SPEED’S NEW FRONTIER
Indy car racing’s first official 200mph lap
was a feather in Dan Gurney’s cap, a
satisfying record for Jerry Grant, and a
sore spot with Bobby Unser.
It was Sept. of 1972 and Gurney’s
Olsonite Eagle, with Unser driving, was the
hottest combination in USAC, having
already seven poles and four wins. It was
the forgone conclusion he would be the
first to officially break the 200mph barrier,
because he’d almost done it in December
of 1971 while testing the ’ 72 Eagle at
Ontario Motor Speedway.
“I would have run 200mph easy in that
test, but Dan begged me not to go any
faster because there wasn’t any media
there,” recalls the three-time Indy 500
winner. “So when we came back in 1972
for the California 500, it was a lead pipe
cinch I was going to do it.
“My chief mechanic, Wayne Leary,
even bet Roger Penske $1,500 I’d do it.”
Gurney asked Grant if he’d like a shot at 200.
“I’d been running 196 with race
“IT WAS A BEAST”
horsepower, so I said, ‘Sure,’” recalled
Grant in a 2000 interview. “John Miller
(engine man) asked me if I wanted more
horsepower and of course I did and spun
the tires in third gear. I was sliding for my
life in several corners and it was a beast.”
Grant’s first three laps in his garish, purple
“Mystery Eagle” were all over 200mph
and he settled for a 199.600 average.
“On the last lap, when I knew that I’d
gone 200, I backed out of it and just
brought it around,” he said.
The next day, Unser blitzed the
all-time record with a four-lap average
of 201.374mph in what could best be
described as road rage.
“I was pissed off so bad that day and I
still haven’t gotten over it,” says Unser,
who had to start 23rd, but charged to first
before blowing up. “I developed that car
and I should have been the guy with the
first official 200mph lap. But I think Dan
preferred Jerry over me.”
Gurney, who’s heard it all before,
chuckles at that thought... “We wanted to
break the record first, and I simply wanted
to make sure we did. And Jerry did a
fantastic job after Bobby blew up.”
Jerry Grant was first man to officially average 200mph-plus in an Indy car – and Bobby Unser’s still simmering.
Before breaking 200mph at Ontario, Jerry
for tires while leading proved costly and
controversial when he was illegally refueled
from teammate Bobby Unser’s pit and not
credited with his final 12 laps by USAC.
Grant’s 54 Indy car
starts included 10
at Indy, with a best
of seventh in 1970.
Most known for
at Ontario in ’ 72,
he also took a
podium there in ’ 74.
California’s Ontario Motor Speedway, was
a sumptuous, but short-lived facsimile of
Indy. Bobby Unser won there four times,
in 1974 (ABOVE), ’ 76, ’ 79 and ’ 80.
“THE INDIANAPOLIS OF THE WEST”