1974 California 500 (partially found footage of USAC Championship Car Season race; 1974)

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This article has been tagged as NSFL due to its discussion of a career-ending motor racing accident.


Program for the race.

Status: Partially Found

The 1974 California 500 was the third race of the 1974 USAC Championship Car Season. Occurring on 10th March at the Ontario Motor Speedway, the race would ultimately be by won by Bobby Unser, after narrowly edging out brother and fellow Eagle-Offenhauser driver Al Unser by 58‐hundredths of a second. However, the event is also known for the career-ending injuries two-time champion Joe Leonard suffered in an accident on lap 152.

Background[edit | edit source]

The 1974 California 500 was the fifth running of the event, with the annual race lasting 500 miles.[1] It was one of three 1974 USAC Championship Car Season races to commence at Ontario Motor Speedway;[2] the others were the Ontario Heats 1 and 2, which both occurred on 3rd March and helped decided the starting order.[3][4] The track itself was nicknamed the "Indianapolis of the West", and was also part of USAC's Triple Crown alongside the Indianapolis 500 and the Pocono 500.[5][6] However, the speedway closed in 1980 because of financial issues, and was demolished shortly afterwards.[5]

Prior to the race, two qualifying races were conducted on 3rd March to decide the order.[3][4] In race 1, Foyt won the pole position with a speed of 190.617 mph, and also led the entire 40-lap event to claim victory and $9,125 in prize money.[3] Bobby Unser took second, while Eagle-Offenhauser's Lloyd Ruby finished third.[3] In the second race, Rutherford won the pole position with a speed of 185.989 mph.[4] He ultimately won the event and $6,875, with the Eagle-Offenhausers of Jimmy Caruthers and Steve Krisiloff finishing second and third respectively.[4] Boasting both a greater pole and average speed compared to Rutherford's, it meant that Foyt qualified on pole position for the main race, with Rutherford second, and Unser lining up third out of 33 competitors.[1][3][4] Foyt was declared the pre-race favourite heading into the event.[7]

The Race[edit | edit source]

With the starting order decided, the 1974 California 500 commenced on 10th March.[1] Unser shot into the lead on the first lap, but Foyt regained it a lap later.[1] He led 21 laps before retiring following a broken oil line.[7][1] Unser regained the lead, holding it for the next 11 laps.[1] However, his brother Al was fast-closing, putting himself into the lead on lap 36.[1] Aside from a few brief leads from other drivers, including most notably Krisiloff, the race centred into a duel between the Unsers after Bobby passed Krisiloff for the first position on lap 93.[1][7] Meanwhile, Joe Leonard crashed his Eagle-Offenhauser into an inside wall on lap 152 when a tyre blew.[8][9][7][1] The impact caused the car's front end to collapse, resulting in Leonard suffering a compound fracture of the left leg and a crushed ankle joint.[7] The resulting injuries ended his career, he was unable to compete in the following year's California 500 upon failing a physical examination.[9][8] A two-time consecutive USAC champion between 1971-1972, Leonard also experienced success racing motorcycles in the 1950s.[9][8]

Leonard's accident forced a caution period that ended after lap 162.[7] By this point, Al led Bobby by 7.1 seconds thanks to five lapped cars being between them.[7][1] Nevertheless, Bobby persevered, eventually cutting the margin to 1.05 seconds by lap 170.[7] A lap later, he passed Al to move into the first position.[1][7] Following the final pitstops, Bobby remained in front, with a margin of 1.1 seconds with 17 laps remaining.[7][1] He increased this to 1.8 seconds with two laps to go, but Al attempted one last charge.[7] The younger Unser almost succeeded in regaining the lead, as he cut the gap to just 58‐hundredths of a second.[7] However, that 58‐hundredths of a second was enough for Bobby to remain in first, thus claiming victory and $88,758.[7][1] Eagle-Offenhauser's Jerry Grant finished a lap down in third.[1]

Availability[edit | edit source]

According to IndyCar on TV, the final 90 minutes of the race would be televised live by ABC as part of its ABC Championship Auto Racing.[10] The broadcast has yet to resurface, although a silent fan recording and photos of the event can be found online.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Video[edit | edit source]

Silent footage of the race.

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]