1977 Rex Mays Classic (lost footage of USAC Championship Car Season race; 1977)

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Program for the race.

Status: Lost

The 1977 Rex Mays Classic was the sixth race of the 1977 USAC Championship Car Season. Occurring on 12th June at the Milwaukee Mile, the race would ultimately be won by Johnny Rutherford in a McLaren-Cosworth, after having led 102 of the 150 laps. However, the race was also known for Wildcat-DGS' Gordon Johncock's crash, which required him to be hospitalised.

Background[edit | edit source]

The 1977 Rex Mays Classic was the 28th running of the race, with the annual event lasting 150 miles.[1] It was one of two 1977 USAC Championship Car Season races to be held at Milwaukee Mile,[2] the other being the Tony Bettenhausen 200, which occurred on 21st August and was won by Johnny Rutherford.[3] The event, which was held in honour of Rex Mays, a two-time AAA champion who saved fellow racer Duke Dinsmore's life during the 1948 Milwaukee 100,[4] would commence on an annual basis until it was renamed from 1988 onwards.[5]

Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with Bobby Unser winning the pole position in a Lightning-Offenhauser with a speed of 131.482 mph.[1] Directly behind him was Rutherford, with Gordon Johncock lining up third out of 20 competitors.[1]

The Race[edit | edit source]

With the starting order decided, the 1977 Rex Mays Classic commenced on 12th June.[1] Unser maintained his lead from the start, holding it for 22 laps before being passed by Rutherford on lap 19.[1] Rutherford would then control proceedings, where with the exception of McLaren-Cosworth's Tom Sneva briefly taking the lead on lap 42 following Rutherford's pitstop during a caution, would be in front for the next 60 laps.[1] Meanwhile, Bobby Unser retired after 71 laps following a magneto failure.[1] Meanwhile, Mike Mosley in a Lightning-Offenhauser would move into the first position on lap 83 while the race was under another caution, and would remain in front when it resumed two laps later.[1] He would then drop the lead briefly to Johncock, regain it a lap later on lap 87, only to drop it back to Johncock on lap 89.[1]

Johncock then led the next 18 laps, before he was passed by Rutherford on lap 107.[1] After 120 laps, Johncock attempted to lap rookie Clark Templeman, who was driving an Eagle-Offenhauser.[6] However, disaster struck when they touched wheels, causing Johncock to end up sideways, go airborne, and hit a wall.[6][1] According to Parnelli-Cosworth's Al Unser, the crash may have been caused by Templeman's inexperience, stating "It looked like Clark Templeman came up a little bit—didn't know where he was on the race track—just when Johncock was coming down for the (third) turn. All you have to do is touch wheels a little bit in that critical point and that's what happened. They just brushed wheels and that got Gordy sideways. He came back and went over, the front of him (Templeman), and got airborne."[6]

While Johncock's Wildcat suffered limited visual damage, a wheel had come off and collided with the driver's helmet, leaving a tyre mark on it.[6] He was taken to hospital with possible head and spinal injuries.[6] It appeared his injuries were less severe than suspected, as he would compete in the 1977 Schaefer 500 just two weeks later.[7] He also implicitly downplayed the accident in an 1984 interview, with him deeming his accident at a 1983 CART race in Michigan to be the first instance where he suffered serious injuries, him breaking both ankles at the event.[8]

Following Johncock's crash, Rutherford's main rival would be Sneva.[6] Nevertheless, he was able to withstand the pressure for the lead for the remaining 44 laps to claim victory and $19,658 in prize money.[6][1] Sneva finished around six seconds behind in second, with Unser taking third.[6][1]

Availability[edit | edit source]

According to IndyCar on TV, the race received live flag-to-flag coverage from CBS.[9] The broadcast has yet to resurface, however, and no footage of the race is currently publicly available.

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]