Carson Drove Memorable, Quick Laps Around Speedway in 1967 INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Jan. 24, 2005 -- As the legendary host of "The Tonight Show," Johnny Carson was renowned for being quick with a witty one-liner either in his monologues or while ...
Carson Drove Memorable, Quick Laps Around Speedway in 1967
INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Jan. 24, 2005 -- As the legendary host of "The Tonight Show," Johnny Carson was renowned for being quick with a witty one-liner either in his monologues or while interviewing guests.
Less well-known was that Carson also was pretty quick in a race car around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Carson, who became an American icon as host of "The Tonight Show" from 1962-92, died Jan. 23 at age 79. Among the many celebrities whose careers he helped launch included comedian Dave Letterman, who has gone on to similar fame as a late-night talk show host and co-owns the car that Buddy Rice drove to victory in the 2004 Indianapolis 500.
In 1967, STP President and Indianapolis 500 team owner Andy Granatelli invited Carson to the Speedway to drive the famed turbine-powered "whooshmobile" race car. STP was a major sponsor of "The Tonight Show" at the time, and Granatelli said he was a guest on the show "seven or eight times."
Granatelli and famed drivers Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones and Rodger Ward welcomed Carson to the track. The drivers showed Carson the racing line in a few trips around the historic 2.5-mile oval in a passenger car.
Andretti asked Carson during the laps, "Now, you see where those tire skid marks go up into the wall?"
"Yes," Carson replied.
"That's NOT the groove!" Andretti then told Carson, in a story that Carson shared with his "Tonight Show" viewers during an ensuing monologue.
Then it was time to let Carson loose on the track in the STP Turbine that Jones drove to sixth in the Indianapolis 500 that year, leading 171 of the 200 laps before a bearing failed.
Carson then drove three or four laps around the oval, with a top lap speed of 138 mph, Granatelli said.
"He adapted very well," said Donald Davidson, Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian. "That doesn't seem that fast now, but it took 162 mph to make the race those days."
The slowest qualifying speed among the 33 starters in 1967 was 162.543 mph.
Carson's speedy hot laps didn't surprise Granatelli.
"That car was so good and easy to drive," Granatelli said. "All you had to do was point and steer."
Granatelli said he stayed in touch with Carson until only a few months before his death.
"He was a cool guy," Granatelli said.
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