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

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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.

Second Time Around

Earl-Veeder

I never had the privilege of racing against the legends of the Northwest.

Guys like Art Pollard, Bob Gregg and Palmer Crowell were finished by the time I started racing…but I did get to compete against one of their contemporaries. I remember meeting Earl Veeder Jr. (and his son David) in the pits at Sunset Speedway around 2000. They’d stroll up mid-sentence, offer unsolicited advice, critique your set up, etc. Man, could they talk! I remember thinking, “Who the hell are these guys?”  Earl says, “Well, I’ll be out in a couple weeks…” I’m thinking these guys are all talk but a couple weeks later they show up with this clean ‘ol  Tognotti sprinter and away we went.  Neither of us were front runners so we ended up racing each other a lot. There were a couple of incidents on the track and Earl stormed my pit afterward. If I were one to throw a punch, I’m sure he would have returned fire! Mostly we just exchanged threats. Then in 2003, Earl showed up with a new Wolverine chassis and became a contender. On July 10th (on “Back to the Fifties Night” appropriately enough) Earl captured the fast car Trophy Dash. At season’s end he won the track’s Hard Charger award.

When I raced with Earl he was just beginning phase two of his driving career, a career that began in the late fifties. Earl’s first laps were taken in a family owned midget but he soon became a veritable gun for hire. Guys would show up at the track with their midget, big car, hard top or roadster and there was Earl with his gear. He might strap into two or three different cars before choosing the fastest one to qualify. If he could win a heat race and muster a top five in the main, he and the car owner made money. The purses were decent in those days and the split was typically right down the middle. The best rides had assigned drivers of course, so many of the cars Earl raced were of questionable pedigree. It was a dangerous vocation to be sure, in an era that placed little emphasis on safety. Earl had a reputation for getting the most out of mediocre equipment and survived to tell about it.

In the early sixties Earl bought a midget of his own—a sweet little Eddie Kuzma creation. He painted it canary yellow and numbered it “25”. Earl couldn’t afford a state-of-the -art  Offenhauser so instead he installed a Triumph TR-2 sports car engine. The chassis was a proven winner but the English power plant gave him nothing but grief.

Earl soldiered on until reaching a crossroads in 1968. Just as he was preparing to follow his dream back east, his young wife passed away. Twenty five year old Carole Veeder collapsed while spectating with her husband at the now defunct Salem Speedway. A valiant effort was made to revive her but it was all in vain. Now Earl was left with an astronomical medical bill and two children to raise on his own. He was forced to abort his racing plans and get a regular job.

For the following decade Earl raced sporadically for other people until another change came to pass. By the late seventies, car owners were expecting their drivers to help with expenses. At that point Earl threw up his hands. “I couldn’t see paying for something I used to get paid to do,” he told Bill (Scoop) Poehler in an interview. With few exceptions, Earl didn’t race again until he could field his own entry. It took him over twenty years.

After a dispute with the promoter, Earl parked his sprint car and returned to his first love- midget racing. He was driving a sharp little Chevy II powered car for owner Bob Farwell. On February 3rd 2007, under yellow flag conditions, Earl made contact with the crash wall at the Salem Indoors. EMT’s worked on him for twenty minutes before taking him to Salem Hospital where he was later pronounced dead. Earl had crashed approximately one mile from where his first wife Carole had collapsed forty years earlier. He was seventy years old.

I don’t like clichés but whoever coined the expression: “He died doing what he loved”, must have been referring to someone like Earl. Since his demise a memorial race has been held each year in his honor.

Earl-&-David-Veeder
Earl & son David proudly present the new Wolverine sprint (circa 2003).

Regular Joe

Jerry-grant

Jerry Grant was just a “Regular Joe” in many respects.

He had always been a burly man and he felt a little self-conscious about that. Worse was the premature baldness! What’s up with that? He spent his whole life wearing bad hairpieces. In the pits, he’d roll up his balaclava and wear it like a beanie to conceal his dome. But behind the wheel of a race car, Grant was nothing but self-assured. It was confidence that stemmed from years of experience.
Born in Seattle, he started racing as a teen. When he grew bored with drag racing he began entering his hot rod Fords in local road races. Though his cars weren’t particularly well suited for that, he showed enough talent to attract the attention of a car owner named Dick Hahn. Hahn purchased a 3-litre Ferrari for Grant to pilot in 1960, this proved to be a marriage made in heaven. Over the next few seasons the duo won thirty eight races including the 1961 and ’62 Rose Cups. Though Hahn eventually upgraded to a newer model, rear engined sports racers with American power became the preferred weapon so Grant naturally gravitated toward those. With sponsorship from Ole Bardahl, Grant was able to field a competitive car. Typically he would qualify well, run up front but fail to finish.

Encouraged by his peers, Grant ventured to Indianapolis for the first time in 1964. He climbed into the Watson roadster of Fred Gerhardt but failed to make the show. Another non-qualifier that year was rookie Pedro Rodriguez who had crashed Kjell H. Qvale’s third entry. These were Joe Huffaker built, Lotus inspired cars with Offenhauser engines that proved very competitive for years to come. For 1965, Grant brought his Bardahl sponsorship to this entry and easily made the program, qualifying right smack dab in the middle of the thirty three car field. Sadly on Memorial Day, Grant completed only thirty laps before his engine soured.

Somewhere in this time frame, it may have been at Indy or at a west coast sports car meet, Grant struck up a friendship with Dan Gurney. Gurney recognized Grant’s ability and did much to bolster the big guy’s career. At the ’66 500, Gurney was introducing his Champ Car version of the successful “Eagle” Gran Prix car. A quartet of the Ford powered racers was entered and Grant was assigned one of them. Bringing along Bardahl as well as Pacesetter Homes for sponsors, Grant easily put his Eagle in the show with tenth best qualifying time. 1966 was the year of the eleven car debacle at the drop of the green flag but only Gurney’s Eagle was eliminated. Joe Leonard, Grant and Lloyd Ruby soldiered on and were awarded ninth, tenth and eleventh respectively.

!966 was also the inaugural year of the storied Can-Am series. Grant’s Lola T70 was state of the art and without a doubt, one of the sharpest looking cars in the paddock… but not particularly fast. When the season ended in November, Grant had two sevenths to his credit. His association with Gurney afforded Grant the opportunity to race sports cars all over the country and in Europe. Eventually he moved to southern California to be closer to Gurney’s Costa Mesa headquarters.

Jerry-Grant-2

Gurney’s focus remained on building cars for Indianapolis and in 1967, no less than seven Eagles made the program. New Zealander Denny Hulme fared best, bringing Smokey Yunick’s entry home in the fourth spot. Grant fell out after 162 laps with engine trouble. Then in 1968, Gurney accomplished his goal with Bobby Unser winning the 500 in an Eagle. Gurney himself finished second and Hulme again was fourth in a team car. It was a great day for Gurney’s Eagles but not so much for Grant. He had qualified his privately entered Bardahl Special mid-pack but fell out with only fifty laps completed.

Grant’s reputation for being fast but hard on equipment likely prevented him from procuring a first class ride for Indy in 1969. “Grant, you’re gonna have to learn how to finish (races),” Roger Penske advised. Grant had known Penske since the early days and he took those words to heart. Rolla Vollstedt gave him a shot in his back up car but for first time since his rookie debut, Grant failed to make the show.
Determined to turn things around, Grant entered his own Offy powered Eagle in 1970 and slipped into the lineup in the 29th slot. On race day he drove conservatively, pacing himself and when the checkered flag fell, he was scored sixth. Sadly, no one seemed to notice and Grant again found himself chasing a competitive ride for 1971. He turned his own car over to Sam Posey to try but failed to get the Norris Industries #92 up to speed.

Then in 1972 Grant’s old buddy Dan Gurney introduced a new generation of Eagles to the Brickyard. Bobby Unser was assigned the primary car but there was a beautiful blue violet (yet unsponsored) sister car for Grant to try on. This Eagle proved to be one of Gurney’s finest efforts, an absolute rocket ship right out of the box. Unser broke the track record putting his car on the pole; Grant played it more conservative qualifying 15th. On race day Unser was off like a shot, leading the first thirty laps before he succumbed to ignition problems. Popular second generation driver Gary Bettenhausen looked poised to win his first 500 for Penske until he too was sidelined with eighteen laps to go.” So who’s leading this thing?!” people wondered.

Grant (fully aware that he’s got his best chance ever) couldn’t resist reverting back to his old hard charging ways. He’s leading the race but he’s used up his tires and most of his fuel. By now everyone is talking about “The Mystery Eagle”, the car that remained unsponsored that no one gave a serious shot at winning. He has to pit with a dozen laps remaining and the lead is handed to Mark Donohue in another Penske car. Grant returns to the race but not enough laps remain to catch the leader; they’ll have to settle for second. Later it is discovered that Grant was refueled from Unser’s tank (illegal) and they are disqualified. They are awarded 12th place, the last lap scored, the last lap completed before the pit stop. The difference in prize money is about $72,000!

Grant drove for Gurney again the following year and for others through 1976. He finished in the top ten in 1974 but never again came close to winning. In the end, what Grant was proudest of was being the first man to drive an Indy car in excess of 200 mph on a closed course. He accomplished this at the now defunct Ontario Speedway.

On his first timed lap with unlimited turbo boost, breaking the tires loose in every gear.  Just a Regular Joe… an overweight, bald guy who loved to stand on the gas.

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