I had just told 300-plus people in the lobby of the Glenn Gould Theatre following the 19th Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday night that the silent auction and the bar would be closing in 10 minutes when racing legend Mario Andretti walked up to me.
"I’m wearing a pair of checkered flag socks," he said, pulling up his pants legs to show them off.
"If you do the talking, we can auction them off right here and now."
And so that’s how I – already there as master of ceremonies – became an auctioneer (a not-very-good-one, I must say) that saw Andretti, a Formula One world champion, Indy 500 winner, Daytona 500 winner and winner of just about every other race you can mention, take off those socks and hand them to John and Sharon Fletcher who paid $550 for them.
It was the highlight of a celebration and fundraiser for the Hall of Fame that earlier welcomed seven new Honourable Members, including Andretti – inducted into the International category – and the Fletchers, who were inducted for their contributions to Canadian drag racing.
Others honoured were champion road racer and now racing facility owner Ron Fellows, "Stompin’" Tom Walters for stock car racing, Jimmy Carr for sprint car racing and team management and the late Bob Armstrong for racing and administration.
When Andretti first made his offer, he said two things: he would be flying back to the United States without any socks on (he didn’t have a spare pair hidden away on the family plane) and that if whoever purchased them preferred it, he would take them back to Nazareth, Pa., have them laundered, and then Fed-Exed back to Canada to the purchaser.
The Fletchers opted to take possession of the socks right off the legendary racer’s feet and Mario did, indeed, return to the U.S. sockless.
It was a wonderful evening and one of the best induction ceremonies yet. Like the Hall itself, the celebration has moved around, from the Harbour Castle Hotel, to the convention centre there, to the Royal York Hotel, to the Mississauga Convention Centre, to the On the Park banquet facility and has always been a black-tie affair with a sit-down dinner.
Saturday night, in the Glenn Gould Theatre at the CBC Building on Front St. in Toronto, it was much more informal. The inductions were performed in the theatre, meaning there were no dinner-table distractions, and a cocktail hour followed, which gave those who attended an opportunity to mingle with the honoured guests.
I have a suspicion this format will be followed in the years to come.
Jimmie Johnson won his 25th (of 93 total) NASCAR Chase for the Championship races Sunday when he dominated the AAA 400 at Dover, Del. The victory was his fifth this season, the eighth he’s won at Dover and his 65th all-time.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., was second and Joey Logano finished third. The rest of the top ten: Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer. Click here for full details.
It was the first race of the current Chase that Kenseth lost. He still leads the Chase standings by eight points over Johnson. Kyle Busch is four behind Johnson.
It was not a good day for the two Canadians racing in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) with Bruno Spengler of Quebec and Robert Wickens of Guelph and Toronto both finishing well out of the points in the race at Zandvoort in Holland.
Spengler, driving for BMW, finished 20th out of 22 drivers who started the race. He’d started 18th. Wickens, in a Mercedes-Benz, was 16th, up from his 21st-place starting position.
The race was won by BMW’s Augusto Farfus, with Mike Rockfeller second for Audi and Timo Scheider third, also for Audi. With one race remaining, Rockenfeller has already wrapped up the 2013 DTM championship, dethroning Spengler.
After the race, Wickens had no excuses.
"Keeping track of what was happening in the race was very tricky. With all the different strategies that were being deployed, it was really hard to know exactly what position you were in.
"Actually, things looked quite good for me but unfortunately, I lost some time during both pit stops. As a result, several cars came out of the pits right in front of me and I spent the rest of the race stuck in traffic.
"It's a pity, because I think that points would have definitely been possible otherwise. Now we'll just have to see what happens in Hockenheim."
For more details on the DTM race, please click here
QUICK HITS: In sports cars, the last Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series race to be held – ever – was flagged off at Lime Rock Park Saturday and Max Angelelli and Jordan Taylor won the race and were powered to the Daytona Prototype Championship by Corvette. The Grand Am and the American Le Mans Series are merging at season’s end to become the United SportsCar Championship. The ALMS has one race remaning in its history, the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. The GT class was won Saturday in a Corvette by Eric Curran and co-driver Lawson Aschenbach. . . . Timothy Peters won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Saturday night and Joey Logano won the Nationwide Series race at Dover on Saturday. . . .Jack Mitchell Jr. wrapped up the Toyo Tires Formula 1600 A-Class title at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Sunday. Craig Willis is the B-Class champion. . . .Saturday, also at CTMP, Jesse Lazare won the Can-Am Cup race for F1600 cars.
BIGNOTTI DIES: And finally, one of the great Indy car mechanics of all time, George Bignotti, died Friday at 97 in Las Vegas. As is always the case when you refer to a guy as one of the "greats," you find there are layers.
He sought out and went to work for Frank Kurtis, who was a builder of revolutionary Indy cars, and learned from him. That’s what got him to the Speedway. From there, he set out to improve the "Champ Car" breed by applying road-racing technology to the oval cars. In fact, one year in the 1970s, on the Friday of a Canadian Grand Prix weekend, I bumped into Bignotti and his wife at Mosport. I asked him what he was doing there and he replied, simply, that he wanted to see what the F1 crowd was up to.
He worked with many of the Indianapolis drivers who went on to legendary status – A.J. Foyt in particular. They had great success but their disagreements and fights were as talked-about as their accomplishments. Take two talented people who are both convinced they are right and the sparks are sure to fly.
In all, he won seven Indy 500s as chief mechanic – two with Foyt, two with Al Unser Sr. and one each with Graham Hill, Gordon Johncock and Tom Sneva.
- NORRIS McDONALD