The duties of a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED writer are often challenging, but there are times when back-to-back deadline assignments call for performance above and beyond. Last week one of those occasions arose for Associate Editor Bob Ottum, who had to leap from ship to shore, literally, to get the stories appearing under his byline in this issue: the Bahamas 500 powerboat race (page 20) and the big qualifying day at the Indianapolis Speedway (page 30).
On the morning of May 1 Ottum met the mother-daughter powerboat-racing team of Rene and Gale Jacoby (SI, Feb. 14, 1966) at the Miami docks for a trip across the Gulf Stream to the starting point of the Bahamas 500 in Lucaya. Before boarding The Good Guys, a 40-foot houseboat uniquely powered by twin 310-hp Chrysler in-boards, Ottum gulped a Coke and a Dramamine and prepared "to make like Captain Ahab. I was so salty you wouldn't believe it." Belief was still more remote an hour later when the Dramamine proved unavailing. With the top-heavy houseboat rolling in 10-foot seas, Ottum lay face down in the port bunk and stayed there, getting up only to get off the craft at voyage end—and claim the alltime staff record for seasickness in the houseboat class.
Ottum further got the feel of the race, which turned out to be a smasheroo, by test-riding several contenders and viewing the scene from a chartered Cessna 185. He logged 750 miles aloft, landing before sundown, of necessity, because the pilot lacked a night-instrument rating, and the plane wasn't equipped for night-flying, anyway.
Ottum flew to New York on Tuesday wearing a white Good Guys cowboy hat. He finished the story in the wee hours Thursday. After three hours' sleep he was Indianapolis-bound on TWA's flight 453.
May 21, 1967
At Indy, Ottum's first problem was the change of weather. After sweltering in Lucaya he was suffering in the frigid damp that has plagued Indy most of the month. But Ottum is no stranger to sudden climatic jolts. In the past year he has covered ski meets in Chile, in France and in Jackson Hole, Wyo.; surfing contests on both American coasts; bobsled races over the crumbling ice of Alpe d'Huez; and Art Arfons' ride in the Green Monster over the treacherous Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah.
Ottum's subjects somehow always manage to involve him in their sports, as did the Jacobys. Phil Edwards tried to make a surfer of him. Giacomo Agostini (SI, May 15) thought he might ride a mean motorcycle and A.J. Foyt once insisted on showing Ottum the groove he preferred in the Indianapolis Speedway. Bob winced as the speedometer needle touched 120, but held his tongue. "A Hertz Ford has never been driven so fast," he says. "We easily set the lap record for rental cars."
On Saturday night, after the first and biggest day of qualifying at Indy, Ottum showered and then started writing story No. 2. "I was still freezing," he reported, "and all that chattering was causing the loose skin from my Bahamas sunburn to flake off around me in big piles."