State Fair

“Honey, you have a bit of butter dripping down your chin,” said Robin Miller as he handed me a napkin. I am not normally this messy, but then again, I am not normally eating a piping hot ear of fresh corn doused in melted butter and parmesan. This is a day of ‘I don’t normally.

I don’t normally make it a habit of eat -ing something that takes three hands and a bushel of napkins. I also don’t normally let people call me ‘honey’- but Robin Miller gets away with that, from him it’s a term of endearment. Above all, I don’t normally hang out with a bunch of IndyCar drivers outside of work. Today was a special occasion.

“Welcome to the 11th annual Robin Miller and Tony Kanaan Day at the Indiana State Fair!” yelled Robin triumphantly. The quasi-famous writer turned NBC Sports Pit reporter looks forward to this every year. A staple in the IndyCar paddock, Miller arranges for a group of drivers, their significant others and varying IndyCar workers to spend an evening together at the historic Indiana State Fairgrounds munching on Midwestern delicacies and learning about the racing history of the property we were on.

This year’s driver lineup included Tony Kanaan (of course) and his wife Lauren, Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe and his new bride Becky, and IndyCar rookie Marcus Ericsson and his girlfriend Alex. Both Marcus and Alex were from Sweden and had yet to experience the true red white and blue fair before. They were the guests of honor.
Once our party arrived at the correct Pork Tenderloin tent, of which there are many, we set off.

“We come every year,” explained Lauren Kanaan “we bring our kids on their own night, this is more just fun amongst friends. The Indiana Dairy Association booth is always the first stop to get grilled cheeses… Tony can even eat it in one bite!” Walking up to the circular-shaped black and white cow painted building, I could see that everyone else at the fair that night had the same idea. After slowly shuffling to the front of the line, Robin tossed a couple of bills to the teenager inside and said, “Give me however many grill cheeses that is.” Walking away with a comically teetering Dr. Seuss- like stack of grilled cheese sandwiches, he handed them out to anyone that might want one in our group. I was determined to try everything.

It was a similar routine going with fried Oreos, fried cookie dough, fried cake batter, fried mozzarella sticks, fried cinnamon donuts, fried funnel cakes, and – Robin’s favorite—fried apple turnovers. Ever the adventurist, Marcus tried everything as well. “Actually, the fried Oreos are pretty good!” he chewed, wiping away a smear of powdered sugar.

Aimed at the colorful midway, we slowly progressed towards the games. Strangely enough in the crowd, fans occasionally stopped us to take a picture but more often stared and whispered in recognition. Everyone was most excited to see Tony, for his career in IndyCar has been the longest and he was the only one with his face on the BorgWarner trophy.
“Let’s see how athletic you are!” yelled Robin as he steered Marcus to the nearest basketball shooting game. “Have you ever held a basketball or thrown a football- and not the soccer kind of football but the football kind of football?” Marcus shook his head with a nervous grin starting to form. What did he sign himself up for?

“Here honey, we have this group here and everyone is going to take a turn. We will just keep shooting until we win some.” A couple hundred dollars and lots of attempts later, we as a group toted numerous 4 ft. tall stuffed animals with bulging eyes. Though James, Conor and Tony each won their own, Lauren Kanaan was far and away the best at the carnival games, walking away with a prize under each arm and a massive stuffed elephant perched on her shoulders.

“The fairgrounds are around the big horse track here-,” pointed Robin “That dirt track was where they always held the Hoosier Hundred. The likes of AJ (Foyt) and Mario (Andretti), Parnelli (Jones) and Jim (Hurtubise), all those guys that raced Indy in the 50s, 60s, 70s, they all raced here as well. They raced open wheel Champ cars- what they now call Silver Crown. If you could win the Hoosier Hundred, you’d for sure have a ride for Indy. It was a different time.” Robin sighed and passed around more napkins. Sadly, the Hoosier Hundred had its last year at the fairgrounds this past May and the facility was set to be paved over. Robin telling these stories was his way of preserving what was left of the history.

The sun set as we listened to stories from Robin. Kanaan appeared to have fallen asleep with his head rested on a giant stuffed animal. Marcus and Alex spoke to each other in Swedish and we all were starting to sweat out the sugary sweetness from what we had eaten earlier in the night.

We parted ways and I waddled back to my car, filled with stories and fried dough and tired from laughing. I cannot wait to come back next year.

Still a Family Affair

My brother and I attended our first auto race together—It was the Monterey Grand Prix in 1966. We were fortunate enough to go with my best friend and his family, six of us in total. I think my friend’s father had a lot of guts to haul a carload of pre-teen boys all the way down there for the day. And he did it couple more times after that!

In 1971 my brother and I struck out on our own. We piled my 75cc Kawasaki mini bike into the trunk of our parent’s car and spent the day buzzing around the perimeter of Laguna Seca. In retrospect, I have to say that it was one of the best days “Scotty” and I ever spent together. Through the eighties and into the nineties I continued to attend road races and occasionally Scotty would partake but that was with a large ensemble of people. Finally in 1994, we attended our first (and only) Winston Cup race together. Somehow I had come up with a couple free tickets and just he and I spent the day together- this time in Sonoma. By the mid-nineties he had moved his family away from the Bay Area and we just stopped seeing each other. As the years ticked by, we grew distant.

Scotty’s health declined in recent years. He moved into assisted living in 2016 and hospice care a couple months ago. On the Friday before this year’s Grand Prix of Portland, he passed away. I spent Saturday in mourning with three of my four sisters but planned to attend the race on Sunday. My daughter Cora would be there on behalf of NBC and my eldest sister Vickie (whom had never been to see the IndyCars before) commit to joining us as well.

On Sunday morning I awoke with Scotty heavily on my mind. At first I tried to push the memories aside but ultimately I decided to embrace them. I have a closet full of racing shirts but instead chose one of Scotty’s to wear as a tribute. I thought about him while I prepared my food for the day- he would have loved that process. Once I arrived at PIR, I contacted Cora and we set up a rendezvous. When we met, we shared a lengthy hug (I hadn’t seen her since Indy) then sat down for a nice visit. Unfortunately, she barely knew my brother and that is on me.

Based on the starting grid, the outcome of this year’s Grand Prix was difficult to predict. Nineteen year old rookie Colton Herta snatched the pole from Aussie Will Power at the conclusion of qualifying. The second row contained five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon and Englishman Jack Harvey driving the most under-financed entry in the field. Dixon’s rookie teammate Felix Rosenqvist posted fifth quickest time and non-championship contender Ryan Hunter-Ryan was slotted sixth.

On the initial green, fifteenth starting Graham Rahal pulled a bonehead move on the inside and ruined the day for both Arrow Schmidt Peterson entries as well as Andretti driver Zach Veach. Rahal’s gaffe even damaged his teammate Takuma Sato’s mount, depriving the defending Portland champion of any chance at an encore performance. After twelve laps under full course yellow, the race was restarted and Hunter-Reay pulled a remarkably similar move to Rahal’s. Attempting to block his teammate Alexander Rossi’s inside pass, he arrived in turn one too hot, spun sideways and slammed into the pink and black entry of Harvey. Hunter-Reay was able to continue (at an uncompetitive pace) but Harvey’s day was finished before it started.

On the third try, the race began without incident. Young Herta set the pace with Dixon getting around Power followed by Rossi and Rosenqvist.

At thirty five laps it appeared that Herta had used up his tires and was holding up the procession. Two laps later Dixon made a pass for the lead and Herta immediately began to pedal backward. When he pit on lap forty, the order was Dixon, Power, Rossi, Rosenqvist and point leader Josef Newgarden up from the thirteenth starting berth.

Around lap forty two, the rest of the front runners began green flag pit stops for fresh rubber and fuel. After cycling through, the running order was virtually unchanged except for Rossi and Rosenqvist swapping positions.

Then on the fiftieth circuit, leader Dixon lost power and came coasting down pit lane. Critical time was lost when his crew was forced to rescue him, push him to his designated stop, remove the engine cowl and replace the battery. For all intents and purposes this ended the New Zealander’s bid for a sixth title.

At half the distance, Will Power had inherited the lead with Rosenqvist second, Rossi third, Newgarden fourth and Herta back on pace in fifth.

The running order didn’t change until Herta had a go at Newgarden and secured the spot on lap sixty seven. Second in points Simon Pagenaud and Marco Andretti got together while dicing for sixth but both were able to continue. Andretti received the worst of this altercation as up to this point he had run just outside the top five all day.

Little changed on the course until rookie Santino Ferrucci (running eleventh) coasted out of the last turn and stalled on the pit lane exactly as Dixon had. This brought out the yellow with eight laps remaining and set up a dramatic single file dash to the finish.

Much to Power’s credit, he got an excellent restart and raced unchallenged to the checkered flag. The popular Swede, Rosenqvist tied his best finish to date by placing second. Third in point standings and on the track Rossi, did little to gain ground in his title bid as Newgarden crossed the line fifth, just arrears of Herta. The championship will be decided September 22nd at Laguna Seca.

After the races I sought out my sister and brother-in-law. They had difficultly following the action but enjoyed themselves nonetheless. My sister said she was mostly there to see and support my daughter who joined us after wrapping up her responsibilities in Victory Circle. There were hugs and smiles all around. We escaped from the racetrack and huddled in a booth at a nearby coffee shop. Over a good meal we reminisced and laughed- it was the highlight of my day.

In my family auto racing has always been a family affair and if Scotty were still with us, he would have been right in the middle of it. Rest in peace, brother.

Albany Antiques in the Streets and Classic Car Show

Downtown Albany, Oregon always seems to be busy with the carousel and all the quaint little shops and antique shops. However, one Saturday in September the downtown is overflowing with cars, people, vendors and antiques.

The Antique and Car Show is the place where you can see and buy the toy cars you had as a kid and the classic cars you want to have as an adult. One of the phrases I have heard over and over again is, “I used to have one of those.“ Now that could go for the old tin cars and truck toys as well as the classic hot rods, trucks and muscle cars.

One of the most beautiful hot rods was a ‘32 Ford roadster with black paint and purple flames and a blower coming out of the hood. The paint job was beautiful—gloss black with purple flames going clear down the side of the car. It is owned by Ted and Judy Johnson from Prineville.

When was the last time you saw a real original Woody? A 1950 Ford Woody station wagon owned by David Krumwiede of Albany. The neat thing about this was about two blocks down from it was a steel toy woody with surfboards that looked just like it—with the exception of the surfboards!

A classic Red ‘56 VW bug owned by Gail and Greg Ashbeck was matched by a yellow VW Bug ragtop toy model in booth two or three blocks away.

The streets of Albany were lined with antique and crafts booths, cars, trucks, and a ton of people. One thing I saw was an old rusty pedal car that looked like an early Mustang. I walked a few blocks down the road and there was a beautiful fully restored Mustang pedal car on display in front of a matching real ‘66 Mustang.

The phrase, “I used to have one of those“ holds true for me. For more than 20 years, my son and I have owned and are now restoring a real ‘65 Mustang Coupe. It is for my son and my grandsons when they get old enough to drive. I just need to get the toy for me!

Hot Rods for Heros

The American Legion, Post 83, in Eugene hosted their Hot Rods For Heros Car Show this past September 8th. An overcast and threatening Sunday scared away some, but only the brave and intrepid shrugged it off as just another September squall. Some sprinkles—just enough to wet the cars – fell around mid morning. As soon as most of the participants had dried their vehicles, another bigger cloud opened up and washed them down again.

I must admit I did take partial shelter under a spreading tree. The brief rain found me, along with some car owners, my wife Patty and our dog April. The skies cleared again and back out came my camera. I was able to shoot the ladies from ‘’Oregon Pin Ups For A Cause’’ with a Willis Jeep done up in olive drab, along with another truck they admired. I got to dream about owning a ‘39 Ford that was for sale, and then a beautiful 95 point station wagon that too, was looking for a new owner. Stock colors, detailed engine, lots of glass won me over. The 1955 Pontiac Safari is a long stretch from bumper to bumper. Current owner Larry Krause told me has bocu-bucks into the green and ivory land yacht but that the time has come for a new custodian of the gorgeous gargantuan. He’s happy with his bright red pick up that he’s keeping. (His son drove the wagon to the show.)

Whilst under that tree I mentioned a while back, I ran into Jack Tillery who is the proud owner and builder of a completely modified Ford Starliner. His 1960 bright yellow two-door custom is off the wall. The flat pan, bumper-less rear of the car is the only added metal on the ride. The wings and marriage of Ford sheet metal and custom treatments are done in fiberglass. Always great to see a Ford in a Ford, Jack’s creation sports a Dearborn 428.
How about a Pontiac in a Pontiac? Simon and Diane Carranza built their ‘52 Pontiac Chieftain and stuffed it with a 400 cubic inch from a 1971. Backed up with a turbo 400 it sports 272 cruisin gears. Headlights are frenched in. So are the tail lights.

I did enjoy The Survivors band that played some pretty good tunes. We had a pressing family commitment on our calendar and was sorry I couldn’t stay the full day.

One last thing I need to add; fellow car nut and photographer Jim Wray was there with his 50’s Dodge truck. Jim always seemed to be able to attend multiple shows in a weekend. What we did not know that this was to be his final car show. I learned only two days after, that Jim was felled by a heart attack. His photos (on Facebook) will keep his memory alive for a lot of us. RIP my friend.

High Desert Swap Meet & Car Show

Several friends of mine made the annual trek to Central Oregon to attend the Oregon High Desert Swap Meet and car show in Redmond Oregon. These folks load up their travel trailers and piles of no longer needed but very useful parts and etc. (you know, treasures,) and drag them to the Deschutes County Fairgrounds & Expo Center. Jim Estes shared some pictures (seen here) of the festivities, well not all the festivities, there aren’t any pics where Whiskey was involved. After all, this a family paper, ya know.

By the way. This is a pretty good little meet, often with great cars and parts. Plus, it’s a great place to take your camping apparatus and make a weekend of it. Good times.

Take Care of It While I Am Away

On the eve of May 21st, 1951 my older brother grabbed my arm and asked me to come with him. I was just 13 and lived in the shadows of my older brother.  Harper could do no wrong. He was known for his athletic abilities, he was not only Class President, but was also the Prom King. Girls wanted to date him, guys wanted to be him. To me, he was just my older brother. I knew him for how he and Dad would knock heads how he hated yard work. That his fears of spiders lead to pranks I’d do on him. With all of his accolades the one thing I really felt in awe was the ’31 Model A sedan he had.  Harp had drug it out of the hills and Dad was so angry he had done so.  Soon after there was a ’32 Ford frame, then running gear from a wrecked ’42 Mercury. As the sedan was chopped, then placed upon the frame and the front and rear axles bolted in place, a set of big ‘n little’s on Ford steelies were bolted in place too. The clincher came when Harp learned of a near new Cadillac had been wrecked badly and he had made a deal and drug home a 331 OHV mill. His senior year was a blur of school activities, his job and building that sedan.  He did them all. Not only did he drive the sedan to his graduation, but he graduated with honors and a scholarship. Then there was me. 13 years old and not one interested in sports at all, a band student and a writer too.  Cars fascinated me, but I did not have the same keen abilities that my older brother did. I was a shadow in everything Harper would do, but I loved him so much.  He always made time for me and would brag about my stories, how I excelled in band class.

So here we were, out in the garage standing beside that hot rod he had built. He walked me around to the passenger’s side front and I could tell something was amiss. He was nervous and kind of shifted his weight from side to side. He closed his eyes and then set a hand on my shoulder and one on the cowl of the sedan.  “Look Benji, I need you to do something for me. See, I signed up and will be leaving within a week to Korea. “His words hit me like a brick. I gasped. He shook his head, “Now come on man, I will be a part of the US Army. We just saved the world from those nasty Nazis, so, how hard can it be for us to defeat those commies?”  I nodded and bit the insides of my cheeks. No way was I going to shed tears in front of my brother. I just nodded and stared at the engine in the sedan. “Now, take care of it while I am away.” Then we sprung into action. We jacked the sedan up and carefully placed cinder blocks under the drive train front and rear. We drained the antifreeze, popped the plugs and squirted oil into the cylinder holes. The gas tank was bone dry so we then pulled out some old tarpaulins and covered the sedan.  And there she sat.  Looking like some crazy canvas ghost in the garage. We headed for the door and again, Harper turned to me and said, “Take care of it while I am away.”

He left the very next week. Harper was everything and more the Army could have hoped for. He was a skilled marksman, had leadership qualities and no fear.  Then in August, he was gone. In WWII in our home town, we were always informed of anything that our boys were fighting for. But, when our soldiers were sent to Korea, silence. We never heard anything about Harper and that became the end of my parents. Mother shut down and would spend her days in silence. Father, well, he quit his job and became an over the road truck driver. He spent days away from us. I grew up now out of the shadows Harper cast.  I wrote, played drums and watched over the sedan.

Why? Well, Harper wanted me too.

 PRESENT DAY

I became the owner of the home I grew up in. My folks passed but I carried on. Bess and I married and we kept the old home up and always in the garage, under those heavy canvas tarps, Harper’s sedan sat waiting. My nightly routine would involve myself sitting in my studio out in the garage and practicing on my kit. Slow rolls, poly rhythms. Anything to challenge my mind. It was toward the end of October one night when Bess came out to may space, excited! The door opened and there she was, lovely as always standing in the door way. She was just beaming. “Ben, I just saw on a report from the BBC that a cache of bones from lost American soldiers has been discovered! Dog Tags too!” I set my sticks down and then, before I could respond, the tarps that had sat covering the Model A fell to the floor. The car my brother had built and had asked me to watch over and I had, vanished.
Bess and I looked at each other. Then, outside, we heard the loud crackle of pipes.

I raced across the garage and threw open the doors.  With Bess at my side we looked out into the darkness and beneath the street lights, there was the sedan with Harper behind the wheel. He blipped the throttle and that Caddy mill cackled into the night, fire shot from the straight pipes.

I had walked in a daze from the garage and was within an arm’s reach of the old Model A hot rod, I saw Harper.  Young. Alive. That crazy grin of his. We locked eyes and I lost it.  Tears washed across my gaze. “You took care of it while I was away! Thanks Benji!”
Harper nailed the throttle and the ‘31 powered by that Cadillac V8 and my brother raced away.

Bess sauntered up to me. She wrapped an arm around me. My shoulders shook as tears washed away memories of Harper and his Model A.

I kept my word and safe guarded my brother’s hot rod because somehow, I knew, he would return.

Thanks to Gary Campesi and his amazing artwork.

What Is Going On? Well, This…

No doubt, some of you are wondering why there is a pic of a couple of dudes holding up fish in a car paper. Let me explain that recently myself and my brother-in-law, Bill spent an entire week on the water out at buoy 10 in a drift boat. Now, any of you GearHeads that do fish and I hope there are quite a few of you, know that there is a little bit of lunacy going on here. A drift boat puttering around the Columbia River bar? We won’t be doing that again.

My point is that we did have occasion to interact with a number of fishing guides out there. And by and large, these guys were millennials. Now, last month I mentioned the hot rodder millennials and how they seem to have a lot more going on than many of their counterparts.

I couldn’t help but notice the same things with these fishing guides. They are working in close concert with the bounty that mother Earth offers up out here in the great Pacific Northwest. They are very dedicated to their craft, paying close attention to the details at hand as they go about their work. If only many other millennials out in the cities were so dedicated.
One guide was David Klistoff who was camped near us along with his young son, Jacob. He has this cool boat that he and his grandpa built. He took us out for free on our final day there. Good times.

Now I must pause here for a moment to honor one of our latest, Jessi Combs. If you were watching the news last month, you saw it. She died in her quest to be the fastest woman on Earth. It all happened here in Oregon. I remember watching her when she was the GearHead girl, TV host. I think it might have been called PowerBlock back then.

And now for some bits and pieces from the car world. Let’s start with Hot Rod Drag Week, which is currently in progress at press time. Who will end up being the fastest street car in the world? This event is way cool because we have guys like David Freiburger and Brian Lohnes giving us blow-by-blow reporting in a live feed through Motor Trend, everyday.

When it comes to track announcing I think these guys got it all over NHRA. With their easy back-and-forth banter, they share intimate knowledge of the goings-on down in the pits. Instead of focusing in on the heroes. They make sure that every single racer is mentioned. There are many stories from the road as all of these racers make their way along the streets between these race tracks back East.

One thing they make clear is how racers help other racers throughout this event. I much prefer this over what I’ve seen amongst certain bracket racers. This seems to be reflected among their sponsors as well. Their long line of sponsors seems to be strictly committed to hardcore, aftermarket suppliers. No big Pepsi or Camping World sponsors to be seen here. We see things like the NOS nitrous company hanging back in the pits refilling all of the racers’ NOS bottles for free! Can you beat that?

This event is really wild. Consider that the cap for the car count of this racing event is set at 400 cars. If I got this right, that number was hit earlier this year 7 minutes after entries were opened! And then … 700 more cars end up on the waiting list! Are you firking kidding me?
With that said, I look around at PIR on Wednesday nights. I see all of the bracket racing going on at the track. And the huge Beaches hot rod Cruise taking place back in the trees, throughout the summer. And I see something unique unlike anything else that is happening out in the nation. But what else I see, is tremendous opportunity. I can see all kinds of ways of combining these two events with a kind of interaction between hot rodders and racers never-before-seen. Perhaps making Portland the envy of many others out there and having more fun than the law allows.
But this sort of thing requires innovation and forward thinkers. Something Portland has lacked for as long as I can remember in the Motorsports world. Better to just leave everything just as it is, year after year.
Everybody has heard of the Detroit Auto show, right? It is the big one where all the newest of cars are introduced. Evidently they have been having problems with big car companies pulling out due to lack of interest. They are having to revamp their whole business plan. Evidently they will be incorporating much more festive events to liven up an old tradition. I’m curious to see what they come to the table with.

Wow, there sure is a bunch of rumbling going on amongst the UAW, isn’t there? All of those top Union officials getting busted. They be walking the perp walk. And here they are right in the middle of an impending strike. It appears that the UAW has chosen GM to strike first. Some kind of talked about the Arlington plant.

A couple of interesting factoids about GM: they have the highest labor costs. They also pay the highest wages, the average being $140k/yr. Then they have a 12% AWOL workforce. This is considered to be a quite high absentee rate for union workers.

Anyway, here is something they had to say over at Autoline concerning the Arlington plant. Evidently the Arlington plant has been working on max overtime for a hella long time, say about a decade! They figure these workers are pretty weary and could use a break. So if they decide to strike … Well, GM has amassed quite an inventory. Apparently GM can keep going for some time…

Now for news from the other side of the world. The big time Auto Show over on that side is the Frankfurt Auto Show in Germany. Evidently there is some group over there calling themselves “Rocks in the Gearbox”. They attack the cars in the show with rocks and hammers and such. They have inflicted serious damage and there are talks of a riot. Huh?

’nuff said, Chuck Fasst #GearHeadsWorld