Ted Field, a young man with a reddish beard and a brooding, distant look, stands by his Porsche 935, brutal black in color, before the start of the race.

"I've been doing this three years," he is saying, "and it's the most important thing in my life right now."

He shrugs, then says without any special emphasis. "I don't know why. A lot of people in my position do it - a lot of wealthy families. I'm not comparing myself to Peter Revson - but he did it."

Ted Field isn't from just any old wealthy family. He's a Marshall Field kind of Field, one of the directors of Field Enterprises Inc., which owns the Chicago Sun Times. And Ted Field isn't just any old king of racer: He's driving his Porsche with one of the best - Danny Ongais, a.k.a. "The Flyin' Hawaiian." And so Ted Field is asked, once again, why does he do it; what is it, in other words, that makes a rich man race?

And he replies, once again, "I don't know. Let's say that maybe once you're out on the track, money doesn't matter."

Is it in its own way a conclusion brimming with unintended irony, for money was everywhere here at Watkins Glen this weekend, shrieking its message from every Toyota, Kendall Motor Oil and BMW billboard; celebrated every pile of Goodyear tires; evoked, most powerfully, in all the gas fumes that pervade the heavy air by the pits; and, of course, echoed in the mentioning of each and every sponsor.

The six-hour race, which counted for the World Championship for Makes, is an endurance test as much for the sunburnt, swelting public that comes here as it is for all the souped-up porsches and Monzas and BMWs and Corvettes that race it - for in the end it's like sitting through a six-hour commercial, and costly one at that since the average cost per entry is roughly $225,000.

It is a commercial that is occasionally interrupted with tittle 60-second spots of purest sensuality. One finds that east of all in the pits. But all across the vast grounds of Watkins Glen there are heavy clusters of topless beer-drinking men calling to women in tightest cut-offs. It may have something to do with the heat and the uninspiring food; and then again it may have something to do with the dirt and the fumes and the fast cars and the money they all represent.

By coincidence, print journalism is also represented here, embodied by the drivers themselves. Competing against the likes of Brian Redman, Jacky Ickx Ongais and Janet Guthrie are (aside from Field), Paul Miller II, associate publisher of the Honolulu Star Bulletin, whose father is chairman of the board of the Gannett chain, and Otis Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, whose first professional race this is.

"How would you like to sponsor the only granfather and the oldest driver in the race?" the 50-year-old Otis Chandler recalls asking a hunting friend who was also a consultant for Shakey's Inc., the piza-parlor chain.

Shakey's evidently thought that would be a fine idea and, with another sponsor, put up part of the money, while Chandler himself put up most of the money for his race. Chandler's wife, on the other hand, "hates it, so she's not here," says the publisher, who owns five race cars.

The publicity man for Shakey's says the company spent about $20,000 on the race, some of it for promotion, and he is happy because of the mentions Shakey's is getting in several interviews requested of Chandler. The publicity man smiles delightedly. "Everyone is used to running to Ongais," he says, "but a 50-year-old grandfather in his first race . . . "

Chandler was relatively modest about his aspirations for Saturday's six-hour endurance race with a field of 45 entries. "Hopefully, we'll be in the first 10," he said. "You know Ted Field? He spends a couple of million a year on this. No way we're going to compete with that kind of team."

Chandler and partner John Thomas came in sixth. Field and Ongais suffered technical trouble and left before the race was over.

It is not merely rain - that would be too gentle a word to describe the weather conditions less than an hour after the start of the race. It is flash-flooding, thundering and pouring great buckets of water, splashing even those taking shelter in the Ongais and Field pit.

"There must be no visibility, no visibility at all," frets Field, his eyes straining vainly for his partner Ongais somewhere in the asphalt circuit. The officials order all cars off the course, but the clock keeps on running. There will be an hour of immobility to come, part of it killed painlessly by the arrival in the pits of an extremely pretty young woman wearing a T-shirt that reads, "UNEMPLOYED."

Unemployed, all navy blue eyes and black hair, has been out taking pictures of the drivers, as a result of which her T-shirt has become drenched and quite transparent. She flashes a smile at Field, who does not recriprocate in kind. She offers her camera to a crew members who obliges her by taking her picture, advising her all the while to lift her arms, which, however, she manages to refrain from doing.

"Actually," says Unemployed, "the first time I wore this T-shirt was last year at this very race, and I got so many offers for jobs it wasn't funny."

Unemployed says she is "a go-fer," that she goes from race to race taking pictures and that she would one day like to be a driver herself. After the sun reemerges, drying out her T-shirt, Unemployed chats with another pretty racing fan during which it transpires that Unemployed is also a model.

"But, see you have to have an image to be a model," says Unemployed.

The other girl nods her pretty head in perfect sympathy.

Unemployed has, during the course of a long day, managed to talk with Janet Guthrie who has, says unemployed, given her a great deal of Hope and Encouragement in her ambitions to be a driver. Unemployed says she loves "to go fast - and with precision," and that is about the most articulate explanation you're going to get from anyone on the track on what attracts otherwise sane people to racing.

"If you don't know, I can't tell you," says Danny Ongais, slumping languidly in the center of a huge Goodyear tire, while Field is out driving. Drivers, as everyone will tell you, fall into two categories: those who will talk your ear off and those who most assuredly will not. Ongais happens to be particularly tight-lipped about quesitons:

"You stand about the same chance [of getting killed] here in the pits," he says not bothering to smile, "and I'd be out there driving and zipping along. It's all relative. If a car came crashing in here right now, it would be all over . . . "

And with that he slumps back into his tire.

Moving right along, Janet Guthrie is standing in her pit near Belgium's Jacky Ickx. Ickx may be a four-time Le Mans winner, but Guthrie is a woman and furthermore a woman who, came in ninth at Indianapolis this year, and as such, she had it all over him and everyone else at the track. All the photographers, all the fans, all the well-wishers converged on Guthrie, so that she found herself, between times, compelled to stand aloft on the edge of her pit to maintain a splendid isloation.

She is asked how she would feel if the day ever comes when there would be 80 woman drivers competing professionally.

"It'll make life easier for me," she says smiling grimly. "Of course, everyone wants to make her own mark in history. So in a way it was fun to have competed at Indy. But that's not where it's all at for me. For me it's the driving and the competition. And the woman-part has nothing to do with that."

And the winner was . . . John Fitzpatrick (and his two teammates), who drove his Porsche to the finish line without a door. Janet Guthrie and her partner, Brian Redman, drove to eighth place.

After six hours in the sun, in the rain and in the sun again, the weary watchers - about 25,000 of them - straggled on back to their cars, their trailers, their campers and tents flushed with heat and with beer, annoyed by the long lines waiting to get out of the circuit grounds, frantic if they couldn't find their cars.

And little gaggles of the spiritous sat in their dirty cut-offs on the hilltops, goggling and snickering. "Hey girls," they called, "HEY GIRLS . . ."

Ten miles outside Watkins Glen in a place called Valois, the post-race party takes place. Co-sponsored by the British Post Office.

A number of the top drivers are not there, but Alain deCadenet is there because he is sponsored by the British Post Office. The British Post Office wants to promote stamp collecting, and British driver deCadenet happens to be an avid stamp collector. It all worked out so well for both of them.

"I really get off on my stamp collections," says deCadenet whose wife was also at the party. He will be driving in Sunday's Can-Am race, and is therefore bowing his tousled head of dark curls over a paltry glass of wine. "In fact," he continues taking a sip, "in fact I've got my stamps with me right now, would you care to see them? Whenever I have problems, car problems - like my exmechanic went to a Rolling Stones concert instead of working on my car - well, I realize I can't solve my problems inside out, so I got to my stamps."

DeCadenet, it turn out, compares everything to his stamp collection - even groupies.

"They all want a piece of you," he says disgustedly. "I think anything that gets thrown at you so very obviously isn't really worth having. It's like - well, to get back to my stamp collection, I love tracking down the last stamp in a series. You know one gets such a feeling of satisfaction. I believe, you see, in quality rather than quantity."

Unemployes is at the party milling about but not in her old uniform. She is asked who among the drivers she was dating.

"Don't say that!" cries Unemployed, completely scandalized. "Don't ever say that! Because who can say, the way it is, that you're dating ANYBODY? I only go to the races. I mean racing is very discreet, and nobody ever discusses these things because it's not nice to the wives who might be at home.

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"No," says Unemployed, shaking her head wisely for she has learned a lot, "No don't go saying things like that."