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Ultimate Writing Machine

Times Staff Writer

Shav Glick is going to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

No, not to interview some famous race driver or car owner, although anyone in the Hall probably has been interviewed, at least once and probably more often, by Glick.

This time, Glick will be granting the interviews. He’s going to be enshrined as an inductee.

The Times’ longtime motorsports writer, Shavenau Glick -- “My mother didn’t give me a middle name, because she thought Shavenau was long enough” -- will be among the honored guests at the 16th annual induction ceremony July 29 at the State Theater in downtown Detroit. The Hall is in nearby Novi, Mich.

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As usual, Glick, one of the most respected racing journalists -- and certainly the best liked -- will be in fast company. The other inductees, announced Thursday, are Bobby Rahal, Bill France Jr., Joe Amato, Geoff Brabham, the late Don Vesco and the late Johnnie Parsons.

Rahal, winner of the 1986 Indianapolis 500 and a three-time national champion, is the open-wheel inductee. France, who succeeded his late father, Big Bill France, as president of NASCAR, the country’s most successful racing organization, is the stock car representative.

Amato, the drag racing honoree, is the NHRA’s only five-time top-fuel champion, and Brabham, son of three-time Formula One champion Sir Jack Brabham and a four-time champion in the International Motor Sports Assn.'s GTP series, is being inducted in the sports car category.

Vesco, a land-speed record setter in cars and motorcycles, is the motorcycle representative, and Parsons, 1950 Indy winner, won in the historic category.

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Voting was done by a panel of racing historians, journalists and previous inductees, the winners emerging after two rounds of voting, the first to pare the list of candidates to the finalists in each category.

Glick is going in as the at-large inductee, and he couldn’t be more pleased -- or surprised.

“What astonishes me is the list of people [already in the Hall] in my category -- Roger Penske, Tony Hulman, J.C. Agajanian ... " Glick said.

“I was shocked. When I first heard I was one of 35 nominees, I didn’t think it was a joke, but I didn’t think it was anything to think seriously about. I thought it was no chance. Then they had the cut to eight [in the at-large category], and I thought the best I would do would be sixth. Next thing you know, I got a phone call saying I was it.”

Penske has been one of the most influential men in racing for about three decades, Hulman bought a dilapidated Indianapolis Motor Speedway after World War II and built it into the world’s most recognized racetrack, and Agajanian was a West Coast racing legend, as a car owner and track operator-promoter.

Glick has been elegantly chronicling racing’s adventures, and misadventures, since 1969 and, at 83, shows no signs of stopping -- or even slowing down. No reason he shouldn’t be in there with those guys, and with Barney Oldfield, Sir Malcolm Campbell, Parnelli Jones, Mickey Thompson, Chris Economaki, Colin Chapman and 11 other bigger-than-life racing figures in that at-large group.

“When I got [auto racing] writer of the year [in conjunction with Johnny Rutherford’s being named driver of the year] in 1980, I thought that was the ultimate,” Glick said. “But this is far more than that.

“I look on it as a vote for [daily] newspaper people. I’m the first one, and I think I’m kind of a representative of all who went before me.”

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That’s a typical response from Glick, whose favorite race is “the one I’m covering,” and whose favorite character is “the one I’m interviewing.”

Go to any pressroom at any racetrack in the country and, if he’s there, Glick will be the most popular writer. Among readers, certainly, for his prose speaks for itself, but even more among other writers and team representatives. There is no end to the line of visitors who “need to talk to Shav.” And he has time for all of them, sometimes while he’s busy writing his story. Only seldom, after another 20-minute conversation, does he look up and quietly ask, “Who was that guy?”

Easygoing but always professional, he gets stories many other writers only dream about. And almost everyone returns his phone calls.

He was the first, for instance, to get former stock car driver Junior Johnson to open up about his young days as a bootlegger in North Carolina.

Typically, Glick was patient enough to let Johnson get to the point of the story at his own pace.

“I talked to him for an hour or more about lots of other things,” Glick said. “I try to know as much as possible about the person I’m interviewing, so I can lead into what I really want to know. I can ask the confrontational question, but not until we’ve already developed a dialogue.”

Getting the story is only half the job, though. Then comes the writing. For Glick, well ...

Here’s how he began that award-winning story of bootlegger-driver Junior Johnson:

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“Beneath thick stands of Carolina pine, past the sheds where the coon dogs howl, a brook tumbles out of the Brushy Mountains, bringing a refreshing coolness to the meadows of Ingle Hollow.

“The brook is nameless.

“ ‘It’s just a little ol’ stream,’ says the owner of the meadows. ‘Don’t recall its ever havin’ a name or nuthin’.’

“The brook deserves better. It and hundreds of other rivulets draining the Piedmont region of North Carolina should have historical markers that read:

“ ‘Here Lie the Headwaters of American Stock Car Racing.’

“For it was the water from these streams that went into the stills that made the whiskey that made the money to buy the cars that carried the whiskey. And it was the cars that carried the whiskey that the Good Ol’ Boys raced Sundays in vacant fields that caused Bill France to build his big ovals where the cars could race in front of paying people that made millionaires out of fearless Carolina boys from funny-sounding hamlets like Randleman, Timmonsville, Spartanburg and Ellerbe.”

Among sportswriters, the stick-and-ball crowd has a nickname for auto racing writers, gearheads, the implication being that such writers are frustrated mechanics.

Glick, though, is no gearhead. His writing is clear, uncluttered, understandable and, most of all, informatively entertaining. He doesn’t write about machines, he writes about the people involved with machines.

Perhaps that’s because he had a healthy sportswriting career behind him -- he’d covered nearly everything else but specialized in track and field and golf -- when he was assigned to write motorsports.

“I had no real background in racing,” Glick recalled, and for several years continued covering golf as well.

Eventually, though, major races and major golf tournaments began overlapping, and Glick was asked to choose one or the other.

“To the astonishment of my golfing friends, I took racing,” he said. “The reason was obvious to me: Racing people are the most interesting I’ve ever worked with.”

And now, three decades later, motorsports writer Shav Glick has won enough awards to clutter any mantelpiece, has a racing award named for him and has been voted into the Hall of Fame.

Glick is excited about this latest, greatest honor -- and he’s even more excited because he can cover an Indy car race at Michigan International Speedway, not far from Detroit, the weekend he’s being enshrined. So he’s really looking forward to that weekend in July. But then, Glick is always looking forward to something, to tomorrow and another race, another story, another column about the interesting people he meets in racing. He may be 83, but he acts like a kid of 70.

“I’m never going to retire,” he told dinner companions a few years ago.

“But if you retired, you could play golf every day,” one replied.

“I don’t want to play golf every day,” Glick said. “I want to play when I feel like it.”

And when he feels like it, watch out.

“He kicks my butt,” Times columnist T.J. Simers said. “He’s so consistent. You outdrive the guy by 20 or 30 yards and ... when you look up, he’s on the green, putting for par.”

So at least Simers knows how other motorsports writers feel.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Claim to Fame

2004 inductees for the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America:

SHAV GLICK

Award-winning motor racing writer, Los Angeles Times.

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BOBBY RAHAL

1986 Indy 500 winner and three-time national champ.

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BILL FRANCE JR.

President of NASCAR from 1972-2000.

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JOE AMATO

NHRA’s only five-time top-fuel champion.

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GEOFF BRABHAM

Four-time IMSA champion in GTP series.

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DON VESCO

Land-speed record-setter in cars and motorcycles.

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JOHNNIE PARSONS

Indy 500 winner in ’50; national driving champ in ’49.


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