Fastest field awaits green flag at Indy 500; tennis oddity; running on TV

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was supposedly built with an eye to the future. Visionaries of the early 1900s imagined that cars would someday race through Indy's curves at 110 mph or faster. Cars have far exceeded that, of course, and each year stretch our imaginations further.

This year, despite efforts to rein in the runaway speeds, Indianapolis has its fastest field ever. The average qualifying speed for the 33-car field, which takes the green flag Sunday, is 198.406 mph. (ABC-TV will show the race on a delayed basis Sunday evening, starting at 9 p.m., EDT.)

Due to restrictions placed on a car's aerodynamic design, reaching the record qualifying speeds of a year ago was expected to be a tricky business. The wings and aerodynamic pods that held ''ground effects'' cars to the track are now required to be at least one inch above the bottom of the chassis.

Before qualification attempts began this month, Rick Mears, a former Indy winner, said ''the new rules definitely give us an element of uncertainty. . . . 207 miles an hour looks a long way off.''

But Indy's mechanics worked their magic again, and rookie Teo Fabi of Italy, a veteran of other races, erased Mears' old qualifying mark with pole-sitting speed of 207.395 mph.

Fabi, a 5 ft. 5 in. former competitive skier, is only the second rookie to ever hold the inside, front-row position. In his limited English, he has promised to ''get the race off to a safe start.'' Last year a crash marred the pace lap.

Fabi isn't predicting the finish, but if it even vaguely resembles what happened 12 months ago, no one will complain. Gordon Johncock nosed out Mears by less than a second in the closest finish in the race's 66th running. Odd finish to marathon match

A most peculiar match point ended this year's World Championship Tennis (WCT) tournament in Dallas. The shot, hit by John McEnroe, went between the net and the net post before landing in Ivan Lendl's half of the court. Umpire Mark Cox ruled the shot good over Lendl's mild protest, thus awarding the longest final in WCT history to McEnroe, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6. (The previous WCT record for length was set in 1972, when Ken Rosewall outlasted Rod Laver in an unforgettable five-setter.)

Lendl, as it turns out, could have argued more vociferously at the conclusion of this year's final. To be legal, McEnroe's shot needed to pass on the outside of the net post. Ivan didn't pursue the issue, though, perhaps because of the rather hopeless situation - he was down 6-0 in the tiebreaker. Sitting on the opposite side of the court, Cox didn't really have the right angle to call the shot, but then again, he didn't have access to the slow-motion replay that showed the ball's unallowable air route. Running and television

Before this year's Boston Marathon, eventual winner Greg Meyer said distance running would be better served by taped, rather than live, television coverage. But while Meyer argued for televising just the meat of a race on a delayed basis , Fred Lebow, president of the New York Road Runners Club, expressed his preference for the immediacy that full, live coverage provides.

He is not unaware of the tedium involved in watching runners for two hours, but says it can be avoided by sprinkling in taped interviews and features, much as is done in padding out Kentucky Derby coverage. Of course, these insertions must be made at non-critical moments. Otherwise a key juncture can go unrecorded, as happened in Boston, when three local stations all missed Meyer's decisive move into the lead. Basketball Samaritan

Jack Twyman was enshrined at the Basketball Hall of Fame this month as a former player, but if there were a ''humanitarian'' category he would have qualified for that, too. In an inspiring example of brotherhood, Twyman, a white, came to the aid of disabled black teammate Maurice Stokes in the late 1950s. Jack served as Maurice's legal guardian for 12 years, and established an annual benefit basketball game at New York's Kutsher's resort to support Stokes.

Some people mistakenly assume the two were inseparable friends all along. Twyman, however, says a sense of duty was what originally compelled him to stick by his ailing Cincinnati Royal teammate when Stokes's problems began at the end of the 1958 season. The club had just been sold and all the other Royals were on their way home, leaving Twyman, the team's only Cincinnati resident, to lend a hand. As their lives became intertwined, the relationship grew in love and respect.

Twyman, a former ABC-TV commentator, still lives in Cincinnati and today is chairman of the board of Super Foods. The Royals, of course, left the city years ago. Shortsighted ownership, Jack feels, was largely to blame. ''When they traded Oscar (Robertson) and (Jerry) Lucas they stripped the franchise,'' he says. Lucas had attended Ohio State; Robertson, like Twyman, had played his college ball at the University of Cincinnati.

For Jack, the highlight of his 11-year pro career was not the 15,000 points he scored, but ''just being able to play the game everyday. I don't have a game that stands out.'' His enshrinement was all the more satisfying, since he was cut from his high school team three times before making it as a senior.

In July, the ''stubborn Dutchman'' will celebrate another achievement - the 25th anniversary of the Maurice Stokes Game. For despite Stokes's passing, the game continues to benefit ex-NBA players in need.

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