There were countless rich men hanging around garages at the Indianapolis speedway last month. They were watching their money and enjoying it because thousands of other people could watch it going around the track in the form of race cars.
"Don't call be a millionaire," protested one. "I'm just well-to-do," Teddy Yip, the charming and far-from-inscrutable. Oriental patron of the Theodore Racing Team, must be. He admits to spending a quarter'million dollars a year on auto racing. "If I admitted to more than that, my wife would slit my throat," he said with a laugh.
Yip is a great-grandfather in his 60s, a rather dashing figure, coffee-colored skin, thin mustache and slender build. He continues to race open-wheeled, formula racecars on road circuits and intends to make his 18th start in the Macao Grand Prix this Fall.
He also competes on high-speed go-karts and has gone well in the world championships. He saved the FarEast's major karting title race by underwriting its cost a few years ago, then went out and won his trophy. "Not very sporting of me, but I really couldn't help it," he says.
Chinese with a Dutch passport, Yip lives in Hong Kong. He trades in grain and rice and operates a hydro-foil service between Hong Kong and Macao. Born in Indonesia, he grew up in Holland. He went to Hong Kong in the 1930s to sell cash registers and make his fortune.
"I work 16 hours a day, every day," said Yip. "I keep in touch with my businesses with the phone and telex. Auto racing relaxes me. I concentrate totally on it. For me, it's a lot of fun."
Last year, Yip mounted his first American racing effort. He has raced cars in Europe for several years and sponsored Australian Vern Schuppan's campaign in a Formula 5000 road racer in 1976.
Schuppan had other commitments so Yip engaged another Aussie, Alan Jones, for this Indy race. Jones had no taste for oval track racing. "I imediately decided to get Clay Regazzoni," said Yip, who had hired the Swiss Grand Prix star and stuck with him when other employers would have sent him home.
Regazzoni had no trouble passing his rookie driving test in one day, attaining more than 190 miles per hour. Later, he also hit the Speedway walls. The second time the car was demolished.
"We took the No.39 and squeezed it into a two-foot cube for a souvenir," Yip said. "Then, we put Clay in the No.29. No, I never thought of dropping him as the driver. I had full confidence in him I was determined to make that race."
So was Regazzoni. He was committed to race in the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, if he could qualify, the final weekend of Indianapolis time trials. The Swiss flew back and forth tesing cars, then was rained out of his Monte Carlo try.
He flew back to New York. Yip met him with chartered jet. That got him back to Indiana in time to qualify for the 500 with a few hours to spare.
After all this, Regazzoni lasted only 25 laps (62.5-miles) in the race. "The car leaked fuel faster than we put it in," the Swiss said after his short ride.
No matter, Yip plans to return next year. "The people made us feel at home. "They gave us a lot of moral support," he said. Most even fathomed the Chinese characters on the team's T-shirts stood for Theodore Racing" because "Theodore has more class than Teddy, don't you think?" asked Yip.
No one but Teddy Yip will know how much this month of fun cost him. To some, it may seem foolish. "Perhaps. But around a race track, no one minds being called a nut," Yip said smiling. Some do mind being called millionaires. Right, Teddy?