A. J. Foyt is 46 years old, Mike Mosley is 34, Bobby Unser 47, Johnny Rutherford 43 and Gordon Johncock 44. These wizened men have driven 265,200 miles in the Indianapolis 500 race. In 86 starts, they have won the race 10 times. They also are the five fastest qualifiers for Sunday's 65th running.
The sixth fastest is a 22-year-old Mexican who has driven one mile in his Indy car career. After that, he crashed.
So tell us, Josele Garza, why aren't you playing baseball with Fernando Valezuela?
"I can't make a comparison of Fernando and me," Garza said. "We are so different. So different."
Valenzuela was dirt poor, Garza filthy rich. The pitcher is a simple, unschooled son of a farm worker; the race driver is the pampered scion of a banker, a polished and articulate product of private schools. Even now Valenzuela works for $42,000 a year while Garza spends maybe $1 million to race. Valenzuela's father owned a one room house in a remote village; Garza's mother is so wealthy from Mexico City banking, oil and real estate that when someone asked the son what his mother owned, he laughed and said, "Most of Mexico."
The temptation is to say the kid bought his way in.It was only a year ago that he drove in his first professional open-wheeled race. On March 22 at Phoenix, in his first Indy race, Garsa crashed on the second lap when he tried to pass Jerry Karl on a turn.
Is this a rich kid who doesn't belong up there with the old guys who know everything? Spoiled brats of indulgent daddies have caused accidents that set people on fire in this most dangerous of American auto races. If Fernando Valenzuela slips, the Dodgers lose a game; if Josele Garaz slips, men might die.
The killing race drivers are those who profess no fear. They are not courageous, they are more stupid than a spark plug. The good ones learn the limits of their fear, and drive to the boundary, brushing against it but never pushing through. A litmus test of Indianapolis fear is the question, "What did you think the first time you drove into Turn One?"
At the end of a 200 mph straight-away, Turn One falls into a nine degree bank. Mel Kenyon, an old racer, once said, "Going into One is like driving 120 down a city street and turning into a dark alley."
So someone asked Josele Garza, the rich kid, about Turn One.
The kid passed the test. He said he was scared stiff.
"This month here has been frustrating, pleasant and a lot of joy," he said with a quick smile lighting up a nut brown face handsome enough to put Richardo Montalbon out of work. "I have had my worst day in racing here, and my best day. The worst day came when no matter how hard I tried, I could go no faster than 185."
Turn One was the problem then.
"I wasn't driving the track the way it should be driven," he said. He wasn't driving fast enough, especially into that first turn, where a bobble can cost 10 mph. Of course, to go too fast into the turn is to invite the outside retaining wall to come into the driver's seat. By answering the siren's call of slow and safe, you lose speed; by yielding to outrageous speed, you might lose your life.
"I finally had to say to myself, 'This time my foot is staying in longer,'" Garza said, meaning he would keep his foot on the throttle a heartbeat more. He smiled against the fear, the smile saying this was no stupid spark plug talking.
"But every time," he said, now laughing, "my damn foot wouldn't do it. It just kept coming off."
Garza, who drove go-carts at age 5, ran Formula Ford in 1979 and Super Vee last year. Last fall he tested an Indy car at Michigan International, running it at speeds faster than it had qualified for the summer races. His apprenticeship was short and quick.
Then came Turn One. "Boy, it scared me," he said. He had another talk with himself. "I said, 'I don't care what happens, I got to hold the throttle down this time.'"
A few chassis changes gave Garza confidence to go into the turn faster, and as soon as he made it through at 190 he was on his way to a 195.101 qualifying speed.
He now knows when to let off the throttle headed for the first turn.
"It's when my eyes," he said, spreading his fingers from small circles into softball sized holes, "get this big."
There is this, too: because the kid has money, his is a first-class operation. With team chief David Psachie in charge, the operation sponsored by Esso (oil), Yom Yom (the Garza's ice cream factory) and Sanjemo (thier construction company) has three drivers in the 33-car field. Besides the top-dollar equipment, Garza had the money to do more practicing in a month than the young Foyt, say, could have done in a year.
"I have driven 1,380 miles on this track," Gaza said. "I am now very, very comfortable here."