FAST EDDIE, the Greatest Driver You’ve Never Heard of

Championship winning Crew Chief Clint Brawner said of Ed Elisian: “I always liked him. He worked hard and had a great, if uncontrolled, desire to be a race car driver.” Author Ross R. Olney referred to him as: “Another Vukie…Almost. He only lacked a little of the skill and judgment of the great Bill Vukovich.” And Vukie himself had sung the praises of his fellow driver before Elisian arrived in the Midwest. He may in fact, have set the bar too high.

Elisian was born in Oakland, CA and began his racing career in the late 1940’s. He drove Hardtops at Contra Costa Stadium and rapidly found his way into the popular Midgets. In 1951 he won Bay Cities Racing Association features in the indoor series driving for Bob Marchel and in ’52 finished fourth in BCRA points. It was during this time that Elisian became acquainted with Bill Vukovich whom had nearly won Indianapolis in his sophomore appearance. The two became fast friends in the Midget ranks and Vukie did his best to contact Elisian with Big Car rides.

In 1953 Elisian made his first Big Car start at high banked Dayton, Ohio while Vukovich dominated the Indy 500. Driving a state-of- the- art Kurtis roadster, Vukie qualified on the pole and led all but five laps of the hottest race on record. Finally, the following year, Elisian was able to join his mentor in Indianapolis. Vukie would again pilot the ’53 winning car while Elisian secured a ride in a solid Stevens’s dirt car owned by H.A. Chapman. Vukovich struggled in qualifying and didn’t make the race until the third day. He would start from the nineteenth slot while his protégé stormed from the final row. In the race Vukovich paced himself, finally taking over the lead at the halfway point and won going away. Rookie Elisian did a respectable job, bringing his mount home eighteenth, and six laps behind the leader. Away from the Speedway, Elisian was making a decent living. He won a Big Car race at Terre Haute and finished ninth in AAA Midwest points.

1955 was looking promising for the duo; defending Champion Vukovich had a new Kurtis roadster for the 500 which he qualified fifth while Elisian switched teams and put his Kurtis in the twenty ninth position. When the starter’s flag dropped, Vukovich forged his way into the lead and appeared to be on his way to an unprecedented third victory. Then on the fifty seventh lap some back markers got together and tagged Vukie as he attempted to squeak by. The contact put him into and over the guardrail, crashing in flames. Seeing this Elisian intentionally spun his car, unbuckled and attempted to save his friend from the burning wreck. Sadly his actions were in vain as Vukovich had fractured his skull in the initial impact. Elisian was led from crash scene sobbing and was too distraught to resume racing.

With the demise of his closest friend, Elisian became a bit of a lost soul. The sullen driver soldiered on in 1956 qualifying his first proper roadster fourteenth at Indy but was out at 160 laps. He fared better in the short track events, finishing sixth in AAA standings. In ’57 he procured his best ride to date driving for Lee Elkins and put the McNamara Special seventh on the grid but broke a timing gear at fifty one laps. On the short tracks he improved by one position in the AAA (now USAC) rankings and again was victorious at Terre Haute.

In 1958 it appeared that Elisian’s period of mourning had ended. He secured the seat in Jack Zink’s new roadster and a rivalry developed between him and Dick Rathmann who had taken over the McNamara ride. Fast lap of the month was passed back and forth between the two with Rathmann ultimately claiming the pole. The feud continued after the drop of the green flag as neither driver was willing to lift at the end of the back straightaway. This resulted in a collision that started a chain reaction involving more than half the field. In the end, Elisian, Rathmann and six other cars were eliminated and crowd favorite Pat O’Conner was dead.

Though Elisian wasn’t any more responsible than Rathmann, the incident was more or less pinned on him. The fact that he was unpopular among his fellow drivers certainly didn’t help. Without his advocate Vukovich to defend him, Elisian’s life began to spiral downward. He continued to perform well on short tracks but missed the ’59 500 over a suspension that involved gambling debts and bad checks.

Before ever having reached his full potential as a driver, Elisian crashed to his death on the Milwaukie Mile on August 30th 1959. He was thirty two years old and had never married. Unfortunately other than his immediate family, there were few to mourn him.

SPRING 1957

Clem lie there in his twin bed restless. The dealership had gone all out in hopes to crack the flat line sales they had experienced as of late. He had a house payment, his oldest was soon to graduate and was looking to attend school in upstate. Mama was still driving a ’48 and Clem knew it was on borrowed time. As a top tier salesman for Hope Chevrolet, Clem had hoped his time was now. Mama murmured and rolled onto her side.

3 A.M.
The Motorola clock radio’s  minute hand swept around softly, chasing seconds, turning minutes into hours. Clem sat up. The harvest of 1956 had come and went and the 1957’s waited hidden behind soaped windows and tarpaulin drop cloths. Every year it had seemed that the competing manufacturers had rolled back when the new models were introduced. Maybe this was what had advanced the grey at Clem’s temples. But everything felt different at Hope Chevrolet. The new hardtop had these incredible rear fins. The 283 V8 engine had options to make even the Nomad wagon a hot ticket on the street. The 2 seater Corvette was ready to attack the Euro class on American tracks and across the pond. On the economy front the tried and true 6 soldiered on in both trucks and cars.

A hot shower and shave. Clem picked out a navy blue suit and a tie that was hand painted with a spring theme to it. His shirt was bright white, ironed and crisp. Dark blue nylon socks and his wing tips were spit shined and polished to what his sarge would approve of.

4 A.M.
Behind the wheel of his ’55 210 business coupe, Clem made his way across town and reveled in the early hours of this new spring day. Birds had started to chirp and exchange songs. Somewhere a rooster let go with a morning crow. The sky was  dark with hints of the encroaching sunrise. Clem approached Norman in his Divco dairy truck and was making a pass when he saw Norman wave his hand out of the delivery trucks window. Clem slowed down, reached across and lowered the passenger’s side door window. Norman leaned down and in his down home way shot out a question.

“Gosh, Clem, I do not mean to pry, but, this hour of morning usually finds you just rising. Heck, I pass by and I can tell by the lights in your home you are just getting ready. Is there something special maybe the town should know about?”

Clem smiled. He took a quick glance and noticed that the morning clouds had begun to break up. A sliver of white on the horizon teased of a cloudless day.

“Norman, it is our launch of the new 1957 Chevrolet. The car is beautiful. Think of a car that captures the mystique of fighter jets, of rocket ships. Available in so many colors.”

Norman just nodded and smiled with visions of Buck Rogers danced in his head. Clem nodded and dropped his ’55 into gear and drove away. The dawn was fast approaching.

7:45 A.M.
Before Clem would even knew it, the new cars were  revealed. The soaped windows were washed away and the colors of the new 1957 Chevrolet was then revealed to crowds waiting to catch a glimpse of the future. Clem stood outside and the sky was cloudless. The air was alive.  Behind him, freshly detailed was a bright red Bel Air with the 270 horsepwer engine option. Clem pulled out his pack of Lucky’s.  Fired up his Zippo and smiled.

“Time to sell.”  he whispered, and he did.

Back with More News from the Front

Hey it’s May—time to tiptoe through the tulips and all of that jazz. And by the time you read the next issue it will be time for the Wednesday night Beaches Cruise Ins at PIR. Last issue I waxed nostalgic about hot rodding in the good ole days. As I wander through the world of GearHeads, I get quite a few great stories. Maybe we will bring some here? Any input?

OK GearHeads, let’s get back to business. What does our future hold? Hooboy—What a loaded question, gulp! Alrighty then, let’s get on to the MuskFather. Elon Musk has been busy with his Teslas and all manner of other things. Lately, he has acquired an outfit called Maxwell Technologies.
They make dry cell batteries and supercapacitors. These things are like superchargers for your EV. And they may end up being used in planes! Oh by the way, the new buzzword for those electrical cars is now E-Machines. I haven’t figgered out exactly what I want to call them yet.

I must say that scientists have been tearing into his various Tesla models and they are finding some pretty befuddling things during their deconstructions. Gotta give the man credit for gettin’ r done!

F’rinstance, there is this thing called Hallback Effect. Something to do with an array of magnets glued together in a certain way. They seem to be made of some kind of magic grain or something. The Eggheads are still trying to figger it all out. In other news, drivers are saying this about the Tesla 3 – once you drive it you don’t go back! And word has it that they are next coming out with pickups and the Model Y.

Then we have the Japanese. They are coming out with an E- Machine that is built in Italy! They tell me it is damn fast and good looking. I guess GM will be introducing a fancy new E-Bike.

Oh and did anybody hear about Elon Musk’s alliance with PewDiePie? Yeah, uh … OK, I’m not even going there.

Let’s get back to GM. I am hearing something about them teaming up with Amazon to invest in Rivian. Now, at press time we have more news on GM. They have lobbied the Senate for a new EV credits bill. It seems that they along with Tesla have used up their 200k allotment for EV credits. Early adopters were receiving something like a $7,000 credit on their purchase. They are now lobbying for some 400k more credits. Let the games begin.

Oh, and I didn’t want to forget to mention a fella by the name of Jesse James. He is a hot rod builder up north of rural Vancouver. Seems his shop burned down along with all of his projects inside. It seems the fire was of mysterious origin. Jesse is not the kind of dude to ask for help. But any good Intel would be muchly appreciated.

OK GearHeads, got to wrap this up purty quick. Anybody hear about this year’s Indy pace car. Gonna be an AV. They say the chairman of GM will be driving again. Jus’ kiddin’ … I think? Lol, (get it?)

So here is another fancy E-Machine coming down the pike. The Pininfarina Battista was introduced at the New York Auto show. The supercar features 4 electric motors with 1900 horsepower. 0 to 60 in under 2 seconds along with a 300 mile range. And the price is what you would expect—only $2.5 Million.
Alrighty then, let’s end this with this: let us not forget the lowly RNG. Renewable Natural Gas comes from methane gas extracted from garbage. It can be used in the pipeline and it has a negative CO2 rating, that is to say that it’s carbon footprint actually leaves Mother Earth cleaner!
‘just sayin’
—Chuck Fasst #GearHeadsWorld

Top 5 reasons why you need to watch the Indy500 this year

❺ Proud as a peacock

Only one TV/ sports partnership has lasted longer: CBS and the Masters (since 1956). For 54 years ABC had been the exclusive broadcaster for the largest single day sporting event in the world. Until now. Before the 2018 season NBC Universal partners dropped a couple Million dollars to take over the reigns for the entire IndyCar schedule, but their eyes were set mainly on the crowning jewel of it all: The Indy500. As part of NBC’s exclusivity deal, fans can utilize the NBC Sports GOLD package to stream all practice sessions during the month – produced to full show quality and complete with a fleet of commentators (see next point.) The two-day qualifying shows May 18th and 19th have been overhauled as well to accommodate more interviews and more action. The main event itself will be on prime time NBC and will include the most comprehensive pre and post race coverage that NBC can muster. Keep a sharp eye out for revamping old traditions and staring new ones.

❹ Commentary, shaken—not stirred

The Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever bit worked well enough over the years but as the sport constantly evolves, so should the additional elements of the show. NBC plans to throw everything and the kitchen sink at their new baby including an unprecedented 14-broadcaster lineup. Why? Because NBC will do something that has never been done in motorsports broadcast history. They plan to be ‘on-air’ from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in some capacity or another for 99% of the days in May. In addition to Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Paul Tracy, NBC is clearing the NBC NASCAR and the NBC IMSA benches as well. Krista Voda, Rutledge Wood, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mike Tirico and Danica Patrick are only part of the dizzying lineup. So many points of view can only create a cocktail of commentary never been seen before around the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

❸ Fernando fever

If you keep up with motorsports news, you have undoubtedly heard about Fernando Alsonso’s return to IndyCar. After an extensive career in Formula 1, Fernando and McLaren team owner Zac Brown have decided to dip their toes in the IndyCar pool. A couple of years ago Fernando shocked the Formula 1 community by bowing out of the Monaco Grand Prix to race in the Indy500 for Andretti Autosport. Such a daring statement was clear: IndyCar is where the party is. A clandestine engine failure took out the contender, but not without an impressive surge to the front. Alonso was met with overwhelming excitement from fans and the Spaniard vowed to return.

This time is a little different. With the Andretti stable full, team McLaren sought support from Carlin Racing to field an entry. This also raises eyebrows, as Carlin is a Chevrolet team where Fernando has a long-standing relationship with top-competitor, Honda. Think of it like Michael Jordan suddenly appearing on an Adidas commercial after building an empire with Nike. Carlin is also an interesting choice as they are pretty fresh on the IndyCar scene themselves and have struggled with consistent finishes. Regardless, this will be a strong point of interest throughout the entire month.

❷ This ride is about to get bumpy

In case you didn’t know, only 33 cars can start the Indy500. It has pretty much been that way since the beginning. With the exception of some odd years in the 1910s and 20s, the historic 11 rows of 3 have stood the test of time. That was deemed to be a ‘safe’ number of cars to fit on the impressive 2.5-mile oval and is a strong tradition still carried on today. Through the 40s, 50s and 60s simply being fast enough to start in one of those 33 sports was a huge accomplishment. In that era, literally hundreds of drivers would flock to the speedway for a chance to make a qualifying run. On qualifying weekend, that pool would be narrowed down to the fastest guys—‘bumping’ the rest out of the field.

As the sport progressed and it became more expensive to race, people with deep enough pockets to fund these rides became scarce. Prior to 2017, it was a stretch to fill the field; therefore no one was ‘bumped’ out. Last year drama ensued when one of the regulars of the IndyCar field, James Hinchcliffe did not go fast enough to make the race, and therefore missed his chance to finish well in the points championship at the end of the season.

At this moment, numerous drivers have announced ‘one- off’ entries to stack ontop of the 24 IndyCar season regulars. Only 38 engines are available to use (19 Honda and 19 Chevy) and so far 34 have been spoken for including Conor Daly steeping into Andretti Autosport’s 5th car, Pippa Mann for Clauson/Marshall Racing, Fernando for Carlin, Sage Karam for Dreyer and Reinbold, and more. There are rumors that we will reach the full 38, but that is dependent on sponsorship dollars. There is always an abundance of drivers waiting in the wings to take their shot at the most prestigious crown in racing.

❶ It’s the *@&¤¥§£ Indy500

The sight, the sound the spectacle. The on track competition has never been tighter or more dynamic. This era of drivers hang it out on the line and have proven their talent, courage and luck lap after lap and year after year. If you are a consistent 500 viewer, this year will be a treat. If you have stopped watching over the years—no matter the reason— its time to come Back Home Again. Need I say more?

 

RAIN OR SHINE: South Albany High School Car Show 2019

As tradition would have it, car shows in early April are held in the rain. I have been to this particular show for several years. Some years there is beautiful weather, some years there is not. This year, even in the rain, it was a great show with a great variety of cars, trucks, muscle machines and hot rods.

The car show is a fundraiser for South Albany High School’s class of 2019 drug and alcohol free graduation party. Inside the school we were able to stay dry in the cafeteria with chances to win raffle prizes, and or buy hot drinks and snacks available to anyone who wanted to join in.

Several Mustangs were there. Julene Michell Clark brought her daily driver, a 2017 blue Mustang convertible. On the other side of the variety of vehicles was Terry Thompson’s 1951 Chevy rat rod, a licence plate-ladened pickup. The bed of the pickup truck is covered with license plates. Unique, right? The only car under cover was Anne Clark’s 1956 Nash Metro. Also, Chuck Barr brought his beautiful satin black, green flamed Mercury custom chopped 2-door.

Several car clubs were represented by their members. Beaver State Corvette Club, Rollin’ Oldies and a club new to me was the C3 Car Club out of Portland are just a sample of the clubs that were there.

The C3 Car Club is a club for modern muscle Camaros, Chargers and Challengers. Talking to the C3 Club president, “Rasta”, said it’s a new club that is about two years old. The club has 50 members and is a very family oriented club. C3 is one chapter of the over 40 chapters throughout the US and Germany. Can you picture modern muscle cars made in the USA on the Autobahn. This club travels to car shows all over. The farthest they have gone is a 14 hour trip to North Hollywood, California. This day they arrived in Albany with 12 beautiful cars. They looked beautiful, even in the rain. Among my favorite cars is one you don’t see too often. It’s an outstanding 1974 VW Karmann Ghia convertible owned by Dennis Tomlinson. Last, but not least, C3 member, Steve Vanverhoof brought his 2017 Dodge Charger. It’s center strip was a light blue that was scalloped. Very unique!

If you go to car shows, go even in the rain. The South Albany High School show is one that provides money for a good cause and you may be surprised at who shows up!

63rd Annual Portland Roadster Show

It’s really quite amazing that 2019 marks the 63 year that the Portland Roadster Show has graced one venue or another here in Portland Oregon. This show is one of the longest running shows in the USA, Yep! Right here in Portland. This year’s show was again at the Portland Expo Event Center. It filled up hall C, D and E to the brim with customs, street rods, hot rods, rat rods, cars of all shapes and sizes, even Optimus Prime, a giant diesel rig famous for its role in the Movies.

There was a fleet of famous old customs from the 50’s and 60’s, some brand new over the top builds built by local car builders as well as nationally famous builds being shown all over the US at shows like Portland’s Roadster Show.

I heard that the attendance was down this year, someone said it was likely because the weather was really quite nice, for the first time in quite a while, but it looked to me like there were a lot of spectators strolling through the show each time I was there, which was all three days plus set up day, Thursday. And the quality of the cars was off the chart. My friend Bill Nelson had the same opinion as I had on the quality of the cars this year. They were first class.

I think every nearby builder was there in force with cars as well as booths to talk about what their shops do for their clients. Steve’s Auto Restoration had a large display again this year and of course several of the fantastic cars they have built in the last couple years. Maybe some year I’ll have a car worthy of showing at the PRS. I hope so.

With 63 years of history and the super high quality displayed this year I’m guessing next year will be a repeat of 2019, but with new and different displays, cars, vendors and fun to be had by all you car guys and gals out there. PRS 2020 will be back for the 64th in March next spring. Plan to be there, you’ll be glad you did.