1980 Miller High Life 150 (partially found footage of CART PPG IndyCar World Series race; 1980)

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Program for the race.

Status: Partially Found

The 1980 Miller High Life 150 (also known as the 1980 Phoenix 150) was the final race of the 1980 CART PPG IndyCar World Series. Occurring on 8th November at the Phoenix International Raceway, the race would ultimately be won by Phoenix-Cosworth's Tom Sneva, after having led 95 of the 150 laps. The race is also famous for 1980 Champion Johnny Rutherford's crash, the resulting collision causing his Chaparral-Cosworth to go airborne and land directly upside down.

Background[edit | edit source]

The 1980 Miller High Life 150 was the 27th running of the event, with the annual race lasting 150 miles.[1] The only 1980 CART PPG IndyCar World Series races to commence at Phoenix International Raceway,[2] its program paid tribute to AAA driver Bobby Ball.[3] The race would have ties with Phoenix events like the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, before the Phoenix races were dropped from the IndyCar schedule after 2018 following low attendance.[4]

Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with Mario Andretti winning the pole position in a Penske-Cosworth with a speed of 142.891 mph.[1] Directly behind him was Johnny Rutherford, who despite setting the fastest times in practice, experienced issues in qualifying due to an engine issue.[5] Penske-Cosworth's Pancho Carter lined up third, while Sneva qualified sixth out of 25 competitors.[1] Sneva however would be forced to start at the back following a broken shifter.[5] Bobby Unser was forced to withdraw from the race after crashing his Penske-Cosworth, with the spare car already being used by Andretti.[5][1]

The Race[edit | edit source]

With the starting order decided, the 1980 Miller High Life 150 commenced on 8th November.[1] Rutherford shot into the lead on the opening lap, holding it for 37 laps before dropping it to Al Unser in a Longhorn-Cosworth.[1] Unser would remain in front before crashing out after 54 laps, handing the lead back to Sneva.[1]

On lap 71, Rutherford managed to briefly move past Sneva.[5] He attempted to lap Penske-Cosworth's Dennis Firestone, only for the latter to clip his right rear tyre.[5] Rutherford spun and hit the wall rear-first, the resulting impact causing his Chaparral's rear left tyre to go under the car, resulting in the vehicle going airborne and landing directly upside down.[6][7][5][1] First aid respondents arrived promptly and, after righting the car, were able to communicate with Rutherford regaining consciousness while still inside his wrecked vehicle.[5][7] He was airlifted to hospital, suffering magnesium flash burns around his eyes and a shortened finger.[5][7] In an interview discussing the crash, Rutherford revealed he could not remember the crash, but noted how fortunate he was to have escaped without further damage.[7] He showcased how his helmet suffered extensive damage, including scrape marks and a dent on one of its sides.[7] The crash also enabled Penske to develop its 1981 car, as Al Unser had tracked down a fan taking photos of the car's bottom, and obtained said photos that revealed the complexity of the vehicle's ground effect design.[8]

Meanwhile, with the exception of Andretti leading lap 101, Sneva would hold onto the first position for a combined 95 laps, therefore claiming victory, his first since 1977, and $16,100 in prize money.[5][1] Andretti finished nine seconds behind in second, despite suffering a blown engine at the chequered flag, with Orbiter-Cosworth's Gary Bettenhausen four laps down in third.[5][1]

Availability[edit | edit source]

According to IndyCar on TV, 30 minutes of highlights were televised by NBC on 22nd November 1980, being billed as the Phoenix 150 and becoming part of its NBC Sportsworld, alongside Legends of Bowling and Tokyo Sumo Wrestling.[9] It is known that 15 minutes of the coverage was uploaded to YouTube by MotorsportsHistoryTV, but the video has since been taken down.[10] As of the present day, a few minutes of footage and some photos concerning Rutherford's can be found online.[7][6]

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Video[edit | edit source]

Footage of Rutherford's crash.

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]