One of the official pace cars of the 73rd Indianapolis 500 blew through Utah last week. It's understandable if you missed it. With a 3.8 liter turbocharged engine under the hood churning out 250 raging ponies, it doesn't stay in one place very long.
On the other hand, you'd know it if you saw it. The car, a 20th anniversary Pontiac Trans Am GTA, is all-white with gold component wheels and "Official Pace Car 73rd Indianapolis 500 - May 28, 1989" emblazoned on the doors. It might as well say "Arrest me, officer, for surely I am in violation of all known speed laws."As a matter of fact, the Pontiac representative who brought the car from Los Angeles was busted just outside of Manti (he was taking the "fun" route).
The Utah Highway Patrol trooper who pulled him over gave him the benefit of the doubt and wrote him up for a paltry 101 mph. The local justice of the peace said "$250 please."
Then the judge listened to the Pontiac guy's sad story - he couldn't possibly have been going more than 85 etc. etc., - and split the difference. For $90 our hero could climb back in his nice white car and continue on his way to Salt Lake City - cash, please, no checks or credit cards.
Meeting the car in Salt Lake was Pontiac Motor Sports representative Randy Fox whose duty it was to shuttle the car on its next leg to Denver. Pontiac has built 1,500 pace cars, one of which will actually lead the race. Last week, three of them started out from various points around the United States and wended their way across the country in stages, eventually ending up at the Brickyard.
Along the way, the automotive press - of which this writer likes to count himself a part-time member - was allowed to climb behind the wheel and find out what it's like to drive a real car. The kind of car they built back in the '60s when gasoline was two-bits a gallon. The kind of car that pins you to the seat and makes the blood drain from your head when you depress the go pedal to its extremity.
Have you ever ridden Montezuma's Revenge at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif.? That's the kind of pull-your-teeth-out acceleration this little bomb gives you. Without admitting to any misdemeanors during my stint at the wheel, I will tell you that the car doesn't chicken out at 120 mph, the driver does. The car still wants to boogey.
Is there an insurance company out there that would write a policy on this monster? Maybe, after they got through laughing. But you can bet the premium would be enough to buy two Hondas, a Toyota and a pair of tickets to the Indy 500.
No matter, says Fox. There are macho folks out there who will ante up whatever the tariff - the car alone, never mind insurance, is $30,000 - to have one of only 1,500 of the baddest set of wheels in town.
Incidentally, the car that came through Utah just happened to be equipped with a Whistler radar detector. Being a prudent, law-abiding motorist, it was my first experience seeing one in action. They should probably be standard equipment in Pace Car Trans Ams. Even so, I am quite sure that the future owners of these cars will take leave of their driver's licenses within six months of taking possession of their new cars.
According to Fox, this will be the third year that Pontiac has had pace car honors at the Indy 500 since 1980. He noted that the Trans Am is not a hybrid vehicle, designed only to pace the race. Nor is it modified in any way to reach the required speed of 140 mph or so as it leads off the thundering horde.
He said the three cars required for the Speedway will be picked at random and then be fitted with the required safety lights. End of modifications.
All of the pace cars will be fitted with badges denoting their special status and each proud new owner will be given a compete set of official Indianapolis 500 Pace Car decals, identical to those used on the actual pace car, that he or she may affix to the car as they see fit.
Personally, I'd leave them off. This car attracts enough attention as it is without advertising one's outlaw status. I suspect that somewhere out there the nation's highway patrol troopers are already forming a pool to be awarded to the first of their number to bag a big white Trans Am Pace Car.
Too bad, guys, Utah beat you to it.