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ITALY’S AUTONOMOUS Regione Siciliana has a rich Greek, Roman, Arabic, Norman, Spanish and Italian history—and a wonderful cuisine that reflects all these. It also has the Piccolo Madonie, one of the circuits about 40 miles southeast of Palermo used in the famed Targa Florio road race.
The first Targa Florio was run in 1906; it continued, on and off, as a genuine open road race until 1973. More recently, it has been a rally as well as a retrospettiva event for classic cars.
In 1995, Pirelli took a group of automotive journalists to Sicily to introduce its P7000 Supersport tire. The company also brought us a passel of Ford Probes and Mustangs, the latter just the thing for fluttering the laundry strung overhead on the narrow streets of Collesano and thereabouts.
We were advised that the local police were evidently Mustang enthusiasts, and, indeed, they all smiled and tipped their caps as we rumbled by.
On my first lap of the circuit, Bob Newman, Pirelli PR back then, now writing regularly for Vintage Racecar (www.wp.me/p2ETap-12i), told me to keep my eyes opened at a certain distance down the road. A bad corner?
“VV SIMANAITIS,” it read, painted on the wall in the dead of night by Bob and his Pirelli colleague Maurizio Perissinot, no doubt abetted by Jack Gerkin, U.S. Pirelli rep.
At another location along the circuit, they honored the highly regarded journalist Len Frank with similar signage. Indeed, Len knew some villagers along the route, stopped in to say hello and left with a couple bottles of home-grown red that he shared with us.
Pirelli also arranged thrill rides in Paul Foulkes-Halbard’s Type 35 Bugatti. A brief trip down the road from the pits gave me a new appreciation of the riding mechanic’s experience.
At a circuit checkpoint near Scillato, codriver/fellow journalist Kevin Clemens and I chatted up Umberto and Claudia, both of the Automobile Club Palermo. They invited us to meet later in town at their favorite gelateria.
Festivities concluded with a banquet in a vast room that spectacularly portrayed Sicily’s rich heritage. A grand time was had by all.
Some time later, a Pirelli colleague confided to U.S. rep Jack Gerkin that there had been two murderers—hit-men of a particular Italian organization—at our banquet.
Jack’s response no doubt surprised his colleague: “No, make that three.”
Charlie Rathbun, one of the U.S. contingent, was destined to be convicted of killing a photographer’s model later that year. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013