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'Car Talk' Brothers Race for Arthritis Foundation

By Daniel C. Stevenson
News Editor

Much to their chagrin, radio personalities and brothers Raymond F. Magliozzi '72 and Thomas L. Magliozzi '58 finished dead last in a mini grand prix held Saturday on MIT grounds to benefit the Arthritis Foundation.

The brothers host a nationally-syndicated public radio talk show called "Car Talk." On the show, the two "wisecracking mechanics joke around and answer people's questions about their cars and anything else that comes up," according to Doug Burman, the show's executive producer.

"We was robbed," Tom Magliozzi joked about the race. "I think we came in second and they miscounted laps and they said we were a lap behind," he said. "The race was fixed."

Twenty-two different Boston-area businesses and organizations, including Bertucci's Pizza, Gulf Oil, and the Westin Hotel, each paid $4,000 to sponsor a car in the race, according to Bill Turner, director of development for the Arthritis Foundation.

Over $75,000 was raised after expenses, making the race "very successful," Turner said. Because of the success, the mini grand prix will become an annual fundraising event, he said.

The race took place at University Park, a residential and industrial development area near Central Square, which is owned by MIT. The Institute and Forest City Development, which is leasing and developing the property, gave approval for the use of the land, according to Sarah E. Gallop, assistant for government relations in the president's office.

National Public Radio affiliate WBUR 90.9 FM sponsored the Car Talk car, driven at different times during the four heats of the race by the Magliozzi brothers, their wives, and Burman.

Wellington Management placed first overall, followed by Bertucci's Pizza and Auto Palace, Turner said. The Car Talk team won the "consolation heat," which was between the 11 lowest finishers in the other heats, he said.

Heap' lost at pit stop

Tom Magliozzi drove the "Official Car Talk Heap" for the first leg of the first heat. "Tommy is our secret weapon," said his brother Ray. Tom would be using his "in-depth knowledge of physics" he learned as a Course XXI major at MIT, Ray said.

During each 10-lap heat the cars had to make one pit stop. At the pit stop, each team had to make one tire change and also a driver change, according to the race rules.

When Tom pulled into the pit stop (after a signal of "Pit this!" from his brother), he claimed he had been "passing the other drivers like crazy."

"I could smell victory," Tom said ecstatically.

"No, that's just your body odor," Ray responded in an exchange typical of the bantering on the radio show.

Although they were lagging behind in the first leg, Ray predicted the team would make up the time in the pit stop since the brothers were both experienced auto mechanics. However, the Car Talk team took quite a long time to perform the required tire change. "We're losing time in the pit?" Tom asked. "This is supposed to be our area of expertise!"

"Driving the car was a blast," Tom said. While the cars only go about 20 miles per hour, "going around those curves feels like 100 mph," Tom said.

One goal of the Car Talk team during the race was to "test the theory of relativity" to see "that if we go faster, the car gets shorter," Burman said.

On their show, the brothers often comment very frankly on the cars of their callers. As for the cars in the mini grand prix, "these are real junks," Ray said. "We had to bend the frame to get it working" because one of the wheels was off the ground, he said.

Creatively decorated car

The Car Talk team made the most of every opportunity to exercise their wry wit, including the design of the car. According to the decorations, the "Heap" was powered exclusively by "Felippo Borio Extra Virgin Olive Oil," with fuel injection from "Kevorkian Motors."

A bumper sticker read "My other car is a '63 Dodge Dart," an allusion to a perennial joke on the brothers' radio show about Tom's favorite automotive lemon. The drivers sported helmets labeled "Official Car Talk Crash Dummy." A sign reading "Caution! Stay Back! Student Driver" was attached to the back of the car.

Emerson Fittibaldie's Hair Club for Men, a purported underwriter for the radio talk show, provided "convertible hardtops" for the car. The Tappet Brothers Capital Depreciation Fund, another sponsor of the show, provided "2-Speed Reverse Funding."

Dewey, Chetham, and Howe Motorsports were the primary sponsors of the car; the Motorsports building is also the headquarters of the radio show. (Hint: Say the names Dewey, Chetham, and Howe out loud a couple of times to get the joke.)

Sponsors support good cause

The race is a "fun event to get involved in," said Jay Clayton, marketing director for WBUR. "It ties into the fun nature of Car Talk," he said.

"We're glad to be supporting a good cause," Ray Magliozzi said. The Arthritis Foundation is projecting that by the year 2020, more than 59 million Americans will suffer from some form of arthritis, he said. "That's one in every six people more people than suffer from my brother's disease: stupidity."

The mini grand prix is "really a great way to raise money," Tom said. "Everybody had fun."

"It's such a good organization for us to support and also gain some exposure" said the event manager for the Bertucci's Pizza team. Bertucci's won pre-race awards for the fastest tire change and most creative design.

The mini grand prix is "unique in that it links corporate giving to creative fundraising," according to John Nord, chief executive officer of ASB Meditest which sponsored two cars. Nord also served as race chairman.

Mini grand prix races are becoming very popular, according to Rick Hiland, regional executive for the Sports Car Club of America. The SCCA oversaw the design of the race course and officiated the event.

The race course has "a couple of places where it could get interesting," said Fred White of the SCCA, who helped design the course. While most race courses are 1.5 to 2 miles long, the University Park track was only half a mile long, White said.

SCCA officials were primarily concerned with safety, Hiland said, especially people walking in front of cars or drivers crashing into the hay bales and tires that defined the boundary.

Several streets were closed off for the race. "For years I've been trying to get the City of Cambridge to close the streets whenever my brother drives, and now, thanks to the Arthritis Foundation, they're finally doing it," Tom said.