Spinning the Big Wheel

Parnelli Jones was considered one of the “Big Wheels” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had arrived on the scene in 1961 and shared Rookie of the Year honors with Bobby Marshman after an inspired performance. In 1962 he broke the 150 mph barrier, qualifying J.C. Agajanian’s roadster in the pole position and forfeited a commanding lead after losing his brakes. In only his third start, Jones again captured the pole and went on to win the 500 stopping the foreign invasion (Team Lotus) dead in their tracks.

In what would turn out to be his final Memorial Day classic (1967), Jones was again the man to beat. His assigned steed was Andy Granatelli’s Turbo Car, the most technically advanced racecar to ever appear at Indianapolis. Legal to the letter but extremely controversial, Jones’ turbine powered, four wheel drive rocket ship was a dark horse. There had simply been no precedent. Turbines had always been eligible, but no one had ever qualified one. Adding to the mystique, Granatelli, Jones and everyone else involved with the race car, shrugged when asked about its capability. Their qualifying time was nothing spectacular but some found their ambivalence suspect…Perhaps they were saving what they knew until race day?

At the drop of the green flag, Jones laid his hand on the table. He chased the first two rows of qualifiers into turn one drifting high and powered around them. In the short chute he crisscrossed the track and devoured the leader Mario Andretti as they entered turn two. By the time he reached the start/finish line, Jones was already leading by a country mile and pulling away. At fifteen laps the Turbine was twelve seconds ahead of second place. Then at eighteen laps, it began to rain.

The 500 was postponed until the following day but when racing resumed, Jones’ domination continued.

Meanwhile after starting back in the twenty sixth position, a rookie from the NASCAR ranks was experiencing his first Indy car race. Lee Roy Yarbrough was well known down in Florida but here at the Brickyard, he was just another neophyte. He had a year old Vollstedt Ford to drive for seatbelt magnate Jim Robbins. It was a competitive car but Yarbrough spun in the opening laps and by now was just trying to keep pace with the field.

On the fifty second lap Jones swooped in on Yarbrough to put him yet another lap down. “My car runs so quiet, the other drivers can’t hear me coming,” Jones explained later. Nor could Yarbrough see him, evidently. Even if he could, he wouldn’t have been expecting the leader to dive underneath him (left wheels under the line) going into the turn. The racers touched wheels and began a graceful pirouette into the infield. The Turbine T-boned the Vollstedt briefly, then they slid together and separated. Amazingly, neither car was disabled, and both contestants were able to continue after a pit stop to change out their flat spotted tires.

Jones claimed that after the initial contact, the cars never touched again but photographs show damage to body panels on both racers after the incident. Was the damage merely cosmetic? We’ll never know.

The balance of Jones’ race is well documented. He continued to ride roughshod over the field until four laps from the finish when a six dollar bearing in the gearbox failed. Yarbrough soldiered on until he was involved in second incident, this time trying to avoid a spinning car. The crumpled Vollstedt was abandon in the infield with a total of eighty seven laps scored.

In Bill Libby’s biography “Parnelli” the incident was blamed entirely on Yarbrough but examination of the film tells a very different story. For his part, Jones never accepted any responsibility-then again, why would he? When you are a former 500 champion and a respected veteran, you think about your legacy. With everyone willing to point a finger at Yarbrough, it was prudent for Jones to keep his mouth shut.

HAULIN’ BUNS: A partly fabricated and almost entirely true story of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile’s first lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

“How fast does it go?” I asked. “ It hauls buns!” said the overly cheery 20-something-year old sitting next to me. With a wry smile and a huge crank of the comically large steering wheel, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile gently eased itself onto the surface of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

For the sake of their identities, we shall call the two representatives from your favorite hotdog manufacturing company Jessica and Chris. Why the secrecy? Though the famed Wienermobile had graced the Racing Capitol of the World with it’s presence before, this time around was a little different.

On a crisp winter morning between snowfalls, the Wienermobile was going to take its first flying lap around the famed 2.5 mile oval. In years past the “frank” was quarantined to the parking lot, but today this dog was going to cook up some new history. Track security wouldn’t mind right? (Shhh… don’t tell anyone)

Though the banking in turn one is a slight 9 degrees, you could feel the weight shift to the left side. Chris at the wheel filled me in on the specifics.

“There are six Wienermobiles out there right now,” he explained. “Jessica and I are recent college grads. I was a Communications major and she wants to work in Human Resources. We are two of thousands of candidates from around the country that applied for the job.” Both from opposite sides of the U.S., the two were put together back in June.

“Oscar Mayer pairs us up,” piped up Jessica from the second row of seats as we entered turn 2. “Chris and I never met before then. We are a team for 6 months, assigned a region of the country- ours is the Midwest of course – then we get reassigned a new partner, a new dog and a new region. We do that for six more months then retire as Hotdoggers.”

Two kids in a giant hotdog traveling across the Midwest in all weather conditions for one year – what could go wrong? After their residency they could decide to stay in the Oscar Mayer/ Kraft Heinz family or move on to the next adventure.

The first adaptation of the Wienermobile was built in 1936 by Oscar Mayer’s nephew – Carl G. Mayer. The dog has evolved over the decades and you might have seen the 1952 version at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The “Hotdogger” program was invented and recent grads like Chris and Jessica were the perfect candidates.

In the early days of the Wienermobile, various actors were hired to play the character “Little Oscar” and hand out whistles and hotdogs. The most notable was George A. Molchan who toured as Little Oscar for 20 years, then dawned the costume for another 16 to greet fans at the Oscar Mayer restaurant in Walt Disney World. Like the rest of his troupe, George had a hard time finding viable work as a little person in the 1940s. The Little Oscar character was a rewarding role for decades before the Hotdogger program was put in place in 1988.
Jessica let out a high-pitched breath like a balloon with a small hole in it as the 27- foot long crossed the yard of bricks. “This is one of the coolest things we have done. Like, ever.” She said.

As we quickly snuck back into the Speedway’s parking lot, Jessica talked about their busy itinerary as ambassadors of the bun. “We go to sports venues – pretty much all ball parks. Makes sense right? We go to schools, museums, grocery store openings and children’s hospitals. Yeah it’s about promoting the product – but it’s more about making people smile.” The following day they planned to hit a local brewery and drive around Circle City.

With a handful of stickers, “Weiner Whistles” and postcards, Jessica and Chris left me outside of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum with a beaming smile and a childlike euphoria. None of my coworkers would understand my excitement of riding around my favorite place in my favorite enlarged novelty food vehicle. No one else had to. The Wienermobile had performed its magic and served its purpose – it brightened my day…. And it made me hungry.

NWDRA HI-PERFORMANCE AUTOMOTIVE SWAP MEET January 27, 2019

Does anyone stay home to watch the Pro Bowl? I mean, I enjoy pro football as much as the next guy but aren’t most of us ready for a break between the Playoffs and the Super Bowl? I think the answer is “yes” and that helps explain why the Northwest Drag Racing Association’s swap meet held the weekend prior to the Super Bowl, is always so well attended.

This year the club was celebrating their 43rd year- the inaugural having taken place way back in 1975. “The first (gathering) was held at Mount Hood Community College,” explained Event Spokespeople Andy Tabor and Lettie. “From there we moved to Canby Fairgrounds because we needed more room and from there we moved here because it was warmer!” (Heat is certainly a consideration when planning a mid-winter swap meet).

When asked what they were shopping for, two racers that had driven up from Roseburg responded that it was mostly a social event for them. “We don’t get too much time to shoot the breeze at the track,” they agreed. A massive fellow was pulling a wagon overstuffed with goodies like Santa’s sleigh. “My wife likes the flea market,” he stated. She had found a vintage game of Pick-Up-Stix and was over the moon. Sure enough, the offering at this gathering is diverse. Hardcore new and used engine components are plentiful as is gently used safety equipment ( I, myself purchased a used driving suit last year). But there is also a huge selection of non-racing items, hence the “flea market” reference.

When asked what else the organizers had planned for the coming year, they mentioned “The Classic”- a racing event they started at PIR then relocated to Woodburn. There are new events still being planned for the upcoming season so for more information call Lettie at (503) 644-5707.

Barrett-Jackson Auction

The Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale is not just an auction of beautiful, rare, stunning, vintage, modern and new, beautifully restored, very unique and in many cases OMG amazing vehicle? NO, it is so much more! Once you’ve gone through the very professional security check points and walked through those entry doors, it’s like entering another world. A world of automotive and life style, sensory, bombardment. The huge Ford display is first with over a dozen of their newest vehicles on display. The commercial displays from automotive, to fine art, jewelry, vacation retreats, fine furniture, neon signs, etc., are set up all around that sprawling auction area behind those entry doors. The displays continue outside, where most of the 1800+ vehicles are on display in a half dozen gigantic tents. There are wonderful food vendors with a wide variety of culinary choices and yes even lobster is available.

Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auctions are known for being NO RESERVE auctions but, in recent years they have accepted some specialty vehicles with a reserve price. At Scottsdale the sell-through rate was 99.74% totaling over $118 million, plus, over $9.6 million went to national, regional and local charities, through the sale of no commission vehicle sales. A brand new 2020 Toyota Supra with vin #20201 raised $2.1 million for the American Heart Association and the Bob Woodruff Foundation. Sanderson Ford in Glendale, AZ. donated a 2018 Ford Mustang Cobra Jet. It sold for $200,000.00 with 100% of the sales price going to Fighter Country Foundation at Luke Air Force Base. Fighter Country Foundation supports the men, women and their families stationed there. Top Gun pilot, Col. Richard Toliver (in the red coat standing behind the Mustang, as part of the Fighter Country Mustang sale. Col. Toliver was part of the famed Tuskegee Airman and flew 446 missions in F4 Phantom jets during the Vietnam war. The top charity vehicle sold, was a 2019 Ford GT Heritage Edition vin #001 that sold for $2.5 million benefiting United Way for Southern Michigan. Next up for Barrett-Jackson is their Palm Beach Florida Collector Car Auction April 11-13. For all the information just go to www.barrett-jackson.com

Variety is the Spice of Life

A mild winter here in Albany, but a highlight of the winter is the Winter Rod and Speed Show at the Linn County Fairgrounds. This year’s show was an exceptional show with a great selection of cars, trucks, racing vehicles there. Not only was there a unique variety of vehicles , but a unique variety of vendors as well. Vendors selling their wares, such as die-cast models, tee shirts, metal signs, and leaf gutter covers—more to come on that later.

Now on to the show! There was a mixture of vehicles such as a traditional classic beautiful blue T-Bucket and an Indy car, a 1986 March Indy car powered by a fuel injected small block Chevy engine, driven by sprint car champion Sammy Swindell. If you like sports car there was an original 1953 MG and a replica of a 1958 Ferrari 250 Testa Rosa. In the same building was a very unique truck. Some would call it a rat rod. I call it a work of art. It’s a ‘32 Dodge cab modified, on a semi truck chassis. The suspension is air operated with a combo compressor and air tank behind the cab. The rear axle has a set of duelies for tires and air bags to raise and lower the rear end. The front suspension is a straight front axle with custom fabricated cantilever rockers with air shocks. It came out of the Nasty Works Shop in Eugene. It is an engineering marvel.
Back to the vendors. If you were hungry there was popcorn, candy, beef jerky, ice cream, and nuts being sold by vendors. Also the best barbecue sauce I have ever tasted- the award winning “Best Damn bbq Sauce” out of Salem.

Back to the show. Every vehicle there was beautiful. A car that I had never seen before, a white ‘67 vw bug that was chopped, had an extended front suspension, no front fenders and very loud straight pipes coming from a heavily modified engine. This was along with your rail dragsters, drag alters, classic cars and trucks.

As you walk around the perimeter of the building, more vendors. Plastic models, paint and upholstery, different types of raffles, custom posters, custom drawings, key chains, scenty air fresheners, windows for your home and the new shop you are building were there for you to purchase. For the daring there was a nascar race car simulator where you can sit in a nascar race car and run a virtual race.

Speaking of works of art, Loren Kuipers from Scio brought his ‘65 Chevy pickup. It is pearl white and has blue trim with what looks like raindrops that he painted himself.

Also at the show was drag racer, artist, and author Kenny Youngblood. Local author Jim Lindsey, with 2 books about growing up in the time of early hot rodding.

So, next winter, usually around mid-January, if you want to add some spice to your life come to the Winter Rod and Speed Show in Albany.

2020 Corvette

GearHeads, by the time you read this we will all have one foot firmly planted into springtime. I for one, am surely looking forward to that. And the day is coming closer when we will all be able to see that awesome, new, mid-engined Corvette.

This month I would like to share with you some comments and factoids that came from a recent conversation between Autoline and Brett Smith, center for automotive research. We don’t know how much more life VW diesels have left in them after the recent VW gate, so to speak. VW is still a powerhouse garnering the most sales out in the world. It appears their counter move is going to involve investing heavily in battery factories. One question is, where in the world will these factories be built?

It looks like the current lithium ion batteries that are in the twelve EV models currently available in the world are not going to cut it. He says a battery breakthrough will be needed. He mention that there are many dozens and dozens of new models coming out. The market will become saturated in the US.

You have to factor in things like cost per kilowatt-hour to evaluate the industry. Hybrids are actually more versatile but they are more expensive to build. Not conducive to American corporations that are thoroughly addicted to the almighty dollar.

He expressed some concerns about the reliability of the EVs. Think about how well your cell phone works. And what happens when the grid goes down?

’nuff said,
Chuck Fasst GearHeadsWorld.blogspot.com

The Driver

15 years had passed. The Driver had missed the draft. He had spent almost two decades behind concrete and iron bars watching sun rise and set. Was he guilty? Well, he did drive. He was the pilot man. Yet, he never fired a shot or took a life. That was all upon the passenger and well, the passenger had a way with fire arms and a taste for blood.

Driver was apprehended. Driver had succumbed to the advances of the police and surrendered. Driver admitted guilt and gave up a life of fatherhood. He often dreamt of tiny embraces and a bright future, but behind cold concrete and hidden steel, life passes. Lives were lost. Memories fade as the days go on.

Hardened life stares on as dark brown hair turns to grey.  He sat on that Sunday in the barber station and wondered. In his clip was a scroll of contacts for the outside world. A road of grey and black. Opportunities and treachery.

Years of good behaviour led to the day of his parole.  3 times he had been turned down.

He counted the steps and watched his feet take a trail of uncertainty. Many times he had done as such only to be told to turn back and go back to the horde.

But not today. It was fast, really. Right’s read. A pardon. Freedom granted.
Opportunity.

And, as many times before, he sat on that bench and waited. Except this time, the hard, cold slam of the steel barred door did not occur.  Today a dance of the key spun in the locks and the cold iron door swung in his favour.

Free. He watched as the door let the daylight tumble upon the cold hard floor.

Outside the gates waiting was his dark green Galaxie ’64.

Driver stepped forward and a guard placed a hand his shoulder. “So, will I see you again?”

A warm wind lifted dust and the smell of fresh cut grass whipped past. Driver smiled.

“Not on your life.”

The convict walked across the yard and fell behind the wheel. He hit the key and the big old Ford responded and lurched forward.

As bad as the car and the man could have been, well, they never were again.

Even the hardest cowboys know when to let life take the reins, let fate control the journey and live life simple and good.

A Breed of Parts

I first spotted “ ‘Ol Yeller II” in Viva Las Vegas. The “Special” stood out among a field of Corvettes, Jags and Cobras because it was something I couldn’t identify. What I didn’t discover until fifty years later, was that the same guy that built the car had choreographed all the racing scenes in the movie. His name was Max Balchowsky.

Balchowsky was born in Fairmont, Virginia in 1924 but migrated west to join his brother in business after WW II. In a garage in southern California he spotted his future wife “Ina” and together they established Hollywood Motors. By the early fifties the hot rod movement was reaching a full boil. Concurrently, the well-heeled were purchasing exotic foreign jobs and knowledgeable technicians were in demand. The Balchowsky’s shop became the veritable “Garage to the Stars” and soon was overflowing with Ferraris and Maserati’s. Road racing too was gaining in popularity and seemed like the next logical step for a serious enthusiast.

When Margaret Pritchard was killed racing a Special at Torrey Pines, the owner became disenchanted and sold his wreck to the Balchowskys. It was an ungainly brute based on a ’32 roadster and powered by a Buick Nailhead mill. The couple hammered out the body panels, gave it a piss-coat of lemon yellow paint and went racing. In comparison to the curvaceous exotics they were competing against, the Special was “a dog”. The Balchowskys couldn’t deny this so they decided to embrace it. Walt Disney Studios had a recent hit with their movie starring a yellow Labrador called “ ‘Ol Yeller” so they adopted that moniker.

“ ‘Ol Yeller I” had never been and never would be a great racecar but with it, the Balchowskys learned to race. Max learned chassis set ups and became a very capable driver. A genuine romance developed between he and the high revving, high torque, 401 cubic inch Buick engine. After several years of flogging around their rebuilt car, the Balchowskys were convinced that they could build something better.

This time they would start from scratch. Utilizing what they’d learned working on other people’s racers, they laid out the chassis using chalk marks on the garage floor. The car would utilize a lightweight tube frame. Parts and pieces came from this and that: a Studebaker rear-end, a Jaguar transmission, the upper A- arms were off an XK120, the lower were Pontiac. Cast off whitewall tires would be used not only for economy but because they were of a softer compound. For power there was never a question- their beloved Nailhead. By now it had been race tested for over five years. Other than some heating issues, it had been rock solid. The entire build took seven weeks and “ ‘Ol Yeller II” was ready for the 1959 season.

From the get-go, the new car was a front runner. Able to run with the best, the Balchowsky’s wondered if a professional pilot could put their creation in victory lane. They solicited the top road racers on the circuit: Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, Bob Bondurant, Billy Krause…evidently even Grand Prix ace Stirling Moss took a test drive in the car (on the street) that ended in his arrest! And the combination proved successful- in ’59 and 1960 many wins were achieved. But there was a new beast on the horizon- the mid-engined sports racer and ultimately it would prove superior to the front engine design.

The Balchowskys produced several more “ ‘Ol Yellers” but none exceeded the success of their original build. A longtime friend of the family, Ernie Nagamatsu owns the fully restored racer today and travels around globe showing the car and competing in vintage events. “ ‘Ol Yeller II” even appeared in the Pebble Beach Concours as the photos on the cover of last months’ Roddin’& Racin’ NW attest.

BIG MIKE

Word came to Erik that the station had shut down. With funding gone, and a new tri-city station, the need for a small town fire department became obsolete. Erik read in detail about the memoriam and that the bell was saved and had been placed in the public park, but everything else had been auctioned off or had been sold for scrap. Scrap. He knew in his heart that Big Mike was going to meet his doom and this explained why he was headed west on highway 30 at breakneck speed.

May 1950

On the outskirts of Rainier, there was an old homestead and had long been abandoned. It became the perfect place for kids to hang out and explore. Parents and local authorities always frowned upon this and every parent always sounded warning as their child left to go out with friends, “And stay away from the old Johnson place!” Well, that fateful night a carelessly tossed cigarette landed on a pile of rags that had been slowly rotting in a corner of the old barn. Whumph—the old pile of cotton instantly ignited and the flames spread across the bone dry walls. It would not of have been so bad, but the loft had five teens sitting in the hay gazing out at the stars and having a good time with each other’s company. Mr. Anders, a neighbor to the old Johnson place saw the flickering and soft orange glow as the flames spread hungrily.  “Maw, git on the horn, the johnson place is on far!”

The call came in and Erik and his men got suited up and rushed to Big Mike the station’s 1947 Ford Fire Engine. Hal dropped into the driver’s seat, hit the starter button and quick as a whip, the flathead V8 fired off. Sirens and lights combined to awaken the sleepy town.  The 5 minute ride felt like a lifetime. The young Fire Chief road in the passenger’s seat took a glance at his men in the back of the engine. He nodded and gave them a look of confidence. But, inside Erik’s guts were boiling. His hands were dripping with sweat. Under his watch he held the lives of his men and those they were racing into the unknown to save. Even before they had arrived, they could see the overcast cast sky reflecting the glow of the deadly flames that waited. Big Mike rounded one last corner and before the fire men, the valley was alight and they could see the kids in the open door of the loft holding each other and awash in fear. With the howl of Big Mike’s siren the kids began to jump in glee. They would be saved!

Hal brought Big Mike to a halt and like a fine tuned Timex the men exited and began to perform their duties. Erik shouted orders, the hose was unreeled from the back and he realized that his team had but a splinter of time to save those kids. Erik shouted to his men to grab the safety net and prepare to save the five in the loft. They looked at him in astonishment as Erik wrestled the hose from back of Big Mike hit the nozzle and with a mask on his face walked into the flames.  One by one the kids leapt the 20 feet and landed to safety. Erik extinguished flames to give the barn just a few minutes more. Then it happened. A beam slammed down close enough that Erik stepped back in surprise and dropped the hose. Entangled around his ankle he tried to wrench free but in the process his mask was pulled free and the room a bright glow began to dim as the smoke filled air filled his lungs.

The Firemen had just saved the last of the teens when they saw that within the barn their chief had not returned. Then it happened. Those who were there to this day still wonder if it was a miracle, cause and effect or just plain luck. There was an audible —snap!— and the kids and fire fighters watched as the engine began to roll backward. “Hal!” shouted one of the fire fighters. Didja set the brake?!” Hal watched and nodded. His mouth was agape as he along with everyone there watched. The flames hungrily engulfed the loft and a shower of sparks and embers rose into the night. Big Mike continued to roll backwards and from the opening of the barn entangled in the fire hose emerged Erik, their chief.
The big Ford backed into a post and the large brass bell rocked back and was struck.

—Clang!—

Everyone turned to see that the Fire Engine had backed into a long cut down stump and pulled from the flames was their chief. The loud sudden clasp of Big Mike’s bell shook Erik awake. He opened his eyes. The star riddled sky bore down on him and the sound of cheers did as well. He slowly sat up and watched as the Johnson barn collapsed in a shower of embers. Erik looked down and saw his legs entangled in the hose. Behind him was Big Mike. As Erik drew in more breaths of fresh air it all became clear. His men were safe. The kids were safe. He had survived, because for some strange coincidence, his legs were entangled in the fire hose and the park brake cable snapped in Big Mike, causing the engine to roll backwards.  Two out of three made sense. Erik stood up, bent down and untangled the hose from his feet. He then turned and looked at the engine. The emergency lights were still alight. The V8 hummed. But, there was something that Erik felt. Big Mike was a part of the team. Nearly 3 tons of machinery, but.

As the years rolled by and Erik continued to be the Fire Chief, many engines came and went.  Yet, Big Mike always was there. Parades or as an engine used for training purposes, the old ’47 was a staple at the station. When Erik retired in 2000 he requested that Big Mike be taken care of. That was 18 years ago.

Present Day

Erik made his journey in record time. Even as he pulled up to his old home town he was taken back at the growth that had swept through. Old buildings that were landmarks had been absolved into metro friendly condos and all of that made Rainier such a quaint old town had become gentrified. Sterile. A tattered sign pointed where the final sale of the Fire Station was to be. As before, a faded memories journey of desperation, Erik wound the roads racing to save a memory from his past. A final curve and he dropped onto a plain where a makeshift scrapper had set up a car crusher. Idling was a Cat and resting on the forks was Big Mike. Years had not been kind to the old engine. The once proud grille had tears. His glass was shattered and tires were all flat. The bright red paint had faded into a chalky resemblance of the splendor of what was once there. The lift driver began to inch forward with the cast off memory resting on the forks. Erik slid the rental to a halt. He opened the door and walked out. Mike was dressed in his dress uniform with his Fire Chief badge shining brightly upon his chest. He walked with purpose to the forklift driver and in one swift movement pulled a photo from his pocket.

Creased. Aged. Stained from the years, there it was. A photograph of the once proud and strong, a life saver Big Mike and Erik beside the old ’47. The forklift driver paused and keyed his mic.

Life is a miracle.

Be it a flower or some inanimate object that saves a life.
Sometimes belief is all you need.

Erik purchased Big Mike. The ’47 Ford is now in his humble garage of old cars and this day serves his tenure in parades or car shows.
Erik still sits in Big Mike and wonders. What if?

MetalWorks attends SEMA 2018

Keeping up with what is happening within the automotive industry and the latest products being offered is a must, so MetalWorks makes it a priority to attend the SEMA show annually—and the cars aren’t bad either. Come take a quick peek at some of the builds that grabbed our attention while attending the 2018 event in Las Vegas.