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
❺ Proud as a peacock
Only one TV/ sports partnership has lasted longer: CBS and the Masters (since 1956). For 54 years ABC had been the exclusive broadcaster for the largest single day sporting event in the world. Until now. Before the 2018 season NBC Universal partners dropped a couple Million dollars to take over the reigns for the entire IndyCar schedule, but their eyes were set mainly on the crowning jewel of it all: The Indy500. As part of NBC’s exclusivity deal, fans can utilize the NBC Sports GOLD package to stream all practice sessions during the month – produced to full show quality and complete with a fleet of commentators (see next point.) The two-day qualifying shows May 18th and 19th have been overhauled as well to accommodate more interviews and more action. The main event itself will be on prime time NBC and will include the most comprehensive pre and post race coverage that NBC can muster. Keep a sharp eye out for revamping old traditions and staring new ones.
❹ Commentary, shaken—not stirred
The Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever bit worked well enough over the years but as the sport constantly evolves, so should the additional elements of the show. NBC plans to throw everything and the kitchen sink at their new baby including an unprecedented 14-broadcaster lineup. Why? Because NBC will do something that has never been done in motorsports broadcast history. They plan to be ‘on-air’ from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in some capacity or another for 99% of the days in May. In addition to Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Paul Tracy, NBC is clearing the NBC NASCAR and the NBC IMSA benches as well. Krista Voda, Rutledge Wood, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mike Tirico and Danica Patrick are only part of the dizzying lineup. So many points of view can only create a cocktail of commentary never been seen before around the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
❸ Fernando fever
If you keep up with motorsports news, you have undoubtedly heard about Fernando Alsonso’s return to IndyCar. After an extensive career in Formula 1, Fernando and McLaren team owner Zac Brown have decided to dip their toes in the IndyCar pool. A couple of years ago Fernando shocked the Formula 1 community by bowing out of the Monaco Grand Prix to race in the Indy500 for Andretti Autosport. Such a daring statement was clear: IndyCar is where the party is. A clandestine engine failure took out the contender, but not without an impressive surge to the front. Alonso was met with overwhelming excitement from fans and the Spaniard vowed to return.
This time is a little different. With the Andretti stable full, team McLaren sought support from Carlin Racing to field an entry. This also raises eyebrows, as Carlin is a Chevrolet team where Fernando has a long-standing relationship with top-competitor, Honda. Think of it like Michael Jordan suddenly appearing on an Adidas commercial after building an empire with Nike. Carlin is also an interesting choice as they are pretty fresh on the IndyCar scene themselves and have struggled with consistent finishes. Regardless, this will be a strong point of interest throughout the entire month.
❷ This ride is about to get bumpy
In case you didn’t know, only 33 cars can start the Indy500. It has pretty much been that way since the beginning. With the exception of some odd years in the 1910s and 20s, the historic 11 rows of 3 have stood the test of time. That was deemed to be a ‘safe’ number of cars to fit on the impressive 2.5-mile oval and is a strong tradition still carried on today. Through the 40s, 50s and 60s simply being fast enough to start in one of those 33 sports was a huge accomplishment. In that era, literally hundreds of drivers would flock to the speedway for a chance to make a qualifying run. On qualifying weekend, that pool would be narrowed down to the fastest guys—‘bumping’ the rest out of the field.
As the sport progressed and it became more expensive to race, people with deep enough pockets to fund these rides became scarce. Prior to 2017, it was a stretch to fill the field; therefore no one was ‘bumped’ out. Last year drama ensued when one of the regulars of the IndyCar field, James Hinchcliffe did not go fast enough to make the race, and therefore missed his chance to finish well in the points championship at the end of the season.
At this moment, numerous drivers have announced ‘one- off’ entries to stack ontop of the 24 IndyCar season regulars. Only 38 engines are available to use (19 Honda and 19 Chevy) and so far 34 have been spoken for including Conor Daly steeping into Andretti Autosport’s 5th car, Pippa Mann for Clauson/Marshall Racing, Fernando for Carlin, Sage Karam for Dreyer and Reinbold, and more. There are rumors that we will reach the full 38, but that is dependent on sponsorship dollars. There is always an abundance of drivers waiting in the wings to take their shot at the most prestigious crown in racing.
❶ It’s the *@&¤¥§£ Indy500
The sight, the sound the spectacle. The on track competition has never been tighter or more dynamic. This era of drivers hang it out on the line and have proven their talent, courage and luck lap after lap and year after year. If you are a consistent 500 viewer, this year will be a treat. If you have stopped watching over the years—no matter the reason— its time to come Back Home Again. Need I say more?
As tradition would have it, car shows in early April are held in the rain. I have been to this particular show for several years. Some years there is beautiful weather, some years there is not. This year, even in the rain, it was a great show with a great variety of cars, trucks, muscle machines and hot rods.
The car show is a fundraiser for South Albany High School’s class of 2019 drug and alcohol free graduation party. Inside the school we were able to stay dry in the cafeteria with chances to win raffle prizes, and or buy hot drinks and snacks available to anyone who wanted to join in.
Several Mustangs were there. Julene Michell Clark brought her daily driver, a 2017 blue Mustang convertible. On the other side of the variety of vehicles was Terry Thompson’s 1951 Chevy rat rod, a licence plate-ladened pickup. The bed of the pickup truck is covered with license plates. Unique, right? The only car under cover was Anne Clark’s 1956 Nash Metro. Also, Chuck Barr brought his beautiful satin black, green flamed Mercury custom chopped 2-door.
Several car clubs were represented by their members. Beaver State Corvette Club, Rollin’ Oldies and a club new to me was the C3 Car Club out of Portland are just a sample of the clubs that were there.
The C3 Car Club is a club for modern muscle Camaros, Chargers and Challengers. Talking to the C3 Club president, “Rasta”, said it’s a new club that is about two years old. The club has 50 members and is a very family oriented club. C3 is one chapter of the over 40 chapters throughout the US and Germany. Can you picture modern muscle cars made in the USA on the Autobahn. This club travels to car shows all over. The farthest they have gone is a 14 hour trip to North Hollywood, California. This day they arrived in Albany with 12 beautiful cars. They looked beautiful, even in the rain. Among my favorite cars is one you don’t see too often. It’s an outstanding 1974 VW Karmann Ghia convertible owned by Dennis Tomlinson. Last, but not least, C3 member, Steve Vanverhoof brought his 2017 Dodge Charger. It’s center strip was a light blue that was scalloped. Very unique!
If you go to car shows, go even in the rain. The South Albany High School show is one that provides money for a good cause and you may be surprised at who shows up!
It’s really quite amazing that 2019 marks the 63 year that the Portland Roadster Show has graced one venue or another here in Portland Oregon. This show is one of the longest running shows in the USA, Yep! Right here in Portland. This year’s show was again at the Portland Expo Event Center. It filled up hall C, D and E to the brim with customs, street rods, hot rods, rat rods, cars of all shapes and sizes, even Optimus Prime, a giant diesel rig famous for its role in the Movies.
There was a fleet of famous old customs from the 50’s and 60’s, some brand new over the top builds built by local car builders as well as nationally famous builds being shown all over the US at shows like Portland’s Roadster Show.
I heard that the attendance was down this year, someone said it was likely because the weather was really quite nice, for the first time in quite a while, but it looked to me like there were a lot of spectators strolling through the show each time I was there, which was all three days plus set up day, Thursday. And the quality of the cars was off the chart. My friend Bill Nelson had the same opinion as I had on the quality of the cars this year. They were first class.
I think every nearby builder was there in force with cars as well as booths to talk about what their shops do for their clients. Steve’s Auto Restoration had a large display again this year and of course several of the fantastic cars they have built in the last couple years. Maybe some year I’ll have a car worthy of showing at the PRS. I hope so.
With 63 years of history and the super high quality displayed this year I’m guessing next year will be a repeat of 2019, but with new and different displays, cars, vendors and fun to be had by all you car guys and gals out there. PRS 2020 will be back for the 64th in March next spring. Plan to be there, you’ll be glad you did.
The late standup comic, George Carlin used to practice what he called “Observational Humor.” If he observed something that bugged him, he might call our attention to it and proclaim that it needed to cease. One example was bald guys that grew their hair out in the back and wore it in a ponytail. It bugged Carlin. He said it was” something we didn’t need “and wasn’t going to be tolerated any longer.
In the spirit of George Carlin and with the swap meet, car show and cruise in season back upon us, here is my version of 5 Things We Don’t Need.
Baseball caps have always been part of car culture and it makes sense to protect your noggin if you’re planning to spend your day out of doors. What doesn’t make sense is to wear a visor with a prickly wig attached. When did these things first show up-more than a decade ago? I’m trying to remember if the first one I saw evoked a smile. I’m quite certain that the second one, did not. I get that they’re a goof, meant to be humorous but it’s a joke that is only funny the first time you see it. By now we’ve all seen it. I think Carlin would agree that visors with prickly wigs attached should go away. It’s a joke that lost its punch years ago.
Muscle shirts, tanks or any form fitting shirts without sleeves seem to be popular with car guys. Unfortunately, I don’t think most guys know whether they look good in them or not. In a recent Melissa McCarthy movie the joke was made: “Only guys with muscles should wear muscle shirts” and I think she may be on to something. A burly guy I called “Big Dog” used to wear them to the races all the time. When I bought a sleeveless shirt that had vintage sprint cars on it, my daughter called me “Little Dog” every time I wore it. Eventually I got the message. If you want an honest assessment of how you look in your muscle shirt, ask your teenage daughter.
Do you know what a “Time Out” is? A Time Out is a homemade doll of a two or three-year-old standing with its face concealed in shame. I must believe that women make these…only an adoring mother would find anything cute about a pouting tot. But the bigger question is how did these dolls find their way to car shows and cruise ins to begin with? Somehow, they became a fairly common sight in years past but I believe they are now on the decline. I say let’s outlaw them altogether. Then the question becomes: “How do you dispose of one?” My answer: Goodwill!
According to Wikipedia, oversized dice originated during World War II. Pilots hung them in the cockpit of their fighter planes displaying “seven pips” before a “sortie mission.” At a time when the mortality rate was high, anything that a soldier perceived gave him good luck was justified. Though their history is solid, somehow over time, enlarged dice lost their dignity. Tell me, when you see a set of flocked dayglow green dice hanging from a rearview mirror, do you think about bravery? I think oversized dice have become a tacky metaphor for hot rodding or nostalgia in general. In fact, I hadn’t even thought about fuzzy dice in years…and then I came across a whole table full at the “Mild to Wild” Show. They are for sure something we don’t need.
Lastly, there is Betty Boof. The character was created in 1930 by a contemporary of Walt Disney’s named Max Fleischer. As popular as Betty was, she was retired after nine years as the star of her own cartoons that appeared in theatres prior to the featured attraction. People grew bored with Betty because besides being cute, she didn’t really have much going on and her cartoons mostly consisted of her being chased around. It has been the merchandising of her likeness on everything from greeting cards to coffee cups that has kept Betty in the public eye ever since. At some point someone rendered her as fifties style car shop with roller skates on her feet and a tray in her hand. For some reason that image really resonated with people and she has been typecast as a waitress ever since. Evidently it is Betty the Car Hop that will forever be linked to hot rodders but at eighty nine she is overdue for retirement. It is time to give Betty a rest.
Even before the sun had tickled the clouds pink, he stood there. The campfire had been waning since about four, but Jack had risen, stoked it with some dead wood and had a pot of coffee percolating before any of his buddies had even split an eye. Around him more fires were stoked. Be it the same campfire he had woken or what waited between the frame rails of the hop up the crew had brought.
Since being discharged and relocating to his new home, Jack had embraced the culture that his armed forces buddies had spoke of.
California. It never rains! It was May of 1947. Two months in but still, in the early morning in the high desert, Winter still breathed a chill across the dry lake. Minutes and the sunrise chased each other the sunrise gave light to El Mirage. Jack sipped from his tin cup, his team was soon awake and Cappy had a skillet over the coals, frying up some bacon and eggs for the team. As enticing as the pork belly smelled, Jack fired up the roadster then sat down on a stoop. He leaned in and with a flat blade screw driver set about his work on the trio of 97’s.
There were 9 members of the team. All were survivors from the B-17 bomber West Coast Doll.
As Jack sipped his coffee and listened as the heavily modified ’42 Merc mill sing her song, he thought of his lost tail gunner, Daryl. “We should have 10 of us here.” He whispered out loud. As much as he tried to bury the memory, to this day he can still feel the shudder as their plane took the hit at the tail section erasing Daryl’s life.
They were 1 mile out and headed in, but a renegade Focke-Wulf FW-190 came out of nowhere and riddled the tail section. Daryl never had a chance. If it were not for a pair of P-51’s that had been in the area, the loss of crew would have been deadlier. West Coast Doll came in and landed. Out of 39 missions she had survived and had returned home safely. The surviving crew decided then they would remember their fallen crew member by living out his dream of a hot rod racing wide open on the dry lakes. A pact was made. When the war was over, the remaining crew would converge on Daryl’s garage and finish his roadster and compete in his memory.
The team of 9 worked hard on the Model A Roadster. Daryl had her about 70% done, but not enough to be race ready. With all hands on deck, the car was race ready and ready for her debut in a month’s time. From faded black to bright red, Chipper even painted a near perfect match to the nose art on their bomber on the cowl sides. West Coast Doll was ready for her debut. Jack would drive her. From Golden, Co he had experience. Be it racing on dirt tracks, sprint cars, jalopies or hill climbs. Jack could drive anything, especially fast. Cappy was an engine savant. He and Jack took their time and made the Merc engine singing like the Andrews sisters. As the deadline drew nearer, the former bomber crew worked day and night on the roadster. Drong and Jose’ along with Von and Crow made it their job to weld and fab the frame and other chassis details. Gilbert was the extra hand and filled in to help bleed brakes, grab some grub or be an extra set of eyes and volunteered his ’40 Ford pick up to be the tow vehicle and push truck.
“Time is interesting isn’t it?” Jack mused to his buddies one evening. The sun had started to drop beneath the horizon and the finishing touches were being dealt with on the roadster. “As a kid, you lay around on, say, a June afternoon, bored, completely out of your mind. Nothing to do as the sun just strolls across the sky. As the grandfather clock in the foyer marks off seconds of the day, of your life.” Jack paused and took a pull off of the ice cold Acme beer in his calloused hands. “Summer break drives into school days then into winter break. Then school, then spring break. We do not notice Mom and her hair as it greys. Or Pop as his hair falls out and he starts to get weaker.” About this time his buddies had paused and turned their undivided attention to Jack. They noticed he had wet eyes and wiped an arm across his face. “Time is a gift and it is also a curse. I look back and wonder when it became so damned fast. How memories became a blur. My friends, all we have is now. Let’s make this trip one for the books and also, I have an idea.”
Jack climbed into The West Coast Doll. He hunkered down into the bomber seat. Von and Crow made sure his belts were tight as Drong checked the fluids. Cappy stood by and signaled Jack to fire the roadster up. Jose’ made one last walk around and checked tire pressures. Gilbert, Drong and Chipper climbed into the ’40 and eased up to the back of the roadster. The crew climbed into the bed of the pickup pushed Jack toward the starting line. The starter nodded and jack hit the go pedal. Gilbert nailed the throttle and gave The West Coast Doll a helluva a push. And just like time, Jack watched as the landscape raced by. He poured coals to the fire, feathering the throttle and kept steady on the wheel. A marker was set to locate 1 mile in and when Jack roared past he floored it. But, as he did so, he pulled a hidden lever inside the roadster and a secret valve opened up and at 130 MPH, the ashes of Daryl were released upon the race course.
The West Coast Doll did not set any records that day, but she did well in her class. And for the crew of that wounded B-17 bomber, they lay their friend to rest the best way they thought possible.
by Mark “Spooky” Karol-Chik