If you’re wonderingwhere the hell that “seemingly dazed” man at Pimlico came from— the one who jumped onto homestretch of the seventh race on Preakness Day, and into the path of several oncoming thoroughbreds— look no further than the oversized frat party that took place on the infield section of Maryland’s fabled oval.
There, an estimated 60,000 blue-collar Baltimoreans served as the antithesis to the silk-clad, martini-sipping millionaires in the track’s private boxes. For $20 a ticket, which could be gotten at local Amoco stations, regular Joes not only got in for the races, they gained admission to the Preakness Perfecta Body Classic (a bikini contest for men and women), a couple of comedy sets, and an all-day beer binge/naked fest. Given the level of sheer chaos, it’s a wonder only one person wandered onto the track. As one twentysomething Baltimoron said of the infield event, “It’s a valid excuse to get drunk, I guess.”
The world of auto racing has seen a few women drivers before— very few— but never one even remotely like Terri O’Connell. Not by a long shot. That’s one reason Maer Roshan, feature editor at New York magazine, threw a party at the Globe last Friday night to introduce Ms. O’Connell to members of the press. The other is that he and Joe Dolce, former editor of Details, are trying to option the movie rights for her life story— and what a story it is. [See the Voice, July 22, 1997.]
O’Connell, you see, used to be J.T. Hayes, a young man born into a Mississippi racing family. Hayes began racing go-carts at age 10, graduating to midget cars in his teens, and then moving on to sprint cars. He amassed over 300 victories before qualifying for NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series. After running one Winston Cup race in 1990, however, J.T. walked away from a promising future in auto racing to undergo a sex realignment operation. After living in anonymity for a number of years, O’Connell is now poised to resume her racing career.
It has not been easy, because her past record counts for nothing to the powers that be in motor sports. But car owner Junie Donlavey, who provided J.T.’s NASCAR ride, has agreed to let Terri have one. She is finalizing a sponsorship deal, and plans to get some seat time on the ARCA stock-car circuit and in the Indy Racing League. Her goal is to run in the Indy 500 on Memorial Day 2000. In addition to a film of her life, O’Connell pitched a book idea to a major publisher while in the city. Oh yeah, she also auditioned for a part on The Guiding Light. Stay tuned.
The Mets may be getting ready for this year’s International Week promotion, during which they “celebrate” a number of the city’s cultures at different home games, but they’re still embroiled in a controversy that arose from 1998’s multiculti affair.
Part of the gate receipts from last August’s Irish Night was earmarked for The Famine Ship Ltd., an Irish group aiming to restore the famine-era ship Jeanie Johnston. The game drew over 35,000 fans, and Jeff Cleary, the Famine Ship’s executive director, was expecting a windfall of at least $11,000. After a long wait, the charity finally received a check . . . for $855. Now Cleary is accusing the Mets of stiffing his group.
The agreement reached between the Mets and Famine Ship gave the charity a percentage of every ticket it sold for Irish Night— between $2 and $9, depending on the seat. Cleary said his group referred at least 1000 people to the Mets ticket counter. But when the time came for the group to get its cut, Cleary claims the Mets assumed a false position: our box office, our sales— and so Famine Ship was not credited for the tickets they sold.
“That’s incorrect,” counters Kit Geis, Mets’ director of marketing. “The small amount they did sell, they got credit for. They would have gotten even less if we went by the books. They sold virtually nothing.”
According to Cleary, the Mets have refused to open the books from Irish Night (Geis denies this), preventing him from finding out exactly how much Famine Ship was shortchanged. He estimates at least $10,000. “It could be $50,000— who knows?” he says. “It’s like ‘screw the Irish.’ ”
After several phone calls to the club went unreturned, Cleary has written to Mets owners Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon, demanding a meeting. For her part, Geis says that her antagonist is welcome to visit Shea anytime to discuss the alleged shortchanging. But as for more money: “This is over,” she says firmly. “We fulfilled our part of the bargain. It’s over.”
contributors: Howard Z. Unger, Michael Swindle, Eamon Lynch, Denise Kiernan, Ramona Debs
sports editor: Miles D. Seligman