MARIO ANDRETTI HONORED BY RRDC IN LONG BEACH
Before a capacity crowd of auto racing dignitaries, sanctioning group and series representatives, corporate executives and champion racecar drivers, Mario Andretti was honored by the Road Racing Drivers Club at the "RRDC Evening with Mario Andretti presented by Firestone" on Thursday night, April 10, prior to Sunday's 40th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
It was the RRDC's sixth consecutive annual banquet honoring auto racing's most influential leaders. Previous honorees were Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Roger Penske, Jim Hall and Brian Redman. Gurney, Jones and Penske were in the audience, as well as no less than 12 Indy 500 winners, which included Andretti, Jones and RRDC president Bobby Rahal, as well as Scott Dixon, Arie Luyendyk, Tony Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya, Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan, Gil de Ferran, Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves.
Mario with Indy 500 winners, from left: Bobby Rahal, Arie Luyendyk, Andretti, Danny Sullivan, Parnelli Jones, Gil de Ferran and Dario Franchitti. [Dennis Ashlock image]
Opening the evening was a dazzling video tribute to Andretti written and narrated by RRDC member Sam Posey.
Rahal recognized event sponsors Firestone, Honda and TUDOR and interrogated Andretti on his legendary achievements in the style of "Late Night with David Letterman". Andretti's identical twin brother Aldo, a former USAC racer, also joined his brother on the "couch" during the Q&A session.
The dinner's proceeds will help support the RRDC’s young driver initiatives, including its groundbreaking SAFEisFAST.com program, of which Franchitti was named the ambassador, and the Team USA Scholarship, which the RRDC has backed since 1997.
"This is the 62nd anniversary of the RRDC," said Rahal of the organization that was formed in 1952 to help mentor young racecar drivers. "We have been so blessed to have honored Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Roger Penske, Jim Hall, Brian Redman and, this year, Mario Andretti. He was named by the Associated Press as 'the driver of the century'. That's pretty heavy. We are really pleased to have Mario here with us.
"He's the winner of four Long Beach Grands Prix. The first one was the Formula 1 race in '77. I was here. I watched that race. I was in Formula Atlantic at the time and there was a hell of a fight between Mario, Niki Lauda and Jody Scheckter," recalled Rahal. "The Long Beach Grand Prix needed Mario to win the race and Mario delivered."
That historic moment at the 1977 LBGP was depicted in a stunning 25-foot-wide print from artist Randy Owens which served as the stage backdrop.
Andretti and Rahal a la "Late Show with David Letterman". [Dennis Ashlock image / Randy Owens backdrop]
"And of course, much to my consternation, he won three indy Car races here in '84, '85 and '87," continued Rahal, a successful Indy Car team owner and driver. "I never forgot that in '85 I qualified on the front row with Mario and I hit the wall in the third corner on the first lap. And, that was it.
"Fittingly, Mario is the Grand Marshal for this weekend's race. Thanks to Mario for being here. Thank you all for being here."
"When I arrived at the cocktail party and saw all the familiar faces I hadn't seen for so many years, I said this is really special," said Andretti. "I can see why this event has been the event of the year.
"I want to thank the sponsors Firestone, Honda, TUDOR and others that are involved. I owe a lot of gratitude to them because this is what is going to give life to this event for years to come. And we all know that as we love the sport we need to have systems in place to give opportunities to the young lads," he added, referring to the success of RRDC's SAFEisFAST program and the Team USA Scholarship. "I get mail every other day from either parents or young kids who are aspiring to be racers. And these are vehicles that can give them a direction and could help create some financial help, which is all so badly needed at times. We're all working for this main purpose.
"I feel so honored to have been invited to this. It was a long time coming and everyone has been telling me just how great this event is. Thank you so, so much."
A special thanks to Jeremy Shaw for making so many of the arrangements for this most special event. A video by the guys - Tom Davey and Jeff Tan - who produce SAFEisFAST will be posted soon on YouTube. Watch this space for the link.
MEMBER NEWS: NOBLE LEADS SCCA; BENTLEY BOY SMITH; AMELIA SNAPSHOTS; VICTORY JIG
Lisa Noble has been selected president and chief executive officer of the Sports Car Club of America by its board of directors, effective immediately. Noble has held these posts on an interim basis since October 2013, around the time she was selected to membership in the RRDC.
Lisa Noble new number 1 at SCCA. [SCCA image]
"We had a number of outstanding candidates for the position, and in the end, we unequivocally concluded that Lisa was the ideal selection," said John Walsh, chairman of the SCCA board. "She has the right mix of vision, leadership, understanding and passion to drive our organization forward."
"As I look back on my decades of membership and service to the SCCA, and the joy this has brought me, I'm humbled at the opportunity to lead the best amateur motorsports organization in the country," said Noble. "I'm proud to have had the opportunity over the last few months to work with a great staff and base of volunteers to develop dynamic programs that will grow our organization."
Under Noble's leadership while chairman and interim president, the club has launched new initiatives including the SCCA U.S. Majors Tour and MSX – North American MotorSports Expo. Additionally, SCCA experienced a level of membership growth not seen in more than 10 years.
"I see three primary keys to building on our current momentum: member engagement, participation and leadership," Noble said. "First, we must continue to work on providing the right mix of programs to engage our membership. Second is redefining how we invite enthusiasts into our sport. This includes being more welcoming, with easier entry points for participation that embrace technology. Finally, we need to continue to find the right support for our members. They make the SCCA the great club that it is and we need to leverage that spirit and passion to improve SCCA."
Noble's SCCA career started as a teenager, spanning several decades as a volunteer and driver. Voted to serve SCCA's board of directors in 2008, she held a variety of positions, including chairman of the board in 2013. As a road racing driver, Noble has been a fixture in the Formula Vee community for years. She received the prestigious Kimberly Cup award for the most improved SCCA Club Racing driver in 1999 and was voted into the Road Racing Drivers Club in 2013. Noble has achieved professional success as owner and CEO in a variety of entrepreneurial ventures including retail jewelry, commercial real estate and motorsports. [Thanks to RACER.com]
GUY SMITH BACK AT BENTLEY
Long-time Bentley Boy Guy Smith will contest all five rounds of the 2014 Blancpain Endurance Series in the new Bentley Continental GT3 for M-Sport Bentley beginning April 12 at Monza.
Guy Smith - Bentley Boy once again. [Bentley image]
Smith has been involved with the development of the new GT3 from the outset and was first to test the prototype, participating in car’s first test race last December, the Gulf 12-Hours at Abu Dhabi. Smith and co-drivers Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane finished a solid fourth in the car's competition debut.
Smith is returning to Europe after nine years with Dyson Racing where he co-drove with Chris Dyson. Smith has been an RRDC member since 2011.
FAST START FOR GANASSI'S TUDOR TEAM
There's joy in Indianapolis, at least on Woodland Drive after Chip Ganassi Racing's Telcel/TELMEX Ford Riley rolled into victory lane following the 12-Hours of Sebring. It wasn't long before Marino Franchitti was dancing on the Riley's roof.
Wee Bro dancing on the roof - Marino Franchitti after Sebring.
After the race, Harvey Cluxton sent this e-note to Franchitti's big brother Dario.
"BeBro, Awesome and massively deserved!!
"Hmmm... I'm just thinking, if Wee Bro decides he really likes doing his Rut Dancing after every win, this could mean curtains to all of our roofs, not to mention McKeel Hagerty's insurance."
AMELIA ISLAND SNAPSHOTS
Always with camera handy, Judy Stropus sent along these candid images from Bill Warner's 2014 Amelia Island Coucours d'Elegance the second weekend in March.
Start planning for next year's fete – March 13-15, 2015.
FIRESTONE, AMERICAN HONDA, TUDOR SUPPORTING EVENING WITH MARIO ANDRETTI
The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company will be presenting sponsor for the RRDC's Evening with Mario Andretti April 10. This will be Firestone's fifth consecutive year supporting the club's Legends Banquet held annually in conjunction with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Also in its fifth consecutive year supporting the RRDC's Long Beach celebration is American Honda Motor Company which will host the cocktail reception prior to the banquet.
Joining the celebration this year is TUDOR Watch U.S.A., the Entitlement Partner of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
"Our first Legends Banquet honoring Dan Gurney in 2009 became an instant tradition, sure to become a fixture of the run-up to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach," said RRDC President Bobby Rahal. "In 2010, the motorsports industry was on board with Firestone as presenting sponsor and American Honda hosting the reception. We are proud to say, they are still with us.
"Led by Firestone and American Honda, we have been blessed with excellent supporters over the years. For this year's celebration we welcome TUDOR," Rahal said.
"Firestone has the longest record of continual involvement in motorsports of any company in the world," Rahal said, "And we are honored by their participation in the legends banquet. It is particularly noteworthy that Mario was a Firestone driver during the early part of his amazing career and still serves as a company spokesman and worldwide motorsports ambassador."
John Mendel, Executive Vice President, Automobile Division, American Honda Motor Co., Inc. "Mario's long career encompassed every major racing championship from Indy cars to Formula 1 and even NASCAR, and he won in them all." Rahal added that American Honda's presence and record in North American racing competition is remarkable in its own light.
Russell Kelly, Brand Manager for Tudor Watch U.S.A. said, "Over his long career, Mario established records in racing that are, remarkably, still untouched 20 years after his retirement from active competition; in American pop culture his name is synonymous with speed." TUDOR is a subsidiary of ROLEX, another long time supporter of motorsports.
The dinner's proceeds will help support the RRDC's young driver initiatives, including its groundbreaking SAFEISFAST.com program and the Team USA Scholarship, which the RRDC has backed since 1997.
MOLTO MARIO – A NOTE FROM THE PREZ.
Say these names aloud: Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Roger Penske, Jim Hall, Brian Redman – and then add Mario Andretti. You're among the men now.
2014 RRDC Legends Banquet Honoree - Mario Andretti [Indianapolis Motor Speedway Archive image]
At the RRDC Legends Banquet, mere mortals get to hear racing's mythic giants spin anecdotes, confess prejudices, share opinions and tell untold stories. And every year, on the Thursday before the Toyota GP of Long Beach, today's champions and yesterday's heroes pack the hall to listen.
With Mario as the 2014 honoree, the banquet goes from strength to strength. Mario on Chapman, Mario on the Indy 500, Mario on dirt versus asphalt, Mario on surviving an international racing schedule that was a human game of squash and Mario reviewing a career so packed with insider stories that his candor will knock your helmet into the creek.
If you've attended any of these celebrations, then you already know why this RRDC evening has become motor sports' premier social highlight. So, please, treat my note as a fatherly reminder to eat your vegetables, sit up straight and order your damned tickets today. And if you were asleep for the first five banquets – man, this is the one you won't want to miss.
Because your guests, race crew members and gear head pals will spend the rest of their lives bragging that "I was right there with Mario Andretti when he looked at me and said..." Snicker not; you'll do it, too.
Reserve now (rrdc2Acox.net) for the Andretti Celebratory Banquet on April 10 at the Long Beach Beach Hilton: $200 per ticket and $175 for paid-up members. Make checks out to the "RRDC c/o John Fergus" and mail to:
The Fergus Companies
8377 Green Meadows Drive
Lewis Center, OH 43035
Reservations are mandatory but payment by cash or check will be accepted at the door – plus a $25 back-marker fee.
Cocktails, mingling and more cocktails will commence at 6:00 pm with dinner at 7:15. Since we're sensitive to drivers who have an early practice, my interview with Mario will be finished by 9:30.
I look forward to seeing you there!
George Bruggenthies, Road America president and general manager, reported the passing of fellow RRDC member and Road America board member Jim Jeffords on March 6.
Jim Jeffords 1927-2014 [Jim Jeffords Collection image]
"Jim Jeffords was the definitive example of a gentlemen racer with a heart of gold," said Bruggenthies. "He loved racing for the thrill of competition, not for the money. Jim will be best remembered for how his passion for racing carried over into many successful years behind the wheel and many more beyond that serving the fans, volunteers, shareholders and employees here at Road America. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jim's family and friends."
Jim Gessner, a lifelong friend of Jeffords, gave us rich details of Jeffords meteoric career. Jeffords had gone thru many medical issues since May 2013. The last 25 years were full of health challenges , but he always fought them off as the winner that he was during his too-short racing career. Here is Gessner's account:
Jeffords, from the Milwaukee, Wis., was already 27 years old and married with four boys, when he started his racing career in '54 in a Jaguar XK120, an XK140 and a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing. He ran the very first race at Road America in the XK140 in '55.
Jeffords with his sons. [Jim Jeffords Collection image]
In May of '56, Jim met Chevrolet's General Manager Ed Cole and said he'd heard of Chevrolet-sponsored race team was being formed. "How can I get on the team, Mr. Cole?" asked Jim. Ed said go see Dick Doane, a Chevrolet dealer from Dundee, Ill. and was promised a production Corvette to race at Road America. Unfortunately, one was not ready. Doane raced a Sebring Corvette at local hill climbs, and Jim thought the nut behind the wheel should be changed, but how was he to prove to the world that his driving talent earned him the right to drive the Corvette.
On Memorial Day weekend 1956, Jim hopped back in his old XK140 and went out against the Corvette stars of the day – Dr. Dick Thompson, Fred Windridge, Bark Henry and Ed Davis. Jeffords drove the wheels off that little Jag and was leading the race with one lap to go when, on a downshift, the engine popped a freeze plug, and the car limped to a less than first place finish.
Ed Cole was among those who mobbed and praised Jim when he returned to the pits; and as a reward, Jim was given John Fitch’s Sebring modified Corvette to race in the feature on Sunday.
There followed in quick succession:
March 1957 – Corvette Sebring team driver.
April 1957 – Co-driver with Fred Windridge in Caracas, Venezuela with the remaining factory team drivers after the AMA ban.
December 1957 – Nassau Speed Weeks 16 o/a, 2nd class.
January 1958 – purchasd the '56 SR-2 Harley Earl race Corvette. Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago retained Jim, to head up a race team. He asked for maintenance and expenses. Jim was so positive of his ability, that he promised the owners, the Stephani Brothers, "If I do not bring you the Championship, then I will pay you back all the expenses !"
Nickey agreed and hired Ronnie Kaplan as crew chief, who took over the maintenance and race prep of the SR-2 and painted it purple along with the team's '58 and '59 B Production Corvettes and everyone went racing. The popular song "Purple People Eater" by Sheb Wooley created the color scheme and marketing campaign. And how it worked!
Jeffords reminiscing in his famous Purple People Corvette. [Jim Jeffords Collection image]
From January '58 through December '59, Jeffords and Nickey participated in 21 race weekends (42 races) with the famous "Purple People Eater" Vettes at tracks across the country. Results: 29 class victories and only 3 DNFs due to mechanical.
Jim was SCCA BP National Champion in '58, earning 7,000 points to 4,000 for runner-up Fred Windridge. He repeated his BP title run in '59, besting Roy Tuerke.
During this time, Jim was also racing SR-2 Harley Earl car. A broken axle on the SR-2, and a broken fan belt and broken piston ring on the B Prod Vettes were the only three problems that Jim and the Ronnie Kaplan crew endured.
During the '58 Nassau Speed Week, Jeffords won the 25-lapper becoming the first American driver to win at Nassau in an American car. In the Memorial Trophy race, he was first in class, third overall.
Over Labor Day '58, Jim met Lance Reventlow at Thompson (Conn.) Raceway. They had dinner and that meeting changed Jim’s racing direction. Following the season finale at Riverside in November, Jim met Reventlow and purchased the # 002 Scarab, which the Stephani’s added to their stable as "Nickey Nouse".
In July '59, at Riverside the Jeffords entered the '59 Corvette "Purple People Eater III" in the Kiwanis Grand Prix to defend his SCCA '58 National title, taking on West Coast household names Bondurant, Guldstrand, Hooper, Reinhart, Hudson, Settember and Sherwood. Running different rules, the West Coast racers used ‘retread tires’, much to the displeasure of Jim and crew chief Kaplan.
Jeffords goes west. [Jim Jeffords Collection image]
A bad crash shortened the race was shortened due to a bad crash with Bondurant nipping Jeffords by only 40 feet. The finish was protested, and Jim received a letter from SCCA's John Bishop granting Jim the win.
The '59 season had its ups and downs with the Scarab, and changes in sponsorship did not help. But two victories in the professional USAC events at Medowdale stand out. In one, Jim lapped the course four seconds faster than Chuck Daigh had done the year before in the same car. He took first in class and first overall in all three 100 mile races. His new lap record stood for some years.
In '60, Lucky Casner, owner of CAsner MOtor RAcing DIvision – CAMORADI USA – by special arrangement with Zora Duntov bought two new '60 heavy duty RPO #687 HD Brake/ Suspension optioned Corvettes from Don Allen Chevrolet in Miami.
The #4 car ran its first race at Grand Prix of Havana. On Feb 24,1960. Jim drove it to a first place finish in the GT race. In the following Sunday’s Grand Prix, he finished first again in GT class, and eighth overall. Jim did the victory lap with Fidel Castro’s son holding the checkered flag.
This is the only time that Cuba hosted a true international race in the 1957-'60 time frame where every country in the world was invited to field their cars. And it was the only time the race was won by an American in an American car. There has not been an international race in Cuba since the '60 Grand Prix.
Jim and Bill Wuesthoff raced this same car to a second in class at the 12 Hours of Sebring in March '60. In June, Jim again joined Casner and co-drove the Birdcage Maserati at LeMans. Jim’s only European experience was not pleasant as "Lucky wasn’t" and had an off course excursion that resulted in sand in the gearbox and a DNF 40th position.
Later that year, Jim bought from Casner the Birdcage that Maston Gregory and Chuck Daigh had raced at LeMans and took it to victory at Road America beating Jim Hall in the first Professional Sports Car Race ever at Road America. This was the streamlined Birdcage and was a much faster car than the standard Birdcage he drove at LeMans.
Jeffords and the Birdcage streamliner. [Don Dean Sheffield image]
At Riverside in the fall of '60, Jim again raced the Birdcage. Billy Krause was first in his Birdcage, Bob Drake second in "Old Yeller", and Augie Pabst third. A broken exhaust manifold relegated Jim to fourth, the only consolation being he finished one spot ahead of Carroll Shelby in what proved to be the Texan's last official race.
Before the '61 season, Jim was struck by a mysterious allergy that almost killed him. He was in intensive care for nine months, and that ended his driving career.
Jeffords briefly returned to the racing scene in '68 as manager of the AMC Javelin Trans Am race cars. Kaplan was crew chief, and Peter Revson and George Folmer were the drivers.
Jim was on the Board of Directors for Road America at Elkhart Lake since '58 and was still vice president at his death. Ironically, his longtime crew chief Ronnie Kaplan passed away about a week before Jim left us.
Jeffords signs memorabelia - a most happy fellow. [Jim Jeffords Collection image]
Jeffords was a member of the RRDC and the National Corvette Hall of Fame.