My last year at St. Mary’s I took on a job as the copy editor of Lafayette Magazine and as such found myself in possession of a couple of press passes which enabled me to gain access to the garage area in the infield of the Indianapolis 500. Father Timmerman, one of the parish’s priests, was a big fan of racing so I invited him to join me on a Saturday morning to visit the track to watch time trials.
When we made our entrance through the infield stands the first thing we saw was a lone tire rolling down the main stretch near the finish line followed by a car driven by Gary Bettenhaunsen whose right axle gave rise to a stream of sparks as it scraped along the asphalt next to the outer wall.
We sat in the stands for an hour or so watching a half dozen drivers take their cars out for dry runs and then I suggested we make our way to the garage area. Along the way we passed Mark Donohue’s crew standing and talking in the pits. Father Timmerman stood there for a couple of seconds with a smile on his face.
“What’s up,” I asked.
“That car is going to win,” Father said putting special emphasis on the word ‘that.’
“Why do you say that,” I asked.
“Just a feeling,” he confided. “Makes me wish Clifford was here,” he said.
We gave one another a knowing smile. It was a rare day Fr. Clifford would be seen without a racing form under his arm.
Anyway, we headed out for the garage area and almost immediately came upon a circle of fans watching Bob Braun’s television crew setting up for a live interview with Mario Andretti. At the time Braun was easily the most recognizable television and radio personality in the Midwest.
Bob and Mario stood center circle chatting while the crew went about its business and it was then that I took Fr. Timmerman by the elbow, pushed through a couple of rows of on lookers, and confidently approached the two of them.
“Mario, I’d like you to meet Fr. Timmerman,” I said with a raised and familiar tone of voice.
“Good morning, Father,” he said with a gracious smile.
The two of them exchanged pleasantries before I interrupted.
“Who’s your friend?” I asked.
“Oh, this is Bob Braun,” he said adding “he’s got a show out of Cincinnati.”
Bob smiled and reached out to shake our hands as well. Again, the three of them engaged in a few more meaningless pleasantries before we were interrupted by one of Braun’s crew members.
“Well, Father, I guess we have to go,” I said.
Shaking hands a final time and biding one another adieu, we exited through the ring of envious observers. As we walked down pit alley Father thought to ask. “You didn’t tell me you knew Mario Andretti.”
“That’s because until a few seconds ago, I’d never met the man,” I said with a proud grin.
“No way,” he said laughing aloud.
Looking back, what really made the day memorable was that Mark Donohue actually won the Indy 500 that year driving the very car Fr. Timmerman had singled out.