Al Unser in the Triple Crown-winning Lola T500 at Milwaukee in 1978.  Copyright Glenn Snyder 2009.  Used with permission.

Indy 500 and USAC racing 1978

Equipped with a new Penske PC6 and the dominant DFX engine, Tom Sneva was not expected to struggle to retain his title. The challenge came from an unexpected direction: the partnership of Carl Haas and Jim Hall had dominated Formula 5000 and Can-Am for four seasons and, recognising the opportunity provided by the Cosworth DFX, commissioned Lola to build a new Indy car. Al Unser joined the team from Parnelli and sponsorship was secured from First National City Travelers Checks. Unser and the Lola won all three 500-mile races, an unprecedented 'triple Crown' but the car was otherwise unreliable and Sneva took the title by a narrow margin.

Parnelli was largely defunct but Danny Ongais drove the VPJ6B design for Interscope Racing and took eight pole positions and five wins. However, the USAC points system rewards reliability over speed and his ten retirements meant he finished down in eighth in the title race, a place behind Steve Krisiloff who never qualified his Wildcat higher than ninth and didn't win a single race.

Wally Dallenbach finally left Patrick racing to drive a McLaren M24 for Jerry O'Connell. His erstwhile teammate Gordon Johncock stayed with with Patrick Racing's Wildcat-DGS cars and accrued enough solid placings to take third in the title.

AJ Foyt finished fifth but realised his five-year-old Coyote design was losing out and bought a pair of Parnelli VPJ6Cs later in the year. His two wins of 1978 came in Coyotes: at Texas and impressively at Silverstone when USAC visited Britain in October that year. Last of the top runners was Rick Mears who joined Penske as a stand-in for Mario Andretti and won three races, including the race at Brands Hatch.

The races

18 Mar 1978 > Jimmy Bryan 150 at Phoenix International Raceway

26 Mar 1978 > Ontario 200 at Ontario Motor Speedway

15 Apr 1978 > Texas 200 at Texas World Speedway

23 Apr 1978 > Gabriel Trenton 200 at Trenton International Speedway

28 May 1978 > Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

11 Jun 1978 > Mosport Park 300k

18 Jun 1978 > Rex Mays Classic at Milwaukee Mile

25 Jun 1978 > Pocono 500 at Pocono International Raceway

16 Jul 1978 > Michigan 200 at Michigan International Speedway

23 Jul 1978 > Atlanta 150 at Atlanta International Raceway

06 Aug 1978 > Texas Grand Prix at Texas World Speedway

20 Aug 1978 > Tony Bettenhausen 200 at Milwaukee Mile

03 Sep 1978 > California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway

16 Sep 1978 > Michigan Grand Prix at Michigan International Speedway

23 Sep 1978 > Machinist Union Trenton 150 at Trenton International Speedway

01 Oct 1978 > Silverstone, Indy

07 Oct 1978 > Brands Hatch Indy Trophy

28 Oct 1978 > Bobby Ball 150 at Phoenix International Raceway

1978 USAC National Championship table

1Tom SnevaPenske PC6 - Cosworth DFX V8
Penske PC6B - Cosworth DFX V8
4153 pts0 wins
2Al UnserLola T500 - Cosworth DFX V84031 pts3 wins
3Gordon JohncockWildcat - DGS 158ci turbo3548 pts2 wins
4Johnny RutherfordMcLaren M24 - Cosworth DFX V8
McLaren M24B - Cosworth DFX V8
3067 pts2 wins
5AJ FoytCoyote - Foyt turbo
Parnelli VPJ6C - Cosworth DFX V8
3024 pts2 wins

Points table by Phil Harms.