Of the 10 rookies to start the 65th Indianapolis 500, two were from the Psachie-Garza Racing Team, which itself was a rookie enterprise at the Speedway. Dave Psachie, the team's manager and minority owner, is a short, stout, ambitious, Brooklyn-born Polish-American. The majority owner is a banking-real estate-auto-ice cream magnate—a fairly standard sort of description for an Indy car owner, except that this particular magnate happens to be a woman, Nadina Garza. One of the two rookie drivers is Nadina's 22-year-old son, Josele, a young man so handsome that girls walk into walls when he passes and so rich that his boyhood pet lion had its own room in the family's 54,000-square-foot house in Mexico City. The team's other rookie is Geoff Brabham, an intense Australian whose father, Jack, is a three-time world driving champion.
Psachie is a self-made man, a partner in an aviation company in Southern California, who brags that he has "never really worked for anybody but myself in my life." His credentials for taking on the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" were two successful years running a Super Vee team (Super Vees are like Indy cars, only smaller and slower, thus the Super Vee circuit is the Indy training ground). Psachie's plan is simple and ambitious: This year his Indy cars were two brand-new Penske PC-9s driven by rookies plus an older Penske driven by veteran Steve Krisiloff; next year he wants them all to be driving specially designed Psachies...to Victory Circle.
Nadina Garza is an elegant widow who assumed her husband's position upon his death 11 years ago and has presided over the family's businesses ever since. "When I was a little girl I dreamed of having a big family of 12 children," Nadina says. "Never did I think I would be the mother of a race driver."
At the Speedway, Nadina's charm was matched only by her son's. Josele is described in the team's press releases as "ever-smiling," and he is. But his eyes, nearly black, seem to say there is something more to the man than the P.R.-perfect smile. The press releases didn't call him nerveless, but everyone else at Indy did, especially after he parked himself on the second row with a qualifying speed of 195.101 mph, the fastest rookie speed this year and the second fastest ever. The time was so quick even Josele was amazed. "I don't know where the hell it came from," he said. When the subject of pressure on Indy rookies was raised—he replied, "Hey, it's just a race," a response that belied his desire. Other times he said, the smile gone, "Racing is inside of me," and there was something about the way he said inside of me that made one think, hey, it's not just a race.
May 31, 1981
Geoff Brabham, 29, was, like so many Indy rookies, experienced in other types of cars. Whereas Josele isn't quite sure how racing got inside of him, Geoff knows it came via Jack, who was not only world driving champion in 1959, '60 and '66, but also raced at Indianapolis in 1961 and is remembered as the man who brought rear engines to the Speedway. He's now also known as Sir Jack, having been knighted in 1979.
Josele and Geoff get along well, but they are very different. It's not unusual when Psachie asks them a question for one to nod yes while the other shakes his head. Brabham was Super Vee champion in 1979, and when he switched to Can-Am cars in 1980, Garza took over, finishing second in the Mini-Indy Formula Vee series. Psachie says he employed Brabham last year to tutor Garza, but Brabham says that wasn't quite the way it was; rather, all he did was give Garza advice when Garza asked. "One driver can't tutor another," Brabham says. "Once you're in that race car you're on your own. Everybody's got a different personality and drives according to that personality." After a scary slide in his first qualifying lap, Brabham ended up 15th on the grid at 187.990 mph (the third Psachie-Garza car was qualified 18th at 186.722 mph by Krisiloff).
Fortunately for Nadina, her seat during the 500 didn't provide her with a view of Turn 3. For 350 miles she watched Josele run one of the strongest races a rookie has ever run at Indy. Much of the time he was in the top five, mixing it up with the likes of Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti and Gordon Johncock—his heroes. He even led for 13 laps; rookies just aren't meant to do such things. But then, on Lap 140, while he was in fourth, something in his rear suspension snapped. "The back end just started skidding, but it stayed down low. Then it finally slipped up against the wall," Josele said. As far as crashes go it was a gentle one, and Josele jumped out of the car unscratched. But when his feet touched ground the cheers were resounding. He shot one fist in the air and then the other. Finally he held both of them up as if he had just won a boxing championship. And as the ambulance carried him to the hospital for a routine checkup, the crowd stood as it applauded.
Even as the spectators cheered, Nadina was running across the infield to the hospital. She has seen her son in two Indy car races, and both have ended with him against the wall. Half an hour later he had changed clothes and he and his mother were with friends and family under their tent. Josele was exhilarated. He had done his best, better than anyone had expected. Perhaps he is a better race driver than even he thought he was. By then Nadina had stopped trembling and even managed a smile.
Geoff Brabham, meanwhile, was driving the race according to his own personality—smart and unspectacular. After a consistent 500 miles, he was fifth, the second-best rookie finisher behind Kevin Cogan, in fourth. The placement was not only better than Brabham had expected, but Krisiloff came in ninth as well. All in all, there was satisfaction in the team's compound.