The 50th International 500-Mile Sweepstakes was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana on Monday, May 30, 1966. The official program cover for the race celebrated both the 50th running of the race, and sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of Indiana statehood.
Eleven of the 33 starters were eliminated in a first-lap accident right after receiving the green flag on the main stretch. Only A. J. Foyt was injured, hurting his hand scaling the catch fence trying to escape the wreck scene. Only seven cars, the fewest finishers ever, were still running by the end of the race.
First-time starter Jackie Stewart led by over a lap late in the race in John Mecom's Lola T90-Ford. However, inside ten laps to go, his oil pressure dropped too low due to a broken scavenge pump. Stewart parked the car, and walked back to the pits. Fellow rookie Graham Hill inherited the lead and led a total of 10 laps to win, the first rookie winner since 1927. Despite parking the car, Stewart was voted the rookie of the year over Hill.
Defending race winner Jim Clark spun twice during the race, and finished second. For the second year in a row, the Wood Brothers from the NASCAR Grand National circuit were invited to work pit stops, this time for Dan Gurney. However, the car dropped out of the race in the crash on the opening lap.
Three-year veteran Johnny Rutherford was injured in a serious crash on April 3 at Eldora, and was forced to sit out the 1966 race.
The Mecom Racing Team was scheduled to field drivers Walt Hansgen, Rodger Ward, and Jackie Stewart. However, Hansgen died from injuries suffered in a crash during a test session at Le Mans on April 3. Graham Hill was named as a late replacement, and his name was not even listed on the enrty list in the official program.
Practice for the "Golden Anniversary 500" opened on Saturday April 30, but cold temperatures and rainy weather for the first few days kept most cars off the track. Chuck Hulse (149.8 mph) was the fastest car over the first weekend. On Monday May 2, Art Pollard became the first rookie to pass the 145 mph rookie test. Jackie Stewart also passed his rookie test.
On Tuesday May 10, Mario Andretti turned a practice lap of 164.5 mph during practice, establishing himself as an early favorite for the pole position. Among the others over the 160 mph mark were A. J. Foyt, George Snider, and Dan Gurney.
Rain washed out practice on Wednesday May 11.
On Friday May 13, the final day of practice before time trials, Mario Andretti shattered the unofficial track record by more than 5 mph, running a lap of 167.411 mph. Rain hampered most of the day, but Andretti put together additional laps of 166 mph, and 164 mph. The next-fastest car was Jim Clark, whose best lap was 165.7 mph.
Mario Andretti won the pole position with a four-lap track record of 165.889 mph. His best single lap was a record 166.328 mph.
Chuck Rodee was killed in a crash. On his second warmup lap in turn one, Rodee backed into the outside wall, and he died of his injuries at the hospital.
A total of 18 cars completed qualifying runs on a chilly pole day.
After crashing on pole day, A. J. Foyt qualified at 161.355 mph, the fourth-fastest car in the field.
Unser brothers Bobby and Al qualified, with rookie Al (162.272 mph) leading the speeds for the day. Bobby Grim qualified his turbo Offy front-engined roadster at 158.367 mph, the only such car in the field.
Two drivers managed to bump their way into the field, Ronnie Duman and Larry Dickson. Greg Weld wrecked two cars (one of which was a popular Granatelli-Novi), but was uninjured. Bobby Grim, the slowest qualifier, holds on to the make the field in his front-engined roadster.
Yellow indicates the driver was eliminated in the first lap accident.
Tan indicated the driver was involved in the first lap accident, but was able to restart the race.
As the field came down the mainstretch for the start, Billy Foster was among those jockeying for position. As the green flag fell, he nearly touched wheels with Gordon Johncock and lost control. He spun directly into the outside wall, just beyond the start/finish line, and triggered a huge pileup. Fourteen cars were involved, with debris and loose wheels bouncing all over the racing surface.
As the drivers instinctively scurried out of their machines to avoid possible flames (although no significant fires had broke out), A. J. Foyt became the only driver casualty of the incident. He injured his hand climbing over the catch fence on the outside of the track. He was checked out at the infield hospital, and cleared to drive relief if needed. One spectator was hit by a wheel from the crash.
Of the fourteen cars, eleven were damaged beyond repair. The red flag came out, and after the cleanup, the race lined up for a restart with only 22 cars. The red flag delay was about 1 hour and 24 minutes.
When the race was restarted, the field took several warm up laps, and restarted single file. The yellow light came back on almost immediately when Johnny Boyd crashed in turn 1 on the first green lap.
After the race, some confusion in the scoring led to a controversy, wherein second place Jim Clark's team thought they were the rightful winner. Clark had spun on two separate occasions during the race, but did not make serious contact during either incident. He did not stall his engine either time, and was able to drive to the pits for the crew to inspect the car quickly both times. Clark's team contended that he did not lose a significant amount of time, and figured that they were still one lap ahead of Hill at the finish. The scoring pylon, which was manually controlled and unofficial, changed frequently and somewhat sporadically, as the scoring was ironed out, to the dismay of Clark's crew in particular. The unofficial results at the conclusion of the race showed Graham Hill winning by 41.13 seconds over Clark.
The morning after the race, USAC released the official results, and the standings were unchanged. Colin Chapman and Andy Granatelli, the entrants of Clark's Lotus team, declined to file an official protest. A possible explanation given was that the Lotus crew did not see Hill pass by Clark during the aftermath of the second spin.
Race winner Graham Hill admitted to being "puzzled" and "surprised" to be the winner, while other unsatisfied competitors quipped that he had "never passed a car all day long." The IMS Radio Network, which scored the race independently from the USAC officials, also came up with Hill as the first place car. The apparent controversy died out quickly, and no official action was ever taken. Years later the subject is still mildly debated in racing circles.
A theory emerged that scorers accidentally omitted one lap from Jim Clark's official tally. Therefore, he was effectively placed behind Hill at the finish. The car of Al Unser, Sr. was painted nearly identical to Clark's. The theory is that when Al Unser crashed out of the race on lap 161, scorers mistakenly thought it was Clark, and as Clark drove by in the immediate aftermath, they credited that lap to Unser by mistake. Another version of the theory suggests an opposite situation - one of Unser, Sr.'s laps was erroneously credited to Clark's tally early on, and when the scoring was settled later in the race, the extra lap was correctly deleted.First alternate: Dick Atkins (R) (#97)
The race was carried live on the IMS Radio Network. Sid Collins served as chief announcer. Len Sutton joined the crew, serving as "driver expert," replacing Fred Agabashian. The network had gained sponsorship from Autolite, but Agabashian worked for Champion, and he considered it a conflict of interest, so he stepped aside. He would eventually return to the network in 1973–77. At the conclusion of the race, Lou Palmer reported from victory lane. The broadcast was scheduled for four and a half hours (including a 30-minute pre-race), but the red flag delay at the start extended it.
The broadcast was carried on over 725 affiliates in all 50 states, and 850 stations worldwide including shortwave transmissions from New York and Los Angeles, and XEVIP in Mexico City. Through Armed Forces Network, the broadcast reached worldwide to locations including Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Saigon, Okinowa, Philippines, England, Spain, the Azores, Italy, France, Germany, Turkey, Greece, Pakistan, Morocco, Libya, Newfoundland, Iceland, Labrador, Greenland, and both the North and South poles. In the Indianapolis area, nearly every major radio station simulcast the broadcast. The race was heard by an estimated 100 million listeners.
Bill Frosh, who had reported from turn one for over a decade, left the on-air crew, working instead in production. Mike Ahern took over the prestigious turn one position. Newcomer Doug Zink took the backstretch location, while second-year member Ron Carrell moved to turn three.
For 1967, the flagship station changed from WIBC to WTHI in Terre Haute. Guests in the booth during the red flag delay included Peter DePaolo, Cesar Romero, Johnnie Parsons, Wally Parks, Lucy Foyt, Phil Harris, General Howdy Wilcox, and Larry Bisceglia. During the race, guests that stopped by included Walt Arfons, Frank Borman, Al Bloemker, Louis Meyer, Mickey Thompson, J. C. Agajanian, and Duke Nalon. Senator Birch Bayh visited the booth, accompanied by Wyoming Senator Gale W. McGee and Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman.
As a gesture celebrating the network's 15th anniversary, as well as the 50th running of the 500, guests were presented with a commemorative gold filled Zippo lighter. One station, KXO in California, was noted as one of the few original affiliates to carry the race all fifteen years since the network's inception.
The race was carried in the United States on ABC's Wide World of Sports. The broadcast aired on Saturday June 10. Chris Schenkel anchored the telecast for the first time, with analysts Rodger Ward, Ward did double duty driving the 500 and calling the 500. It was the first time the race was broadcast in color, and the first time the entire program was devoted entirely to the 500. The opening featured a brief recap of time trials in the first half, and race coverage in the second half. The video was actually from a live closed-circuit color telecast of the race.
The race was shown live on MCA closed-circuit television in various theaters across the United States. Charlie Brockman served as anchor. Two segments from this broadcast (the restart and the last quarter of the race), with audio synched up from the radio broadcast, can be viewed on YouTube as of 2016.