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MOTOR RACING : Fangio Didn’t Cash In, but Isn’t Put Out About It

Money is the major difference between racing today and in the 1950s, when Juan Manuel Fangio won five world championships and 24 of the 51 Formula One races he entered, the Argentine driver said when interviewed during a stopover at Los Angeles International Airport.

Fangio, 80, regarded as the world’s greatest driver more than 30 years after his retirement in 1958, was en route to Monterey, where he will be honored this weekend during the 18th Monterey Historic Automobile Races at Laguna Seca Raceway.

It will be the first time an individual, rather than a marque such as Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz or Maserati, will be honored.

“Today, winning one world championship will make you financially set for life,” he said through an interpreter. “I won five world championships, and I’m still working.

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“Sponsorships are a key to more money in the sport. When I raced, sponsorship meant that I wore a company hat, and that company would offer such things as free oil--a high quality, costly racing oil--or competition tires, but nothing else. Certainly no money, and often this agreement meant we would have to give the winning trophy to the company.

“Today, though, sponsorships mean big money for the drivers and race teams. Also tied into this is the fact that racing in general receives more coverage than ever, with satellite television carrying racing events around the world. Yet I have no regrets, and do not necessarily wish I was racing today instead. It is just a matter of circumstances.”

Fangio makes use of satellite TV in his hometown of Balcarce, Argentina, to watch his nephew, Juan Fangio II, racing in International Motor Racing Assn. Camel GTP events. The senior Fangio has never seen young Juan race in person--for a special reason.

“I am not a fan of having family at races, for it interferes with the driver’s concentration,” he said. “When I raced, I did not like to have any family at the events. It was too much of a distraction. I still believe in that, and would not want to distract Juan II during competition.

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“I follow his career very closely via radio and television and I also talk to him frequently by telephone. However, I have never attended one of his races in person. During his childhood, young Juan was into racing anything from bicycles to go-karts and I also let him drive my (street) cars on occasion. Juan was born with the instinct for competitive driving and everything he has accomplished has been his own doing.

“During his first race in America (in Miami in 1984), I told Dan Gurney to keep an eye on Juan II, for he had great potential. Dan was very impressed and it eventually led to Juan’s place on Dan’s Toyota GTP race team.”

Juan II drove Gurney’s Toyota to its first GTP victory last year, and last July 28 won in Gurney’s newest Eagle MKIII prototype at Portland, Ore.

Fangio also noted that his sport is much safer today.

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“During my 10 years of competition in Europe, 30 drivers died racing,” he said. “Today, however, there are many more safety elements--better brakes, improved balance in the cars, roll cages, many things. Progress is the key. A lot has changed, but the No. 1 priority is still winning.”

He sees Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian world champion, as a threat to break his record of five championships.

“Winning five world championships was no big deal to me,” he said. “I thought, ‘If I could do it, so could someone else.’ I am a bit surprised that the record has stood so long. Right now, Senna is the fastest out there, and he will most likely break the record. He was won three already, and is only 31. I was 37 when I began competing. He, along with Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost, are the best in Formula One. All three are capable of surpassing my record.”

Motor Racing Notes

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MIDGETS--Two of the tightest U.S. Auto Club points races in recent years will resume Saturday night at Ventura Raceway with a pair of western regional main events on the one-fifth mile oval. Defending champion Sleepy Tripp leads Robby Flock by eight points in the full midgets and Gary Schroeder of Burbank, Cory Kruseman of Ventura and Frank Deiny Jr. of Burbank are separated by only eight points in TQs.

MOTOCROSS--Georges Jobe, a Honda rider from Belgium, clinched the world 500cc championship with a second-place finish last Sunday in Luxembourg. The U.S. Grand Prix, final race of the season, is scheduled for Aug. 25 at Glen Helen Park in San Bernardino, where Jobe will be challenged by Supercross champion Jean-Michel Bayle of France and Redondo Beach, and U.S. riders such as Jeff Ward, Damon Bradshaw and Ron Lechien, the 1989 USGP winner. Bayle is also the U.S. 250cc outdoor champion and last week won the opening round of the 500cc outdoor series.

Team Kawasaki’s Jeff Matiasevich suffered a broken right thighbone during qualifying for the first round of the U.S. 500cc series last Sunday in Milleville, Minn., and will be out of action for the rest of the year.

STOCK CARS--Lance Hooper will attempt to expand his lead in the Winston Racing Series sportsman division Saturday night at Saugus Speedway. Hooper leads Gary Sigman, 322-286. Also at Saugus, there will be free stunt shows tonight and Aug. 22 when stuntman Spanky Spangler will attempt the “Daredevil Challenge” for a Fox Television Network series. There is no admission charge.

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Ventura Raceway will hold a special program Sunday of oval and Figure 8 racing plus a demolition derby as part of the Ventura County Fair. . . . NASCAR sportsman cars will race Saturday night at Cajon Speedway. . . . Orange Show Speedway will feature a destruction derby, train races and bomber championship Saturday night in San Bernardino. . . . The Skoal Bandit late-model and modified series will resume Saturday night at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield. . . . Dirt cars will race Saturday night at Santa Maria Speedway.

SPEEDWAY BIKES--Three more American riders--Kelly Moran, Sam Ermolenko and Ronnie Correy--will attempt to join Billy Hamill of Monrovia in the World Speedway Final when they ride in a semifinal Sunday in Abensberg, Germany. Eight of the 18 entrants will advance to the final. Hamill won a semifinal round last Sunday in Rovno, Soviet Union, defeating three-time world champion Hans Nielsen of Denmark and defending world champion Per Jonsson of Sweden. Dates of the two semifinals were reversed on information provided by the American Motorcyclist Assn.

Glen Helen Speedway will hold a pre-USGP night next Wednesday with five-time world champion Roger DeCoster making an appearance in conjunction with his promotion of the weekend motocross nearby. The program will include New Zealand sidecars as well as speedway racing.

POWER BOATS--Eight national championship boats, some capable of speeds of 140 m.p.h., will compete Aug. 24-25 at Long Beach Marine Stadium in conjunction with the revival of the Long Beach Sea Festival. Featured will be the Formula One, or “champ boats,” driven by defending national champion Scott Gillman of Orange and former water ski champions Craig Wendt of Huntington Beach and Greg Foster of Orange.

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