Throwback Thursday - 1969 Indianapolis 500

February 25, 2016

1969 Indianapolis 500

The 53rd running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was held on Friday, May 30, 1969. It was an event that would go down in Penske history as the start of an IndyCar dynasty.  For the first time, Roger Penske would field a car for the event with legendary driver, Mark Donohue.

Mark Donohue was one of 84 drivers entered in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” – the second largest field in race history. Donohue was one of a large group of rookie drivers entered after passing their four-phase rookie orientation program. 

Qualifying was set for Saturday, May 17, but due to a wet track there was only one attempt made at qualifying. Sunday, May 18 was a wash out as well and for the first time in modern history of the Indianapolis 500, following the first two days of qualifications, there were no qualifiers for the race.

Qualifying was postponed to May, 24 and 25. Forty-two cars would attempt to qualify, only half of the 84 entered. For the first time in race history, all cars were lined up according to their relative speed. The fastest, A.J. Foyt, at 170.568 mph. Donohue would start his first Indy 500 from the fourth position, with an average speed of 168.903 mph in the No. 66 Sunoco DX/Simoniz Lola

Pole sitter A.J. Foyt led the race in the early stages, looking to become the first four-time winner of the 500. Near the halfway point, however, a lengthy pit stop to repair a broken manifold put Foyt many laps down. Despite a hard-charging run towards the end, he wound up managing only an eighth place finish, 19 laps down.

Mario Andretti led 116 laps and won the 1969 Indy 500. Hard luck driver, Lloyd Ruby, was leading the race just after the midpoint, but during a pit stop he pulled away with the fueling hose still attached. Ruby ripped a hole in the fuel tank to end his day early. The incident put Andretti in the lead for rest of the race.

Penske rookie, Donohue, would make his was to the third position where he would run for a long period. During the closing laps, Donohue made an unscheduled pit stop due to a problem with the turbo charger and would finish seventh, 10 laps down in Penske’s Indianapolis 500 debut. For his efforts he was named “Rookie of the Year.” 

Donohue and Penske would return to the Indianapolis 500 four times after 1969, winning the 500 for the first time in 1972 in their Sunoco McLaren M16B.