It is a curious fact that in this, the most motorized country on earth, a good share of us think of automobile racing as "somebody else's sport." Many a man privy to the mysteries of that most intricate game, professional football, resists the complexities of auto racing as a 10-year-old resists long division. Nevertheless, motor sport is hugely popular. It drew an estimated 35 million paid admissions last year, third only to basketball and Thoroughbred racing among all American sports. Fresh evidence of that popularity will be at hand this Saturday as a third of a million people descend upon the Indianapolis "500" to watch Driver A. J. Foyt (see cover and story on page 78) and 32 others race for half a million dollars in prizes.
Wherein lies the appeal of auto racing? To begin with, the racing fan has his particular heroes, and to him they are no less marvelous than Mantle and Mays, Tittle and Taylor. Heroes such as A. J. Foyt for one; and Jimmy Clark, Scotland's remarkable little world champion driver, for another. The exhaust thunder of a racing engine can seem music sweeter than Lombardo's; the spectacle of brave men cornering on the limit of tire adhesion is an affecting one. The racing fan pities his baseball, football and basketball counterparts for being stuck year upon year with the same old bats and balls; racing's ingredients are constantly changing. New engines, suspension systems, body designs are always just around the corner.
Beyond all that, the racing man perceives in his sport a greater weight, a larger meaning in everyday affairs than in any other. There is no better example than Detroit's current infatuation with paraphernalia derived from racing. Bucket seats have become a $100-million business, and Detroit cannot assemble four-speed stick-shift transmissions fast enugh to meet the demand. And all signs point to an even greater racing boom ahead. America's old isolation from European trends has ended. Grand Prix design thought has invigorated Indianapolis—has, indeed, stood the old Brickyard on end by pushing the traditional roadsters toward the scrap heap. The Ford Motor Company's racing and rallying sorties in Europe have been acknowledged to have had such effect that famous firms now dormant in racing—Jaguar and Mercedes for two—are preparing comebacks (SI, May 11).
SI's editor for motor sports, Kenneth Rudeen, has long kept his eye on trends like these. A graduate of the University of Kansas and former city desk reporter for the Kansas City Star, he got his education in racing by walking the pits and exploring the corners of racecourses from Spa in Belgium to Riverside, Calif., by interviewing over the years dozens of racing personalities. "Like everyone who looks for news," he says, "I love a scoop. Nothing has given mc greater pleasure than being first with the story of the Corvette SS, secretly built by Chevrolet for the 1957 Sebring race, and in 1962 with Ford's racing battle plans—which have become in execution the biggest continuing motor sports story in American history."