Joe Leonard in the Parnelli VPJ1 at the Indianapolis 500 in 1972.  Copyright Glenn Snyder 2009.  Used with permission.

Indy 500 and USAC racing 1972

AAR produced an entirely new car for 1972, based in some part on the successful McLaren M16, and it proved to be the quickest car of the season. Bobby Unser took pole position six times in nine races. The McLaren M16Bs were more numerous - a pair for Penske and a pair for McLaren Cars - but could not quite match the speed of new Eagles. The third of the competitive cars was the new Parnelli VPJ1 designed by Maurice Philippe and built by chief crew George Bignotti for the "superteam" of Al Unser, Joe Leonard and Mario Andretti, the latter recruited from the defunct STP/Granatelli operation.

Unser won four of the short track events but his Eagle was unreliable in the longer races and he finished well down in the title race. McLaren driver and early points leader Mark Donohue was sidelined mid-season by a testing accident and the Parnelli team took advantage, Joe Leonard winning three races in July and August. Leonard took a second successive title with the next places filled by Billy Vukovich in Jerry O'Connell's customer Eagle and Roger McCluskey's whose dismal season had been rescued when team owner Lindsey Hopkins acquired a second-hand McLaren.

The races

18 Mar 1972 > Jimmy Bryan 150 at Phoenix International Raceway

23 Apr 1972 > Trentonian 200 at Trenton International Speedway

27 May 1972 > Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

04 Jun 1972 > Rex Mays Classic at Milwaukee Mile

16 Jul 1972 > Michigan 200 at Michigan International Speedway

29 Jul 1972 > Pocono 500 at Pocono International Raceway

13 Aug 1972 > Tony Bettenhausen 200 at Milwaukee Mile

03 Sep 1972 > California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway

24 Sep 1972 > Trenton 300 at Trenton International Speedway

04 Nov 1972 > Best Western 150 at Phoenix International Raceway

1972 USAC National Championship table

1Joe LeonardParnelli VPJ1 - Offy 159 ci turbo3460 pts3 wins
2Billy VukovichEagle 72 - Offy 159 ci turbo2200 pts0 wins
3Roger McCluskeyKuzma-Kenyon - Offy 159 ci turbo
Antares 72 - Offy 159 ci turbo
McLaren M16A - Offy 159 ci turbo
1970 pts1 win
4Al UnserParnelli VPJ1 - Offy 159 ci turbo1800 pts0 wins
5Mark DonohueMcLaren M16B - Offy 159 ci turbo1720 pts1 win

Points table by Phil Harms.