(Image courtesy Dodge and DriveSRT.com)

Could most powerful muscle cars ever made lead Dodge back to NASCAR?

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When Dodge left NASCAR after Brad Keselowski and Penske Racing won the 2012 Sprint Cup championship (what better way to go out but on top, right?) in a Charger, company officials at the time left the door open to a possible return to the sport someday.

It could be a few years, maybe a decade or more. Then again, it may never happen.

But …

While there’s been absolutely zero news out of Dodge’s headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, about a potential return to NASCAR, other recent news could be construed that maybe something might be up.

After all, why would Dodge officially announce on the company’s 100th birthday this past Tuesday – not to mention release the testosterone-dripping video that can be seen at the bottom of this column – that it will begin production of and start selling the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hemi Hellcat sometime later this year?

Big deal, just a new and improved model of the Challenger, right?

Wrong. The new supercharged Hemi Hellcat Challenger is set to become the most powerful muscle car ever made, sporting a massive 707 horsepower motor under its hood.

For all you gearheads and wrench jockeys, I’ll repeat that: 707 mean and ornery horses under the hood.

Oh yes, and did we mention that the speedometer on the Hemi Hellcat Challenger might potentially reach as high as 200 mph, if the above illustration from one of Dodge’s websites (DriveSRT.com) is accurate?

That’s more raw power and potential high-end speed than the 700-hp Lamborghini Aventador, the 663-hp Ford Shelby Mustang GT500, the 650-hp Chevrolet Corvette Z06, the 580-hp Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1 or the 505-hp Camaro Z28. It even makes the once 640-hp speed king Dodge Viper look like it’s an underpowered 40-year-old Chevy Vega or Ford Maverick.

In fact, the Hemi Hellcat is only about 140 or so horsepower shy of the kind of power churned out by a NASCAR Sprint Cup car on racetracks from Daytona to Fontana, and only about 50 horsepower less than motors that power Nationwide Series cars.

That kind of horsepower isn’t just fast, it’s – sorry, Kevin Harvick, we couldn’t avoid it – freaky F-A-S-T.

On Wednesday, more news from the Dodge camp came out when MotorAuthority.com posted a story and spy photos of the new 2015 Dodge Charger SRT – which also will likely carry the 707-hp Hemi Hellcat motor.

The point we’re making here is simple: why would Dodge go to all the trouble and multi-million dollars of expense in development and production costs of making the bat-out-of-hell-fast Challenger and Charger unless the company had some serious marketing plans for the future?

Like bringing both models to NASCAR.

Think about it: Ford redesigned the Mustang and Chevy brought back the Camaro, and where did they wind up at?

In the Nationwide Series, up against the outdated Camry.

And what have the Mustang and Camaro been for Ford and Chevy dealers?

Sales magnets, thanks in part to being raced in NASCAR competition, albeit in the NNS junior league than the major league Sprint Cup circuit. (And if the Challenger or Charger do return to NASCAR, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Mustang and Camaro potentially move up to Sprint Cup as well.)

Even with gas around $4-plus per gallon, U.S. drivers still want as much raw speed and power as they can buy. That’s why the Camaro and Mustang are among the most popular American-made muscle cars on the market today.

Dodge would be foolish not to come back to NASCAR to tout its new cars.

Where else could the manufacturer race (and sell) these types of potent pony cars?

The Challenger and Charger wouldn’t fit in Formula One, IndyCar or sprint cars (unless you took off the top and the fenders to make them “open-wheelers,” which isn’t likely to happen).

Sure, the Challenger and Charger might work in sports car and road course racing, but NASCAR is a built-in market with all the infrastructure necessary to make the Challenger and Charger not only welcome, but successful almost right out of the box.

We can easily see the Challenger join the Nationwide Series ranks, perhaps as early as 2016. And we can also see the Charger return to the Sprint Cup fold maybe by 2017, if not 2016 as well.

Again, we can’t say it enough: that’s strictly speculation on our part. Dodge hasn’t said a word about what may just as easily wind up only being a dream that will never come true.

But if Dodge truly does have well-kept secret designs of returning to NASCAR, it had better start working pretty soon on a production program for the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series, which typically takes 12 to 18 months to develop and build (much like when Ray Evernham led Dodge’s return to NASCAR, joining the company in 1999 before the first Intrepid hit the racetrack in 2001, succeeded by the Charger in 2006).

Here’s another thing to consider: It’s believed that Richard Petty Motorsports has one more year remaining on its current deal with Ford (reportedly through 2015).

According to a Motorsport.com report in early May, team owner Richard Petty reportedly has already met with officials of Ford (to potentially extend RPM’s current deal), as well as Toyota (about potentially leaving Ford when RPM’s current deal is up).

“We’ve got to look at our team and look at our circumstances,” Petty said less than two months ago when asked what RPM’s future plans are.  “We’ve got to look and say, ‘Okay, what’s going to be the best for us right now, what’s going to the best for us two years down the road, what’s going to be the best for us five years down the road?’”

Petty added: “We’re out looking and seeing what all the factories have got laid out for their future to see if we can fit into any of that.”

But what if Petty were to be the magnet to bring Dodge back to NASCAR, particularly with his long and legendary history with the company and the Hemi during his own racing career from the late 1950s to early 1990s?

It makes sense.

Heck, it more than makes sense, it’s a no-brainer.

And if Petty were to lead the charge and return to the Dodge fold, there’s likely at least two or three other smaller teams that could be viewed as prospective candidates that might be convinced to switch from their current powerplants and chassis — especially if Dodge offers significant incentives.

Among those that come to mind as potential targets for Dodge: Furniture Row Racing, Front Row Motorsports, JTG Daugherty, maybe even a team like Michael Waltrip Racing. Even Richard Childress Racing was rumored to be interested in Dodge, according to a FoxSports.com report back in late January (Childress denied the rumor)

And what about Andretti Autosport, which has reportedly expressed interest in expanding its IndyCar base (it has also branched out into sports cars and rally cars, even Formula E racing) into NASCAR?

Think about the publicity and attention bonanza that would result if two of the biggest and most legendary surnames in motorsports history — Petty and Andretti — were to align under the Dodge umbrella.

Again, we can’t repeat this enough: Dodge has not said anything about coming back to NASCAR. We’re only speculating here.

But if you add two-plus-two, believe in conspiracy theories, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and think you’re good at connecting dots, if you were some of the top honchos at Dodge, wouldn’t you want to use NASCAR as a huge showcase for your technology with the upcoming high performance Challenger and Charger?

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

 

What replacement venues could work for Boston?

FONTANA, CA - AUGUST 30:   Scott Dixon of New Zealand driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Chevrolet leads a pack of cars during the Verizon IndyCar Series MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championship Race at the Auto Club Speedway on August 30, 2014 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
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With the Grand Prix of Boston not happening, there’s a lot of replacement options that have been discussed.

Right now it appears there’s more talk about potential replacement options than there are movement on actual ones, although you figure if a replacement event gets finalized, it would need to get finalized sooner rather than later to allow for a somewhat ample amount of promotional time and to slot into whatever TV window.

It’d be easier to go through the possible tracks one-by-one as based on reports:

  • Providence: A Rhode Island street race has been rumored for years, even going back to when Tony Cotman discussed the idea back in 2012 (I remember writing on it for another outlet at the time). The realism of a second first-year street race coming together in an even shorter time frame, given all the permits needed, seems unlikely. And while the Boston Herald reported the Boston race could be in line to move to Providence, the Providence Journal reported Tuesday that the Providence mayor hasn’t been in touch with INDYCAR.
  • Fontana/Auto Club Speedway: Auto Club Speedway president Dave Allen likes INDYCAR but wanted a more amenable time and date for his race rather than the Saturday, mid-afternoon race in June last year, and so ACS was an unfortunate casualty for 2016. Could it return? Veteran Inland Valley Dailey Bulletin reporter Louis Brewster pondered the possibility thusly: “It’s good bet, under the right agreement, the Fontana track could host such a race and attract a decent crowd. Of course the series will point to the June 2015 race that didn’t attract much more than 20,000 fans. However, that was the direct result of IndyCar not wanting to compete after Labor Day and moving the race for the fourth time in four years. IndyCar should give serious consideration to ending its season in Fontana.” Ah, but ending its season in Fontana would likely go against the wishes and desires of the other California track that is promoting and likely has in its contract the rights to the 2016 season finale: Sonoma Raceway up the coast. Theoretically Fontana could work on the Labor Day weekend; it hosted NASCAR races that weekend from 2004 to 2008 and has an open gap in its schedule; the track has events scheduled August 26-28 and Sept. 10-11, per its website.
  • Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca: Don’t bet on this happening. The full complement of Mazda Road to Indy series and Mazda Prototype Lites are at the track Sept. 8-11 for a singular Mazda branded weekend at Mazda Raceway in Monterey, and there’s little to no chance that Sonoma or INDYCAR would be cool with two races in the same market on back-to-back weeks. Same story applies with Pirelli World Challenge, a usual INDYCAR dance partner, running here separately Oct. 7-9. Sonoma’s got the INDYCAR finale and if there’s one thing that won’t be changing, it’s that.
  • Gateway: Here’s one that could make sense. One of a handful of tracks identified in Robin Miller’s “what next” report late Friday night for RACER.com, Gateway Motorsports Park is known to have an interest in returning and has had Ed Carpenter test at the track for evaluation. Gateway hosted seven total open-wheel races from 1997 through 2003.
  • Milwaukee: Like Gateway in Madison, Ill., Milwaukee could be a cost-effective, quick short-term solution for teams to fill in and replace the Boston round. The problem, however, is finding a suitable promoter. With Andretti Sports Marketing having gone away, the remnants now fused into the new LST Marketing organization (separate from Andretti), and the eternal dilemma in Milwaukee where you also have to factor the State Fair Park board into play, it’d be hard to find a shotgun promoter last-minute without INDYCAR doing it itself. The difference between Phoenix and Milwaukee in terms of promoting a one-mile race is INDYCAR was able to co-promote Phoenix with the track, a track which hosts other successful events during a year. Milwaukee, with no other major events, stands alone. The last time a first-year promoter did Milwaukee, the AB Promotions mash-up of Avocado, LLC and BMG Event Productions in 2011, it didn’t go well.
  • Watkins Glen: An SVRA weekend at the track runs Sept. 9-11, the weekend after Labor Day. With the Phoenix connection, another ISC track, re-established on an IndyCar schedule you wonder if Jay Frye and company could work some magic to put another ISC track on the venue. The track’s just been repaved though, so any race here might require an exploratory test. IndyCar last raced “the Glen” in 2010.
  • New Hampshire: Miller rules this one out because of NASCAR races there on July 17 and Sept. 25, and with Labor Day so close to the Sept. 25 date (week two in the Chase), having two races in four weeks isn’t a likely option.
  • No replacement or A.N. Other replacement: The least favorable of the options: either no replacement or another one that hasn’t already been publicly discussed. Big question here is whether 16 races is the magic number for INDYCAR to fulfill its contractual requirements or if 15 is the standby option. In 2012, when IZOD was the title sponsor, the series ran 15 races following the cancellation of the China round. Last year’s Brasilia cancellation dropped the number from 17 to 16. Now with Verizon as series title sponsor, it will be interesting to see whether it prefers to have a Northeast presence and/or if it stipulates that 16 races are required, or if 15 can work.

SH Rallycross confirms Jeff Ward, MET-Rx for Red Bull GRC season

WardSH07
Photo: SH Rallycross
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Jeff Ward, who ran a part-time Red Bull Global Rallycross campaign in 2015 with Chip Ganassi Racing, will step up to a full-season effort in 2016 with the SH Rallycross team in the No. 07 MET-Rx Ford Fiesta ST.

Ward replaces Nelson Piquet Jr. in the team’s No. 07 car for the James “Sulli” Sullivan led team.

The full release is below:

SH Rallycross/DRR announced today that Motorcycle and Motorsports Hall of Fame driver Jeff Ward will pilot the SH Rallycross-DRR Ford Fiesta ST entry in its bid for the 2016 Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship.

The team is also excited to announce that MET-Rx will be primary partner for its No. 07 Ford Fiesta ST for eight races, beginning with the season opener in Phoenix on May 21.

“We’re stoked to have MET-Rx on board as title partner for the 2016 Red Bull GRC Championship. These guys have incredible dedication to producing sports nutrition products that no doubt will resonate with the millennial audience of GRC,” said SH Rallycross/DRR owner James “Sulli” Sullivan.

Commenting on Ward, Sulli said, “Being able to secure Jeff Ward to pilot the MET-Rx machine for us in 2016 is really exciting. Simply put, Wardy is an animal, this guy is lit up. When I watched him in his GRC debut in 2015, I wanted him racing for us. Our whole team will benefit from the amount of multi-discipline experience he has and I expect we will compete for wins with him driving.”

Ward is a member of both the Motorsports Hall of Fame and the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. He is a three-time X Games medalist (two gold), has four top-five Indianapolis 500 finishes, two Super Moto championships and seven AMA Motocross championships. The 2016 season will be his first full-time Red Bull Global Rallycross season, after making his series debut in 2015 with three starts.

“I’m super excited to be able to race for SH Rallycross/DRR and have the support of MET-Rx during the 2016 Red Bull GRC season. The team has proven it can win and compete for the championship and I look forward to helping bring them even more success,” said Ward.

In addition to the season opener at Phoenix Race I, MET-Rx will be the primary partner at Phoenix Race II on May 22; Dallas on June 4; Daytona Race I, June 18; The Base I and II on July 2 and 3; New Jersey on August 28; and the season finale in Los Angeles, Race II, on October 2.

Mike Messersmith, Vice President of Marketing for MET-Rx, said, “MET-Rx recognizes the preparation and dedication that goes into winning in the Red Bull Global Rallycross Series. Championing this preparation is what MET-Rx is all about – our portfolio is designed to help the modern athlete nourish and love their inner monster and to provide them with the necessary tools to get to the next level of their sport and go out onto the track ready to dominate.”

SH Rallycross/DRR is entering its fourth season of Red Bull Global Rallycross competition and third full season (ran one race, the X Games Los Angeles in 2013). The team has finished fourth in the championship standings the last two seasons. In 2015, the team had its best season with four podium performances, including a win in Washington D.C. It was the only Red Bull Global Rallycross SuperCar team to make every main (final) event.

Boston GP cancellation fallout continues; refunds due to begin for fans

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 09:  Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh addresses the media during a press conference to announce Boston as the U.S. applicant city to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on January 9, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images for the USOC)
Boston Mayor Marty J. Walsh. Photo: Getty Images
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It was perfectly imperfect timing on Friday night when the dreaded “Friday night news dump 101” tsunami hit  and the race that many thought never really had a chance, the inaugural Grand Prix of Boston, got wiped from the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.

With the cancellation the first step in the process, the last few days have seen the fun part: the fallout, finger-pointing and frustration that comes afterwards.

A column from the Boston Globe, which had supported the race more than not, had the headline of “Boston, I love you, but you’re bringing me down.”

The column adds the IndyCar false start to other failed attempts at sporting events, including a rejected New England Patriots stadium bid and the withdrawn 2024 Olympics bid.

Columnist Mike Ross wrote, “The pattern is now familiar: An idea gets floated. A group forms against the idea. A website is created, in this case www.noindycarboston.org. And the idea dies.”

Boston Mayor Marty J. Walsh (pictured above) held a press conference, as well. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions on INDYCAR to us,” he said as part of it, but he also said Boston had the infrastructure in place to pull the event off, contrary to the withdrawn Olympics bid. The full quick video of that is linked here.

Event organizers have announced refunds for those who have already bought tickets. A post was released on the event’s social media pages on Saturday (see below for that), and an example of an email sent to fans is below that (thanks to @RickWeber for bringing this to my attention)

Event spokeswoman Jana Watt told the Globe about the refund process, “The ticket refunds will be processed in the order received, and it is a manual process and could take some time to complete as each individual order must be processed.” A number of fan comments were included within that post.

What replacement options for Boston could work? We’ll have that in a separate post later today.

Highlights from the the Indianapolis 500, Runnings 61-70

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Johncock over Mears in 1982. Photo: IMS Archives
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The Associated Press has compiled a list of highlights of all past Indianapolis 500 races, as the buildup to the 100th running presented by PennGrade Motor Oil takes place this May 29.

Here are runnings 61-70, from 1977 through 1986.

Past pieces:

RACE: 61st Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 29, 1977

WINNER: A.J. Foyt

AVERAGE SPEED: 161.331 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Foyt became the first four-time winner of the race. He also had a winning car that had both a body and engine built entirely within the United States.

NOTABLE: Tom Sneva became the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier at the Speedway while winning the pole. Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify for the Indy 500. It was the final Indy 500 for track owner Tony Hulman, who died of heart failure five months later.

RACE: 62nd Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 28, 1978

WINNER: Al Unser Sr.

AVERAGE SPEED: 161.363 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Although he dominated the second half of the race, Unser bent his front wing during a pit stop on lap 180. It allowed second-place finisher Tom Sneva to close within 8 seconds – the second-closest finish in Indy history to that point. Unser’s victory was the first at Indy for the Cosworth DFX V8 engine, and the British-based company won the Indy 500 for 10 consecutive years.

NOTABLE: Janet Guthrie finished ninth and later revealed she drove with a broken wrist. Tony Hulman’s widow, Mary F. Hulman, delivered the starting command for the first time. It was the final Indy 500 contested before the formation of CART.

RACE: 63rd Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 27, 1979

WINNER: Rick Mears

AVERAGE SPEED: 158.899 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Mears, in his second Indianapolis 500, took the lead with 18 laps remaining to win the first of his four 500s. Unser brothers Bobby and Al combined to lead 174 laps, but Al was unable to finish the race and Bobby faded to fifth.

NOTABLE: Former President Gerald Ford was in attendance and served as grand marshal of the 500 Festival Parade. It was the first 500 that used the pace car during caution periods. Although the race was sanctioned by USAC, many drivers entered it as a one-off and broke away to participate in the in the inaugural 1979 SCCA/CART Indy Car Series. It marked the first open-wheel “split” and created a rancorous month of squabbling in which a court injunction was needed to lift USAC’s ban of CART participants.

RACE: 64th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 25, 1980

WINNER: Johnny Rutherford

AVERAGE SPEED: 142.862 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Rutherford won the pole, led 118 laps and won the race by a commanding 29.92 seconds. Rutherford became the sixth driver to win the Indy 500 three times.

NOTABLE: Tom Sneva set a record by becoming the first driver to start last and lead the race, which he did twice for 16 laps. Sneva also became the first driver in Indy history to start last and finish second. It was his third runner-up finish in four years – which earned him the title of “bridesmaid” – and it matched Bill Holland’s achievement exactly 30 years earlier. The race also had 10 rookies, and for the first time in Indy history, the three drivers that started on the last row all finished in the top eight.

RACE: 65th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 24, 1981

WINNER: Bobby Unser

AVERAGE SPEED: 139.084 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: One of the most controversial Indy 500 races in history after Unser beat Mario Andretti to the checkered flag. USAC officials later ruled Unser had illegally passed cars while exiting the pit area during a caution. When the official results were posted the next day, Unser had been issued a one-position penalty and Andretti declared the race winner. Penske Racing appealed and the process wasn’t settled until Oct. 9, when Unser was reinstated as the winner. It was Unser’s third Indy 500 victory and he retired at the end of the season.

NOTABLE: A rainy month disrupted on-track activities and pole qualifying was stretched over three days because of the weather. The event was also marred by a crash that left an unconscious Danny Ongais completely exposed in the cockpit as the burning car continued to move. Ongais suffered a concussion and badly broken feet and legs, but returned to Indianapolis the next year. Rick Mears was also burned during a fire in the pits, forcing him to try to use a fire extinguisher on himself. His father, Bill, grabbed the extinguisher and put out the fire. The incident prompted a redesign to the fuel nozzle used on Indy cars, and Mears recovered after plastic surgery.

RACE: 66th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 30, 1982

WINNER: Gordon Johncock

AVERAGE SPEED: 162.029 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Johncock beat Rick Mears by 0.16 seconds, the closest finish in Indy 500 history to that point. The two dueled for the final 40 laps, too, making it one of the best races in history.

NOTABLE: Gordon Smiley was killed when he crashed during qualifying and his body tumbled for hundreds of feet between turns 3 and 4, the helmet ripped from his head. His death was the first at Indy since 1973. Kevin Cogan started from the middle of the front row between pole-sitter Mears and A.J. Foyt. As the field approached the start, Cogan suddenly swerved right to trigger a crash that collected Foyt, Mario Andretti, Geoff Brabham and Roger Mears. Cogan was blacklisted in the industry, rebuked by Andretti – who said “this is what happens when you have children doing a man’s job up front” – and he was ultimately fired by Roger Penske.

RACE: 67th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 29, 1983

WINNER: Tom Sneva

AVERAGE SPEED: 162.117 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Sneva had finished second three times, won the pole twice and was the fastest qualifier once, but finally earned his first victory to shake his “bridesmaid” tag. Al Unser Sr. was leading over the final 20 laps and his son, Al Unser Jr., was several laps down and accused of intentionally blocking Sneva to protect his father’s lead. Sneva eventually got by both Unsers to win.

NOTABLE: Civility was restored after four years of disputes between USAC and CART. The two sanctioning bodies agreed that the Indianapolis 500 would be sanctioned by USAC, but also recognized on the CART schedule. The arrangement remained in place through 1995.

RACE: 68th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 27, 1984

WINNER: Rick Mears

AVERAGE SPEED: 163.612 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Mears won his second Indy 500 with ease as contenders Tom Sneva and Mario Andretti dropped out of the race in the second half. That left Mears alone two laps ahead of the field and able to cruise to the victory. Three months after the race, Mears suffered severe leg injuries in a crash during practice at Sanair Super Speedway in Canada.

NOTABLE: Three rookies finished in the top five: Roberto Guerrero (2nd), Al Holbert (4th) and Michael Andretti (5th), and Guerrero and Andretti shared the rookie of the year award. Sportswriter-turned-racer Pat BeDard wrecked on lap 58. Emerson Fittipaldi made his debut in the race.

RACE: 69th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 26, 1985

WINNER: Danny Sullivan

AVERAGE SPEED: 152.982 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: It was known as the “Spin and Win” race because as Sullivan passed Mario Andretti for the lead on lap 120, he lost control of his car and did a 360-degree spin in front of Andretti. Sullivan somehow avoided hitting the wall, and Andretti was able to slip past him to retake the lead. Sullivan regained the lead and led the final 61 laps to give Roger Penske another victory.

NOTABLE: The Speedway celebrated 40 years of ownership by the Hulman/George family. The race was also the breakout for the “stock block” Buick V-6 engine and Pancho Carter and Scott Brayton swept the top two spots in track record speeds during qualifying with the pushrod Buick. But reliability was an issue, and both drivers dropped out of the race with mechanical problems.

RACE: 70th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 31, 1986

WINNER: Bobby Rahal

AVERAGE SPEED: 170.722 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: The race was rained out May 25-26 and rescheduled for the following weekend. Rahal battled with Rick Mears and Kevin Cogan, who took the lead with 13 laps to go. But a caution set up a final restart with two laps remaining and Rahal pulled away to win the race. Rahal was the first driver to complete 500 miles in under three hours.

NOTABLE: Rahal won for car owner Jim Trueman, who was cheering from the pit area despite a battle with cancer. Trueman died 11 days after Rahal’s victory. Trueman was the father-in-law of current Team Penske President Tim Cindric.