This car won the Indianapolis 500 in 1975. It was the first 500 victory for sponsor Jorgensen, the second for driver Bobby Unser, the third for car builder Dan Gurney, and the thirtieth for a Drake- Offenhauser engine. A lot of successful race history was riding with this car, but that didn’t matter much. Indianapolis routinely shows a proclivity for defying the inevitable. When the gentlemen were told to start their engines this year, savvy observers talked among themselves that A.J. Foyt’s fourth 500 victory was foreordained.
Still, Dan Gurney’s All American Racers had been a reckoning force since 1966 when a half-dozen brand-new Eagles debuted in the 500 (the one driven by the perpetually unlucky Lloyd Ruby leading the race for more laps than any other entry until sidelined with an engine oil leak). In 1968 the Eagle’s first Indianapolis win was also the first for any Unser (Bobby) – and in 1972, though he didn’t finish, Bobby’s 195.94 mph qualifying speed was a track record, as was his 196.678 third lap. In 1973 the Eagle had its next 500 win (Gordon Johncock) and in 1974 Bobby Unser drove to the USAC National Championship in the display car (then the Olsonite Eagle) and placed second in the Indy 500.
Nineteen seventy-five initially had not boded well for Gurney; longtime Detroit sponsor Ozzie Olson had pulled out of racing and, although Jorgensen Steel Corporation climbed aboard, in the midst of the recession Dan couldn’t secure the financing to build any new Eagles. Still, at the starting line, the inexorable shone as brightly on Bobby Unser’s pale blue Eagle as it did on A.J. Foyt’s Coyote in the pole position.
So did the sun for most of the race. But a cloudburst settled the issue. Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford (the 1974 winner, again on a McLaren Offy) and A.J. Foyt were fighting it out when the 500 was called in the midst of a deluge on the 174th lap. All three of the combatants had averaged 174 mph thus far: Bobby, 174.149; Johnny, 174.148; A.J., 174.147.
Cash winnings for Unser totaled $214,031.60. Plus the pace car for Bobby, a truck for his crew chief, a bunch of trophies, wristwatches and such. Sweet are the fruits of victory for a hundredth of a mile per hour.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Our 1914 Simplex in the collection once belonged to Barron Gift Collier. Learn more