If the Easter Bunny files suit for the right to hippity-hop down Victory Lane in Sunday's Indianapolis 500, he'll be lucky to get one paragraph in the local papers. Fantasy is no match for reality here this week. The $1 million race could have been called off today, but wasn't. A. J. Foyt and Danny Ongais could have been thrown in jail, but weren't. The U.S. Auto Club reopened qualifying for the 11 cars it kicked out three days ago. Gentlemen, start your litigations.
A young Irish judge, Michael T. Dugan II, sets aside Fridays for messy divorces in Marion County Superior Court. But he is a political animal, on the prowl for the mayor's job if not the governor's, and so he assigned himself today's high-profile Indianapolis 500 cases. One half-expected him to ascend the bench in black-and-white checked robes.
Dugan promptly issued bench warrants ordering the sheriff's office to haul in Foyt and Ongais. On Thursday the pair had acted rudely when officers served them subpoenas calling them into court today for the Wayne Woodward suit that asked, among other things, postponement of the 500.
When neither Foyt nor Ongais showed up this morning, Judge Dugan issued the bench warrant. He demanded the drivers appear before him to explain why, among other things, Ongais ran over a papers-serving deputy with a bicycle and Foyt suggested a deputy perform an unnatural act with his obscene papers.
"If they'd been ordinary citizens," said Dugan, whose office is decorated with portraits of Roosevelt, Kennedy and Carter, "that behavior probably would have gotten them both arrested."
Wow-eeee. A. J. in the slammer, Ongais, the hurryin' Hawaiian, going nowhere with a ball and chain around his leg. Alas, the deputies had no sense of the dramatic (either that, or they have a well developed fear of tire irons). The deputies simply left the subpoenas in the drivers' garages on the theory that this has been a wacky enough week without A. J. Foyt behind bars.
Ongais showed up quickly enough and was forgiven by Dugan, who dropped the threat of fine and jail that accompanied his bench warrant. But Foyt, who owns 25 race horses, was at Churchill Downs in Louisville for the races, 120 miles away. So a Beverly Hills lawyer-whose name is divinely perfect for this fantasy, Don Bringgold-called Foyt at the horse track and said get back here.
Foyt, who had driven to Louisville, chartered a plane to get back, which would seem to indicate a desire to appease Judge Dugan and pay respects to the American system of justice. But only the day before, Foyt had said "lawyers and judges ruined this country."
And if A.J. seemed sheepish before the judge this afternoon-he stood with hands folded in front of him-he yet spoke defiantly, not once offering any kind of apology for his snubbing of the subpoena.
"Well, I don't have much to say," Foyt told the judge. "But when you are in a group of people and somebody shoves a bunch of papers in your face, you ought to know who they are. I don't appreciate it at all."
Later the judge said, "As far as you are concerned, Mr. Foyt, you didn't do anything wrong yesterday. Is that right?"
"Well, in my opinion, no," Foyt said "I don't really feel that I did."
Dugan spoke to Bringgold then. "Counsellor, do you know of any reason why I shouldn't hold Mr. Foyt in contempt?"
Woo-eeee. Maybe Foyt yet would go to jail for talking that way to a judge. Did nothing wrong, indeed. Taxpayers who say naughty things to deputy sheriffs serving them subpoenas usually wind up in trouble. But Bringgold, answering the judge, said Foyt thought he had been told by somebody, he wasn't sure who, that he didn't have to be in court today.
"Mr Foyt, do you understand that you are subject to the same service and process like any other ordinary citizen here in Marion County?" the judge said.
"Right, your honor," Foyt said, "But, you know, I come here to race, not to be served subpoenas . . ."
Those must have been the magic words, because a minute later the judge said Foyt was free to go.
Dugan also heard the Wayne Woodward case and ordered USAC to extend its appeal deadline so that Woodward can appeal USAC's disqualification of his car. Woodward had filed suit to get in the race-or stop the whole thing-after he was caught cheating a lot. Because other cars had cheated only a little bit, USAC gave them second chances to qualify while Woodward was shut out.
Now Woodward has made his last appeal, and USAC will decide its merits by Saturday morning.
Until tonight, it seemed certain that Woodward had no chance of getting back into the field. But then USAC, which two days ago said it had no power to add cars to the 33-car field without unanimous consent of all 33, suddenly decided it did have that power after all.
So it ordered qualification runs Saturday morning for 11 cars. If all 11 run at faster speeds than the current slowest qualifier, then Sunday's race will start with 44 cars. It was 1933 when the Indianapolis 500 last ran more than 33 cars; 42 cars started that year and five drivers were killed.
We're not to worry this time, though. This race will be so dangerous that it will be safe. That's the convoluted logic of USAC public relations man Paul Reinhard, who answered drivers' suggestion of danger by telling the press, "If the drivers are thinking about it being dangerous, maybe they are concerned. And we all know that when they want to, they can make a race safe."
It must have been this way when Alice went through the looking glass. Curiouser and curiouser is this world of mad hatters saluting Citizen Foyt while the queen of diamonds whispers in USAC's ear and race drivers on bicycles run down deputy sheriffs who are serving subpoenas for a lawsuit filed by a man whose entry check bounced.
And we haven't even heard from Roger Penske, the car ownership who had a car disqualified when USAC discovered something strangely familiar about it: the same engine another Penske car had used.
That's a no-no, and when USAC went to Penske for an explanation, Penske shrugged his shoulders and said it was an honest mistake.
Sure it was. You never know where those engines go when you turn out the lights at night.They're all the time climbing out of one car and bolting themselves into another.