Still a Family Affair

My brother and I attended our first auto race together—It was the Monterey Grand Prix in 1966. We were fortunate enough to go with my best friend and his family, six of us in total. I think my friend’s father had a lot of guts to haul a carload of pre-teen boys all the way down there for the day. And he did it couple more times after that!

In 1971 my brother and I struck out on our own. We piled my 75cc Kawasaki mini bike into the trunk of our parent’s car and spent the day buzzing around the perimeter of Laguna Seca. In retrospect, I have to say that it was one of the best days “Scotty” and I ever spent together. Through the eighties and into the nineties I continued to attend road races and occasionally Scotty would partake but that was with a large ensemble of people. Finally in 1994, we attended our first (and only) Winston Cup race together. Somehow I had come up with a couple free tickets and just he and I spent the day together- this time in Sonoma. By the mid-nineties he had moved his family away from the Bay Area and we just stopped seeing each other. As the years ticked by, we grew distant.

Scotty’s health declined in recent years. He moved into assisted living in 2016 and hospice care a couple months ago. On the Friday before this year’s Grand Prix of Portland, he passed away. I spent Saturday in mourning with three of my four sisters but planned to attend the race on Sunday. My daughter Cora would be there on behalf of NBC and my eldest sister Vickie (whom had never been to see the IndyCars before) commit to joining us as well.

On Sunday morning I awoke with Scotty heavily on my mind. At first I tried to push the memories aside but ultimately I decided to embrace them. I have a closet full of racing shirts but instead chose one of Scotty’s to wear as a tribute. I thought about him while I prepared my food for the day- he would have loved that process. Once I arrived at PIR, I contacted Cora and we set up a rendezvous. When we met, we shared a lengthy hug (I hadn’t seen her since Indy) then sat down for a nice visit. Unfortunately, she barely knew my brother and that is on me.

Based on the starting grid, the outcome of this year’s Grand Prix was difficult to predict. Nineteen year old rookie Colton Herta snatched the pole from Aussie Will Power at the conclusion of qualifying. The second row contained five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon and Englishman Jack Harvey driving the most under-financed entry in the field. Dixon’s rookie teammate Felix Rosenqvist posted fifth quickest time and non-championship contender Ryan Hunter-Ryan was slotted sixth.

On the initial green, fifteenth starting Graham Rahal pulled a bonehead move on the inside and ruined the day for both Arrow Schmidt Peterson entries as well as Andretti driver Zach Veach. Rahal’s gaffe even damaged his teammate Takuma Sato’s mount, depriving the defending Portland champion of any chance at an encore performance. After twelve laps under full course yellow, the race was restarted and Hunter-Reay pulled a remarkably similar move to Rahal’s. Attempting to block his teammate Alexander Rossi’s inside pass, he arrived in turn one too hot, spun sideways and slammed into the pink and black entry of Harvey. Hunter-Reay was able to continue (at an uncompetitive pace) but Harvey’s day was finished before it started.

On the third try, the race began without incident. Young Herta set the pace with Dixon getting around Power followed by Rossi and Rosenqvist.

At thirty five laps it appeared that Herta had used up his tires and was holding up the procession. Two laps later Dixon made a pass for the lead and Herta immediately began to pedal backward. When he pit on lap forty, the order was Dixon, Power, Rossi, Rosenqvist and point leader Josef Newgarden up from the thirteenth starting berth.

Around lap forty two, the rest of the front runners began green flag pit stops for fresh rubber and fuel. After cycling through, the running order was virtually unchanged except for Rossi and Rosenqvist swapping positions.

Then on the fiftieth circuit, leader Dixon lost power and came coasting down pit lane. Critical time was lost when his crew was forced to rescue him, push him to his designated stop, remove the engine cowl and replace the battery. For all intents and purposes this ended the New Zealander’s bid for a sixth title.

At half the distance, Will Power had inherited the lead with Rosenqvist second, Rossi third, Newgarden fourth and Herta back on pace in fifth.

The running order didn’t change until Herta had a go at Newgarden and secured the spot on lap sixty seven. Second in points Simon Pagenaud and Marco Andretti got together while dicing for sixth but both were able to continue. Andretti received the worst of this altercation as up to this point he had run just outside the top five all day.

Little changed on the course until rookie Santino Ferrucci (running eleventh) coasted out of the last turn and stalled on the pit lane exactly as Dixon had. This brought out the yellow with eight laps remaining and set up a dramatic single file dash to the finish.

Much to Power’s credit, he got an excellent restart and raced unchallenged to the checkered flag. The popular Swede, Rosenqvist tied his best finish to date by placing second. Third in point standings and on the track Rossi, did little to gain ground in his title bid as Newgarden crossed the line fifth, just arrears of Herta. The championship will be decided September 22nd at Laguna Seca.

After the races I sought out my sister and brother-in-law. They had difficultly following the action but enjoyed themselves nonetheless. My sister said she was mostly there to see and support my daughter who joined us after wrapping up her responsibilities in Victory Circle. There were hugs and smiles all around. We escaped from the racetrack and huddled in a booth at a nearby coffee shop. Over a good meal we reminisced and laughed- it was the highlight of my day.

In my family auto racing has always been a family affair and if Scotty were still with us, he would have been right in the middle of it. Rest in peace, brother.

Revvie

He could have been anything. His father was Martin Revson, a founding partner of Revlon Cosmetics. He was rich, well educated, athletic and looked like a movie star. According to their sister Jennifer, Peter and her brother Douglas excelled at all things but chose to drive race cars.

While attending the University of Hawaii in 1960, Peter entered his first race. To the chagrin of his mother, it seemed he was a natural at this endeavor as well. He finished second in his first attempt, won his second outing and was reprimanded for aggressive driving in the third. Aghast, his parents promptly withdrew their financial support. Peter took the balance of his funds earmarked for college and moved to England. There, he nurtured his relationship with Teddy Mayer (whom he had met while attending Cornell). Mayer was more interested in the business side of professional racing and did not drive. Through their association, Revson made good contacts and ultimately gained access to more sophisticated machines.

After knocking around Europe for a few years, “Revvie” (as friends had begun to call him) returned to the United States to race big bore sports cars. The new Canadian American (Can-Am) series had just been introduced with advertised purses that exceeded those of Formula One. Both Peter and Douglas were front and center from the inaugural race on. Peter performed well enough to capture the attention of Ford executives and soon endurance racing and pony car seats were being offered. Meanwhile Mayer (who was by now managing Team McLaren), was on hand to monitor Revson’s progress.

When Douglas perished in a racing accident in 1968, Peter was understandably shaken. The brothers had made a pact however, and both had agreed to carry on even if one had paid the ultimate price.

In ’69 Peter got his first opportunity to race at Indianapolis. His mount was an underpowered Brabham but he squeaked into the Show and motored from dead last to fifth. After finishing in the money at Sebring as well, actor Steve McQueen hired him to co-drive his Porsche 908 in the 1970 edition of their twelve hour contest. The story has become legend as the factory teams one by one fell by the wayside and the duo of Revson and McQueen found themselves leading the event. Literally in the eleventh hour, Team Ferrari pulled Mario Andretti off the bench and put him in their sole remaining entry. In total darkness, Andretti began turning laps at qualifying pace. He eventually caught and passed the little Porsche and crossed the finish line twenty four seconds ahead. Reportedly McQueen took most of the credit for their near upset but the more informed recognized that Revson had done most of the heavy lifting.

Finally in 1971, Mayer felt that Revson had reached his full potential and offered him a contract with Team McLaren. Peter responded by putting his state of the art M16 on the pole at Indianapolis and finished second in only his third start in the 500. In Can-Am racing he was now driving for the dominate team. Revson won half of the races outright and finished on the podium in another three. His points accumulated were enough to earn him his first championship.

In spite of his successes, Mayer didn’t offer him a fulltime ride in Formula One until the following season. In this arena Revson was winless although he finished in the runner-up spot once and in the “show position” three times. The result was a fifth in the 1972 point standings. In Can-Am racing McLaren had lost its edge and the title had gone to Porsche. In Indycar a McLaren had won its first 500 but that was in the capable hands of Privateer Roger Penske.

In 1973 Peter’s dream of winning Formula One races was realized when he won both the British and Canadian Grand Prix. When Mayer had the opportunity to hire ’72 World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi (who came with Marlboro sponsorship) however, he did so and Revson was left without a ride. For the 1974 Formula One campaign Revson signed with Don Nichol’s new Shadow Team. The ensemble failed to make the first two races on the schedule and jumped at the opportunity to practice prior to the third round in Kyalami South Africa. On 3/22/74 Revson crashed his DN3 racecar when a titanium ball joint failed at a high rate of speed. He was reportedly killed instantly.

“He gave 100 percent of himself every time he went out on the track,” Jennifer Revson told George Levy in his book on the Can-Am. “He hated losing. He hated coming in second. Had he lived, I believe he would have realized his goal of becoming World Champion.”

Model Citizen

As far as I know, kids don’t build plastic model kits anymore. In the early sixties when I grew up, they were hugely popular. Models were available almost anywhere toys were sold- drug stores, hobby shops, five and dimes, even grocery stores. If you attended a boy’s birthday party in 1963, you were likely to see several model kits cheerfully received.

Even my older brother (who seemed to me devoid of creative DNA) was a capable model builder and assembled a pair of Austin Healy 3000s. He wasn’t interested in embellishment however, so they received no paint or decals. Me? I couldn’t accept the tires being the same hue as the fenders. Applying paint and decals was the best part!

Hawk released their Weird-Ohs kits (Digger, Davey and Daddy) in ’63 and when we saw them, we had to have ‘em! Artist Bill Campbell (clearly inspired by Big Daddy Roth) produced some truly unbelievable box art. I slammed together Digger in his bucket-T and couldn’t goop on the pigment fast enough. The result was always a disappointment but I was hooked. MODEL PAINTS! Didn’t you love those little quarter ounce bottles? They had a load of ‘em wherever models were sold. The Weird-Ohs were right up our alley and I procured “Freddy Flameout” and several of the “Silly Surfers” when they became available.

The first realistic car model I remember attempting was a ’69 Barracuda. This bad boy deserved special treatment so I stepped up and purchased one of those slightly larger glass jars of metallic bronze paint. I was in such a hurry to get to the finish in fact, that I glued the hood shut so I didn’t have to mess with an engine build. Naturally I didn’t own a decent brush and very likely didn’t possess any thinner but I was undeterred. I proceeded to apply numerous coats of thick enamel hoping my brush strokes would magically disappear on their own (they didn’t). A week later when my ’Cuda was dry enough to touch, it still looked like crap. Application of decals was my last resort but there simply weren’t enough decals on the sheet to disguise my horrific paint job. Defeated, the Barracuda took its rightful place in the garbage can and I took a hiatus from model building.

Before long, an older brother (or perhaps it was “Mike” down the street) presented me with a solution: rattle cans. Custom colors were expensive but almost any can of spray paint would do. Whether dad bought it to touch up a fender or mom purchased it for a craft project, it would certainly go on smoother than brush paint. I remember Mike donating a “Little Red Wagon” drag truck for me to experiment on and the result was stunning. I shot it flat black then added a canary yellow spatter effect! I was so proud of the result that I entered it in a model contest- which I lost. The judges sited shoddy workmanship but I’m convinced that they agreed my paint job was awesome! The good news was that I was back!

Mike and I both entered the next model contest. He built a cam-backed dune buggy called “a Shelako GT” and I assembled a Porsche 904 racer. I think we pooled our allowance money for a rattle can of Appliance White paint. We didn’t win that competition either but the Porsche received an Honorable Mention (mostly thanks to Mike’s tutelage). Armed with a little encouragement I was ready to tackle something more challenging. I requested an eighth scale trike motorcycle model called “the King Chopper” for Christmas. It was the first model I ever assembled with a ton of detail and I was pleased with the finished product. I got to display it on one of my mom’s knick knack shelves in our family room (for about a week!) I believe that was the final build of my childhood.

If my model building experience had ended with the Barracuda fiasco, I probably wouldn’t have ventured back into it once I retired. I have discovered that I am a much better model builder now than I was in my youth. For one thing I now have patience which I didn’t possess as a child, allowing glue and paint sufficient time to cure. For another I have a little expendable income, affording me quality supplies like good brushes and plenty of paint thinner. Lastly, the paint they put in rattle cans these days is much improved. If you can follow directions, you can lay down a paint job as good as Earl Scheib.

If you built models back in the day, I encourage you to try it again. For me it is as much fun now as it ever was. If you‘ve never tried it, for whatever reason…What do you have to lose?

Rickreall Auto Swap Meet – Full of Surprises

On the first Sunday in June (the 2nd this year) I attended a surprisingly good swap meet at the Polk County Fairgrounds in Rickreall. Twenty two years ago three swappers: John Gilbert, Tom Pryor and James Cummins organized this event and it has been going strong ever since. This year the attendance was about the same as usual but the number of vendors was up- “One hundred and seventy,”according to Gilbert. “The first year we made about $250 profit,” he chuckles, “but we kept it going.” At some point Cummins pulled out but he has remained supportive as a vendor. (For vendors) “It’s kind of like gambling,” Gilbert says, “You never know if someone will be looking for what you put out there. Hopefully you more than cover your expenses and have fun.”

Admittedly, I was bit skeptical at first. The $6 admission price seemed like a gamble to me because I couldn’t see much beyond the ticket booth. But once I navigated the corral, I realized I was just getting started. Behind that, stood a barn full of vendors and beyond that more open space and a couple more barns. In addition, there was a grassy area with some sharp Rods and Customs on display- Always a nice bonus. As far as the merchandise offered, it was pretty much standard swap meet fare- some new items, some rusty gold. An early fifties Nash with a Ford engine and tranny, a guy selling his Crosley projects, a very restorable Cushman Scooter, a guy with a bunch of advertising (mostly framed posters by the time I got there.) He assured me that his best stuff had sold early and I believed him.

I came away with some smalls: a couple cans, a keychain, etc. I was happy. Incidentally, there is a decent flea market going on concurrently and for another dollar, you can explore that. This is held the first Sunday of each month about nine times a year. I found my best treasure there; a Bob’s Big Boy salt shaker from the 1950’s. Also the snack bar rocks! I shall plan to attend this function again next year but I’ll get there early!

Fave Five

This year when I made my annual pilgrimage to Indianapolis, I found a handful of race cars that I had never expected to see. Between the contemporary Indy cars, the cars on display in the museum, the seventy plus privately owned Indy cars on exhibit in tents next door, etc. I inspected literally hundreds of race cars. Of all the cars I looked at, these were my Five Favorite.

The Cummins Diesel Company based in nearby Columbus, Indiana entered diesel powered racers in the 500 on five different occasions. Their entry in 1931 was the first car to cover the distance without A SINGLE STOP (placing 13th). The early diesels tended to by heavy and boxy looking but not their final entry in 1952. Cummins spent over a half million dollars building this low, streamlined roadster for Freddie Agabashian to pilot and he stuck it on the pole. The six cylinder was slow coming up to speed but it’s four lap average was 138 mph; a new track record. On Memorial Day it fell back when its supercharger became clogged with hot dog wrappers and crap it picked up off the track. At seventy laps it was belching black smoke and withdrawn from competition. Ironically “Fast Freddie” had predicted this and suggested the engineers create another air intake in the hood. Not wanting to disturb the aesthetics of their design, Team Cummins had refused.

Ken Wallis had nearly won the 1967 Indy 500 with his original turbine car design, penned for STP president Andy Granatelli. His services were retained by Carroll Shelby in 1968 and with funding provided by clothier Botany 500, the next evolution of his side by side layout became a reality. In an attempt to reign in the turbine, USAC had put new restrictions on the size of its intake and Wallis had gotten around that by designing an annulus that opened at speed like the aperture of a camera. This of course was illegal and when Shelby chief engineer Phil Remington saw what Wallis had in mind, he resigned on the spot. Can Am racing champions Denny Hulme and Bruce McLaren were hired to drive but were unable to attain a competitive speed. When Mike Spence was killed practicing in one of Granatelli’s new Lotus Turbines, Shelby saw a way to save face. He called a press conference an announced that he was withdrawing his entries for “safety reasons”. Both cars disappeared for the next fifty years- It’s amazing to me that they still exist.

Meanwhile a few garages over, hot rodder Mickey Thompson was preparing for his final assault on the Brickyard. It had been four years since a Thompson entry had made the show and he was no longer building his own cars. Instead the “City of Long Beach Special” was constructed by San Franciscan Joe Huffaker who had a solid history of putting cars in the lineup. Actually the number #63 was the more conventional of two Huffaker “Wynn’s Specials” that Thompson had entered in ’67. Drag racer Danny Ongais was to make his rookie debut in the mount but it was fellow rookie Bill Puterbaugh that eventually strapped in. Sadly, the car which featured a small block Chevrolet with multi-valve heads of Thompson’s manufacture never ran well enough to make a qualifying attempt. Today, I am pleased to report, that current owner George Lyons appears to have the Huffaker fully sorted and running fine.

Aforementioned Kiwi’s Denny Hulme and Bruce McLaren were the dominate force in Can Am racing in 1969 but it wasn’t like the other guys weren’t trying. With support from Dearborn, Holman Moody stuffed a 500 cubic inch Ford monster into a two year old McLaren and strapped Mario Andretti in the cockpit. As per usual the diminutive Italian/American rose to the occasion and qualified third fast in his initial outing. After a little R and D the team reappeared for the last three events of the season. At Laguna Seca Andretti qualified seventh and finished fourth. At Riverside he started sixth and finished third and at Texas he split Team McLaren and qualified in the front row. At the drop of the green flag Andretti blasted into the lead and led for four laps before genading the engine. Clearly the car had potential, only the commitment was lacking. The “429er” (as it was referred to) was a no-show at the thirty and fifty year Can Am reunions and my assumption was that it no longer existed. Imagine my delight when I found it in the Mario Andretti-ICON exhibit held at the Speedway museum.

Another of Indy’s chosen sons was Jim “Herk” Hurtubise. He qualified for the 500 ten times and became a sentimental favorite of the fans. He promoted the front engine roadsters long after that technology had become obsolete. Hurtubise was a natural choice to pilot Andy Granatelli’s supercharged Novi and in 1963 he qualified it in the front row. Starting alongside was his friend Parnelli Jones and in the race they had a tremendous battle until the Novi was sidelined with an oil leak. Hurtubise watched Jones go on to win his only 500 and was among the first to congratulate him. In ’64 Herk was back in a traditional roadster but the following year he couldn’t get his entry up to speed and returned to Granatelli’s Novi. On the final weekend of time trials he put the day-glo rocket in the show with a solid qualifying effort. Unfortunately on race day he was the first retirement when his transmission failed. Knowing the Novi’s snake-bitten past and the ups and downs of Hurtubise’s career, it seems appropriate that the two be forever linked. Seeing the racer in person was an emotional experience.

 

FAST EDDIE, the Greatest Driver You’ve Never Heard of

Championship winning Crew Chief Clint Brawner said of Ed Elisian: “I always liked him. He worked hard and had a great, if uncontrolled, desire to be a race car driver.” Author Ross R. Olney referred to him as: “Another Vukie…Almost. He only lacked a little of the skill and judgment of the great Bill Vukovich.” And Vukie himself had sung the praises of his fellow driver before Elisian arrived in the Midwest. He may in fact, have set the bar too high.

Elisian was born in Oakland, CA and began his racing career in the late 1940’s. He drove Hardtops at Contra Costa Stadium and rapidly found his way into the popular Midgets. In 1951 he won Bay Cities Racing Association features in the indoor series driving for Bob Marchel and in ’52 finished fourth in BCRA points. It was during this time that Elisian became acquainted with Bill Vukovich whom had nearly won Indianapolis in his sophomore appearance. The two became fast friends in the Midget ranks and Vukie did his best to contact Elisian with Big Car rides.

In 1953 Elisian made his first Big Car start at high banked Dayton, Ohio while Vukovich dominated the Indy 500. Driving a state-of- the- art Kurtis roadster, Vukie qualified on the pole and led all but five laps of the hottest race on record. Finally, the following year, Elisian was able to join his mentor in Indianapolis. Vukie would again pilot the ’53 winning car while Elisian secured a ride in a solid Stevens’s dirt car owned by H.A. Chapman. Vukovich struggled in qualifying and didn’t make the race until the third day. He would start from the nineteenth slot while his protégé stormed from the final row. In the race Vukovich paced himself, finally taking over the lead at the halfway point and won going away. Rookie Elisian did a respectable job, bringing his mount home eighteenth, and six laps behind the leader. Away from the Speedway, Elisian was making a decent living. He won a Big Car race at Terre Haute and finished ninth in AAA Midwest points.

1955 was looking promising for the duo; defending Champion Vukovich had a new Kurtis roadster for the 500 which he qualified fifth while Elisian switched teams and put his Kurtis in the twenty ninth position. When the starter’s flag dropped, Vukovich forged his way into the lead and appeared to be on his way to an unprecedented third victory. Then on the fifty seventh lap some back markers got together and tagged Vukie as he attempted to squeak by. The contact put him into and over the guardrail, crashing in flames. Seeing this Elisian intentionally spun his car, unbuckled and attempted to save his friend from the burning wreck. Sadly his actions were in vain as Vukovich had fractured his skull in the initial impact. Elisian was led from crash scene sobbing and was too distraught to resume racing.

With the demise of his closest friend, Elisian became a bit of a lost soul. The sullen driver soldiered on in 1956 qualifying his first proper roadster fourteenth at Indy but was out at 160 laps. He fared better in the short track events, finishing sixth in AAA standings. In ’57 he procured his best ride to date driving for Lee Elkins and put the McNamara Special seventh on the grid but broke a timing gear at fifty one laps. On the short tracks he improved by one position in the AAA (now USAC) rankings and again was victorious at Terre Haute.

In 1958 it appeared that Elisian’s period of mourning had ended. He secured the seat in Jack Zink’s new roadster and a rivalry developed between him and Dick Rathmann who had taken over the McNamara ride. Fast lap of the month was passed back and forth between the two with Rathmann ultimately claiming the pole. The feud continued after the drop of the green flag as neither driver was willing to lift at the end of the back straightaway. This resulted in a collision that started a chain reaction involving more than half the field. In the end, Elisian, Rathmann and six other cars were eliminated and crowd favorite Pat O’Conner was dead.

Though Elisian wasn’t any more responsible than Rathmann, the incident was more or less pinned on him. The fact that he was unpopular among his fellow drivers certainly didn’t help. Without his advocate Vukovich to defend him, Elisian’s life began to spiral downward. He continued to perform well on short tracks but missed the ’59 500 over a suspension that involved gambling debts and bad checks.

Before ever having reached his full potential as a driver, Elisian crashed to his death on the Milwaukie Mile on August 30th 1959. He was thirty two years old and had never married. Unfortunately other than his immediate family, there were few to mourn him.

5 Things We Don’t Need

The late standup comic, George Carlin used to practice what he called “Observational Humor.” If he observed something that bugged him, he might call our attention to it and proclaim that it needed to cease. One example was bald guys that grew their hair out in the back and wore it in a ponytail. It bugged Carlin. He said it was” something we didn’t need “and wasn’t going to be tolerated any longer.

In the spirit of George Carlin and with the swap meet, car show and cruise in season back upon us, here is my version of 5 Things We Don’t Need.

Baseball caps have always been part of car culture and it makes sense to protect your noggin if you’re planning to spend your day out of doors. What doesn’t make sense is to wear a visor with a prickly wig attached. When did these things first show up-more than a decade ago? I’m trying to remember if the first one I saw evoked a smile. I’m quite certain that the second one, did not. I get that they’re a goof, meant to be humorous but it’s a joke that is only funny the first time you see it. By now we’ve all seen it. I think Carlin would agree that visors with prickly wigs attached should go away. It’s a joke that lost its punch years ago.

Muscle shirts, tanks or any form fitting shirts without sleeves seem to be popular with car guys. Unfortunately, I don’t think most guys know whether they look good in them or not. In a recent Melissa McCarthy movie the joke was made: “Only guys with muscles should wear muscle shirts” and I think she may be on to something. A burly guy I called “Big Dog” used to wear them to the races all the time. When I bought a sleeveless shirt that had vintage sprint cars on it, my daughter called me “Little Dog” every time I wore it. Eventually I got the message. If you want an honest assessment of how you look in your muscle shirt, ask your teenage daughter.

Do you know what a “Time Out” is? A Time Out is a homemade doll of a two or three-year-old standing with its face concealed in shame. I must believe that women make these…only an adoring mother would find anything cute about a pouting tot. But the bigger question is how did these dolls find their way to car shows and cruise ins to begin with? Somehow, they became a fairly common sight in years past but I believe they are now on the decline. I say let’s outlaw them altogether. Then the question becomes: “How do you dispose of one?” My answer: Goodwill!

According to Wikipedia, oversized dice originated during World War II. Pilots hung them in the cockpit of their fighter planes displaying “seven pips” before a “sortie mission.” At a time when the mortality rate was high, anything that a soldier perceived gave him good luck was justified. Though their history is solid, somehow over time, enlarged dice lost their dignity. Tell me, when you see a set of flocked dayglow green dice hanging from a rearview mirror, do you think about bravery? I think oversized dice have become a tacky metaphor for hot rodding or nostalgia in general. In fact, I hadn’t even thought about fuzzy dice in years…and then I came across a whole table full at the “Mild to Wild” Show. They are for sure something we don’t need.

Lastly, there is Betty Boof. The character was created in 1930 by a contemporary of Walt Disney’s named Max Fleischer. As popular as Betty was, she was retired after nine years as the star of her own cartoons that appeared in theatres prior to the featured attraction. People grew bored with Betty because besides being cute, she didn’t really have much going on and her cartoons mostly consisted of her being chased around. It has been the merchandising of her likeness on everything from greeting cards to coffee cups that has kept Betty in the public eye ever since. At some point someone rendered her as fifties style car shop with roller skates on her feet and a tray in her hand. For some reason that image really resonated with people and she has been typecast as a waitress ever since. Evidently it is Betty the Car Hop that will forever be linked to hot rodders but at eighty nine she is overdue for retirement. It is time to give Betty a rest.

Mild to Wild Motorsports Swap Meet

It took guts for promoter Steve Moore to move his successful swap meet from Albany to Salem. Not only did he move the venue but he rescheduled a bit later in the year. The new February date conflicted with Puyallup, Washington’s Early Bird Swap Meet which has a fifty year history and Skagit Speedway’s Northwest Racer’s Swap Meet held at Burlington (WA) High School. In spite of the competition, Moore report that this year’s edition of the Mild to Wild Motorsports Swap Meet was his second highest attended show in its thirteen year run. Beyond that, all vendor booths were sold out and a waiting list existed that included another thirty seven vendors that unfortunately could not be accommodated. Efforts will be made to include all that wish to participate next year.

Why the boost in interest? Pairing the gathering with other automotive events; The Salem Roadster Show and the Salem Indoor Dirt Track Races, likely had something to do with it. The Roadster Show in fact, pooled advertising dollars with Moore and they co-promoted their events happening simultaneously in adjacent buildings. But both benefited by the scheduling of the short track racing held on the grounds as well. We talked to people that planned to attend multiple events. One swapper was heading to the Roadster Show just as soon as he finished making his rounds. One family of racers was camped at fairgrounds for the weekend. Dad had a booth at the swap meet and the kids were racing on dirt oval that night!

Speaking of racetracks, three that I know of were represented at the swap. Michael Short and Joel Imamura of Bar-S Motorsports were manning a large booth and letting patrons know that they will be operating Willamette Speedway this season. When asked if they were still operating a retail store in Albany, I was told that the store had been relocated to the racetrack in Lebanon and was open five days a week. Heather Boice, who has managed Cottage Grove Speedway for numerous seasons, had a table at the far end of Columbia Hall. If you wanted information about her venue, the Head Honcho (Honcha?) was front and center. Even River City Speedway (Saint Helens) had Representative Darrin Rye on hand, passing out schedules and answering questions.

As far as the merchandise offered, this swap remains very Stock Car oriented. Mostly Late Model and Modified stuff but we did spy a Sprint Car or two. Regarding the quality of the used merch, it was all over the board (Why do people haul around used rubber?) or you could buy new- Besides Bar-S, Jeremy Shank of Left Coast Motorsportshad a boatload of stuff, William Drager of Drager Performance had a sizable booth and there were likely others.

As an added attraction, Moore sets up ramps and conducts valve cover races every year. He says people always show up with new entries but they’ve accumulated a pretty decent stable by now so anybody that wants to can play.

All in all, it’s a very upbeat gathering of enthusiasts and along with the swapping some hi-jinx and tom foolery ensues.

Spinning the Big Wheel

Parnelli Jones was considered one of the “Big Wheels” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had arrived on the scene in 1961 and shared Rookie of the Year honors with Bobby Marshman after an inspired performance. In 1962 he broke the 150 mph barrier, qualifying J.C. Agajanian’s roadster in the pole position and forfeited a commanding lead after losing his brakes. In only his third start, Jones again captured the pole and went on to win the 500 stopping the foreign invasion (Team Lotus) dead in their tracks.

In what would turn out to be his final Memorial Day classic (1967), Jones was again the man to beat. His assigned steed was Andy Granatelli’s Turbo Car, the most technically advanced racecar to ever appear at Indianapolis. Legal to the letter but extremely controversial, Jones’ turbine powered, four wheel drive rocket ship was a dark horse. There had simply been no precedent. Turbines had always been eligible, but no one had ever qualified one. Adding to the mystique, Granatelli, Jones and everyone else involved with the race car, shrugged when asked about its capability. Their qualifying time was nothing spectacular but some found their ambivalence suspect…Perhaps they were saving what they knew until race day?

At the drop of the green flag, Jones laid his hand on the table. He chased the first two rows of qualifiers into turn one drifting high and powered around them. In the short chute he crisscrossed the track and devoured the leader Mario Andretti as they entered turn two. By the time he reached the start/finish line, Jones was already leading by a country mile and pulling away. At fifteen laps the Turbine was twelve seconds ahead of second place. Then at eighteen laps, it began to rain.

The 500 was postponed until the following day but when racing resumed, Jones’ domination continued.

Meanwhile after starting back in the twenty sixth position, a rookie from the NASCAR ranks was experiencing his first Indy car race. Lee Roy Yarbrough was well known down in Florida but here at the Brickyard, he was just another neophyte. He had a year old Vollstedt Ford to drive for seatbelt magnate Jim Robbins. It was a competitive car but Yarbrough spun in the opening laps and by now was just trying to keep pace with the field.

On the fifty second lap Jones swooped in on Yarbrough to put him yet another lap down. “My car runs so quiet, the other drivers can’t hear me coming,” Jones explained later. Nor could Yarbrough see him, evidently. Even if he could, he wouldn’t have been expecting the leader to dive underneath him (left wheels under the line) going into the turn. The racers touched wheels and began a graceful pirouette into the infield. The Turbine T-boned the Vollstedt briefly, then they slid together and separated. Amazingly, neither car was disabled, and both contestants were able to continue after a pit stop to change out their flat spotted tires.

Jones claimed that after the initial contact, the cars never touched again but photographs show damage to body panels on both racers after the incident. Was the damage merely cosmetic? We’ll never know.

The balance of Jones’ race is well documented. He continued to ride roughshod over the field until four laps from the finish when a six dollar bearing in the gearbox failed. Yarbrough soldiered on until he was involved in second incident, this time trying to avoid a spinning car. The crumpled Vollstedt was abandon in the infield with a total of eighty seven laps scored.

In Bill Libby’s biography “Parnelli” the incident was blamed entirely on Yarbrough but examination of the film tells a very different story. For his part, Jones never accepted any responsibility-then again, why would he? When you are a former 500 champion and a respected veteran, you think about your legacy. With everyone willing to point a finger at Yarbrough, it was prudent for Jones to keep his mouth shut.

NWDRA HI-PERFORMANCE AUTOMOTIVE SWAP MEET January 27, 2019

Does anyone stay home to watch the Pro Bowl? I mean, I enjoy pro football as much as the next guy but aren’t most of us ready for a break between the Playoffs and the Super Bowl? I think the answer is “yes” and that helps explain why the Northwest Drag Racing Association’s swap meet held the weekend prior to the Super Bowl, is always so well attended.

This year the club was celebrating their 43rd year- the inaugural having taken place way back in 1975. “The first (gathering) was held at Mount Hood Community College,” explained Event Spokespeople Andy Tabor and Lettie. “From there we moved to Canby Fairgrounds because we needed more room and from there we moved here because it was warmer!” (Heat is certainly a consideration when planning a mid-winter swap meet).

When asked what they were shopping for, two racers that had driven up from Roseburg responded that it was mostly a social event for them. “We don’t get too much time to shoot the breeze at the track,” they agreed. A massive fellow was pulling a wagon overstuffed with goodies like Santa’s sleigh. “My wife likes the flea market,” he stated. She had found a vintage game of Pick-Up-Stix and was over the moon. Sure enough, the offering at this gathering is diverse. Hardcore new and used engine components are plentiful as is gently used safety equipment ( I, myself purchased a used driving suit last year). But there is also a huge selection of non-racing items, hence the “flea market” reference.

When asked what else the organizers had planned for the coming year, they mentioned “The Classic”- a racing event they started at PIR then relocated to Woodburn. There are new events still being planned for the upcoming season so for more information call Lettie at (503) 644-5707.