Mr. Veeder’s Wild Ride

It wasn’t unusual for elderly Indy roadsters to be repurposed as short track cars. Many ended up at Oswego (NY) for example, competing as Super Modifieds. One 1957 Kurtis-Kraft 500 ventured west however, arriving in the Seattle area around 1960. I suspect that Ole Bardahl may have had a hand in this as his Ballard based additive company had a huge presence at the Speedway back in those days. In fact, in ’57 there were two Bardahl sponsored Kurtis roadsters in the 500. One was piloted by “Cactus” Jack Turner and the second by a New Yorker named Al Keller.

Keller competed at Indianapolis six times from 1955 to 1961, finally earning a top five finish in his final appearance. Sadly, Keller perished later the same year (11/19/1961) while racing in Arizona.

Interestingly, a young racer of the same name emerged as the driver of the Kurtis when it reappeared in the Pacific Northwest. Was this Al Keller a relation of the Indy veteran or someone that had simply adopted his racing persona? That is a mystery. Portlander Del McClure who raced against Keller, recognized his name but didn’t know him. ”Mid-pack guy”, was McClure’s comment. “We didn’t really socialize much with the Seattle guys,” he continued.

Long gone was the 252ci Offenhauser when Keller unloaded at Monroe (WA) and Portland Speedway. It was supplanted by a ground pounding Buick Nail-head boasting nearly twice the cubic inches. Bob Fadden was listed as the Owner/Mechanic and ultimately a turkey farmer named Bob Hamilton (based in Aurora, OR) agreed to sponsor the effort.

In the early seventies, Hamilton purchased the Kurtis and that was when Salem racer Earl Veeder Jr. got his chance behind the wheel. Veeder admitted to me years later that he didn’t have the finances to field his own car at that juncture in his racing career. He would show up at the track with his helmet and see what was available. Piloting a vehicle of questionable pedigreed had become “the norm” for Earl and he had a reputation for getting the most out of whatever he drove. The Kurtis/Buick was a rocket ship that was capable of smoking the tires the length of any straightaway. Fearless Veeder had no bitch about that but complained to Hamilton that they needed more tire. Apparently the budget minded owner had procured a boatload of M & H drag racing rubber at a bargain basement price and insisted that they use it up before he’d purchase anything else. And that was where things stood when the team made the decision to tow south to Altamont Speedway (near Tracy, CA) for a big open show.

On the banked half mile they would be competing against some of the best short trackers in the business: Uprights from San Jose, new Offsets and even rear engined, four wheel drive creations, so they needed to be on their game. Unfortunately in their haste to push Veeder out, the crew forgot to remove the plugs from his injector stacks. Most teams used a brightly colored, rubber ball affair that was highly visible and difficult to overlook. “Thrifty” Hamilton had decided to make his own utilizing sink stoppers that he’d purchased at the local hardware store and chained together. When the crew attempted to push start Veeder, the Kurtis balked as he goosed the throttle. Then the stoppers fell into the injection and jammed the butterflies wide open. The huge Buick exploded to life, taking Veeder from a rough idle to full throttle in perhaps two seconds. He pointed the roadster toward the high groove and somehow managed to keep it out of the fence. Down the back straightaway Veeder left a vapor trail then aimed for the pit entrance. (Hamilton estimated his pit speed at maybe one hundred mph?) He roared past his crew, brakes screaming helplessly, teeth clinched, hands firmly planted on the wheel and in his wake, wide eyed pitmen, railbirds and onlookers. It was miraculous that he hadn’t run over anyone. When he arrived at the end of the pit lane, where was he supposed to go? Veeder rejoined the race just as the leaders were passing by! And this is where the real racer showed his moxie- Veeder STAYED OUT! Up against the fence, throttle stuck wide open, brakes toasted, ‘Ol Earl hung with the leaders for a couple laps before coming to his senses and hitting the kill switch.

Needless to say, the team was never invited back to Altamont but it wasn’t the end of Veeder’s association with Hamilton. The two remained friends (practically neighbors) for the remainder of the turkey farmer’s relatively short life. Earl Veeder Jr. raced until he was nearly seventy and died of heart failure “in the saddle” so to speak.(He was participating in a midget race.)

The ’57 Kurtis-Kraft 500 had long life ahead of it as well. The Buick Nail-head was replaced by a 302ci Ford with Gurney (Westlake) heads and shipped to Pennsylvania for a ground up restoration. It is said to reside somewhere in a New York today, in a private collection.

Note—A big thank you to those who generously offered their recollections and photos which enabled me to retell this story: Jerry Burkholder, Ralph Hunt, Bill Nootenboom and David Veeder.


I am Coming Home

A cold wind blew as I stepped off of the Greyhound bus.  I paused and hoisted my duffle bag. The Cummins wound up and the bus was off. Chasing that lonely black rib bon  delivering her passengers to their destiny. Blowing snow and blurred vision, slick sidewalks and all, I began to walk.

I had left 5 years prior and, well, had fallen by the wayside.  Ma and Pa did not approve of my actions. My little brother was barely ten and he idolized me. Sis, well, she had long since boarded the train and had head west to look for her own place in the picture shows. She didn’t care.

Never did.

I took a few steps toward where 9th was a straight shot to my old home, then paused.

5 years had been gone and I felt as if I was not missed. Years before that, three kids and two parents wrenched apart by hungry mouths and longing for better days. As a GI, I felt part of something, finally. I was part of a unified group. We were a team. Boris, Jeb. Tye. Jesus.

It was different than “home.” We felt part of something. I sighed and walked a few steps an stepped into the Tip Top bar. I was in my dress uniform still with my Army Air Corps hat on.  When I stepped through the door, a gust of cold air followed suit. I stomped my feet and shook my shoulders to get the rest of the snow off of me. All eyes turned to me. Behind the bar the bar keep turned his gaze to me, still polishing a beer schooner. His jaw dropped and his hands relaxed. We locked eyes and the glass hit the floor, shattering. He gaped. “You are the Lawson boy!” he said. I stepped back a touch and nodded. “Yassir,” Clem and Jody are my parents. We live on 9th up yonder,” I replied.

“Boy, step up here,” he said. And I did. The bar keep paused to pick up the shattered glass. His skilled hands did so and he never even grazed his calloused fingers. Years of practice, I guessed. As I got to the bar he had already pulled a glass of beer for me. I watched the bubbles chase a spiral in the glass. The pale yellow liquid steadied and was so damned inviting. I grasped the cold glass and glanced up to the bar keep. His eyes were shining. I had seen this gaze so often since we had rolled into Paris and beyond. Eyes rimmed with tears, pride. Hope. It is a look that has kept me alive, really.

“Thank you.” And he lowered his head, and then another voice echoed his.
“Soldier, thank you so much sir, thanks. God Bless you. Thanks.”

And what ever I had held within myself had fallen by the wayside. I was a half mile from home. In my mind I saw Pa by the radio. A can of Falstaff by his left hand. The paper a messed up adin his lap. I could hear the clinking of dishes as Ma was washing and thinking of what to prepare for dinner that night. Did they think of me? Wonder about me? I did not know.

I drank my glass of beer and exchanged many hugs and shook many hands. I had entered the bar at a quarter until 1 and had left at about 3. A little less lonely, yet.

Still.

A half mile walked in a snow storm can be many things.  A dreamscape or a longing for brighter times. But for me, I was in the middle. As beautiful as it was to see my home town embraced in white, I thought of that winter across seas in Europe. A driving storm. Crimson stained snow and the smell of diesel and fear. At this point, I could see my home.  On the door was a wreath. In the window hung a blue star flag. That rocked me back onto my heels. I walked gaped mouth forward and then noticed the hand written notes on the sidewalk in chalk, smeared but still visible. All words about me.

One step, two step, three step, and then knocked.

A second knock and the door opened. Pa gasped, Ma shrieked with glee.
“Welcome home, Boy. I am so Thankful for to see you,” Pa said.

I looked at him and again, was taken back by that certain look in one’s eyes. Thankful.

Medford Swap Meet

This year I wanted to go to the swap meet in Medford, I had never been before. At the last minute, one of my friends became available to make the 5-hour drive with me, he hadn’t been either. We rolled out headed south on I-5 around mid-morning I think, on the Friday before the Saturday-Sunday meet and I delivered papers in Salem, Albany, Eugene and Springfield on the way down. My friend, Jim didn’t know we were taking the “scenic route,” but he didn’t demand to let out once we were in Salem, some 40 plus miles from home.

Rich Wilson, the promoter for the meet and for the Big car show in the spring, always puts on a great event and treats his guests very well. I wanted to go so that I could “cover” the swap meet here in the paper and I’m glad I did.

The meet was small, or should I say the venue, the Jackson County EXPO, right off the freeway in Central Point offers plenty of free parking and room to grow bigger in years to come. Though small there were lots of enthusiastic vendors on hand with some great treasures. I didn’t go to find stuff necessarily, but I did have a couple things I intended to look for. I didn’t expect to find them really, one was a Nova door and the other was a Bose Accus-ti-mass in home surround sound system and surprise, I found them both! I’m just kidding about my looking for the surround sound system but, there was one there and the price was right, so it came home with me, whadda treasure!

Jim came with a small list of miscellaneous things he needed for his current Model ‘A’ project, not necessarily expecting to find them but he found them ALL, brand new, and cheaper than he had recently priced them all at other vendors on line. And all from the first two vendors that he came across after entering the building. He was tickled.

I’ve been going to swap meets for years. I used to find NOS cool stuff a lot years ago but not so much anymore. I was totally surprised to see a pair of brand new, in the original boxes, Corvette aluminum valve covers with the staggered holes! NOS! And then a little later an NOS pair of chrome 327 stamp steel valve covers like would have come on a ’66 or ’67 L-79 Nova, in the original boxes. Impressive! I have never seen either of these items, NOS, before.

Rich also promotes the “Medford Rod & Custom Show at the same location in the spring. I’ve been going to that one for a few years now and it’s always worth it. Keep both of these events in mind for next year and plan to attend. You’ll like what Southern Oregon and Rich Wilson have to offer.

American, Mike Goulian wins the Red Bull Air Race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

“As a kid, I grew up every Memorial day with my dad watching the Indy 500 on TV,” said the breathless Mike Goulian in the Media Center after a highly emotional day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I am an open wheel guy… knowing all the names, all the people, all the tradition… I never thought that I would kiss the bricks.”

Only a mere 20 minutes after that statement, the exhausted American pilot sat on the front straightaway of the most iconic racetrack in the world with his hands over his eyes. Were those beads of sweat or tears? Maybe both.

A departure from their regular motorsports programming, IMS has hosted the Red Bull Air Race series for the last couple of seasons. The league boasts eight events across three continents with competitors from around the world. The only two races in North America this year are in Indianapolis, IN and Fort Worth, TX to end the 2018 championship campaign.

All races are run on slalom- style courses set roughly 83 feet above the ground. Outlined by large white and red mesh pylons, the pilots regularly fly over cityscapes, oceanic coasts or in this case – a permanent speedway. Pilots try their hand one by one on the makeshift track in search of the best time. Penalties such as flying too low, too high or even at the wrong angle result in added time.

“They want to go as fast as they can, but they have to fly our rules,” says Head Judge and Race Director Sergio Pla Merino. “There are cameras and sensors all over the plane and we can see it all here (In Race Control.)”

Last year Yoshihide Muroya of Japan won both the race and the championship in one carefully maneuvered swoop. Rain and high winds plagued the pilots on race day and it was a hard fought-battle against difficult weather and dancing pylons.
In thick Midwest humidity, the hangar (paddock) was quiet and laid back race morning this time around. The two days of practice gave no indication as to who was going to end the day on top. The finicky Indiana heat stumped mechanics and pilots alike and many complained of frustrating engines temperaments caused by the wet air.

Preparing their birds for battle, mechanics busied themselves in taping up every possible seam to make their planes that much more aerodynamic.
“I don’t know how much this really helps,” chuckled Goulian’s mechanic, “but I don’t want it to be the reason why we don’t win.” The strategy, no matter how miniscule, seemed to have worked.

Mike Goulian was one of the first to take flight in the final round of the day. Set up elimination style, pilots are pitted against each other in seven heats. The fastest of the pair moves on to the next round as well as the ‘fastest loser’ of the initial phase. The field is paired to eight pilots, then down to a final four.

“We knew that if I flew cleanly in the round of eight, we could pull it off,” explained Goulian after the fact. “Pablo, my mechanic stuck his head in the cockpit just before I went out and told me ‘don’t go crazy, just be good.’”

Goulian and team waited in painful anticipation as the three other finalists took their shot at the win. In a particularly tense moment, Canadian, Pete McCleod cut loose with a wicked fast lap, but couldn’t knock Goulian off the top spot. “It is difficult to sit there and watch guys like Pete try to hunt you down,” grinned Goulian.

It had been ten years since an American had won on American soil in this series. Veteran Kirby Chambliss was the last to do it in Detroit in 2008. Upon hearing this, Goulian was hit with another wave of sentimental realization.

“The emotion of one of these days is so high and so low and so high again. My legs almost gave out underneath me there when I found out that we won. It’s special for your family and for you to know that hey- (my team) today just completed a little history in a place that wreaks of history.”

2018 Northwest Art and Air Show Festival

I am used to getting up a 0 dark hundred in the morning for a car show. This morning was a little different. The show was in my home town of Albany. The only reason I was up and out so early was to watch the balloons go up.

Hot air balloons launch real early in the morning when the air is calm. The Art and Air Show Festival is a big weekend event here in Albany. The festival consists of hot air balloons, craft booths with just about everything from photos, to art work, to paintings and much, much more. There is also food vendors, live music, fireworks, and last, but not least, a car show.

My friends and I like to show up to the car show early. This way we can see the see and hear the other vehicles rumble in. In some cases you can hear a hot rod or race car come in before you even see them. One of those cars is a ‘62 Nova Pro Street drag car. Paul and Kathy Campbell of Albany owns this beast. It runs the quarter mile in the low 9.00 seconds.

Part of the festival is events at the local airport which is right across I-5 from where the car show is. As we sit there, shooting the bull we can see all the different aircraft take off and land.

We can see everything from a biplane, ultralights, home built aircrafts, to watching a Lear jet take off.

Ok, back to the cars show. Now I love any car with fuel injected velocity stacks, big wide tires and wings, like a Can Am race car. In my opinion wings should be on race cars only. I bring this up because of one car that has been around Albany for a while. Blaine Blood drives a ‘23 T bucket with big rear tires, side pipes and tall staggered velocity stacks feeding a small block Chevy. From a distance it looks great, up close you find the truth, The stacks are fake , they cover a 4 bbl carb. Don’t get me wrong, this car still looks and sounds so cool.

On the other end of cool cars is a 1964 Amphicar. You know, one of those cars you can drive down the boat ramp at a lake and just keep on driving. The amphicar is owned and driven by Fred Calosso all the way from Florence, that is Florence, Oregon, not Florence, Italy.

The car show is sponsored by Lassen Toyota and put on by the Willamette Chapter of Studebaker Drivers Club. So, next August, if you are in the Albany area stop by. Where else can you see a car show with a great variety of vehicles and an air show. Not to mention it is all free except for parking. That will cost you 5 dollars. There is something for everybody. If you come don’t forget to come early. The hot air balloons launch at 0 light hundred, at sunrise.

The Last Beaches of 2018

One of the fun weekly events that we have in the Portland, Oregon area is “Beaches Summertime Cruise-in. It happens every Wednesday June through September at Delta Park from 3pm till dusk. Usually the first one in June is simply massive. All those latent “gotta go cruisin’” juices just waiting to get out, I guess.

The same is usually true for the last one of the year as well. This year though, because of the unseasonably nice weather, I think, someone made a command decision to bump it out one more week making the last one October 3rd. The turnout was good, but I’m told the last one in September was huge. Oh well. If you’ve never been or if you go every week, don’t forget to the first Wednesday in June 2019. It’s impressive…
These a pics from the October 3rd Beaches, 2018.