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Gordon Johncock at Milwaukee in 1976 using one of the 1975 Wildcat Mk 1s which were retained for short track use in 1976.  Copyright Glenn Snyder 2009.  Used with permission.

Indy 500 and USAC racing 1976

Little new technology appeared in 1976, largely due to USAC's inability to decide the 1976 rules until late winter. The Patrick Racing team built a revised Wildcat, the Mk 2, with a full-width nose, front radiators and lower sidepods but retained the older side-radiator Mk 1 for short tracks. The STP-liveried cars propelled ever-present drivers Gordon Johncock and Wally Dallenbach to first and third in the title race. They were split by Johnny Rutherford's works McLaren M16E, finishing second in the championship for the third year in succession. He still used his 1974 M16C on the short tracks.

The other car that had been new for 1975, the Parnelli VPJ6 with its Cosworth DFX powerplant, proved highly competitive and Al Unser won three races on his way to fourth place in the championship. AJ Foyt's steadily evolving Coyotes were generally fastest in practice but this year the Texan struggled to find reliability and did not feature in the title race. Also sticking with the same driver for the umpteenth season was Lindsey Hopkins, employer of Roger McCluskey. Apart from the Wildcat Mk 2, the only other completely new car was the Lightning, commissioned by Lindsey Hopkins from designer Roman Slobodynskyj to replace their 1974 Riley.

Bobby Unser left cash-strapped AAR after five seasons to join Bob Fletcher's Cobre Tire team and took mechanics Wayne Leary and Butch Harris over to fettle Fletcher's 1974 Eagles, giving them side radiators. Meanwhile Indy and F5000 veteran crew Jerry Eisert took over the reins at AAR. Also running competitive cars in 1976 were Penske (Norton Spirit McLarens) and Jerry O'Connell (Sugaripe Prune Eagles); also still using the same 1974 cars. Such was the absence of new machinery that Johnny Parsons ended up tenth in the championship in the Finley Eagle, a 1974-spec Eagle built up for 1976 by Vatis chief crew Bill Finley.

The races

14 Mar 1976 > Jimmy Bryan 150 at Phoenix International Raceway

02 May 1976 > Trenton 200 at Trenton International Speedway

30 May 1976 > Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

13 Jun 1976 > Rex Mays Classic at Milwaukee (Wisconsin State Fair Park)

27 Jun 1976 > Pocono 500 at Pocono International Raceway

18 Jul 1976 > Michigan 200 at Michigan International Speedway

01 Aug 1976 > Texas 150 at Texas World Speedway

15 Aug 1976 > Trenton 200 at Trenton International Speedway

22 Aug 1976 > Tony Bettenhausen 200 at Milwaukee (Wisconsin State Fair Park)

05 Sep 1976 > California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway

18 Sep 1976 > Michigan 150 at Michigan International Speedway

31 Oct 1976 > Texas 200 at Texas World Speedway

07 Nov 1976 > Bobby Ball 150 at Phoenix International Raceway

1976 USAC National Championship table

1Gordon JohncockWildcat Mk 1 - DGS 158ci turbo
Wildcat Mk 2 - DGS 158ci turbo
4240 pts2 wins
2Johnny RutherfordMcLaren M16E - Offy 159 ci turbo4220 pts3 wins
3Wally DallenbachWildcat Mk 1 - DGS 158ci turbo
Wildcat Mk 2 - DGS 158ci turbo
3105 pts0 wins
4Al UnserParnelli VPJ6B - Cosworth DFX V83020 pts3 wins
5Mike MosleyEagle 74 - Offy 159 ci turbo2120 pts1 win

Points table by Phil Harms.