The Return Of The Batmobile

HAMMOND, IN: While attending the on-track premiere of the new Dallara DW12 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on April 4, one thought kept reoccurring; there’s something strangely familiar about this all-new IndyCar. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it but, finally, it came to me.

We had already seen photo’s of the new DW12, and had watched it perform on TV at St. Pete and Barber Motorsports Park. We had heard the comments that this new Dallara looked too much like a “sports car”, complete with fenders and full sidepods, to be viewed as a “real” Indy Car. We heard the opinions that this new racer was “just too different” from what Indy Cars were “supposed to look like” to be taken seriously.

Oh, really?

More than thirty years ago, there was a car entered at Indy that bore a striking resemblance to the 2012 DW12 in many ways. It competed in the 1981 & 1982 Races, and was nicknamed the “Batmobile” around Gasoline Alley. The unique, one-off racer was built for Ted Field, the somewhat mysterious, wealthy heir to Chicago’s Marshall-Field fortune. Originally designed to house a Porsche flat-eight engine, it finally appeared with Cosworth-powered. The car was call an “Interscope”: the name of Field’s racing team. The driver would be Field’s buddy, the Flyin’ Hawaiian himself, Danny Ongias.

The “Batmobile’s” first Race in 1981 proved to be a full-blown disaster. After qualifying a spectacular third fastest overall in time trials, things went terribly wrong on Race Day. Following a Lap 64 pit stop, the Batmobile snapped out of control in turn 3, hitting the wall nearly head-on, destroying itself, and leaving the critically injured Ongias basically sitting on the race track with his broken legs visible to all. It’s a haunting image which most of us have see, I’m sure.

After a lengthy recovery, Danny Ongias was ready to try again, and a new Batmobile was prepared for the 1982 Race. Apparently identical to the previous year’s original, the new car appeared to be running well, and Danny qualified strongly for the ninth starting position. In the Race, things seemed to be going well and, running easily in the top five, Danny Ongias and his Batmobile appeared to be in a good position to prove the worth of the radical design. But, just as the previous year, turn three provided the downfall, as Ongias hit the wall on lap 62 in nearly the same spot as 1981. Happily, Danny was able to walk away this time, but it was the end of the line for the Interscope “Batmobile”. The “car of the future” was quietly retired.

This May, if someone at the Speedway tries to tell you that the 2012 Dallara DW12 is “just too different looking” to be an real Indy Car, you might want to mention that, thirty-one years ago, the same basic design was screaming around the old Brickyard. Upon first seeing the Interscope Batmobile in 1981, I remember thinking that, someday, this was the way all Indy Cars would probably look. And, after the test of the new Dallara DW12 on April 4th, it appears that it’s really true that everything old is new again.

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