1973 Texas 200 (partially found footage of USAC Championship Car Season race; 1973)

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Program for the race.

Status: Partially Found

The 1973 Texas 200 was the inaugural race of the 1973 USAC Championship Car Season. Occurring on 7th April at the Texas World Speedway, the race would ultimately be won by Al Unser in a Parnelli-Offenhauser, although he faced criticism for his tactics during the final restart on lap 99.

Background[edit | edit source]

The 1973 Texas 200 was the first running of the event,[1] with the race lasting 200 miles.[2] It was one of two 1973 USAC Championship Car Season races to commence at Texas World Speedway, the other also being called the Texas 200,[3] which commenced on 6th October and was won by Gary Bettenhausen in a McLaren-Offenhauser.[4] Following an oil crisis that affected the 1974 season, USAC did not return to Texas until 1976, before the circuit was completely removed from the IndyCar schedule when the 1980 race was cancelled following the USAC-CART conflict.[1]

Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with Bobby Unser winning the pole position in an Eagle-Offenhauser with a speed of 212.766 mph.[5][2] Directly behind him was Bettenhausen, with Parnelli-Offenhauser's Mario Andretti lining up third.[2] Andretti is also known to have set a speed of 214.158 mph at some point during qualifying, which was listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as having set the world closed course speed record.[1] Al Unser meanwhile qualified fourth out of 26 competitors.[2]

The Race[edit | edit source]

With the starting order decided, the 1973 Texas 200 commenced on 7th April.[2] Unser maintained his lead from the start, leading the first 29 laps before being forced to retire due to a broken piston.[5][2] As the drivers pulled in for their first pit stops, it enabled Bettenhausen to lead the next two laps, while Johnny Rutherford in a McLaren-Offenhauser led the next six.[5][2] Eagle-Offenhauser's Mike Mosley then passed Rutherford on lap 39, holding the lead for 22 laps before dropping it to fellow Eagle-Offenhauser driver Billy Vukovich, Jr..[2] Vukovich was only able to defend the first position for seven laps before Al Unser took over on lap 68, in what turned out to be the final lead change.[2][5]

Near the end of the race, a caution period commenced that lasted for five laps.[6][5] On lap 98, the race starter, Shim Malone, raised a finger to inform the drivers the green flag would drop on lap 99.[6] In preparation for this, Unser slowly led the field as his car's engine was suffering issues.[6][5] As he reached the back straight however, he started accelerating away.[6][5] This proved to be a gamechanger, as Mosley was unable to keep up due to a problematic turbocharger, and Bettenhausen not allowed to pass him until he travelled past the green flag.[6][5] When it finally dropped, Unser held a lead of more than 100 yards over Mosley and Bettenhausen, with the latter overtaking the former on lap 99.[6][5] While Bettenhausen was able to reduce the gap to Unser by two tenths of a second, it was ultimately not enough, thus allowing Unser to claim victory and $18,651 in prize money.[6][5] Bettenhausen and Mosley finished second and third respectively.[5][2]

Despite the win, Unser faced criticism from both fans and other drivers, with him being booed at Victory Lane.[6][5] Bettenhausen deemed Unser's tactics to be unsporting, stating "He put on his brakes or at least slowed down in the second turn, then suddenly stood on it [the throttle]."[6] Rutherford deemed the moved a "dirty pool", claiming "Al was going a lot slower than the normal pace speed, and then he stomped on it."[6] Bettenhausen's car owner Roger Penske however accepted the situation and noted that Bettenhausen had lost time both early in the race and as a result of a slow tyre change during one pitstop.[6]

Meanwhile, Unser defended himself, stating "There was nothing dirty in what I did. There was no way I could have held him [Bettenhausen] off any more. He'd have passed me going into the first turn if there had been another lap. Let's face it, I didn't have the horses the other guys had, so I wanted to jump out as much as I could and hope could hold them off. I learned that lesson the hard way from A.J. Foyt. As for the fans’ booing, maybe they don't realize that once the leader sets the pace, it's up to the other guys to keep up."[6] Regardless of whether Unser's move could be considered unsporting, a USAC spokesman stated Unser did not violate any rules, as the leader is required to set the pace on the last lap of a caution, with all drivers conforming to said pace.[5][6]

Availability[edit | edit source]

According to IndyCar on TV, one hour of footage was televised live by ABC on 7th April 1973 as part of its Wide World of Sports, alongside an interview with Muhammed Ali.[7] The broadcast has yet to resurface, but an 8mm film, a fan recording, and photos of the event can be found online.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Videos[edit | edit source]

Silent 8mm film footage of the event.
Fan footage of the event.

Image[edit | edit source]

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]