Spanaway Speedway Reunion

spanaway-speedway

Former Stock Car racer Don Hall hosted this event in 2014 and outdid himself this year. It is a day set aside to remember the now defunct ¼ mile paved oval, once located near Tacoma, WA. Built by the Boness family in 1956, the facility was in continuous operation for almost fifty years. 1990 Daytona 500 champion Derrike Cope and Tom Sneva (an Indy winner in ‘83) had both been regular competitors there. In fact, NASCAR and USAC (now IndyCar) had sanctioned races at the venue for decades. Today a housing development is built on the former site and all that remains of the speedway are memories. Hall helps facilitate those memories with his impressive collection of memorabilia. There are also dozens of photos albums laid out and accessible to all. And then there’s the racers themselves who are always happy to share a story or two. Even Dick Boness, the man that built the facility and was there to the bitter end, attends this annual celebration.

A bonus to this scribe was the appearance of a surprisingly large turnout of midgets– vintage and contemporary. Lastly, Dave Craver and Darrel Hedman unveiled their new Jerry Day built retro-roadster. This Ranger aircraft engined monster is without question one coolest vehicles I have ever had the pleasure to inspect.


It was a great day with lunch and dessert provided pot-luck style. All indications are that Hall will host again next summer so make plans now to attend.

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Rose City Round Up

Rose-City-Round-Up

June’s Rose City Round Up held at Jubitz Truck Stop is the kind of event that you half expect to see John Milner at. You know, the guy that drove the yellow ’32 in American Graffiti? It’s easy to tell that most of the attendees live the hot rod lifestyle as opposed to “dressing up” for the occasion. This isn’t the poodle skirt set, it’s more the Bettie Page crowd—Great for people watching. But of course, the real stars of this gathering are the cars themselves. It’s an eclectic mix of showroom classics, rat rods, gassers, low riders and kustoms. Friday night’s special attractions were the flame throwers and a “Cacklefest” featuring about a half dozen of the gassers- cool beans. Saturday’s main event was the awards presentation in which all of the attending car clubs passed out handmade trophies to their favorite vehicles on display. Kurt West’s ’32 Ford was the big winner of the weekend, capturing multiple prizes but “J.P.’s” ’51 Chevy garnered Best in Show. Joyce Johnson (aka The Hot Rod Lady) recognized other women that share her passion, “The ones with grease under their fingernails and work on their own stuff.” Her son “Bub” who chaired this year’s meet was raised around hot rods and is now teaching his son about hot rod culture. “It is so much more than a car show,” explained Bub. “It is family.” On top of all else, it’s for a good cause. Each year the Round Up donates their proceeds to a local charity. This year they selected The Ronald McDonald house. So mark your calendar for next year’s event. And if you happen to run into John Milner there, tell him that Bob Falfa’s looking for him!

Girl Power

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Lyn St. James is a late bloomer in terms of being a professional race car driver. At the age of twenty seven she strapped into her converted street car (a Ford Pinto) for the first time at an obscure road course in south Florida. All was going well until the leader approached to lap her. “It was like someone had jumped out of a dark closet and yelled: Boo!” she recalls in her book. She jumped and lost control, spinning her racer off course and into a swamp. Fortunately she had the presence of mind to bail out… because almost immediately, the Pinto began to take on water. By the time her race had ended, the Pinto had completely disappeared from view.
A rather inauspicious debut. Who would have guessed that in eighteen years, this same woman would make her debut at Indianapolis? When the leaders approached on that day she held her line because by then, she was a seasoned professional. She soldiered on to an eleventh place finish and garnered Rookie of the Year honors. She is the only woman in history to do so.

Most people know Lyn St. James as the second woman to qualify for the Indy 500 but in her life she has accomplished so much more. All tolled she qualified and raced in seven Indy 500’s, finally hanging up her helmet at age fifty four. What most people don’t realize is that she was a winner in world class endurance racing. Teamed with other professionals, St. James won races at Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Road America. Additionally she holds thirty one national and international closed course speed records. What she is most proud of however, is the work she has done to promote other women in motorsports.

Today she is acting as Grand Marshall of the historic car races at Portland International Raceway. She still races on occasion and was supposed to have a ride in the Trans Am class, unfortunately that deal fell apart. This is better for us because now we have her undivided attention. I am here today with my daughter and our friend Ariel Biggs. Both of these twenty year olds are pursuing careers in motorsports; my daughter on the marketing/management side of things, Biggs as a driver and eventual team owner. They are giddy about the prospect of sitting down with a racing legend. Best of all, St. James seems equally enthusiastic about talking with them.

The girls discussed routes to success in what is still a male dominated industry. How to change the existing demographics? St. James suggested that it all begins with parents exposing their daughters to motorsports at a young age; just as readily as they would their sons.
They talked about finding and securing sponsorships. St. James reminded them that it’s not about you and why you need financial backing. It’s about what you’re going to do to promote a sponsor’s product or service.

They talked about the mechanical aspects of the sport. St. James admitted that she isn’t a mechanic but learned enough about race cars to be able to communicate with her crew. You need to speak the same language. The fact that Biggs does her own setups and likes working on the race car, puts her ahead of the curve.

They discussed the importance of staying fit and St. James even demonstrated part of her stretching regiment.
Finally, St. James reminded the girls not to become discouraged. They need to be diligent in pursuit of their goals. If they fall off the horse, they need to climb right back on. Even if their horse ends up in the bottom of a swamp, they can’t give up.

Flashing back to her debut, St. James and her husband had to wait until all of the races had concluded before they could retrieve their Pinto from the swamp. They hauled it home and stayed up all night cleaning and drying. St. James was especially motivated to get her Pinto back on the road. She needed to drive it to work on Monday.

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I Dreamed of Genie

I dreamed of owning the Genie, to be specific. No, I’m not talking about Barbara Eden. I’m talking about a small block powered sports racer, built in 1964 by San Franciscan Joe Huffaker.

There was a time in my life (the late 70’s) when I loved sporty cars so much, I’d drive to Sears Point just to watch club racing. It was during those outings that I became enamored with the nimble little racecar, then owned by a gutsy, talented driver named Terry Herman. Only a handful of unlimited, Can Am-style cars would typically show up for these meets so Herman would have to start scratch in a mixed field of big bore Corvettes, Camaros, Mustangs and such. It was always entertaining watching him slice and dice his way to the front. And when someone did turn up with a swoopy, late model McLaren or Lola, Herman could usually whup on them too. He had that circuit dialed and rode that Genie like a spirited thoroughbred. What a cool little racecar.

I didn’t know it at the time but it turned out that I’d seen the Genie race before. When I attended my first race at Laguna Seca in 1966, the car was there. My program lists Huffaker as the entrant and the driver as “Unannounced.” I don’t remember it but I’ve seen a photo from that weekend showing Bob Bondurant at the wheel. This was kind of a big deal as Bondurant was racing Formula One at the time. Unfortunately, they are listed as a nonstarter that weekend so evidently there were issues of some kind or another. Bondurant went on to found one of the first competition driving schools two years later and for that, he is probably best known.

The Genie was then sold to accomplished privateer Merle Brennan of Reno who raced it in the Can Am series exclusively at Laguna through 1970. In gawd awful heat he finished 9th in ’67 (a full twelve laps behind the leader) and was paid $1,100   for the day’s work. In 1968’s driving rain he paddled to 11th, he stayed home in ’69 but returned in ’70 to place 13th earning $900. These may not sound like great numbers but you have to consider the competition. Brennan was competing against the best drivers in the world. Factory teams, corporate sponsors, guys with the best of everything. By 1970 he was driving one of the few small blocks on the grid.

Brennan sold the Genie to Herman when he procured a wrecked formula car he planned to rebuild as a sports racer. For some reason unknown, Herman painted the car pea green and went racing. I described his exploits earlier… finally he repainted the car red for what was likely his last ride. Tossing it around with typical abandon, he lost the right rear wheel. Fortunately damage was minimal but that was the last time I saw the car…

Fast forward about fifteen years. The Can Am thirty year reunion is coming up and I’ve got all my old photos out. Wouldn’t it be cool to dig up that old Genie and take it to the reunion? I’d be willing to sell my elderly sprint car and all my roundy-round stuff to raise the money. How much could they want for the old carcass? I’m thinking six grand, maybe? Possibly ten? I had no idea. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

Turns out Herman sold the car to a guy named Tom Hanes who continued to race the Genie into the 1980’s. Hanes was injured in the car while driving it on the street. Complications stemming from those injuries ultimately killed him and his widow sold the Genie to Mike Brown in 1985.

By 1995 vintage road racing is in full bloom. I contacted the Historic Can Am Association and inquired about the car. As luck would have it, not only were they familiar with it, but it was for sale! I called Mike Brown and confirmed that it is the Genie of my dreams. He of course, knows the car’s full history and by now has completely restored it to its original glory. This is bad news to me because I was hoping for a basket case- Maybe I could afford a basket case. The price has now gone up considerably. Nonetheless, I ask him to send me a package…

The photos of the car are stunning. By all indications, it is a first class restoration. Asking price? $70,000.
When I saw the price I literally laughed out loud and not because it was funny. I think it was more like shock. I mean, it’s a cool little racecar but… that’s about it. It has a modest racing history. People have heard of Bondurant perhaps but Brennan? Herman? It’s a rare Genie after all, not a rare Ferrari.

So that was that until about a month ago. Fast forward another twenty years. I open a copy of my new vintage racing magazine and there’s a classified ad for the Genie. It looks exactly as it did in 1966 and again in 1996. It couldn’t be in any better condition… New asking price? $175,000. This time I’m not laughing.

Legends & ’68 Camaros

Ya gotta admire the guys that set the trends rather than just following along. The fearless “free thinkers”. The guys that march to a different tune. The guys that really don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks. Smokey Yunick and Duff Burgess were two guys like that. Yunick you may have heard of, Burgess is my best friend Drew’s older brother. Both became legends among their peers. Oh, and both built race cars out of ’68 Camaros.

Yunick survived fifty plus raids piloting a B-17 in World War II. After coming home he set up shop in Daytona Beach Florida where a fledgling racing club called NASCAR was just getting started. His first winner was a Hudson Hornet but it didn’t take long to draw the attention of the big wigs from Chevrolet. When the small block V-8 was introduced in 1955, Yunick was in charge of research and development. His race cars were always competitive. Over the years Yunick became better known for his ingenuity (and creative interpretation of the rulebook) than winning races. Some of the stories about his escapades became part of racing folklore. The most famous of which involves a rigorous inspection wherein the officials required Yunick to remove his racecar’s fuel cell. Certain that the car was somehow carrying more than the legal amount, the tank was confiscated pending further inspection. Outraged, Yunick reportedly jumped into his racer, fired it and drove off, leaving the officials gas tank in hand. Another tale involved a 1966 Chevelle that supposedly was constructed at 7/8 scale. It turns out that Yunick had moved the body back on the chassis to improve the center of gravity and for that reason, it failed to fit NASCAR’s template.

It is known that Yunick was provided with at least three ’67-’68 Camaros from the factory to rebuild as racecars, only one of those cars exists today. That car was stripped to the bare bones and rebuilt on a rotisserie so that Yunick could get at it from any angle. The body panels were all acid dipped to reduce weight. The windshield was laid back and composed of a thinner safety glass. All bolt-on components were either shaved down or rebuilt in lighter versions. Knowing that he couldn’t get away with altering the stock engine location, Yunick instead Z-cut and lowered the chassis around the motor giving the Camaro the lowest profile possible. As sleek and slippery as the finished racer looked, it was just as aerodynamic underneath.
Yunick set off for Bonneville but when he heard that the factory Cougar team was testing at Riverside (CA), he couldn’t resist taking a detour. With slicks mounted all around and Indy car driver Lloyd Ruby at the controls, the Camaro promptly shattered the track record. Yunick loaded back up and continued on to Utah leaving the Mercury boys in an uproar.

 At Bonneville the car broke several FIA records but Yunick refused to dumb it down enough to pass road race tech. The Camaro was sold to fellow racer Don Yenko who made the required changes and won races in the car including the Daytona GT race in 1969. The car remained a competitive SCCA club racer (still in Yenko’s stable) for another ten years until it was literally falling apart. A decade after that, historian David Tom found the Camaro and restored it to its former glory. Today the Edelbrock family owns and races the car in vintage events throughout the country.

Looking back, Duff Burgess wondered if he’d had A.D.D. as a kid (“hyperactivity” they called it in my day). I’d known him as long as I’d known Drew and we’d struck up a friendship in kindergarten. I don’t remember anything unusual about Duff’s behavior. In fact in my opinion, Duff was cool. He was upbeat and funny. He was always goin’ but it wasn’t “willy-nilly”, Duff always had a plan. If we were drawing, he might sit down and draw with us. Or he might plop down in front of the upright piano and hammer out a little boogie woogie. Usually though, he was building something. I was a night owl but there were nights when I could hear Duff in the next room toiling away into the wee hours.

 Drew and I were H.O. slot car nuts and one morning Duff emerged from his bedroom, his latest creation cupped in his hand. It was a Camaro stripped of all chrome and windows and painted a deep metallic purple. The most impressive feature was its rake- nose to the ground, tail way up. On the rear were mounted the largest sponge slicks I’d ever seen…Ever. Like, wrong scale to be honest but when you’re twelve years old, you don’t argue. Duff casually planted the well lubricated machine on the track and grabbed a pistol gripped controller. What Drew and I witnessed next was unprecedented. Whereas our best racers skittered around the track, chattering like little locomotives, Duff’s Camaro flat git! Effortlessly, almost silently, it glided. It was easily the fastest slot car we’d ever seen. Duff laid down a couple quick ones then put down the controller.

Drew and I were just coming to grips with the reality that we were never going to win a race again…when fate intervened. As he plucked the oily Camaro from the track, it slipped from his fingertips and did a full gainer into a poorly placed bowl of decal water.
Turns out, Drew and I had nothing to worry about because the Camaro never ran again. In all likelihood it was taken back to the bedroom and disassembled and Duff moved on to something else. Why wouldn’t he? He had nothing more to prove. Like Yunick at Riverside, he’d shown us who was fastest without even racing us. That’s how legends roll…

Salem Roadster Show

Dan & Karen Fitch's 1936 Pontiac, slant back sedan, '61 389 Tri-Power engine, "Slim Jim" auto trans, 51K original miles.

Dan & Karen Fitch’s 1936 Pontiac, slant back sedan, ’61 389 Tri-Power engine, “Slim Jim” auto trans, 51K original miles.

I’d been telling people I’d never been to the Salem Roadster Show. Then my wife overheard me and reminded me that we had. “Remember when we got to meet Paul Le Mat from American Graffiti?” she asked. “They had a replica of his yellow hot rod and the black Chevy that Harrison Ford drove.” She was right again, of course. Wives are great for remembering stuff like that. Man, how many years ago was that? Did Le Mat actually work more than one show?

Well, this year the cars were the stars but the venue was unchanged. What used to be called the Jackman Long building is now the Americraft Center. Like before it was jam packed with an eclectic mix of vehicles. Old and new (thanks to sponsors Weston Kia and Withnell Dodge), from trailer queens to race cars. At one end of the spectrum had to be Don and Teresa Lulay’s Vanderbeck built ’41 Willy’s- truly a show stopper. At the other end, track fresh racers. A NAPA Late Model rental car provided by the GASS series, a mind blowing, front engined Corvair gasser and a ’28 Ford track roadster…cool stuff.

Around the perimeter of the building were a couple dozen vendors representing everything from a local bank to a transmission shop. So if you had a question, there was likely someone on hand who could answer it.

Admission prices were reasonable for the quality of show presented (It is an invitational by the way) and it was refreshing not to be charged for parking! And how about this to get the younger enthusiasts to come out? FREE ADMISSION up to age 17! Good thinking.
Okay, it had been a while since I’d been to Salem. I can tell you it won’t be long before I return.

Photos by Cora Veltman

Local Favor

bardahl

If you’re a motorhead and you’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Bardahl.

Founded in Seattle in 1939 by a Norwegian immigrant, Ole Bardahl’s line of engine additives became world renown by the early 1950’s due in large part to racing sponsorships. Looking back, an unlimited hydroplane christened “Miss Bardahl” was likely the most famous of the racers to fly the company colors but there were literally hundreds of others. Bardahl sponsored competitors at Indianapolis beginning in 1950. As sports car racing grew in popularity, Bardahl saw the value in supporting those competitors as well and the drag racing crowd wasn’t far behind. Midget auto racing became hugely popular after World War II and Clark “Shorty” Templeman was a Northwestern superstar. After arriving on the scene in 1954, Templeman made “short work” of his competition and quickly rose to pinnacle of his division. He is best remembered for his many victories in Bardahl sponsored cars- some painted in a split emerald green and black livery (like the early cans) or a brilliant yellow. Ultimately Templeman won five Washington state Midget titles and another three in Oregon. Proving this was no fluke, he then joined the USAC National Tour and won three consecutive championships in 1956, ’57 and ’58. Once he became a known commodity, Templeman transitioned easily to the larger, more powerful “Big Cars”. He drove in five Indianapolis 500’s scoring a career best finish of fourth in 1961. Interestingly in all of his appearances at the Speedway, Templeman never drove for Bardahl. Sadly, he met his demise in a Midget race in Marion County, Ohio in the summer of 1962.

Ole Bardahl clearly enjoyed the exposure the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” provided his growing line of automotive additives and continued to sponsor racers there for the next twenty years. Typically the Bardahl entries were painted black but there were exceptions. In 1969 Bobby Unser qualified and finished third in a striking yellow and black checkerboard Bardahl Special. Along with the obvious benefit of promoting your product at a venue of this magnitude, Ole Bardahl used Indianapolis as an opportunity to network with other automotive professionals from all over the world. In the early 1950’s he forged relationships with people like Enzo Ferrari (even sponsored his entries) and Argentine world driving champion, Juan Fangio. It is no coincidence that eventually Bardahl opened manufacturing plants in Italy and Argentina as well as in France, Belgium and Brazil. Curiously, the Bardahl brand today maintains very low profile here in Pacific Northwest where it originated. Much of what is bottled in Seattle is shipped to Central and South America. In 2015 sales of Bardahl products in foreign countries far exceed what is sold domestically. 

1969 WMRA Champion Kenny Petersen drove the Power Punch midget at Tacoma. He is flanked by Bill Siedelman, Tom Glithero and Bob Halmer.

1969 WMRA Champion Kenny Petersen drove the Power Punch midget at Tacoma. He is flanked by Bill Siedelman, Tom Glithero and Bob Halmer.

A contemporary of Bardahl’s (and fellow Seattleite) was a bathroom chemist named Clinton Morey. In 1952 Morey invented a thick, honey-like oil supplement he called Power Punch. Morey wasn’t one to spend much money on advertising or sponsorships but he made a good product and it sold readily. A network of wagon peddlers was established and eventually Power Punch was being sold by route salespeople throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho and down into Northern California and Nevada. Third generation owner Peter Morey was a boat guy and spent a good chunk of change sponsoring race boats like Bardahl had before him. As far as “wheeled billboards” were concerned, Morey’s preference was drag racing so the few sponsorship dollars he dealt out, went in that direction. The one exception to this rule was Bremerton short tracker Craig Moore who has beat the drum (and the competition) on behalf of Power Punch these past couple of seasons in the Modified ranks.

When shown a photo of the “Power Punch Offy” taken in the late sixties, Morey was puzzled and had no recollection of the car whatsoever. He suggested that the sponsorship was between one of his former wagon peddlers and the car owner- not the factory. Likely, the sponsorship was for free product rather than cash. Regardless, the relationship was short lived.
A bigger mystery was the “Dexson Special” which made its appearance at Northwestern racing venues in the early 1950’s. McClure Distributing Company of Portland produced a fuel additive for passenger cars and chose to promote their product by painting Bud Kinnamin’s Midget to match their retail can. Though the violet and gold livery was distinctive, it didn’t stand out on the racetrack (especially at night) and the Offy didn’t maintain those colors for long.

Unlike Bardahl and Power Punch, Dexson is no longer in business so all that remains are a few old photographs and the cans themselves. Portlander Delbert McClure who owns short track race cars to this day, denies knowing anything about the McClure that spearheaded this ill-fated endeavor.

Forest Grove's Palmer Crowell displays a trophy won in the Dexson Offy.

Forest Grove’s Palmer Crowell displays a trophy won in the Dexson Offy.

 

The LeMay

Fred's Car at The LeMay

Winter time is a perfect time for a museum trip. In the shadow of the Tacoma Dome, a mere thirty minute drive south of Seattle, lies the LeMay – America’s Car Museum.

If you’re thinking “stodgy”, you probably haven’t been to a museum (any modern museum) in a while. See, they don’t make ‘em like they used to. At some point somebody realized that a bunch of exhibits of anything surrounded by velvet ropes to keep the observer at arm’s length, gets old fast. Hey, if it’s cool we want to get a closer look, right? Anymore, most modern museums encourage you to get closer. In fact, many exhibits these days are actually “hands on.” It’s what they’re calling: interactive. And believe you me, this approach has changed the entire experience. Going to the museum today is much more fun and interesting than it used to be.

The LeMay is a great example of a modern museum having opened in June of 2012. You have four floors to explore with as many as 350 vehicles on display at any given time. There is literally something for everyone in this collection, including the kids. Many of the vehicles belong to the museum but there are also cars on loan for a limited engagement. There are also numerous theme displays like: Masters of Mustang, Legends of Motorsports – The NASCAR Story, Route 66 and the British Invasion. And speaking of hands on, there are even racing simulators and a slot car track! (Extra fee for these)

Cost of admission is $16 for adults with various discounts available depending on your age, whether or not you served in the military, etc. And if you read this paper, you’re very likely to be spending the better part of the day there so it’s worth every penny! Doors are open at 10:00 am and close at 5 pm, seven days a week. For more information: (253) 779-8490.

LeMay

Rhodes to Success

Rhodes-8

“Racing is a selfish sport,” Marco Andretti once quipped. In the last turn, on the last lap, Andretti had just robbed another competitor of a podium finish. He made no apologies…and no truer words were ever spoken.

Conversely, Brad Rhodes may well be the most unselfish racer I’ve ever met. He hosted foster children in his home for over a decade. Today he manages a house occupied by mentally and physically challenged adults. He finds the work rewarding…and oh yeah, did I mention that he is the 2014 Northwest Wingless Tour (NWWT) champion? The path Rhodes took to get to this point in his life was an interesting one…

He was born in North Carolina into a family of loggers. “Dad was my inspiration,” Rhodes says. “He wasn’t a racer but he was a driver.” In his early twenties, the senior Rhodes had nearly been killed in a logging accident. He walked with a profound limp but loved to drive fast. “He was a wild man on the road,” Brad insists. “That was his racing.” Early on, the family pulled up stakes and relocated to Eugene, Oregon where extended family had already settled. Rhodes learned how to drive piloting his father’s hot-rodded truck on their rural property. He even attended the races at Riverside Speedway in Cottage Grove a couple times as a boy. Though he enjoyed the spectacle, he wasn’t smitten…then. Instead it was dirt bikes that captured his fancy.

For about ten years (early nineties to 2003) Rhodes and a buddy hauled their Honda CR500’s back and forth from Eugene to the dunes. A decade of playing in the sand certainly taught him some seat-of-the-pants vehicle control. It was fun but it wasn’t racing.

Then financial hard times struck. Rhodes had trained to be a brick layer but he didn’t have the back for it. He’d switched to electrical about the time the bottom fell out. A contact back in Tennessee suggested that prospects for work might be better back there. Rhodes sold his Honda, his house, everything and moved his young family southeast. It turned out to be a huge mistake. His union training was frowned upon in a non-union market and Rhodes struggled to make ends meet. He supported his family for almost a year on $10 an hour!

A death in the Rhodes family brought him back to the northwest for the services. At that time, Brad took a hard look at what another sibling was doing which was being a foster care provider. Having been foster parents, it didn’t seem like that big of a stretch. Being the compassionate people that they are, it was a relatively easy decision for Brad and his wife to make. They returned to Oregon to pursue their new careers and the rest, as they say, is history.

Once Rhodes and his family were resettled and their financial needs were met, he began to think again in terms of recreation. He’d had a blast with his dirt bike but this time he thought he might like to try his hand at racing. On line he discovered a shop in Portland that rent race cars by the event. Rhodes was thinking a Modified or a Late Model (stock car) but it turned out that the rentals were for road racing vehicles only. Since he had no interest in racing on pavement, that might have been the end of the story but it turned out that the shop owned a Sprint Car as well. The owner of the business suggested that if Rhodes purchased his own Sprinter, they could assist him with that. One trip to Grays Harbor for a NWWT event and Rhodes was convinced.

He purchased an older car that had seen action in another non-wing club. Predictably, when Rhodes prepared to make his Sprint Car debut at Cottage Grove, the old sled refused to fire. His fortunes improved however as the season progressed. Mostly thanks to crew member Chris Petersen (a former champion himself) Rhodes learned how set up, drive, and maintain a Sprint Car. When the final checkered flag fell on 2011, Rhodes stood fifth in overall points. Better yet, he had garnered Rookie of the Year honors.

His stats continued to improve the following season and he finished one position better in points. In 2013 however, Rhodes over extended himself financially and was forced to drop off the tour. In 2014 he was back with a vengeance. By now he had a newer, more competitive chassis, a racing engine assembled by Jeff Rabourn and Petersen solidly in his corner. He had even procured some much needed sponsorship from Pro Tow and Beaverton Automotive. Rhodes commit to the entire series which took the racers to Sunset Speedway in Banks, OR and Coos Bay, as well as Grays Harbor and Cottage Grove. When the dust had settled he had no wins but two podium finishes. That coupled with a perfect attendance record enabled Rhodes to amass the points necessary to clinch the title.

Will he defend that title? “I didn’t set out to win this one,” he laughs. At mid-season he was prepared to let Petersen take over the car for one race but that event rained out. That one night’s point loss probably would have been a game changer. Either way, it doesn’t seem to matter much to the forty five year old. It’s more about the process…it’s more about the road.

MY CAR

MY Car

It was crazy hot for mid-October on the Monterey peninsula. It was dry and dusty, I was covered with grit from head to toe yet in my glory. I was a ten year old kid, one of 42,000 plus on hand to witness New Zealander Bruce McLaren destroy his competitors at Laguna Seca.

His car was the iconic M6A, a swoopy, papaya colored sports racer with a booming small block Chevy engine. This win was particularly satisfying for me as my older brother had chosen the previous year’s winner, Jim Hall to win in his high winged Chaparral. On this day however, the tall Texan was fighting over heating problems and finished a full lap behind (sorry Scotty). Tenacious George Follmer was third in a Lola driving for Roger Penske.

A year later (1968) the weatherman conjured up something completely different…rain. McLaren was back with a new, less curvaceous M8A and stuck it on the pole. “My Car” was back too, now in Penske’s Sunoco livery with capable Mark Donohue up. Atop the velocity stacks was a gaping air box and the whole package was finished in royal blue with yellow pin striping. It was pretty and fast, fast enough to claim fifth starting position on the grid. In a downpour however, Donohue struggled on slick tires, eventually finishing eighth. McLaren himself couldn’t do much better, ultimately claiming fifth. I didn’t see my car again for 28 years.

My hunch is that Penske sold the M6A to sometimes professional driver Jerry Hansen before the ’68 season concluded. If I’m right, the car probably languished as a club racer for several years after that. Hansen was one of SCCA’s most accomplished drivers and won 27 national titles but walked the thin line between being an amateur and a pro (possibly because he had a regular job and couldn’t follow the entire series). After that…who knows? My car fell off my radar until the Can-Am Reunion held in Elkhart Lake Wisconsin in July of 1996.
By then vintage racing was the rage and the M6A had been restored to its original configuration. Harry Mathews was the owner/driver and made a respectable showing, especially when you consider the evolution of the division. The year after McLaren had won his first championship, most competitors jumped to bigger displacement engines (Since there were no rules restricting this, why wouldn’t you?). Consequently, even Team McLaren’s power plants went from 359 to 427 cubic inches in one year. By the demise of the original Can-Am series in 1974, there were fire belching, twin turbo charged, monster engines in competition, some producing in excess of 1,000 horsepower!

There were over sixty cars in competition at Elkhart Lake and of the small blocks, Mathews was among the five fastest. He qualified 24th overall and held his own in the race, on a course with a long straightaway where horsepower mattered.

Also in attendance that weekend was another vintage racer named Richard Griot. When Griot inquired as to whether or not the iconic McLaren was for sale, he was told “No, I don’t think I will ever sell it”. Turns out Griot had patience and kept after Mathews, making regular calls.  In the years that followed Griot continued to grow his car care products business and in 2008, when it looked like the world was coming to an end, Mathews finally said over a routine phone call by Griot, “Fly on out and bring your checkbook”.  Griot was on a plane the very next day and the deal was done.  

Today the McLaren is the centerpiece of Griot’s personal race car collection housed at corporate headquarters in Tacoma, WA. In the same way you would never admit to having a favorite child, Griot won’t admit that the M6A is his favorite race car…but his fondness for the yellow orange missle is evident.
“Actually, it’s my car,” I told him when we met at his open house last weekend. And then I proceeded to relate my story of claiming the car as my own some 47 years ago. Griot was amused by the tale and took it in the spirit in which it was intended.
“Okay,” he smiled raising his eyebrows, “But I get to drive it!”