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Meet an Italian couple who make steering wheels for American race cars, and hats for popes

Racing and the Vatican, connected by a thread
Italian embroiderers stitch handmade steering wheels and Papal hats 03:07

Near Verona, Italy — This weekend, car racing fans will have a chance to see the "Superstar Racing Experience," a new event debuting on CBS that aims to rival NASCAR. Some of the sport's top drivers will compete head-to-head behind the wheel.

And as CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay reports, the steering wheel itself has an unlikely connection to the Catholic Church.  

A file photo shows a race car driver's hand on a steering wheel made by U.S. company MPI, which produces wheels near Verona, Italy, taking advantage of the local craftspeople in "steering wheel valley." CBS

American race cars are prided for their handling, engineering, and speed. But all that horsepower can't turn a lap without craftsmanship from northern Italy, and an attention to detail that has even caught the eye of two popes.

So what do 200 mile-per-hour race cars have in common with the 2,000-year-old Catholic Church? It's all in the stitching: The stitching of hand-made steering wheels, and of popes' hats.

MPI is an American company that makes bespoke steering wheels — each one forged of aluminum and then custom wrapped in high-quality leather — outside Verona, Italy.  

The steering wheel might seem like a small part of a race car, but considering it's where the driver's skill comes into direct contact with the machine, every little detail packs a huge punch on the track.

Each steering wheel is embroidered by husband-and-wife duo Rosanna Castagna and Armando Benini. Their list of clients stretches from NASCAR, all the way to the Vatican.

Husband and wife duo Rosanna Castagna and Armando Benini, embroiderers who work in "steering wheel valley" near Verona, Italy, where they make both steering wheels for U.S. race cars and vestments for the Catholic Church's leaders. CBS

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, not to mention dozens of cardinals, have worn vestments embroidered by the pair — from papal hats called mitres, to the stole worn around the collar.

No matter the client, be they holy or more down-to-earth, Armando and Rosanna always pay obsessive attention to detail with their work.

"You have to be crazy to do this work," Armando told Livesay, holding up a needlepoint depiction of a Picasso classic. "We don't do it for the money. We do it just to see if it's possible."  

Armando said it was very satisfying to see his work speeding across a racetrack, especially knowing its broadcast on televisions around the world.

"I may be an old man, but I'm in love with my work as if I were a little boy," he told Livesay.

Armando and Rosanna, and many other artisans who work in the area, make so many race car steering wheels - more than anywhere else in the world - that the picturesque backdrop they call home in is known locally as "steering wheel valley."

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