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THE RACE ISSUE

When the green flag falls at the Brickyard Sunday, 1994's four notable racing deaths will doubtless remain in the minds of the 33 drivers, including two generations of racing Andrettis, pole-sitter and 1992 winner Al Unser Jr.--whose esteemed father, Al Sr., winner of four Indys, retired last week--the late Ayrton Senna's fellow Brazilians, Emerson Fittipaldi and Raul Boesel, and Lyn St. James, just the second woman to compete at Indy, starting boldly in the second row. They may think about the year's racing tragedies, even about the 37 drivers who have been killed at the Brickyard itself. But those thoughts are not likely to last long: For one thing, Indy is too fast a game for that.

Is it also too dangerous? Consider. If the absence of danger were a priority, would Dennis Byrd of the New York Jets have ever stepped onto the gridiron? Would Muhammad Ali have taken off his robe and danced toward glowering Joe Frazier? Investing in the stock market is dangerous, too. So is driving to the supermarket with half-blind Uncle Arnold at the wheel of his Ford Taurus. Getting married is dangerous. But when Nigel Mansell aims his race car down the 240-mile-an-hour front stretch at Indy, it's dangerous within limits. Because Nigel Mansell is not you or me--he has the steely nerve and lightning-quick reflexes to transform each blinding trip around the oval from a deathly hazard into a work of art. The rest of us should enjoy such odds boarding Amtrak.

Is motor racing legitimate? Consider. Is chasing a little white dimpled ball over hill and dale legitimate? That's right--it doesn't have to be. How about throwing a big brown inflated thing through a steel ring? Or punishing a cowhide sphere with a wooden stick?

Consider. When John Elway steps up into the pocket and coolly scans his downfield receivers even as four or five runaway beer trucks wearing Los Angeles Raiders uniforms come crashing through the line at him, does he ask himself if what he does for a living is legitimate?

May the fallen athletes of motor racing rest in peace. May the others drive on for the skill and beauty and reward in it. And may the crowds--not bloodthirsty barbarians at all, but connoisseurs of the belief that human beings can tame their beasts--enjoy a beautiful day at the races.

Lady and gentlemen, start your engines! And Godspeed.

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