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Promising Driver John Paul Jr. Is Accused of Aiding Father in Smuggling Ring, Making It. . . : A Rough Road Ahead

March 10, 1985|SHAV GLICK | Times Staff Writer

"Until a court of law determines that someone is guilty, we consider him innocent," Bishop said. "I don't think Paul's running in our races has hurt IMSA. I've know Johnny as long as he's been racing for us and I would say I've rarely seen a talent as big or a person more cooperative.

"We're distressed that he's in the headlines in such a distressing way, but I'd rather the public judged Johnny on his tremendous ability as an athlete. His problems have nothing whatever to do with racing."

If Conte has his way, Paul will drive in all 11 remaining IMSA races this season. His own CGI Industries is the car's sponsor.

"We've never stopped testing and we haven't missed a race," Conte said. "We are very pleased with the way John has handled the car. We've been fastest at both Daytona and Miami and even though we haven't won yet, our results have pleased the people at Buick.

"Our agreement with Buick, going into Daytona, involved three things. We said we would get them the pole, set a lap record and dominate the race while we were running. We did all of those things. We would not guarantee a win yet, but that's coming."

Junior was arraigned in Jacksonville the day before he was to qualify for the Daytona 24-hour race in February. Asked if he felt the charges might affect his driving, he said no.

The next day he was two seconds faster than any other driver in the international field as he averaged a record 126.278 m.p.h. over the 3.56-mile road course.

"When I'm in a race car, I have the ability to shut out everything else," he said at the time.

Paul led the first 90 minutes of the 24-hour race and was running second or third through the first five hours when an upright snapped in the car's suspension system, eventually putting the car out of the race.

Two weeks ago, on a twisting city course in Miami, Paul again was fastest qualifier with a lap at 82.066 m.p.h., breaking a two-year-old Miami Grand Prix record. The car quit on the course during the three-hour race, however, and sat for nearly an hour before Paul could restart it.

"It was just like Daytona," Conte said. "John was dominating the race until some little thing went wrong. This time it was the battery. One of the plates broke. It was a new battery, too. All we can do is get to work for the next race."

Paul, who was restricted to Florida and Georgia during the terms of his bail, has been granted permission to come to California for testing Friday at Riverside International Raceway.

"John and (co-driver) Bill Adam will run six hours at Riverside under full race conditions," Conte said. "We're going all-out under full power to try and shake out any problems in the car.

"We want to test for every race by running the same, or double, the distance. This is a test for Road Atlanta (April 14). It's only three hours, but we're going twice the distance. As far as the crew and the drivers are concerned, it'll be just like a race. The test will also help us for the 600 (kilometers) at Riverside."

The Times/Nissan Grand Prix of Endurance, including a 600-kilometer Camel GT race, is scheduled April 28, at Riverside.

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