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
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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.

The OH MY GAWD Moment

bardahl

I have a vague recollection of when I first heard of the Beatnik Bandit.

I must have been around seven as Ed Roth created the car in 1961. It is very likely that Gregory (my next door neighbor) built a model of it. The graphics on the cardboard box look very familiar to me.
When Roth’s Rat Fink made the scene a couple years later, it created a sensation in my neighborhood. One inch rubber likenesses were highly sought after prizes in the corner market’s gum machine. Teenagers purchased air brushes and taught themselves to paint their own ghoulish characters on T-shirts. My siblings and I each had one.

I played with Matchbox cars as far back as I can remember. When Chevrolet introduced the Camaro in ’67 I thought it was so cool, I pretended my Opel Diplomat was the popular pony car! Then the first series of Mattel Hot Wheels were released (1968) and I pretty much lost my mind. The first car I bought was the Camaro but the Beatnik Bandit was included in that first series. Interestingly, I never owned the track and preferred racing them on a smooth carpet. Eventually all of my cars became racers (even my Snow-Trac got tires instead of treads!). I busted out the Bandit’s bubble top and replaced it with a full roll cage and miniature banana wing. I painted it black and numbered it “11x”. Today it would make a Redline collector swoon!
Years later, I introduced my daughter to “Kar Kulture” and shared my Roth books with her. We discovered that numerous Roth creations, including the Beatnik Bandit were on display in Reno so we planned a pilgrimage there. Seeing it in person was beyond nostalgic- It was weirdly spiritual. We spoke in low voices out of respect. Roth was an original with a unique perspective. Viewing his collected works in full scale was truly impressive.

In 1969 the Twin Mill was introduced by Hot Wheels. Unlike the Camaro or Bandit, the Twin Mill was a fantasy car designed in-house by Ira Gilford. It wasn’t one of my favorites but my buddy Mike Farina had one and so I was familiar. Over the years it remained popular with kids and continued to be a top seller. When Hot Wheels decided to celebrate their 30th anniversary in 1998, they endeavored to have the first full scale Twin Mill built. Boyd Coddington’s shop got the nod, and then went bankrupt to everyone’s dismay. Mattel rescued the project and had the build completed by someone else. The anniversary got pushed back and the reveal took place at the 2001 SEMA show. I didn’t have my Oh My Gawd Moment until I attended SEMA a couple years later. Rounding the corner and finding it sitting there, bigger than life, was surreal. It was repainted Antifreeze Green. The twin, chromed 502’s glistening under the lights. Around the blowers was a hint of residue…starting fluid? Oil? You didn’t know, but you knew it ran! That was important. Yet somehow, it retained the essence of a toy. Man, I just wanted to steal it.

Since 1/64th was my scale, not surprisingly, I also collected HO slot cars. My dad got me started on those in the early sixties and I remain a track owner to this day. Over the years I’d owned numerous Tyco and Aurora Cheetahs; it was a common slot car. I don’t think it occurred to me that there were real Cheetahs until I walked into a garage in Fresno (circa 1992) and saw one. It wasn’t complete; in fact, I remember it looking like a big slot car body. Still I recognized it immediately and it took me back to my childhood. I loved finding it but didn’t appreciate at the time, what a rare discovery it was.

The Cheetah was designed by Don Edmunds (of midget building fame) for a builder named Bill Thomas. Between the fall of 1963 and April of 1966, fewer than two dozen Cheetahs were produced. Because of the low production number, the Cheetah could not compete against Shelby Cobras as intended and had to race in the modified class. There, the transition to mid-engined designs was in full swing so the Cheetah was hopelessly outdated. I think it’s interesting to note that a street version of the car could be purchased for $10,000 in 1964 and Sonny and Cher bought one!

I experienced my most recent Oh My Gawd Moment when I spotted this ex-Alan Green racer at Laguna Seca in August. In spite of being tied down, it appeared ready to pounce. The owner had just turned down a bid of $250,000 at the Bonhams auction. According to one source, the value has diminished now that reproductions are available for half that amount. Still, the Cheetah was an Oh My Gawd sports car if there ever was one.

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The Shadow of his Smile

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I remember the photo on the cover. It was the August 1969 issue of Road & Track magazine. Pictured is a slender, bearded man with a receding hairline. He is wearing a dark two piece suit and a skinny black tie. He is gazing downward and smiling. At his feet is a prototype of the flattest, lowest profile race car you have ever seen. It is the original Shadow Mk. I and man photographed beside it is its owner, Don Nichols.

Mind you, the concept was not his own. A 31 year-old designer named Trevor Harris conceived of the idea and Nichols decided to finance it. Nichols was a virtual unknown in the southern California racing scene at this time. He was a former Military Intelligence officer who had made his fortune in Japan. He had been a major motorsports figure over there, importing tires and parts, even promoting racing.

To achieve the ultra-low stance, the Shadow needed small (but wide) racing tires which Nichols convinced Firestone to make for him. The project generated a ton of publicity but the concept didn’t really work. The Shadow was entered in a handful of races in 1970 but failed to finish any of them. What was essentially a go-cart with a fuel injected Chevrolet V-8 engine, rocketed down straightaways and resisted turning. The Mk. I was parked before the season ended.

For 1971, Nichols hired two Englishmen who had proven track records. Designer Peter Bryant would pen and construct an all new Shadow and Formula One ace Jackie Oliver would drive it. The Mk. II had bigger wheels than the original but smaller than their competition. Other than that, the rest of the racer was pretty conventional. Nichols also procured Universal Oil Products (UOP) as a sponsor. It was an association that would forever link them with the Shadow racing team. The Bryant/Oliver effort was competitive from the get-go but failed to finish many races.

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By their third year racing, the Shadow Team had abandoned the small tire concept. The Mk. III was the Mk. II chassis reworked and fitted with normal size tires. Bryant and Oliver continued to run up front but couldn’t win and still suffered reliability issues.
Aspiring to race Formula One and feeling an obligation to his sponsor, changes were mandated for 1973. Nichols retained Oliver but released Bryant and moved his entire operation to England. There he employed the services of Tony Southgate to design a new sports racer as well as a Formula One car. The team had been experimenting with a twin turbo charged engine for the two-seater and Southgate designed the DN2 with that in mind. Unfortunately that engine was never fully developed so the new Shadow was forced to soldier on with a weight disadvantage. The results were predictable; Oliver remained competitive but zero victories were achieved. Meanwhile Shadow’s Formula One debut (DN1) in which Oliver also contested along with original Shadow pilot George Follmer, fared better. Both drivers captured third place finishes in an inaugural season filled with ups and downs.

Southgate refined his two seater design around the normally aspirated Chevrolet for ’74 and produced Nichols’ first winner. Oliver and Follmer dominated the final season of unrestricted sports racer competition, frequently bringing their DN4’s home first and second.

The team’s fortunes in Formula One were mixed. There were successes like when Jean-Pierre Jarier captured the pole position for the first two races in 1975. Brit Tom Pryce won a non-championship race for the team in ’75 but then was killed driving a Shadow in the South African Gran Prix two years later. Aussie Alan Jones claimed Shadow’s only Formula One victory in Austria in 1977 then left the team to drive for Williams. Both Oliver (who had stepped out of the driver’s seat and was now in a management role) and Southgate left Shadow at the end of that year as well, to form a team of their own. Ultimately Shadow lost UOP as their sponsor and by 1980 they were struggling just to make the starting grid. Late in the ’80 season, Chinese businessman Teddy Yip simply absorbed the Shadow team with his own and Don Nichols was out of racing.

Thirty six years later, the only place you’re able to watch a Shadow race car at speed is at a historic racing event like the Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Here, there are a surprising number of Shadows, between the sports racers and Formula One cars, they total nine.

But a bigger surprise still, is when we find Don Nichols himself hunkered down in a lounge chair in the Mk II’s pit. At ninety three, he is content to sit in the sunshine and simply soak in the atmosphere. On his face is a knowing smile, not unlike the smile that appeared on the cover of that magazine so many years ago. Out on the racecourse, a pair of DN4’s are pulling away from the field…

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The Grid

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They said it couldn’t be done. When Ron Huegli, curator of the World of Speed museum in Wilsonville, Oregon suggested putting together a grid of thirty three cars in honor of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, who among us wasn’t skeptical? I know I was. If successful, it would be biggest assemblage of Champ Car machinery on the west coast since the days of Ontario Speedway. It’s a safe bet that neither Long Beach nor PIR ever drew that many entries.

Well, Huegli got ‘er done! In an exhibition they are calling “Heroes and History”; bonafide racers from nine decades adorn a facsimile of the famed Brickyard in eleven rows of three. Many of the cars have a Northwest connection; here are ten of my favorites:

The Sampson “16” Special evolved from the “more is better” school of thought. The “16” represent sixteen cylinders, literally two Miller V-8’s mounted side by side. Alden Sampson had been experimenting with this concept since 1930 and in ’34 garnered a fourth place finish. The Stevens chassis on display was qualified by Bob Swanson in 1939 & ’40 (finishing 6th), Deacon Litz in ’41 and popular Sam Hanks after the war in ’46. With sponsorship from band leader Spike Jones, Hanks qualified a remarkable third fastest but unfortunately was one of the first cars to fall out.

The Howard Keck entry on the turntable is a classic example of a car from “The Cucumber Era”. This Deidt built Offenhauser never qualified slower than seventh in four starts and only finished outside the top ten once. Jimmy Jackson drove in 1948 and ’49. In 1950 Mauri Rose qualified and finished third in this early Pennzoil livery. Sadly a collapsed spoked wheel sidelined Rose in ’51.

Mack Hellings was a close friend of car owner C. George Tuffanelli and had driven for him in previous 500’s. The maroon and gold leaf #19 Deidt chassis qualified 23rd in 1951 but retired early. When Hellings crashed to his death in another car six months later, Tuffanelli was so devastated he never ran his Indy car again.

Murrell Belanger’s cars compete at the same time as the aforementioned Deidt cars but had a leaner appearance. There was a Belanger Special in every 500 from 1947 through ’54 with legends like Tony Bettenhausen and Duane Carter handling the driving chores. Lee Wallard won Indy outright for Belanger in 1951 so this Lujie Lesovsky creation first appeared with a numeral #1 on its flanks. Carter qualified sixth and finished fourth in ’52 but it was downhill from there. Two years later, renumbered #97, Walt Faulkner failed to qualify.

This #99 Norm Demler Special is a perfect example of Quin Epperly’s “Laydown” design that was dominate in the late fifties. With Portlander George Amick at the controls followed by Paul Goldsmith, this roadster finished in the top five, three consecutive years. Jim Hurtubise qualified it in the front row for 1961 but finished 22nd. It missed the show the next two years then reappeared in 1966 with a General Electric turbine engine under the hood. Veteran Bill Cheesbourg took it out for a few fast laps but no qualifying attempt was made.

World Champion Formula One driver Jack Brabham entered this small displacement Cooper Climax in the 1961 500. The steady Aussie had a lackluster afternoon, holding his own through the turns and getting blown off on the straightaways. He started 13th and finished ninth- nothing earth shattering but Brabham is credited with starting the (modern day) rear engine revolution.

1964 was the first year Portland short track racers Rolla Vollstedt and Len Sutton entered a car in the Indianapolis 500. Built in Vollstedt’s basement, the rear-engined Offenhauser was a respectable effort put together on a shoestring budget. Capable Sutton (second in 1962) qualified eighth fastest but fell out with fuel pump woes. Canadian Billy Foster qualified the car sixth the following year but he too succumbed to mechanical failure. Oregonian Art Pollard took over the car (now renumbered #44) in 1966 and missed the show by qualifying too slowly. This car is in unrestored condition and looks exactly as it did when Pollard climbed out of it fifty years ago.

Established Indy Car builder A.J. Watson observed Vollstedt’s design at a pre-500 tire test and endeavored to build his own rear-engined cars for the 1964 500. Watson installed a four cam Ford in his #2 racer and two-time Indy winner Roger Ward was retained to drive. The effort was successful with Ward setting third fast time and placing second in the race. Watson was awarded builder of the year but ultimately turned that prize over to Vollstedt, admitting that his entry was essentially a copy.

Vollstedt’s second effort (#16) for 1965 was leaner and meaner, this time powered by a state-of-the-art four cammer. He again signed Bryant Heating as his primary sponsor and Sutton as driver. The race was not without its issues but Sutton was running at the finish and credited with twelfth. A year later Foster qualified the car in the same position but was knocked out in the first lap debacle on the front straightaway.

Andy Granatelli’s Lotus Turbine 56 (#20 as driven by Art Pollard) was probably the coolest race car a twelve year old kid could imagine. It blew my mind. The clean, simplicity of the wedge design, the four-wheel-drive, the turbine engine, the day-glo paint…whew! Lotus man Colin Chapman deserves most of the credit. This shape influenced all forms of racing and even street car design. Pollard qualified 11th with no practice and his teammates Joe Leonard and Graham Hill started in the first and second slots. The turbines failed about ten laps short of the finish but what an impact they had on the sport. This is perhaps the most historically significant race car in the exhibit.