Mario sells socks off his feet at fundraiser

I had just told 300-plus people in the lobby of the Glenn Gould Theatre following the 19th Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday night that the silent auction and the bar would be closing in 10 minutes when racing legend Mario Andretti walked up to me.

"I’m wearing a pair of checkered flag socks," he said, pulling up his pants legs to show them off.

"If you do the talking, we can auction them off right here and now."

And so that’s how I – already there as master of ceremonies – became an auctioneer (a not-very-good-one, I must say) that saw Andretti, a Formula One world champion, Indy 500 winner, Daytona 500 winner and winner of just about every other race you can mention, take off those socks and hand them to John and Sharon Fletcher who paid $550 for them.

It was the highlight of a celebration and fundraiser for the Hall of Fame that earlier welcomed seven new Honorable Members, including Andretti – inducted into the International category – and the Fletchers, who were inducted for their contributions to Canadian drag racing.

Others honored were champion road racer and now racing facility owner Ron Fellows, "Stompin’" Tom Walters for stock car racing, Jimmy Carr for sprint car racing and team management and the late Bob Armstrong for racing and administration.

When Andretti first made his offer, he said two things: he would be flying back to the United States without any socks on (he didn’t have a spare pair hidden away on the family plane) and that if whoever purchased them preferred it, he would take them back to Nazareth, Pa., have them laundered, and then Fed-Exed back to Canada to the purchaser.

The Fletchers opted to take possession of the socks right off the legendary racer’s feet and Mario did, indeed, return to the U.S. sockless.

It was a wonderful evening and one of the best induction ceremonies yet. Like the Hall itself, the celebration has moved around, from the Harbour Castle Hotel, to the convention centre there, to the Royal York Hotel, to the Mississauga Convention Centre, to the On the Park banquet facility and has always been a black-tie affair with a sit-down dinner.

Saturday night, in the Glenn Gould Theatre at the CBC Building on Front St. in Toronto, it was much more informal. The inductions were performed in the theatre, meaning there were no dinner-table distractions, and a cocktail hour followed, which gave those who attended an opportunity to mingle with the honored guests.

I have a suspicion this format will be followed in the years to come. The Toronto Star

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