I recently had the pleasure of meeting Anatoly Arutunoff. "Who," you ask? Here, read this before you go on. No, really, I'll wait.
Toly Arutunoff is a member of what Bert Levy would call the "lucky sperm club". He was born into a Russian family who emigrated to America when he was quite young. His father invented a specialized pump that made the family millions and he sold many of them to the oil field. Toly lived a very privileged life in both Los Angeles and later in Oklahoma.
Toly developed a love for interesting cars - the faster the better - and went on to own a number of them. He spent a lot of time in Europe where he drove with Bob Bondurant, Phil Hill, Richie Ginther and Carroll Shelby in events like the Targa Florio.
I noticed an unusual car at the Legends of Motorsports event in Birmingham - it turns out that it was a 1954 Cooper Mk IV - and it was a great contrast to the polished and pampered cars that made up the rest of the field of competitors. The old Cooper was dented and scratched and wore all manner of competition inspection stickers. The painted alloy wheels were shod with wide white wall tires and the competition number was made from gaffer tape. The old car sat outside in the rain with no tent or crew to tend to it. I loved it.
On Saturday of the three day event, the old Cooper lined up in preparation for its class to take the track. The driver was behind the wheel getting himself belted in with no crew or other assistants to help. I went down to the grid to express my admiration of the car to the owner.
"It's a Cooper Mk IV," said the driver from under his helmet, "And I asked John Cooper what year it was. He told me that he may have built it any time between 1954 and 1956. He wasn't sure exactly." I was stunned. This guy knew John Cooper. He said that the car was Ford powered and had a gearbox from a Ford milk truck. "First and second gear are really close and then there is a long gap to third and fourth which are also close together. " He said it was all wrong for the car, but that's what it was built with.
He went on to tell me that he and his wife drove the car in Europe for three weeks recently. "We held the top up with the five suitcases we were carrying. It seemed like it was good idea at the time." I looked closer at the event stickers and noticed that the majority of them were in Italian. I asked him where he was based and he replied "Tulsa, Oklahoma."
My God. It's Anatoly Arutunoff. I read several articles about this gent and was in awe that
someone of his stature would bring what looked like a ratty car with no team support to this event. He was there because he thought it would be fun.
I noticed that he was stuffing paper napkins under the straps of his goggles. I must have looked puzzled because he volunteered that his racing goggles were prescription, but needed adjustment so he could see clearly on the track. He put on his 'racing' gloves and they were nothing more than suede work gloves. When asked about them he said simply, "Why would I pay $150.00 for a pair of gloves when these meet the rules?" Can't argue with logic like that.
He told me that he was in a bit of a dilemma since he had a Duke University baseball cap in the cockpit of the old two-seater and the marshals wouldn't let him out with it loose in the car. He asked me if I would hold on to it for him until his wife came up. "She's really attached to this hat," he said. I told him I would take care of it.
He started the old Cooper and was off for his run. Not seeing anyone that fit his description of his wife, I decided to hang on to the hat and meet him when he came off the track in 20 minutes. Starting to walk away, I was waved back by one of the security workers who pointed out an Elizabeth Taylor-like lady who was under one of the gate tents. It was his wife Karen, who was nursing an injured foot and was very pleased to have the cap back in her possession. She was just as friendly as her husband.
Toly came back in having been lapped at least twice by the entire field. And he had a new fan club of one member.