06/02: Danica 500
Every Memorial Day hundreds of thousands of spectators would jam the huge track to watch the best of the best in incredible machines from America and Europe.
From its early days when it was paved with bricks to the modern period when only a strip of the bricks left at start/finish line with the rest of the great Speedway covered with a smooth asphalt surface it was the fastest, most dangerous two and half miles in the world.
Speeds through the four sweeping corners---each a quarter-mile in length---were radically quicker than all the other straightaway tracks in the nation. By the middle of the 1930’s cars were running well over 150 miles an hour on the straights and over 100 miles in the corners---all on skinny tires and relatively primitive suspension systems.
My father loved fast cars and as a young man had gone to auto races in the New York City area. When I was a young kid he took me to Syracuse, where the Indianapolis type cars ran on the one-mile dirt track at the state’s fairgrounds. There I sat high in the grandstands and watched the great Indianapolis heroes of the day like Rex Mays and Mauri Rose compete in a mad, 100-mile dash on the rusty, rutted oval designed specifically for horses.
Those races, plus watching the midget races at Buffalo’s Civic Stadium’s quarter mile running track hooked me forever on the sport of automobile racing. This period was capped by my trips to Indianapolis in the early 1960’s. In those days auto racing was a minor sport compared to football and baseball. It was before NASCAR thrilled the public from coast to coast.
Today NASCAR rivals all physical sports in every possible way, including massive spectator counts.
In the meantime the Indianapolis 500 has lost some of its appeal against the rise of NASCAR. But there is still power and speed at the event that is now over a century old---the first races run at the giant rectangle were in 1909 with the first “500” opened two years later. There is no element in motor racing in the country that has the depth of the “500”. Every Memorial Day well over 300,000 spectators fill the stands (no official count is every revealed by the owners).
Suffice to say that it remains the largest single sporting event in the world with the stands filled over during the whole month for qualifications, practice and the race. Many experts believe that during the entire month of May that nearly a million spectators fill the giant stands even on days when only a few cars take some practice laps. Such is the magnet that is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
With the popularity of motor racing of all types rising by the day, there is no question that the famed Indianapolis 500 will remain the center-piece of the sport.
A major element in the revival of the 500 is a tiny little girl---a very pretty one at that---named Danica Patrick. Over the years there have been a few woman who have run with the men in Indy type racing, but none became as popular as little Miss Patrick in such a quick time. This operates at two distinct levels. On the one hand Danica is a talented driver. On the other she is excellent with the media and with the spectators. This young lady is in many ways a breakthrough in that she it not only talented behind the wheel but also behind the television camera.
Danica is still in her twenties and presuming she remains healthy she has a long and sensational career ahead of her not to mention a popularity boost of the Indy 500 and other major races. As the modern race car has become more sophisticated, the muscular strength once needed to drive at speed is less important. This permits a small-framed person like Danica to run with the best without the drainage of stamina at the end of a long race. There is little question that this lovely, talented lady will energize more women to try the top-level of racing.
As Miss Patrick rises, so does the overall popularity of big-time motor racing. It won’t be long before other women make the move, not only in Indy type machines but in the NASCAR stock car leagues where over the years a few women have tried but failed. Not so in the future as the females become major players in all forms of motor sport.
Even though my husband Brock is endearingly known as the Assassin to the world beyond our home and private lives, I must take this opportunity to confide to you that to me, he is a warm and caring man and to quote the Duchess of Windsor when referring to the Duke, “He is my great romance.”
We have been partners for over thirty years and the Museum’s celebration of his life that night must be hailed as one of our most treasured memories. Roasting Brock that night were many of his long time colleagues and friends. Bob Bailey of Racemark and a founding member of the museum made a warm and poignant introduction and one of the great surprises of the evening was a Commendation by the Legislature of New York State. The Commendation was read to all those present at the dinner that evening by Lewis Golub, also a founding member of the museum and head of Price Chopper’s chain of supermarkets.
As with all things done at the museum, the dinner, tables and food were first class. It is a small museum but is housed in the Saratoga water bottling plant. Along with horse racing, culture, gambling and mineral water from the springs that dot the landscape makes Saratoga world famous. For anyone who has the opportunity to travel there the museum is a must. But also don’t miss the lovely Saratoga downtown. It is a place locked in time with active and vibrant shopping and dining areas.
Although the museum staff is small, it is filled with dedicated professionals who work with great enthusiasm and camaraderie. Richard Seliekof is one of the newest editions to the museum team. Richard is truly a dimensional fellow, one of his many credentials is he is a constitutional lawyer. He said, “I only pursued that degree because I was fascinated by the legal niche.” He is very broad gauged and gracious. He and his wife packed up their life in New York City and moved to Saratoga because it offered them the culture and atmosphere of city life while enjoying the peace, beauty and safety of Saratoga, New York.
While Richard did not make his living in the car business in New York City his love of cars drew him to the museum when they arrived in Saratoga. He was offered the job of Director of Development and did a crash course in the world of museums and automobile collecting. He was responsible for planning, coordinating and hosting that wonderful evening. Although it was the first time we had met him face to face, I felt as if we had known each other forever. Brock and I were most appreciative of his efforts and enthusiasm.
The event that evening was filled with old friends, peers and new friends that we look forward to seeing again. Brock was roasted that night and to our amazement Ken Gross, Denise McCluggage, William Jeanes, David E. Davis Jr., John Fitch, Sam Posey and Bill Warner came from the far corners of the country to take their best shots at Brock. He was a bit overwhelmed I think, and kept saying “I can’t believe they came here for me.” As the roast progressed the insults and loving jabs tempered his warm fuzzy feeling a bit but he receovered.
Denise McCluugage admitted that Brock’s life was filled with fun and interesting brilliance but like the Cannonball and One Lap of America one would have been just fine without having to repeat the idiocy so often. Pals like William Jeanes, Sam Posey and Ken Gross even had some nice things to say about Brock and Bill Warner’s comments about his past experiences with Brock were even refreshing to me after all these years. Surprisingly I leaned a few things about my Assassin that I never knew.
David E. Davis, one of Brock’s oldest friends, with a friendship spanning over forty years, was the roaster everyone had been waiting for. Throughout the evening people were whispering about what David E. would have to say, seeing the David had fired Brock at least three times over the years. The on again off again friendship had been a source of endless years of gossip and amusement for others. Only I knew the real story and the real depth of their linkage and I wasn’t about to spoil it for everyone else in the room. David E. spoke eloquently, as usual (he does have the gift) about Brock and their forty year relationship.
David opened with the line, “There has been a great deal of idle chatter about Brock’s health,” with that the room was silent and people slid to the edge of their seats, myself included, as he went on to say, “I want to take this opportunity, here tonight, to lay that rumor to rest once and all. Brock Yates is not pregnant. I repeat Brock Yates is not pregnant and William Jeanes will fight anyone in this room who says that he is, and that includes the women.”
Certainly, you can image my relief and those of the rest of the audience to finally know the real story. People have been speculating about Brock’s health for some time now.
It wasn’t until David E. made the apologies for Csaba Csere of Car and Driver not being able to attend that I knew the old David E. we have come to know and love was emerging. “Csere you know only fired Yates once, I hold the record. I only regret that I cannot hire him one more time just so I can fire him again!” With that statement, I knew that to take a page out of Sally Fields Oscar winning acceptance speech, “You like me. You really like me.” David E. Davis and Brock Yates will always be best friends drawn together with like interests, talent, mutual respect and years of experience doing the things they love most in the world, their love of the sport and the people that surround them which has created a bond that transcends simple friendship.
I salute all those friends that were present and have enriched our lives.
I suppose that sooner or later you’d figure that I’d come on board with a blog. After all, every other nut on the planet is screwing around with them so why not me? Yeah, this is the new world for old crocks but we’ve all to got to get in play. It’s like print is over and if you want to chat about anything, smart or dumb, this is the place.
So here we go.
This site is not exactly like the rest because I’m gonna get shitty on occasion when we begin to deal with cars. That’s the basic subject her, because I’ve spent most of my dumb life screwing around with those four-wheeled nightmares. So if you hate ‘em jump off the site right now, because I’ll tell you I tend to love ‘em. I mean not screwing ‘em, but liking what they do for us in terms of private transportation and having a helluva lot of fun going like the hammers of Hell.
I mean think about this. That four-wheeled bus in your driveway is unique. There isn’t one exactly like yours anywhere in the world. It may only smell different than another one, or have different tires or maybe strange seat covers, but one way or another the old bus is yours and yours alone.
This is what we’re going to deal with here on this blog. I’m empathetic with the car biz, no bull shit about fuel savings or emissions or safety issues. That’s your chance to bail out right now and clear your head.