1986 Indianapolis 500

1986 Indianapolis 500

Infobox Indy500
race_name = 70th Indianapolis 500
location = Indianapolis Motor Speedway
date = May 31, 1986
winner = Bobby Rahal
mph = 170.722 mph
pole = Rick Mears
pole_speed = 216.828 mph
fast_time = Mears
rookie = Randy Lanier
leader = Rick Mears (76)
anthem = David Hasselhoff
back_home = John Davies
start_engines = Mary F. Hulman
pace_car = Chevrolet Corvette
pace_driver = Chuck Yeager
honorary_start = none
attendance = 250,000 (estimated)
network = ABC
announcers = Jim Lampley, Sam Posey
rating = 8.8
share = 31
previous = 1985
next = 1987

The 70th Indianapolis 500 was held at Indianapolis on Saturday, May 31, 1986. After being rained out on May 2526, the race was rescheduled for the following weekend. Bobby Rahal was the winner, becoming the first driver in Indy history to complete the 500 miles in under three hours.

The race was sanctioned by USAC, and was included as part of the 1986 CART season.

Offseason news

Garage area

The highlight of offseason construction at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the construction of an new, state-of-the-art garage area. Just days after the 1985 race, the old Gasoline Alley garage area, most of which had stood since the 1940s, was dismantled and demolished. Official groundbreaking for the new facility occurred on August 26, 1985. The new concrete garages increased to 96 units (up from 88), and each stall provided approximately 30% more working room than their predecessors. The green and white barn doors were replaced with overhead garage doors, and the layout was changed from east-west to north-south.cite journal
last =
first =
authorlink = Indianapolis Motor Speedway
coauthors = William R. Donaldson (editor)
title = New Garages for Indy Horsepower
journal = 1986 Indianapolis 500 Official Program
pages = pg. 88
publisher = IMS Corporation
month = May | year = 1986
] Most of the work was completed in April, however, some of the finishing touches were still being completed during the first week of on-track activity.


On August 19, 1985, after years of being shown tape delayed, ABC Sports signed an initial three-year deal to cover the Indianapolis 500 live flag-to-flag starting in 1986. Longtime anchor Jim McKay was moved to the host position, and play-by-play would be handled by Jim Lampley and Sam Posey.cite journal
last =
first =
authorlink = Indianapolis Motor Speedway
coauthors = William R. Donaldson (editor)
title = ABC Sports Live
journal = 1986 Indianapolis 500 Official Program
pages = pg. 83
publisher = IMS Corporation
month = May | year = 1986

The Daytona 500 had been shown live flag-to-flag on CBS since 1979, and ABC officials had wanted to do the same for Indianapolis for several years. ABC's landmark telecast was scheduled to feature 32 cameras, three RaceCams, and an hour-long live pre-race.

Practice and qualifying

Practice - week 1

Practice started on Opening Day, Saturday May 3. Chip Ganassi earned the honor of first car on the track.cite news |url=http://www.indystar.com |title=Ganassi's first run started hectic month
publisher=Indianapolis Star
] cite news |url=http://www.indy500.com/images/stats/pdfs/dtr/1986.pdf
title=1986 Indianapolis 500 Daily Trackside Report
] cite book
last = Hungness
first = Carl
title = The 1986 Indianapolis 500 Yearbook
publisher = Carl Hungness Publishing
year = 1986
isbn = 0-915088-44-4
Michael and Mario Andretti led the speed chart for the day, both over 210 mph. On the second day of practice, the Andrettis continued their dominance, again posting the top two speeds.

On Tuesday May 6, three single cars crashes marked the first incidents of the month. Danny Ongais, Herm Johnson, and Johnny Parsons all suffered single-car crashes in turn one, with Johnson's the most serious. Around 3:30 p.m., a piece of bodywork flew off Johnson's car in turn 1, which caused him to break into a hard spin. His car hit nearly head on into the retaining wall, and he suffered serious fractures to his feet and back.

Penske teammates Rick Mears and Danny Sullivan nudged the speeds up over 214 mph by Wednesday May 7, then the day ended early due to a rain shower. On Thursday May 8, Emerson Fittipaldi joined them as the third driver over 214 mph.

By Friday May 9, the last practice session before pole day, seven drivers were over 214 mph, with Mears still the fastest of the month at 214.694 mph. The only incident of the day was a suspension failure and spin by Johnny Rutherford, but no wall contact resulted.

Pole Day time trials

During the morning practice on Saturday May 10, Rick Mears set an all-time unofficial track record, at 217.548 mph. Later in the session, Michael Andretti and Bobby Rahal both broke the 216 mph barrier. No incidents were reoprted.

Mario Andretti took the honor of first-in-the-field, with a qualifying run of 212.300 mph. Three cars later, defending champion Danny Sullivan took the provisional pole position with a new track record of 215.382 mph. The speed did not hold up long, as less than an hour later, Rick Mears blistered the track with a first lap of 217.581 mph and a four lap average of 216.828 mph. Mears' one- and four- lap track records would stand for two years.

Michael Andretti squeezed himself into the front row, with a run of 214.522 mph, faster than his father Mario. Emerson Fittipaldi ran 2 laps over 213 mph, but a flat tire slowed his average to just over 210 mph. Bobby Rahal managed one lap over 214 mph, and qualified 4th.

With about 10 minutes to go, A. J. Foyt lined up to make an attempt, but his car failed technical inspection, and he was sidelined for the day. After qualifying was over, the cars of Raul Boesel and Dick Simon, both of the same team, were disqualified for faulty pop-off valve fitting.

econd day time trials

After missing out on a qualifying attempt on pole day, A. J. Foyt took to the track on Sunday May 11 to qualify for his 29th career Indy 500. He posted the 5th fastest speed in the field, but since he was a second day qualifier, he lined up deep in the field.
Raul Boesel re-qualified his machine, after being disqualified a day earlier. At the close of the day, the field was filled to 28 cars.

Practice - week 2

Rain delayed the opening of practice on Monday May 12, and only 21 cars took laps Tuesday (May 13). Both days saw light activity, and the biggest news came off-the-track. Two-time winner Gordon Johncock planned to end a one-year retirement, and purchase a back-up car from Penske. His funding fell through at the last minute, and he was forced to sit out the race.

On Tuesday May 14, Mario Andretti was practicing his qualified car. A suspension piece failed, and he crashed hard into the turn 3 wall. Newman/Haas Racing would spend the next several days trying to make repairs, but the car's tub was rendered a total loss. Later in the week, Andretti started practicing his back-up car, which the team announced he would be driving on race day.

The remainder of the week saw sparse track activity. Most cars on the track belonged to yet-unqualified cars. Thursday May 15 was almost a complete wash out due to a thunderstorm.

Day 3 time trials

Despite threatening weather for the next two days, the third day of qualifying saw only four additional cars added to the field. Jim Crawford was the fastest of the day, over 209 mph. Dick Simon, who was disqualified the previous weekend, put his car back into the field with a speed of 204.978 mph.

The day ended with 1 position left vacant in the field.

Bump Day time trials

As many as 12 cars started the day with hopes to make the field on the final day of time trials. Rain kept the track closed until 3 p.m., with qualifying finally getting underway at 4 p.m. By late afternoon, however, several cars were pulled out of line and chose not to make an attempt.

George Snider went out first in an A. J. Foyt back-up car, and filled the field to 33 cars. That placed Dick Simon on the bubble as the slowest car in the field. After a wave-off by Steve Chassey, Gary Bettenhausen took to the track, found some much sought after speed, and bumped his way into the field with ease.

With Geoff Brabham on the bubble, and with rain approaching, Rick Miaskiewicz was the next car out. His first two laps were not nearly fast enough, and his team waved him off. That gave Derek Daly just enough time to get out on the track. His first two laps were fast enough to bump Brabham, but as he was completing his second lap, the skies poured rain, and the run was negated.

Geoff Brabham held on as the slowest car in the field, while Dick Simon, the only car bumped, stood as the first alternate. Qualifying for the day lasted less than 45 minutes.

Carburetion Day

On Thursday, May 23, the final scheduled practice session was held. All 33 qualified cars except Phil Krueger took practice laps. At 11:43 a.m., a major crash occurred. A brake rotor on Dennis Firestone's car exploded, blowing his left rear tire. He spun wildly out of turn four, collecting the car of Roberto Moreno. Both cars spun into the inside wall, and Firestone slammed into the pit-entrance barrier, splitting the car in half. Moreno continued to spin through the pits, running into the back of George Snider's car, and crashing into the parked car of Josele Garza.

None of the drivers were seriously injured, however, Firestone's car was damaged beyond repair. The following day, Firestone's car was withdrawn from the field. George Snider and Roberto Moreno announced they would be driving back-up cars in the race. Both cars moved to the back of the grid. After Firestone withdrew, the first alternate Dick Simon was awarded the 33rd starting position.

Rick Mears led the speed chart for the afternoon, with a hand-timed lap of 212.7 mph. Later in the day, Penske Racing and driver Danny Sullivan won the annual Miller Indy Pit Stop Contest. Sullivan's team defeated the Truesports team (Bobby Rahal) in the final round to win the event for the second year in a row.

Rain delay

The race was scheduled to be held Sunday May 25. Race morning saw overcast skies and steady rain. Track drying efforts began around 10:45 a.m. The cars were then wheeled to the pits, in preparations for a start. At 1:15 p.m., however, the rain resumed, and threatened to wash out the entire day. The rain stopped, and track drying efforts stared a second time. The rain returned once more, and at 3:35 p.m., officials rescheduled the race for Monday. During the delay, ABC-TV diverted its programming for several minutes in favor of live coverage of Hands Across America.

On Monday May 26, there was no chance to hold the race, as it rained all day. The infield turned into a sea of mud, and most of the spectators departed the grounds. At 3:20 p.m., officials announced that the race was going to be postponed, but did not yet announce the date or time to which it would be rescheduled. ABC television was scheduled to cover the race live for the first time, and track officials were faced with the possibility of running the race on Tuesday in front of empty grandstands. Around 6 p.m. on Monday evening, a deal had been struck to reschedule the race for Saturday May 31.

During the week, teams spent time resting and relaxing, while others prepared for the next race at Milwaukee. Track crews worked diligently to clean up the infield, and make it passable for Saturday. As a result of the postponement, a special 30-minute practice session was arranged on Friday May 30. Participants were held to a 120 mph speed limit, and it served mostly as an oil leak check exercise. Some drivers, including polesitter Rick Mears, as well as Bobby Rahal, did not even participate.

For the weekend, the Rex Mays 200 at Milwaukee, originally scheduled for Sunday June 1, was pushed back one week to accommodate the Indy rain delay. 1986 marked the first time since 1973 that the race was pushed to another day, and the first time since 1915 that not a single wheel had turned all weekend because of rain.

Race summary


Saturday May 31 saw sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s. Traditional pre-race ceremonies were retooled slightly, with some replacement performers, and a smaller balloon spectacle. Mary F. Hulman gave the starting command just minutes before 11 a.m., and the field pulled away for the parade and pace laps.

On the final pace lap, Tom Sneva veered off-course at the exit of turn 2. Further down the backstretch, a massive smoke bomb was set off by some unruly spectators. The yellow flag was displayed, and the start was waved off. The next time by, the field was red flagged, and halted on the frontstretch. Sneva's crash was cleaned up, but it was determined that the field had burned an unnecessary four laps of fuel. A decision was made to replenish each of the 32 remaining cars' pitside fuel tanks with 3 gallons of methanol. The red flag wound up delaying the start by over a half-hour.

At 11:34 a.m., Tony George gave the command to restart the engines, and the field assembled for two pace laps. The field was straggling through the fourth turn to take the green, and Michael Andretti jumped into the lead from the outside of the front row. He set a new all-time record for the first lap at 202.940 mph, the first time the opening lap was run over 200 mph.

First half

After charging from the 30th starting position, Mario Andretti's day was short-lived. On the 15th lap, he brought out the yellow when he stalled in turn 3 with an ignition problem. Michael Andretti set the early pace, leading the first 42 laps.

The first half of the race saw record average speed, with only two yellows for 10 laps, and no major incidents. The second yellow on lap 52 came out for debris when Michael Andretti lost a mirror. Rick Mears came to the lead by lap 49, and held it until the next round of pit stops. On lap 83, Bobby Rahal took the lead for 19 laps, and led at the halfway point.

econd half

Johnny Parsons spun out of turn two on lap 102, and came to a stop along the inside wall. The car suffered minor damage, and Parsons was uninjured. After another long stretch of green, Rich Vogler crashed in turn 3 on lap 135.

On the 135th lap, Rahal (1st) and Cogan (2nd) pitted under caution. Rahal's team nearly made a serious error, and did not change the left-front tire (it had not been changed yet in the race). Rahal had to pit once again the next time around to correct the oversight. Since the field was under caution, the consequences were not quite as serious, but he still fell from 1st to 4th.

On the restart, Rick Mears resumed as the leader. Short-pitting due to poor handling, 4th place Michael Andretti was the first of the leaders to pit again (on lap 163). Mears led all the way until his final scheduled pit stop on lap 165. Moments later Roberto Moreno brought out the caution by stalling in turn four. After Rahal and Cogan cycled through their final planned stops on lap 166, Mears again found himself up front. Michael Andretti (at the tail-end of the lead lap in 4th place) actually led the field behind the pace car as the field went back to green with 31 laps to go.


With 14 laps to go, Rick Mears led Bobby Rahal and Kevin Cogan. Fourth place Michael Andretti was still clinging on to the tail-end of the lead lap, just ahead of Mears. As the leaders approached traffic, Rahal looked to pass Mears for the lead. Down the backstretch, Rahal took the lead and headed towards turn 3. Cogan passed Mears on the outside of turn four and took second place. Down the frontstretch, Rahal was caught up behind the lap car of Randy Lanier. Cogan diced back and forth, and slipped by Rahal going into turn one.

With then 13 laps to go, Cogan suddenly pulled out to a sizable 3-second lead. Cogan's car was visibly loose in the turns, and on several occasions nearly clipped the outside wall in turn 2. With 7 laps to go, fourth place Michael Andretti ducked into the pit area for a splash of fuel. On lap 194, Arie Luyendyk who was running 11th, spun exiting turn four. His car whipped around and lightly tagged the inside wall near the entrance of the pits. The yellow flag came out, and the field was bunched up behind the pace car.

Safety crews were able to quickly clean up the incident. Cogan led, with Rahal second, and Mears third, all together on the track. With 2½ laps to go, the lights on the pace car were turned off, signifying that the field was ready to go back to green. Cogan, Rahal, and Mears picked up the pace in the northchute, and came out of turn four for a restart and 2 laps to go. Rahal got the jump on Cogan out of turn four, and took the lead mid-way down the frontstretch. Rahal led at the line, and dove in front of Cogan in turn one.

Down the backstretch, Rahal pulled to over a 1-second lead, and Mears set up to pass Cogan in turn three. Cogan held off the challenge, as Rahal took the white flag. Rahal's speed on the 199th lap was a noteworthy 203 mph. Rahal pulled out to a 1.4 second advantage, and won his first Indianapolis 500. Cogan and Mears finished second and third, in what was the closest three-car finish to date. Rahal's final lap was an all-time record 209.152 mph, the fastest race lap to-date in Indy 500 competition.

Rahal completed the 500 miles in 2 hours, 55 minutes, 43.470 seconds; becoming the first driver to complete the Indianapolis 500 in under three hours. His average speed of 170.722 broke Mark Donohue's 1972 record.

Race box score

tarting grid

*† - Mario Andretti qualified 5th on pole day. A few days later, he crashed his already-qualified car, and it was damaged beyond repair. The car was replaced with a back-up car, and was moved the rear of the field.
*†† - George Snider and Roberto Moreno were both involved in the multi-car crash on Carburetion Day. Both primary cars were damaged beyond repair. Their cars were replaced with back-up cars, and moved to the rear of the field.
*‡ - After Dennis Firestone withdrew his wrecked car, Dick Simon was added to field in the 33rd position as the first alternate

Qualified cars withdrawn:
*Dennis Firestone; wrecked on Carburetion Day and withdrawn.

Failed to Qualify:
*Steve Bren (#25)
*Steve Chassey (#56/#65)
*Derek Daly (#28)
*Spike Gehlhausen (#10)
*Herm Johnson (#28)
*Rupert Keegan (#56/#65)
*Jan Lammers (#98)
*Rick Miaskiewicz (#19)
*Mike Nish (#44/#45)*
*John Paul, Jr. (#31) Paul withdrew after a few days of practice after being sentenced to prison for his involvement in drug trafficking with his father, John Paul, Sr.

Post race

The race celebration was emotional for the Truesports team, in that owner Jim Trueman was stricken with cancer. Visibly frail and lacking strength, he managed to arrive in victory lane to celebrate with his driver Bobby Rahal. Due to the rain delay, the traditional victory banquet was canceled. A makeshift victory luncheon was held in its place on Sunday June 1 at the Speedway Motel. The top three finishers were invited to the private reception.

The city of Columbus held a victory celebration downtown on June 5. Over 300 Red Roof Inn employees took part in a parade down Broad Street. Trueman was too sick to attend. On June 11, Trueman succumbed to his illness, and died at the age of 51.

Rahal and the Truesports team rode the wave of success to five additional wins during the CART season, and clinched the 1986 CART championship. The team made it back-to-back titles by winning the 1987 CART championship as well.

Kevin Cogan suffered through his second major disappointment at Indy, following the misfortunes of 1982. Despite winning the season opener at Phoenix, he faded as a contender during the season.


Paul Page described the finish of IMS Radio Network:

Sam Posey on ABC-TV after being snubbed by Kevin Cogan for an in-race radio interview with only 3 laps to go:


Indy 500 Walker
Previous_race = 1985
Previous_winner = Danny Sullivan
This_race = 1986
This_winner = Bobby Rahal
Next_race = 1987
Next_winner = Al Unser

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