Indycar Returns to PDX

The trouble with old adages is that they contradict each other- that or they are just flat wrong. Consider “Nice guys finish last” or “Slow and steady wins the race”. How about “What you don’t know, can’t hurt you…” Really?

On September 2nd Japanese driver Takuma Sato won the resurrected Grand Prix of Portland and he accomplished that by driving “fast and steady”. He also attributed the victory to a perfect set up, great teamwork, a successful fuel strategy and luck. In other words, he had a perfect day…that’s what it takes to win in Indycar anymore. Floridian Ryan Hunter-Reay’s team miscalculated on their fuel usage and it likely cost them the victory. Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais’s team overcame what seemed like insurmountable adversity to place third.

Twenty five entries qualified within the same second, each averaging over 121 mph on the twelve turn course. Roger Penske’s entries were fastest and captured the front row. Andretti Autosport pilots came next with Championship contender Alexander Rossi and Hunter-Reay split by Bourdais. 2017 Indy 500 winner Sato advanced from the twentieth berth.

There was a stack up on the first lap that eliminated three cars but resulted in no injuries. Seventh starting James Hinchcliffe initiated the accident which gathered up point leader Scott Dixon in the melee. Amazingly Dixon never lost power and was able to drive away from the incident. Pole sitter Will Power faltered immediately and was never a factor in the race. Instead defending series Champion Josef Newgarden of Tennessee carried the banner for Penske and was challenged from the drop of the green flag by the Californian Rossi.

Throughout the contest Newgarden, Rossi and Hunter-Reay were the dominate cars with each taking turns at the point. Meanwhile astute railbirds were keeping an eye on entrants like Sato, Spencer Pigot (also from Florida) and Dixon whom were forging their way through the field. And there was the snake-bitten Bourdais whom had had more than his share of drama previous to the initial start. The four time series Champion (and winner of the last Portland race in 2007) set the fastest lap in Saturday’s final practice session then promptly slid off course, severely damaging his racecar. Owner Dale Coyne quickly rallied his troops and assigned three teams of technicians the task of preparing a backup car for their number one driver. Mission accomplished, Bourdais took the untested mount and stuck it in the fourth starting slot. Though he avoided the first lap dust up on Sunday, incidental contact with another car did crumple the nose of his pink and white racer. He was forced to make a pit stop for a replacement nose and rejoined the race at the rear.

The race proceeded without another major incident and one after another driver made scheduled stops for fuel and fresh rubber. When rookie driver Santino Farrucci (Woodbury, Connecticut) ran out of ethanol and stopped on the course, a local yellow was thrown and both Rossi’s and Newgarden’s crew chiefs decided to bring their drivers in.
Hunter-Reay’s team left him out, determining that he had enough fuel to finish the race if he would only conserve. This late race turn of events allowed a group of contestants (some of which had already made their last stops) to close up on the leaders for the final sprint to the finish.

Englishman Max Chilton found himself in the lead for the restart but his final stop still lie ahead. That was not the case for Takuma Sato however, who had made his pit stops on schedule and had steadily been advancing his position all afternoon.

With three laps to go, Hunter-Reay was radioed that he no longer had to conserve and he responded by closing right up on the leader’s tail. But it was too little too late, it was Sato’s day and he flashed across the finish line first. Ironman Bourdais brought his cobbled together back up racer home third. Pigot (who had started seventeenth and was on nobody’s radar) placed fourth. And the point’s leader, the guy that drove away from the first lap pileup and rejoined the race in last, had motored through the field to finish fifth. One race remains on the schedule.

On the victory podium, the diminutive Sato beamed, making no effort to contain his enthusiasm. Fast and steady had won this race. And on this day, a nice guy had finished first.

The Shape of Speed

Did you miss it? I would have, had it not been for my neighbor Darlene Hardie. Darlene is a member of the Portland Art Museum. Several months ago she received a copy of their publication “Portal” announcing the opening of a new exhibit showcasing streamlining in automotive design. Seventeen cars and two motorcycles were put display, all having been created between the years of 1930 and 1942.

A Chrysler Airflow Coupe I expected to see, its styling was considered ground breaking when it appeared in showrooms in 1934 but it wasn’t a big seller. Contrast the cranberry colored 1938 Talbot Lago… considered by some to be the most beautiful automobile ever built. Other manufacturers represented were: Mercedes-Benz, Bugatti, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Delahaye and Cord. The motorcycles were built by BMW and Henderson. Included in the display were several “one offs” — the Scarab, arguably the first minivan and whimsical fish tailed Airomobile were two crowd pleasers.

A tip of the hat to guest curator Ken Gross, thanks for pulling together such a compelling show. A more eclectic collection of vehicles I’ve never seen. And thank you Darlene for bringing this significant exhibit to my attention.

A Toy Car Story

My mom got me started with the Matchbox cars. She always loved miniatures and getting her to pony up for a new addition to my collection was easy. I can still remember the yellow, stair-stepped, countertop displays (later “spinner” racks) showing all the models available. How cool were those?! I still dream about them occasionally.

I had cars, trucks, tractors, trailers, all of ‘em but my favorites were the sports and racing cars. I loved the LeMans winning D-type Jaguar, the Maserati grand prix car and the Ford GT in particular. And the E-type Jaguar (XKE) with its tiny spoked wheels and metallic red paint has to rate as one of the coolest die casts ever.

All of my collection saw action outdoors in the dirt and sand but mostly I enjoyed racing them on smooth surfaces. A cement patio or low pile carpet was ideal. I’d get down on my belly, eye level, line them up in a long column of two and turn them loose! I tried to be fair, giving them shoves of equal strength and letting them roll. Generally my favorites made it to the front. The latest acquisition was always a pretty safe bet but sometimes an old standby (like the XKE) would pull off an upset. Hey, auto racing is a dangerous an unpredictable game! Eventually almost every vehicle in my fleet was assigned a number and raced. Even the Snow Trac traded his treads for a set of rubber tires borrowed from a Tyco slot car. “Gregory” next door very likely introduced me to 3 in 1 oil and once applied, all entries performed remarkably better. Then in 1968 Mattel introduced Hot Wheels…Holy crap! This was a toy that answered my prepubescent dreams!

My gripe with  Matchbox was that they weren’t releasing any hip new cars. They’d produced a bunch of weird English models like the Ford Zodiac and Ford Zephyr — cars I’d never seen in person. When Chevrolet introduced the Camaro in 1967 it rocked my world and I wanted a toy version. I had to “pretend’ my Matchbox Opel Diplomat was a Camaro. It was vaguely the right shape (a four door with a trailer hitch!) and at least had a snappy gold paint job. An Opel Diplomat? WTF! I STILL haven’t seen one in real life!

So when Hot Wheels hit the street (their first model being a ’68 Camaro) it was all over for Matchbox. I acquired one as soon as possible and with its revolutionary piano wire suspension; it promptly outclassed my starting field. I ended up trading that car for a classmate’s purple Barracuda and a red Mustang Fastback and lime gold second Camaro joined my roster soon after. The Hot Wheels lacked some of the detail of the early Matchbox series but the overall performance of the toys coupled with their eye popping candy paint jobs, more than compensated for that. From the first series on wild customs like the Beatnik Bandit, the Python and Silhouette were part of the offering but the models based on actual street cars and racers, were my preference. In 1969 when Hot Wheels released replicas of the two most popular cars in the Can Am series – the McLaren M6A and the Chaparral 2G, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I’d been fortunate enough to see the real cars compete at Laguna Seca and the fact that I could now add them to my collection was mind boggling.

Again, my races took place on large flat road courses that I laid out myself. I never owned one of the plastic orange tracks so that was never part of my Hot Wheels experience. Did I miss out? I’m not sure.

I did however get to race on one of the plastic drag sets once. A fellow collector and classmate of mine invited me over one afternoon for some friendly competition. As his parents worked graveyard and were day sleepers, we were forced to set up in their front yard. We borrowed a ladder from the garage and mounted our starting gates about six feet off the ground! The orange strip extended down his sloping yard and emptied out on the sidewalk.

It was all fun and games until a girl I had a crush on came strolling up the block! We were miles from where she lived- Turns out she and her girl friend were having a “play date” as well. What were the odds? Anyhow I was caught “playing cars” and I remember feeling embarrassed. What was she giggling about? She wore a pair of floral bell-bottoms that had actual bells sewn on them! I guess we forgave each other… many years later I took her to the Senior Ball. By then I was playing with real cars.

Another Man’s Treasure

What follows is part two of a story I began in the February 2018 issue of Roddin’ & Racin’. It was entitled: “One Man’s Junk…” and told the story of a unique wrecking yard in Springfield, Oregon that is brimming with eclectic vehicles. “Another Man’s Treasure” tells the story of what at first appears to be a similar venue but in fact turns out to be…“a collection”. For the most part nothing is for sale here.

I spent the better part of a day with the owner exploring the grounds and taking pictures. I have known Bob Farwell for many years and consider him a friend. Yes, he’s a chatterbox but if you are willing to listen, he has many interesting stories to tell. He is bright, resilient, insightful, kind of heart and as passionate about automobiles as any person I’ve ever met.

And then there’s “the collection”…Wow. I have to admit that my reaction to it was somewhere between fascination and horror. The tour of his compound left me reeling. I had very mixed emotions about what I’d seen and that makes it difficult to write about. Then a few weeks later I received word that he’d had a fire and a portion of his collection was destroyed. The news made me nauseous but I imagined that it was devastating to him. At that point I decided that the second part of my story would never be published- then I ran into Farwell at a swap meet. I offered my condolences and told him of my decision. Much to my surprise, he was disappointed! In spite of everything, he wanted to see a story about his collection in print.

So here it is. It is not my best work. It is not the story I initially intended to write. It’s not much of story at all but fortunately…the photographs speak for themselves.

Bob Farwell is a collector of a different sort. He collects antique cars, race cars from different eras and much, much more. There is a collection of radio controlled airplanes, small industrial engines and mechanical oddities. What appears at first to be a scrapyard is in actuality an uncategorized assemblage. Every object is somehow meaningful to Farwell and worthy of saving. Every object has a story attached- a story that Farwell is anxious to tell. I think in many cases the stories are of more value than the objects themselves.

Farwell has had an interesting life full of ups and downs. He has been a championship winning race car owner. He has lost one of his best friends (due to heart failure) in a midget that he owned. He is the former owner of Cottage Grove Speedway and readily admits to losing a fortune in that endeavor but expresses no regrets. Until very recently, he owned a successful bar and grill adjacent to the State Fairgrounds. And of course, he still owns an amazing collection of race cars. They include:

A 1957 Grant King Big Car powered by a 302 c.i. GMC engine. King was a master race car builder of Chinese descent with strong ties to the Pacific Northwest. Eventually he settled in Indianapolis where he built numerous racers that compete in the Memorial Day Classic
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The Rennsport house midget. A 70’s era bullet propelled a 165 c.i. “Staggerfire” V-4 engine. This potent racer was driven by some of the best short trackers in the business including Jimmy Sills and Jan Opperman.

An extremely rare Don Edmunds-built, rear engine midget powered by an Auto-Craft (Full race Volkswagen) engine. This car was campaigned in the Pacific Northwest but remains a bit of a mystery. Edmunds acknowledged having built the car to Farwell but it is not mentioned in the exhaustive biography on Edmunds published by Paul Weisel, Jr. last year.

My Vintage Vantage

At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway you are in constant search of the next good vantage point. There isn’t one spot from which you can view the entire 2.5 mile oval but there are countless positions to observe from and there is always much to see.

This morning my perch is among the seventy five privately owned vintage Indy cars that are participating in the weekend’s festivities. I am an interested bystander as Greg Wilke prepares to take the family’s 1968 Eagle out for the morning session. Wilke is struggling and his female companion seems more intent on documenting the occasion on her cell phone, than assisting him. When his new carbon fiber helmet topples free and begins sliding down the nose of the race car, I can no longer stay behind the barrier. I snatch the helmet just before it hits the blacktop and with that, I have become “a crew member”. Wilke is wondering out loud where the hell his teenage son is and fussing with his belts. Ultimately I get him to stand up in the cockpit. I unsnap some of the upholstery and lengthen the lap belts a bit. As we get the five point buckle fastened, Junior arrives with the starter. The engine shrieks to life and away Wilke goes. I scramble to the closest vantage point; the grassy knolls inside turn two but the Eagle fails to appear. Apparently Wilke stalled the racer somewhere on his way to the track. They got it re-fired but it wouldn’t go in gear. Back in their pit stall, Wilke handles the disappointment of not getting to run much better than I would have. “I’m an owner, not a driver.” He says. Mostly he is pissed at his son who talked him into taking the racer out in the first place. He is grateful for my help and gives me the history of his car.

This Eagle is a sister car to the one in which Bobby Unser won his first Indy 500 (1968). The Wilke family (Leader Cards, Inc.) has owned it since it was new. It has participated in four 500’s always piloted by hard charger, Mike Mosley. It has carried Bardahl livery, Zecol/Lubaid, Murphy’s dept. store and in its final season; Vivitar Cameras. It has been propelled by various power plants: turbo charged Offenhausers, four cam Fords and Chevrolets.

In my fantasy I own a vintage Indy car with a small block Chevrolet engine- Just because they’re somewhat familiar to me, affordable and I want to be able to drive it! Not even in my fantasy world do I own an Indy car with an engine valued at twice the cost of my house.

I think the Klingerman brothers have the right perspective on this. They located a couple authentic one off Indy Specials from 1969 and ’70 and built their own engines for them. Though their Cecil and Morris Marauder chassis originally cradled exotic Offys and Fords they replaced them with production based units. The Cecil carries an injected Chevy Sprint Car mill; the Marauder rocks a Ford which they turbo charged for fun. These alternatives make perfect sense to me particularly if you plan to take the cars out and play with them (which the Klingermans do).

Steve Francis of New Milford, CT appreciates what the Klingermans have done but was fortunate enough to locate an Indy car in Australia that was powered by a Chevrolet engine since day one. His Cheetah is one of two cars built by Howard Gilbert for the 1967 season. The companion car to Francis’s in fact, was the surprise winner of the ’69 season opener in Phoenix driven by George Follmer. So the classic “cigar-era” Cheetah is not only historically correct but inexpensive to maintain.

Others will say: “As long as we’re fantasizing, why not go for broke?” Okay, if money is no object, I want the 1946 Novi.

When racing resumed at Indianapolis after World War II, Frank Kurtis introduced a new profile to the Speedway. Piloted by Ralph Hepburn his supercharged, V8 powered, front wheel drive monster broke the track record in qualifying. Though it was a full five miles per hour faster than its closest competitor, the Novi balked during the race. In 1947 team owner W.C. Winfield brought two cars to the contest and by driving with a light foot, Herb Ardinger managed to start and finish the 500 in the fourth position. His teammate Cliff Bergere meanwhile barfed the engine in the second Novi after starting on the front row. By its third appearance the Kurtis Novi’s reputation preceded it. Bergere abandon his seat declaring that the car was too dangerous to drive. ’46 pilot Hepburn climbed in and promptly hammered the wall, killing himself. Duke Nalon now assigned to the former Ardinger ride, qualified easily in the eleventh spot and brought his Novi home third. Though the Novis would continue to compete for many years and typically qualify among the fastest, they would never place any higher than third.

So which of the two team cars is this #15 Kurtis Novi? It hardly matters but I would put its value at well into the millions. If you were to take this specimen out for leisurely cruise and hurt the engine, where you gonna find another one? Unfortunately some toys are too valuable to play with.

Driving Greatness

World of Speed celebrates the Porsche 911’s 55th birthday

A successful exhibition should be thought provoking. The curator aspires to stir your emotions and hopefully connect with the viewer. In my case, World of Speed’s new tribute to Porsche’s iconic little rocket ship was a resounding success. It had me asking myself when I first became aware of the marque… without much difficulty, I had it.

We were young! The 911 model was only three years old but already a popular race car. I distinctly remember watching a regional event won by a yellow sports racer (likely a Lotus 23). A white and a brown 911 ran second and third respectively, within a car length of each other the entire distance. I drew a picture of the race from memory in my school binder the following Monday. My Porsches looked more like Volkswagen Bugs but trust me, I knew the difference.

911’s were featured at every road race I attended at Laguna Seca and Sears Point from the mid-sixties on. I was fortunate to get to watch Peter Gregg compete in the under two liter class in the early Trans-Am series. His white #59 was always competitive and typically finished amongst the Mustangs and Camaros.

When I was in middle school, my father’s accountant was a man named Russell Shattuck. Shattuck had two sons — one my age (Jim) and an older one (Steven) whom I barely knew. I didn’t know Steve but he knew me well enough to know I was a race nut. One night he arrived at my parent’s house with a 911 he had “borrowed” from a neighbor. In short order we headed toward the nearest freeway where Steve wound the Porsche up to 120 mph before diving down an off-ramp! I was returned home slightly giddy and sweaty but smiling. (If my parents only knew!)

The International Race of Champions (IROC) conceived in 1973 was a neat deal. The idea was to put the best drivers in world in identical 911 Carreras and let them go at it on select road courses and ovals. The cars featured air-dams, wide fender flares and whale tails. Each was painted a different color so it was easy to follow your favorite. I remember watching them on television…I think it was Riverside. The procession looked like a string of Easter eggs.

I think some of those Porsches ended up in the Camel GT because in the following years there was a glut of brightly painted Carreras running in that series. Lemon yellow, apple green, magenta, they were so cool! And the competition: Corvettes, BMW’s, (remember the Chevy Monza?). All competitors dolled up with aero kits- What a great series that was.

As the years went on, the body kits became more extreme and the cars looked less and less like the stock models they were based on. Most marques adapted turbo chargers. The Porsches would whistle down the straightaways and belch fire when the driver backed off. Spectacular!

My buddies and I were avid slot car racers at the time. Since you couldn’t buy a miniature Porsche that looked like an IROC Carrera, I decided to build my own. Lindberg models made a plastic 911 that was the correct scale (a Targa to be specific). I attached cardboard fender flares, an air-dam and whale tail and painted the whole package a lethal gloss black. It had the right look but the first time I flew off course so did one of my flares! The next time we visited Laguna Seca there was a black 911 competing in the under two liter class with a homemade aero kit. Unpainted tin air-dam and makeshift fender flares. “Look! It’s Veltman’s slot car!” my buddies shouted.

All good memories conjured up by a little Porsche 911 exhibit. Thanks for the memories World of Speed.

Game Changer

By the early sixties, the Formula One teams of Grand Prix racing had evolved from a front engined configuration, to a rear. Though the rear engined lay out had been experimented with over the years at Indianapolis, the concept had yet to be successful. A state of the art Indy Car in 1960 was a ponderous 1,700lb sled propelled by a ground pounding Offenhauser engine. There were various chassis manufacturers but basically they were all alike. Thirty three of them took the green flag at the 500 that year, but their reign was about to be challenged.

Father and son, Charles and John Cooper of England along with their driver Aussie Jack Brabham, had led the rear engine revolution in Formula One. They captured the World Championship in 1959 and were in the United States pursuing a second title in the fall of 1960. Indy winner Roger Ward encouraged them to bring their Grand Prix car to the Speedway for testing and the team agreed. Riding on their standard road racing rubber with their tiny Coventry-Climax engine, Brabham attacked the two and a half mile oval with unexpected gusto. No one on hand had ever seen a car carry more speed through the corners. Their lap times would have easily qualified them for The 500 and an ecstatic Ward begged them to return in May. The team professed not to have the funds to pursue such an endeavor. That was when fellow road racer (and heir to the tissue fortune) Jim Kimberly stepped forward to offer sponsorship.

The team clinched the 1960 Formula One crown and arrived in Indianapolis the following spring to little fanfare. Their car had a slightly larger engine than the Grand Prix version but was still significantly smaller than the Offenhausers. Plus the Cooper itself was dwarfed by the roadsters; it was dubbed “a funny car” and not considered a threat by anyone. In addition to all else, it was painted green which was considered “bad luck” at the Speedway.

Brabham and his team were unfazed by the naysayers and went about their race prep. They knew they didn’t have the fastest car- You didn’t need to have the fastest car to win a 500 mile contest. They knew their engine was reliable and would go the distance. They also knew that like all of their competitors, they would have to make pit stops along the way. The Cooper weighed about 700 pounds less than the average roadster so it would be easier on tires. The Coventry-Climax engine also got better mileage (twelve mpg compared to two or three) so fewer stops were anticipated.

Brabham did a respectable job in qualifying (starting thirteenth) and drove a conservative race. In retrospect too conservative, the driver admitting later that he could have pushed harder. They still needed three pit stops, probably because their Dunlop tires didn’t hold up as well as the tried and true Firestones everyone else was using. The roadsters blew by the Cooper all afternoon but Brabham held his own through the turns. When A. J. Foyt took the checkered flag at 200 laps, Brabham was in the ninth position.

The Indianapolis establishment was slow to recognize Brabham and the Cooper’s accomplishment. Seemingly only the astute realized that they had changed the course of Indy car design going forward. Mickey Thompson returned in 1962 with a brace of rear engine cars, one of which qualified eighth. Then in 1963 Colin Chapman arrived from England with his Ford powered Lotus cars. These cars were a match for the Offenhauser horsepower-wise and only a fluke kept them from Victory Lane. In 1964 Roger Ward himself finished second in an American built rear engine car- one of twelve that qualified for the 500 that year. Then in 1965 Jimmy Clark won the race outright in Chapman’s Lotus. Four more rear engined cars followed him across the line. In fact, only six of the thirty three starters that year had their engines mounted in front of the driver. In 1966 the last roadster qualified for the Indianapolis 500 and ironically was eliminated on the first lap. So the revolution that the little Cooper started in 1961 had completely changed the face of Indy car. The process took five years.

Though Jack Brabham is included in the Indianapolis Hall of Fame, he has received little recognition for his influence on “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. Fortunately he won other accolades like a third World Championship in a car of his own design (1966). He was also knighted by the Queen of England (1978). “Sir” Jack Brabham retired as a driver at forty four and lived to the ripe old age of eighty eight. A documentary about his life in racing is due for release next year
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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.”