IRL: Allure of Indy Remains Strong for Jack arute

ARUTE SPELLS SWITCH TO FOX SPORTS NET: I-N-D-Y [Veteran sports broadcaster Jack Arute recently joined FOX Sports Net as an expert analyst for its broadcasts of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League. Arute joined FOX after 15 years at ABC Sports and ...


[Veteran sports broadcaster Jack Arute recently joined FOX Sports Net as an expert analyst for its broadcasts of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League. Arute joined FOX after 15 years at ABC Sports and explains the reasons behind the switch in this column. FOX's first league broadcast is March 28, the MCI WorldCom 200 from Phoenix.]

By Jack Arute Special Contributor

Some of my friends have recently asked me, "Why , after 15 terrific years at ABC, would you leave?"

To me, the answer is a simple one: It's spelled I-N-D-Y.

As a youngster growing up in Connecticut, my dad fed me the history and traditions of Indianapolis, and the cars that raced there. He was an avid fan of the Indy cars. Each May he and his two best friends, Ray and Rich Garuti, would board the train in Hartford, Conn., and embark on an annual pilgrimage to racing's Mecca.

They would begin planning their trip right after our Christmas tree was put away for another year. In the beginning, their preparations were predictable: Assign a date for their departure, map out their days in Indianapolis (including visits to the original 16th Street Speedway) and how and where they would get their tickets to the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

Eventually, this group of race nuts found a way to secure coveted silver badges for entry into Indy's Gasoline Alley. Man, were these three excited. You see, my dad and his friends owned midgets and eventually modifieds that raced in the New England region. Their trip to Indy was a chance to witness a dream that they knew none of them would ever realize: a trip to Indy as a competitor!

This was the environment in which I grew up. Sid Collins and Freddie Agabashian's words painted a detailed picture of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway long before I walked through the gates for the first time in 1969. Like most kids of my generation, baseball and football were sandlot pastimes, and the pros were heroes that you collected on cardboard cards replete with rock-hard slabs of awful bubble gum. But in our house, guys like Ted Horn, Wilbur Shaw and Eddie Sachs were revered. Y.A. Tittle and Mickey Mantle were pros, but racers from Indy were gods!

Following every Indy 500, my dad would return with the annual 500 yearbook (Floyd Climer's) and the latest tome penned about an Indy driver. I still have books like "Gentlemen Start Your Engines" and "The Life of Ted Horn" adorning my bookshelf.

As I said, in 1969 I attended my first 500 in person. My biggest thrill? The late J.C. Agajanian gave me an autograph! I remember staring at Mario Andretti's burns from his practice crash in the Lotus and cheering his victory from my Paddock Penthouse seat.

Since then, I have witnessed many Indy 500's. For 15 straight years, I was fortunate enough to share Victory Lane with some of racing's real greats. I was there when Bill Mears tearfully greeted his son Rick, when Jim Trueman realized a lifelong dream of winning with Bobby Rahal aboard his TrueSports car. I understood what Al Unser Jr. meant when he said, "You don't know what Indy means," and I appreciated Eddie Cheever's speechlessness following his long-sought after win last year.

You see, I may have never gotten the chance to work with Sid Collins, but I did make it to Indy! To this day, my dad's visit there (for qualifying) is a priceless moment that I would guard with my life. One time, George Bignotti walked into Bill Simpson's office while my dad and I were there. I thought he would be thrilled to meet an icon like Bignotti, and I said: "George, I would like you to meet my dad. Dad, this is George Bignotti." No sooner had I spoken those words, then wham! My father slapped me behind my head and sternly told me, "That's Mr. Bignotti!"

So you see, Indy has been such an important part of my life that when the opportunity to follow the exploits of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League presented itself, I knew that's where I belonged.

The Pep Boys Indy Racing League is the "Road to Indy." As we speed into the next millennium, the league will continue the heritage and traditions that I was raised on.

ABC Television was very good to me. My time there took me around the world and exposed me to events like the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, the Pan American Games in Cuba, the Super Bowl and of course, college football.

Most importantly, it brought me annually to my first love - Indy. When I walk around the pits at a Pep Boys Indy Racing League event, I am always amazed at my good fortune. I am lucky enough to have lived out my childhood dreams. How many people get that opportunity?

Last year, my daughter presented me with a grandson. My dream is to instill in him the love for Indy that my father instilled in me. My biggest thrill would be to accompany him someday through the same speedway gate that I first walked through 30 years ago.

But I do not wish to share my love with only my grandson. My hope is that in some way, I can transfer the passion I have had all my life for the Speedway, and the men who test it, to fans everywhere.

Don't get me wrong, I love all forms of racing. I'll cheer on the guys in Formula One. I have crewed with NASCAR Winston Cuppers like Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough. I revel at the accomplishments of guys like Jimmy Vasser and Greg Moore. And, yes, I bust a gut laughing with John Force while admiring his penchant for blistering a quarter-mile. But the series that leads to Indianapolis will always be special to me. Here's hoping that my new bosses at FOX TV will share my love!

From the track, I'm Jack Arute ?

Source: IRL/IMS

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Greg Moore , Cale Yarborough