SLOWER, BUT SAFER
Few developments in the history of Grand Prix racing have revolutionized the sport as dramatically as Mario Andretti's world championship in 1978. The Lotus 79 that Andretti drove to victory that year was equipped with side panels, or skirts, an innovation creating "ground effects" that enabled the car to hug the road and approach turns going almost flat-out. The technological advance raised grave questions of safety, prompting concern that Formula I driving was becoming more a test of bravery than of ability. Nevertheless, ground-effects cars soon were dominating Grand Prix competition.
Last week the governing body of Grand Prix racing, FISA, outlawed skirts, an action that could, if it sticks, doom ground-effects cars. FISA lent urgency to its decision, moreover, by ruling that the necessary design changes be completed by next year. The likely effect of the ban will be to make cars slower—at least in the turns—but safer, an objective that also prompted FISA to decree that cockpits be reinforced with heavy metal bars and that the minimum weight of cars be increased from 1,268 to 1,400 pounds.
Having spent fortunes to develop ground-effects cars, some owners are bitterly protesting the rule changes, but FISA has compelling reasons to press for safer cars generally. They include a crash during last month's Long Beach Grand Prix in which Clay Regazzoni's Ensign lost its brakes at 140 mph and hit a wall of tires in front of a concrete barrier, which was moved four feet by the impact. Regazzoni was paralyzed from the waist down after the accident and has yet to regain full feeling in his legs.
BRING BACK THE SENATORS
Here are a couple of news flashes from Washington, D.C., where, in case you haven't heard, they don't mind mixing sports with politics:
The Soviet Union won the championship of the District of Columbia Recreation Department's embassy volleyball league for the fifth straight year, beating Brazil two games to none in the finals. The word around the nine-team league is that no sooner does the Soviet embassy's juggernaut show signs of faltering than in from Moscow come reassigned diplomats who just happen to play volleyball. The Soviets wore bright red T shirts and never complained about the officiating. But as a member of a State Department team that beat East Germany for third place groused, "They don't have to. They never lose a game."
A softball team consisting of Carter-Mondale staffers swept a doubleheader from Kennedy campaigners, winning the first game 9-1 and the nightcap 10-6. In best political tradition, the Kennedy captain, Mike Hill, called the twin loss "a great moral victory." Two of Ethel Kennedy's children, 13-year-old Douglas and 11-year-old Rory, played, but the only member of the President's family on hand was daughter-in-law Annette Carter, who watched from the sidelines. When, at one point, an emergency vehicle, siren screaming, sped along a street near the ball field, a Kennedy booster. West Coghlan, said, "For one minute there, I thought Carter had finally come out of the Rose Garden."
In the interest of international uniformity—fitting European bolts to American plumbing fixtures and the like—the U.S. is supposed to be gradually adopting the metric system. The National Federation of State High School Associations is doing its part by converting from yards to meters for record-keeping purposes in track events. But instead of replacing the mile and two-mile runs with the internationally accepted distances of 1,500 and 3,000 meters, the NFSHSA has chosen to recognize races of 1,600 and 3,200 meters, and thus many high schools switched to those distances at the start of the current season.