Penske’s First ‘500’ Winner To Be Back on Track

Fritz Frommeyer

Penske’s First ‘500’ Winner To Be Back on Track


Penske’s First ‘500’ Winner To Be Back on Track


Main photo: The Penske/Donohue McLaren M16B is prepared in the Museum’s restoration shop for its run before the 106th Indianapolis 500. Bernie King of Penske Restorations lends a hand.

One of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s salutes to its past is the vintage-car lap just before the start of the “500.” Eight cars from the IMS Museum’s collection will roll out this year, “showcasing the evolution” from the 1912-winning National to the Wildcat/Cosworth that took the race in 1982.

Among them is the car that captured Team Penske’s first of its record 18 victories, the McLaren/Offy of Mark Donohue in 1972, also the first McLaren to win at the Speedway.

“It really set forth the modern Indy car that we know today,” said Jason Vansickle, VP of curation and education at the IMS Museum. “Roger Penske brought this clean and polished mentality that eventually just encased the entire paddock,” quite a contrast to the “bit of wild west rough and tumble” of the previous roadster era.

The 1972 “500” is also remembered for Bobby Unser shattering the track record by more than 17 mph, Donohue’s teammate Gary Bettenhausen leading 150 laps before ignition trouble hit, and the wrong-pit pit stop by late race leader Jerry Grant in the purple “Mystery Eagle.” Instead of his own pit, Grant pulled into teammate Bobby Unser’s pit for a tire change and was immediately penalized by having none of his further laps counted. Donohue, in second, then cruised to a victory by more than three minutes over Al Unser, setting a long-standing record for the 500 miles of 162.962 mph.

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