Q: In last week’s Mailbag, Greg R. mentioned Mario immigrated (his parents, brother, and sister) from what is now part of Croatia and settled in Nazareth, PA. Greg mentioned near Langhorne Speedway, actually its Nazareth Speedway. Mario and Aldo raced at Langhorne which was about an hour away. Langhorne is where Aldo was seriously injured. Still planning to be out at Indy for the race. Hope to see you there. Best of health and safety with today’s pandemic, and can’t wait to see you and your wit on NBC. You are an Indy gem.
Stephen Janny, Nazareth, PA
RM: Good catch, I let that one slip by. But here’s a good Langhorne story. When Mario made his big car debut it was at the ‘Horne, and he had dirt master Tommy Hinnershitz helping him that day. The old pro warned him not to drive too deep into Puke Hollow, and Mario said afterwards that advice probably saved his life.
Q: I grew up about 10 miles from the long-lamented Ascot Park in Gardena, CA in the 1960s. My dad and Uncle Lowell took me to many midget and sprint races when I was growing up and Parnelli Jones was my absolute racing hero, which made watching the 1967 Indy 500 just a gut-wrenching experience for a diehard 13-year-old racing fan. Parnelli was not enthusiastic about driving the turbine car in 1967, as pointed out in the Bourcier book. When approached by Andy Granatelli to drive the thing, P.J. put a price on his services that he thought would send Andy packing — $100,000 for the one race! He was a gobsmacked when Granatelli agreed, and the rest is history.
Regarding Bruce Kerr’s question about the ’67 and ’68 turbine cars, I just want to point out another factor that came into play. Over that previous winter, the rule-makers at USAC severely restricted the size of the air intake for turbine-powered cars at Indy, which would have reduced the power output of such engines. I may be wrong about this, but I think the older turbine car was tried out at Indy in late April or early May with the smaller, more restrictive intake and found it wouldn’t get up to any kind of competitive speed and was garaged. Because of their smaller, more aerodynamic shape, the “wedge” cars designed by Colin Chapman for the ’68 race were able to put up competitive speeds with the smaller intake.
Really miss seeing and hearing you at the races, Robin! Keep up the good fight, and wrangling with Mailbag readers!
Mike S, Southlake, TX
RM: All I know is that Joe Leonard was practicing in it when he crashed and pretty much destroyed it, so I think he was set to drive it. Art Pollard also drove it during practice. Leonard replaced Mike Spence, who was killed in practice, in the one of the wedge turbines (No. 60) and Pollard took over the No. 20 wedge and Graham Hill qualified the No. 70 Lotus turbine.
Q: I’ve been watching various dirt track races on FloRacing from Penn & Indiana. I don’t understand how the tracks are allowed to have what looks like large attendance with no social distancing or very few in the crowd wearing masks. Do the tracks have to follow state rules, or only local rules? It makes no sense that the large tracks which NASCAR and IndyCar run on can’t have fans in attendance, but these smaller short tracks seem to be able to pack the stands.
Bob from San Jose, CA
RM: I think in Indiana it’s governed by the counties, but very few masks at Kokomo or Lawrenceburg for Indiana Sprint Week and people just seem comfortable being outdoors. It’s a mix of young and old at USAC shows so it’s probably risky, but no short track is prepared to police the grandstands even if masks are mandatory.
Q: A couple guys I spoke with at Williams Grove told me about McKenna Haase and I watched the “This Racing Life” video and I understand she moved to Indy to build relationships to further her efforts. Don’t know her from Adam, but she sure looks motivated.
RM: McKenna is living in Greenwood but drives or flies to Knoxville every weekend to run 410 winged sprinters, and she’s a little dynamo who has won a feature there. Our NBC producer Terry Lingner befriended her a few years ago and he’s very impressed with her focus, fitness, nutrition and desire to make it in sprints. But I imagine if someone out there wants to put her in an IndyCar some day she would be happy to listen.
Q: The obvious ESPN 30-for-30 is the CART-IRL split. Heroes and villains, IMS is in new hands, most of the key people are still alive, and enough time has passed where you should get some honesty. I was a heartbroken 14-year-old kid without cable. IndyCar went away from me for a decade and I would love to know the ‘rest of the story.’ In the year of experimenting with sports schedules, is there any chance Mr. Penske surprises us with an IndyCar-F1 doubleheader at COTA later this year?
RM: Might have been relevant in 2008 when everything got back together, but it’s rancid water under the bridge and not really worth re-opening old wounds. I pitched it to HBO in 1999 after a feature on The Split with James Brown, but there wasn’t enough interest. No chance of a COTA race, let alone a doubleheader.
Q: I’m in the process of sorting through and scanning the contents of an old suitcase that belonged to the late Larry Bisceglia. The suitcase was rescued intact from a junkyard dumpster in Yuma, AZ, and contains a large assortment of photographs, photo negatives, press releases, letters and autographs he collected during his record 37 straight years as “Mr. First In Line” at the Indianapolis 500. One thing I’ve discovered is he may have been a member of the Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers Club. How could Larry have joined that exclusive group if he didn’t meet the 20- year requirement of actually being directly employed in IndyCar racing? I believe you are a member of the 500 Oldtimers, right? Do you have any stories about Larry that you could share?
Lawrence Stoen, Palm Beach Gardens
RM: I’m not a member, but Larry was part of the Indy 500 fabric and that’s why he was inducted into the Oldtimers Club. I didn’t know Larry but he was beloved by drivers, owners, mechanics and fans, from everything I was told.
Q: Great work as always. I love Indianapolis 500 tradition, and I know that the performance of ‘Back Home Again in Indiana’ has been assigned to various artists since Jim Nabors passed away. This isn’t a complaint, but an observation: Some of us would like to see video replays of Mr. Nabors performing the song as part of the pre-race festivities, but as a move forward, how about suggesting to Mr. Penske that the song be performed by the Hoosier Springsteen, John Mellencamp? He lives down the road in Bloomington, and I understand one of his neighbors is Steve Kinser. Please stay healthy.
Jim Donnelly, Daytona Beach, FL
RM: I sent your request to Doug Boles and R.P.