Although it is listed as just another event on the 14-race United States Auto Club calendar, in effect the Indianapolis 500 is a season unto itself. Drivers and crews are at the Speedway for more than three weeks, practicing, testing, qualifying, trying to shave fractions of a second, squeeze out more power, find extra mileage. But as the last Sunday in May nears, another Indy begins: a frenetic schedule of parties and promotions and meetings with sponsors that nibble away at a driver's time and weaken his concentration. Just to make matters worse, the last time a driver can test his car is "Carburetion Day," four days before Sunday's race. Last year Photographer Lane Stewart kept pace with pole-winner Johnny Rutherford during the final days of May as he made the rounds—tirelessly smiling, shaking hands, signing autographs. On May 30 all of Rutherford's efforts became worthwhile—and worth $256,121—as he won the second 500 of his 14-year career at the Speedway.
An afternoon party honored the pole winner.
Later Johnny joined his crew for a banquet.
Final practice on Thursday is the last time the drivers take to the track before empty grandstands.
May 15, 1977
Even on quiet days a gantlet of fans has to be run between the pit area and Gasoline Alley.
Johnny's smile was turned up full when his sponsor threw a party.
The night before the 500 Johnny and Betty Rutherford unwound alone.
It's all in the family as the four Rutherfords take part in the 500 Festival parade on Saturday.
Betty, who times his races, and his fire-suited pit crew signaled Johnny off on the opening lap.
The hometown folks met the racers at the Indianapolis Athletic Club.
Thursday through Sunday, Rutherford's car was in his crew's hands.
Rutherford led when the race was halted because of rain. The cars had gone just far enough to make it official when the 500 was called two hours later.
Johnny and Betty exchanged a prerace kiss minutes before the call to "Start your engines."
The Awards banquet on Monday was the final party—and the one Rutherford enjoyed the most.