Interpreters help US GP visitors

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Sept. 18, 2000 -- S.M. Pimiento and Cathy Cregor-Blitzen, though separated by 83 years, have much in common when it comes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was a French Army officer, she a self-proclaimed...

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Sept. 18, 2000 -- S.M. Pimiento and Cathy Cregor-Blitzen, though separated by 83 years, have much in common when it comes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was a French Army officer, she a self-proclaimed "Army brat." He was native of France; she was born in Italy. He spoke English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese; she speaks English, French, Italian, German and some Spanish. He held language degrees from the Sorbonne in Paris and University of Pisa and University of Madrid; she holds language degrees from Indiana University and University of Wisconsin. Their connection comes because of their language skills. In 1913, when the first foreign teams and drivers came to compete in the Indianapolis 500, the Speedway hired Professor Pimiento as the official interpreter. This week, the inaugural SAP United States Grand Prix Formula One race will take place for the first time at the Speedway. Most of the competitors speak English, but because between 25,000 and 30,000 racing fans from around the world - many unfamiliar with English - are expected to attend the race, the need was seen to provide interpreters. That's plural - like 1,000 interpreters for at least 20 different languages. That's where Cathy Cregor-Blitzen, who once served as deputy mayor under former Indianapolis Mayor Steven Goldsmith, stands forth. She heads up recruiting of interpreters through the International Center and will oversee the language command site at the track during the event Sept. 22-24. "But I don't have a bushy mustache," she said with a laugh about being compared to her 1913 predecessor. The International Center has helped recruit interpreters since the Pan Am Games took place in Indianapolis in 1987. Volunteers have come from such local international firms as Lilly, Roche Diagnostics, Rolls Royce, Thomson Industries and Dow Agrosciences, and every college within the central Indiana area. Most of the interpreters will be available for these languages: Spanish, Japanese, German, French, Italian and Portuguese. But there also have been at least one to three people volunteer for many other languages: Arabic, Belarussian, Catalan (official language of the tiny country of Andorra and also spoken in parts of Spain, France and Italy), Chinese, Chiyao (a language spoken in parts of Tanzania), Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hindi (spoken by 180 million people in India, 300 million elsewhere, including 100,000 in the U.S.), Hungarian, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Thai, Ukrainian and Urdu (national language of Pakistan). "We're having great fun with it," Cregor-Blitzen said. "One important aspect for many of these people is they've never been to Indianapolis. "There is a strong need at the grounds of the Speedway, the hospital, public safety area and credentials office. Downtown, the command center at the IUPUI Conference Center will be open 24 hours. We'll have people at the City Center, six locations at the airport and all major hotels." The search for interpreters will continue almost up to the time of the F1 race. French and Italian translators are needed particularly for the media center. Anyone interested in applying should call (317) 259-7053 or send an e-mail to ici@iupui.edu. Cregor-Blitzen said about the age span of the volunteers, "We have high school seniors to 'it's not polite to ask.'" Cregor-Blitzen's father was a career Army soldier and her mother a native Italian. The family came to the former Fort Harrison in Indianapolis in 1966 where her mother was a librarian in the Defense Information School. Cregor-Blitzen had two years of high school in Italy but enrolled at Arlington High School in Indianapolis, took accelerated classes and was allowed to graduate. "I saw my first (Indianapolis 500) qualifications that year, too," she said. "I am a race fan." Her son Matthew graduated from Indiana University in 1999 and daughter Lauren graduated from IU last May. There was no need for interpreters at the first two Indianapolis 500's, but then in 1913 the race had received enough international acclaim that several foreign teams, headed by the Peugeot of Jules Goux, entered. Goux won. 'We'll have to start a language school for the Speedway employees," auditor Theodore E. "Pop" Myers told an Indianapolis newspaper at the time. "Since the race has become as international in character that it is attracting drivers from over the globe, I am in favor of adopting Esperanto or some other common tongue as the official language of motor racing," Myers told the paper in 1913. "One thing though makes me feel at ease. If a foreign driver captures one of the prizes, I don't believe he'll have any difficulty reading the figures on the check." Speedway General Manager Charles W. Sedwick said an interpreter would be hired to be available during the race programs. Public Relations Director Paul R. Martin, fluent in French, declined to assume those duties because he was too busy. Consideration even was made of asking drivers Paul Zuccarelli and Ralph DePalma to handle the interpreting. Finally, they decided on an outsider, Professor Pimiento. Pimiento had a colorful and noble past. He was an officer of de l'Academie, a former officer in the French Army who had distinguished himself in battle, had traveled the world and called Paris and Mexico City home. Pimiento's first duty was to meet the French team of Goux and Zuccarelli, mechanics Begin and Flanelli and Charles Faroux, editor of La Vie Automobile, at Richmond, Ind., and complete the journey by rail with them to Indianapolis. Pimiento then handled the greetings between city officials and the French contingent. At the track, Pimiento readily arranged interviews but always showed his strong allegiance to the French team. He was excited about their performances, and when the Americans went faster in practice and he was goaded by the U.S. pilots, he would retort: "Oh, no, no, no! You don't know. Just wait. The Frenchmen haven't shown all their speed yet. Just wait. You shall see." Pimiento was right. Goux won the race by 13 minutes, 8.4 seconds, still the record for the margin of victory in the 500. No mention was made about how this debonair interpreter celebrated nor whatever became of him. But he certainly earned a special tiny role in the history of the greatest racing facility in the world. Now, in a new century and at a new race, it is Cathy Cregor-Blitzen's turn to say welcome to F1 competitors and fans alike from around the world and translate their speech to English. She'll have a lot of helpers greeting and interpreting for visitors from many other countries in their native tongues.

-Indianapolis Motor Speedway-

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Series Formula 1
Drivers Ralph DePalma , Jules Goux