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THE SHEARS OF FATE, THE LOOM OF LIFE
Bob Crozier, S.J.
May 29, 1967
What is an Indianapolis 500 fan? Many quick-trip columnists see him as a morbid thrill-seeker, although none has bothered to consult the fan himself. In this article one spectator attempts to explain the feeling he has about Indianapolis. The writer is a Jesuit priest and assistant professor of English at Milwaukee's Marquette University. Growing up in Omaha, he knew the Indy cars and drivers by newspaper hearsay. His in-person afici�n began in 1964, when he traveled to the race with "a bunch of college kids who had a claim on a certain section of Indy near the second turn."
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May 29, 1967

The Shears Of Fate, The Loom Of Life

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What is an Indianapolis 500 fan? Many quick-trip columnists see him as a morbid thrill-seeker, although none has bothered to consult the fan himself. In this article one spectator attempts to explain the feeling he has about Indianapolis. The writer is a Jesuit priest and assistant professor of English at Milwaukee's Marquette University. Growing up in Omaha, he knew the Indy cars and drivers by newspaper hearsay. His in-person afici�n began in 1964, when he traveled to the race with "a bunch of college kids who had a claim on a certain section of Indy near the second turn."

Catch a falling car dropping off the second turn at Indy. You are at the head of the backstretch, at track level, just 25 feet from the wall. Picking up power not only from the engine but from the very tension of its drifting arc, the car is now poised for the absolute expression of its potential. The 32,000 to 40,000 explosions per minute that propel this fragile force register upon the ear in a torrent of sound, echoed and re-echoed by the trembling response of the earth beneath your feet.

The driver is suspended rigidly within his cocoon in a semifetal position, and his emerging head and shoulders, framed by the roll bar, pass stiffly before your eyes like a star dwindling into the expanding universe of the open straight. Nowhere can the senses of man be exposed to a greater sensation of speed or know the strange authority of human self-control revealed at the very heart of movement.

A northeast wind is carrying a taffy mix of clouds clockwise athwart the backstretch as viewed from L stand outside the third turn. A blade of sunlight drops angularly across the near end of the backstretch and scrapes swiftly, silently toward the second turn. The vast and wooded park of Indy stretches away, lulling the eye with pastoral suggestion, though strangely and invisibly ringed at the moment by a distance-muffled thunder, like the thunder that play-fully chases the lightning on a summer evening.

In the gray darkness of the distant turn two black points emerge and slip down the slide of macadam till the white wall catches them and guides them together out onto the level straight. A third point blobs into being just behind them and, as the straight opens up, positions itself alongside in a trio of cars that seems to take up all there is of the 50-foot strand. But a fourth pinpoint of darkness merges into the gray light, and swings into position on the web. Threading down upon the wind, it completes the set for a country dance on a floor where three is truly a crowd.

Dark and ominous, they sweep toward us. The sunlight arrests them and transfigures them in a flash of color and beauty and then releases them for passage through the needle of No. 3. Only at the last instant, almost into the turn, does the inner car receive that final impetus that carries it a fraction of distance ahead, allowing the second car to fold over and cross on its tail. And the other two in tandem tuck in behind, coolly closing the shears of fate and threading once again the shuttle of life. An unforgettable moment of Indy like this happens so fast you have no time to identify the cars or remember the drivers who created it.

And then there is Jimmy Clark. In the exhilarating ozone of working rubber and blasted methanol—as characteristic of Indy as burnt leaves are of football—the explosive sound, the graceful motion and the constant scissor action of cars blending into the turns becomes routine at times. Rare is the screech of lurching rubber. The dance of the wheels with the wishbone suspensions goes on and on, drifting out again and again under surging power to dare the dark finger line one foot from the white outer wall. This gentle though powerful drift is alone permitted, for there is no end for a lurch or slip but the white wall itself. Then a car whips by, spewing a smoky vapor of oil from its crankcase, and behind it, coming into the third turn, are the red car and white wheels of Jimmy's Lotus-Ford.

Suddenly the impossible has happened. The red streak is now a bloody blur, a pinwheel unanchored and ready to skitter off into oblivion. And so it would be with almost anyone else but Jimmy.

The blur is not broadening and thinning out into nothingness as it should. It is tightening into a bright red point surrounded by a magically glowing circle of white. Within that pattern can be heard the high-revving thunder of a declutched engine and then the pitched cry of a newly engaged engine that catches the falling car and whips it forward again into the intelligible arc of speed. Not once but twice he does this, coming out once in reverse and once in forward speed, always coming out running. This is Jimmy Clark.

And this is Indy at the very essence of its rocketing terror and beauty. This is Indy triumphing over the elements and over the sluggish onslaught of human nature itself. This is Indy showing it can be done. For there are no real disappointments at Indy, not even after the debacle of a disastrous first lap. In racing at its best, disappointment is never admissible. Disappointment is a denial of the very faith of racing.

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