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Monday, May 21, 2001
Updated: May 22, 12:03 PM ET
The 500: "Gentlemen, Start Your Coffins!"

By Jim Murray
Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: This column originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on May 29, 1966.

On Monday, Memorial Day, 33 of the fastest car drivers in the world will be roaring around Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But what you are watching is not to be construed as a race. It is, instead, just a test drive of a lot of new 1966 models. It says so right in their publicity.

Indy, in short, is just a proving ground for a lot of stock 1966 Lola Fords, and we take you now to the Speedway where the announcer is explaining the new rules to the crowd.

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 50th annual Memorial Day Safety Contest, the world's fastest traffic jam. This year, in order to more nearly approximate road conditions on our nation's highways and test performance under authentic hazards, we have brought about several changes in the field:

"The driver in Car No. 4 -- the Schenley Special -- will be drunk. The driver in Car. No. 5 will just have had a fight with his wife. The driver in Car No. 7 will be color blind, the driver in Car No. 11 will have an IQ of 12 or exactly 490 points below his horsepower. The driver in Car No. Zero will have his arm around a girl and 19 traffic citations for reckless driving. He will be called upon to light her cigarette at 195-miles-per-hour.

Car No. Blank will have no brakes. We are keeping the number secret because we want it to come as a surprise to the driver. Car No. 13 will have 14 teenagers and 9 surfboards in it and will have bald tires and a burned out clutch. It will, however, have a souped-up engine, too, and the teenagers will be instructed to throw pop bottles into the path of oncoming cars at stated intervals. They will also have the radio on too loud to hear sirens. Car No. 70 will have two little old ladies from Pasadena.

"Now, ordinarily, for test like these, automotive research uses articulated dummies to study crash effects, but today instead of articulated dummies we're using race drivers. Gentlemen, start your coffins!"

We take you now to the pit where Floorboard Finnegan is pulling in for his first consultation with Fender Slapper, the head of sales and design:

From Sextet to Trio

Fender: "How'd she go, Floorboard, optionals work OK?"

Floorboard: "Well, the stereo sticks. "The Sextet from Lucia turned into a trio. But, listen Boss we're going to have to recall all the stock Lola Fords on the highway. The door sticks."

Fender: "Tut, tut. Never mind the incidentals. How were the ashtrays? How was the mileage?"

Floorboard: "Excellent. I get 143 feet to the gallon."

Fender: "And the breaks?"

Floorboard: "Oh fine. At 195 m.p.h., you got a stopping disance of 21½ miles. Unless, of course, you're on a hill when it's 41½ miles. If you're going to Chicago you better start stopping about at Hammond, Ind. But, Boss, do you think you should have the gas pedal and brake on the same pedal?"

Fender: "We're advertising it as putting the thrill back in driving. Where's leadfoot in our new Ocelot Sports Schmorts Special?"

Floorboard: "Burned on the backstretch."

Fender (slapping forehead): "Oy! How can we use that in the ad campaign?"

Floorboard (helpfully): "Well, you could say, 'Our new Ocelot burns faster 2-to-1 than our nearest competitior.'"

Fender: "Never mind, Headlights OK?"

Floorboard: "For spotting airplanes. The only time they focus on the ground is when you're cartwheeling."

Fender: "How about the automatic transmission?"

Floorboard: "Well, it's okay, except I never did get as far as 'L' in the alphabet school. I have to guess between 'P' and 'R.' I'm the first guy to take the parade lap backward. Also, the clock on the dashboard is an hour slow."

Fender: "Well, the color. Do you care for the color charcoal green?"

Floorboard (shuddering): "Please don't mention that color around a race track, Boss."

Fender: "Green?"

Floorboard: "No, charcoal."

Fender: "Well, Floorboard, out you go. Check the glove compartment and the bass on the radio this time. Does it work?"

Floorboard: "Oh, fine, Boss. I keep the ball game on (firing up). Hey, fellas, which one of these letters stands for 'Drive'?"

This column originally appeared in The Los Angeles Times. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Jim Murray, the long-time sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1990. He died Aug. 16, 1998.