Q: I’m reading John Barnard’s biography The Perfect Car by Nick Skeens on my trusty Kindle. Around page 170 the author is discussing the Barnard/Jim Hall situation. It is sort of obvious that Mr. Hall did not design or build the 2K. As proof, the author mentions Mr. Hall confronting you about your article in The Star. The author said that you and Mr. Hall did not speak for five years. True?
RM: Absolutely. I’d written that Buckshot (Bob Sparshot) had assembled the car in England in his shop after Barnard designed it and it was delivered to Midland, Texas ready for an engine and to start running. Jim threw The Star at me the morning after JR’s victory and wanted to know where I got my facts because that car was designed and built by Chaparral Racing. I’d always admired Hall and his innovative mind, but it was sad that he never gave Barnard any credit, and it led to Al Unser quitting the best ride at the Speedway. Hall and I didn’t speak until he announced he was retiring, and then I wrote a nice story about his career. I’ll always admire his achievements, just can’t understand why he wouldn’t want to share some of the credit.
Q: The first Indy 500 I remember watching was 1992. I watched it with my grandparents; the name “Robin Miller” was a curse word to my late grandfather for many years, but that’s a story for another day. Anyways, my parents have been ticket holders since the early ’80s, and they still talk about how dreadfully cold it was that day, which you mentioned in last week’s column. I know the late duel between Little Al and Scott Goodyear was the highlight of the race, but 8-year-old me remembers two things: 1) My mother dropped my new radio/cassette player through the gaps in the grandstand, and 2) Roberto Guerrero’s sharp green Quaker-State sponsored No. 36 sitting on the pole… and spinning out on the pace lap.
To this day, that’s one of the most bizarre wrecks I’ve ever seen. I knew at the time that he had some solid runs at the 500 in the years leading up to that, and it seemed like that was his shot to go to Victory Lane, but it wasn’t meant to be. After that, it seemed like he disappeared from the sport altogether. So for this week’s edition of “where are they now”… whatever happened to Roberto Guerrero? I thought about looking it up on Google or Wikipedia, but I appreciate your candor and rapier wit much more and would rather wait a week to learn from the master storyteller!
P.S. I love reading your Mailbag; I found it thanks to Google News a few months back, and its release is the highlight of my Wednesdays every week! In some bizarre way, it reminds me of both of my late grandfathers, both of whom were avid racing fans.
RM: First off, thanks for reading The Mailbag. As for Roberto, it’s amazing he only had two wins considering his talent, and a lot of people blame his testing accident at Indy in the fall of 1987 for tempering his results and impeding his progress, but he looked pretty damn good in his 1988 comeback at Phoenix (finished second). His crash warming up for the ’92 race was the wake-up call for Firestone and Goodyear about tire temps, and his lesson probably saved a lot of damage for other teams down the road. He and wife Katie live in California and have two grown sons, and the last time I saw him was eating barbeque at Squealor’s on Indy’s northside, and I think he was doing ride-and-drives and coaching.
Q: I remember Al Loquasto and Jim Hurtubise (although his antics with a car and no engine besides) but is there a list of drivers who have been bumped the most times? And wasn’t there an award at one time for the last person bumped? Thanks for keeping us IndyCar racing geeks informed.
RM: I don’t know of any list like that. Ralph Ligouri got bumped a couple times but sadly never made the race, and they had an award for the 34th qualifier for a few years. The Jigger Award was named for Jigger Sirois, whose run was called off but he would have won the pole position in 1969, and his classy demeanor in the face of that heartbreak is why an award was created for the tough luck story of the month.
Q: I was reading an article of yours from a while back about Jack Conely, and you mentioned him not being allowed to run Indy in ’66 because he ran some outlaw races. I’m definitely not a historian, but I was unaware that guys were blackballed from Indy for this. Was this common back in the day, and were there other notable instances you can think of?
RM: Triple A and USAC were notorious for insane suspensions or playing God with a driver’s career. It was either Sam Hanks or Jimmy Bryan that got suspended for driving a pace car, and Paul Goldsmith was banned for one year after running a non-sanctioned USAC stock car race at Riverside in 1963.
Q: I have been a longtime reader of Mailbag, but never written. The article on Aldo’s passing brings back the Rex Mays 1964 Milwaukee race. I was in the stands glassing the infield when I saw two little guys walking around, one in a driver suit and the other in jeans and a white shirt. I didn’t know who they were, but both looked just alike. Finally when the driver climbed into the big Dean Van Lines Offy and I looked at the driver line-up, I saw it was Mario. I had heard of him, but never seen him. That race was a Parnelli runaway in the green Lotus — he won by two laps, but Mario was third. Was that his first IndyCar race?
RM: It was actually his fourth race, and second start for Clint Brawner and the Dean Van Lines team. Mario always tells the funny story about sending Aldo down into Turn 3 to stand and show him where the fast guys were backing off, so his twin brother went 20 feet further and Mario spun out. “Mario was mad but I told him he was going to have to drive deeper to beat those guys,” recalled his brother.