Race: Indianapolis 500

Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Date: Sunday, May 26, 1996

Start time: 12:04 PM CDT

Weather: Cool, damp, cloudy

IRL historical: #3 of 3 in 1996 season, IRL race #3 overall

Track historical: IRL race #1, Indy car race #81 at this track

Track configuration: 2.5-mile, rectanglar

Wing package: N/A (old cars)


This historic Indy 500 was a race of firsts and lasts. It was the first Indy 500 under the sanction of the Indy Racing League, and the first win for Firestone since 1966. It was the last race for the turbocharged engines, a symbol of Indy car racing since the late '60s, and the last appearance at Indy by the venerable (but not very reliable) Buick/Menard V-6. It would also be the last appearance by the controversial popoff valves, which would not be missed. It was the last appearance at Indy by the Reynard and Lola chassis makes. It was a first in terms of the tragedy that befell the pole winner, and the first start on the pole by a rookie in 13 years.

Popular Scott Brayton, one of the drivers that the IRL was created to benefit, won the pole with a record speed of 233.718 on May 11. It was not without controversy as Arie Luyendyk was faster, but his run was disallowed after his car was found to be underweight. After withdrawing his original car, he went out the next day and recaptured the record with a 236.986 run, a record that will likely stand for a long time since the switch to the new cars in 1997 reduced these speeds considerably. Unfortunately, on May 15 Brayton died in a practice crash. Veteran Danny Ongias, who had once been a successful Indycar driver but had not driven in the 500 since 1986, was called out of retirement to take Brayton's place. Since the driver switch meant the car would have to move to the rear of the field, rookie phenom Tony Stewart was moved up from second starting position to the pole, becoming the first rookie to start from the pole since Teo Fabi in 1983. 17 rookies rolled off the grid, an extraordinary number but not a record. Only 16 took the green flag because Johnny Unser stopped on the parade lap with a kaput gearbox, continuing a family curse; his father Jerry crashed on the first lap of the 1958 race and then died in practice in 1959, so neither father nor son had managed to complete a lap under green in the 500 to date.

Stewart got off in the lead and held it until the first round of pit stops, but several other cars made adjustments and by lap 50 a six-car race was shaping up, with Guerrero and Lazier getting turns in the lead and Luyendyk and Zampedri on the doorstep. By lap 43, Ongias was 9th despite an early spin, and rookie Johnny O'Connell had moved up to 14th. But five laps later O'Connell was out with a fuel pump problem. Another Menard driver, Mark Dismore, was also moving up after an early spin; Dismore was finally making his first Indy 500 start after being seriously injured in practice in 1991. Stephan Gregoire, making his first start since 1993, ran as high as sixth before pitting on lap 63 and eventually retiring due to an underhood fire that melted his engine's ignition wiring. During a yellow flag on lap 70 for debris, Davy Jones elected to exercise some strategy and did not pit, thereby inheriting the lead and establishing himself as an contender. A pattern soon developed with Stewart, Guerrero, Lazier, and Jones contending for the lead and Luyendyk and Zampedri remaining in contact. However, Stewart's race ended on lap 83 when the notoriously unreliable Menard engine failed, a failure that crew chief Larry Curry blamed on a malfunction of the USAC-mandated popoff valve -- the final year for that particular complaint. Jones' pit strategy backfired when he had to pit under green for fuel on lap 87, handing the lead to Lazier. Davey Hamilton, driving for A. J. Foyt, had been expected to contend, but lost 12 laps having new half-shafts installed in his Lola. A caution on lap 94 indirectly took out one of the contenders. The caution itself was for a relatively minor brush with the wall by Brad Murphey, but during the caution Luyendyk collided with Eliseo Salazar in the pit exit. The incident looked rather flagrant as replays showed that Luyendyk had clearly reached the pit-exit line first and Salazar had then tried to pass him in the warm-up lane. The incident eventually ended Luyendyk's race due to suspension damage; no penalty was imposed on Salazar but he did lose two laps while a new nose was mounted. Jones again did not pit during this caution and took the lead. At this point there were 5 cars on the lead lap, followed by three rookies one lap down: Ritchie Hearn, Buzz Calkins, and Dismore. Following the caution, on lap 116 Hearn passed the leader Jones to rejoin the lead lap, and got to make up that lap when a caution flew on lap 118 for Fermin Velez's blown engine. During this caution, Mike Groff, the last car on the lead lap, retired in dramatic fashion when he came into the pits with a fire in the cockpit; he was unhurt but wiring was damaged and Groff was out. On this caution Lazier and Zampedri did not pit, taking over the first two positions. This lasted until lap 130 when Mark Dismore's Menard engine blew and a yellow flew; a good pit stop by the Pagan Racing crew got Guerrero back out first, followed by Jones. Buzz Calkins, one lap down in 6th, made a late stop during the caution to top off his fuel. It was a good idea and might have brought Calkins a win had his engine not expired on lap 149, two laps after Jim Guthrie, who had been one position behind Calkins, experienced the same misfortune. Calkins was in contention for the IRL championship but the retirement appeared to end his hopes.

Guerrero and Jones pitted under green just before a caution on lap 159 for the only major wreck of the day, when Scott Harrington pushed up into Lyn St. James in turn 2 and both cars wrecked hard. This was a long caution and just before the green flag Lazier and Guerrero gave up their positions to make late stops and top off. Lazier's stop was uneventful, but Guerrero's car caught fire during the stop. Normally a driver exits the car in a hurry when this happens, but Guerrero was so determined to win the race that he remained in the car and kept the engine running, and after the traditional throwing of buckets of water Guerrero drove off furiously, soaking wet and a bit crispy around the edges but still in contention. After all this the running order was Jones, Zampedri, Hearn, Lazier, and Guerrero on the lead lap, with Scott Sharp (who only needed to maintain his position to win the 1996 IRL championship) one lap down in 6th and Salazar two laps down in 7th and leading the pack for the restart. On the start, as the cars came down the front stretch Jones tried to go inside of Salazar to break out from the pack; Salazar, trying not to lose another lap, crowded Jones into the inside wall and Jones' left wheels brushed the concrete. This seemed to effect the Galles car somewhat, as Zampedri quickly passed Jones to assume the race lead for the first time, and shortly Lazier passed Jones as well. On lap 190, something seemed to change in the handling of Zampedri's car and Lazier quickly overtook and passed him, as Zampedri began to fall back through the field. Jones tried to pursue but he was in serious trouble on fuel mileage and was running his engine full lean, as well as drafting every chance he got. The race appeared to be in hand for Lazier, but on lap 195 Sharp stuffed his car into the wall in turn 2, bringing out a yellow and closing up the field. Now Jones would have a clear shot at Lazier, and the three laps made under caution (as the IMS crew very quickly cleaned up the debris) were just enough to ease Jones' fuel situation. Jones plotted his strategy while Lazier raised his hands into the air and flexed them, trying to relieve the pain and numbness in his back (which had been severely injured in a crash in Phoenix in March). The green flew on lap 198, and Lazier drove away; Jones could do nothing and watched Lazier's purple car cross under the checkered flag for the win in the IRL's first 500. The last lap had an extra bit of drama as Guerrero, fighting with Zampedri for 4th, spun in turn 4 and the two (plus Salazar) crashed hard, with Zampedri's car bouncing off the catch fence and sliding aross the start-finish line upside down. Zampedri suffered serious foot and leg injuries in the accident, his only consolation being that he was credited with 4th place. Hearn finished a very quiet third to pick up Rookie of the Year honors. It was a storybook ending for Lazier, who had made a living on the fringes of Indy car racing for years but had never had access to good equipment before. In Victory Lane, he was unable to get out of the car and he sat on top of the seat back and drank the traditional milk as the victory wreath was placed around his neck -- an image that has become one of the most famous in racing history. Ongias, in what would turn out to be his last Indy 500 start, finished a very credible 7th. A final twist: Sharp's late crash left him one point short of passing Calkins to win the championship. The two finished in a tie, and since the IRL points system of the time lacked a tiebreaker mechanism, they were declared co-champions.

Fin St  Qual  Car  C/E/T    Driver            Entrant  Laps     Status  Laps Pts
        Spd    #                                                         Led
 1  5  231.468 91  R/F/F Buddy Lazier        Hemelgarn  200     Running   43  35
 2  2  232.882 70  L/L/G Davy Jones          Galles     200     Running   46  33
 3 15  226.521  4  R/F/G Ritchie Hearn       DellaPenna 200     Running       32
 4  7  229.595  8  R/F/F Alessandro Zampedri Hemelgarn  200     Running   20  31
 5  6  231.373 21  R/F/G Roberto Guerrero    Pagan      199    Crash T4   47  30
 6  3  232.684  7  L/F/G Eliseo Salazar      Scandia    197    Crash T4       29
 7 33  233.718 32  L/M/F Danny Ongias        Menard     197     Running       28
 8 30  226.856 52  L/F/F Hideshi Matsuda     Beck       197     Running       27
 9 23  226.217 54  L/F/F Robbie Buhl         Beck       197     Running       26
10 21  231.201 11  L/F/G Scott Sharp         Foyt       194    Crash T2       25
11  4  231.781  3  L/M/F Eddie Cheever       Menard     189     Running       24
12 10  228.887 14  L/F/G Davey Hamilton      Foyt       181     Running       23
13  8  229.380 22  L/F/G Michel Jourdain     Scandia    177     Running       22
14 18  224.594 45  L/F/G Lyn St. James       McCormack  153    Crash T1       21
15 32  222.185 44  R/F/G Scott Harrington    Harrington 150    Crash T1       20
16 20  236.986  5  R/F/F Arie Luyendyk       Byrd       149  Suspension       19
17  9  229.013 12  R/F/F Buzz Calkins        Bradley    148      Brakes       18
18 19  223.394 27  L/M/F Jim Guthrie         Blueprint  144      Engine       17
19 14  227.260 30  L/M/F Mark Dismore        Menard     129      Engine       16
20 11  228.704 60  R/F/G Mike Groff          Walker     122        Fire       15
21 28  222.487 34  L/F/G Fermin Velez        Scandia    107      Engine       14
22 31  222.793 43  L/F/G Joe Gosek           Scandia    106    Radiator       13
23 26  226.053 10  R/F/F Brad Murphey        Hemelgarn   91  Suspension       12
24  1  233.100 20  L/M/F Tony Stewart        Menard      82      Engine   44  11
25 25  224.453 90  L/F/G Racin Gardner       Gardner     76  Suspension       10
26 22  228.840 41  L/F/G Marco Greco         Foyt        64      Engine        9
27 13  227.556  9  R/F/F Stephan Gregoire    Hemelgarn   59    Ignition        8
28 27  223.843 16  L/M/F Johnny Parsons Jr.  Blueprint   48    Radiator        7
29 29  222.361 75  L/M/F Johnny O'Connell    Cunningham  47 Fuel Pickup        6
30 12  228.229 33  R/F/G Michele Alboreto    Scandia     43     Gearbox        5
31 17  224.757 18  L/M/G John Paul Jr.       PDM         10    Ignition        4
32 24  225.404 96  L/B/G Paul Durant         ABF          9      Engine        3
33 16  226.115 64  R/F/G Johnny Unser        Proj. Indy   0     Gearbox        2

The #32 car was qualified on the pole by Scott Brayton, and by rule was moved to 33rd when Danny Ongias was substituted.

Time of race:
Average speed:
Margin of victory: 0.695 sec

Laps under green: 146 of 200 laps (73.0%)
Caution flags: 10 for 54 laps (27.0%)
#1: lap 2, debris, T4, 3 laps
#2: lap 11, blown engine (Durant), T3, 5 laps
#3: lap 17, spin (Ongias), T4, 3 laps
#4: lap 50, blown engine (Parsons), FS, 6 laps
#5: lap 70, debris, FS, 5 laps [during caution: stalled car (Harrington), T1]
#6: lap 94, crash (Murphey), T2, 8 laps
#7: lap 118, blown engine (Velez), T2, 7 laps
#8: lap 130, blown engine (Dismore), T3, 5 laps
#9: lap 159, crash (Harrington, St. James), T1, 9 laps
#10: lap 195, crash (Sharp), T2, 3 laps

Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes

Lead changes: 16, number of different leaders: 5
St: Stewart 1-31
#1: Guerrero 32-37
#2: Lazier 38-41
#3: Stewart 42-54
#4: Guerrero 55-70
#5: Jones 71-86
#6: Lazier 87-97
#7: Jones 98-120
#8: Lazier 121-133
#9: Guerrero 134-158
#10: Jones 159-160
#11: Lazier 161-167
#12: Jones 168-169
#13: Zampedri 170-189
#14: Jones 190-192
#15: Lazier 193-200

C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Lola: 21 / 17.5
Reynard: 12 / 16.2
Buick: 1 / 32.0
Ford Cosworth: 23 / 15.7
Menard: 8 / 20.9
Mercedes-Ilmor: 1 / 2.0
Firestone: 15 / 16.1
Goodyear: 18 / 17.8