Keeping It Off the Wall|
by Ed Donath
Press the Flesh
Athens, NY—From a Gold Ticket seat in the very top row above Turn 1 of the New Hampshire Speedway, it was apparent, during Saturday qualifying, that the Honda-powered Reynard might just be the "next big thing" in the IndyCar World Series; so noticeably quicker were Andre Ribeiro’s ultra-smooth pole winning laps. The affable Brazilian’s dominant victory the following day confirmed that the Reynard-Honda package would be tough to beat for the remainder of the 1995 season and beyond.
A year later from an almost identical vantage point at the much larger Michigan Speedway, I watched the inaugural US 500 unfold over a chilly Memorial weekend while being riveted to my coveted seat by the gravitational flesh force of 105,000 fellow supporters of our beloved speed sport. Despite the massive wreckage of an amateurish red-flagged start, the race eventually continued and the Vanderbilt Cup—brought out of retirement for this significant protest event—was handed to the winner along with a million dollar spiff check. Jimmy Vasser had made history in another Reynard-Honda.
In a sadder moment later that year at the Molson Indy of Toronto, the red flag could again be seen waving shortly after the replay of a late-race crash was flashed on the jumbo TV screen opposite our grandstand. At a straightaway speed of 180mph, Jeff Krosnoff’s wheel touched Stephan Johansson’s, flipping his car into the air and propelling it like a missile through a catch fence. Krosnoff and corner worker Gary Avrin were killed instantly.
Chatting casually, as an undisguised fan in the most unusual on-and-off-track locations with important Champ Car racing personalities including most memorable contacts with Alex Zanardi, Greg Moore, Gil de Ferran, Max Papis, Roberto Moreno, Jimmy Vasser, Mauricio Gugelmin, Steve Horne, Derrick Walker, and countless others, added critical shading and perspective to the canvas being created in my mind.
Christian Fittipaldi, still recovering from a bone-shattering Surfers Paradise crash with a rod in his leg, driving his pit scooter into a public restroom at Mid-Ohio was pretty strange. But being asked to "Please hold my scooter" while Emmo’s nephew peed into the urinal next to mine was downright surreal. Nonetheless, we passed the moment in a matter-of-fact conversation of the weekend’s events.
Cristiano da Matta was ready to kick my butt in the Nazareth infield when I flippantly asked "How does it feel to be famous?" shortly after his "I keek ass" Toyota TV commercials began airing. Cristiano’s indignant reply, which sounded more like it was coming from an NFL linebacker with an accent than from a diminutive Brazilian open-wheeler: "I don’t want to be famous. I just want to be fast!"
Riding in a hotel elevator with a then-healthy Walter Payton made me feel small like Cristiano da Matta. Watching the late football hero taking his job as Dale Coyne’s race team co-owner so seriously always made me admire the man’s work ethic. His determination, despite knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Hiro Matsushita would be lucky to finish let alone occupy a step on the podium, made it easy to understand why he had excelled as a professional athlete.
Unexpectedly coming upon Joe Heitzler as he boasted to Al Speyer in the Firestone work area at Road America about how he would fix the Champ Car TV package and save the series afforded me the opportunity to shout: "I’m onto you Uncle Joe. Your days are numbered!"
What do these vignettes have in common?
On each occasion I was "covering" an event as an un-credentialed writer.
To be fair, there were many events and subsequent commentaries written around information gathered while wearing a press pass around my neck. However, nothing of general interest has ever transpired in a Champ Car media center during the running of a race—and never will.
Road Rage! An op-ed feature by Ed Donath.
Copyright © 2006 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.
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