Race Weekend Central

Potts’s Shots: Remembering a 1973 Racing Tragedy

From Ed Biles in Griffin, Ga., we get this question.

“Why don’t the drivers use voice activated microphones (VOX) with the in-car radios? This would allow to them talk without the distraction of pushing a button while driving.”

Well, Ed, it’s a great idea and I’m sure someone has thought of it, and perhaps even tried it. Problem is, with the technology we have nowadays, it won’t work. Take a tape recorder with VOX capability to a racetrack with you sometime. Sit close to the track and set it on VOX. You’ll find out that “voice activated” actually means “noise activated.” The cars going by are going to activate the recorder, just as the sound in the car would activate the in-car radio’s microphone. Even with the microphone inside a full-face helmet.

Now, I have no doubt that some bright someone, sooner or later, will come up with a system that will filter out all noises except the driver’s voice. Until then, they’re pretty much stuck with pushing the button.

Next, we slip into open-wheel racing, as our old friend Ronnie Bates in Waynesburg, Ky., writes:

“I always thought that Swede Savage had died from kidney failure (as many burn victims do), about 33 days after the accident in the 1973 Indy 500. I read somewhere now that he actually might have died from a contaminated blood tranfusion. Anything on that?”

Ronnie I had heard that also for several years, and getting your question set me to researching it further. Thus the delay in answering it. I read it on a few websites, and was looking for better confirmation. Finally, I got a tip that Dr. Steve Olvey, the man who organized the IndyCar safety team, had covered the subject in his book, Rapid Response, and I got a copy of it.

Sure enough, Dr. Steve says Swede was getting along reasonably well and it was contaminated blood that took his life. And he apparently wasn’t the only person in Indianapolis who was affected by that particular batch of blood. As I understand it, an out-of-court settlement was reached between the hospital and Savage’s family, among others.

Very, very sad. I remember the accident well and was amazed that he survived it at all. I remember hearing a recording of his radio transmission after the car hit the end of the pit wall, with him saying something to the effect that he had made a real mess of things.

That was a really bad year for the Indy 500. Rain on the original date, Monday, May 28, held up the start until 3 p.m. An 11-car accident at the end of the front straightaway after the start seriously injured Salt Walther and brought out the red flag, and the race was rescheduled for 9 a.m. the next day.

Then there was more rain, but they got the track dry by 10:15 a.m. and 32 cars pulled away. Cars involved in the accident were allowed to be repaired, but Walther was too seriously injured and no replacement was named.

This time rain came on the second pace lap, and cars were pulled in. They called it at 2 p.m. Wednesday, rain again held it up until 2 p.m.

On the 57th lap, Swede crashed with a full fuel load – 70 gallons at the time. Armando Teran, a member of Savage’s teammate Graham McRae’s crew, stepped out on pit road and was hit by a fire truck going counter race. He died almost instantly.

After a red-flag delay, the race resumed, but rain began again on lap 129. After four laps under yellow, it was called with Gordon Johncock the winner. The traditional victory banquet was cancelled. Johncock left the track to visit Savage, then he and his crew celebrated the win at a Burger King.

Gordon always felt his day win in the 500 hadn’t been “complete” and he felt he made up for it in 1982 when he beat Rick Mears in one of the most exciting finishes I ever saw at that track.

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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