ATTENTION, AUTO-RACING FANS, THERE'S BEEN ANOTHER LEAD CHANGE AT INDY
When Bobby Unser got the startling news last Thursday morning that a three-member United States Auto Club appeals panel had restored his victory in last May's Indianapolis 500, he was on an elk hunt near Chama, N. Mex. With him was Staff Writer Sam Moses, who reports:
Unser was jouncing along a rugged trail in his four-wheel-drive Bronco when the call came on his CB radio from his wife, Marsha, at their 125-acre ranch 20 miles away. "You've just won your third Indianapolis 500—again," she said. Unser was too amazed to respond. "Bobby? Did you read me?" his wife persisted. Finally Unser said, "What's the catch?" Came the reply, "You've also been fined $40,000."
It was too late for justice ever to be fully done in the hopelessly botched 1981 Indy. Nevertheless, even with that curious $40,000 fine, the panel's ruling was an agreeable surprise. Several hours after Unser crossed the finish line at Indy 5.3 seconds ahead of Mario Andretti, USAC Chief Steward Tom Binford had penalized him one lap for passing several cars on the pit apron on the 150th lap while the field was under a cautionary yellow flag. That resulted in Andretti's being named the winner the next day. Unser's team owner, Roger Penske, appealed, but few expected USAC to be overruled by a panel that USAC itself had appointed. It was duly noted that Penske and Pat Patrick, the owner of Andretti's car, had been instrumental in founding CART, USAC's young and formidable rival.
October 18, 1981
But all this was before the investigation began into USAC's mishandling of the race. The main problem was that details concerning the circumstances under which a car may leave the pit area and blend into the pack under a yellow flag had been covered only in an imprecisely worded bulletin and interpreted orally by Bin-ford, who loftily said, "Anything we tell them is a rule." Unser didn't deny having passed cars under the yellow flag, but testified at the appeal hearings that he didn't think it was a violation. Five drivers told the panel they had understood the rule as Unser did. One of them, Johnny Rutherford, said he had been guided by that interpretation while winning Indy last year. Even assuming Unser had violated the rules, the appropriate punishment would have been a one-lap penalty imposed during the race. By waiting until afterward, USAC deprived Unser of the opportunity to try to make up that lap. Binford explained that he couldn't determine soon enough that an infraction had occurred. However, testimony indicated that several official observers and scorers had seen Unser passing on the apron but that this information never reached the control tower. Andretti's crew chief complained immediately that Unser had passed illegally, but Binford testified he "jumped to the conclusion" that the transgressor was Al Unser, Bobby's brother. Only after scoring sheets were consulted and after he viewed videotapes following the race did Binford lower the boom. It was as though the officiating crew for the Super Bowl had decided to determine the game's outcome by waiting until after the final gun to view films of a disputed touchdown.
Testimony by USAC officials was contradictory and seemed calculated to obscure just how badly USAC had fouled up. Two race officials told SI they saw Unser pass on the apron and tried to inform the control tower; neither of them was asked to testify at the hearing. A USAC steward, Art Myers, told SI he queried observers during the race about a possible passing infraction as requested by Binford, and that no violation was reported. In his testimony, however, Myers hadn't seemed so sure that he'd queried, and the communications log contained no mention of any such query.
The vote to restore Unser's victory was 2-1, the majority holding that while he had indeed passed illegally, USAC had acted "improperly" in penalizing him a lap after the race. The $40,000 fine was apparently a face-saving concession to USAC. Annoyed by the fine, an otherwise elated Unser said, "I suspect USAC came up with that amount because that's what their legal fees were." Meanwhile, Andretti was bitter. While the failure to impose the one-lap penalty during the race robbed Unser of the chance to make up that lap, it also robbed Andretti of the possibility that Unser's engine might have blown in the effort.
Andretti's owner, Patrick, is close to Penske and Unser. He was in Unser's hunting party when last week's decision was announced, and he joined Bobby and Marsha Unser at their house for a victory dinner of chili, pumpkin pie and champagne. That evening Patrick expressed the belief that USAC had seen the dispute as a way of undermining CART by driving a wedge between himself and Penske. He said the ploy hadn't worked. Unser added, "USAC played with the biggest sporting event in the world like a crazy man plays Russian roulette." For one sitting there in Bobby Unser's New Mexico ranch house, 1,135 miles and 137 days from the place and event called Indy, it was hard to disagree.
MY, OH, MILE
The fuss over the recent Fifth Avenue Mile (SI, Oct. 5) served to confirm the obvious: This has been the Year of the Mile. For one thing, the world record at that distance has been broken an unprecedented three times in one year—all in a 10-day period in August when the mark was traded back and forth between Steve Ovett and current record holder (3:47.33) Sebastian Coe. What's more, 23 of the 28 fastest miles of all time have been run in 1981.
One by-product of the fast-improving performances in the mile is that the last ramparts of what used to be known as the four-minute barrier, one breached for the first time by Roger Bannister in 1954, have come tumbling down with a resounding thud. John Walker of New Zealand, a 29-year-old former world-record holder, has run so many sub-four-minute miles that he has literally lost count—Track & Field News puts the number at more than 60—and Steve Scott of the U.S. has gone under four minutes more than 50 times. There are three runners named Gonzalez—Alex and Francis Gonzalez of France (no kin) and Jose-Luis Gonzalez of Spain—who have broken not just four minutes, but 3:53. Two brothers have broken four minutes in the same race. On Aug. 8, 1980, Paul and John Craig of Canada ran 3:57.21 and 3:58.05, respectively, in a race in West Berlin won by Thomas Wessinghage in 3:55.04. In that mile, Antti Loikkanen of Finland clocked 3:58.96 to finish 13th. On the same day, Walker won a mile in London in 3:54.38, a race in which 11 others also broke four minutes. In other words, at least 25 sub-fours were run on the same day. And Ovett, Coe, Scott, Sydney Maree and Eamonn Coghlan weren't in either race.
Bring on the 3:30 barrier.
ANOTHER NAME ON THE SICK LIST
In its first three games of the current season Virginia's football team not only went winless, but also lost eight starters to injuries, including the quarterback, tailback and fullback. When the crippled Cavaliers took the field for their next game, against North Carolina State, Coach Dick Bestwick prayed the boys would avoid further injury. No such luck. The Cavs lost their fourth straight, 30-24, another starter was put out of commission and Bestwick himself was run down on a sideline play by Wolfpack Defensive Back Donnie LeGrande. Doctors have assured Bestwick, who never missed a minute because of injury during his three seasons as an offensive guard and linebacker at North Carolina three decades ago, that his leg will be out of the cast in a couple of weeks.
ZENGER, ZIEGLER & JOE
Spoiled by the free and often uncritical publicity lavished on their teams by fawning members of the media, people in pro sports sometimes seem shocked when journalists actually try to tell it like it is. A case in point: Washington Redskin Public Relations Director Joe Blair was discomfited when former Washington Quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, now a sportscaster for the local radio station carrying Redskin games, dared question current Quarterback Joe Theismann's grace under fire and accused Theismann's teammates of a lack of aggressiveness during the then-winless Redskins' 30-17 loss to the 49ers on Oct. 4. After Jurgensen further criticized the team on TV the next day, Blair distributed to selected reporters something called "Notes Regarding Sonny Jurgensen," in which it was pointed out that the Redskins were a sub-.500 club when Jurgensen was the quarterback and that he was the signal-caller in 1965, the last time they had an 0-5 start. Blair's incipient smear campaign was quickly disavowed by Bobby Beathard, the Redskins' general manager, who, not incidentally, had publicly voiced the same criticisms about Theismann & Co. that Jurgensen did.
A second case in point: NHL President John Ziegler reportedly was irked by something another athlete-turned-color man, Phil Esposito, who was recently hired to work on the Rangers' telecasts, said during a preseason game against the Islanders. Describing a bench-clearing brawl, Esposito correctly noted that the melee wouldn't have occurred had the referee enforced rules ostensibly meant to crack down on the third man in a fight. The Boston Herald American's Tim Horgan reported that Ziegler later asked Esposito to mute his criticism of referees in the future. Considering his own culpability in encouraging brawling as a way of hyping the gate at NHL games—lax referees, in fact, are only doing his bidding—Ziegler should have been relieved that Espo didn't direct his criticism at the right target.
By coincidence,-some of Esposito's former Ranger teammates have also been inconvenienced by his on-the-air remarks. As Esposito told Horgan, "I spoke to the entire team one day, and I told them I was going to try to be honest and fair on TV and if they didn't like something I said, to please remember that it was only my opinion and I was only doing my job. But it hasn't worked out that way, of course." When it comes to waging a fearless defense of the right of free speech, the Ranger players don't exactly invite comparison with John Peter Zenger. They do, however, make you think of Joe Blair and John Ziegler.
Ordinarily, we wouldn't try to make anything of the fact that the University of Maryland has an athletic director named Dick Dull. What changes our mind is that the Terps also have a football tackle named Les Boring.
MAPLE LEAF RAG
Quebec's secessionist-minded government recently announced the establishment of a lottery based on results of Montreal Canadien and Quebec Nordique games. Some people wondered whether the scheme—it's called Loto-Hockey—was dreamed up to undercut a sports betting pool recently announced by the despised federal government. When a reporter tried to raise that possibility at the press conference at which Loto-Hockey was announced, he was interrupted by a fellow attired in a referee's uniform who apparently was on hand to deal with just such impertinence. The putative ref blew a whistle and shouted, "Two-minute penalty for referring to the federal government."
THEY SAID IT
•Elliott Gould, actor and basketball fan, asked the difference between working with the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman and the American director Robert Altman: "Bergman doesn't know who Dave DeBusschere is."
•Bum Phillips, the New Orleans Saints' crew-cut coach, on the instructions he gives his barber: "I want little conversation and lots of hair on the floor."
•Charlie Rizzo, Wake Forest defensive coordinator, describing Ron O'Neal, Auburn's 245-pound freshman fullback: "He looks like Fats Domino and runs like-Harvey Glance."