1979 Arizona Republic / Jimmy Bryan 150 (partially found footage of SCCA/CART IndyCar Series race; 1979)

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1979arizonarepublicjimmybryan1501.jpg

Program for the race.

Status: Partially Found

The 1979 Arizona Republic / Jimmy Bryan 150 (also known as the 1979 Phoenix 150) marked the inaugural race of the Championship Automobile Racing Teams (CART) IndyCar Series. Occurring on 11th March at the Phoenix International Raceway, the race would ultimately be won by Gordon Johncock in a Penske-Cosworth, after having led the final 31 laps of the event.

Background[edit | edit source]

In 1979, the first of two major splits in IndyCar racing occurred, when several prominent cars owners, including Dan Gurney and Roger Penske, broke away from the United States Auto Club (USAC) and formed CART.[1][2][3] The origins of CART dated back to early 1978, when Gurney and others became increasingly frustrated with USAC's leadership and inability to grow the sport, and noting Formula One's growth thanks to the rise of the Formula One Constructors' Association (FOCA).[1][2][3] He therefore established the "Gurney White Paper" that called upon a group independent of USAC that demanded greater influence over the sport's governing, sponsorship, and media.[1] After USAC refused to agree to these demands, Gurney, as well as other prominent car owners and drivers, officially formed a breakaway championship.[1][2][3] With the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) sanctioning the series, CART would begin running its first championship to rival USAC's in 1979.[2][3][1]

The 1979 Arizona Republic / Jimmy Bryan 150 would be CART's first ever event, with it being the 15th running of this annual IndyCar race.[1][2][3] Lasting 150 miles,[4] it was one of two 1979 SCCA/CART IndyCar Series races to commence at Phoenix International Raceway, the other being the Miller High Life 150,[5] which occurred on 20th October and was won by Al Unser in a Chaparral-Cosworth.[6] The race, named in honour of 1958 Indianapolis 500 winner Jimmy Bryan,[7] would have ties with Phoenix events like the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, before Phoenix races were dropped from the IndyCar schedule after 2018 following low attendance.[8]

Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with Bobby Unser winning the pole position in a Penske-Cosworth with a speed of 145.666 mph.[3][4] He was driving a debuting Penske PC-7, which was notable for being the first Indy car to utilise ground effect.[3] Beforehand, Unser claimed that CART's formation was a necessity, criticising the USAC and its governing body for being too large and for ignoring the needs of its members.[2] Directly behind him were the McLaren-Cosworths of Tom Sneva and Johnny Rutherford, in second and third respectively.[4] Gordon Johncock qualified eighth out of 21 competitors.[4] Meanwhile, Bill Alsup qualified 11th in a McLaren-Cosworth, being notable as the only driver in the field to have not competed in a USAC Championship Car Season race.[3][4]

The Race[edit | edit source]

With the starting order decided, the 1979 Arizona Republic / Jimmy Bryan 150 commenced on 11th March.[4] Unser maintained his lead from the start, going on to lead the first 64 laps of the race before making a pitstop on that enabled Johncock to move by.[3][4] With Johncock pitting soon afterwards, and with a caution occurring not long afterwards, Unser swiftly regained the lead, holding it for the next 20 laps.[3][4] However, Unser suddenly encountered tyre trouble, forcing him to pit and giving the lead to Danny Ongais in a Parnelli-Cosworth.[9][3][4]

Ongais would lead the next 33 laps, before he was passed by Johncock on lap 120.[3][4] Eight laps later, Ongais retired because of an engine failure, with oil leaking onto the track that forced a caution between laps 129-139.[3][4] This enabled Johncock to control proceedings for the remaining laps, claiming victory and $18,670 in prize money.[3][9][4] Rick Mears finished second in a Penske-Cosworth, while Rutherford finished third.[3][9][4] This was the first instance of a Penske car winning when it was not owned by Roger Penske, with Johncock's chassis' owner being Pat Patrick.[3] Johncock ultimately was fortunate to have completed the race, as his car's radiator blew as he celebrated in Victory Lane.[10]

Availability[edit | edit source]

According to IndyCar on TV, the race received live flag-to-flag coverage from NBC as part of its NBC Sportsworld, being billed as the Phoenix 150.[11] The broadcast faced criticism from reporter Tom Cheche, with him deeming Charlie Jones' commentary to have been inadequate and with the cameras failing to showcase any footage of any drivers outside the top four.[10] He summarised it as "almost an exercise in doing things the wrong way."[10] Yet, despite the historic nature of the event, the NBC broadcast has yet to publicly resurface.[12] The only currently available footage of the event consists of a 3/4 inch tape of "800 Miles to Indy", which was uploaded to YouTube on 26th October 2011 by Bobi Neher.[12]

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Videos[edit | edit source]

Footage of the event (1:29-4:18).
Summary of the race.
nascarman History's Top 10 Lost IndyCar Broadcasts detailing the NBC broadcast of the race (3:10-3:25).


Images[edit | edit source]

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]