Racing Isn't Fair
Editor's Notebook, September 1996
This month, I offer vignettes from the sweetest spot on Earth, Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin. My family and I spent the IndyCar weekend there, staying in a private home with a back yard that sloped into the lake.
My eleven year old daughter swam and tanned on the beach. My sixteen year old son ran one of the Thunder Valley motor scooters around the back roads of Road America. My wife and I saw old friends and met new friends at the track. The weather was perfect. The racing was energizing and the setting was comforting.
Life isn't fair and racing isn't fair. I've seen Al Unser, Jr. duel it out in the final laps of races, hitting the wall against Emmo in the final lap of the 500 a few years ago, winning the race a couple of years later by the slimmest of margins. Junior has said that there comes a time in a race when finishing doesn't matter. Points don't matter. Safety doesn't matter. Life doesn't matter. Winning is the only thing that matters.
At Elkhart Lake, Junior had the race well in hand. He looked smooth and fast and dove out of my sight at the bridge before turn six on the final lap, well ahead of Michael Andretti. But it was Michael who appeared at turn thirteen. Junior had blown an engine on the back half of the track. Racing isn't fair, but Junior got out of his car happy because he had been RACING, truly racing on a bright day in Wisconsin. A bad day at the track is better than a good day anywhere else.
Jennifer Tumminelli was doing public relations for Chuck West in the Toyota Atlantic race. I spent that race in the pits with Chuck's crew and we cheered him on to a brilliant second place finish. Jennifer, whose enthusiasm and energy are matched only by her love of racing, was truly thrilled that Chuck was doing so well. I know that she, like I, would have dearly loved to be in the cockpit of that car instead of standing on the tow vehicle in the pits. Jennifer deserves her chance in the car, and she will get it. Racing isn't fair, but Jennifer is making the best of the hand that's been dealt her.
We watched the final race of the weekend, the Neon Challenge, from turn three. 76 cars took the green in a split start, each of three groups behind a pace car. The first two groups were made up of racers in the SCCA series. The last group was made up of celebrities from television shows I'd never seen and only vaguely had heard of. The printed listing of this race says, "Oh yes, several of the PPG Pace Car Team drivers will join the fun as well." These Pace Car Team drivers are women serious about motorsports, for whom racing against neophyte celebrities is not 'joining the fun'.
Racing identically prepared (slow), street stock Neon ACR coupes, the celebrities dipped forward under braking, leaned hard to each side on turns, and accelerated with all the torque you'd expect them to have. Fighting through the celebrity cars and fighting against the limitations of their own cars were Margie Smith-Haas, the only woman ever to win a professional road racing championship in North America, Margy Eatwell, 1990 SCCA regional champion, Gail Truess, former Pikes Peak class record holder, Desire Wilson, a former IndyCar driver and the only woman ever to win a Formula One race, and Terry MacDonald-Cadieux, currently running in the IMSA Street Stock Endurance Series. Racing isn't fair.
Before that race, my wife and I had been talking with Margie and Terry. We were approached by a young woman in tight spandex slacks and high heeled sandals who clearly wanted to be a part of our conversation. She had nothing to say to us and we had very little to say to her. After she left, disappointed, I learned that she was a celebrity from some show on television. She had wanted to hang out with the women racers (and their fans). Life isn't fair. Tough.