Andretti v. Unser v. USAC

For a little tongue-in-cheek fun after looking back at the 1981 Indianapolis 500 and the legal kerflulffule I thought I’d do a blog entry in the format of a law school brief. This is the way all law students are trained to write and review cases. We do this to review facts, relevant law, and the reasoning behind the law/decision.

The 1981 Indianapolis 500 – Andretti v. Unser v. USAC



  • Lap 146 there was a full-course caution following an incident

  • Mario Andretti and Bobby Unser, who were running P1 and P2 respectively, pitted during the full course caution.

  • Upon exiting pit lane, both parties stayed on the apron after the end of pit lane sensor. Unser passed approximately fourteen cars, Andretti also passed a few.

  • These passes were not seen during the broadcast by officials, nor by the commentators during the live broadcast.

  • Unser was named the winner of the race.

  • Upon the televised re-broadcasted the move of passing under yellow was commented by ABC, in commentary added in post-production.

Legal Appeal

  • Following the rebroadcast, Andretti filed a protested with USAC.

  • Monday morning, USAC penalized Unser with a 1-position penalty, declaring Andretti the winner. Under then filed a protest, which was denied.

  • Wednesday Unser filed an appeal with the USAC board.

  • USAC board convened in June, the hearing had to be adjourned and scheduled out.

  • July USA board reconvened and finished the appeal hearing.

Issue was the pass made by Unser legal, and should he have been penalized following the race?

Rules which states: [during a yellow condition] a car may pass another Car, only if: (1) both cars are in pit lane boundaries; (2) the other Car is stopped on the Track; (3) the Driver of the other car has waved by all of the passing Cars…; or (4) the other car is not maintaining the Pace Car speed upon direction of INDYCAR


The majority of the arguments surrounded the issue of the blending area upon exit of pit row at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Once a driver accelerated to the appropriate speed they were then to blend into traffic.

Unser argued that his belief was that if the car stayed below the white line, then they could blend up through the exit of turn two. Therefore the apron was an extension of pit lane, similar to the entrance onto an expressway where an individual needs to get up to speed.

Andretti argued that the place to blend was upon the exit of pit lane where the concrete wall ended.


While the move was a technical violation of the rulebook, because Unser had not been penalized at the time of the move, or shortly afterwards, the penalty was voided and Unser was reinstated as the winner of the 500.


The USAC board notes that if the officials knew of the incident, which evidence provided indicated complaints had been made; they should have made the call if they felt it was an infraction.


First look to the rules, they lay out very specific instances where a car may pass another car in the condition of a yellow after exiting Pit Lane. We don’t have INDYCAR reordering as they have done at other races. Even turning to additional rules within the INDYCAR rulebook, passing during yellow situations is very limited in scope. If not upon the exit of pit lane, a reorder is one of the very limited times passing under a yellow is not a violation of the rules. It goes back to an issue of safety. A yellow condition, on an oval, slows all the cars down to a manageable speed and has them following a pace car as presumably there is an issue on the track that needs attending. The series cannot have drivers attempting to speed up and pass within a line of cars during this condition: it is unsafe.

Any hindsight type of call can run afoul of all of the preparation for the next race. This was the Indianapolis 500: the race is held on Sunday and by Thursday everyone is on their way to Detroit for the doubleheader. Such determinations will take attention and concentration off the upcoming race. The question of replay of any sort during a race is a logistical nightmare. In other sports where replays are heavily used, play can be paused to allow for a review. There is no scenario where they stop an active race to review whether or not someone dipped below a line. That’s why in INDYCAR the calls of Race Control are final and not to be questioned.

Now the technology allows for much better calls within minutes of the incident. It’s not uncommon for the broadcast to say “Race Control if reviewing the incident”. There are cameras and individuals everywhere now on races. This particular incident happened at the Indianapolis 500, the number of cameras there are staggering. Race Control looks more like the mission control for a rocket launch.

Congrats – you’re now all Lawyers…technically I don’t have that power but it’s fine.


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