1979 SCCA/CART Indy Car Series (partially found footage of IndyCar races; 1979)
The 1979 SCCA/CART Indy Car Series marked the first CART season following the USAC-CART split. It saw Rick Mears defeat Bobby Unser to claim the inaugural title. Of the races televised that year, at least three are known to be missing.
1979 Arizona Republic / Jimmy Bryan 150
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.
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. 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). 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. After USAC refused to agree to these demands, Gurney, as well as other prominent car owners and drivers, officially formed a breakaway championship. With the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) sanctioning the series, CART would begin running its first championship to rival USAC's in 1979.
The 1979 Arizona Republic / Jimmy Bryan 150 would be CART's first ever event, with it also being the 15th running of this annual IndyCar race. Lasting 150 miles, 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, which occurred on 20th October and was won by Al Unser in a Chaparral-Cosworth. The race, named in honour of 1958 Indianapolis 500 winner Jimmy Bryan, 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.
Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with Bobby Unser winning the pole position in a Penske-Cosworth with a speed of 145.666 mph. He was driving a debuting Penske PC-7, which was notable for being the first Indy car to utilise ground effect. 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. Directly behind him were the McLaren-Cosworths of Tom Sneva and Johnny Rutherford, in second and third respectively. Gordon Johncock qualified eighth out of 21 competitors. 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.
With the starting order decided, the 1979 Arizona Republic / Jimmy Bryan 150 commenced on 11th March. 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. 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. However, Unser suddenly encountered tyre trouble, forcing him to pit and giving the lead to Danny Ongais in a Parnelli-Cosworth.
Ongais would lead the next 33 laps, before he was passed by Johncock on lap 120. Eight laps later, Ongais retired because of an engine failure, with oil leaking onto the track that forced a caution between laps 129-139. This enabled Johncock to control proceedings for the remaining laps, claiming victory and $18,670 in prize money. Rick Mears finished second in a Penske-Cosworth, while Rutherford finished third. 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. Johncock ultimately was fortunate to have completed the race, as his car's radiator blew as he celebrated in Victory Lane.
1979 California 500
The 1979 California 500 was the 11th race of the 1979 SCCA/CART IndyCar Series. Occurring on 2nd September at the Ontario Motor Speedway, the race would ultimately be won by Bobby Unser, after edging out fellow Penske-Cosworth teammates Rick Mears and Mario Andretti.
It was the tenth running of the event, with the annual race lasting 500 miles. The only 1979 SCCA/CART IndyCar Series race to commence at Ontario Motor Speedway, 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. However, the speedway closed in 1980 because of financial issues, and was demolished shortly afterwards.
Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with Rick Mears winning the pole position with a speed of 203.046 mph. Directly behind him was Chaparral-Cosworth's Al Unser, who entered a new ground effect car, with his older brother Bobby lining up third out of 35 competitors.
With the starting order decided, the 1979 California 500 commenced on 2nd September. Al shot into the lead on the opening lap, leading the first 25 before being passed by McLaren-Cosworth's Tom Sneva on lap 26. Unser quickly regained it on lap 31, and with the exception of a few laps led by his brother Bobby, would control the early stages of the race, the Chaparral generally outpacing the Penskes. But after losing first to Bobby on lap 72, Al dropped out of leadership contention, as a broken front‐spoiler bracket necessitated multiple pitstops, with him ultimately finishing fifth after losing two laps because of it.
With Al out of contention, the only driver that challenged the Penskes for the win was McLaren-Cosworth's Johnny Rutherford. Despite remaining competitive in a car that did not utilise ground effect, he would lose distance from the trio of Unser, Mears, and Mario Andretti, eventually dropping back a lap with 55 miles remaining. The teammates were evenly matched, though it appeared Mears was gaining the upper hand as he made his penultimate pitstop. However, while his pitstop only lasted 15 seconds, he misfired the engine, resulting in him losing 12 seconds to Unser. In contrast, Unser's pitstop was 17 seconds with no engine issues, while Andretti's took 21.5 seconds.
Thus, Unser led from laps 166 to 183, eventually making his final pitstop that took only 16 seconds. Mears stayed out for another four laps, and when he pitted, his stop only required 13.7 seconds. However, he was still considerably behind Unser, while Andretti dropped out of contention as his final pitstop lasted 24.5 seconds. Ultimately, Unser kept the distance between himself and Mears, claiming victory with a 9.94-second margin and $72,900 in prize money. Mears finished second, while Andretti took third, being the only drivers on the lead lap. This was Unser's third California 500 victory, having also won the 1974 and 1976 editions. His team also made history, as the 1-2-3 was the first of its kind in any 500‐mile championship car race.
1979 Gould Grand Prix
The 1979 Gould Grand Prix was the 12th race of the 1979 SCCA/CART IndyCar Series. Occurring on 15th September at the Michigan International Speedway, the race would ultimately be won by polesitter Bobby Unser in a Penske-Cosworth, after leading 49 laps of the 75-lap event.
It was the seventh running of the event, with the annual race lasting 150 miles. It was one of three 1979 SCCA/CART IndyCar Series races to commence at Michigan International Speedway, the others being the Norton Twin 125s, which both occurred on July 15th and were won by Gordon Johncock in a Penske-Cosworth and Bobby Unser respectively. The track would continue hosting IndyCar races until being dropped from the schedule from 2007 onwards after failing to reach a deal with IndyCar's organisers.
Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with Unser winning the pole position with a speed of 204.001 mph. Directly behind him were two other Penske-Cosworths driven by Rick Mears and Johncock, in second and third respectively out of 15 competitors. Penske-Cosworth's Mario Andretti and Parnelli-Cosworth's Danny Ongais both withdrew prior to the start of the event.
With the starting order decided, the 1979 Gould Grand Prix commenced on September 15th. Unser maintained his lead from the start, holding it for nine laps before dropping it to Johncock on lap 10. Johncock held the first position for 19 laps, briefly losing it to McLaren-Cosworth's Tom Sneva before regaining it a lap later on lap 30. Johncock defended his lead before suddenly retiring after 36 laps following an engine failure. This enabled Unser to regain the first position, which also transpired to be the final lead change of the event. He defended it for the remaining 40 laps to claim victory and $14,210 in prize money. Sneva finished second, with Mears a lap down in third despite running out of fuel.
According to IndyCar on TV, the 1979 Arizona Republic / Jimmy Bryan 150 received live flag-to-flag coverage from NBC as part of its NBC Sportsworld, being billed as the Phoenix 150. 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. He summarised it as "almost an exercise in doing things the wrong way." Yet, despite the historic nature of the event, the NBC broadcast has yet to publicly resurface. 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.
Rumours have persisted that the 1979 California 500 was televised by ABC, most likely as part of its Wide World of Sports. As of the present day however, no confirmation that a broadcast occurred has been achieved, with no other race footage currently being publicly available. Nevertheless, some photos of the event can be found online. Finally, the 1979 Gould Grand Prix is known to have been broadcast based on a 1979-2007 YouTube playlist detailing all available CART/Champ Car broadcasts. It was most likely televised by ABC, as the previous event was broadcast by it. The broadcast has yet to resurface, however, and no footage of the event is currently publicly available.
- Dan Gurney's All American Racers detailing the "Gurney White Paper" and CART's formation. Retrieved 29 Jun '22
- Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporting on CART's formation and its sanctioning by the SCCA. Retrieved 29 Jun '22
- Motorsports Tribune detailing CART's split from USAC and the 1979 Arizona Republic / Jimmy Bryan 150. Retrieved 29 Jun '22
- Racing-Reference detailing the qualifying and race results of the 1979 Arizona Republic / Jimmy Bryan 150. Retrieved 29 Jun '22
- Racing-Reference detailing the 1979 SCCA/CART IndyCar Series schedule. Retrieved 29 Jun '22
- Racing-Reference detailing the results of the 1979 Miller High Life 150. Retrieved 29 Jun '22
- Motorsport Memorial page for Jimmy Bryan. Retrieved 29 Jun '22
- IndyStar reporting on Phoenix races being dropped from the IndyCar schedule after 2018. Retrieved 29 Jun '22
- The Morning Call from Allentown, Pennsylvania reporting on Johncock winning the 1979 Arizona Republic / Jimmy Bryan 150 and Unser's tyre issues. Retrieved 29 Jun '22
- Tom Cheche's review of the NBC broadcast (can be seen in nascarman History's Top 10 Lost IndyCar Broadcasts). Retrieved 29 Jun '22
- Racing-Reference detailing the qualifying and race results of the 1979 California 500. Retrieved 30 Jun '22
- Circuits of the Past detailing the history of the Ontario Motor Speedway. Retrieved 30 Jun '22
- ESPN detailing USAC's Triple Crown. Retrieved 30 Jun '22
- The New York Times reporting on Unser winning the 1979 California 500. Retrieved 30 Jun '22
- Racing-Reference detailing the qualifying and race results of the 1979 Gould Grand Prix. Retrieved 30th Jun '22
- Racing-Reference detailing the results of the first Norton Twin 125s race. Retrieved 30th Jun '22
- Racing-Reference detailing the results of the second Norton Twin 125s race. Retrieved 30th Jun '22
- Eurosport reporting on the Michigan International Speedway being dropped from the IndyCar schedule. Retrieved 30th Jun '22
- The Courier-Journal reporting on Unser winning the 1979 Gould Grand Prix. Retrieved 30th Jun '22
- Ultimate Racing History detailing the results of the 1979 Gould Grand Prix and prize money awarded. Retrieved 30th Jun '22
- IndyCar on TV detailing the NBC broadcast of the 1979 Arizona Republic / Jimmy Bryan 150. Retrieved 29 Jun '22
- r/lostmedia post detailing the missing NBC broadcast of the 1979 Arizona Republic / Jimmy Bryan 150. Retrieved 29 Jun '22
- IndyCar on TV detailing the possibility of an ABC broadcast of the race. Retrieved 30 Jun '22
- Austin LaPlante's known CART/Champ Car broadcasts playlist, noting the 1979 Gould Grand Prix broadcast is missing. Retrieved 30th Jun '22
- IndyCar on TV detailing the ABC broadcast of the 1978 Gould Grand Prix. Retrieved 30th Jun '22