Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day 259 - Bobby Unser


I never really cared much for Bobby Unser.

If you wonder why, then you don't know who Bobby Unser is. Or you are Bobby Unser.

Bobby is a 3-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. He raced in the tail end of the golden era of american open-wheel racing. Those are good things.

Personally, I always thought Bobby was an arrogant, self-egrandizing, braggart.  Being a 3-time Indy 500 champion I suppose there's a lot to brag about, but still... there have been a lot of drivers, and people in general, who have accomplished more and spoken about themselves less.

And, in my opinion, he stole the 1981 Indy 500 from Mario Andretti. Which is unforgivable.

But then, a couple says ago, I came upon this picture - the one right up there - from the fantastic Gasoline Alley unplugged series by Donald Davidson, Indy 500 historian and savant. It's from Bobby's last pit-stop in the 1968 race.

First off, you gotta love that car. Gorge. Us. And the jackets on the crewmen... I'd kill for one of those.

Bobby's engine was an Offenhauser, and they were monster powerful. And fast. The only problem was that they didn't like to get going from a dead stop... the kind of dead stop required for every pit-stop. It wanted to stall, so crew members would push the car out of the pit as the driver engaged first gear. Not a big deal... everyone had an Offy and everyone managed.

But Bobby had another problem. His gearbox. He had only top gear. No first gear. Or second gear. Or third gear. Nothing except his tippity-top gear.

Here he was, racing in the greatest race in the world, and he had just one gear. Luckily, that one gear was the one he needed to go fast. Unluckily, he also needed to stop on occasion for fuel and tires.

When he stopped, his crew would push him out, furiously. Bobby, and his car, and his Offy engine, would chug, and chug, and lurch, and chug out of the puts. And down the back stretch. And down the front stretch. It took him more than a lap to get up to full speed.

I could, if I were a crass person, list a dozen drivers who would have parked that car as undrivable.

Not Bobby Unser. He not only carried that car to the end of the race, he took it to victory lane. That's right, he won his first Indy 500 in a car with one working gear.

That, my friends, takes skill, and determination, and balls, and more skill.

I thought of Bobby this morning.

Despite all of that stretching, and greatly improved running, for the past few weeks, when I get out of bed in the morning, my calves are tight as banjo strings. I walk like Frankenstein. It's not fun.

As I was clomping to the patio door to let the hound out, I thought of Bobby. And I felt like that car. I thought about how the easy path to feeling better was to take some time off of running... to abandon the streak.

But rather than cursing my condition, and giving in to my plight, I imagined myself in this body as Bobby Unser in that car, chugging out of his pits, determined to keep it going as long as it would go.

The universe messes with us. It destroys our plans. It drops obstacles in our path. It chuckles as we age.

We can either bemoan our fate, and wish, hopelessly, for things to be different. Or, we can accept our situation as our situation, and make it work. One is an exercise in ego infested pointless whining. The other is the path to a positive, rewarding life.

And just maybe, your face on the Borg Warner trophy.

Probably not, but who knows.

Good running,
Doug

Numbers: 4.4 miles on roads.