California Dreamin’

In the late sixties, when Indycar racing was at the height of its popularity, a group of businessmen endeavored to build a replica of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in California.

Construction began in an Ontario vineyard in September of 1968 and was completed in time to host the inaugural California 500, Labor Day Weekend less than two years later. The Ontario Motor Speedway was the most technically advanced racetrack of its day with computerized timing, scoring and display and a state-of-the-art sound system. It was the same length as Indianapolis (2½ miles) but an additional lane wider all the way around. Best of all, the infield was free of obstructions enabling the spectators to see the entire course from any seat in the house.

The OMS Board of Directors read like a celebrity Who’s Who: actors Kirk Douglas and Paul Newman, race team owners J.C. Agajanian, Parnelli Jones, Briggs Cunningham and Roger Penske. Even comedian turned racer Dick Smothers was involved up to his eye teeth. Two time Indy 500 winner Roger Ward was hired on as Public Relations Director.

180,000 attended the first race making it the largest crowd to witness a sporting event in California history. Among those in attendance were actors Glen Ford, Robert Stack, Werner Klemperer and James Garner. Senator Barry Goldwater was on hand as well as (then Governor) Ronald Reagan. President Richard Nixon did a fly over!

By all accounts, the race itself was a barn burner. Popular Texan Lloyd Ruby paced the thirty three car field but ’70 Indy winner Al Unser forged his way to the point on lap two. Unser was driving the iconic Johnny Lightening Special owned by Parnelli Jones which proved to be the dominate car that season. Unser and Ruby tussled for the opening ten laps before Unser secured the lead and led until the first round of pit stops. California racing legend Dan Gurney and New Yorker Peter Revson each led briefly but Unser was in command throughout most of the day. Then with fourteen laps remaining Unser’s turbocharger failed and he handed off the lead to Stock Car ace Leeroy Yarbrough. Yarbrough’s reign lasted only five rotations before he succumbed to a blown engine. That passed the baton to capable Oregonian Art Pollard who battled tooth and nail with Jim McElreath (in A.J. Foyt’s backup car) to the finish. Pollard revealed later that a slow leak in one of his tires allowed McElreath to best him in the final four laps and fewer than two seconds separated them at the flag. From a guaranteed purse of half a million, McElreath collected $146,850. – By far the biggest payday in his twenty five year racing career.

OMS hosted three other major events in 1970- the NHRA Super Nationals, a 500 mile NASCAR Stock Car race and a non-points event for Formula One cars. Though the attendance for each event was substantial, it was not what the promoters had projected. In 1971 the 250 mile Champion Spark Plug Motorcycle Classic and the California National Air Races were added to the schedule. Over the next decade major rock festivals were hosted by the speedway as well but nothing seemed to give them relief from the tremendous debt they had incurred in building the facility. OMS was built at a cost of $25.5 million and financed with interest bearing bonds. As time went on (and attendance at their promotions declined) the management was unable to meet the $2 million a year interest payments. By 1980 the speedway was upside-down but conversely the land on which it sat, had gone up in value expeditiously. Chevron Development Company wanted the land and got it by paying off the bondholders. First order of business was tearing down the ten year old “Taj Mahal” of racing facilities. Sadly, nothing remains of it forty years later.

Roger Ward predicted that whoever won the inaugural California 500 would achieve immortality- like Ray Harroun did in winning the first Indianapolis 500. Jim McElreath’s victory was hard fought and no fluke. Unfortunately it was achieved at a magnificent racetrack that is virtually forgotten today.

King of the Shops

When you think of the history of the Indy 500 you think of names like Unser, Andretti, and Foyt. Move further into the folds of the photo album, and you’ll find the builders behind the drivers. Huge innovators in the sport like Miller, Watson, and Gurney—to name a few—have been the driving forces of change at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the years. In the rich tapestry of the sport, the Pacific Northwest claims a few names of note as their very own. Tom Sneva from Spokane, WA carried the banner and Rolla Vollstedt from Portland, OR enacted change to name a few. Another great name that earned his place in the record books is Grant King.

Born in China in 1933, Grant King and his family immigrated to Victoria, British Columbia early in life. Like many, King became addicted to racing at a young age. Working in his brother’s machine shop, a customer brought a sprint car by and that was all to took for young King to become enamored with racing. According to the Sprint Car Hall of Fame’s archives, King stated: “I was still in school at the time in machine shop class, instead of making screwdrivers and chisels like everyone else, I was making sprint car parts.”

After a stint living in Portland, OR and working alongside the renowned car builder, Rolla Volldesdt, King moved to Indianapolis to be close to the big show. He made a home and eventually race shop on Crawfordsville Road that stands today. Nephew of Grant, Billy Throckmorton grew up on the property and keeps the memory of his uncle alive to this very day.

The current owner and operator of Grant King Racers, Throckmorton and his wife Stephanie live on the very property that Grant’s shop and original house were built. They own hundreds of hours of old footage, photographs and memorabilia as well as numerous cars built by King. After a devastating fire in 2015, the shop had to be rebuilt and inventory had to be taken. Today, the Throckmortons pride themselves in running the business as part museum, part operational race shop. They work in restoration, host events and have on display incredible amounts of photos and crew clothing. Each item has a story, and each story the Throckmortons are more than willing to tell you.

From Indy cars, sprint cars, modifieds, and midgets, it is estimated that King built over 250 cars from scratch. King worked alongside Vollsedt, A.J. Watson, the Granatelli brothers, and many others before forming his own IndyCar team in 1970.

Many, many, many well-to-do drivers of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s drove King’s cars—Indy Cars and otherwise. It is easy to look straight to drivers in the record books, but those who were part of the team are just as important. In his lifetime, King helped win the Indy 500, numerous dirt car championships in multiple disciplines and frankly, stood out as one of the only Asian-American around the paddock through the decades. From the stories to the physical pieces of history that the Throckmortons have on display, there are lots to see at this little shop. They welcome visitors and will take any chance to tell a great story and share memories. An excellent way to honor a memory, it is worth the stop for any enthusiast of IndyCar history.

Sacramento Autorama

On last month’s cover we published a teaser photo from the Sacramento Autorama. One of my “Bucket List” events. Three of my friends and I flew down last month to check out the historical show, The 70th Annual. We had a good time and saw a lot of cars. In part because the weather was very cooperative, 65 and sunny every day we were there.

There was building after building full of cars. One particular building housed room after room of some of the nicest cars we’ve ever seen, Low Riders in particular were well represented. Now, this style of “Custom” may not appeal to everyone but you sure can’t argue with the fact that these guys know how to build some spectacular cars. Virtually every inch of these cars is finished and detailed to the “N” degree, and the paint jobs! The paint jobs must take months to complete due to all the affects, stripes, colors and minute details etc.
Since the weather was so nice, we lucked out also, because there was a “cruise in” in the parking area near the buildings. Many of these cars and trucks were as nice or nicer than those on display inside the buildings.

If I didn’t mention it already, this show is huge by comparison to say the Portland Roadster Show. One thing for sure though, even though the corona virus has negatively impacted our lives and resulted in the cancellation of the 64th Annual Portland show, as ‘car people,” I think we should all be proud of OUR SHOW. By comparison, the Portland Roadster Show is every bit as good as the Sacramento Autorama, just smaller. I’d plan to go to next years Portland Roadster Show, heck why not plan to hit the Sacramento show too.

Springtime, Remission and the 47C Roadster

His buddies called him Soupbone. Primarily, because of his size, 6’4’’ a tall gentle giant. For the past year and a half, he had been wrestling the unwanted visitor known as Cancer. No one knows how they will respond if or when they have the diagnosis, but when the dark secret is revealed, you either fall or fly.

For two years he wrestled the beast. Through back pain so debilitating it had him bed ridden, the times where he could not walk. Sleepless nights beside his beloved wife that would make the normal person shelve one’s sights of living, but his tiny wife would squeeze his hand in the middle of the night and assure him he had years to live.

Before his condition had been revealed Soupbone had been toiling over his restoration of his old race car. A ’29 Model A Roadster powered by a Y Block V8 he had massaged into a contender at the tracks in his youth. Time, that enemy of youth had drained the  miles and years one ¼ mile at a time and had torn away the zip of the once powerful roadster, but Soupbone had it in his mind that he still had a winning combination and was on the rebuild when his diagnosis read red across the board.

Cancer. Malicious. The silent killer.

One night, after he was into his chemo program, he walked out to his shop and took it all in. 47c had been partially disassembled and was scattered across his work benches, the floor and upon his long stalled ’63 Galaxie project. He wondered how the hell he could ever put it back together. Time and his notion for a heavy left foot had taken a toll on his old hot rod. His lower back was starting to ache again when the door to his shop opened and his tiny wife was there.
“Bear, I know you better than anyone alive. I feel that with the cancer that is raging inside you, well, you feel hopeless.” She paused. Her brown eyes shimmered under the shop lights. A tear rolled down her left cheek. “But, you have to know, you have been through worse. You are a survivor. A fixer. You put life into things that many have abandoned. I think that if you channel that strength, that gift of reviving things many have left for dead into yourself, you will succeed.”

His lovely tiny misses walked up to him and they embraced. He tried with all of his might to hold it together, but eventually melted down in her embrace. She always had her way of giving him strength, drive to conquer what he feared.

Bear kept that a memory locked into his mind. He even wrote his wife’s words down and would look at them as he went through all of his treatments and as he would toil over 47c in his shop.

Bear lost his hair, he shed body mass and at times felt that he was not too far from cashing it all in. But even as his body battled the demon C, he would walk out to his shop every night and attempt to accomplish one more thing on the checklist. As the results began to show in his favor, so did the progress on his roadster.  Bear felt, at times, he and 47c were kindred spirits, both just battling to stay alive, one helping the other to make it another day.

Bear’s numbers dropped and with his drive to end his suffering and drive to kick cancer’s ass, he did. It was not easy. But he had the passion and yearning to live just one more day. To see the moon, stars, see that amazing sunrise. To kiss his tiny wife, hear his grandchildren laugh and another thing, to drive his roadster.
April 27th the news arrived that he was cured. The cancer was gone, and he was given a good bill of health.

Dawn cracked the skies with cherry blossoms and daffodils. Honeybees were hunting for pollen and as the sun climbed the skies, the hills surrounding Buena Vista awoke and reached for the warmth. Bear walked out to his shop, climbed into 47c and strapped in. He bowed his head and smirked. It was a routine he had done since he built the old Ford decades ago and here he was as an old man doing the same routine. Cinched the belts, glanced in the rearview mirror, a few stabs of the throttle, flick of the wrist and –whirr-whirr-Whirr-VAROOM! 47c fired up and the garage was alive with the rapport of the Y Block sending her music through the short headers. A quick stab of the throttle, clutch engaged, and Bear was off.

She watched as he drove out of the garage and headed into the hills, smiling all the while.

She watched her survivor, fighter, partner drive his old roadster and as they raced out of sight, she knew he was cured.

—Dedicated to every cancer patient out there.
You can do it. Fight. Be Strong. Cancer sucks. Long live the survivors. If you love the artwork reach out to Gary Campesi.

2020 Salem Roadster Show & Salem Unique Street & Car Culture Show

For the second year in a row, the Salem Roadster Show saw record crowds, and along with attendees being treated to the Best of the Best, they also got a second show to attend, and the opportunity to see 5 amazing and diverse vehicles compete for the inaugural Pacific NW Emerald Award.

Matt Ward of Grants Pass took home the amazing eagle sculpture trophy and a check for $1500, with his candy apple red 1964 Chevy C10 pickup. The multi-faceted voting structure of the award came down to one point between the top two competitors, with only Wards vehicle being identified as the awards winner. Sponsors of the award: Weston KIA/Buick/GMC, Precision Body & Paint, Roddin & Racin Magazine, Better Car Shows, The Insurance Garage, PDX CarCulture, The Salem Roadster Show, Amazing Creations, along with five randomly selected exhibitors, five randomly selected attendee to the show, and a professional car show judge were all given ballots to rank the five contenders from 1 to 5. Those scores were then tallied, and the lowest point total took home the award. When the award was presented, Ward shared how the build was in memory of his Son Bobby who had passed away. Even the show promoters Bob Symon and Greg Roach did not know the winner until the envelope was handed to them to open. It was a touching moment, and the other four contenders all embraced Matt’s win.

During the award ceremony, Bob and Greg also made two significant charitable donations to two worthy charities in attendance. Vince Castronovo with Wake the World Oregon was the first recipient. Wake the World takes kids in foster programs, or who have a parent that is incarcerated, out to local lakes for a day of fun on the water. The impact of what they do is tremendous, and Vince was humbled to receive the donation. The other donation was presented in a unique way. DJ for the show Russ Strohmeyer was called up to read the next charitable organization, only to learn that it was his own Brent Strohmeyer Memorial Foundation that provides scholarships to young people with average grades in school, in an attempt to give them the opportunity for a college education. The foundation is named after his Son Brent who was an active car kid that was killed in a car accident.

Once again attendees were treated to a whole new batch of 100+ cars in the Jackman Long Bldg, has it was completely packed. The comments on social media after the show were all in appreciation of being able to go to a show and not see the same cars over and over again, and for the quality of the vehicles. Kudos to Bob and Greg for making their annual trek up and down the west coast in search of new cars to be the Best of the Best.

Next door in the Columbia Building was a whole new show! The Salem Unique Street and Car Culture Show was a huge hit, and had exhibitors leaving with a big smile on their faces, and the attendees were happy with the opportunity to see vehicles that they normally would not see in an indoor show. Presenting Sponsors Carolina Kustoms and Stereo King both had great displays highlighting what products and services they had to offer. Both said they would love to do it again. Carolina Kustoms unveiled their latest build, a really cool second generation Nova named Root of All Evil, along with a first gen Nova convertible that highlighted the quality and type of work they are capable of offering their clients. Stereo King had just about everything you could install in a vehicle for audio, security, and even remote vehicle starting. They have a really cool Viper and Dan Coburn’s Impala in their display, showing off the work they have done on each vehicle.

The show had everything for everyone. From RacinTuners, lowriders, rat rods, classics, modern muscle, motorcycles and even an electric bicycle from Lux Performance. One of the surprises of the show was the presentation of the Vintage Air “Young Builder Award” to a young lady with a white Mazda RX-7. Vintage Air Dealer Dave’s Car Stuff explained that it was a new award given to someone 23 or younger, and will be given out around the country. Dave through the Salem Roadster Show was fortunate enough to be the first in the nation to present it.

Thanks to the local clubs that were represented in the show, and helping to bring that unique mix of rigs; Pacific Style, Columbia River Camaro’s, the Uniques Car Club of Oregon, the Outbreak Car Club, The Impala’s of Portland and Oregon Coast, Devin Hoskings from the Red Door Meet, and all of their friends that came to support them.
Bob and Greg would like to thank all of the sponsors, vendors, exhibitors and attendees. It’s really impressive how they still seem able to top each previous year’s show. Be on the lookout for info on next year’s show at www.salem-roadstershow.com. And be sure to check out the You Tube channel of Rides Done Right for upcoming videos and interviews from the show. You can also find photo galleries of both shows on www.pdxcarculture.com.

The Winner Gets a Million Bucks!

In my last column I mentioned that the New Coronavirus would send a ripple through the automotive industry. It has done that and at press time we now see that it is sending ripples across all industries, all around the world. Indeed, at press time, it has just been declared a worldwide pandemic! This publication is due to hit the streets by April 1st. And it will be no joke by then. Good luck to all of you.

Electricity is a topic mentioned often in this column. Specifically, how it will be affecting our future automotive industry. Here is a little something from GM. We are all aware of how complex electrical systems have become in all cars. GM has developed an electrical architecture that includes over 1 million lines of code. It is currently in use in C8 Corvettes and others. By 2023 this plug & play type of architecture will be shared by all GM vehicles.

This leads us into GM’s “EV Day.” This was a special event for GM to announce their commitment to future electric vehicles. They announced that they believe in global warming and a renewable electrical grid. Their plan is to invest 20 billion dollars between now and 2025.

They seem to be most excited about the new battery they will be building which will include less Cobalt and more nickel. They call it the Ultium. They announced that they will be tripling the number of charging stations at all GM facilities. They announced the new Hummer EV coming in 2021. They announced their new Cadillac, Lyriq. However, at press time we are now hearing that production of that car will be delayed due to the coronavirus.
Some insiders felt that GM’s EV Day announcements were more lackluster than they had expected. After all, Tesla is already years ahead of them in this game. We will see.

Speaking of Tesla, the MuskFather has just announced the implementation of their Track Mode V.2. Word is this performance upgrade will lay siege to many race cars on road courses everywhere. Of course the one I have whimsically named the MuskFather is indeed Elon Musk. He may well become the most well-known man on the planet, the way he is going. I must admit, the more I look into this guy, the more impressed I become. I will have plenty more to say about him in future columns.

Announcing the Indy Autonomous Challenge. This will be a competition between leading University teams developing autonomous self-driving racecars. In 2021 they will compete at the Indianapolis Motor speedway. The prize will be $1000000. DARPA has a hand in this.

Now for news of the latest merger in the Motorsports industry. Race Winning Brands (RWB) has acquired Manley. They own JE Pistons, Diamond Pistons, Wiseco, K1 Technologies and Dart, among others. (RWB) is a portfolio company of Kinderhook Industries LLC.

We will finish this column with news from the UK. A family driving in a Tesla Model X was saved from a 400 year old falling tree by the automatic braking feature. A family traveling in a Tesla Model X in the opposite direction on the same street was also saved from the same falling tree by their automatic braking feature.

It is what it is. Be safe everybody!
‘nuff said, Chuck Fasst #GearHeadsWorld