FUGLY: 5 Ugly Race Cars

In celebration of fifty years of attending short track races throughout California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, I have decided to open up my personal photo archives and share with you loyal readers. All race cars hold some interest for me… open wheel cars are of particular interest. Here are a handful of images that are memorable for one reason or another and I think deserve another viewing.

The #95 was one of three decidedly different four cylinder sprint cars campaigned by Reno racer Mike Wood…come to think of it; it was very likely the same chassis with three different variations of coachwork. This configuration appeared at the Plumas County Fair races in 1987. It featured a lightweight corrugated aluminum engine cover (repurposed cooler of some kind?) and a low drag, stationary airfoil. Fellow competitor Tom “Smokey” Stover described the racer as a “hot dog cart with a wing”. All got a good look at Wood’s creation as it didn’t move quickly and failed to transfer from the consolation race.

Tony Thomas’s Wolverine sprint car originally included “sail-like” panels on either side of the tail tank and a trough nose. After he was asked to remove the panels, Thomas installed a conventional hood and this hideous elbow guard. But what made his racer truly unique were the less noticeable features; ultra-long radius rods and a single torsion tube across the front. All major components, the engine, the seat, the fuel tank, were all mounted lower and further back in the chassis than usual… and it worked. Thomas won three of the first four races he contested in the car. When asked to make more revisions Thomas chose instead to retire this chassis. Eventually it was sold and campaigned (less successfully) by another owner. Thomas readily admitted his creation was ugly; his wife in fact dubbed the car “The Munstermobile”.

In the “free-wheeling seventies” some adventuresome short track racers began experimenting with rear engine cars. Some like the Sneva family from Spokane were successful, especially on asphalt. Others, not so much. Portlander Gary Clark forsake a conventional upright sprinter for this rear engine design. I was told that he didn’t start from scratch- part of the chassis (likely the front) was scavenged from a formula car. Regardless, you really need to know your geometry to make a racer like this work on dirt and reportedly Clark struggled. Beet’s Body Shop on Mt. Tabor applied the unusual parrot green, red and yellow paint scheme. The good news was, people noticed the #42 and it actually generated more business for the sponsor.

Is there anything uglier than a wrecked race car? I think not. This flathead powered roadster belonged to Willie Anderson and was campaigned throughout the Pacific Northwest by Jack “Crash” Timmings. On the final afternoon of the 1951 racing season at Portland Speedway, Timmings blew a tire and impacted the guardrail head on. Jack was a big guy and as strong as a bull. He mangled the steering wheel where his chest made contact in the wreck but emerged from the roadster unscathed. After a quick trip to the hospital, Timmings returned to the track to see Len Sutton claim his championship. Jack resented the moniker “Crash” by the way- in an interview years later the gentle giant defended himself saying: “I don’t think I crashed any more than anyone else.”

I’ve always taken a lot of pride in the appearance of my race cars but this four cylinder modified was an exception. It was built by the Myer brothers in San Jose for next to nothing and I purchased it from them for $500. with trailer. Ready to do battle at Baylands Raceway Park circa 1988 is my sponsor John “Rooster” Horton. He didn’t win the Feature that night. Horton was a customer of mine that became a sponsor and ultimately a good friend. The car had started life as a super modified and was originally built to accept a V-8 engine. In the following years the car’s appearance improved greatly but at the end of the day, the 2×4 chassis was just too heavy for a four cylinder engine to pull. I nicknamed the car: “The Box” as an endearment… my fellow competitors however called it: “The S**t Box” or “The Penalty Box” as numerous racers were forced to drive it when their primary cars broke down.

I used to say it was so ugly, it was cute… but to everyone else it was just “Fugly.”

One Man’s Junk…

Today ”junk yards” or “wrecking yards” are referred to as “auto recyclers.” This change wasn’t made to be politically correct. “Recycler” better describes what the proprietors of these businesses do. I also believe that calling the parts and pieces that fill these establishments “recyclables” acknowledges that they have value. We know as car guys that this stuff isn’t “junk” just because it was scavenged from a wrecked vehicle.
I love wrecking yards and I always have. To me they are magical places filled with history as well as possibilities for the future. I have a very early memory of visiting my uncle Gene when he worked for Schnitzer Steel. From an elevated office I remember watching the crane with the enormous magnet pick up scrap and drop it in the gigantic compactor. You know, the one that transforms the assorted bits into a perfect cube? Wow! How cool was that? I was perhaps four or five years old and I will take that memory to the grave!

In high school I quit my job bussing tables to work for a wrecking yard in San Jose, CA called VW Used Parts Center. I spent my days completely dismantling Beetles with another kid named “Gary”. We learned how to use air tools like impacts and chisels but the cutting torch was by far our tool of choice. (It was supposed to be our last resort but we were always making excuses for using it.) We were two teenagers virtually unsupervised, being paid a couple bucks an hour to PLAY WITH FIRE! Gawd, it was fun! Once we got to assemble an engine and start it on the garage floor. It ran…but not for long. Working for the wrecking yard was all fun and games until I got a mouthful of gasoline while learning how to siphon. Seriously, I’m surprised that neither Gary nor I were ever injured… I guess when you’re a teenager you don’t think about it. I caught the pant leg of my overalls on fire once. Suddenly I felt the heat on my calf! I simply patted it out and kept on cutting.

My senior year in college I bought a ’51 Studebaker Champion. It was a complete running car with cosmetic needs so it was back to the wrecking yards. My girlfriend and I spent weekends seeking replacement parts in any yard where someone had made a “Bullet-nose” sighting. Sometimes the cars ended up being Fords of the same vintage but usually we’d sniff out a Stude. And typically the donor car had something I wanted; an unblemished emblem or a taillight lens. The treasure hunt aspect of the journey made it great fun for my girlfriend and I. Though I was a little older by this time, I was still pretty fearless (reckless?) when I think about it. Eventually the Stude became my daily driver. I drove it all over the bay area without a worry about breakdown and it never did leave us stranded anywhere.

These days my sister is restoring an early edition ’55 Chevy Pickup and her quest for parts and pieces has taken her to all those familiar places. She discovered a wonderful wrecking yard just east of Eugene, OR called: Springfield Auto Recyclers. The place was established in 1949 and specializes in 1930’s to 1970’s vintage car and truck parts. Most of their business is conducted online via an eBay store.

Exploring the grounds (which owner “Chuck” made us feel welcome to do) immediately took me back to my roots. If you are a fan of American Pickers (Rock the Rust!), the sights at this venue will transport you to a lost episode – Magically you will find yourself trudging along behind Mike and Frank!

In addition to multiple acres of donor cars and trucks, the building which houses the parts counter is loaded with automobilia. Sadly these items (excepting the old manuals) are for display only. Chuck explained that like the vehicles themselves, much of the inventory which clutters the office was donated.

“I don’t remember where it came from,” he admits with a shrug. “People didn’t give it to me to sell. They would be disappointed if they came back in and it wasn’t here.” Okay, so it’s like viewing somebody’s collection or going to a museum. Either way, it is a worthwhile visit- it certainly made me feel nostalgic.

It made me want to pull on my overalls and tear into one of those old hulks lounging in the yard…

“Gary! Get the torch!’

The Rolla Way

“There is the right way, the wrong way and the Vollstedt way.”

Rolla Vollstedt, who lived by his own code, died of natural causes October 22nd 2017. He was ninety nine years old.
Several hundred family members and friends gathered at the World of Speed racing museum in Wilsonville, OR in early November to pay their respects and share their memories of a truly unique individual- An icon of auto racing that called the Pacific Northwest his home. Vollstedt was an engineer and innovator that started out in bucket-T roadsters and rose to the pinnacle of motorsports- Indianapolis. He compete at the Brickyard for nearly twenty years beginning in 1964 with a groundbreaking racer he assembled in the basement of his Portland home.

One former crew member told a story about the “monkey see-monkey do” games Vollstedt played with his fellow competitors- fibbing about practice times and installing then removing aerodynamic do-dads just to give their team a psychological edge. Writer Bob Kehoe related an anecdote about Linda Vaughn calling in during a radio interview with Vollstedt. The two (who had known each other for years) played coy for the listeners to the amusement of all. Fellow Portlander and accomplished wheelman Monte Shelton received a ribbing from Vollstedt once at PIR (Portland International Raceway). After no less than three consecutive engine failures in a weekend, Shelton announced he was throwing in the towel. “Humph,” responded Vollstedt, “I guess you’re no racer!”

I didn’t interview Vollstedt until long after he had retired from Indy car. I followed him around his machine shop in Raleigh Hills, notebook in hand, sleeping infant daughter strapped to my back. Vollstedt toiled away, barely making eye contact with me. I think he disapproved of my style but he never uttered a word about it. Twenty years later my daughter Cora (who also writes for Roddin’ and Racin’) met Vollstedt out at PIR. We were among a small group assembled to watch Michael McKinney fire his ’67 Vollstedt Ford. When offered a set of ear plugs, the veteran car owner declined. After feasting on the exquisite song of the four cammer, I believe all present were a little light-headed!

Cora slowly approached Vollstedt’s wheelchair and kneeled beside him, he smiled reassuringly. She told him how honored she was to make his acquaintance and he thanked her. Then he cautiously reached out, lifting her braid off her shoulder, “Oooooo! He exclaimed, “Are there two of these?” “Yes,” she blushed, showing him the other.

To this day, Cora braids her hair on race day. She will forever call them: “Rolla braids”.

I was delighted to share breakfast with Vollstedt at Bill’s Steak House on an occasion or two. Vollstedt would call in his order in advance so that he was served promptly after his arrival- eggs benedict, I believe.

While Vollstedt busily slurped his hollandaise sauce, across the table I lamented about another race night with engine woes. “That Pontiac motor just won’t run,” I related to Corley, “That motor just lies down.”
Without looking up from his plate, Vollstedt interjected: “You don’t have a Pontiac motor.”
“Huh?” I responded. “Excuse me?”
“You don’t have a Pontiac motor,” he repeated putting a forkful of egg in his mouth.
“I don’t?” I said.
“No,” he asserted without looking up. “You have a Pontiac engine, he explained. “Motors have cords.”

ALL IN

Once Gary and I had committed to it, we were all in. The West Capital Alumni Association’s All American Vintage Classic has existed for twelve years. The first one was organized by Brenda Anderson, wife of Sacramento short track legend Johnny Anderson. Bonnie Chisholm was a board member back in ’06 and took over the event reins the following year. Chisholm also heads up the vintage segment at the Louie Vermeil Classic at Calistoga each Labor Day and that is how my buddy Gary Barnes and I came to be invited.

Now Barnes and I had never driven our race cars on asphalt before…and that is where the Voytek brothers come in. They were planning to attend the Classic anyway so when they offered to crew for us and lend us their pavement expertise, it was pretty much a no brainer.

We arrived in Roseville (CA) on Thursday at dusk. Many of the participants were already there including a Super Modified that was very familiar to me. One of the last races I attended at the old San Jose Speedway was the Johnny Key Classic in 1976. And here before me, literally moments after pulling through the pit gate, appeared the winning car from that event. Thus began an awesome weekend that at times bordered on the surreal.

Friday began with a race memorabilia swap meet. The number of vendors was small but somehow everyone in my party found something they couldn’t live without.

Naturally, I wanted to race with Gary. Yes, my 1985 Sargent is technically a Super but in reality the car has more in common with his ’80 Stanton Sprint Car than the other Supers on hand. It has torsion bar suspension, no starter and I run it without a wing. The officials wouldn’t have it (a Super is a Super; a Sprint Car is a Sprint Car… I guess). Instead they tossed me in with a mixed group of varied experience. I recognized the #5 car from the pages of Vintage Oval. I even remembered the guy’s name: Dan Green. He was one of Legends of Kearny Bowl up from the Fresno area. Also in our session was the Duke McMillan built #0, recently restored by Mike Sargent and driven by Jim DaRe.

The green light blinked on and we were underway. The #5 was circulating slowly, clinging to the bottom groove. DaRe meanwhile chose the high line and really starting hauling the mail. I was somewhere in the middle. I dove in under the #5 and powered away. Within a few laps I was gaining on him again! The #0 in contrast, flashed by me for a second time! On the checkered flag lap the three of us arrived in turn four together. DaRe on the outside, I commit to the bottom, #5 in the center. The #0 easily crossed the line first; I accelerated past the #5 but got a shot in the right rear for my efforts. When I came back around on my cool off lap, #5 was parked sideways at start/finish. “Uh-oh” I thought, “I’m gonna get blamed for that.” It turned out Green no longer owned the car and the new owner of #5 was letting his wife take a test drive. (A rookie ribbon tied to the back of the cage might have been a good idea).

“You see the painted stipe around the bottom?” the head official asked me. “Yeah, I guess.” I said. “You have to stay to the right of that.” He told me I was fast but I was going to wreck somebody. “You need to move up a groove, work on being smoother, slow down to go faster, etc.” I told him I understood and promised to behave myself. In the final session I kept my nose clean. I ran by myself and worked on driving smoother.

Saturday morning we pushed all the cars over behind the grandstands. There was a hot rod show, other display vehicles and vendor booths- all of it, free to the public. Around noon the alumni association honored their new inductees and we all enjoyed a great barbequed lunch. I estimated the group under the pavilion at 350 but Chisholm revealed later that the head count was actually 380- a complete sellout. Afterward we pushed all the cars back to the pit area and track time commenced.

I feel like I continued to get smoother, driving deeper into the turns and braking less, rolling on the throttle earlier. My lap times were likely coming down but my engine temp was starting to climb. I eventually dropped some fluid on the track and found myself back under scrutiny. For my final session we switched out the radiator cap and closed off the overflow making a contained system. I vowed to pull off if the temp got higher than 240.

I was laying down my best laps of the weekend when rivulets of water began streaming down the face of the dash. Then: “Ka-booof!” The lower radiator hose blew and I became a passenger on my own personal carnival ride. Luckily I stopped without hitting anything, faced up the banking between turns three and four. I checked for oncoming traffic just in time to see #5 (of all possible cars) hit my water, do a quick 360 and kiss the retaining wall! My Vintage Classic ended there.

I was glad to hear that damage to the #5 was minimal. Calling it a “racing deal” is cop out so if I spoiled his and his wife’s weekend, I take responsibility and apologize. Gary meanwhile did awesome. He led the Sprint Car finale for eight laps before finishing second.

Throughout the weekend there was serious buzz about this being the last Vintage Classic to be held at All American Speedway in Roseville. I certainly hope that that is not the case. Thanks again to Bonnie Chisholm and all the people that help make this event one of the greatest vintage racing events I have ever attended.

When the Dust Settled

When the dust settled…
Rob Lindsey of Wilsonville, Oregon was the 2017 WSS (Wingless Sprint Series) Champion.

Four years ago, the first Feature I submitted to Roddin’ & Racin’ NW was the story of Lindsey’s (and teammate Rich Gentes’) first crown winning season. Back then they achieved it with consistent high placings but no outright wins. In 2014 the team ventured into winged sprint car racing and chased that dream for two full seasons. When the NWWT (Northwest Wingless Tour) combined with the ODSS (Oregon Double Shot Series) in ’16, Lindsey and Gentes returned to the non-wing ranks to contest for the title. They captured the year’s opening event at the high desert Madras Speedway (5/7) and never looked back. The 2016 schedule consisted of thirteen races at six different venues. (Two of those events unfortunately, were rained out). In the eleven races run, Lindsey won four (two at Madras and one each at Grays Harbor and Willamette Speedway). He placed second in another five events, third once and a season low of seventh at Sunset Speedway in Banks, OR on 7/23. It was a year any team would be proud of without a single DNF (Did Not Finish) and Lindsey and Gentes celebrated their second championship at a gala awards banquet held at Pumpkin Ridge Country Club near Banks.

The 2017 schedule showed similar promise- It again was comprised of thirteen events at all the same dirt venues. At this years’ Opener however, sixty-plus year old sprint car aficionado Gary Lynch captured the win. To the uneducated, this may sound like an upset but the Redmond, OR based owner of his own performance products company, has raced the open wheelers since the 1970’s! Lynch schooled the tour in his own backyard and served notice to fans that this season would be different. Round two went to the Mayor of Cottage Grove, OR – Kyle Miller. Miller (now piloting Katy Adelman’s #6) is virtually unbeatable at his home track so this could hardly be called “an upset”. What did raise a few eyebrows was the WSS’s first visit to Elma, Washington where Pat Canfield emerged victorious. Canfield (a former sprint car champion in his own right) is unable to devote himself full-time to racing these days due to work commitments but must be taken seriously whenever he competes. He drives with tremendous heart and seems to especially like the large ovals.

It wasn’t until the fourth event (a return visit to Grays Harbor) that defending champion Lindsey scored his first ’17 win. Then it was back to the Grove 6/17 where Miller again captured the laurels.

When the tour paid their first visit to Willamette Speedway this season, there was a first time winner- Lance Hallmark. Up from the midget ranks, Hallmark and his devoted crewman/brother- in- law “Rhino” make a formidable team and it was only a matter of time before they hit pay dirt
.
The Wingless Nationals were held July 8th at Cottage Grove and (surprise) Miller won his third WSS race of the year.
The following weekend the tour returned to Madras for the first time since the Opener and the series’ only female competitor, young Lindsay Barney finished first. (That’s six different winners in eight races for anyone that’s counting!) Then Barney backed that up with a repeat performance at the Banks bullring 7/22 proving she too, is a force to be reckoned with and is capable of winning on any given night.

When the WSS returned to Willamette after a two week hiatus, Rob Lindsey looked poised for his second ’17 win but spun from the lead on a restart after losing his brakes. All eyes refocused on the veritable dogfight between Barney and local hot shoe Bricen James for second which now became the battle for the win. Then seemingly out of nowhere, 6/24 winner Hallmark arrived on the scene and simply motored past both of them—Unbelievable!

Lindsey got his due on eclipse weekend, claiming his second victory of the season at Madras 8/19. When the tour made their annual trek to Coos Bay Speedway for the Ironman Wingless Sprint Challenge, Lindsey repelled a stellar field to add a third win to his year’s tally.“Ironwoman” Barney captured the hearts of the spectators however, storming from the back of the grid to finish a remarkable second.

On Sept. 9th a strong field of eighteen assembled at Sunset for the season finale but it was not to be. Mother Nature finally took one for herself and the ’17 campaign ended on a soggy note. In actuality however, the champion had already been decided. Though hard driving Tim Alberding had chased Lindsey all season long, he was ninety points behind going into the final night. Candidates for most improved driver, Barney and Hallmark finished third and fourth in the standings respectively. 2014 series Champion, Brad Rhodes (profiled in these pages a couple years back) finished fifth.

Lindsey heaps the credit for his success on his team co-owner and tireless crewman, Rich Gentes, proprietor of Maxline Custom Cases. Speedmart, XXX Chassis and Summerfield Golf Course and its residents deserve mention here as well. All of the WSS competitors will be honored in a victory banquet held the first weekend of November near Willamette Speedway this year.

Stuck on You

 

There was a time when STP stickers were affixed to virtually every race car at my local speedway. The little red ovals were placed at the highest point on the vehicle- the uppermost corner of the airfoil. Almost every car had one so you couldn’t help but notice. As an eleven-year-old fan, I didn’t understand the concept of a contingency program but STP marketing genius Andy Granatelli did.

No, Granatelli didn’t own the company nor did he invent the product or design the logo. He was hired by the Studebaker Automobile Corporation to market their “Scientifically Treated Petroleum” and that’s precisely what he did. He refined their trademark logo and promptly had a gazillion stickers made. Then he embarked on a nationwide campaign to distribute those stickers and soon they were everywhere. It was estimated in 1968 that Granatelli gave away two million stickers a month. Twenty-four million stickers a year is a ton of exposure. The STP logo became arguably the most recognizable graphic in America through the 1960’s.

After Granatelli put Richard Petty under contract, he himself was able to fade from the limelight. Though STP has been sold numerous times since Studebaker failed in 1966, Petty remains under contract to this day. The original polymer product is no longer a top seller yet the STP logo is of such value that it is still used to market a variety of automotive products including battery chargers and octane booster.

Granatelli was famous for marching down pit lane in a jacket emblazoned with corporate logos but he may have borrowed that idea from Dean Moon. Moon was a contemporary of Granatelli’s that had also emerged from the automotive aftermarket. He designed his first fuel block while he was still in high school. Spun aluminum oil tanks, foot shaped gas pedals and finally flat disc wheel covers followed. Putting eyeballs in the double o’s was a no brainer but the “Moon Eyes” logo really took off when Moon had a cartoonist from Disney revamp it. He may have owned a logo covered blazer first but his time on earth was short compared to Andy’s. The company was sold to Japanese businessmen and remains relevant to hot rodders throughout the world. I displayed the Moon Eyes on my first performance car, a ’64 Austin Cooper- coincidently Moon’s first car was an Austin as well.

Cigar chomping Clay Smith was an engine tuner from Southern California. His contribution to racers was custom ground camshafts but his woodpecker logo had more duration. It was supposed to be a caricature of Smith himself though most would agree that it more closely resembles Walter Lantz’s Woody Woodpecker. Both characters appeared in the early 1940’s simultaneously and were allowed to coexist because the automotive aftermarket and the animation world are completely unrelated. Sadly, Smith was killed in a racetrack accident when he was only thirty-nine years old. The camshaft business lived on however, largely due to their iconic trademark. The menacing woodpecker has always represented racing to me. Miniature decals of it were highly sought after when I was a kid and I have worn embroidered patches of his likeness on every fire suit I’ve ever owned.

Though Gabriel’s hijacker rabbit didn’t appear until 1967, he deserves to be in the same conversation as the Moon Eyes and Clay Smith Cams Woodpecker. Like the Chrysler Super Bee or Plymouth Duster from roughly the same period, he possesses that mod, 70’s aesthetic. To a racer my daughter’s age named Ariel Biggs, the hijacker rabbit represent racing. She has a fond memory of her father wearing a windbreaker with this logo embroidered on it. Whether they were working on their quarter midget, heading to the track or celebrating at a pizza parlor afterwards, the hijacker rabbit was always part of her racing experience.

My final choice is purely subjective. It was not an image from my personal racing past. In fact, I don’t know that I ever saw this sticker on any one’s race car. AC spark plugs have been around as long as cars themselves. They’ve always been more of a passenger car brand than a performance brand. Unlike STP, the AC logo has changed over the years yet no variation of it has been particularly memorable… but the “Fire-Ring” variation is spectacular! It is six colors for one thing and a very complicated die cut for another. Those features combined make it the most expensive sticker to produce in this offering. And the cost explains why comparatively few of the AC Fire-Ring stickers are still around today.

 

 

Spirited Exhibition

South Sound Speedway is a tidy little 3/8ths mile paved oval, just south of Tacoma. I had been there twenty years ago to spectate. Around the same time, a Street Stock racer named Tom Curvat had given me the opportunity to try out his Olds on the now defunct Portland Speedway. That was the last time I had tested a car on an asphalt track anywhere.
Enter West Coast Vintage Racer Dick Nelson. Nelson purchased my Maxim Midget about four years ago. When he called with an offer to let me drive the car at South Sound, I jumped at the chance.

What an eclectic group of race cars! Six Midgets were on hand, three Volkswagens, my old Pontiac, a Chevy II and a Flathead. The big bore class was equally diverse; Sprint Cars and Super Modifieds from different eras, a dozen in all. Most were powered by small block Chevys but there was an inline six (GMC), at least one big block and the fabulous Ranger.
WCVR don’t race for a purse. They provide a show in exchange for track time. The club will generally arrive a day in advance to test and tune at leisure. Then on race night they join the regular program as an added attraction.

Nelson practiced in his powder blue ’72 Trostle Sprint Car on Friday, warmed up the Midget and even gave teenage Trista Churchill a try out. On Saturday unfortunately, the Pontiac fell ill. Nelson suspected it had dropped a cylinder and eventually it lost oil pressure all together. Apparently my disappointment was evident and that prompted Nelson to offer up his Sprint Car for one of the hot lap sessions.

Now this was a whole different deal. Nelson’s car is his baby and one of the most competitive in the club. I was thrilled to try it out but didn’t want to take a chance of hurting it. Even spinning it out might lead to disaster. I pushed off and was immediately impressed by how easily it steered. I was a bit tentative at first and left the bottom groove open for the faster drivers to pass. I tried to run a consistent line and not make any sudden moves. When no one dove in underneath me, I would edge to the inside and accelerate hard coming out of the turn. The car neither pushed toward the wall nor felt like it wanted to swap ends. The steering responded to the slightest movement. There was no wandering even under braking. On the straightaways, the car was an absolute rocket and kept pulling as long as I kept my foot in it. Too soon, the checkered flag appeared and I returned to Nelson’s pit. “Wow,” I told him, “what a sweetheart of a car!” Nelson smiled like a proud Papa. My face was etched in a smile as well; the adrenalin rush lasted into the night.

The club got to qualify individually and Nelson was fifth fast. In the heat race I was startled by how hard everyone drove. There were no strokers, these guys really race! Veteran Pat Bliss snatched the lead in Del McClure’s GMC. Behind him there was much brake smoke (even a little nudging) and jockeying for position. Fast Timer Glenn Walker in Marv Price’s “Eight ball” sliced through the pack like a hot knife through butter. Others like Kirt Rompain in Bart Smith’s beautifully restored Tipke offset roadster advanced his position as well but Bliss hung on for the win. Nelson held his own, crossing the line in the third position.

Bliss claimed the Trophy Dash also but scratched from Feature due to a leaky head gasket. On the initial start, Nelson charged past Jeff Kennedy to lead but Dave Craver spun the Ranger forcing a yellow. The restart was a carbon copy up front. Nelson took the Trostle high and wide, leading down the back straightaway. Rompain, who had worked on his mount right up until final call, would not be denied in this event however. Taking full advantage of his inside weight, stormed past Nelson and won the Feature going away. Nelson placed second and a relative newcomer named Milt Foster finished a position or two further back.

Foster is a typical WCVR participant. The son of a short track racer, Foster always had an interest but didn’t climb behind the wheel until age fifty five. “I married young,” he says, “and put two kids through college.” He found an old Super Modified that reminded him of the racing he observed as a kid and decided to restore it. Glenn Walker strolled up at his first race and offered to put a set up on the car. “So I wouldn’t kill myself,” Foster laughs. “That’s the best thing about the club, (the veteran’s) willingness to help out,” he says. That and the pre-race track time which afforded him the opportunity time to learn how to race.

After the Feature I was waiting in Nelson’s pit to congratulate him. “Man, you drove that thing harder than I would have,” I exclaimed. “I always drive like that!” Nelson grinned. Later this month he will celebrate his eightieth birthday. Spirited exhibition indeed.

No Attack No Chance

When the first yellow flag of the race unfurled, team owner Michael Andretti had to have been feeling good. It was on lap 53, just beyond quarter distance in this year’s Indianapolis 500. Andretti had a record six entries in the contest and five of them were running in the top ten.

It had been a pretty decent month. Their cars hadn’t been the outright fastest but they had been very competitive. It seemed the Honda teams were enjoying a slight horsepower advantage so they had that going for them. The big question was reliability- Would they go the distance? Many Honda power plants had already failed during practice.

Defending 500 Champion Alexander Rossi led the team in qualifying, placing his NAPA Auto Parts sponsored mount on the outside of row one. In row two were veteran Takuma Sato (traded this season for Carlos Munoz from A.J. Foyt Ent.) and rookie Fernando Alonso. Alonso had stolen all the press this month. He was a two time Formula One Champion who had skipped Monte Carlo to participate in this year’s 500. Sitting smack dab in the middle of row three was Michael’s son, Marco. Not a winner but always a contender at the Brickyard. Behind him in the tenth slot was 2014 winner and unofficial team leader Ryan Hunter-Reay. And finally back in the twenty seventh starting spot, another rookie Jack Harvey.

At the drop of the green flag Chip Ganassi’s drivers took the point. Pole sitter Scott Dixon led the first five laps before turning it over to crowd favorite Tony Kanaan. Rossi and Sato held their own while Alonso took a step back to find his rhythm and Marco advanced. Kanaan led for twenty two circuits then passed the baton to hometown hero Ed Carpenter. Carpenter and teammate J.R. Hildebrand led through lap thirty four when Rossi decided to make his move. Alonso (having found his mojo) followed Rossi to the point and the duo proceeded to swap positions until the aforementioned first yellow flag occurred. This yellow was for a n incident involving sophomore driver Jay Howard and Dixon. It was switched to a red flag when the seriousness of this accident was realized though both drivers walked away. When the race was stopped Alonso was the leader, Rossi was second, Sato was now third, Carpenter was fourth in his Chevrolet and Hunter-Reay had advanced to fifth. Marco Andretti was still in the top ten and Harvey was nowhere on the horizon.

When racing resumed the Andretti boys continued their fun and games up front. Sato had just taken the lead for the first time when Foyt driver Conor Daly hit the wall and Harvey ran over the debris. Both cars were eliminated.



Sato led the restart but succumbed to Rossi on lap seventy six. Hunter-Reay forged into the lead for the first time three laps later. Andretti Autosports dominated the middle portion of the race. The lead was traded back and forth between Rossi, Alonso and Hunter-Reay. At one point (with Sato) the team occupied positions one through four!

Then as it has happened so many times in past, the entire complexion of the race began to change. After leading on seven separate occasions for a total of twenty eight laps, Hunter-Reay blew his engine. Thirty laps later another front runner Charlie Kimball popped the motor in his Ganassi Honda. Was it a trend?
And then here came Alonso, smoke pouring from the back of his papaya colored Honda. He ground to a halt on the front straightaway just past the pit lane and climbed from his car to a tremendous ovation. Meanwhile an underrated second year driver named Max Chilton had taken over the race. Chilton piloting yet another Ganassi Honda would lead the most laps of the day. But clawing his way to the front was three time winner Helio Castroneves. Carrying the banner for Roger Penske and Chevrolet, Castroneves was on mission- to join Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only four time Indy winners.

In the closing laps things had gone to hell for Andretti. Hunter-Reay and Alonso were sidelined. A refueling issue had negated Rossi’s earlier efforts and a lost winglet had ruined Marco’s chance of a high finish. Only Sato remained within striking distance—it was all on him.



Sato you may remember had been in this position before. In 2012 he attempted a last lap pass on Dario Franchitti and spun into the wall. If he regretted it, he never said so nor did he apologize. “No Attack—No Chance” is his motto (and it likely helped him secure a three year stint with A. J. Foyt).

With seven laps remaining Chilton was doing a yeoman’s job but Castroneves wanted it more. He battled past the remarkable rookie Ed Jones and seized the lead from Chilton.

Now it was Sato’s time. Would his Honda hold together? There was no way to know. He pointed his Dallara toward the outside groove and kept his foot buried in it. Around Castroneves he went and he kept on going, actually opening a gap at the finish.

Andretti Autosports won their third Indy 500 in the last four years. Takuma Sato earned immortality in his native Japan. In the USA you might say: “He went for it!”

One Race Wonder

40 years ago when the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) decided to abandon their fledgling Formula 5000 series and resurrect the Can Am, most everyone was caught off guard. The decision was made in November of 1976 with a start date seven months later. The predominant chassis in F5000 was Lola and the manufacturer agreed to produce a fendered conversion kit that could easily retrofit the existing cars for the new series. Racer Doug Schulz had a different idea…and he knew precisely who could bring his concept to fruition.

Enter Bob McKee of Palantine, Illinois. McKee had been building quality competitive race cars since 1962 but in small numbers. He had constructed cars for the original Can Am series and is credited with fielding the first successful turbo charged sports racer. He also wasn’t afraid to think outside the box; consider his McKee Mark 14 which featured a twin turbo charged Oldsmobile engine, Ferguson four wheel drive and a pop-up air brake!

Schulz and McKee blended their ideas to create the “Schkee DB-1”, a swoopy semi-closed cockpit sports car built on the Lola platform. To some the car resembled the Batmobile; all agreed that its profile was striking. Thanks to McKee’s vast experience, the Schkee’s shape worked aerodynamically even without wind tunnel testing. Meanwhile Lola factory’s body kit was made available (imagine a blanket draped over the open wheeler from end to end) but unfortunately there was little time for fine tuning. When the season opened June 12th at St. Jovite (Canada) veteran driver Brian Redman promptly flipped his car over backward! Sadly this wasn’t an isolated occurrence as club racer Elliot Forbes-Robinson also accomplished a 360 degree blow over in his Lola conversion. Miraculously “EFR” emerged unscathed and actually had his car repaired in time to race on Sunday. Redman’s injuries kept him sidelined the entire season.

While the rest of the Lola contingent scrambled for more downforce, the Schkee in the capable hands of Tom Klauser qualified on pole. In the race itself, Klauser was off like a shot, building up an insurmountable lead. He spun off course at one point and pit to change rubber. Due to complications removing the tire skirts, the swap took a full four minutes and he STILL won the event by a large margin. Little did anyone know that St. Jovite would be the Schkee’s only moment of glory.

Stop number two on the tour was Laguna Seca where Klauser again set fast time then barfed the engine in warm ups. Unfortunately the Schkee was forced to scratch from Sunday’s race as no spare was available. Round three Watkins Glen and with a fresh power plant, Klauser qualified second. In the race he was scored a dismal fifteenth. A second Schkee was completed for Schulz to pilot in the fourth and fifth rounds. His results were less impressive. The fact was, their cars handled beautifully but their engines had no reliability. And without significant sponsorship, an engine program was out of the question.

Klauser’s only other finish of note was at the season finale at Riverside. In his final appearance in the Schkee he qualified thirteenth and finished ninth. Broke and without prospects for the future, Schulz sold the team at season’s end to Tom Spaulding.

Spaulding appeared to do better in the sponsorship department and campaigned the car through much of the 1978 season with Vetter Motorcycle Fairings (now defunct) and Sony Electronics logos. He managed four top ten finishes but never within the top five. The quality and quantity of the competition was improving and Spaulding was at best, a solid mid-pack runner.

The last appearance of the Schkee in Can Am competition was the ’79 Laguna Seca race. In a one off deal with Spaulding, French Formula One ace Patrick Gaillard qualified the car thirteenth and brought it home a respectable eleventh. In its final race the Schkee was utilized as a camera car and this Can Am video can be viewed on the internet.

By the following year Lola had introduced an all new T530 and the conversions were relegated to the back of the grid. A Schkee “DB-3” was entered in the first few Can Ams of 1980 with Klauser listed as the driver but apparently this effort never materialized.

At least one of the Schkees exists to this day. The unique one race wonder was offered for sale in “as raced” condition for a paltry $189,500.

Purple Reign

By the late sixties, his time had passed. I feel fortunate to have watched one of his last Feature wins (’69?) over arch nemesis Al Pombo and Everett Edlund. Once on the grid during driver introductions, I saw him lean out of his Modified, cup his hands around his mouth and hiss: “Booooo Pombo!” And sadly, I witnessed his final qualifying attempt (1972) in which his throttle stuck and he augered into the wall, ending his driving career. The colorful career of Marshall Sargent and his purple #7 was over…but man, what a ride!

Sargent was born in Arkansas in 1931 and relocated to Salinas (CA) while still a boy. He ran his first race on a converted baseball diamond at Fort Ord. By the time he joined the hardtop ranks at San Jose Speedway, he’d notched several wins in the Monterey area. Al “The Mombo Man” Pombo was a top contender and a natural rivalry developed between the two. Over the next twenty years each would amass over five hundred Feature victories, Sargent claimed his total was closer to one thousand. “My best season was eighteen Main Events at San Jose,” he told scribe Dusty Frazer in an ’81 interview. “That same year I won eleven out of sixteen races at Clovis and 16 out of 27 races at Fresno.” Sargent indeed was State of California Modified Champion in 1960 and won that year’s most prestigious race; The Johnny Key Classic. He captured the “Key Race” again in ’63 on his way to a second San Jose Speedway title.
Sargent also achieved success when he ventured outside his home state. In 1959 he drove a Lola sports car to a class win in the Daytona 12-hour and finished sixth in the Atlanta 500 driving relief for Tommy Pistone. In 1963 Sargent was one of the first Americans to be invited to race his Modified in Australia during the off season. He had a huge impact there, even convincing the Aussies to race counter clockwise! Down under a small crowd for a weekend event was 15,000; one night he drew 55,000! “That had to be the ultimate feeling for me in my racing career,” Sargent told Frazer. “It was as big a thrill as if I had won the Indy 500.” There had been other offers to go big-time including an invitation from Elmer George to try out the HOW Special at Indianapolis but it was never the right offer. In most cases he was asked to leave his wife and three sons in California and that simply wasn’t an option.

Promoter Bob Barkhimer whose relationship with Sargent dates back to Salinas days, considered him one of the best drivers to ever emerge from Northern California. “He was in the mold of A.J. Foyt,” noted Barkhimer, “Burley, muscular, brave, loud, intimidating to the other drivers and smart. Marshall would have gobbled up A.J. in a Modified on one of the area tracks, Fresno, San Jose, both on and off the track.” The promoter also revealed decades after the fact that he used to pay Sargent today’s equivalent of over a $1,000 a week to “spice up the races with some added showmanship”. The agreement was that he couldn’t purposely crash a car, lose a race or start a fist fight but other than that, anything went.

A move Sargent was famous for was jumping out of his race car on a red flag and berating the Starter. Sometimes he’d grab a flag and break it and the crowd would go wild! If they booed him (which about 50% did) he’d take out his comb and slowly comb his hair. This for some reason really got the crowd excited! Barkhimer related one story about a race which Sargent clearly lost. He yelled so long and loud that the winner finally said: “Maybe you’re right, I didn’t win. Let’s pool first and second and split (the prize money).” At that point Sargent finally relented and smiled from ear to ear.

In 1967 the veteran experienced a near fatal accident at San Jose during qualifying and was sidelined for the next two seasons. The freakishly similar accident in ’72 forced him out of the cockpit for good at age thirty seven. Sargent spent the last twenty years of his life supporting his son’s racing efforts. A special Sprint Car race entitled “The Pombo/Sargent Classic” was established in 1986 to commemorate the duo’s epic battles and that annual event continues to this day.