Long before today's motor-racing crew chiefs employed laptop computers, engine dynamometers and other high-tech gear in search of more speed, there was George Bignotti.
Bignotti, who died Friday at 97, reigned supreme among chief mechanics -- that's what they were called back then -- from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Those were decades when the Indianapolis 500 and other IndyCar races dominated the U.S. motor racing world, when NASCAR stock-car racing was still mostly a regional sport based in the South.
A San Francisco native who had moved to Indianapolis, Bignotti had a gift for building fast, powerful engines that also could last for 500-mile races, and he became arguably the best chief mechanic in Indy 500 history.
Bignotti won a record seven Indy 500s with five different drivers, including in 1961 and 1964 with the legendary A.J. Foyt at the wheel. Overall, Bignotti and Foyt combined to win 27 races in five seasons before parting ways in 1965.
Indeed, the two also had a tempestuous partnership and their breakup made headlines.
But Foyt, now 78, issued a statement Friday night from his Texas home praising Bignotti as "one of the greatest mechanics that ever twisted a wrench on a race car, bar none."
"We had a lot of arguments up and down but they weren't arguments like people think," said Foyt, a four-time Indy 500 winner who now owns his own racing team. "We both respected each other a whole lot.
"I damn sure respected him for what he was doing on the cars and I think he respected my driving ability," Foyt said. "Up to this day when he passed on, we were still great friends and I just can't say enough about him.
"As far as I'm concerned, no mechanic back then or now could hold a candle to George Bignotti."
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