First USAC All-Stars game a side-splitting success

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An exhibition basketball game “was a sight” and then some, according to Johnny Rutherford, who was among the USAC 500 All-Stars that took the court against the PERT (Press, Entertainment, Radio and TV) team.

Almost $13,000 was raised from the game on Oct. 3, 1968, with proceeds directed toward the USAC Benevolent Fund to be used in the rehabilitation of injured driver Bob Hurt, who watched from the sideline.

Nearly 8,000 fans were at the Indianapolis Coliseum to watch the game, which was highly entertaining and often unconventional. Mario Andretti climbed on Roger McCluskey's shoulders for a better chance at reaching the basket. Referees Dave Overpeck and Pat Vidan gave the All-Stars a 10-yard penalty for kicking a field goal. There was some confusion when a deflated ball was introduced into the game.

“We just tore (the media) a new one; had a great time,” Rutherford said. “We (played in an exhibition) for a couple of years until the media got tired of losing. We played softball games, too. We played the drag racers one time in Reading, Pa., and raised money for charities.”

Rutherford couldn’t recall a standout player on the roster that included Sam Sessions, Bobby Unser (who won the Indianapolis 500 three months earlier), Rodger Ward, A.J. Foyt, Bill Vukovich, Larry Dickson, Gene Hartley, Art Pollard, Al Unser, Bob Harkey, McCluskey, Andretti and Rutherford. Cleon Reynolds was the coach.

“None of us were well-versed in basketball. We did some skullduggery that had some fun around it,” Rutherford added.

An example from the ’68 exhibition: The All-Stars were leading 7-4 when every player returned to the floor after a timeout carrying an extra ball to help boost the score. A custard pie fight involving all the players seemed like an appropriate way to end the game.

From the fans