Editorial

A Family "Thang"

 

 by Steven N. Levinson
May 18, 2003

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I never watch IRL racing. But on Saturday, I felt compelled to tune in the "Freedom 100" Infinity Pro Series race at the Speedway.  I feared an impending debacle or worse. I was not to be disappointed. In fact, it exceeded my worst expectations.

To many observers in gasoline alley, it was clear from the drop of the green flag, that this was to be an "Anointment" for Ed Carpenter, stepson of the "owner of the joint", Anton Hulman George. Carpenter took off like a guy that had either "better handling on the straight-a-way or just more talent" than the rest of the field.  It was said in this article by Robin Miller, "He was going five mph faster than anybody else down the straightaway," groused one Infiniti car owner. "What a joke," referring to the fact this was supposed to be a spec series with all engines equal.

Although his dominance was briefly interrupted by a crash on the very first lap. After 10 laps of "caution" , the re-started affair was again yellow flagged before the lap had been completed. Mercifully, rain ended the debacle. The results were pre-ordained, and it wasn't necessary to follow the race on Sunday.

For Ed Carpenter it was "Destiny" For others it was ..........."DYNASTY"?

Carpenter's victory reaction was predictable!   "AJ. knows this place", he exclaimed. What else could he say? Curiously, he had the same magic car that AJ IV had from last year. IPS Paddock goers and old Speedway hands were extremely skeptical.

Usually in a "Spec Series", the cars are evenly matched, technology is limited and a "Driver's True Talent" wins out.  So I can only assume that Ed Carpenter is an extremely talented driver who simply "ran away from the field". Carpenter's extraordinary run at the Speedway is all the more amazing when juxtaposed against his first two starts at Homestead and Phoenix. At Homestead he qualified 12th out of 15 and was eliminated by an accident. At Phoenix he qualified 15th out of 16 and ended his run prematurely because of brake trouble.

I wonder if Mark Taylor, the talented Brit who handily won both races at Homestead and Phoenix, is as perplexed as some of the skeptics down in gasoline alley? Poor Taylor, probably needs a lesson in the "Social History of the Speedway".

Speedway founder, Anton "Tony" Hulman, took a liking to a young A.J. Foyt back in 1961 after Foyt's first win at the brickyard. He saw in Foyt the makings of a true working class hero.  A product of the rough and tumble dirt tracks across America, Foyt had an unmistakable bravado that would make him a star. Tony Hulman was very astute, he was a "Visionary". He also had something that many present day observers say is missing from the Speedway today.  He had "CLASS". He was the epitome of "Old Money'd' elegance, charm and savoir faire. It was a mutual admiration society between Hulman and Foyt. 

Foyt became the Speedway's "Poster Boy", and along with it, rich and famous beyond his wildest dreams. All this he "owed" to the Speedway and Tony Hulman. AJ never misses an opportunity to remind anyone, including Roger Penske, and the Andretti's, that the Speedway "made'em all what they are today"!

When the late Elmer George and Mari Hulman George had their son, Anton Hulman George, Foyt was the "Godfather". An honor he accepted with great humility and respect. When Elmer George was murdered the day after the 1976 Indy 500, AJ's "godfather" role was expanded.  He became a surrogate uncle/father figure. Later he even nurtured Anton Hulman George's racing career in Indy Lights in the late 1980's. Later Foyt was even awarded an honorary doctorate in Engineering from the Rose-Hulman Institute, and then he went from "SuperTex" to "Doctor Anthony Joseph Foyt.".  The Hulman /Foyt relationship is quite extensive and has deep emotional ties.

So, Mr. Taylor, it's OK to win at Homestead and Phoenix, but the "Speedway" is sacred turf, a special place. It can be cruel or it can even be magical as it was at the Inaugural Freedom 100. The Speedway has it's own unique traditions and culture. Some of it quite mystifying to outsiders.

Many years ago, Robin Miller, a man who is never afraid to ask the most "difficult" questions, asked AJ if he had a "big Pop-Off Valve", when AJ made a "fast" qualifying run after a sustained period of abysmal practice sessions. Miller was summarily "punched out" lest he question Foyt's miraculous qualifying speed.  Ditto for Billy Boat's amazing "Pole" several years ago, after a horrendous crash the day before. And the IPS paddock rumblings last year when AJ IV won the IPS Championship in a "very fast" Vee-HICKLE"!

So Mr. Taylor, it's all part of the "mystique and lore of the Indy 500". The Freedom 100 for you, was one of "them misfortunate thangs". But to the cynics, "It's A Family Thang"!

The author can be contacted at SteveL@autoracing1.com

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