1981 Pocono 500 (lost footage of USAC Championship Car Season race; 1981)

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An unusual sight as A. J. Foyt's IndyCar laps Jack Hewitt's Silver Crown.

Status: Lost

The 1981 Pocono 500 (also known as the 1981 Van Scoy Diamond Mines 500) was the 2nd race of the 1981–82 USAC Gold Crown Series. Occurring on 2nd June, the race was won by A. J. Foyt, who had also qualified on pole for the race. Aside from the event being the last IndyCar victory for Foyt, it is also notable for being a rare multi-class IndyCar race, a consequence of the USAC-CART split that led to a CART boycott and the need for Silver Crown sprint cars to fill the grid.

Background[edit | edit source]

The 11th instance of the race being held as part of the USAC Championship, the 1981 Pocono 500 was greatly impacted by the USAC-CART split. The split dated back to 1978, where conflicts over poor promotion of races, low revenue generated from events and disagreements concerning technical regulations, led to some IndyCar owners forming the CART series,[1] with Dan Gurney publishing the White Paper that ultimately deemed CART was required for IndyCar's future success.[2] During the 1979 USAC Season, CART-siding teams began to boycott races, including that year's Pocono 500, reducing the field to only 25. This not only upset track management loyal to USAC, but also almost cost the facility its existence as attendance dipped, resulting in lost revenue that almost bankrupted the circuit.

Nevertheless, the 1980 Pocono 500 went ahead under a full field in the 1980 USAC Championship Car season, known as the 1980 Championship Racing League as part of an agreement between USAC and CART. However, the partnership ended after only five races, and by the time the 1981 Pocono 500 came around, the organisations were again in conflict, with the majority of CART's regular drivers bar seven boycotting the race.[3] With only 19 Gold Crown IndyCar entries left, conflict emerged between USAC and the track organisers, the latter wanting 33 entrants. USAC decided to open up the event so that older entrants and front-engined Silver Crown cars could enter, the latter of which primarily competed in dirt races.[4] The decision allowed for an additional 10 entries for the race in total, eight of those being dirt cars. While this did not meet the organisers' demands, the race nevertheless went ahead.

The Race[edit | edit source]

Because of qualifying being disrupted by rain, a drawing of lots took place to decide the grid order.[5] The draw would be split into three lots, consisting of drivers who had won a 500 mile race, other IndyCar drivers, and the dirt car racers. A. J. Foyt won the pole position, qualifying ahead of Jim McElreath and Tom Sneva, the latter one of the few CART drivers to defy the boycott.

The first position in the early stages of the race were contested mainly by Foyt and Sneva. The Silver Crown cars essentially would be in a race of their own at the back, and would maintain the inside line to allow the Gold Crown competitors to safely lap them. Meanwwhile some like McElreath were driving older IndyCars, including a 1974 Offenhauser, and thus could not challenge for the win. As they were in the most modern cars, Foyt and Sneva were competitive, with both challenging until the latter retired after after 79 laps because of gearbox issues. Foyt's competition for the remainder of the race consisted of two other CART regulars in relatively modern cars who also deified the boycott in, Geoff Brabham and Tom Bigelow. The lead changed another eleven times following Sneva's retirement, with Foyt ultimately assuming the lead again on lap 119 and holding onto it until lap 122, when the race finished because of rain, short of the 200 laps expected.

Post-Race[edit | edit source]

Foyt therefore won his fourth Pocono 500,[6] which would turn out to be his final IndyCar victory,[7] and claimed $67,685 in prize money. He finished ahead of Brabham and Bigelow in second and third respectively. Mark Alderson was the highest placed driver in a dirt car, placing 11th and being 18 laps down from the leaders.[8] Post-race, CART suspended the seven CART drivers who took part in the race, including Sneva, Brabham and Bigelow, for 60 days. The drivers would miss the next two races of the 1981 CART season, but returned before the 60 days were up as they won a lawsuit allowing them to race based on free market labour and right-to-work legalisation.[9]

Other legal matters occurred, including track owner Dr. Joseph Mattioli suing for damages after attendance plummeted to only 25,000, about a third of the crowd that attended the previous year's event. The matter was settled out of court, as was another lawsuit that was made following the 1979 event. The Pocono 500 would later become a regular event of CART from 1982 until 1989, while the USAC Championship was reduced to only the Indianapolis 500 by 1985.[10]

Availability[edit | edit source]

Several photos of the 1981 Pocono 500 are publicly accessible.[11] But while a one-hour film containing highlights of the race was televised two weeks following the event on syndicated programming like NBC Sports, including on Indianapolis television station WRTV, no footage of the event is currently publicly available.[12] According to nascarman History, it is believed that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum may have a copy of the footage, but this remains unconfirmed.[13]

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Video[edit | edit source]

Ryan Holman Reviews video discussing the 1981 Pocono 500.

Images[edit | edit source]

See Also[edit | edit source]

External Links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. DriveTribe discussing the USAC-CART split. Retrieved 25 Sep '21
  2. Dan Gurney's White Paper deeming CART was required for IndyCar's future success. Retrieved 25 Sep '21
  3. AP Motorsports reporting on the 1979 boycott, the 1980 Championship Racing League race, and the 1981 boycott where only seven CART regulars ultimately decided to compete. Retrieved 25 Sep '21
  4. KM Village stating that USAC opened up the field to allow for Silver Crown entrants in an attempt to meet the track organisers' demands. Retrieved 25 Sep '21
  5. Ultimate Racing History providing small facts about the race, including the starting order being determined by a random draw. Retrieved 25 Sep '21
  6. New York Times article reporting on A. J. Foyt winning his fourth Pocono 500. Retrieved 25 Sep '21
  7. ESPN article noting A. J. Foyt's win at the 1981 Pocono 500 was his last IndyCar victory. Retrieved 25 Sep '21
  8. Pocono Record newspaper reporting on Mark Alderson being the highest place dirt car driver. Retrieved 25 Sep '21
  9. New York Times reporting on the seven CART drivers being banned for 60 days, and the lawsuit that would enable them to return earlier than stated. Retrieved 25 Sep '21
  10. Speed Smorgasbord discussing the 1981 Pocono 500 and the aftermath of the event. Retrieved 25 Sep '21
  11. Archived list of photos of the 1981 Pocono 500. Retrieved 25 Sep '21
  12. Track Forum discussing the lost television broadcast of the 1981 Pocono 500. Retrieved 25 Sep '21
  13. nascarman History video discussing the possibility of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum holding a copy of the highlights. Retrieved 25 Sep '21