Have you ever had someone you met a long time ago, never to see them again for more than 25 years? The only connection you have is to have read about him in newspapers, magazines and seen him on TV. This story is about me and Davey Hamilton.
Back in 1987 I started taking photos of supermodifieds here in the Northwest. That is how and where I met Davey, a shaggy blond haired kid in an offset supermodified at the Portland Speedway. At first introduction it was clear that we had a lot in common and got along well. Every track I saw him at he always had a smile.
I followed Davey’s career around different tracks in the Northwest and California. One time a few years later I was working as a volunteer at the Portland 200 Indy car race at Portland International Raceway. The race weekend was always The Open Wheel Spectacular at the Portland Speedway on Saturday night and the Portland 200 on Sunday.
Davey had developed into one of the top open wheel drivers in the Northwest. At the race at the speedway Davey was wanting to meet some of the Indy car owners. Early Sunday morning Davey and I went to the raceway and to the pit/paddock area where he introduced himself to the Hemelgarn Racing Team and to A. J. Foyt. And as they say—the rest is history.
Before we leave the world of supermodifieds here is a little information why Davey is a hero in my eyes. Several years of going to different race tracks in the Northwest, I would take my son, Tim, to the races with me. Every time we would see Davey he would shake Tim’s hand, call him by name and tell him to have a good time. One of the top racers knowing Tim’s name and talking to him is why he is a hero to me. He paid attention to everyone, even young fans.
You have to start somewhere. Davey’s first race car a long time ago was a home built roadster with a 230 cubic inch, 6 cylinder and a 1 barrel carb. He raced at Firebird Speedway in Idaho. From that he went to the powerful offset supermodifieds. Davey’s favorite super was the Trigueiro Motorsports Super. With that car and crew he won 1987, 1988, and 1989’s Northwest Supermodified Racing Association Driver’s Championship. Also, he won the Western States Supermodified Racing Association Championship in 1994 as well as the Copper Classic at Phoenix International Raceway at least twice in the supermodified division.
On to bigger and better things- open wheel racing, Indy lights, CART Indy car, Indy Racing League and the Indianapolis 500. In order to have the opportunity to try out for the 500 you have to pay. In Davey’s case he traded the homebuilt race car his dad, Kenny Hamilton had used in his attempt to qualify for the 500. In 1982 Kenny’s car, the Eagle Aircraft Special tried but did not make the 500. The unique car caught the eye of Ron Hemelgarn. Ron wanted the car for his museum, The car was traded to give Davey a tryout for the 500 in 1991.
Now for some statistics, Davy raced Indy cars 1991 to 2001 and then 2007 to 2011, though he did not win a race in 56 races he finished second in points in 1996, 1997 and 1998. Davey did race for several different teams throughout this time.
Then came the accident, a wreck involving three other drivers including Davey. He slammed into the retaining wall at the Texas Motor Speedway, crushing both legs and feet. After 23 operations and a long recovery, Davey’s desire to race again at the 500 came true in 2007 through 2011.
Then came retirement, he worked as a radio broadcaster and partnered with several racing associations. He became a race car team owner in Indy cars, USAC sprint cars, King of Wings sprint cars. He was also racing Stadium Super Trucks and back to racing supermodifieds at Oswego Speedway in New York.
With the Indy cars coming back to Portland, I thought I could find Davey, knowing that he has worked for several Indy teams. I put together a photo album of Davey and all the supers he drove throughout the years in the Northwest. Well, he was not in Portland that weekend. He was racing a super at Oswego Speedway.
Going to the Indy 500 this year, I was hoping to see him and I did find him, working for Harding Steinbrenner Racing with car number 88, driver Colron Herta. Davey’s job is a coordinator and advisor using all his knowledge to make the car go faster. Davey was very busy, after all it was the Indy 500.
Davey asked if I could meet him at Lucas Oil Raceway Park. As a car owner he had a USAC pavement sprint car racing there. I did meet up with him and gave him the photo album. We talked about the old days and what the future holds. He says his legs feel great, and as far as the future, he plans to stay involved in racing, Indy cars, team ownership and driving.
Whenever I interview anyone I always ask, “What was what was the first car you drove on the road?” This is where Davey and I have something in common . We both drove our mother’s cars, his mom’s a 1971 Torino and mine a 1962 Galaxie. Also in common we both had minor incidents. Davey ran into the garage door and I went into a shallow ditch. So even heroes are human!
Whilst sitting around a room of young racing aficionados, empty cans were strewn about the table surface and a forgotten slice of cold pizza sitting unwanted in the corner, somebody asked “What is the best racing movie ever made?” a chorus of answers was quick to reply “Senna!” “Rush!” and my personal favorite, “Grand Prix!” Sadly the congregation of twentysomething-year-olds stared back at me with a blank expression- their cinematic catalog peters out pre-1990 and everything made prior is sadly rendered obsolete.
“Days of Thunder!” Somebody slurred and instantly an argument broke out about whether or not the 1990 NASCAR flick starring Tom Cruise was actually under serious consideration for the prestigious Best Racing Movie title.
“Driven!” the same guy yelled and everyone laughed. This was clearly a joke. No true-blue race fan in their right mind would pass over LeMans, Winning, or even Talladega Nights for Driven.
A passerby walked back into the room and said, “I have never seen Driven.” Unanimously we decided that it was vitally important that a screening was in order. Couches, chairs and a TV were immediately shoved into the adjoining living room and someone dove into the corner of stacked DVDs in search for Driven.
Made in 2001, Driven stars Kip Pardue, Til Schweiger, and Estella Warren. (Who?) Sylvester Stallone and Burt Reynolds are supposed to be leading men but their storylines are barely a step above a cameo. Women, crowd shots and dramatic one-liners pepper this somewhat confusing storyline. Guys are stealing each other’s girlfriends; cars are being launched 50 feet into the air and frosted tips hairstyles are present.
A personal favorite scene includes a spontaneous chase sequence through the streets where neither driver is wearing any sort of safety features in open cockpit IndyCars. I guess we, as an audience, are supposed to believe that these guys are actually chatting with each other between midtown traffic while going close to 200mph.
One of the guys in the viewing party had a particular problem with how the characters in the movie put their gear on in the wrong order before strapping into the car. “HEY BUCKO, NO RACE CAR DRIVER TAKES HIS HELMET OFF, THEN HIS GLOVES! IT WOULD BE TOO HARD TO UNDO THE STRAPS” he yelled. When the dust settled, credits rolled, and the fridge was out of beer we all sat around and continued the conversation from earlier in the night.
“The McLaren documentary was really good.” “I have been watching the Formula 1 docuseries on Netflix, Drive to Survive—that’s really good too.” “I’ve never heard of Winning, who is in that?” Could all be heard over one another.
“Guys,” I said, “we are never going to agree on what the Greatest Racing Movie Ever Made is, but I think we can all safely say what the Worst Racing Movie Ever Made is…”
20 Racing that are More Worth Your
Time than Driven:
The Big Wheel – (1949)
Days of Thunder – (1990)
Drive to Survive- Series – (2019)
Dust to Glory – (2005)
Le Mans- (1971)
Grand Prix – (1966)
McLaren – (2017)
Patrick Dempsey: Racing Le Mans series – (2013)
Rush – (2013)
Talladega Nights – (2006)
The Love Bug – (1968)
To Please A Lady – (1950)
Senna – (2010)
Snake and Mongoose – (2013)
Stoker Ace – (1983)
Viva Las Vegas – (1964)
Weekend of a Champion- (1972)
Winning – (1969)
World’s Fastest Indian- (2005)
A small group of folks have been hosting a cool show in North Albany each July for the past seven years. The show was held on Sunday, July 14th and traditionally coincides with the National Collector Car Appreciation Day weekend. (National Collector Car Appreciation Day was Friday, July 12th this year.) David Faller, a town resident created the event with the premise of giving back. For the past few years, South Willamette Valley Honor Flight has been the recipient of the monies raised.
Honor Flight was organized to recognize veterans for their service to our country by sending them to their respective memorials in Washington DC. They were a large presence at the show, and good reason for large turn-out. Trophies, plaques and lots of raffle items add to the excitement of the day that is crammed with beautiful cars, trucks, military and emergency vehicles. ”Pin Ups for a Cause” and the ”Battling Betties” add flavor to the nostalgia of the event. Our Nation’s armed services were represented with the multitude of veterans who either own collector vehicles or came as spectators. Grateful past-participants of Honor Flights were there too.
When Registration opened at 08:00, a flood of vehicles passed through the gates. During the first hour, close to one hundred vehicles were already on the field—the tenth fairway actually. Anxious participants had lined up early on the road to the Springhill North Albany Golf and Event Center and overflowed onto Springhill Road itself. At 09:00 a color guard presented The Flag, and “Praise in 3D” sang the National Anthem. Show cars rolled in all day long for the charitable assembly.
Mr. Faller posted on The Springhill North Albany Car Show Facebook page: ”The 7th annual Springhill North Albany Car Show is in the books and by all indications was a huge success. We had 211 fantastic vehicles on the 10th fairway of an awesome venue, terrific food vendors and other vendors, fantastic raffle items, great crowds that were having a great time, and we made a lot of money for South Willamette Valley Honor Flight. We should know the total amount in a few days. I want to thank our tremendous staff for planning this awesome event. We started in early February and are starting to think about next year’s show, which will be on Sunday, July 19, 2020.”
Ed Bock, director of the South Willamette Honor Flight told me that in addition to the anticipated monies from the show car registration, “The proceeds from just these two raffle areas (and the 50/50 raffle) are enough to send two veterans to DC”. Last year’s show generated a $6,179.20 check to Honor Flight. Although tallies were not in at press time, Bock and Faller expect another record amount will have been generated.
On the first Sunday in June (the 2nd this year) I attended a surprisingly good swap meet at the Polk County Fairgrounds in Rickreall. Twenty two years ago three swappers: John Gilbert, Tom Pryor and James Cummins organized this event and it has been going strong ever since. This year the attendance was about the same as usual but the number of vendors was up- “One hundred and seventy,”according to Gilbert. “The first year we made about $250 profit,” he chuckles, “but we kept it going.” At some point Cummins pulled out but he has remained supportive as a vendor. (For vendors) “It’s kind of like gambling,” Gilbert says, “You never know if someone will be looking for what you put out there. Hopefully you more than cover your expenses and have fun.”
Admittedly, I was bit skeptical at first. The $6 admission price seemed like a gamble to me because I couldn’t see much beyond the ticket booth. But once I navigated the corral, I realized I was just getting started. Behind that, stood a barn full of vendors and beyond that more open space and a couple more barns. In addition, there was a grassy area with some sharp Rods and Customs on display- Always a nice bonus. As far as the merchandise offered, it was pretty much standard swap meet fare- some new items, some rusty gold. An early fifties Nash with a Ford engine and tranny, a guy selling his Crosley projects, a very restorable Cushman Scooter, a guy with a bunch of advertising (mostly framed posters by the time I got there.) He assured me that his best stuff had sold early and I believed him.
I came away with some smalls: a couple cans, a keychain, etc. I was happy. Incidentally, there is a decent flea market going on concurrently and for another dollar, you can explore that. This is held the first Sunday of each month about nine times a year. I found my best treasure there; a Bob’s Big Boy salt shaker from the 1950’s. Also the snack bar rocks! I shall plan to attend this function again next year but I’ll get there early!
This year when I made my annual pilgrimage to Indianapolis, I found a handful of race cars that I had never expected to see. Between the contemporary Indy cars, the cars on display in the museum, the seventy plus privately owned Indy cars on exhibit in tents next door, etc. I inspected literally hundreds of race cars. Of all the cars I looked at, these were my Five Favorite.
The Cummins Diesel Company based in nearby Columbus, Indiana entered diesel powered racers in the 500 on five different occasions. Their entry in 1931 was the first car to cover the distance without A SINGLE STOP (placing 13th). The early diesels tended to by heavy and boxy looking but not their final entry in 1952. Cummins spent over a half million dollars building this low, streamlined roadster for Freddie Agabashian to pilot and he stuck it on the pole. The six cylinder was slow coming up to speed but it’s four lap average was 138 mph; a new track record. On Memorial Day it fell back when its supercharger became clogged with hot dog wrappers and crap it picked up off the track. At seventy laps it was belching black smoke and withdrawn from competition. Ironically “Fast Freddie” had predicted this and suggested the engineers create another air intake in the hood. Not wanting to disturb the aesthetics of their design, Team Cummins had refused.
Ken Wallis had nearly won the 1967 Indy 500 with his original turbine car design, penned for STP president Andy Granatelli. His services were retained by Carroll Shelby in 1968 and with funding provided by clothier Botany 500, the next evolution of his side by side layout became a reality. In an attempt to reign in the turbine, USAC had put new restrictions on the size of its intake and Wallis had gotten around that by designing an annulus that opened at speed like the aperture of a camera. This of course was illegal and when Shelby chief engineer Phil Remington saw what Wallis had in mind, he resigned on the spot. Can Am racing champions Denny Hulme and Bruce McLaren were hired to drive but were unable to attain a competitive speed. When Mike Spence was killed practicing in one of Granatelli’s new Lotus Turbines, Shelby saw a way to save face. He called a press conference an announced that he was withdrawing his entries for “safety reasons”. Both cars disappeared for the next fifty years- It’s amazing to me that they still exist.
Meanwhile a few garages over, hot rodder Mickey Thompson was preparing for his final assault on the Brickyard. It had been four years since a Thompson entry had made the show and he was no longer building his own cars. Instead the “City of Long Beach Special” was constructed by San Franciscan Joe Huffaker who had a solid history of putting cars in the lineup. Actually the number #63 was the more conventional of two Huffaker “Wynn’s Specials” that Thompson had entered in ’67. Drag racer Danny Ongais was to make his rookie debut in the mount but it was fellow rookie Bill Puterbaugh that eventually strapped in. Sadly, the car which featured a small block Chevrolet with multi-valve heads of Thompson’s manufacture never ran well enough to make a qualifying attempt. Today, I am pleased to report, that current owner George Lyons appears to have the Huffaker fully sorted and running fine.
Aforementioned Kiwi’s Denny Hulme and Bruce McLaren were the dominate force in Can Am racing in 1969 but it wasn’t like the other guys weren’t trying. With support from Dearborn, Holman Moody stuffed a 500 cubic inch Ford monster into a two year old McLaren and strapped Mario Andretti in the cockpit. As per usual the diminutive Italian/American rose to the occasion and qualified third fast in his initial outing. After a little R and D the team reappeared for the last three events of the season. At Laguna Seca Andretti qualified seventh and finished fourth. At Riverside he started sixth and finished third and at Texas he split Team McLaren and qualified in the front row. At the drop of the green flag Andretti blasted into the lead and led for four laps before genading the engine. Clearly the car had potential, only the commitment was lacking. The “429er” (as it was referred to) was a no-show at the thirty and fifty year Can Am reunions and my assumption was that it no longer existed. Imagine my delight when I found it in the Mario Andretti-ICON exhibit held at the Speedway museum.
Another of Indy’s chosen sons was Jim “Herk” Hurtubise. He qualified for the 500 ten times and became a sentimental favorite of the fans. He promoted the front engine roadsters long after that technology had become obsolete. Hurtubise was a natural choice to pilot Andy Granatelli’s supercharged Novi and in 1963 he qualified it in the front row. Starting alongside was his friend Parnelli Jones and in the race they had a tremendous battle until the Novi was sidelined with an oil leak. Hurtubise watched Jones go on to win his only 500 and was among the first to congratulate him. In ’64 Herk was back in a traditional roadster but the following year he couldn’t get his entry up to speed and returned to Granatelli’s Novi. On the final weekend of time trials he put the day-glo rocket in the show with a solid qualifying effort. Unfortunately on race day he was the first retirement when his transmission failed. Knowing the Novi’s snake-bitten past and the ups and downs of Hurtubise’s career, it seems appropriate that the two be forever linked. Seeing the racer in person was an emotional experience.
One of the things on my bucket list was to go to the Indy 500. Well, it has happened, and it was a week I will never forget. The speedway is huge, the museum is fantastic and the people are friendly. Since my adventure lasted a whole week, this story will go day by day. While I was there I heard things and observed things, which I will interject throughout this story.
FRIDAY the 17th — Usually when I am up at 0-dark hundred it is to go to a car show or cruise-in. Not this time. I was on my way to Portland to catch a flight to Indy. My wife drove and we picked up my friend Steve Veltman. Steve was my guide on this adventure because he has been there and done that many times. As we were making our landing approach into Indianapolis Airport you could see the Speedway.
“That place is huge.”
After we landed we picked up our rental car, found our airbnb and went grocery shopping. We went out to dinner at White Castle, a hamburger place in Indianapolis that I had never been to. Then we drove by the Speedway. Even at night that place has a presense.
SATURDAY the 18th — From our airbnb we walked to the track and sat in the seats that we would have for the race, in the middle of turn one. Great view! We could see the cars coming out of turn four, down the front straight, through turn one, down the short shoot into turn two. Then we walked to the tunnel that led to the infield. We went to the Pagoda Plaza where we met Steve’s daughter, Cora. Cora works for the Speedway Museum and for NBC Sports. She was very busy.
I went through Gasoline Alley for the first time. All the cars and race teams were there. Every race team had their own garage area. With the garage doors open you could see the teams at work. When qualifying time approached we went back to our seats in turn one.
“Oh my goodness, those cars are fast.”
After qualifying we went back to our airbnb. I saw wildlife in the neighborhood.
“Racoons, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, an opposum hissing from under the porch and the smell of a skunk. More wildlife than at my cabin at Detroit Lake.”
Later we went to a local hangout, the Union Jack Pub for dinner. The place was filled with memorabilia. Diecast cars, photos, posters, shirts, helmets and even a real sprint car in the corner. Oh yes, the food was great, too.
SUNDAY the 19th — We went back to the track and it started to rain. We walked around gasoline alley trying to find my friend Davey Hamilton who works for Harding Steinbrenner Racing as a coordinator. Davey was busy so I will try to catch him later. The rain finally stopped. Qualifying was a go after the track was dried. I thought the Indy cars were loud, but the loudest things on the track were the jet track dryers. After about an hour of that noise the track was dry. Qualifying was on. The fastest and pole winner was Simon Pagenaud at 229.992 MPH.
“Beats watching old westerns.”
MONDAY the 20th — When Steve and I decided to go to the 500 he suggested getting a Bronze Badge. The badge works like a pass to go almost anywhere. One of the perks is to be able to go on pit row Monday only. A great chance to get up close and personal with cars, teams and drivers. After practice we finally got to talk with Davey. We talked about his racing supermodified in the Northwest and California. He told us about another supermodified racer who has a shop in the area, Chet Fillip. Both Davey and Chet are two of a small group of drivers that went from supermodified to Indy cars.
TUESDAY the 21st — Nothing going on at the track. So we went to Grant King’s shop. The shop restores vintage Indy cars. He also displays vintage sprint, midget, and quarter midget cars, along with several walls covered with photos of old race cars from the northwest. While we were there we met John Martin. He is a former Indy car and Trans Am driver. Nowadays he is a specialist in rebuilding Offy engines and VW engines for vintage midgets.
“Frankenstein engines: an Offy engine built from several different Offy engines,” and “I can fix junk, it only takes a little longer.”
The next stop on our shop tour is Chet Fillip’s Advanced Racing Suspensions. Chet raced a very unique supermodified throughout the country. The car is a Hyte built offset rear engine powered by a fuel injected big block Chevy. It sits so low the top of the roll cage is only about 2 ½ ft high. Chet still has the car. It’s in storage on the second story of his shop. Even if it is covered with dust and spare parts it is all together and so cool.
“‘I asked, didn’t you race the 500? “Once a while back,” said Chet very modestly.’”
Back to the speedway to get a guided tour of the museum by Cora. She worked on the display to celebrate Mario Andretti’s 50 years at the speedway. She did a great job, we saw all of Mario’s cars, driver suits, helmets and photos.
WEDNESDAY the 22nd — Time to kiss the bricks. Steve and I took the tour, a bus ride around the 2 ½ mile speedway and stopping to take photos and the kiss. Back to the museum and to the photo archives. It’s a room where they have thousands of photos taken at the speedway. You can buy any photo 8×10 for as low as $10.00.
On the way back to our home away from home we stopped at Dallara Race Cars. The shop was closed, but the display area was open to look around. About a block down the road was an indoor go-cart racing track for all ages to participate. It has a road race course, a flat oval, and a high banked oval.
THURSDAY the 23rd — Back to the track for Legends Day, a day of vintage Indy cars both on display and racing on the track. The display was of 70 vintage race cars. They had everything: diesel powered, Offy powered, Ford and Chevy powered, custom built engines and a turbine. There was such a variety of cars: uprights, roadsters, laydowns, rear engines and front engines. It was great to see the old cars out on the track. The sounds of the different engines was exciting to hear.
“When restoring the Boyce vintage race car transport truck , it was like a scene from NCIS with body parts all over the floor,” spoken by the driver of the transport truck.
The question came up about vintage racing: “When was the first car race? Right after the second car was built.”
FRIDAY the 24th — Carb day, Beer Day. The day that a lot [ cont. from p. 13 ] of people take a day off work and party. “Take the lawn chairs out of the garage put them on the driveway and party.”
As we went to the track we saw dozens of parties even early in the morning in driveways and yards.
“A beer keg in a baby stroller.” I kid you not.
The speedway was full of fun loving partyers and unusual dress. I saw a man with cut off bib overalls held up by one strap, cowboy boots, a sparkling star spangled cowboy hat.
It’s the last practice for the Indy cars. We sat in our seats and watched the practice. Then we went out to Lucas Raceway to watch the USAC sprint cars. We were able to take advantage of a chance to watch the race from the press box. It was great.
SATURDAY the 25th — This is the day after Beer Day. As we were going to the speedway and to the Memorabilia Show therein, you would never have known there were any parties the day before. The neighborhood and Speedway were cleaned up, no litter or beer cans could be seen. If you are looking for anything about the 500 you could find it at the Memorabilia Show. Poster, pins, yearbooks, photos, books, shirts, jackets, and even a brick from the original paving of the speedway. I even bought an original brick dated 1901 from turn three that was used in a local flowerbed. It was great just to walk through the show.
SUNDAY the 26th — RACE DAY! And for once the weatherman was wrong. All week long they said it was supposed to rain Sunday. The weather was high clouds, mild breeze and no rain. We arrived early to the Speedway so we would not miss anything. As I watched all the pageantry, marching bands, releasing the balloons, the crowd of people just kept coming in. Everything I dreamed of. Corvettes were the official pace cars. “Back Home Again In Indiana” sung by Jim Cornelison, the national anthem sung by Kelly Clarkson. The pace cars hosted former winners. Then the flyover: four planes led by an F-16, trailed by an A-10 Warthog with a P-51 Mustang on one side and a British Spitfire on the other side. It was cool! Then came the familiar announcement, “Drivers start your engines”. The pace laps, the green flag, the deafening noise of the cars and the crowd, 400,000 strong. Three wide down the front straight diving into turn one.
It was hard to get any good photos due to the crowd and the speed of the cars.
The whole race was great, especially the last 15 laps. It was a battle for the lead between Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud. Passing back and forth right in front of us in turn one.
As you probably know Pagenaud came through as the winner with Rossi a close second.
MONDAY the 27th — We took the day off and tried to unwind and relax before getting ready to go back home. It took a couple hours to pack with all the souvenirs I got, but well worth the time.
TUESDAY the 28th — Made it to the airport only to find as we were checking in that our connecting flight in Chicago was canceled due to mechanical problems. There were no other flights to Portland on Tuesday. Southwest took very good care of us though, and we finally got home Wednesday afternoon after a stop in Vegas and beautiful downtown Burbank. It was a great adventure, fun and exciting, but it was great to be home.
Looks like we are definitely into Summer and cruisin’ is happenin’ all over the place. The first Wednesday of June marked the first Beaches Cruise In at PIR. it was a very cool day but still resulted in 1000 hot rods backing up a lot of good drag racing on the strip.
The second event arrived during a record-setting heat advisory for the valley. We decided to pick the bitchinest rod for the GearHeadsWorld blogsite.
Much continues to change in the world of transportation. Toyota had planned the introduction of five new electrified vehicles (EVs) by the year 2025. But it seems they got nervous and bumped that up to the year 2020. Quite a bump wouldn’t you say?
The other vehicle that has been receiving a lot of attention is the plug-in hybrid (PHEV). However much of that attention is proving out to be not so encouraging to the manufacturers. The latest poll indicates the public is not accepting these kinds of vehicles. So we will see.
Now, as we mentioned in our last column, National Collector Car Day is now upon us. Let us take time to realize how much our contribution means to Congress down through the years. This holiday comes about by way of SEMA and their efforts working on legislation to keep our way of life—alive.
That’s all for now.
Chuck Fasst #GearHeadsWorld
Championship winning Crew Chief Clint Brawner said of Ed Elisian: “I always liked him. He worked hard and had a great, if uncontrolled, desire to be a race car driver.” Author Ross R. Olney referred to him as: “Another Vukie…Almost. He only lacked a little of the skill and judgment of the great Bill Vukovich.” And Vukie himself had sung the praises of his fellow driver before Elisian arrived in the Midwest. He may in fact, have set the bar too high.
Elisian was born in Oakland, CA and began his racing career in the late 1940’s. He drove Hardtops at Contra Costa Stadium and rapidly found his way into the popular Midgets. In 1951 he won Bay Cities Racing Association features in the indoor series driving for Bob Marchel and in ’52 finished fourth in BCRA points. It was during this time that Elisian became acquainted with Bill Vukovich whom had nearly won Indianapolis in his sophomore appearance. The two became fast friends in the Midget ranks and Vukie did his best to contact Elisian with Big Car rides.
In 1953 Elisian made his first Big Car start at high banked Dayton, Ohio while Vukovich dominated the Indy 500. Driving a state-of- the- art Kurtis roadster, Vukie qualified on the pole and led all but five laps of the hottest race on record. Finally, the following year, Elisian was able to join his mentor in Indianapolis. Vukie would again pilot the ’53 winning car while Elisian secured a ride in a solid Stevens’s dirt car owned by H.A. Chapman. Vukovich struggled in qualifying and didn’t make the race until the third day. He would start from the nineteenth slot while his protégé stormed from the final row. In the race Vukovich paced himself, finally taking over the lead at the halfway point and won going away. Rookie Elisian did a respectable job, bringing his mount home eighteenth, and six laps behind the leader. Away from the Speedway, Elisian was making a decent living. He won a Big Car race at Terre Haute and finished ninth in AAA Midwest points.
1955 was looking promising for the duo; defending Champion Vukovich had a new Kurtis roadster for the 500 which he qualified fifth while Elisian switched teams and put his Kurtis in the twenty ninth position. When the starter’s flag dropped, Vukovich forged his way into the lead and appeared to be on his way to an unprecedented third victory. Then on the fifty seventh lap some back markers got together and tagged Vukie as he attempted to squeak by. The contact put him into and over the guardrail, crashing in flames. Seeing this Elisian intentionally spun his car, unbuckled and attempted to save his friend from the burning wreck. Sadly his actions were in vain as Vukovich had fractured his skull in the initial impact. Elisian was led from crash scene sobbing and was too distraught to resume racing.
With the demise of his closest friend, Elisian became a bit of a lost soul. The sullen driver soldiered on in 1956 qualifying his first proper roadster fourteenth at Indy but was out at 160 laps. He fared better in the short track events, finishing sixth in AAA standings. In ’57 he procured his best ride to date driving for Lee Elkins and put the McNamara Special seventh on the grid but broke a timing gear at fifty one laps. On the short tracks he improved by one position in the AAA (now USAC) rankings and again was victorious at Terre Haute.
In 1958 it appeared that Elisian’s period of mourning had ended. He secured the seat in Jack Zink’s new roadster and a rivalry developed between him and Dick Rathmann who had taken over the McNamara ride. Fast lap of the month was passed back and forth between the two with Rathmann ultimately claiming the pole. The feud continued after the drop of the green flag as neither driver was willing to lift at the end of the back straightaway. This resulted in a collision that started a chain reaction involving more than half the field. In the end, Elisian, Rathmann and six other cars were eliminated and crowd favorite Pat O’Conner was dead.
Though Elisian wasn’t any more responsible than Rathmann, the incident was more or less pinned on him. The fact that he was unpopular among his fellow drivers certainly didn’t help. Without his advocate Vukovich to defend him, Elisian’s life began to spiral downward. He continued to perform well on short tracks but missed the ’59 500 over a suspension that involved gambling debts and bad checks.
Before ever having reached his full potential as a driver, Elisian crashed to his death on the Milwaukie Mile on August 30th 1959. He was thirty two years old and had never married. Unfortunately other than his immediate family, there were few to mourn him.
Clem lie there in his twin bed restless. The dealership had gone all out in hopes to crack the flat line sales they had experienced as of late. He had a house payment, his oldest was soon to graduate and was looking to attend school in upstate. Mama was still driving a ’48 and Clem knew it was on borrowed time. As a top tier salesman for Hope Chevrolet, Clem had hoped his time was now. Mama murmured and rolled onto her side.
The Motorola clock radio’s minute hand swept around softly, chasing seconds, turning minutes into hours. Clem sat up. The harvest of 1956 had come and went and the 1957’s waited hidden behind soaped windows and tarpaulin drop cloths. Every year it had seemed that the competing manufacturers had rolled back when the new models were introduced. Maybe this was what had advanced the grey at Clem’s temples. But everything felt different at Hope Chevrolet. The new hardtop had these incredible rear fins. The 283 V8 engine had options to make even the Nomad wagon a hot ticket on the street. The 2 seater Corvette was ready to attack the Euro class on American tracks and across the pond. On the economy front the tried and true 6 soldiered on in both trucks and cars.
A hot shower and shave. Clem picked out a navy blue suit and a tie that was hand painted with a spring theme to it. His shirt was bright white, ironed and crisp. Dark blue nylon socks and his wing tips were spit shined and polished to what his sarge would approve of.
Behind the wheel of his ’55 210 business coupe, Clem made his way across town and reveled in the early hours of this new spring day. Birds had started to chirp and exchange songs. Somewhere a rooster let go with a morning crow. The sky was dark with hints of the encroaching sunrise. Clem approached Norman in his Divco dairy truck and was making a pass when he saw Norman wave his hand out of the delivery trucks window. Clem slowed down, reached across and lowered the passenger’s side door window. Norman leaned down and in his down home way shot out a question.
“Gosh, Clem, I do not mean to pry, but, this hour of morning usually finds you just rising. Heck, I pass by and I can tell by the lights in your home you are just getting ready. Is there something special maybe the town should know about?”
Clem smiled. He took a quick glance and noticed that the morning clouds had begun to break up. A sliver of white on the horizon teased of a cloudless day.
“Norman, it is our launch of the new 1957 Chevrolet. The car is beautiful. Think of a car that captures the mystique of fighter jets, of rocket ships. Available in so many colors.”
Norman just nodded and smiled with visions of Buck Rogers danced in his head. Clem nodded and dropped his ’55 into gear and drove away. The dawn was fast approaching.
Before Clem would even knew it, the new cars were revealed. The soaped windows were washed away and the colors of the new 1957 Chevrolet was then revealed to crowds waiting to catch a glimpse of the future. Clem stood outside and the sky was cloudless. The air was alive. Behind him, freshly detailed was a bright red Bel Air with the 270 horsepwer engine option. Clem pulled out his pack of Lucky’s. Fired up his Zippo and smiled.
“Time to sell.” he whispered, and he did.
Hey it’s May—time to tiptoe through the tulips and all of that jazz. And by the time you read the next issue it will be time for the Wednesday night Beaches Cruise Ins at PIR. Last issue I waxed nostalgic about hot rodding in the good ole days. As I wander through the world of GearHeads, I get quite a few great stories. Maybe we will bring some here? Any input?
OK GearHeads, let’s get back to business. What does our future hold? Hooboy—What a loaded question, gulp! Alrighty then, let’s get on to the MuskFather. Elon Musk has been busy with his Teslas and all manner of other things. Lately, he has acquired an outfit called Maxwell Technologies.
They make dry cell batteries and supercapacitors. These things are like superchargers for your EV. And they may end up being used in planes! Oh by the way, the new buzzword for those electrical cars is now E-Machines. I haven’t figgered out exactly what I want to call them yet.
I must say that scientists have been tearing into his various Tesla models and they are finding some pretty befuddling things during their deconstructions. Gotta give the man credit for gettin’ r done!
F’rinstance, there is this thing called Hallback Effect. Something to do with an array of magnets glued together in a certain way. They seem to be made of some kind of magic grain or something. The Eggheads are still trying to figger it all out. In other news, drivers are saying this about the Tesla 3 – once you drive it you don’t go back! And word has it that they are next coming out with pickups and the Model Y.
Then we have the Japanese. They are coming out with an E- Machine that is built in Italy! They tell me it is damn fast and good looking. I guess GM will be introducing a fancy new E-Bike.
Oh and did anybody hear about Elon Musk’s alliance with PewDiePie? Yeah, uh … OK, I’m not even going there.
Let’s get back to GM. I am hearing something about them teaming up with Amazon to invest in Rivian. Now, at press time we have more news on GM. They have lobbied the Senate for a new EV credits bill. It seems that they along with Tesla have used up their 200k allotment for EV credits. Early adopters were receiving something like a $7,000 credit on their purchase. They are now lobbying for some 400k more credits. Let the games begin.
Oh, and I didn’t want to forget to mention a fella by the name of Jesse James. He is a hot rod builder up north of rural Vancouver. Seems his shop burned down along with all of his projects inside. It seems the fire was of mysterious origin. Jesse is not the kind of dude to ask for help. But any good Intel would be muchly appreciated.
OK GearHeads, got to wrap this up purty quick. Anybody hear about this year’s Indy pace car. Gonna be an AV. They say the chairman of GM will be driving again. Jus’ kiddin’ … I think? Lol, (get it?)
So here is another fancy E-Machine coming down the pike. The Pininfarina Battista was introduced at the New York Auto show. The supercar features 4 electric motors with 1900 horsepower. 0 to 60 in under 2 seconds along with a 300 mile range. And the price is what you would expect—only $2.5 Million.
Alrighty then, let’s end this with this: let us not forget the lowly RNG. Renewable Natural Gas comes from methane gas extracted from garbage. It can be used in the pipeline and it has a negative CO2 rating, that is to say that it’s carbon footprint actually leaves Mother Earth cleaner!
—Chuck Fasst #GearHeadsWorld