Q: Years ago I remember hearing that Rick Mears forgot to strap his helmet on before the Indy 500 one year and he had to steer with one hand and hold his helmet down with his other hand until his first pit stop. Can you shed more light on that? Also, what other “unusual” things have happened in racing over the years? Didn’t Sarah Fisher have a taxi service broadcasting on her frequency one year at Indy? Has anyone ever forget to strap in, or something like that?
RM: I think it was Rick’s rookie year (1978) that he didn’t have his helmet strapped on, and drove one-handed until that first pit stop. Drivers have had their seats belts come loose – some pitted immediately, and others just waited until their next pit stop. I’m pretty sure Gary B. and Bubby Jones had their belts come loose in a sprint car, but they were leading at the time and not about to stop. There have been all kinds of instances of frequency snafus in IndyCar, but I don’t remember them.
Q: I’m in Milwaukee today and took a drive out to the Mile. Looks race-ready and all the stands are still there. All we need now is a promoter and sponsor!
Rick K, SD, CA
RM: Well, Bob Sargent promoted an ARCA race there last summer, but don’t see it returning on the 2020 schedule.
Q: Being an avid IndyCar fan, I often ponder about who could have been the first five-time winner. While I believe there will be a five-timer someday, that may be a long time from now unless Helio can somehow garner a fourth and then get a guaranteed “one-off” ride for Indy the following year and win again. Not happening, I feel.
Perhaps A.J. Foyt? What year do you think was his best chance at No. 5? Obviously he won four, so any time before 1977 would have been actually his fourth, then making 1977 his fifth. I always look at 1974 as one of his chances to have won. He was strong that day and was back and forth (leading or in second) against Johnny Rutherford all day. I believe he dropped out with an oil pressure or fitting problem that day. He led 70 laps, if I recall.
Another year that got away was 1975. He ran out of fuel twice during the race, which cost him valuable time. I believe he finished third after being on the pole. Last but not least was that rain-shortened 1976 race. He was up front all day until he broke his sway bar. During the rain delay his team replaced his sway bar, and according to A.J. he could have given J.R. fits the last half of that race, and maybe even won. I say 1976 was A.J. Foyt’s best chance to win, would you agree?
Greg (biggest state of Maryland IndyCar fan)
RM: I guess 1975 and 1976 were two that got away, but I don’t think he was going to beat J.R. and the McLaren in 1974. But A.J. would admit his victories in 1961, 1967 and 1977 were all at the misfortune of Sachs, Parnelli and Johncock so sometimes it evens out. His last hurrah was in 1982 when he led the first 22 laps (32 altogether), and it was the last time Super Tex would be out in front as his beloved Speedway.
Q: I am writing about early ’60s Indianapolis and am not clear about how the pit board men got the messages that the crew chiefs wanted them to relay via chalkboard. Did the chief have his own chalkboard to show to the trackside board man? They didn’t run back and forth across the pit lane, to get the message, did they?
RM: Yep, somebody on the crew wrote information on a pit board and then showed to the pit board man.
Q: I remember seeing a roadster at Indy in the late ’50s or very early ’60s with bars over the cockpit. We were sitting high in grandstand E on likely the last day of qualifications, and I clearly recall the car moving slowly through the first turn.
The car was purple or maroon and the bars were black. Can’t recall who was driving. Any recollection?
RM: It was 1963 and started out being Junior Johnson’s ride, but he left to be replaced by Colby Scroggins. It didn’t make the show. And Dave Scoggan thinks it may have been the last Kurtis roadster.
Q: From the original World of Outlaws statement, I believe that they said Kyle Larson and his team were still in good standing, as the incident did not occur during a WoO event. I don’t remember a training requirement, so my question is, did something change? Over the years I have been fortunate to visit the Petersen, the Unser Family Racing Museum, the IMS Museum, the Nethercutt Collection and the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum where all of Jim Hall’s Chaparrals are housed. All are excellent, but in very different ways. One I would like to visit at some point is the Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed. Do you have a favorite museum, or one that you would like to visit?
Don Hopings, Cathedral City, CA
RM: I was told Kyle had to take a diversity course by WoO and did. I want to see Speedy Bill’s museum in stinkin’ Lincoln (Nebraska) and the Unsers’, but my favorites are Barber Motorsports Park, Don Smith’s in Terre Haute and Honda’s in Motegi, Japan. I’ve enjoyed the last few years of IMS paying tribute to Foyt, Penske, Mario and the Unsers, but it needs a facelift.
Q: I enjoyed the Paul Newman stories in the May 20th Mailbag. They got me to thinking: besides Patrick Dempsey, is there anyone out there who might become the new Paul Newman? That is, someone who has fame from TV/movies/music but is also a talented race car driver?
RM: Not that I’m aware of since Jason Priestly gave Indy Lights a try.
Q: I would take my dad and his neighbor to Milwaukee IndyCar race weekend every year. We’d get there on Thursday, camp there, pit passes, went to Vic’s for breakfast, etc… My dad and neighbor were big Mario fans, and he was nearing end of his driving career. We were at the Newman/Haas pit during practice, Mario was sitting on his car facing pit box, and I had my trusty 35mm camera with me. My crew asked a guy standing right in front of Mario if he could move so we could get “the” picture of Mario. He was very happy to do so, and told us to get up there and in closer. Those two never lived down the grief their wives gave them for asking the guy in khakis and floppy hat to move out of the way for a picture – Paul Newman.
Doug Postel, Des Moines, Iowa
RM: That’s classic, and PLN never minded having fans take his photo, he just didn’t believe in signing autographs.
Q: I was reading your Mailbag and saw the name Don Whittington, which brought back some laughs. When I moved to Indy in 1982, Don and Bill were staying at the same apartment complex that I was renting. They seemed like nice guys when I talked to them about racing.
I heard a story that the first time Don was in a Pat Patrick car at the Speedway, that he jumped on accelerator coming out of the pits for the first time and crashed into the first turn wall. The old guy that told me the story said it was one of the funniest things he had ever seen at the speedway. Have you ever heard this story?
RM: Yep. It was a March test, and I think he destroyed that March chassis.
Q: Thanks for the mention of our hometown boy Racin Gardner last week. Buellton, California is a very small freeway town along the central coast of California, and to have had the opportunity to see a local boy in the 500 was a real treat. I know the IRL/CART split meant looking under logs for anyone to pilot the cars that year, but still he is one of only a handful of people to have made the show. Both Racin and his dad, Slick Gardner, were speed racers on the dry lakes. I think Racin was the youngest to break the 500mph barrier at 16 years old. The Gardners ran a car called the Green Monster, sponsored by Pea Soup Andersen’s, a local restaurant. The car is still on display in the Mendenhal Dry Lakes Museum here in Buellton.
Racin’s Wiki info leans toward mechanical issues accounting for his poor showing in Indy car, but I know your judgment as to driver ability comes from years of observation in the sport, so I won’t contest your vote for his inclusion on the Rushmore of Incompetence for IndyCar drivers. Racin’s IndyCar career may have been short, but any racing fan would trade their first born for a shot like Racin got in 1996.
Mike Adriansen, Buellton, CA
RM: Probably wasn’t fair to lump him into that category because I don’t think he had the best chance/car, but his name always got a reaction. Thanks for his history lesson.