Two drivers died in Saturday's Indianapolis 500-mile race. At the scene and watching all over the country on theater television were more witnesses than at any previous racing disaster. The world's press took copious notice. As in the case of every highly visible, widely publicized racing fatality, there were cries that the sport should be abolished.
In the past this magazine has taken the stand that automobile racing is an honorable sport despite its inherent risks—always with the proviso that it can and should be made less hazardous tomorrow than it was yesterday. We do not, however, foresee a time when safety will be absolutely guaranteed. Totally safe racing means no racing, just as totally safe highways mean no driving upon them. We have held that reasonable men of their own volition may choose to hazard their lives in racing for the satisfactions they seek: fame, wealth, the rigors of competition.
But, most emphatically, the lessons to be drawn from racing accidents must not be ignored. What were the lessons of Indianapolis? Motor Sports Columnist George Moore, writing in the Indianapolis Star, declared that the gasoline carried in the cars of the drivers who died constituted an unusual hazard. Their cars, like five others in the race, were powered by Ford engines. All but one of the Fords used gasoline. That one, which Rodger Ward drove to second place, burned alcohol—the fuel more commonly used at Indy—as did the rest of the field.
June 7, 1964
Gasoline, wrote Moore, is more "volatile" than alcohol. Of the alcohol fire that injured Parnelli Jones in the pits he asserted: "If Jones's tank had been full of gasoline, it would have looked like the atom bomb." Milwaukee's Bob Wilke, owner of Ward's racer, was of the same mind. His distrust of gasoline, he said, was in part responsible for his employing alcohol—against Ford's wishes.
There were, however, strong dissents. Engineers for at least two major oil companies said it would be impossible to conclude that one fuel or the other was more dangerous in racing. Ford Engineer A. J. Scussel said the question was academic: "The kind of fire you are caught in does not lessen the degree of horror." He continued: "Indianapolis is a testing ground for us. Passenger cars do not burn alcohol. It follows that we must use gasoline when we try out engine concepts in racing if we are to learn anything of value."
While the fuel question is being threshed out, it is apparent that Indianapolis officials must apply new and stringent safeguards to any fuel. Many of the Indy cars had abnormally large tanks this year and were thus more unwieldy than ever in the opening laps, when full tanks are always a worry. A maximum size for tanks should perhaps be set. There was haste and carelessness with fuel in the pits. That cannot be tolerated. No doubt fuel tanks should be made stronger, should be better insulated and more resistant to shock.
But how can one eliminate accident? That, after all, is what really started the terrible events at Indianapolis. One car went out of control, involving others. In most such cases there is no fire, no fatality. On Saturday there were both.
The closed-circuit theater television of this year's 500, the first such telecast, had some obvious imperfections: Charlie Brockman's not-always-precise commentary was at times several laps behind the track's excellent public-address system, and the picture, like all theater TV, seemed a dull brown.
But the overall photographic coverage was superb. The terrible accident was confusing at first—an explosion of smoke and chaos. But reports from the infield, interviews with the drivers who escaped and reruns of pertinent tape recreated the tragic moment in graphic detail. Beyond that, spectators watching theater TV saw things—dips and darts, challenges and backing off—that few watching at Indianapolis have ever seen. When A. J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones dueled for the lead you followed them, wheel for wheel, all the way around the track. You saw Jimmy Clark coolly controlling a crippled car and bringing it into a safe, graceful stop. You saw Parnelli Jones leaping from his burning car in the pits and rolling frantically on the cement.
The race at Indy was not perfect this year, nor was the telecast. But for the TV audience both were unforgettable.
Charles Dickens among his many famous sentences wrote: "The law is a ass." It is pleasant to report that a Baltimore judge has proved the exception to the Dickens rule. There is a park ordinance in Baltimore that says it is against the law for boys to play ball stripped to the waist, no matter what the temperature. William Winkler, 18, was picked up for violating the strip rule and held in bail. Judge Joseph Broccolino termed the law "ridiculous" and added that it exemplified "too much government." He found Winkler not guilty.
A New Yorker, uncertain of the time, need only dial NERVOUS on his telephone to be informed of the exact hour, minute and second. If a look out the window should prove an inadequate measure of the weather, he can call WE-6-1212 for a detailed report thereof. And he can Dial-A-Prayer if he feels the state of his soul needs looking after.
Of late, a long-distance variation of these Dial-A-Games has appeared in Boston, much to the chagrin of the New England Telephone and Telegraph Co.
It's called Dial-A-Track, and the players are Boston's bookies.
The FBI discovered recently that operators at the NET&T have been placing long-distance calls free of charge for bookies. In return the operators have been getting either weekly payoffs or expense-paid trips to Bermuda, Puerto Rico or Florida. An NET&T official has announced the dismissal of one operator, and it wouldn't be a bad bet that the others involved are making nervous use of the Boston branch of Dial-A-Prayer.
MICKEY WRIGHT'S GOLF
Mickey Wright, the top woman golfer right now, has won four of the last eight tournaments she has entered and finished second or third in the other four. Last year she won $31,000 and so far this year has earned more than $9,000. How would Mickey do if she played in men's tournaments? Alice Bauer Hovey, no mean golfer herself, said last week, "With the purses the men get, Mickey would make a ton."
Mickey was not so sure. "I'd love to go on the men's tour," she said. "I'd love to try it for a year. I don't know how much money it would mean, but I think I could make the cut about 50% of the time.
"I'd like to try it because of the superior competition. What a difference that would make in your game! I could—any of the top girls could—play on the men's tour for a year and come back and walk away with the women's tour.
"The only thing, it would have to be that I could sneak on the tour where nobody would know me or bother me—just let me alone. Otherwise, I couldn't stand the pressure."
Well, there goes that experiment. Can you imagine Mickey Wright being mistaken for Billy Casper?
MICKEY MANTLE'S MUSCLES
Pro football trainer Clint Houy of the Dallas Cowboys thinks major league baseball does not condition its athletes properly. He specifically mentions Mickey Mantle, who has been hampered by one injury after another through most of his career.
"Whenever Mantle hurt a leg," Houy said the other day, "he'd rest until it got well, and then he'd go back into the game. Any football trainer knows that after an injury has healed you have to recondition the muscle before you can put a man back into action."
Houy worked with Mantle in Dallas last winter. "When Mickey got here I started him on some leg-weight exercises to rebuild the right leg. He couldn't lift 15 pounds with it. Anybody should lift more than that—his left leg could do 45. We built the right leg until he could lift 75 pounds.
"But his legs have never been taken care of. He's had a Baker's cyst, torn cartilage, strained ligaments, pulled thigh muscle. A muscle tear leaves scar tissue inside, just like a cut leaves a scar outside. Mantle's leg has so much scar tissue that you can see where it lumps up as big as your fist on the back of his thigh.
"Mickey has never taken care of his body the way Stan Musial did. And it doesn't look like anybody ever helped him very much."
THE OLD CONFIDENCE
A baseball fan called the Waterbury, Conn. Republican the day the Mets beat the Cubs 19-1 to ask how many runs the Mets scored that day. He was told 19. "Did they win?" he asked.
Eyebrows were raised in Thoroughbred racing circles last week when The Scoundrel, third in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Preakness, suffered an injury at Garden State and was forced to cancel his engagements in the Jersey Derby and Belmont Stakes. There is nothing new about horses suffering injuries, of course, but in The Scoundrel's case his injury came just a few days after the eminently successful California owner-breeder Rex Ellsworth had sold him for $500,000 to a comparative greenhorn in racing, Kjell Qvale (pronounced Shell Qua-vali), a Norwegian-born auto salesman from San Francisco.
Suddenly stuck with a stall occupied by $500,000 worth of nonrunning horse (if his tendon heals sufficiently, The Scoundrel may make it back to the races next winter at SantaAnita), Owner Qvale said matter-of-factly, "I've bought and paid for the horse and he's mine. It's too bad."
What did Rex Ellsworth think? "This injury hit me as big a jolt as it did Qvale," he said, understandably touchy about cynical comments directed his way. "But any criticism is ridiculous. I can think of 1,000 horses that the same thing has happened to. Because it happens to me some people are ready to jump all over me. I'd hate to tell you how many horses I have bought myself that never got to the races. Why, for heaven's sake, I bought Khaled, the best stallion I ever owned, and intended to pay him out, but I never got a good racing purse out of him. This has been happening since the beginning of horses. If horses race they take the chance of breaking down. Nobody can predict the timing of injuries."
Was Ellsworth considering refunding Qvale his money and calling the whole thing off? "As far as a refund offer is concerned, it has never been a question. Kjell is my friend, he's always going to be my friend and that's the way it's going to be. If there's to be an adjustment on our deal [for his $500,000 Qvale gets four services a year to any Ellsworth stallion for a minimum of 10 years, and Ellsworth in turn is entitled to four services annually to The Scoundrel], that's between this man and myself—just between him and me."
The good fighters of the near future, according to Angelo Dundee, who trains champions, including the prettiest, will come from Italy and Japan. In Rome not long ago Dundee saw 70 boxers in one gymnasium, "and there were dozens more gyms like it," he says. "In Japan," Dundee adds, "I found even more. Every Japanese gym is packed, and they have TV fights six days a week. The next few years you will see a mass importation of Italian and Japanese fighters."
Dundee, of Italian descent, will have no trouble instructing the Romans, and he has mastered Spanish, so he can speak to his Latins. Now he may have to go to Berlitz for a bit of Japanese.
THEY SAID IT
•Avery Brundage, on the Olympics in general: "The biggest problem today is that the Olympic Games have become so important that political people want to take control of them. Our only salvation is to keep free from politics."
•Early Wynn, Cleveland pitching coach, baseball's last 300-game winner and one of the more renowned knockdown artists, asked if he has been teaching the brushback to any of his young Cleveland pitchers: "Me do that? Why, we've got all clean-cut young men on our staff."