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Twice World Driving Champion, He Enjoys Life in a Fast Lane--Even on the Freeway

April 07, 1986|MIKE KUPPER | Times Assistant Sports Editor

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will use the streets of the city as a race course next Sunday, but not the freeways.

What a pity for Fitti.

Emerson Fittipaldi, the Brazilian two-time world Formula One champion turned Indy car pilot, also happens to be an experienced freeway racer. In fact, he had one freeway racing experience he can't forget.

"I was going to the airport on the freeway in England and I was really late to catch the plane," he said recently. "There was a car ahead of me and he didn't give way.

"I did the lights on, I beeped the horn and the guy didn't move. I was really get upset and I had to catch this flight and then I went around this guy. I roll down the window and I show nice little fingers.

"The next thing I see, the guy put the lights on. It was a police car! So in my mind is, 'I'm going to miss the flight and I'm going to go to prison.'

"I mean, I was really going fast, top speed. Maximum speed allowed is like 70 and I was going 120, 130 miles, and he was dicing me. He did it on purpose.

"They have this type of police in England--you must tell me if they have them in America--it was like a private (unmarked) car.

"He stopped and he was a very young guy and he comes, shaking. He was very nervous. He come to the window and says, 'Give me your documents.'

"I gave him the documents of the car--it was a rental car--I give my passaport, and he looked at me: 'Mr. Fittipaldi, you should not race here.'

"I said, 'I'm sorry. I'm so late to catch the plane and I'm sorry.'

"He says, 'If you give me your autograph, you can go, slowly, free.' That's very British. Go slowly."

Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.

--John Donne "I ran there and he spoke to me. He was completely conscious.

"I said, 'Are you OK, Mark?' And he said 'Yes, Emo'--he called me Emo--'Emo, I'm OK.' "

Mark Donohue wasn't OK, but Fittipaldi didn't know that at the time.

Fittipaldi was shocked when he learned that Donohue had died of the injuries he suffered in that crash.

"It was the Austrian Grand Prix, 1975. There was a very fast corner after the pits that we would take at top speed in top gear.

"I was just practicing and there was a yellow flag when I was going out. I saw the yellow flag and a lot of dust. I slowed down, but I didn't see the car. Then I saw black marks over the Armco (guard rail).

"I knew someone flew over and landed and rolled down. I just stopped my car and I ran--I didn't know who it was--because with the race experience I had I knew most of these marshals (corner workers) are amateurs.

"When I jumped over the Armco, I saw Mark's car a little way down from the track. He landed the correct way (right side up). He had nothing (no apparent injuries). The marshals were just looking; they didn't know what to do.

"Hans Stuck, the German driver, come over and helped me and we took Mark out of the car. Actually, he walked back to the track, he walked to the ambulance and he spoke to me.

"And then he had a brain damage (blood clot) and he died a short few days after."

Now spurs the lated traveller apace to gain the timely inn.

--Macbeth, Act III, Scene I "Indianapolis was my second year last year, to participate. It's very traditional to hear, 'Gentlemen, start your engines.' That's the time you should be ready and go.

"What happened last year, I had so many friends and sponsors and people from the press talking to me--I was in the second row next to Mario on the grid--and I was very relaxed, actually, before the start of the race.

"And then I hear, 'Gentlemen, start your engines!' I was outside of the car. I had no helmet, no gloves.

"You need at least five minutes to get ready for Indy. There's the drink-bottle pipe, the radio, I had the air-cooling system in my helmet, the belts--I mean, the whole equipment you need to put on yourself. And I have to go, the race is going to start!

"Nobody told me, 'Emerson, get ready.' I was just standing around, relaxing.

"By the time the cars start rolling out of the grid, I have my mechanic--he was very slim--on top of the cockpit trying to get Emerson ready. I was just about to tell him I was going to ride him a half lap and drop him on the other side of the circuit.

"He jump out of the car and I start. I put first gear and went. It was just big panic. I nearly missed the start."

"Fear at my heart, as at a cup, my life-blood seemed to sip."

--Samuel Taylor Coleridge "It was the Grand Prix of Holland in '73. My outside front wheel, turning into a corner, broke. I was thrown into the Armco. I was going, maybe, 170 m.p.h. and that was too much.

"The car flew quite high and I remember hitting the Armco.

"This accident took place where two marshals, the flag men, were there. When they saw the car coming, like a torpedo, their eyes--I remember their eyes, looking, and they didn't have time to run. They had the flags in their hand and they didn't know what to do.

"The last thing I saw was their eyes open, just looking at the car coming.

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