When I was a boy our family would gather around the TV each Memorial Day weekend to watch the Indy 500. Mario Andretti, A. J. Foyt, and Al Unser were some of the super stars of the sport in those days. Inspired by the big race my two brothers and I would race our own Hot Wheels or slot cars in imitation of the drivers who faced death in pursuit of glory.
Years later as an Air Force Captain I had a friend, “Adam” Adamski, a Lieutenant Colonel, who told me his own racing story. Adam grew up in Easton, Pennsylvania in the ’50s in a middle class family. But he did have a friend, John Eagan, whose dad had a well paying position at Bethlehem Steel. It paid well enough that despite having ten kids Mr. Eagan had a Jaguar. THAT kind of well paying.
In the winter of 1957 the Jag driving dad of Adam’s friend was out of town–but he had left the ’53 Roadster behind. During Mr. Eagan’s absence the battery on the car of Mrs. Eagan died. Thanks to a jump start from the Jag Mrs. Eagan’s car was fine, but she wondered about her husband’s car.
“Maybe we should run it to charge the battery back up?” But Mrs. Eagan herself didn’t like driving the car. Too dangerous for that mild mannered house wife. And her son John was 15—one year shy of having his driver’s license.
As any red blooded teenage boy would do, Adam volunteered for the task. Being a persuasive young man he convinced a reluctant Mrs. Eagan that he was up to the task. He soon had the keys to the roadster in hand and headed out with his friend to do a “little” battery charging.
Of course the pair had to stop at the local soda shop to show off their smokin’ hot wheels. There they encountered an Italian kid from nearby Nazareth driving a souped up Chevy. The kid, who had moved to the United States only two years earlier, saw their fancy British sports car and challenged them to a drag on the nearby Nazareth Pike.
According to Adam, “We got the jump on him but in two seconds we were smelling exhaust fumes.”
Decades later he remembers that race but doesn’t feel so bad about losing. That Italian-American kid from Pennsylvania went on to win a few more races, including one Indy 500. In 2000 he was named “Driver of the Century by the Associated Press and Racer Magazine. On that day Adam and his friend had been beaten by–Mario Andretti.