451.  Ladybugs Are Good Luck

On pole day 1980 at IMS, past Champion Mario Andretti, in a Penske PC-9, announced his intentions with a four-lap average of 191.012.  Only Johnny Rutherford’s Chaparral met the challenge, with a qualifying run of 192.256.  Bobby Unser’s Penske filled the outside of the front row.

                   I must be in the front row       Front Row 80

Janet Guthrie, once again driving her own entry, waved off a run in excess of 184 mph.  In retrospect, it would have been enough to make her fourth consecutive Indianapolis 500.  The decision was Guthrie’s, and she knew she needed better equipment to compete for a victory.  She didn’t get it.  Engine problems ensured that she never started another qualification run at the Speedway.  There was no money for another motor.  After five years of frustration at the Speedway, Guthrie found she had better things to do with her life than waste the Month of May.

On Sunday, Danny Ongais’ Parnelli-Cosworth recorded the quickest speed, at 186.6, to qualify 16th.  Gordon Johncock, with a broken ankle, joined the field, 17th.

In Wednesday’s practice, Tom Sneva, who had already qualified his McLaren, cut a tire and slammed the 1st turn wall.  He started 33rd in a backup car.  Tom Bigelow and Gary Bettenhausen joined him in the last row.  On the last day of qualifying, Tim Richmond’s two-year-old Penske had the fast run, 188.334, good for the 19th starting spot.

      Tom Bigelow & Gary Bettenhausen   Bigelow & Bettenhausen


On race day, Johnny Rutherford flicked something out of his hair.  One of his superstitions was that ladybugs are good luck.  “…  It was the biggest orangest ladybug you’ve ever seen.  I told Jim Hall and my crew chief, Steve Roby, to tell the rest of these guys to load up and go home; we just won this thing.”  With fast speeds all month and starting from the pole, the Chaparral team had reason for optimism.

Bobby Unser grabbed the lead going into the 1st turn, but Rutherford caught him in the short chute.  Riding high through the 2nd corner, Rutherford returned to the front to lead the first lap.

                  Rutherford & Bobby Unser    Rutherford and Bobby 80

Ten ovals later, Bill Whittington’s Parnelli spun and smacked the southeast wall.  Rebounding, he ran over Dick Ferguson’s Penske, flipping him and sending him into the outside wall. After a few broken bones, a track cleanup, and pit stops for the leaders, George Snider’s Foyt entry was in front.

On lap 19, Gordon Johncock slid under Snider to take the lead, and shortly after, so did Bobby Unser’s Penske, to run 2nd.

                       Gordon_Johncock 1980    Gordon_Johncock 1980

A couple of laps later, it was Spike Gelhausen’s turn to forget to turn left, and he ran smack dab into the southwest wall.  When the green came out on lap 25, Bobby Unser ducked under Johncock for 1st, and Rutherford finally worked his way through the field to move up to 3rd.

A few laps later, Tom Bagley stalled, and the leaders came in again.  Johncock regained the lead, with Pancho Carter’s Penske running 2nd.  Three laps after they went green, on lap 36, Carter charged to the front.  Ten miles later, Rutherford smoked Carter, as rookie Tim Richmond grabbed 3rd, bringing the crowd to their feet.