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Video: Bobby Unser 1981 appeal

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  • Video: Bobby Unser 1981 appeal

    CBS Sports did a report during the 1981 Talladega 500 about Bobby Unser's appeal of the 1981 Indianapolis 500.

    We all know the ultimate result, but this is the first time I've seen this (or I saw it 41-years ago and forgot!)


  • #2
    The incident demonstrated once again that USAC was incapable of officiating Indy car racing.

    If USAC had any semblance of competence at the time they would have ordered Unser back to the place in line where they wanted him or penalized him during the race. In their wisdom they did neither and we ended up with the mess that we had.
    The Ayn Rand of Indycar

    No one had to badge the Offy.

    Crapping all over threads since 2000.

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    • #3
      I remember looking at my brother and saying, "can he do that?!" Something that I hadn't realized before, the lawyer said that even if you had passed cars between turns one and two, you could still find the correct car and blend on the back stretch. I think instant replay was still pretty rudimentary back in those days, not instantaneous like we have today, but still the USAC observers around the track should have been able to radio to the chief steward and let him know of the infraction so that Bobby could have been placed in the proper spot or made to go to the back of the line before the next green flag. I think that punishment would have fit the crime. Bobby obviously had the best car that day and I think the outcome would have been the same but it would have been a big thrill watching him get there, and would have saved a bunch of needless heartache and confusion. It's pretty ridiculous to have the winner declared in court months after the race. Another one bungled by USAC's ineptitude. I don't mean to pile on USAC but their track record speaks for itself. It is a difficult and thankless job, but a little common sense would have changed the outcome of a number of decisions they made.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by The JP View Post
        Another one bungled by USAC's ineptitude. I don't mean to pile on USAC but their track record speaks for itself.
        More Chief Steward Tom Binford than USAC itself. At Indianapolis penalties went through the chief steward at the time.

        The real issue was the vagueness of the blend in rules after leaving the pits under the yellow. Both Unser and Mears planned to take full advantage of lack of clarity per the instructions that Team Penske had laid out days before. Mears never got a chance as he experienced a pit fire and was out. Mario passed his share of cars under the yellow as well but didn't take things quite as far as Unser.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by The JP View Post
          I remember looking at my brother and saying, "can he do that?!" Something that I hadn't realized before, the lawyer said that even if you had passed cars between turns one and two, you could still find the correct car and blend on the back stretch. I think instant replay was still pretty rudimentary back in those days, not instantaneous like we have today, but still the USAC observers around the track should have been able to radio to the chief steward and let him know of the infraction so that Bobby could have been placed in the proper spot or made to go to the back of the line before the next green flag. I think that punishment would have fit the crime. Bobby obviously had the best car that day and I think the outcome would have been the same but it would have been a big thrill watching him get there, and would have saved a bunch of needless heartache and confusion. It's pretty ridiculous to have the winner declared in court months after the race. Another one bungled by USAC's ineptitude. I don't mean to pile on USAC but their track record speaks for itself. It is a difficult and thankless job, but a little common sense would have changed the outcome of a number of decisions they made.
          Heck, they couldn't even enforce the PACER light system. Many of the films of the 70's races are filled with PACER light violations, blend violations. Bobby was one of the best at taking advantage of these situations. Both he and Mario should have been penalized.
          "For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's future, and we are all mortal".

          John Kennedy at American University 1963

          "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power"

          A. Lincoln

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          • #6
            Yes, Indyrjc and Belanger99, definitely good points. I do remember seeing Mario pass his share of cars between one and two. Still, it begs the question, as DaveL pointed out, why didn't the Chief Steward do anything at the time? Was it because the rules were so vague? If so, why penalize the winner the next day? It would seem you would have to let it go and tighten the rules up for the next race.

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            • #7
              And, the way I remember it, Bobby definitely had the best car and didn't need to resort to the pit exit chicanery. He would have won any way.

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              • #8
                My understanding is that the Chief Steward called down to the observers and asked if "Unser" had committed the infraction. For whatever reason, the observers assumed this meant Big Al and responded that he had not. This miscommunication contributed to the delay in deciding whether an infraction had occurred.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by SteveK51 View Post
                  My understanding is that the Chief Steward called down to the observers and asked if "Unser" had committed the infraction. For whatever reason, the observers assumed this meant Big Al and responded that he had not. This miscommunication contributed to the delay in deciding whether an infraction had occurred.
                  If true it just goes to show how inept USAC was. Al was many laps down having had mechanical issues earlier in the race. There would have been no reason to assume the "Unser" in question was him rather than the guy competing for the race win.
                  The Ayn Rand of Indycar

                  No one had to badge the Offy.

                  Crapping all over threads since 2000.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by The JP View Post
                    Yes, Indyrjc and Belanger99, definitely good points. I do remember seeing Mario pass his share of cars between one and two. Still, it begs the question, as DaveL pointed out, why didn't the Chief Steward do anything at the time? Was it because the rules were so vague? If so, why penalize the winner the next day? It would seem you would have to let it go and tighten the rules up for the next race.
                    I think because at the time, much of the mindset was to simply make note of any "infractions" and they would be fully-examined and dealt with during post-race/overnight review. Dealing with penalties during the race was apparently too difficult, too hectic (another example of USAC being in over their head). It was a lot easier to vet things over night, issue the obligatory 1-lap penalty when official results were posted at 8 a.m., and go to Denny's for breakfast. Rarely did the penalties change much of anything. Back then, fewer cars would be running at the finish, and fewer still would be on the lead lap/same lap. Subtracting a lap from a driver's tally sometimes didn't even cost him a position. What magnified this one into the stratosphere was that it involved first place and second place. Had this involved the drivers running 12th-13th....we wouldn't be talking about this at all.

                    The appeals panel in the October ruling did make the comment that the infraction should have been recognized when it happened, and should have been handled with during the race. In subsequent years, USAC started issuing penalties during the race...opening up a new can of worms which bungled other races....but at least things were headed in the right direction.
                    Doctorindy.com

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by indyrjc View Post

                      More Chief Steward Tom Binford than USAC itself. At Indianapolis penalties went through the chief steward at the time.

                      The real issue was the vagueness of the blend in rules after leaving the pits under the yellow. Both Unser and Mears planned to take full advantage of lack of clarity per the instructions that Team Penske had laid out days before. Mears never got a chance as he experienced a pit fire and was out. Mario passed his share of cars under the yellow as well but didn't take things quite as far as Unser.
                      Mario passed either 2 or 3 cars, one of them Foyt who waved him by because he was having issues at the time.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by SteveK51 View Post
                        My understanding is that the Chief Steward called down to the observers and asked if "Unser" had committed the infraction. For whatever reason, the observers assumed this meant Big Al and responded that he had not. This miscommunication contributed to the delay in deciding whether an infraction had occurred.
                        Completely correct.

                        Then after the ABC situation happened clearly they felt like they had to do something. There's now video evidence, the evidence has been shown worldwide, ABC has made a huge deal of it, nobody at home knows that the commentary was done in post-production and not live, it's just a confluence of events.

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                        • #13
                          If ABC had simply commented, "Unser passed several cars before getting in line. That looked weird. I guess he thinks he can get in line later than pit exit," I wonder if USAC would have felt the pressure to issue a penalty.

                          Instead we got, "What's he DOING? You CAN'T do THAT!" "Ohhh James, that is a NO-NO!" Now we have ABC declaring a rules violation and Binford is painted into a corner. Still, the observers should have called it in to Binford and Binford issued the penalty immediately, or move Unser back in the serial and warn him if future penalties if repeated.

                          USAC was like the local Lions Club running a soap box derby race. It's not the Lions regular gig, things are a little squirrel-y, but the event is mostly a success. USAC by the 1980s was like an Indianapolis service club that was in charge of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by MS View Post
                            If ABC had simply commented, "Unser passed several cars before getting in line. That looked weird. I guess he thinks he can get in line later than pit exit," I wonder if USAC would have felt the pressure to issue a penalty.

                            Instead we got, "What's he DOING? You CAN'T do THAT!" "Ohhh James, that is a NO-NO!" Now we have ABC declaring a rules violation and Binford is painted into a corner. Still, the observers should have called it in to Binford and Binford issued the penalty immediately, or move Unser back in the serial and warn him if future penalties if repeated.
                            So when Jim and Jackie were doing the voice over commentary (supposedly most of the commentary would be voiced-over as it was airing...so approximately 10-10:30 pm that night)...they weren't just noticing it willy-nilly. It was semi-scripted. They knew a protest was simmering. So they took that angle and ran with it...ran it and magnified it 1000x. As a media outlet, they probably figured it was their "duty" to report on it and bring the situation to light. They wanted to break the story. Except all they did was pour gasoline on the fire.
                            Doctorindy.com

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                            • #15
                              Did anyone go on record about the incident between the end of the race and the TV broadcast? Anyone in print media? Any fans calling in to shows, local TV pundits? Was Mario making noise to anybody? I can't imagine Bobby and the Penske team celebrating, watching the race, then hearing Jim and Jackie running their yaps, then the phones blowing up, then....
                              I live my life 4.048 miles at a time.

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