The Greatest Spectacle in (dirt track) Racing

Brady Bacon wins the inaugural BC39 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A certain amount of skepticism comes with the first of anything new—even for an establishment as old and renowned as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The track itself began construction in 1909, the first Indianapolis 500 came in 1911. It was decades before another series turned laps on the hallowed grounds.

A dirt track has been whispered about around ims for years, but different logistical problems prevented it from coming to fruition. President of the Speedway, Doug Boles teamed up with a local dirt track promoter and the Clauson family to make the dream become a reality. Thus created a tight 1/4 mile dirt track in turn three of Indy the Driven2SaveLives BC39 event was born.

Bryan Clauson (aka “BC”) was a phenomenal Hoosier dirt track racer that climbed the ranks to national recognition. He has many accolades in the racing world, top marks include the 2014 Chili Bowl winner and three Indianapolis 500 starts. In 2016 Bryan lost his life due to complications from a midget accident and the racing community was shaken.
Only a year prior, we lost IndyCar driver Justin Wilson in a racing incident as well. Wilson’s brother Stefan teamed up with the Indiana Donor’s Network to create a new campaign called “Driven2SaveLives.” Both Justin and Bryan were registered organ donors and each were able to save five lives. To honor Bryan’s legacy, Driven2SaveLives came on board to support the BC39 race, gain awareness and “race to end the wait” for life-saving organ donation.

The stage was set and it was an emotional evening from the start. An unprecedented 115 cars were ready to rumble on Wednesday night, September 5th. They came from all over the country to participate in the first eve, many of which ran with Bryan at one point in his career. The star-studded roster included 24 usac midget feature winners and series champions including Dave Darland, Christopher Bell, Tracy Hines, J.J. Yeley and more. nascar drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Landon Cassill both fielded entries and Conor Daly carried the flag for the IndyCar series.

Tim and Diana Clauson-Bryan’s parents, fielded a couple of cars in their late son’s honor and in a tearful twist of fate, both were in Victory Lane by the end of the qualifier night. Tyler “Sunshine” Courtney from right here in Indianapolis won the first heat race of the night and later on, 15-year-old Zeb Wise of Angola, IN had a daring win in the Stoops pursuit race. Inches off the wall for laps on end, it was easy to identify why Wise was Clauson’s protégé.

“I figured I couldn’t follow everybody around the bottom or I’d lose spots,” said Wise. “I tried the top side. I was patient with it, figured it out and came through the field.” Win in hand; Wise became the youngest usac feature winner in history — poetically beating his mentor, Clauson, in the process.

On Thursday, mother nature did not cooperate. After weeks of torrid heat, the skies opened up and poured for hours leading up to the green flag. Fans, drivers and crew waited skeptically for the track to dry. After a delay in action, USAC announced that the surface has been prepped and ready. Although the first couple of mud packing sessions were… tough, the track worked in quickly and racing resumed.

The storm did not scare the fans away. The following morning, the Indy Star reported that over 13,000 people were in attendance and the grandstands were completely sold out. By the time the A main squared up and the 4-wide salute laps were completed, everyone was on their feet.

39 laps for Bryan’s car number, each more exciting than the last. Cullman, AL native Kevin Thomas Jr. led early on, with Courtney hot on the trail. Two grooves distinctly started to develop. Cars piled up on the 14th lap and all were able to restart.

Shortly after getting back to action, Broken Arrow, OK native Brady Bacon’s light knock came to a pounding on the door as he took jabs for the lead. He tried low, but couldn’t make it stick, pulling the front two wheels off of the racing surface.

Once the leaders caught up to traffic, Bacon got to cooking. A beautifully executed slide job through turn 4 earned him the lead and that was all she wrote. Chad Boat slid into second in the closing laps, Thomas clinched third, Courtney fourth and Christopher Bell clawed his way from 17th to finish 5th.

“This is definitely extra special…” said the ‘Macho Man’ in Victory Circle “It is obviously very special that (Clauson) opened a lot of doors to make a lot of things happen that would have never happened without him… He has done a lot of things for a lot of causes even since he had been gone and that shows the impact of his personality on the whole world.”

The stroke of midnight ended the festivities and race fans both familiar with this genre of racing and not went home content. From the start, Bryan was smiling down on this event. He would have loved to race a midget at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

All morning and day leading up to the first heat race, we were skeptical that the weather would allow such an event. Lightning, thunder, and rain threatened at a distance but just before the big drops fell, a striking double rainbow appeared over the oval.

In a choked voice over the track’s loudspeaker rang the words we were all thinking. “And there he is, Thank you Bryan.”

Indycar Returns to PDX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Prix of Portland 2018

They say you can never go home again. That is not always true. You can go home, only things have changed. Home for me is Portland International Raceway. For 23 years I was involved with the Indy Car races at PIR. In 1984 I volunteered as a technical inspector. My job was to help weigh and measure the race cars. Another part of the job was to keep track of the pop off valves for the turbochargers of the car I was assigned to. As an observer I had the privilege of going just about anywhere. This included the paddock area, the pit box and even the race team tent and trailers.

During the race I was in the pit box, off to one side, out of everybody’s way, observing the pit crew in action. During the pit stops, I would be checking the number of crew over the wall, number of tires that were being changed, fuel and several other things, for instance if the race car runs over the air hoses.

I had a great time over 23 years meeting crew members and owners and drivers. The only thing I regret is the rule I was not allowed to have a camera, so no photos.

Fast forward to 2018. I am at home again at PIR this time with a camera. I am here as reporter and photographer for Roddin’ and Racin’ NW Newspaper. As a photographer, I had just about the same privileges as before. I could not go into the race teams trailer and tent area without permission from the team. That also goes for the pit box. However, I could go anywhere else. The main rule was not to take any photos of the race cars if certain body parts were off the car, unless you get permission from the team.

My plan was to do a follow up story about Alexander Rossi, the NAPA driver. I did a story earlier this year when Alexander visited the World of Speed Museum in Wilsonville. Alexander was, of course, much busier preparing for the race than he was at the museum. So I concentrated on his pit crew.

It was great watching these guys in action. Just like true athletes they would stretch and limber up before pit stop practice and before the race. I asked nicely and got permission to be in the pit box. Here I am 11 years later, standing in the corner of the pit box at the pit wall. It felt great, just like old times. As I stood there I watched them remove a coil over shock, take it apart and change the spring in less than a minute. Amazing!

During the times of hot pit practice, Alexander would bring the car in at full pit speed, just like during a race. The pit crew jumped over the wall, changed 4 tires, got a full tank of fuel and then off he would go. It was like watching a ballet, the smooth fast motion, every crew member on their toes doing their jobs precisely. As Alexander took off out of the pits, it reminded me of how Little Al would leave the pits in a cloud of tire smoke.

In the time leading up to Sunday’s race I have never seen such a large crowd in the paddock area. It was very much a family event. Parents and their children were looking at the race cars and talking to crews and drivers. I even saw one of the drivers kneeling down to talk to a little guy on his level, face to face, and autograph the hero card. It was great.
While going through the paddock area I talked to one crew member about the body part that covered the front shocks. The cover was made of carbon fiber and the vinyl decal weighed just as little as the body part, they are that light.

Sunday, I was invited to the NAPA hospitality chalet. I took photos of Napa guests with Alexander. As he was leaving, I had a moment to ask a few questions. Simple questions, such as how do you like Oregon?

“I love it.”

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

“I don’t know.”

Who is your favorite driver?

“Lewis Hamilton and Kyle Bush.”

Now that is two different ends of the spectrum: Nascar and Formula 1.

As I watched the race from the chalet I thought you can go back home. The view from the chalet was great, but not as exciting as being in the pit box as the cars come in for a pit stop as I did 11 years ago. I want to thank the guys from NAPA and Alexanders pit crew for a great weekend. Alexander weekend was not so good. He finished eighth after leading the race. Yellow flags did not help him. Takuma Sato was the winner of the race this time.

Oh yes, you can go home again, as long as you expect things to be different.

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.

Seventeen-Year-Old Wins 58th Annual Rose Cup Race

PORTLAND, Ore. (July 19, 2018) — The Rose Cup Races concluded its 58th year running this past weekend at Portland International Raceway (PIR). The Pacific Northwest’s premier amateur road racing event featured racing competitors from both the Oregon Region Sports Car Club of America and the Cascade Sports Car Club, competing in four amateur race groups: Spec Racer Ford, Great American Stock Car Series, Spec Miata, and a Vintage race group.

This year’s event also highlighted the return of professional sports car racing to PIR for the first time since 2009. The Pirelli World Challenge, considered North America’s top GT production-based road racing sports car series, brought more than 20 different manufacturers and 40 separate models to the Rose Cup Races, with four race groups and seven classes. The weekend marked the first time Pirelli World Challenge has raced in Portland since 2005.

The official winner of Sunday’s 58th Rose Cup race was the team of teenager Parker Chase and veteran Ryan Dalziel, who drove their Audi R8 LMS to victory in the GT SprintX feature. Chase, a 17-year-old from New Braunfels, Tex., scored his first GT Overall win. Dalziel, a multi-time GT race winner, started the race in the No. 19 Audi and was running third when he passed off the car to the teenager. Chase is the youngest driver in the history of the event to win the Rose Cup.

“It was terrific to work with PIR, the local sports car clubs and the Pirelli World Challenge folks to bring professional sports car racing back to Portland,” said Gary Bockman, President of Friends of PIR (FOPIR), the organizer of the event. “The hot weather matched the hot action on the race track, that’s for sure. We thank the many volunteers that made this event possible and we are already looking forward to the 59th Rose Cup Races in 2019.”

Winner, Winner, Turkey Dinner

Christopher Bell wins the 77th running of the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Ventura Raceway

Motorsports is steeped in tradition. Driver lineages, rituals, and yearly challenges are defining landmarks through racing’s past. In racing, prestige comes with age. The Daytona 500? 58 years old, Knoxville Nationals? Also 58. Chili Bowl Nationals? 30 years. Besides Racing’s Greatest Spectacle, the Indianapolis 500- that just checked off 106 years old and 101 runnings last May, the Turkey Night Grand Prix is one of the oldest marquees in motorsports.

For 77 years this race has been a Thanksgiving tradition in the southern tracks of California. The winner list reads like a who’s who of open wheel of racing history. Bill Vukovich, Johnnie Parsons, Tony and Gary Bettenhausen, A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Bryan Clauson and Tony Stewart are only some of the familiar names that are engraved into the famous ‘Aggie’ trophy.
Though not the originator of Turkey Night, the late J.C. Agajanian was a big promoter and proponent of the history of the event. Since his passing in 1984, J.C. Agajanian Jr. and family have done their best to keep Turkey Night alive in his father’s honor. “You know I have gone to Turkey Night my entire life,” laughed J.C. Jr., “I started out selling programs… I have only missed a handful in my life. Some of the best drivers in the world have raced here- (tonight) is some of the best talent that we have ever had!”
The inaugural race was held at Gilmore Stadium in 1934 and lived there until 1950. In 1960 Turkey Night was hosted at Agajanian’s famous Ascot Park for the first time. Thirty years later, the 50th annual Turkey Night Grand Prix became the last of more than 5,000 main events held since the track opened. The gates were closed the next day, the track destroyed to make way for a failed development project. The Thanksgiving tradition lived on, bouncing between dirt and pavement tracks alike before landing at Ventura Speedway in 2016.

“We normally get maybe 12- 16 cars for our regular program,” explained a local race fan named Sherry. “This is a big deal for us!”
Shane Golobic from Fremont, CA driving the No. 17w Clauson-Marshall/ Wood car led the field of 52 midgets in practice on Wednesday night before the big show, but reigning Turkey Night champion and Elk Grove, CA native, Kyle Larson, topped out qualifying.

Though Larson has recently reached mainstream recognition for his talents in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series, his roots are in open wheel dirt track racing. “Coming back to dirt is like riding a bike,” says Larson.  A daring competitor, he is known for his hair-raising strategy of working the high line around the track. Though he put up a valiant fight, it was Norman, OK native Christopher Bell that took home the trophy at the end of the night.

Though the box score only counts three official lead changes between Larson and Bell, it is not indicative of the battle fought. The two sea- sawed from the very beginning, trading point multiple times within each lap. At one time Larson swept his No. 1 Kunz/Curb-Agajanian- racer around the outside of Bell’s No.21 Kunz/Curb-Agajanian car going down the front straightaway, daring Bell to find a new line. Immediately through turn 1, Bell fired back by impossibly finding grip higher on the groove.
A couple of yellows slowed down the pace and bunched the cars back up. Bell held off Larson on every restart, high low and in between. You could throw a blanket over the two right down to the end of the 98th and final lap. Golobic closed the gap in the last two turns and finished third. Bell crossed the line .193 seconds before Larson.

Bell has had an exceptional 2017 campaign, racing — and winning — in the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck series, and taking home a Golden Digger from the 2017 Chili Bowl Nationals. Turkey Night is just the whip cream on Bell’s already impressive launch into the higher levels of professional racing. At 22 years old, Bell is following the projection of Larson, Jeff Gordon and other open wheel hotshots.

“Did you guys have as much fun as I did?”  Bell asked the crowd after getting out of the car. The packed grandstands roared in return. As far as traditions go, this one is well worth pulling up a chair to. It is always a feast of talent.

AMATEUR HOUR: A day’s log of the SCCA Runoffs

The Sports Car Club of America is the largest operating racing sanctioning body in the United States. Making up 116 regions and over 67,500 registered racers, the whole schema surmounts to their big event: The Runoffs. Every season the Runoffs is hosted by a different track. This year, they added the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the rotation- Pulling an unprecedented 969 entries from around the country. The entire 1,025-acre facility was filled to the brim with Miatas, Spec Racing Fords, Formula cars, GTs, and others.

For a large majority, this is their first time at the famed raceway, and the significance was not lost. You must qualify in order to participate in this event, and for most, that road is steeped with tough competition. It is an honor simply to start the main race for each class. Over a week of qualifying and pre-races boil each class down to at most 72 cars.

The challenge in covering this event is the magnitude. This whole experience was huge. Not in the way that the Indianapolis 500 is, but in trying to wrangle the all of the details, I found my mind swimming. Instead of a race report or traditional driver feature, I set myself adrift through the pits to discover. In this, I met some very interesting people, came across some strange pit stall decorations, and learned a lot about the world of SCCA racing. Here is a log of my day in the ocean of SCCA.

10:35 am
Arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway greeted by a yellow shirt and the familiar drone of cars on track. One of the last-chance races was already underway.

10:45 am
Keep the party going.

11:16 am

After fighting the stream of cars, motor homes, and people, I located the crew that had adopted me from the week. We set off for high ground to watch their last driver compete in the next race.

11:45 am
Tucked into the breezy shade of the inside grandstands deep in turn 4, the 72 car Gen 3 Spec Racing Ford field is set for green. I have never seen so many cars on track at once.

12:35 pm
The race concluded with few issues. Our competitor fought valiantly, improving eighteen positions to finish 46th in the official results. In celebration upon us all reuniting in the pits, one of the crew members yells the mantra/battle cry for the week: “It’s F**KING INDY!”

1:00 pm
While perusing the many speedway souvenir shops in search for a gift to give his generous sponsors, my study for the week is a driver by the name of Connor Solis from the San Francisco region. Aspiring to professional levels of competition, Solis came to his first Runoffs with a destination in mind. “Indy, of course, is significant, but my goal this year was the Runoffs no matter where it went.” he said, “I want to race in IMSA or the Pirelli World Challenge someday.” He is not alone in this crowd; SCCA provides a greater platform and feeder system to the major leagues. Finishing 7th among the fifty entries in his class, Solis walked away from the Runoffs with new contacts and an impressive new point added to his racing resume.

1:32 pm
I found the unicorn pit.

1:45 pm
Drivers Amy Mills and Whitfield Gregg from the New York district explain to me why they participate in the SCCA. “It’s a hobby,” says Gregg. “Racing is just for bragging rights. The SCCA will just give you a trophy; a sponsor might award you tires or something for winning… Some people golf for fun- we do this.” Mills was the only female driver racing a Spec Miata. “I am most proud of being a woman out there in my class and being respected as just another driver,” she said. “Amateur doesn’t mean bad driver, there is some really great competition out there.”

2:30 pm
A home away from home for the week, many teams find ways to make their pits comfortable. In walking though the stalls close to the Pagoda I found this one that featured what appeared to be pictures of previous wins and inspirational quotes from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. “If you ain’t first, you’re last!”

3:05 pm
I love that rumbling noise of the cars as they glide under the tunnel that connects pit lane to Gasoline Alley.

4:15 pm
Time for a quick nap.

4:45 pm
Ran into Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles out enjoying the race weekend. “I am always out here,” he grinned as the Prototype race came down for the green.

5:10 pm
The view peeking through the sky bridge above the back straightaway over the 15-turn, 2.592-mile road course.

5:42 pm
Came across the most elaborate pit set up around. Complete with inflatable furniture, party lights, and a full-sized doughboy pool, this crew from Jupiter, Florida was camping in style. “The pool came in real handy when it was muggy earlier this week,” laughed driver John Kauffman, “as it started to cool down in the evenings, we are trying to find a way to heat it like a hot tub!” Their efforts were apparently unsuccessful.

6:01 pm
This Mustang, like most other cars and pits, were tucked in for the night. Ready for the long trek home to every corner of the United States, and awaiting next year’s Runoffs that will be held at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.

The Brickyard 400 in Pictures: A cultural phenomena

NASCAR and Indycar are two very different worlds. The fans, the cars and the whole spectacle of it all is like comparing apples and oranges. Working around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that difference is striking when comparing the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400.

Trying to integrate a younger crowd into the race weekend, there was a large two day concert festival called ‘400 Fest’. Main attractions included Major Lazer, the Chainsmokers and other electronic ‘dance’ type music.
The race itself was a feat of endurance. Withstanding a rain delay and 14 yellows, Kasey Kahne prevailed as the winner in the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet.

Walking through the hallowed grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there was something interesting to capture around every corner. This is: The Brickyard 400 in pictures.

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.

BILLET PROOF HOT ROD ERUPTION DRAGS

Riverdale Raceway Billetproof 002

If you’ve never been to a Billet Proof event you have missed out on of “The Worlds Least Important Car Shows.” No kidding, that’s what they are billed as. And the Hot Rod Eruption Drags at Riverdale Raceway in Toutle Washington can best be described as what I’ve heard said many times. “It’s a Hoot!”

The drag strip is an outlaw strip, devoid of Jersey Barriers, walls, catch-fences or other gear to protect spectators from the speeding cars. Tech inspections are basic and safety requires a helmet in an open car. All the racing is heads-up on the 1/8th mile and though there is a return road, its dirt, so the cars that have raced wait at the end of the track and after a sufficient crowd forms, they all line up and parade lap back up the track to the starting line while the racers in the staging lanes wait. It’s gotta be what it was like in the beginning of drag racing.

It’s a run-what-ya-brung kind of format and I think there were some grudge matches going on out there, and if not this year, there will likely be some next year. At least one where I heard a fellow saying, “I got beat by a Volkswagen!” He was driving a Ford with a V-8. That has grudge match written all over it, don’t you think. This year was my first and the place was packed. Everything about the day is primitive at best but it was also a lot of fun. Real racecars were in attendance along with some very old school creations that frankly looked a little scary. But everything went well and I saw a lot of smiling faces. That should tell you that there was a lot of fun happening too.

The Billet Proof Hot Rod Eruption Drags appears to be an annual event so it you start now you could just about have your “Race Car” ready for next Augusts Drags at Toutle’s Riverdale Raceway.