FIT FOR A POPE
On his visit to his native Poland last week Pope John Paul II kissed its soil, as he had done in the Dominican Republic. When he regained his feet on that earlier occasion the Archbishop of Santo Domingo leaned over to brush the dirt from the Pope's robe where his knees apparently had pressed against the ground as he knelt to prostrate himself for the ceremonial kiss. But there was no dirt. Aside from a little dust, the Pope's white robe remained unsmudged.
A miracle? Not at all, unless physical fitness is a miracle. The vigorous Pontiff explained that he did pushups every day; when he dropped to the ground he had supported himself pushup-style on toes and hands as he kissed the earth.
Last week at the awards banquet following the 63rd running of the Indianapolis 500, Thomas W. Binford, the chief steward of the Speedway, made a strong plea for reconciliation between the United States Auto Club and Championship Auto Racing Teams. Those are the groups that have been brawling over which should control Indy car racing. Binford said, "By the 1980 race we've got to pull ourselves together. There's no way we can go on separately."
Obviously, someone wasn't listening. Four days later, Joe Cloutier, president of the Speedway, announced that the 1980 race will be an invitational. He said that the invitations "will be automatically extended to all entrants who have entered and participated in" the three 500-mile races sanctioned by USAC (the Indy 500, the Pocono 500 on June 24 and the Ontario 500 on Sept. 2). There was no hint that any of the eight CART-sanctioned races would qualify a team for next year's Indianapolis 500.
Indy car racing requires vast amounts of sponsorship money to sustain it. If a team doesn't compete at Indianapolis itself, the sponsors simply are not interested. Thus Cloutier's proviso, if it sticks, could force the CART-aligned teams back into the USAC camp or out of racing entirely. At the same time, the edict may be viewed as a device to strengthen the fields for the races at Pocono and Ontario; at present both look weak in comparison to Indy's. Before Cloutier's announcement, there was some fear that the CART teams—which include Rick Mears, winner of this year's Indy, and third-place finisher Mike Mosley, as well as former winners Al and Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Gordon Johncock—would boycott those two races. Now that seems to be a practical impossibility.
"They're trying to break CART," says that organization's president, U. E. (Pat) Patrick. "It's unfortunate that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has chosen to use its power and influence as the promoter of the world's greatest auto race in what is obviously a last-ditch effort to salvage the USAC 1979 race schedule and [USAC's] viability as a race-sanctioning body."
Considering the diluted fields at every CART or USAC race run so far (the exception was Indy and that was saved from the same fate only by a court ruling), and the charges of cheating, favoritism, dirty-dealing and even rigging that have been flying since this nasty battle for control was joined, one can sympathize with Patrick when he says, despairingly, "Maybe it's a good time for everyone to get out of auto racing."
YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS...