Personality with a side of Ribbs

Big personalities are nothing new to racing. From the very beginning, motorsports has attracted some extremely colorful characters. Since I have been working in racing, everyone pales in comparison to Willy T. Ribbs. His presence is instantly recognized in a room, and it always has been that way throughout his career. From the very beginning, Ribbs idolized Muhammad Ali, and modeled his physique and attitude after the iconic boxer. Pair that with an intense gaze and larger-than-life stories, Ribbs always stood out. That, and he was the only African American driver around.

A second-generation racer, Willy can thank his father, Bunny, for putting motorsports on his radar. Growing up in San Jose, CA famous motorcycle and IndyCar driver, Joe Leonard lived next door to the Ribbs family and was an influence as well. “I wasn’t a problem child, but my thing was driving fast” explains Ribbs, “By the time I got out of high school- I knew where I wanted to go… you look at all the drivers that came from around the world and they were racing the British championship.”

Ribbs made a name for himself in Europe through Formula Ford before coming back to America and competing in the Formula Atlantic series. He fell through IndyCar, Champ car and NASCAR, tried his hand at Trans-Am thanks to Paul Newman, and raced in IMSA for the late Dan Gurney.

Ribbs credits a handful of highly-recognized friends that have helped him through his career. “If I were to have been a grin’n shugglin’ idiot- it wouldn’t have changed anything… I also knew that for me to continue to go up the ladder of the sport, I had to have a name. I could not be like the other guys. It was that personality that got Bill Cosby’s attention.”

Though recent issues have been brought to light about Cosby’s life off-camera, Ribbs admits that his career would not have been the same without the help of the famous comedian. “I didn’t call him, he called me!” Ribbs says that Cosby was not the slightest bit interested in racing. In fact, though Cosby helped funnel a significant amount of money into Ribbs’ career, he did not come to the track. It was purely a business transaction. Cosby had the funds and the name recognition in a time when there were few African American men in the spotlight. This was an investment in Ribbs as a promising athlete and man of color.

Another influential figure in Ribbs’ Rolodex was famous boxing promoter, Don King. “Don knew me through my relationship with Ali. He said that he wanted to represent me,” says Ribbs, “Bernie (Eccelstone) knew that Don was representing me and wanted to meet.” Ribbs recounts how the eccentric boxing promoter came face-to-face with his motorsports counterpart “If you ask Bernie Ecclestone about this, he will still remember Don walking into the hotel room eating an ice cream cone. It was fascinating to watch the two engage.” It was King that helped orchestrate Ribbs’ first entry in the Indy500, but the relationship was fleeting. “I just think that Don thought that there was going to be more money in racing, at that time boxing was all cash.”

Willy T. Ribbs is a recognizable name in racing, but not necessarily for the results that he earned. Controversy has followed Ribbs through his career. Strangely enough, Ribbs was an extremely proficient driver. He has, to this day,a fire in his eyes. For whatever reason- and there are a few theories- Ribbs never reached his full racing potential. Some attribute Ribbs’ attitude and sometimes prickly, outspoken nature and to that he says “BULLSH*T. I didn’t talk myself out of anything.” His response points directly to the obvious. “Be honest with what the truth is. Be man enough to admit that ‘we didn’t want him because he was black.’” Realistically, it is a combination of many factors. Sadly, the result is a driver who had the gumption, bravery and talent to get the job done, but will be remembered more for superficial reasons than capability.

In fact, Ribbs has talked frequently about how he was treated in different series, and he found that the European mindset was more welcoming to him. “It was a night and day difference. When I went over there to race, it was like going to another planet in terms of acceptability. Those guys saw me as a race driver- and that is what it was all about. You know? When I got back here, I was a black race driver.”

Like being the ‘first’ of anything on an emerging front, Ribbs was faced with unfair added pressure to set a precedent. It was Dan Gurney who pointed out to Ribbs that his responsibilities as a racing driver ended with himself, his family and team- just like any other racer.

Bottom line is, Willy T. Ribbs pushed the envelope. His uniqueness steps outside his race- Willy truly is a vivacious, bold and an unapologetically fierce person. If there is an opportunity to hear him speak at an engagement, it is not to be missed. Look past the controversies, look past influences, and you will find one of the most colorful voices in racing with stories that will make your jaw drop. He is, at his core, personality with a side of Ribbs.

Route 66 Fun Run

Route 66. The Mother Road. My wife Sue and I have traveled short stretches of Route 66 incidental to other vacation trips. But this trip is different. Following an invitation from Sue’s cousin, Avery Cantwell, we are on our way to Arizona for the Route 66 Fun Run. It is on day one, while on our way to Arizona, that Sue makes the observation that there is a certain symmetry to the fact that I am 66 years old, driving a ’66 Mustang on Route 66.

The Route 66 Fun Run is now in its 31st year. The event is sponsored by the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona headquartered in Kingman, Arizona. It is held the first weekend of May each year. Things get started in Seligman on Friday afternoon when you pick up your registration material. In the evening there is a parade (cruise) on the main street of Seligman open to all registered vehicles. There is also live music and dancing.

Saturday morning the Fun Run officially departs Seligman for Kingman, passing through the Hualapai Reservation and the Grand Canyon Caverns, Peach Springs, Hackberry and Valle Vista. Each of these stops has some type of attraction making a quick stop worthwhile. Upon arrival in Kingman, those who wish to participate are parked along Andy Devine Boulevard/Route 66 in the downtown section for a huge car show that lasts throughout the afternoon. There are many attractions to see and visit in the area, including the Route 66 Museum. It is also a great time to see all the other cars and talk to other participants.

Sunday morning the cars start lining up for a ten o’clock departure on the second leg of the cruise. The departure is led by the 1954 Chevrolet Kingman police car “Pickles.” The ultimate destination is Topock/Golden Shores by noon for lunch and the awards ceremony from the previous day’s car show. This section of the highway is a bit more challenging as it traverses some mountainous terrain. Much of the driving for our Mustang was done in second gear and it was on this section that we saw more vehicles suffering breakdowns or overheating issues.

At the top of the mountain is the old gold-mining town of Oatman. Oatman’s main street is lined with real vintage old west buildings. The town stages gun fights throughout the day for travelers’ entainment. It is also home to wild burros that are free to roam the streets. The burros are federally protected and are tame enough to be approached and petted. Be careful though—as on member of our traveling group lost his bag of popcorn to one of the burros. The animal gave him a little head-butt in the ribs and then snatched the popcorn from his hands.

The Fun Run is open to all cars. This year there were cars from the 1910s all the way through the 2010s. The vast majority of the cars are classics, hot rods or special interest. Just observing the cars while we were driving, it appears that Corvettes outnumbered most other makes.

Registration for the event is limited to 800 vehicles. This year they had 788 rides signed up. Cars come from all over the southwest and farther to attend. During the awards ceremony it was noted that the domestic car club attendance award went to a group from Australia who brought eight Mustangs and a 1932 Ford Coupe all the way to Arizona. But they did not win the long distance award. That plaque went to a young coupe from Argentina who had driven a 1980 Volkswagen Van to the to the event. For them this was a planned stop on their way to Alaska.

Attending the Run was a great time. Although it may not have as many of the classic roadside attractions as other sections of the highway, it is one of the longest remaining sections of the road. It gives you a real sense of what early travelers must have encountered. If you go, be prepared for the possibility of very warm weather. At the end of the run in Topock the temperature was 104 degrees at noon. A little warm for a native Oregonian. It is also highly recommended that you reserve a place to stay early. At his mother’s insistence, since it would hold the entire family, Avery was driving a 1957 Rambler. As Avery put it, “Nothing says fun like driving your momma’s Rambler.” Turns out he was right. The car got a lot of attention and it did comfortably transport the whole family from start to finish.

Portland Vintage Racing Festival 2018

It has been quite a few years since I have been to the historic races at PIR. So this year my friend Terry and I decided to go. We got there early in time to get a great parking spot, in the shade because it was going to get hot.

I, myself, like to tour through the pits or paddock before the cars get on the track. The showcases of the day were vintage Formula 1 and Trans Am cars. Of the Formula 1 cars there were Brabham, Tyrrell, Shadow, Lotus, McLaren and several others. Also Trans Am cars such as Mustangs, Camaros, and Corvettes. These were more modern bodied cars not like the old ‘67, ‘68, ‘69 and ‘70 Mustangs and Camaros that I remember of the original Trans Am cars.
Also racing were your typical selection of ‘60s and ‘70s sports cars. In different race groups there were Alfa Romeo, Porsche, BMW, Lotus, Jaguar, Volvo, Corvette, Camaro, Mustang, and a ‘65 VW Bug. Also formula cars such as Titan, Winkelmann, March, Swift, Lola and a gaggle of others were making great music on the track.

I always go for the underdogs so it was great to see a ‘65 Bug on the track mixing it up with the sporty type car. By the way, if you did not know I am a proud owner of a 1965 VW Bug named Vincent Wendall.

Also mixing it up with the V8 cars was a 1964 Studebaker Daytona. It was great to see it run with the Corvettes, Mustangs, a Porsche and a Ford Falcon.

Actually, my most favorite car there was a 1970 McLaren Can Am car. Beautiful red, big block, staggered velocity stacks, big tires and the deepest rumble sound.

The modern Trans Ams were smooth and fast until Greg Pickett looped his Mustang in turn 9. Now I know your going to say turn 9? I am old school in the old configuration of pir and it was turn 9 then. Now it’s turn 12. You know, the big sweeping right hand turn coming on to the front straight.

Geoff Brabham was the grand marshal of the festival driving a ‘72 Titan FF MK6B. I thought the most unique named car is the “Pooper” a 1953 Porsche powered Cooper. This was like one that Roger Penske drove back in the day. The weather was clear, the sun was hot and the racing was great. A great day overall even if it did take me three and a half hours to get home when it should have taken an hour and a quarter. Portland traffic!

MECUM Auction comes to Portland again in 2018

The collector car hobby is alive and well all cross the America. The “Collector Car Auction” has become a regular on cable TV channels like NBC Sports, The Discovery Channel, Velocity and so on. These events are exciting and fun with lots of glitz and glamour, bright lights, shiny cars, auctioneers, calling out for bids in a cadence that’s hard for the average guy to duplicate and that cadence only adds to excitement and implants a sense of urgency.

Mecum came to Portland again in June 2018. They travel all across the continent producing their collector car auctions in, I think, 18 locations, it’s a traveling show and what a show it is. I heard these auctions described as the biggest and best car show you can attend, and everything is for sale!

Mark Young with the Northwest House of Hardtops @ 11834 SE Stark, in Portland, OR., 503-257-9050, brought much of his inventory to the auction and a lot found new homes. His inventory is usually just spectacular. Rare muscle cars, fantastic restorations, beautiful and well-kept Corvettes of all years. Each offering a treasure to any car guy or car gal.

Mecum offered more than 600 lots this year and nearly 300 sold for about a 50% sell through. Total sales reached 8.3 million. I found many cars that I would love to call mine but alas, my budget just can’t handle what my mind thinks I might need.

For access to complete auction results, or for a schedule of Mecum’s upcoming events, you can sign up for the free InfoNet service at www.Mecum.com. Check out some pictures of cars that were offered and put Mecum Portland on your calendar for next June.

If you’re selling, consign early. They will post your car on the site so people shopping can see your car. If you’re looking to buy, check their website for a look at what’s going to be available. Obviously, next years auction won’t be shown yet but don’t forget to check back often to stay up to speed on what’s coming.

Collector car auctions are a great place to locate the car of your dreams and you can buy it there and take it home.

Another Man’s Treasure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebel Rally

The goldRush Rally is the craziest exotic car parade that you have never heard of. If you have heard of it, then you probably stumbled upon it somewhere in the back roads of the United States or caught ‘dope’ pictures on social media.

Though it is referred to as a ‘rally,’ those who organize it are adamant that no street racing is to be tolerated. This is not a cross-country barnstorming, but more of a wild group road trip. Almost 200 participants sign up to caravan in their Lamborghinis, Porsches, Ferraris, McLarens, and more. There are no restrictions on makes, models, or years of the participating cars, though most that are entered are considered to be ‘exotic.’

Each year, the route changes. For the special ten-year anniversary this June, expedition stopped in ten metropolitan cities from Boston to Las Vegas. Lasting little over a week, they happened to swing through the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for an afternoon.

There is nothing subtle about a fleet of candy-colored supercars arriving at your office- especially on a grey Tuesday morning. This was the VIP group, which included nascar Champion and 2014 Indy500 starter Kurt Busch driving a menacing 2018 Ford GT and former Seahawks Defensive End Cliff Avril in his own Black Panther themed ride. All of a sudden, there was a spectacle. These magnificent cars were a taste of the 200-odd legion on their way.

“We get guys from all over the country” explained one of the drivers named Geoff. “Most own their own cars, but sometimes you’ll get someone from another country that rents a new Lambo or something just to participate.”
Geoff Fear owns a luxury watch company that sponsors the series and has been an eager participant since the beginning. Decked out in Premiere Jewelry logos and goldRush stickers, Fear rocked a classic Gulf paint scheme this year on his McLaren 570S. Every car sports their own unique design and attitude – each wilder than the next.
Geoff represents most that run this rally. This tradition has turned from a lighthearted week of parties and supercar spectacle to a close-knit reunion. “This is my family and I look forward to this every year,” he said earnestly before smirking and adding “There is something about running from the cops that really brings people together.”

As one can imagine, discretion is not the goal of this organization. No matter the city, a crowd gathers. This often times includes the Fuzz. Sometimes the police are present to provide an escort, and sometimes they are present to provide tickets. The series rules specifically state:

“The goldRush Rally (the “Rally”) is not a race. You must not compete in any manner with other participants. You must not place any bets of any kind in relation to the Rally… You must comply with all applicable laws and regulations of the City, County, State, and Country in which you are present at any given time during the Rally, including but not limited to all speed regulations, laws of the road, etc.”

But being pulled over is a regularity. Speeding tickets are a mark of pride but not getting caught is the ultimate prize.
From the Golden Gate Bridge to the Las Vegas strip, goldRush embodies a new type of gearhead. It is luxury, it is humor and it captures the elusive idea of ‘cool.’ There is an outlaw vibe here and the cast of characters has no shortage of personality. In their mission statement, goldRush even refers to themselves as both a ‘social event’ and a ‘lifestyle brand’ and travel days are almost exclusively covered with new media platforms like Instagram and YouTube. Besides a presence at sema, this organization’s focus is not on media attention — but bringing like-minded people together.

This is a tribe and yet another flavor of car culture, one that is still creating their own mark and community. These guys have a mix of crazy eccentricities and attitude. In a word, these guys are rebels.

Petersen Collector Car’s Roseburg Auction

Roseburg in July is a great place to be for people who like hot rods, old cars. street rods etc. “Graffiti Weekend” as its called, offers car shows, cruise-ins, circle track racing, collector car auctions and more. There is something for everyone and it’s not actually just the weekend. This year it started on July 4 and lasted into the weekend. Some may say that the 4th stretches the events out to make it a long weekend and I can see that. Suffice to say, there is something going on every day that’s bound to appeal to many.

The Petersen Collector Car Auction at the Douglas County Fair Grounds is the one I like the best. This year’s auction offered a great array of interesting cars for sale. Not all of them old cars necessarily but many were, both stock and modified. The inventory represented a very diverse selection of rigs ranging from the 1920’s to a late model 2013 hi-rise Dodge Diesel 4 X 4, as well as Corvettes, Jags, BMW’s, and motorcycles. The responsive viewing audience of 400 plus with nearly 300 registered bidders purchased 45% of the 80 vehicles that were consigned. Curt and Susan wanted to say, “Thank you to everyone that participated in the Roseburg Graffiti Weekend Auction.”

This company is an Oregon family owned and operated business that holds three auction a year, in a couple different locations. Every sale typically has a great selection of cars to choose from and this year didn’t disappoint. I’ve bought and sold cars at these auctions and have always gone home happy. Curt and Susan Davis put together a wide variety of cars and trucks to sell and they enlist their family and friends to make these one-day events fun and enjoyable. Please follow them on Facebook and watch the website www.petersencollectorcars.com for the next auction coming in the fall.

Memorabilia sells first in the “warmup auction,” which includes beautiful and well built “man cave items” like custom phone booths, service station type yard lights, combination air & water stands and petroleum signs, provided by Pedersens Petro Retro of Roseburg, Oregon. They will be happy to “custom build” to your color scheme and product designs to fit your personal needs. Call Brent @ 541-868-5222.

My Vintage Vantage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALEXANDER ROSSI: An evening at World of Speed Motorsports Museum

I can’t believe it. Alexander Rossi in Wilsonville. I am there. The doors are to open at 6:00. I was there at 5:30. I expected a mass of people, after all, it is Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi! There was only one other person there. At 6:00, the doors opened and by then, there were a lot more people. I bought my ticket and entered paradise. The marque display was Porsche 911 cars.
The Porsche 911 is a beautiful car. In race form, with wide wheels and tires, with it’s aerodynamic body work and flared fenders and wings it’s gorgeous. The 57 racer that was driven by Portland’s, Monte Shelton was there.

I met Ron Huehli, the curator of the museum. In 2017, Ron drove the number 26, a 1966 Lola at the vintage race at the speedway. The Lola was originally raced by Roger Ward, who came in 18th in the 500, in 1966. Mr. Huegli was kind enough to show me around the facilities. We went through the area designated for restoration, the shop area where auto repair classes are held and storage for cars not on display. In that area was stored Rolla Vollstedt’s first Indy car he built. The Offy powered car rain in the 1965 Indy 500. It was driven by a northwest driver, Billy Foster of Canada.
Enter Alexander Rossi. He said that he was glad to be there. He would be starting in 32nd positions in this years 500, not 3rd like last year. Would be challenge. He seemed positive that he could work his way up through the field.

Now question and answer time:

What is the difference between Formula 1 and Indy cars?

“Formula 1 is more robotic. As a driver you have to optimize the package that you have. Where you have no adjustments to the car. In Indy cars, you can adjust spring rate, roll center and dampeners, all within the rules The Indy cars are more of a driver’s car and how much the driver wants to win.”

Do you prefer to hand out with Formula 1 drivers or Indy car drivers?

“Indy car drivers. Indy car drivers are real people.”

Have you seen the PIR track yet?

“No, not yet.” “We are concentrating on the 500.” We are excited to come back to Portland.”

What is the difference your own car and an Indy car?

“My Honda Pilot goes from 0 to 60 in 10 seconds.” “It’s a different environment. In the Indy car, you are in the zone, concentrating.” In the Pilot, it’s about comfort.”

Any speeding tickets?

“Why, yes.”

What’s a normal day?

“Wake up. Go work out. Go to the Honda Development Center. Work on the racing simulator and practice on the different tracks. Or, go do whatever my manager has arranged for me, like a cooking show, in my own kitchen.”

What other forms of motorsports would you like to drive?

“I am very fortunate to be able to drive Indy cars, here I’ll stay.”

Having raced Formula 1, today, would you rather race at the Grand Prix of Monaco or the Indy 500?

“I would, 100 percent be at the Indianapolis 500. There is nothing better than the Indy 500.”

What was the first car you drove when you got your driver’s license?

“I might get in trouble for answering that but, it was a Chevy Silverado. The team I drive for, Andretti Motorsports, that car is powered by Honda. Some competitors have cars powered by Chevrolet. Now, we are a Honda Family.”

After winning the 2016 500, coasting across the start-finish line, coming to a stop, you sat in the car for a long time?

“I got to hear the crowd as I coasted around turn 4. Getting a chance to listen to the crowd cheering was very very special.”

There were other questions but, I thought these were an example of some of the good questions. Now, off to the “meet and greet.” There are over 200 people there. Among them was Tony Wilson, Founder of Wilson’s NAPA, with about 20 stores throughout the Wilsonville Valley and the Columbia Gorge. Also, my former boss for 18 years. After I got Alexander’s autograph, I asked him a question about what happened on the second qualifying attempt?

“I had a low line and it took all I could do to keep the car on the track.”

On Sunday I watched the greatest spectacle in racing, watching Alexander move up through the field. Driving smoothly, he was passing cars on the outside, dodging wrecks, and working his way into the top 10. At one time he was leading the race, then he finished in fourth. Great job of driving especially since he started 32nd.

I’m looking forward to watching him race at Portland International Raceway in the September Grand Prix of Portland.

The Cutting Edge

“I love this show” says Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian, Donald Davidson. “Everyone that you see, aisle after aisle, booth after booth. Everyone that you see is employed in motorsports. You wouldn’t believe how big it is.” Draped in respect from his peers, the humble racing expert cannot walk more than a couple paces without someone recognizing him. They grab his arms, his jacket, a celebrity based on knowledge. Davidson is one of thousands of racing enthusiasts that flock to the downtown convention center in Indianapolis for the Performance Racing Industry, or PRI show. Though Davidson doesn’t merely attend the show, he is an esteemed guest. He was invited to speak about the four A.J. Foyt Indy 500 winning cars on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum booth adjacent to the main thoroughfare. Groups of onlookers gather as the interviewer sets up a professional camera and lights. They listen, eager to hear a tidbit from the Grand Master himself.

Happenings like this occur all over the 3,400-booth showroom floor. Sister event to the SEMA show, the PRI show celebrated its 30th birthday this year. Unlike SEMA, PRI is focused specifically on auto racing. For one weekend in December, this is the center of the racing world.
No one gets into the racing industry by accident. Walking through the aisles, anyone can see that this is a passion-based profession. Booth topics go from shock absorbers to exhaust systems, brake pads, chassis, racing sanctioning bodies and publications. Seminars go on in the morning, hosted by trendsetters and industry leaders. Some are as technical as “Battery, Cranking & Charging System Myths Explained!” While others focus on the human element like “Derek Daly Academy Driver Development Seminar.”

Professionals, team owners, drivers, and engineers are invited. This is not an event open to the public until the last day. In more recent years, both PRI and SEMA have put a larger emphasis on educational development. By investing in college-age students, they are keeping the industry alive and evolving. My personal favorite example of such student/corporate partnership was a virtual reality prototype introduced to me by a student that I happened to meet in the Online Resources booth.

He introduced himself as Taylor, the lead Project Manager for the IU School of Informatics and Computing on the Augmented Reality application presented in front of us. A college student with one of the coolest homework projects I have ever heard of, he pointed to the 1958 Monza 500 winning Indy Roadster and explained. “Me and a team of students worked on this all semester. We made a digital 3D model of the engine.” Holding up an iPad to the Race of Two Worlds Champion, a digital model of the car’s engine appeared on the screen. As you moved left and right, the digital rendering followed, changing perspective. “You can use this technology to create a living dictionary of engines,” he said. With more time and resources, applications like this can be used to peel away components to virtually look into the inner workings of just about anything. Motorsports is just one application of such a program. Students like Taylor are doing research like this all over the world to further development in everything from engineering to biology. This is just the beginning.

As big as the PRI show is, it comes nowhere close to the notoriety that SEMA earns, and I think it should. Though it is not as physically big as SEMA, the PRI show should be a MUST ATTEND for anyone that aspires to work in racing. Simply being there can be educational in every definition of the word. You never know who you are going to meet, what you are going to learn or what connections you can make. The PRI show displays the cutting edge of what is happening now in the racing industry. Mark your calendars for next year. The PRI show returns December 6-8 2018.