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Uncensored CART Commentary
by Ed Donath

Not that Mario
10/04/02

ATHENS, NY—Living in a very small community makes it pretty easy to take the collective pulse of your neighbors. That’s why I can say with certainty that people in these here parts who are open-wheel racing fans can easily be counted on the fingers of one hand. But both of us—Mario and myself—are stalwarts. Mario loves F1 while I, of course, live for the Champ Cars.

Mario and I became friends about 17 years ago shortly after we moved into town. While I was cruising Athens’ main drag for the first time—it ends precisely where a seven mile-long twister that leads to the next little Hudson River berg begins—I spotted a ’72 Lamborghini Miura in the single bay of Mario’s Foreign Auto Repair Shop. Reflexively, I pulled my little “flying shoebox” ’84 Colt Turbo into his lot to get a closer look at the exotica.

Mario came out of the garage and asked if he could look under my hood to see the little turbocharged Mitsubishi engine that he’d been reading so much about in the buff books. He seemed just as excited over the prospect of examining his first twin-stick Mirage as I was about that beautiful blue Lambo that he was working on. It was instant bonding—like Krazy Glue.

Eventually we swapped keys and put 14 miles on each other’s cars in the challenging trip—my first of many—to the next village and back. Similar shared driving adventures have occurred on several occasions since Mario and I first teamed up.

Particularly memorable was one drizzly autumn afternoon when we co-drove a Special Edition Saab 9000 Turbo that Mario had just finished tricking-up for a customer who was away on a world cruise. The over-the-top Swedish Meatball had Recaro seats, a close-ratio 5-speed and all kinds of suspension tweaks. It rode on rails despite the rain and wet leaves on the country road. In fact, Mario had it doing a buck-fifteen on the outbound stint, and I was not about to be embarrassed on the flip-flop.

Fourteen miles in under 10 minutes-with a driver change—on a public thoroughfare—in the rain—is pretty exhilarating stuff for over-40’s in small-town America!

Lots of general racing talk has flowed between us. Of course, the single specific motorsports interest that we share—touring car racing—is a totally unknown commodity to the other 1,200-or so Athenian villagers. Nonetheless, it bridges the gap nicely between my limited F1 knowledge and Mario’s lack of a good CART education.

Yesterday was US Grand Prix Sunday, so when I ran into Mario while picking up a fresh loaf of Italian bread at the deli/market that his wife and sister-in-law operate—it’s right next door to Mario’s garage—our conversation naturally turned to F1 at Indy.

“I never read about the construction of the road circuit at Indy,” Mario said in his Max Papis-like accent. “How did they make a Grand Prix track inside of such a big oval? I think I heard that it cost more than $50 million. Who’s got that kind of cash besides Ecclestone and the Mafia?”

“Don’t get me started, Mario,” I shot back edgily. “I’ve gotten myself into plenty of trouble over the years writing about the guy who inherited the Speedway. He has more money than he knows what to do with and he’s apparently happy to squander even more of it to make himself look like an international bigwig—at least for one weekend a year.”

“This guy that inherited the Indy Speedway, Ed…he messed it up pretty bad?”

“Big time!!” I replied. “Remember when you were a kid in Italy and you played soccer with the rich kid’s ball? What always happened if little Antonio got mad because the game wasn’t going his way?”

“Ah…so the spoiled brat in Indianapolis took his ball and went home? You know, as soon as you mentioned that he inherited the place, I knew right away what was the problem.” Mario’s was a very astute answer. “Is that why you never talk crazy about going to the Indy 500 any more like you used to when you first moved into town?”

“Quick, accurate diagnosis is definitely your forte, Doctor Mario. That’s why your customers are always happy to spend the big lira with you. I sincerely hope you enjoy your ForMoola One race this afternoon.”

“I take it that you won’t be watching the US Grand Prix, Ed.”

“Nah! Today is a perfect day to do a few practice runs to Coxsackie and back so I can keep up with you the next time we test a hot car. Afterward, I’ll eat this nice Italian bread that your wife sold me with some pasta and vino and once the “inspiration” sets in, I’ll sit down and write a story. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no racing on TV this Sunday.”

“Ciao, Ed.”

“Ciao, Mario.”

Copyright © 2002 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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