Erich von Neff: The Way to Beat the Gatto Brothers

The Way to Beat the Gatto Brothers

By Erich von Neff*


Ron Arms had it figured out. There was a way to beat the Gattos. Even Lido couldn’t stymie this one. “As I see it, their weakness lies in the exchange,” Ron explained to his partner Richard Bronson after another humiliating defeat on Murphy Sabatino’s track. A few riders were still riding on the track, cooling off.

“You gotta be crazy,” Harry said. “The Gattos got it down.” I had to agree. True, they didn’t use a hand sling style or sling shot exchange as had been perfected by Cocky O’Brian and Cecil Yates and others. No, they used old fashioned exchange, grabbing each other by the jamming tool in the seat of their chamois lined shorts, sending each other off like a rocket.

Ron Arms had been studying the mathematics of the weather at Stanford under Professor Harold Levine–what is now called chaos theory. Taking the word “slingshot” almost literally they developed what was in fact a slingshot.

One rider held this device–made out of primitive bungee cords–by his right hand. The relief rider grabbed the other end and was literally slung into the pack or more hopefully ahead of it, if there was a sprint or if they were going for a lap on the field. All this worked well on paper. There was unfortunately no time to test it before the next team race.

Friday night rolled around. Lido fired his gun in the air. As usual the pace was erratic then settled down. At fifty laps or the five mile mark there was the first sprint of the race.

Coming into the first sprint of the race, Professor Levine handed “The Sling” to Ricky Bronson who was on relief. For one of the problems with the sling was how could you ride with it when not using it? One could of course tuck it into the back of his tights, for the sling was only about eight inches long including the handles on either end, but it could work its way out, and was definitely a nuisance, though this method could be used for a little while.

This was discovered early in the race and Ron Arms promptly handed the sling to Professor Levine on his first relief. A few laps before the first sprint Professor Levine handed the sling to Ron Arms, getting ready for the final exchange before the sprint.

Coming down off the banking Richard Bronson caught the sling and was slung just ahead of the pack by Ron Arms. Bronson went for it flat out. It would be an understatement to say this implement caused consternation in the pack.

For one thing Gus Gatto had started to come through thinking Bronson-Arms were not going to exchange. When he saw some kind of rubber band stretching out between them, he backed off, attempted to come over the top, but just then Richard Bronson was slung forward leaving a gap.

And so the first sprint was won.

Italians screamed oaths of defiance. Lido shrugged his shoulders. What could he do? It wasn’t in the rule book. The bell rang for the next sprint. Teams began to exchange. Ron grabbed the sling and was slung by Bronson in an arc around Vince Gatto who quickly made the sign of the cross. And so the second sprint was won.

But after the second sprint things began to run their normal course with the Gatto Brothers cleaning up.

Professor Levine had meanwhile struck up a conversation with Lido’s mistress. He had handed her the sling which she began toying with as he talked with her.

“It’s all based on my theory of oscillations and pulsations,” he said trying to put it in layman’s terms.

“Well…..professor it is rather elastic.”

“Yes, yes, precisely the point.”

“Is it?” She turned around watching the pack racing around the boards. Shortly Professor Levine handed the sling to Ron Arms who was on relief.

Soon it came down to the final sprint. Teams exchanged on the banking. Rhoads & Rhoads, Peterson & Les Williams, Gatto & Gatto, von Neff & Arbuckle, Arms & Bronson and others…all positioning themselves. Ron Arms swept down the banking. He reached for the sling as Bronson and the pack came thundering by. The sling extended, stretching, stretching. Ron Arms could feel himself being accelerated as the sling now began to snap together. This was going to be it.

Until “snap,” the sling broke. Ron Arms now trailed behind the pack, Ricky Bronson remained on a good position briefly, but he had already taken his pull in the pack and the sprint on top of that was too much.

Vince Gatto raised his arm as he crossed the line. “Bang Bang.” Lido fired his gun in the air.

The pace now slackened and trainers began to extend their hands to incoming riders.

Professor Levine examined the broken cords of the sling. The ends appeared to have been cut, but he was not sure.

Just then Lido walked up. “I gotta confiscate that thing,” he said grabbing the sling out of Professor Levine’s hands.

And so the mystery remains. Had Lido’s mistress made a cut in the sling when she had turned away from Professor Levine to watch the pack? Had Lido asked her to do this? Would it have made any difference? For it seems plain that the surprise effect of the sling had worn off and the Gatto Brothers would have won in any case.

The sling was discarded, maybe the answer was harder training. The Gatto Brothers still dominated, and chaos did not reign. Order was re-established.


*Author Eric von Neff is a San Francisco Longshoreman about to retire.

To view Eric’s recent visit to El Granada, please click on his name below.

Erich von Neff

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