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Fri, 12 Oct 2001, 02:40 PM

Froscher's Forum
By Norm Froscher

Every so often it's fitting to take time to remember friends who are no longer with us and recall the wonderful times they shared with us.

That's why as I sit down on a beautiful October morning, I'm thinking about the late Jim Murray.

That's partly because the Jim Murray Memorial Golf Classic was to be Monday, Oct. 15 at Lakeside Golf Club in Toluca, Calif.

Arnold Palmer is the Honorary Chairman and the president/founder is Linda McCoy/Murray, Jim's widow.

But, who, in the world is Norm writing about, you drag racers may ask?

Who is Jim Murray and what did he drive?

Ask about any sports writer of about age 30 or perhaps even younger and you'll get your answer.

Jim Murray was to this generation of writers what Grantland Rice was to the previous. He was the Ernest Hemingway and W. Somerset Maugham of non-fiction magazine writers.

Indeed, when he was still writing for the Los Angeles Times, I used to make a weekly trip by the library to grab the Sunday paper off the rack and read Murray's column.

And about now you're saying so what type of auto racing did Murray write about?

Murray touched on it all, from Indy to drag racing, but actually racing wasn't his main subject.

I do recall when friend Steve Earwood, fairly new to NHRA's public relations ranks years ago, told me one of the goals he had set for himself early on was to get Murray to do a Los Angeles Times column on Shirley Muldowney.

He did.

Many Indy fans will remember Murray in a less fond manner, for he penned the line about the Indy 500 as "America's Earache". That made page one, not of the sports page, but of the newspaper.

"I had a love-hate relationship with auto racing," Murray pens in his autobiography. "I loved it. It hated me."

Murray said he didn't see how you could separate the sport from its danger quotient and call yourself a reporter

Indeed, he said that when he came on the racing scene it wasn't covered by journalists, it was a closed claque. Automotive writers were just an extension of the pit crew.

In his biography, Murray recalls meeting A. J. Foyt -- whom this writer always considered the male version of the afore mentioned Shirley Muldowney, or vice versa.

"I approached him just as he was excoriating his pit crew over some engine malfeasance or another. "We’re at work here," he snapped at me."

"What do you think I'm doing. You think I want to be here?"

Murray said he got along well with A.J. thereafter.

*** ***

My personal recollection of the longest time I spent in Murray's company is not a particularly happy one, becuse it ended with him in the hospital for eye surgery.

It was at Super Bowl XIII (have to be careful to use those roman numberals) down in Miami and as usual, the NFL was still trying to build up its image with the writers...put on cocktail parties, load them down with souvenirs from watches to brief cases so they would write nice things.

This was Saturday before the game, and so as the writers would not be bored, a day at the horse races at Gulfstream Park was scheduled and a chartered bus was at our swank hotel's front door waiting to take the writers to the race track.

Talking with Murray in the lobby, he told me he'd like to go, but had to run up to his room for something. Would I save him a seat on the bus, which was already over half-filled with lovers of the Sport of Kings?

No problem.

But Murray, who was hobbling on a twisted ankle, took longer than expected and I kept telling the driver to wait, despite the pleas of several writers, that we have one more coming.

Finally, here came Murray and sat down alongside me as the bus pulled away to the grumbling of several scribes.

"These guys wouldn't even blink at missing a copy deadline," he said, but you'd think they're fearing for their lives if they miss the daily double."

At the track, he complained of having trouble with a sandwich he was served. He said it looked like there were red worms on it.

So at the urging of several companions, he went to the track's first aid station, while I held on to his daily double ticket, which was the least of his worries.

It was later that day Murray was diagnosed with a torn retina and had to undergo surgery while missing Super Bowl XIII, probably the best, up to that point.

*** ***

Yes, I think about Murray frequently, not only as a friend, but especially as a writer.

When going to talk to John Force, I've frequently run through my mind, "What would Murray ask" and "How would Murray write this."

Every now and then, I wonder how he would treat other situations, such as Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and his owning two, actually three, different teams.

What would his one-on-one with Whit Bazemore be like?

Would he compare Angelle Savoie with Shirley, or who?

Indeed, when Kenny Bernstein broke the 300 mile-an-hour barrier here at Gainesville Raceway, I paced up and down behind the press room several minutes pondering what would be my lead.

For Murray, it would have taken only a few seconds.

And it would have lasted one heck of a lot longer than anything I penned.

Thanks, God, for letting us have Jim Murray and I hope You chose to smile on that charity golf tournament, which helps raise funds for journalism scholarships.

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