Sometimes It's Better To Give (Back) Than To Receive
One of my most valued life possessions was a cloisonné Ferrari North American Racing Team (NART) badge, given to me in 1978 by my late friend, George Arents III. This badge, maybe two by three inches in size, was on his racing car when he raced in LeMans, Sebring, Bridgehampton, and a few other places as well. It has a few scratches from here and there, a mute testimony to many brutal laps on world-class racing courses.
And in fact, George, Luigi Chinetti, and Jan de Vroom started NART, though some sources give that lone credit to his business partner, Mr. Chinetti. The 48 stars indicate that NART was formed in 1956, before Alaska and Hawaii joined our great Nation. NART won LeMans in 1965, and Chinetti Motors was the first Ferrari dealer in North America. It was originally located in New York City then later moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, and is now known as Miller Motorcars.
Being the heir to the American Tobacco Company, the family could afford to race in the most prestigious auto arenas of the world. George's father, who passed in 1960, was also a race car driver, and was seriously hurt in an accident in a Vanderbilt Cup race in 1904 in Westbury, Long Island. And following his rich tobacco history, in 1942 he gave his collection of 6,000 books on tobacco (The world's largest collection) to the New York Public Library, where it remains today and has enlarged.
But the George I knew was also an avid airplane and sailplane pilot. Among other contributions, he took the philosophy of 3-point seat belt harnesses from aircraft and helped get them into racing cars. He also wrote "The Brass Nightingale," and sent me an autographed copy; I'll keep and treasure that forever.
Here's George, racing a NART Ferrari 250 GT SWB
But I had the badge for 35 years, and after meeting with George's wonderful daughter Emily in November, 2012, I realized it should go back to the Arents family. I had met her sister in 1981, and since 2009, Emily's daughter Leilani and I have become close "cosmic" friends. Therefore I definitely wasn't sending it to strangers or to be posted in a cold, lifeless museum.
So it was placed into a small, simple black shadowbox to enhance the true colors, then shipped from Nashville to Leilani, in Virginia. I didn't just want Emily to open a package and say, "Here it is!," and Leilani was happy to present it to her mom in California in person, on my behalf. I got a note from Emily later that the unexpected gesture had brought her to tears.
The badge now resides in her home on her "Dad's racing wall," displayed among other momentos of his racing career, including a get well card signed by Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, Enzo Ferrari, and a few others. In 1958, George had a serious accident while at Bridgehampton, and those well wishers had sent him the card while he was recovering. Several other notable items grace the wall, including a photo of that first Ferrari dealership.
I've seen other, similar NART badges on ebay, fetching somewhere around $500 plus shipping, of course. But I doubt that those have this pedigree, and hopefully they're not fakes or reproductions.
And if I may, returning the badge to the family was not unlike Old Rose in Titanic, dropping The Heart of the Ocean into the sea... returning an object to where it should be, regardless of its monetary value. The NART badge belongs with the Arents family, it is their legacy, and I hope to see them again soon.
Now, are you ready for this... Here, in an amazing, heart-touching twist of irony, the badge revealed itself to us only a week before it was presented to Emily. This photo (George is changing drivers at LeMans) had been in my possession for a few years, and the Arents family had had it for several more. And though I had studied the image many times, suddenly it popped out and I saw it... There, on the nose of George's race car, inside the "18" (As well as on the yellow car above if one looks closely), was the badge ...the one I had held for 35 years ...and it was going home.
One of George's favorite quotes was from Gertrude Stein's "Everybody's Autobiography"... "There is no there there." In fact, that's where he got his personalized California license plate idea from. But in this case, there is a there there. The little Prancing Horse is there, back in the family, for generations to come.
And you know what I did after sending away the badge? I got online, found a reproduction of the thing, paid about $50 for it, and mounted the new one in an identical case. Sure, it's larger (About 3x5), not as well made, and it's definitely not the real thing... but it reminds me of a link I had to one of America's premiere families. And the more I think about it, I'm surprised The Ferrari Store doesn't carry these.
Other than Emily and Leilani, the rest of the Arents family will probably never know I had the badge for so long then gave it back, and that's ok with me. My treasure is knowing that I preserved a little part of their heritage that could have been lost to time, but finally found its way home.
And that's a value one can't put a price tag on.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
Image Credits: The yellow #18 racing car image was found at Yahoo.com/images. Leilani took the photo of the photo of her granddad at LeMans. I took the rest of the pictures.