Saturday, April 21, 2012

Frenetic Friday Kevin Cogan Edition

Yeah, I know it isn't Friday, and in fact might already be Sunday for some of my readers, but Frenetic Friday isn't about a day, it's a state of mind.

With the month of May almost upon us, I wanted to go back into the vault to May, 1982, which featured a month that was spectacular, tragic and controversial. It was a month of highs and lows, capped by a memorable win by Gordon Johncock, who held off Rick Mears in thrilling battle to post his second win in what was at the time the closest finish in the race's history (.16seconds).

Cogan, flanked by Mears and Foyt just moments before his accident


Mears had won the pole that year with a record speed of over 207 mph, but Pole Day was overshadowed by the death of Gordon Smiley. The 33-year-old Smiley was killed instantly when his car crashed head-on into the Turn 3 wall in what is one of the nastiest-looking accidents in the Speedway's history.

But ask most race fans who were around back then what sticks out in their mind about that particular May and many will talk about the crazy string of events that went down as the field came to the green flag. As Mears brought the field to the green flag, teammate Kevin Cogan, starting in the middle of the front row, suddenly veered sideways into AJ Foyt's car and setting off a wild melee that eventually ended the day for Cogan, Foyt, Mario Andretti, Roger Mears and Dale Whittington.

(As I mentioned in this post from a year ago that was the extent of Whittington's Indy career as he never returned to the Speedway.)

Cogan was blamed for the entire incident and was brutalized in the media by Foyt and Andretti,  and lost his job with Penske at the end of the year.

It was just an example of his star-crossed career at Indy. His 30th place finish in 1982 was sandwiched by years where he finished fourth and fifth, in 1981 and 1983, respectively, and after strugging to find a ride over the next few years he surfaced with Patrick Racing in 1986.

Qualifying sixth and running up front all day, Cogan looked like he might erase his checkered past when he took the lead from Bobby Rahal on Lap 188. But a late caution brought out by an incident involving Arie Luyendyk bunched up the field and on the Lap 198 restart Rahal made it past Cogan and went on to victory.

Three years later Cogan walked away from a nasty incident that saw his car split in half by the outside pit wall, and while he returned to finish ninth the next year only raced in the 500 two more times before his retirement. Overall he raced in the 500 12 times, completing 1,554 laps and finished in the top 5 on three occasions.

Cogan finished his open wheel career with one win (Phoenix, 1986) and two years (1982 and 1986) where he finished sixth in the CART standings. He also had finishes of 13th (1988), 14th (1985, '89) and 15th (1983) in what was a very competitive era of the sport.


In the end, the native Californian had a solid, journeyman-type career, but like many is more remembered for one incident as compared to his entire body of work. 




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