- By Tom Stafford Staff Writer
The Minnesota city on the west edge of Lake Superior is now known for a clothier whose bewhiskered, manly advertisements radiate a bearlike comfort and warmth, if not scent.
But in January of 1988, as Jim Ingledue, Ed Gyenes and their displeased wives migrated north through a snowstorm to the relocated offices of the Beckley Cardy Co., their first impression of Duluth, Minn., registered with the thermometer, at 25 below — an impression deepened by roughly 25 inches of snow.
So by the end of that January, Ingledue, Gyenes and a third Musketeer at the company, Joe Bilderbach, rekindled hope in their frostbitten souls by cozying up to warm memories of the Indianapolis 500 and forming Team Rameri.
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During a recent lunch in the Lindner Community Center of Springfield’s Ohio Masonic Community, Ingledue firmly established Team Rameri’s distinguishing characteristic in the history of Indianapolis 500 Racing: “We have everything but a car.”
That won’t stop the team from celebrating its 30th consecutive appearance when the race has its 102nd running on May 27.
Rameri is an acronym for Ragamuffin Engineering and Racing, Inc., an organization whose history got off to an appropriately checkered start.
A Duluth artist included in the team logo a checkered flag that made it appear the car was going backwards. Ingledue immediately recognized the genius of the error and kept it. Things just got better from there.
In the Duluth Airport that first year, travelers mistook the Rameri ragamuffins for a legitimate race team. When the same thing happened at a bar in the Minneapolis airport, Rameri spokesmen, more widely known as liars, explained they had stopped to pick up the team engineer who was flying in from Michigan. Part of that was true. They were meeting up with Gyenes’ son.
The go-to fall guy, Ingledue, was later introduced as the team’s driver, Fernando Pappi, a name that stuck to him like a bug introduced to an open-wheel car on a straightaway.
“We didn’t expect to have such a good time” Ingledue said of the team’s rookie year. When he took an informal poll about returning the next year, “All the hands went up.”
Word about the racing team Rameri spread like Legionnaire’s Disease at the National Furniture and Equipment Show, where Beckley-Cardy was one of the biggest forces in the business of school furniture and supplies.
“We were a national company,” Gyenes said, “and we dealt with a lot of vendors all over the United States.”
Unprepared to handle requests from sober people for membership, the team once again referred all inquiries to Ingledue, who, after a serious pause, told all candidates for team membership of the one unbreakable rule: There would be no tolerance for talking business. The team with no driver was to be powered by three things: Fun, fellowship and the love of the Indy 500.
At its height, Team Rameri had 50 members from 10 states and left an impression nearly everywhere it went.
Members passed out hats at the Hampton Inn near the Indianapolis Airport, which one year posted a Team Rameri banner that was there when legendary team owner Roger Penske walked in and said “You guys are better dressed that we are.”
The team also got a warm welcome every year at Marsh’s, a grocery where the Ramerians loaded up on hundreds of dollars’ worth of food they piled into the coolers for what they called their commissary. The annual stop at Marsh’s also provided a venue where adoring fans who stopped by could land an autograph from “Fernando Pappi,” a premium as pleasing as a mustard smile on a piece of bologna pickle loaf.
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As with all total ruses, things went terribly wrong one day when the team was under Indy stands and “Pappi” was asked to demonstrate his superior driving skills on an arcade driving simulator. He not only drove off course but backwards, mimicking the team logo. A crowd of about 200 laughed and cheered, creating the highlight of his driving career.
Ingledue, whose inability to say no also landed him the job as the team bling-master, decked out members with buttons with flashing red lights that caught the eye of everyone at their favorite restaurant, The Library. Among them was Roger Bailey, who managed the Indy Lights racing series at the time.
Back at the track, Team Rameri also was approached by John Galloway, raceway ambassador, who once owned a small track not far from Duluth. Informed of the team’s home city and purpose, Galloway not only joined but took members on a tour of the historic exhibits in the basement of the trackway’s museum.
“The year after that, he says, ‘Come on, I have another surprise,’” Gyenes added, and he took them into the track’s scoring tower.
Over the past 29 years, Team Rameri has had only one brush with track officialdom when members posted a team banner on a fence during qualifying. Because the TV cameras caught it, track officials who had charged the market rate to legitimate sponsors politely asked that the sign be taken down. It was, without objection.
Gyenes, who lives in Mansfield, where the company eventually relocated, has his own individual special moments at Indy. Among them were being congratulated last year for his 65th consecutive race appearance by Doug Boles, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and taking a trip around the track in a special two-seated car compliments of his son.
At 215 mph on the straightaway, “It was so smooth you could clean your fingernails,” Gyenes said. Then came the heavy Gs of Turn One.
But all the good memories from Team Rameri, Gyenes said while pointing to Ingledue, are “because of this guy here.”
An athletic star with the Springfield High School Class of 1952, Ingledue also played football and baseball at Wittenberg University as a member of its Class of 1956. He and Beverle, his wife of 61 years, moved to the Springfield Masonic Community in 2015, where he now visits her daily in the Pathways Center for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care.
Ingledue has quickly established a reputation for his genuine friendliness. He knows the names of young servers in the restaurant and what they’re studying in school, and he doesn’t skip a beat by saying “Jim” to lunch mates with whom he’s talking who can’t quite recall his name.
In regular notes of thanks he sends out, Ingledue adds a postscript that encourages everyone to live each day as he seems to “with an attitude of gratitude.”
As all members of Team Rameri know, unless he’s in a car, Fernando Pappi won’t steer you wrong.