Johncock started along the middle of Row 4, flanked by Peter Revson (15)
and NASCAR's Bobby Allison (12). (IMS archive photo)
The 57th Indianapolis 500 was held on this day 39 years ago – or at least, that's when it ended, on a grim and gray Wednesday, having been held over three days due to persistent rain and suffered two major accidents. After 133 laps (332.5 miles), rain returned to halt the race again, and Gordon Johncock was declared the winner.
The month of May had been eagerly awaited in '73 as the 200mph barrier looked to be in jeopardy after Bobby Unser's 195.6mph pole speed the year before. However, poor weather and tragedy cast a pall over the event. After Art Pollard was killed in a practice crash, a fiery crash during the long-delayed race led to the death of up-and-coming driver Swede Savage, while a pit crew member, struck by a rescue vehicle on its way to an accident, also died during the course of the event.
Savage's tragic wreck had been preceded by a multicar crash at the start of the delayed race on Monday, which critically injured driver Salt Walther and also injured several spectators as burning fuel and debris rained into the grandstands.
The grim nature of the event led to sweeping rule changes for 1974 that significantly cut speeds. Wing sizes, turbocharger boost settings and fuel capacity were all reduced, while safety improvements were made to the track. Happily the month went off without a hitch – and within three years the cars were pushing 200mph at Indy again.
19 May 30's later, Johncock claimed a vastly more celebrated triumph, as he held off Rick Mears in the 66th Indianapolis 500 by just 0.16sec in the closest finish in Indy 500 history to that point.
• May 30 also claimed the lives of Dave McDonald and Eddie Sachs in the 1964 Indianapolis 500, as well as Pat O'Connor in the 1958 running of the 500.