1982 Indianapolis 500

1982 Indianapolis 500

The 66th Indianapolis 500 was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 30, 1982. Gordon Johncock, who had previously won the rain-shortened 1973 race, was the winner. Rick Mears finished second by a margin of 0.16 seconds, the closest finish in Indy 500 history to that point.

Time trials

Pole day

On pole day, Saturday May 15, Kevin Cogan, driving for Penske Racing set a new one-lap track record of 204.638 mph, and a record four-lap average of 204.082 mph. A few minutes later, he was beaten his Penske teammate Rick Mears. Mears secured the pole position with a four-lap average of 207.004 mph.

About an hour later, the time trials were marred by the horrific fatal accident of Gordon Smiley. At 12:15 p.m., Smiley left the pits to start his qualifying run. On his second (of two) warm up lap, he approached turn three. The back-end became loose, and Smiley overcorrected. The front wheels suddenly gained traction, the car turned and crashed head-on into the outside wall at about 200 mph. The fuel tank exploded with a large fireflash, the car disintegrated into at least three sections, and went airborne for at least 50 feet. Smiley's exposed body tumbled amongst the debris for hundreds of feet through the short-chute connecting turns 3 and 4. Smiley died instantly from massive trauma inflicted by the severe impact. Nearly every bone in his body had been shattered. His helmet was pulled from his head, and the top of his skull was scalped by the debris fence and asphalt. His death was the first at Indy since 1973, and to date, the last driver to die during a qualification attempt. ["Rapid Response" (pp 98-99) by Dr. Steve Olvey, Indycar Medical Director between 1979 and 2003]

The track remained closed for over two hours after the crash. The catchfencing needed repair, and a patch of asphalt was required to be paved due to the accident. After over two hours, qualifying resumed. Several cars went out over the next two hours, but none challenged the speed records set earlier in the morning. In a solemn mood, qualifying came to a quiet halt around 4:55 p.m., with just over an hour left in the session.

At the close of pole day, the field was filled to 20 cars.

econd day

After the tragic circumstances of the day before, few drivers took to the track on Sunday May 16. A very uneventful day saw only a handfull of cars even take practice laps. Only cars made qualifying attempts and only two were run to completion. Rain ended the session a few minutes early, and the field was filled to 22 cars.

Third day

A busy day of time trials saw the field filled to 31 cars. Mike Chandler was fastest of the day at 198.042 mph.

Bump day

The field was left with two empty position at the start of the day. Several drivers intended to make attempts but few actually took to the track. Josele Garza and Pete Halsmer went out and quickly filled the field. Only two cars were bumped all day, and despite the track being open until 6 p.m., no drivers went out after 4:03 p.m. With two hours left in the day, Desire Wilson announced she would not make an attempt, and thus would not have a chance to become the second female to qualify at Indy.

Kevin Cogan crash

On race day, Kevin Cogan started from the middle of the front row, next to pole-sitter Mears, and A.J. Foyt. As the field approached the start/finish line to start the race, Cogan suddenly swerved right, touching and bouncing off of A.J. Foyt's car, and directly into the path of and collecting Mario Andretti. The cars of Dale Whittington and Roger Mears, deeper in the field, were also damaged due to the field checking up. Bobby Rahal also reported getting hit from behind, but was undamaged. The race was immediately red flagged.

Cogan's shocking accident took out four cars, including himself. Foyt's team was able to make repairs, and pushed his car out for the restart attempt. Meanwhile, Andretti and Foyt were furious and outspoken about their displeasure with Cogan. Andretti shunned Cogan's attempts to explain himself with a light shove.

Andretti on live radio and television made the comment:Back in the garage area, Andretti complained about Cogan's abilities, claiming that Cogan was "looking for trouble," that he "couldn't handle the responsbilities of the front row," and that the Penske car he was driving was "too good for him."

The commonly outspoken Foyt also chimed in during comments to ABC-TV's Chris Economaki with:Later Foyt said back in the garage area1982 Indianapolis 500 broadcast, ESPN Classic, May 2006] cite news
url =http://www.indy500.com/images/stats/pdfs/dtr/1982.pdf
title =1982 Indianapolis 500 Daily Trackside Report
publisher =Indianapolis Motor Speedway
date = 1982-05-30
accessdate = 2008-07-23|format=PDF
] of the crash and of Cogan that:

Johnny Rutherford and
Bobby Unser later placed some blame of the accident on the polesitter Rick Mears, for bringing the field down at such a slow pace. Gordon Johncock, who went on to win the 1982 race, pointed out that Andretti had jumped the start, and could have avoided the spinning car of Cogan had he been lined up properly in the second row. Neither observation gained much attention.


Cogan quickly fell out of favor following the humiliation stemming from the accident. It was followed by a noticeable "blacklisting" by fans and press. Cogan nearly had the dubious distinction of taking out two of the most famous American auto racing legends (Foyt and Andretti) on the first lap, in one move, in the biggest race of the season. The incident also further rehashed a standing feud between Penske Racing and Patrick Racing. A year earlier, Penske and Patrick were the key fixtures in the controversial 1981 race.

Cogan never managed to win a race in 1982, and was possibly fired by Roger Penske because of it. [Bob Varsha, on "WindTunnel with Dave Despain", 10 June 2007] .

The accident was never explained by the Penske team, however, several experts had reasonable opinions. Rodger Ward, working for the IMS Radio Network immediately believed the rear brakes locked up. [1982 Indianapolis 500 radio broadcast, May 30, 1982] It was a common practice for drivers in the turbocharged era to "ride the brakes" during warm up laps in order to engage the turbocharger. Others theorized it may have happened due to a broken CV joint. Some feel that Sam Posey on ABC-TV inadvertently may have added to the controversy when he proclaimed "absolutely no idea" to the question of how it could have happened,1982 Indianapolis 500 television broadcast, ABC Sports, May 30, 1982] and saying "it was as if he turned the wheel intentionally." The comments led many to conclude, albeit unfairly, that the accident may have been entirely of Cogan's doing. As soon as he climbed from the car, Cogan was observed looking at the rear end axle, suggesting that he thought something broke.

Years later Donald Davidson, the historian for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, mentioned that team driver, and the more experienced, Rick Mears had a nearly identical accident during private testing at Michigan International Speedway. ["All night race party," 1070-AM, May 30, 2004] . The accident was never disclosed to the public, even though it could have vindicated Cogan.


With less than 20 laps to go, Gordon Johncock led Rick Mears. Most of the balance of the field was eliminated, or running several laps behind. The two cars were running right together, and had developed into a late-race duel. Both drivers needed to make one final pit stop to make it to the finish.

With 18 laps to go Mears ducked into the pits. The car of Herm Johnson slowed in front, and Mears bumped into his back wheel. The incident cost Mears several seconds. In his pit box, Mears Penske crew proceded to fill his car full with 40 gallaons of fuel, more than enough needed to make it to the finish. No tires were changed, and no repairs were necessary from hitting Johnson's car.

Two laps later, Johncock dove into the pits. He precariously diced around a backmarker, and slid into his pit box. The Patrick Racing crew conducted a timed pit stop. The team calculated the amount of fuel needed to make it to the finish. When enough fuel has flowed into the car, a pit crew member tapped the fuel man on the back with a stick, and he disengaged. Johncock pulled away, with a pit stop many seconds quicker than Mears'.

Back on the track, Johncock held a lead of more than eleven seconds. Many believed he was crusing to his second Indy victory. However, his car's handling was starting to suffer. The light fuel load he took on was exacerbating a pushing condition.

Meanwhile, Mears' fully-fueled car was handling much better. He started closing in, more than 1 second per lap. Johncock started driving very low in the turns, trying to aleviate the pushing condition. Mears closed to under 3 seconds with 3 laps to go. With two laps to go, the margin was less than 1 second. In turn three, Johncock's car was handling so poorly at that point, he mentioned afterwards that he nearly crashed.

With one lap to go, Mears pulled alongside on the mainstrech. The cars took the white flag side-by-side. Johncock refused to give up the lead. He "chop-blocked" Mears in the first turn, and stayed ahead. Mears lost considerable momentum, but began to reel Johncock back in down the backstrech. As they exited turn four, Mears tried to slingshot pass Johncock for the win. Johncock held off the challenge, and won by 0.16 seconds, the closest-ever in Indy 500 history to date. It would stand as the closest finish in race history for ten years.


Failed to Qualify: Bill Alsup (#2), Pat Bedard (#36), Tom Bigelow (#56, #73), Scott Brayton (#37), Phil Caliva (#38), Steve Chassey (#11, #64), Bill Engelhart (#59), Dick Ferguson, Bob Frey (#64), Tom Frantz (#77), Spike Gehlhausen (#47), Tom Gloy (#80), Tom Grunnah, Ken Hamilton (#63), Bob Harkey (#79), Hurley Haywood (#34), Gary Irvin (#90), Jerry Karl (#32), Sheldon Kinser, Steve Krisiloff (#34, #72), Phil Krueger (#89), Lee Kunzman, Bob Lazier (#34), Greg Leffler (#43), Ray Lipper (#73), Al Loquasto (#86), John Mahler (#92), John Martin (#17), Jim McElreath (#98), Chip Mead (#49), Mike Mosley (#48), Teddy Pilette (#67), Roger Rager (#72), Larry Rice, Tim Richmond, Joe Saldana (#58), Rusty Schmidt (#27), Vern Schuppan (#18, #37, #99), Billy Scott (#88), Dick Simon (#22), Gordon Smiley (#35), Jan Sneva (#92), Sammy Swindell (#64), Bobby Unser (#55), Leroy Van Conett (#46), Dean Vetrock (#71), Rich Vogler, Bill Vukovich II (#11, #18), Desiré Wilson (#33)

Indy 500 Walker
Previous_race = 1981
Previous_winner = Bobby Unser
This_race = 1982
This_winner = Gordon Johncock
Next_race = 1983
Next_winner = Tom Sneva


External links

* [http://champcarusa.com/1982indy500finish.html Video of the finish of the race]
* [http://www.champcarusa.com/1982indy500start.html Video of the start crash caused by Kevin Cogan]

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