GLOBETROTTER

Globetrotter

I was talking to a Formula 1 type the other day about life and such things and he mentioned that he had spent some time out of the sport. You will find a lot of F1 people in the paddock who talk about having burned themselves out with too much travelling, wine, women and song - or a combination of all of them. Ah, for a quiet life, we think. No more airports; no more hotels; no more race tracks.

My pal reminded me that recently he spent some time out of the sport and he quickly concluded that it really did not agree with him.

"I've done real life," he said. "I pushed a trolley around the supermarket on Saturday like everyone else does and you know what? It was really boring. I could not wait to get back into this unreal world where there is always something happening . Sure, it is hard work and a lot of travelling and all that, but it makes you want to get up in the morning. It is really living - not just going through life - and it's great."

At this time of year the F1 people are pretty much flat-out. The drivers and the engineers do races AND tests. Their lives are dominated by F1. There is no time for much else. I don't do testing. The races keep me busy enough. It seems that these days that there are always other events between races - and there are always invitations.

"Why don't you come to an Indycar race," someone will say. Yes, it would be nice but staying home would be nice too. That is what homes are for...

Well. The life of a globetrotter is such that just a few days after getting back from Barcelona I was off again, heading for Canada. On the way to Montreal I had agreed to go to Indianapolis. And so I left home one bright sunny morning: lunched in Paris, dined in London, lunched the next day in New York and eventually found myself on a plane swooping down to Indianapolis as the dusk fell across the plains of the midwest. They are the flattest plains you can imagine and duller than ditchwater when you are driving across them. The place is so dull that the pioneers who stopped felt obliged to give their little towns silly names to alleviate the boredom. And so we flew across such strangely-named settlements as Domestic, Leisure, Petroleum, Hardscabble, Rural, Prosperity, Pinch, Pony, Aroma, Economy, Progress and Gas City. And if you don't believe me, go and find an atlas and look them up... They are all there.

"Oh, look dear," said Mrs. Pioneer, "here's a jolly nice place. Let's call it Domestic. Domestic, Indiana. What a good name. The postman will certainly remember that."

"No dear. I think we should be a bit wild. Let's close our eyes and see what we see when we open them. Oh look. A pony. Pony, Indiana. That's a good name. Lucky we didn't see a dungpile..."

On the final approach to Indianapolis International Airport you fly over a suburb called Speedway, Indiana. And, from the aeroplane, it is not hard to figure out from where the place got its name. There below you is the big lazy old speedway which made the city of Indianapolis famous throughout the world. You can go anywhere in the world and talk to the locals and every Tuareg or Kalahari bushman will react with car noises when you mention the word "Indianapolis".

The Speedway really is an impressive place from the air, with the huge ring of grandstands which are filled with 350,000 people every year for the Indianapolis 500. It is still the biggest single day sporting event on the planet and its only rival is the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race, held at Indianapolis in August. They call it "The Brickyard" because originally the road surface was made of bricks - 3.2 million of them - produced by the Wabash Clay Co of Veedersburg, Indiana. When you write figures like that they don't mean much but when you fly over it and look at the scale of the place, you wonder how 400 bricklayers managed to lay 50,000 bricks a day and get the job finished in 63 days.

Most impressive of all, however, is the fact that all this happened in 1909, which makes it the oldest surviving race track in the world.

An hour or two after flying over the track I was delivered to the front door of The Speedway Motel, although these days it goes under the decidedly less glamorous name of The Brickyard Crossing Resort & Inn. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is not only a race track it is also a major golf course. The Speedway Hotel - for it will remain that in my mind - has 108 rooms and one of AJ Foyt's roadsters in the lobby and more history than you can imagine. Just about every driver who has raced at The Speedway has stayed there at some time or other and one can only guess at the mayhem that has ensued. Ah, if only the walls could talk...

It has also attracted other famous folk, notably The Beatles who stayed there when they played the Indiana State Fair in 1963. For Beatles fans they were in rooms 228-230-232-234.

"Once the kids found out where they were staying," remembers hotel manager Dave Cassidy, "our switchboard was literally blown up. Clark Gable stayed there too and Paul Newman filmed scenes for the movie "Winning" in Room 214.

I stayed in Room 246 and although I listened intently to the walls, they told me no great secrets. I was there to look at the work being done in preparation for the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, scheduled to take place in September 2000, but inevitably the trip turned into a celebration of The Speedway itself and for a short time we were let loose to roam through the magnificent Indianapolis Hall of Fame museum, which is one of the great racing car museums in the world. For any real race fan it is worth a pilgrimage.

There are many famous cars inside but I always go and see the same one - as an act of homage. It is a small and not very impressive-looking white Duesenberg but it has a unique place in the history of motor racing. It is the only car to have won a Grand Prix AND the Indianapolis 500.

It was back in 1921 that the Duesenberg Brothers decided to ship the car to France for the French GP - which was run on a track at Le Mans which was not much different to the circuit used today for the 24 Hours. While testing a week before the race Duesenberg driver Jimmy Murphy rolled a car and suffered internal injuries when he was crushed by the car. He was as tough as nails and determined to race and two hours before the race began he climbed out of his hospital bed, was bandaged from his neck to his waist, and set off to the track.

The race turned into a demolition derby as drivers lapped the track in clouds of impenetrable dust, throwing up stones as they went. At least one driver was knocked senseless by a flying rock while others suffered punctures and holed radiators. After four hours of racing Murphy was in the lead as the race drew to a close. He was battered and bruised and with two laps to go his radiator was holed. Then two tires were punctured. But he kept on running to become the first American to win a European Grand Prix. It was 49 years before it happened again. The French crowd was hardly gracious. They had wanted a French victory and jeered and whistled Murphy. The organizers were little better. At the victory banquet they began with a toast for the highest-placed Frenchman. Murphy put down his glass of champagne and walked out.

He went back to the United States and the following year he decided to fit the Duesenberg with a Miller engine. He drove it in the Indianapolis 500 and won. Sadly, within a couple of years Murphy was dead and the car was sold off. It was raced on dirt ovals here and there but eventually ended up in a film studio in California being used as a stunt car. It was driven off cliffs and into walls and ended up in a very sorry state on the back of a film lot. And there it remains for something like 25 years until an old riding mechanic from the 1920s visited the studio and spotted a wheel sticking out from under a tarpaulin. He recognized it...

When I got to the spot where the Duesenberg should have been. It was not there. What had happened? Where had this great car gone? Um, said the museum people. Well, actually, it's on the way to England to take part in the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The Speedway boss Tony George is down to drive it.

The Festival of Speed has developed into a really remarkable event these days, drawing crowds of around 80,000 people. They come to watch old cars being driven up the Goodwood hillclimb course. This year the entry is astounding with a vast list of great cars being driven by great drivers including Sir Jack Brabham, Phil Hill, Stirling Moss, John Surtees, Johnny Rutherford, Parnelli Jones, Jacky Ickx, Emerson Fittipaldi and so on and so on.

I would love to be at Goodwood this weekend... but by the time I get back from Montreal I will have done enough travelling for a week or two. I want to go and spend some time in the supermarket. To see how real people live...

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