Mike Mosley is
the consummate Indy-car professional. The 15-year Speedway veteran had been
wheeling his yellow Kraco Car Stereo Special around the track as fast as
anyone, and usually faster. Even when monsoonal rains washed out the entire
first weekend of qualifying for the 500, Mosley kept his cool. Then during
practice last Saturday morning, minutes before qualifying began, he got what
he'd come for—one lap at 206.396 miles an hour, the fastest of the year so far,
and only a tick behind last year's alltime single lap record of 207.612, set by
his archrival Rick Mears. He could scarcely repress the grin that kept forming
under his blond gunfighter's mustache as he parked the car and waited for his
turn to run.
What he did then
did not disappoint him. Four steady, swift laps gave him an average of
205.372—a time that looked certain to give him his first Indy pole position,
replete with all its attendant prestige and some $17,500 in hard cash. All he
had to do now was wait. Out came Mears in his Pennzoil Penske PC-11, and when
his first lap fell short of 205, Mosley's grin threatened to erupt all over
again. Mears finally averaged 204.301, more than a mile an hour short.
Three-time winner Al Unser, Mears's teammate, proved no threat in his Hertz
Penske, and Tom Sneva's Texaco Star was also too slow. Word filtered down that
the cars of A.J. Foyt, Don Whittington and Kevin Cogan—all of them fast—had
been taken out of the qualifying line for technical violations.
Then out came
Nemesis, a sleek green-and-white car named the Skoal Bandit. Mosley stood with
his back to the track, only his eyes registering concern as he listened to the
Bandit's ripping growl. Then the announcement: 207.273. Followed less than a
minute later by numbers no one had expected to hear this year: 208.049, a new
single-lap record in a season when everyone was supposed to go slower. Teo Fabi
had won the pole.
Mosley shook his
head and grinned, but now it was wry, amused and infinitely painful. Who—or
what—is a Teo Fabi?
To start with,
he's a rookie—the first of that breed to win the Indy pole since the otherwise
immemorable Walt Faulkner did it in 1950. Fabi's record four-lap average was
207.395—more than 73 mph faster than Faulkner had gone.
In addition (and
more galling to dyed-in-the-wool Indy fans), Fabi is a Grand Prix driver
manqu�, a 28-year-old Milanese aeronautical engineer who retired from downhill
ski racing nine years ago to take up driving but who couldn't even get a decent
ride this year on the Formula I circuit. As Fabi shyly admits, when he first
saw the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this March, he decided, "This place is
not for me. The cars, they were going much too fast."
Well, he got over
it—in fact, he had been around Indy in an attention-getting 203 before last
One of the
ironies of Fabi's ride for the pole was that until last December, three-time
Indy winner Johnny Rutherford had been expected to drive the new March-Cosworth
for the Forsythe brothers John and Gerry, heavy-equipment dealers from
Wheeling, Ill. But then a drive opened up on the always competitive Patrick
Racing Team, and Rutherford decided to take that. The Forsythes were loudly
irate, even after they had signed Fabi for the ride.
decision was a loser. He not only failed to get the new Patrick Wildcat running
fast during practice, he could scarcely keep it on the track. A crash early on
in May punched a hole in his left leg, not to mention badly bruising his ego.
Then last Wednesday in practice, he lost control in Turn 3, smacked the wall
hard and was out of the race for good with a broken left foot and right ankle.
Imperturbable Gordon Johncock, Rutherford's teammate and last year's Indy
winner, managed his own Wildcat somewhat more handily, averaging 199.748 to
qualify in 10th place, on the fourth row.
Cars were hitting
the wall all month at a near-record clip. There were 20 "incidents" all
told, 16 of them involving contact with the Speedway's unyielding walls. At
speeds approaching 200 mph, the crashes popped leg bones like match-sticks,
claiming drivers as disparate as 52-year-old veteran Bob Harkey (busted arm,
cracked ribs, bruised lungs and two fractured neck vertebrae) and 23-year-old
rookie John Paul Jr. (whose left ankle required a bone graft to repair). The
rash of accidents came despite a U.S. Auto Club rule change ironically aimed at
slowing the cars down.