Maybe it's something in the water,
or in the air. But Indianapolis native Chris MacAllister is a walking
billboard for the nurture vs. nature debate and has his hometown to
thank. "As a kid, I went to my first Indianapolis 500 when I was nine,
so I became a race fan early on. I followed Formula One as a kid,"
recalls MacAllister. "Jimmy Clark was my hero -- still is. I've got a
scapbook full of old newspaper cuttings and tickets and pictures and
stuff like that."
In Indianapolis, the 500 is more
than just a race -- with the parades, parties, decorations, extensive
news coverage, and tons of out of town spectators, there's a touch of
that other extravaganza, Mardi Gras. It's what all Indianapolis kids cut
their teeth on -- MacAllister's school used to take field trips to
Indianapolis Motor Speedway to watch pre-race practicing. "Everybody
should go to the Indianapolis 500 mile race once in their life. The
start is one of the great moments in sports. It's hair tingling even
today, after I've been since '65, my first year. I haven't missed one.
And every year, the start makes the hair stand up on the back of my
neck. It's really a great event."
MacAllister can find whatever he
needs for his 1976 ex-Niki Lauda Ferrari 312 T2 Formula One on
Indianapolis's Gasoline Alley. "There's a cottage industry that's grown
up supporting the racing teams. So if you're running your own cars
you've got the carbon fiber people here, fabricators, machinists,
hardware places that sell aircraft nuts and bolts, engine builders, wind
tunnels," says MacAllister. (The street was originally called "Roena,"
but with so many resident race teams dubbing it "Gasoline Alley," the
city formally changed the name.)
A Ball State graduate in business
and finance, MacAllister provided some sponsorship for the Indy effort
of one company that has done work for him, Beck Motorsports. Beck cars
ran decals for MacAllister Machinery Company -- a heavy equipment
distributorship for Caterpillars, bulldozers, motorgraders, and engines
founded by MacAllister's grandfather -- and Beck reciprocated with a crew
position in 1998 and 2000. MacAllister says, "I was kind of a flunky
that held the stop sign so the car knew where to stop when he came into
the pits. And I hauled the air hoses over the wall when the tire guys
were done putting the wheels on. No big money, and no big glamorous
position, either. It was nice to be a participant rather than a
spectator." Dennis Vittolo was the 1998 driver and Hadeshi Matsuda was
the driver in 2000. "We finished both times, which was good. But we were
not up there in the running."
MacAllister started racing
motocross as soon as he got his drivers license. "I loved it. World's
toughest sport, they used to call it. I won a lot of races. Lived,
breathed, ate, dreamt and slept motocross from the time I was 15. I was
consumed by it. Race on Sunday, ride on Saturday, ride after school.
Really, to this day, that period was the highlight of my life. It was
fast and it was reckless and it was fun." However, after ten years of
competition (not to mention three broken collarbones, a broken wrist,
and a separated shoulder) he was a relic. "If you fall too many times
and you get old, you lose that fearlessness and that sense of
invulnerability. You slow down and the younger kids beat you. Ten years
was a good run and it was time to move on."
At the same time he motocrossed,
he also dabbled in gymkhana autocrossing with his first car, a Datsun
240Z. When he quit motorcycles, he decided to put his energy into auto
racing. He restored an AC Cobra and did some gymkhana autocrossing with
it and then in 1983, started vintage racing a GT40 which he still owns.
Four years later, MacAllister
joined the ranks of Vintage Formula One racers with an ex-Denis Hulme,
ex-Peter Revson 1971 McLaren M19 A/C, winner of the South African Grand
Prix. "It was fun to have it because it was a hell of a lot better than
anything else I'd ever driven. It's a fairly recognizable car, one of
the last of the front radiator cars." MacAllister recently sold it to
David Clark of England, who ran a Brabham Alfa Romeo with Historic Grand
MacAllister currently campaigns a
Ferrari T2, chassis #026 -- the car Niki Lauda ran in 1976, save for the
nearly tragic German Grand Prix at Nurburgring. Four weeks after the
fiery crash, Lauda was back in #026, finishing a point behind James Hunt
in the drivers championship. Lauda also drove the car for part of 1977,
the season he won his second championship (Ferrari won the constructor's
championship in '75, '76, and '77).
So what's it like to own the
three-time world champion's car? "It's pretty neat," says MacAllister, a
big fan of Formula One in the mid-'70s. "I went to Watkins Glen every
year to see the Grand Prix and Lauda was my favorite. He was the guy I
rooted for. I wasn't so much a Ferrari fan as I was a Lauda fan." When
he bought it from Bruce McCaw, all he needed to do was fix the battery
and get fitted with the right seat. "By the end of the weekend, I was as
comfortable in that car as I was in my McLaren that I'd had for fourteen
years. It really was in excellent condition."
As a longtime vintage Formula One
racer, MacAllister gives high marks to the Historic Grand Prix
organization. "When you drive a Formula One car, it's a lot more fun if
you drive with other Formula One cars. If you drive with sports cars or
Can Am cars, it's just not the same. Formula One cars are pretty
interesting and to follow them is just like watching them on TV. You
hear the sounds, you see the driveshafts. The Formula One guys have been
together for a long time, but HGP has really taken it to a different
But the cars are not the group's
only attraction for MacAllister. "You talk to anybody, they'll loan you
anything you need. They're not so serious that you can't go out and have
a beer together after the race. It's a good camaraderie. The group
brings them together."
This September, MacAllister
finally got the chance to actually drive on the Indianapolis Speedway,
running with Historic Grand Prix in the support race for the Formula One
event. "The sea of people was pretty impressive. It was kind of neat to
be out there on the track in front of all those people. The Speedway is
very, very smooth, the smoothest racetrack I've ever been on. It's
fairly wide and the turns are broad, at least on the oval." He was
amazed at how big a "crowd pleaser" the Ferrari was. "It drew a lot more
people than my McLaren, which was there as well. Of course, it has a lot
more successful history."
Last year, MacAllister achieved
another dream -- he raced the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The opportunity came
about when MacAllister just happened to run into his insurance agent in
London who just happened to know of a team that needed drivers for Le
Mans. "It was pure fate. Just came right out of the blue."
Unfortunately, his race was cut short when a teammate crashed their 2000
Porsche 911 in the fifth hour (it rained 22 hours out of 24). "I was
sorely disappointed to have so little race time before the car went out,
but I still look back at the whole experience very positively and very
fondly. It's really a lifelong dream. I always wanted to race at Le
Mans. I didn't do well, so I've got to go back."
MacAllister compares Le Mans to
Indianapolis. "It's an event. Indianapolis is much more than a race and
Le Mans is the same way. You have people from all over Europe who've
been coming for years and their parents came. They camp out at the track
and cook out and they're knowledgeable about racing, and they stay up
all night long. It's really different from the U.S. I really enjoyed
it." HGP's James King went there with him -- "He was kind of my fan
club," says MacAllister.
He says the 8+ mile track was very
fast. "The big cars are over 200 mph three different times a lap. There
are a couple of very tight turns that give it a lot of interest. Flat
out a lot of the way, you're just pedal to the metal." MacAllister
admits to a couple of spins, but managed to miss hitting anything. "I
found the limit, exceeded the limit a couple of times, and scared myself
a couple of times. I spun it in a couple of the chicanes so you're
slowed way down and there's a lot of runoff there. You wouldn't want to
spin in some of the faster areas."
Being in one of the slower cars on
the track was a new experience for MacAllister. "The big boys were
passing me 50 miles per hour faster than I was going. It was kind of
nerve wracking. You're looking in your mirror all the time. I'm not used
to that. The Porsche was somewhat anticlimactic because it's not as fast
as any of my cars, but it's a good car to learn how to drive at night
and drive in the rain and drive that circuit. That's the place to start,
with a modest car rather than right up there at the top with the big
boys." MacAllister is hoping to get another shot at it this year and is
waiting to hear if his team gets chosen by the Le Mans organizers.
In the meantime, there's another
Indy 500 coming up. MacAllister brings his two children, Alex and
Laurel, to the race just as his father used to bring him. MacAllister's
wife, Sharon, has always been highly supportive of his racing, beginning
with the motocross days when she used to come to every event. "We
planned our honeymoon and wedding around the British Grand Prix," says
MacAllister. "We wanted to go to Scotland, our family seat, for our
honeymoon and we planned the wedding to take in the British Grand Prix."
"I do five or six races a year,
usually. I try to keep it in perspective as a hobby. It's not an
avocation. My job gets in the way of my hobby a lot, but I remember that
the job pays for the hobby." MacAllister's other hobbies relate to
racing. He collects and restores vintage dirt bikes and pickup trucks.
He enjoys spectating at different kinds of racing -- boats, airplanes,
even tractor pulls. "I figured cars would last about ten years and then
I'd move on to airplanes, but this is my 19th season with cars and I'm
not moving on to airplanes. I'm having more fun with cars."