednesday.[8] Kevin Cogan drifted high exiting turn 1, and crashed into the outside wall. Later, Scott Brayton hit the wall in turn four. Derek Daly and Dick Ferguson both brushed the wall in the south short chutes, but both nursed their cars back to the pits. None of the four drivers were seriously injured. Mario Andretti continued his dominance of practice, leading the speed charts again, at 216.502 mph (348.426 km/h).[7] A surprising second-fastest was Jim Crawford, driving a Buick-powered 1986 March to a lap of 215.982 mph (347.589 km/h). Cogan, Brayton, and Daly were all driving 1987 March chassis. By mid-week, teams fielding the 1987 March chassis were finding the cars difficult to handle with the new Goodyear radial tires.[8] Coupled with the warmer temperatures, and often windy conditions, many teams were finding the search for speed difficult.

Thursday May 7

Danny Ongais during practice prior to his accident.
Danny Ongais during practice prior to his accident.

Breezy conditions continued on Thursday.[8] The most serious crash of the month to date occurred less than an hour into the day. Danny Ongais, driving the third Penske entry, crashed hard into the outside wall in turn 4. He suffered a concussion and was sidelined for the rest of the month. The crash added to the frustration the Penske team was having so far during the month. While they were having little trouble with the Ilmor Chevrolet engine, the PC-16 chassis was deemed a lemon.[8] Rick Mears and Danny Sullivan were struggling to keep pace, and were rarely amongst the top ten each day on the speed chart.[7] Meanwhile, Mario Andretti continued to top the speed chart, again by 2 mph (3.2 km/h), with a lap at 218.234 mph (351.214 km/h). Rocky Moran upped the crash tally for the week to eight, when he crashed exiting turn 2.[7][8]

Late in the afternoon of May 7, Penske Racing decided to park the PC-16 chassis in favor of their stable of 1986 Marches. However, none were presently at the track, nor immediately race ready. In some cases, they were serving as show cars. The first car would arrive the following morning, and Rick Mears and Danny Sullivan flipped a coin to see who would drive it. Mears won the toss.[8]

Friday May 8

The final day of practice was warm and windy. Mario Andretti led the speed chart once again (216.242 mph), but Bobby Rahal was a close second (215.568 mph). Four more crashes occurred, bringing the total for the month to twelve.[7][8] Tom Sneva crashed exiting turn one. Dick Ferguson crashed for the second time, and suffered major damage. Gary Bettenhausen spun, and Phil Krueger suffered rear suspension damage after tagging the turn four wall.

Time trials – weekend 1

Pole-sitter Mario Andretti waits by his car during a practice session.
Pole-sitter Mario Andretti waits by his car during a practice session.

Pole day qualifying – Saturday May 9

During morning practice on Saturday May 9, Bobby Rahal led the speed chart at 216.609 mph (348.598 km/h). Mario Andretti was second-fastest. Rick Mears, who only a day earlier stepped into a 1986 March, already had the car up to speed at 213.371 mph (343.387 km/h). Stan Fox was involved in the 13th crash of the month, when he spun out of turn three and tapped the inside wall.

Hot, slick, and windy conditions were observed during pole day. Many teams who had struggled during the week with handling problems, sat idle on pole day, waiting for better track conditions.[9] The first two cars waved off, and Rick Mears became the first car in the field at 211.467 mph (340.323 km/h).

Bobby Rahal tentatively secured the top spot with a run of 213.316 mph (343.299 km/h). Over the next hour and a half, five cars started runs, but all were waved off. By 1 p.m., still only two cars were qualified.

At 1:09 p.m., Mario Andretti took to the track. Despite hot conditions, and gusty winds, Andretti took the pole position with a speed of 215.390 mph (346.637 km/h). After Andretti's run, sparse activity took place until late in the day. Most teams stayed off the track altogether. Veteran drivers, Johnny Rutherford and Dick Simon managed successful runs, and filled the field to five cars.

Jim Crawford, a darkhorse favorite for the front row in a Buick entry, made his first attempt at 2:25 p.m. The crew waved off after a slower-than-expected speed. A little over an hour later, Crawford returned to the track. After a quick warm-up lap, he lost control in turn one, and hit the wall nose-first. He suffered severe injuries, fractures to both ankles, a fractured lower right shin, and a fractured left knee.[3] He would be sidelined for an entire year. Johnny Parsons also brushed the wall in turn 2 during a practice run, upping the total to 15 accidents during the month.

Late in the day, several veterans took to the track in an attempt to qualify. Among the fastest were Roberto Guerrero and Arie Luyendyk. Shortly after 5 p.m., A. J. Foyt qualified in 4th position, extending his streak to a record thirty consecutive Indy 500 races. With reluctance, Danny Sullivan completed a slow qualifying run his PC-16/Chevrolet. It was a strategic move, in order to secure Sullivan a tentative spot in the field in case time trials was rained out on the second weekend.

At the close of pole day, only eleven cars had completed qualifying runs. With Andretti, Rahal, and Mears taking the top three spots, it was the first time since 1975 that the front row consisted of all former winners. With A. J. Foyt qualifying fourth, it was also the first time that former winners swept the top four positions. Rick Mears surprised observers by putting a year-old car on the outside of the front row, his record seventh front row start, and veteran Dick Simon enjoyed his first start in the front two rows by qualifying 6th. The Ilmor-Chevy Indy V-8 engine won the qualifying battle, placing machines 1st and 3rd, while Cosworth's best cars was 2nd.

Second day qualifying – Sunday May 10

Three more crashes occurred on Sunday May 10, lifting the total for the month to 18. The most serious by Tom Sneva, his second crash in three days.

Former winner Gordon Johncock was announced as the replacement for the injured Jim Crawford.[3] Johncock initially retired before the 1985 race, but had tentative plans for a return in 1986. Johncock was expected to immediately begin practicing on the track.

The second day of time trials opened with two attempts, by rookie Ludwig Heimrath, Jr. and Rich Vogler. Over an hour and half hour later, more cars lined up to qualify. By the end of the day, the field was filled to 18 cars, with Heimrath the fastest of the afternoon. Among those not yet in the field were Al Unser, Jr., Tom Sneva, and Kevin Cogan.

Practice – week 2

Monday May 11

Gordon Johncock took to the track for his first stint of laps at speed. At night, the first significant rain in many days washed the track of some rubber buildup. Mario Andretti (211.714 mph) was the fastest car of the day.[10]

Tuesday May 12

Penske Racing driver Danny Ongais was officially withdrawn from his entry. Following his crash on May 7, Ongais was diagnosed with a concussion, and was not medically cleared to drive. No replacement was yet announced, but Al Unser, Sr. was rumored as the choice.

Track activity was leisurely, with Mario Andretti leading the speed chart at 212.916 in a back-up car. Rookie Fabrizio Barbazza was the fastest driver not yet qualified at 206.091. Dominic Dobson, another rookie, used the afternoon to finish the final phases of his rookie test.

Wednesday May 13

Three-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser, Sr. was officially announced as the replacement for the injured Danny Ongais at Penske Racing. Unser took his first laps of the month, driving a newly arrived 1986 March/Cosworth. Unser had entered the month unemployed, and was at the track supporting his son Al Unser, Jr. in his efforts at Doug Shierson Racing. Unser, Jr. struggled to get his car up to speed during the first week of practice, and was unable to qualify during the first weekend of time trials. Unser, Sr. planned to go home to Albuquerque by Monday, but decided to stay through the week to help Unser, Jr. get up to speed.[4] About a day later, he was approached to drive for Penske.

Al Unser, Sr.'s Penske Racing teammate Danny Sullivan started taking laps for the first time in another 1986 March chassis, powered by an Ilmor Chevrolet Indy V-8. Plans were being made to withdraw Sullivan's PC-16/Chevrolet from the qualified field, and re-qualify in the year-old March.

Late in the day by Geoff Brabham broke a wheel, and slid into the wall in turn three. It was the 19th crash of the month.

Thursday May 14

Al Unser, Jr., after two weeks of struggling with speed, led the non-qualified cars at 208.913 mph (336.213 km/h). Mario Andretti continued to practice in his back-up car, posting the fourth-fastest speed of the day. Two single-car crashes by Johnny Parsons and Rick Miaskiewicz respectively, brought the total of the month to 21 crashes. Parsons suffered a broken ankle, and was sidelined for the rest of the month.

Friday May 15

The final regular day of practice took place on Friday May 15. Dennis Firestone suffered his second crash in a week, and 22nd overall for the month. In turn four, he slid into the outside wall, suffering a neck fracture and concussion. Al Unser, Jr. again led the non-qualified cars at 210.231 mph (338.334 km/h).

Time trials – weekend 2

Third day qualifying – Saturday May 16

The third day of time trials took place on May 16. Several veteran drivers, as well as a couple rookies, completed qualifying runs, and filled the field to 30 cars.

Among the veterans qualifying early on were Al Unser, Jr., Gordon Johncock, and Al Unser, Sr. Danny Sullivan withdrew his already-qualified PC-16 Chevrolet, and re-qualified with a 1986 March/Chevrolet. His qualifying speed increased by 5 miles per hour (8.0 km/h).

Late in the afternoon, Kevin Cogan made the field, as well as Tony Bettenhausen. Tom Sneva, after two crashes during the month, finally put a car in the field at over 207 mph (333 km/h). Shortly after, the track closed for the day.

Bump day qualifying – Sunday May 17

The final day of qualifying was held on May 17. At the start of the day, three positions in the starting field were vacant. Steve Chassey was the first driver to attempt to qualify, but waved off after only one lap of 195 mph (314 km/h). Pancho Carter withdrew his qualified car, and re-qualified faster in a backup.

Phil Krueger was the third car out on the track, and his first lap would have been fast enough to ultimately make the field. On his second lap, however, he dipped low in turn one, hit the outside wall, then spun and hit the wall again. It was the 24th crash of the month. After the crash, the track stayed mostly quiet until 4:45 p.m.

Steve Chassey made his second attempt to qualify, but again waved off following three, slow, inconsistent laps. Rocky Moran was next, and despite only a 199 mph (320 km/h) average, he completed his run. Dominic Dobson and Davy Jones (driving for Foyt Racing) then filled the field to 33 cars.

With 49 minutes to go before the 6:00 p.m. gun, George Snider took another Foyt back up car and bumped Rocky Moran. It was the fourth Foyt entry to qualify for the field. The move left Dominic Dobson (201.240 mph) on the bubble. Dobson survived attempts by Ed Pimm and Rick Miaskiewicz, and by 5:30, still clung to the starting field.

Steve Chassey made his third and final allotted attempt to bump his way into the field. At 202.488 mph (325.873 km/h), he bumped his way into the field by just over 1 second. Sammy Swindell (201.840 mph) then found himself on the bubble. Ed Pimm easily bumped him out. That move dropped Chassey down to the bubble spot. In the final 20 minutes, Chassey held on, and the field was set.

Carburetion Day

On Thursday May 21, the final scheduled practice session was held. The weather continued to be hot and dry. Two incidents during the session altered the grid for race day, bringing the total for the month to 25 crashes leading up to the race.

About a half hour into the session, A. J. Foyt, who qualified 4th on the grid, got into turbulence in turn one. He lost control, did a half spin, and crashed hard into the wall. About an hour later, Emerson Fittipaldi, nursing an ill-handling car, spun and crashed in turn three.

Foyt's car was deemed repairable, and he was able to start in his qualified position. Fittipaldi's car, however, was a total loss, and he would be required to start a backup car on race day. He was moved from the 10th starting position to the rear of the field.

Mario Andretti continued his complete dominance of the month, and posted the fastest lap of the day. His speed of 211.515 mph (340.400 km/h) was over 4 mph (6.4 km/h) faster than Rick Mears, who was second-fastest. Likewise, Andretti marched closer towards a clean sweep for the month, guiding his Newman Haas team to a win in the Miller Indy Pit Stop Championship. He beat Bobby Rahal (Truesports racing) in the final round.

Semifinals Finals
5 Mario Andretti 21.96
2 Roberto Guerrero 24.94
5 Mario Andretti 18.05
1 Bobby Rahal 23.27
1 Bobby Rahal 21.34
44 A. J. Foyt 23.24

Starting grid

Row Inside Middle Outside
1 United States Mario Andretti (W) United States Bobby Rahal (W) United States Rick Mears (W)
2 United States A. J. Foyt (W) Colombia Roberto Guerrero United States Dick Simon
3 Netherlands Arie Luyendyk United States Johnny Rutherford (W) United States Michael Andretti
4 Canada Ludwig Heimrath (R) United States Rich Vogler United States Jeff MacPherson (R)
5 United States Scott Brayton Australia Geoff Brabham United States Gary Bettenhausen
6 United States Danny Sullivan (W) Italy Fabrizio Barbazza (R) United States Gordon Johncock (W)
7 Republic of Ireland Derek Daly United States Al Unser, Sr. (W) United States Tom Sneva (W)
8 United States Al Unser, Jr. United States Randy Lewis (R) United States Kevin Cogan
9 Mexico Josele Garza United States Stan Fox (R) United States Tony Bettenhausen, Jr.
10 United States Davy Jones (R) United States Pancho Carter United States Ed Pimm
11 United States George Snider United States Steve Chassey Brazil Emerson Fittipaldi
  • † - Emerson Fittipaldi qualified 10th on pole day. On Carburetion Day, he crashed his already-qualified car, and it was damaged beyond repair. The car was replaced with a back-up car, and was moved the rear of the field.


Failed to Qualify

Race summary


Race day dawned warm with clear blue skies. During the pace lap, the car of George Snider caught fire, with a turbocharger failure. Snider pulled into the pits, as the rest of the field took the green flag. Mario Andretti charged from the pole position, and led the field into turn one.

In the first turn of the first lap, Josele Garza was down low on the white line, and lost the back end of the car. Right next to Al Unser, Sr., he started spinning. Unser slipped by cleanly, but reported being tagged gently from behind. Garza spun up the track, and collected Pancho Carter. Neither driver was injured, but both cars suffered damage.

First half

On lap 6, the green came back out, with Mario Andretti continuing to lead. Driving at a blistering pace, it took only 7 laps for him to start lapping backmarkers. On lap 25, Ludwig Heimrath, Jr. was running 7th, and made his first pit stop, but one of the wheels was not properly secured. The wheel came off, and he spun in turn four. Under the caution, Mario Andretti pitted, and managed to stay in the lead. Only 7 cars remained on the lead lap.

Around the 100-mile (160 km) mark, several cars were dropping out of contention. Kevin Cogan blew an engine, Randy Lewis dropped out with a gearbox failure, and Michael Andretti broke a CV joint, then had a pit fire. On lap 34, Bobby Rahal, who had been running as high as second, made an unscheduled, five-minute long pit stop due to an electrical problem. After several long stops, Rahal would eventually drop out.

Mario Andretti continued to dominate, giving up the lead temporarily only through the sequence of pit stops. Roberto Guerrero and Danny Sullivan consistently were chasing him. Shortly before the halfway point, Rick Mears was forced to the pits with an electrical problem, and would also be forced to drop out.

At the 90 lap mark, Al Unser, Sr. had worked up to 4th, and Tom Sneva 5th. Andretti was still dominating, running laps in the low 200's mph range, while most other cars were in the 190 mph (310 km/h) range, or slower. Dick Simon was running 7th, but ran the car out of fuel on the backstretch. He lost several laps as he was towed back to the pits, but received fuel, and returned to the track.

Second half

The dominance by Mario Andretti continued in the second half, leading Roberto Guerrero by several seconds. The rest of the field was at least one lap down. Several of the other competitors were falling by the wayside, including A. J. Foyt (who was running 9th) and Rich Vogler. Sullivan and Unser, Sr., both in the top 5, were now close to 2 laps down. Meanwhile, Tom Sneva and Arie Luyendyk, clinging to the top eight, both started losing ground to Fabrizio Barbazza.

Spectator fatality

A replica of Roberto Guerrero's 1987 March/Cosworth (shown in road course trim).
A replica of Roberto Guerrero's 1987 March/Cosworth (shown in road course trim).
A close-up look of the 1987 March chassis nose cone area with the cover removed. Note the location of the brake master cylinder and clutch slave cylinder nestled inside. This part of the car was damaged when Guerrero struck the errant wheel.
A close-up look of the 1987 March chassis nose cone area with the cover removed. Note the location of the brake master cylinder and clutch slave cylinder nestled inside. This part of the car was damaged when Guerrero struck the errant wheel.

On the 130th lap,[11] Tony Bettenhausen started suffering a handling problem exiting turn two. Down the backstretch, his right-front wheel lug nut may have come off the car, and the wheel began to loosen. In turn three, the wheel came off and began rolling though the north short chute. Second place Roberto Guerrero came up on the wheel suddenly, and hit it with his nosecone. The nosecone cover was broken off, and the wheel was punted high into the air. The wheel cleared the catchfencing, and flew towards the "K" grandstand. Spectators were witnessed fleeing the seating in a "V" shape as the 18-pound wheel headed their direction. The wheel came down and struck 41-year-old Lyle Kurtenbach of Rothschild, Wisconsin in the head, sitting in the top row of the grandstand. He suffered massive head injuries, and was pronounced dead at Methodist Hospital shortly afterwards. The wheel bounded and came to rest in the tunnel underneath the north short chute.[12][13]

Guerrero slowed, and nursed his car back to the pits.[8] Under the caution flag, the pit crew worked to replace the nosecone, and got Guerrero back on to the track, albeit a lap down.[11] It was not immediately discovered at the time, but striking the tire had damaged the clutch slave cylinder, which was located in the nose. Fluid had begun to leak from the cylinder, which would ultimately render the clutch inoperable. At speed, use of the clutch was unnecessary, but exiting the pits would pose increasing difficulty.

The incident was reported live on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network by fourth turn reporter Bob Jenkins.[14] The extent of injury was unknown at the time. The live ABC television broadcast, however, was at commercial when it occurred.[15] During the commercial, the incident was noticed by the producers and commentators.[16] When they returned on-air, however, footage of the incident was not shown, nor were specific details given of what had occurred.[15] Instead, still images of Guerrero's nosecone and pit crew were shown.[15] No further information was given during the remainder of the race. During the post-race coverage, Jim McKay briefly announced on-air that the Associated Press wire service was reporting that a spectator fatality had occurred,[15] but he did not connect the incidents.

Late race

With 25 laps to go, Mario Andretti held a one-lap lead over second place Roberto Guerrero, and an almost two-lap lead over third place Al Unser, Sr. The field had dwindled down to only 12 cars running, most of which were many laps down. With Rick Mears and Danny Sullivan both out of the race, Roger Penske took over the pit of Al Unser, Sr.. As Penske took over Unser's pit stall, Danny Sullivan and Rick Mears stood near Unser's pit stall to watch the race finish and pull for their teammate.

Andretti, Guerrero, and Unser all needed one final fuel stop to make it to the finish. Unser, Sr. made his final pit stop first. Roger Penske called Unser into the pits a few laps early, in an effort to "put the pressure on Guerrero"[17] in hopes of moving up to second place.

Andretti, leading by 1 lap, slowed down between turns 3 and 4, allowing Guerrero to pass him. At first it was believed that Andretti was ducking into the pits for his final pit stop. However, after leading 170 of 177 laps, Andretti suddenly slowed down the frontstretch on lap 177. An electrical failure in the fuel metering device, part of the fuel injection system, began flooding the engine with raw fuel.[7][8][18][19] After the race, it was determined that Andretti had begun to back off to protect his lead. His lower revs developed a harmonic imbalance in the engine, which led to a broken valve spring.

The misfortune reinforced the perceived Andretti Curse.[15][19] Andretti coasted around to the pit area, and the team immediately replaced the spark box and wastegate.[8][19] Guerrero stormed into the lead, but still had one pit stop remaining. Sitting still in the pit area, the once dominating Andretti started slipping in the standings.


With 20 laps to go, Roberto Guerrero led second place Al Unser, Sr. by almost a full lap. He came upon Unser, Sr. in traffic, and put him a lap down on lap 180. Two laps later, Guerrero went into the pits for his final fuel stop. With his clutch failing from the earlier incident, entering and exiting the pits was becoming increasingly difficult.[11] During the race, Guerrero had also broken third gear.[11] While stopped in the pits, his car became stuck in gear. When refueling was complete, he attempted to pull out of the pits, but the engine stalled. Unser, Sr. was driving through the third turn at the time. The crew refired the engine, and the car started to roll away. With Unser, Sr. heading down the mainstrech, Guerrero's car stalled once again. The lifeless car sat on the pit road as Unser, Sr. drove by to take the lead.

Guerrero finally got back on to the track with 18 laps to go. By that time, Unser, Sr. had put him a full lap down. Meanwhile, Mario Andretti's team had made some hasty repairs, and returned him to the track.[8] After one slow lap, still being scored in the top 8, he went back to the pits for more repairs.[8]

Guerrero spent the next several laps chasing Unser, Sr. in an attempt to get his lap back. With 11 laps to go, Unser Sr. was slowing his pace as rookie Fabrizio Barbazza was holding him back, trying to avoid going 2 laps down. Unser Sr.'s crew asked officials to wave the "blue flag" to order Barbazza to pull over and allow Unser past. Officials waved the blue flag to Barbazza who refused to pull over, until officials threatened to black-flag him. With 9 laps to go Guerrero unlapped himself.[11] Meanwhile, Mario Andretti tried once again to get his car back up to speed.[8]

Mario Andretti's second return to the track was also short-lived, and his car stalled. His car coasted to a stop in turn four and brought out the caution on lap 192.[11] The yellow flag bunched up the field, and allowed Guerrero to make up the rest of the lap.[11] he lined up only six cars behind Unser, Sr. The green flag came out with four laps to go, and Al Unser, Sr. held off Roberto Guerrero by 4.496 seconds, to win his record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 victory. By leading the final 18 laps, Unser, Sr. tied the all-time record for most laps led in Indy 500 competition, and, at 47 years of age, also became the oldest winner of the 500.

Post-race notes

A replica of Al Unser Sr.'s winning car with "Cummins" decals accurately depicted in original race day configuration; mixed case on the left sidepod (top), and all-caps on the right sidepod (bottom).
A replica of Al Unser Sr.'s winning car with "Cummins" decals accurately depicted in original race day configuration; mixed case on the left sidepod (top), and all-caps on the right sidepod (bottom).

Mario Andretti's dominance of the month, and subsequent failure to achieve victory, was largely unprecedented in modern times. He led the practice speed chart on 11 of the 17 days[8] (he participated in only 13 days[8]), won the pole position, won the pit stop contest, had the fastest leading lap of the race, and led 170 of the first 177 laps. Despite not running at the finish, due to high attrition, Andretti was still credited with 9th place, his 8th top-10 finish at Indy.

Al Unser Sr.'s victory in a year-old car was unusual in the CART era. Just weeks prior to being used in the race, the car had been sitting on display at a Sheraton motel in Reading, Pennsylvania.[4] The car went from Hertz sponsorship to Cummins after a couple of days. Due to time constraints, proper decals were unavailable in time for qualifying. Unser Sr.'s car was fitted with sentence case "Cummins" decals (the proper form of the company's logo) on the left sidepod - the side most visible, and the side used for most official photographs. All upper case "CUMMINS" decals (an improper rendition of the company's logo) were used on the right sidepod (the side least visible, and seldom photographed).[8][20]

In post-race interviews, brothers Bobby Unser and Al Unser had a live conversation from the television broadcasting booth to victory circle, with Bobby congratulating his brother Al. It is believed to be the only time brothers were part of the victory lane interview. Bobby was seen in tears of joy as he watched his family celebrate in victory lane, from the broadcast booth. Bobby was in his first race broadcasting the Indy 500 on ABC television (the previous year he was part of the radio network crew).

Two nights before the race, at the Hulman Hundred, Al Unser, Sr.'s nephew Robby Unser suffered a broken leg in a crash. Robby listened to the race on the radio at the hospital, while Robby's father Bobby Unser called the race live on ABC Sports.

This was the final Indy 500 for famous spectator Larry Bisceglia of Yuma. He traditionally was the first person in line since 1950, as well as 1948–1949 when he was one of the first in line.[21] Bisceglia died on December 7, 1988.[22]

A little more than two months after the race, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted the opening ceremonies for the Pan Am Games.

Box score

Finish Start No Name Qual Rank Laps Status
1 20 25 United States Al Unser (W) 207.424 15 200 Running
2 5 4 Colombia Roberto Guerrero 210.680 5 200 Running
3 17 12 Italy Fabrizio Barbazza (R) 208.039 11 198 Flagged
4 22 30 United States Al Unser, Jr. 206.751 17 196 Flagged
5 15 56 United States Gary Bettenhausen 204.504 29 195 Flagged
6 6 22 United States Dick Simon 209.960 7 193 Flagged
7 26 41 United States Stan Fox (R) 204.518 28 192 Flagged
8 12 11 United States Jeff MacPherson (R) 205.688 23 182 Flagged
9 1 5 United States Mario Andretti (W) 215.389 1 180 Broken valve spring
10 27 16 United States Tony Bettenhausen, Jr. 203.892 30 171 Engine
11 8 21 United States Johnny Rutherford (W) 208.296 9 171 Flagged
12 13 91 United States Scott Brayton 205.647 24 167 Engine
13 16 3 United States Danny Sullivan (W) 210.271 6 160 Engine
14 21 33 United States Tom Sneva (W) 207.254 16 143 Crash T2
15 19 77 Republic of Ireland Derek Daly 207.521 14 133 Engine
16 33 20 Brazil Emerson Fittipaldi 205.584 25 131 Lost Power
17 25 55 Mexico Josele Garza 205.692 22 129 Flagged
18 7 71 Netherlands Arie Luyendyk 208.337 8 125 Suspension
19 4 14 United States A. J. Foyt (W) 210.935 4 117 Oil Seal
20 11 81 United States Rich Vogler 205.887 21 109 Rocker Arm
21 30 98 United States Ed Pimm 203.284 31 109 Lost Boost
22 18 2 United States Gordon Johncock (W) 207.990 12 76 Valve
23 3 8 United States Rick Mears (W) 211.467 3 75 Coil Wire
24 14 15 Australia Geoff Brabham 205.503 26 71 Oil Pressure
25 32 87 United States Steve Chassey 202.488 33 68 Engine
26 2 1 United States Bobby Rahal (W) 213.316 2 57 Ignition
27 29 29 United States Pancho Carter 205.154 27 45 Valve
28 28 44 United States Davy Jones (R) 208.117 10 34 Engine
29 9 18 United States Michael Andretti 206.129 19 28 CV Joint
30 10 23 Canada Ludwig Heimrath (R) 207.591 13 25 Spin
31 24 7 United States Kevin Cogan 205.999 20 21 Oil Pump
32 23 24 United States Randy Lewis (R) 206.209 18 8 Gearbox
33 31 84 United States George Snider 203.192 32 0 Fuel Leak




The race was carried live on the IMS Radio Network. This would be the final 500 that featured the familiar crew that worked the race from the mid-1970s to the late-1980s. Paul Page served as the chief announcer for the eleventh and final year (until 2014). It would be Page's fourteenth year overall as part of the network crew. Lou Palmer, who debuted in 1958, had become a fixture of the south pits and victory lane since 1963. The 1987 race would be the final time Palmer reported from the pit area, and the final time he conducted the victory lane winner's interview.

Parnelli Jones joined the crew as the "driver expert." After only one year on the radio crew, Bobby Unser left to become a driver analyst for the ABC television crew. Luke Walton reprised his traditional duty of introducing the starting command during the pre-race, however, he did not have an active role during the race. With four pit reporters now part of the crew, Bob Forbes went back to exclusive duty covering the garage area and track hospital.

Later in the year, Paul Page left NBC Sports and joined ABC in September. As a result, Page left the IMS Radio Network, and ultimately would be replaced as anchor by Lou Palmer for 1988.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network
Booth Announcers Turn Reporters Pit/garage reporters

Chief Announcer: Paul Page
Driver expert: Parnelli Jones
Statistician: John DeCamp
Historian: Donald Davidson

Turn 1: Jerry Baker
Turn 2: Howdy Bell
Turn 3: Larry Henry
Turn 4: Bob Jenkins

Luke Walton (pre-race)
Sally Larvick (interviews)
Bob Forbes (garages)
Ron Carrell (north pits)
Chuck Marlowe (north-central pits)
Gary Gerould (south-central pits)
Lou Palmer (south pits)


ABC Sports carried live flag-to-flag coverage in the United States for the first time on the scheduled race day. Jim McKay served as host, his 20th and final 500 on ABC. Jim Lampley served as announcer for the second and final time. Bobby Unser joined ABC starting in 1987, serving as color commentator alongside Sam Posey. Unser had been working CART series races on NBC (with anchor Paul Page) and had been part of the IMS Radio Network crew in 1986.

Three pit reporters served on the crew, Jack Arute, Al Trautwig, and Jerry Gappens (the future CEO of New Hampshire Motor Speedway[23]). The 1987 race was Gappens lone appearance at Indy, and Trautwig's assignments primarily focused on features and interviews. The victory lane interview of race winner Al Unser, Sr., conducted by Arute, featured a unique moment when Bobby Unser took over and conducted a brief interview with his brother.

The broadcast has re-aired numerous times on ESPN Classic since the mid-2000s.

ABC Television
Booth Announcers Pit/garage reporters

Host: Jim McKay
Announcer: Jim Lampley
Color: Sam Posey
Color: Bobby Unser

Jack Arute
Jerry Gappens
Al Trautwig


"And history is matched as the twin checkered flags come out for our second four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, Al Unser"Paul Page described the finish of the race for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network.

"Al Unser joins A.J. Foyt...the only two men to win the Indianapolis 500, 4 times" - Jim Lampley 'described the finish of the race for ABC Sports'.



  1. ^ Fox, Jack C. (1994). The Illustrated History of the Indianapolis 500 1911-1994 (4th ed.). Carl Hungness Publishing. p. 22. ISBN 0-915088-05-3.
  2. ^ O'Neill, John R. (May 25, 1987). "Fans had comfort of living room in track infield". The Indianapolis Star. p. 9. Retrieved June 2, 2017 – via access
  3. ^ a b c Cash, Phil (1987-05-11). "Johncock attempting Indy comeback". The Milwaukee Sentinel. Retrieved 2012-10-03.
  4. ^ a b c "Al Unser". SportsCentury. 2001-05-14. ESPN.
  5. ^ "The Legends of the Brickyard" - 1987 Indy 500
  6. ^ Miller, Robin (December 7, 1986). "Financial crunch will continue to plague Indy-car racing teams". The Indianapolis Star. p. 104. Retrieved October 18, 2016 – via access
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "1987 Indianapolis 500 Daily Trackside Report" (PDF). 1987. Retrieved 2008-08-10.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Hungness, Carl (1987). The 1987 Indianapolis 500 Yearbook. Carl Hungness Publishing. ISBN 0-915088-46-0.
  9. ^ "Slippery track keeps Indianapolis qualifying speeds down". The Rochester Sentinel. 1987-05-11. Retrieved 2012-04-10.
  10. ^ SPORTS PEOPLE; Johncock Returns
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Shaffer, Rick (May 25, 1987). "Hard luck forces Guerrero to settle for second". The Indianapolis Star. p. 3. Retrieved September 20, 2016 – via access
  12. ^ Smith, Bruce C.; Rosenberg, Beth L. (May 25, 1987). "Airborne tire kills spectator in stands (Part 1)". The Indianapolis Star. p. 1. Retrieved September 20, 2016 – via access
  13. ^ Smith, Bruce C.; Rosenberg, Beth L. (May 25, 1987). "Airborne tire kills spectator in stands (Part 2)". The Indianapolis Star. p. 2. Retrieved September 20, 2016 – via access
  14. ^ 1987 Indianapolis 500 live radio, IMS Radio Network, May 24, 1987
  15. ^ a b c d e 1987 Indianapolis 500 Live television broadcast, ABC Sports, May 24, 1987
  16. ^ 1987 Indianapolis 500 Live television broadcast- Satellite feed, ABC Sports, May 24, 1987
  17. ^ "Centennial Era Moments – Al Unser – 1987". 2009-01-13. Retrieved 2009-11-19.[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ Legends of the Brickyard – 1987 Indianapolis 500, ESPN, 1987
  19. ^ a b c McKee, Craig (May 25, 1987). "Mario's blessed ride is cursed again". Indianapolis Star.
  20. ^ 2007 All-Night Race Party (Radio broadcast). WIBC. May 26, 2007.
  21. ^ Schmitz, Brian (May 12, 1987). "Gates May Be Closing On Indy 500 Tradition". The Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved May 5, 2017.
  22. ^ Mittman, Dick (2002). 2002 Indianapolis 500 Record Book. Sams Technical Publishing. p. 135. ISBN 1-931841-63-2.
  23. ^ "Jerry Gappens as "The Boss"". New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Retrieved 2012-07-17.[permanent dead link]

Works cited

1986 Indianapolis 500
Bobby Rahal
1987 Indianapolis 500
Al Unser
1988 Indianapolis 500
Rick Mears
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