The Grid

world-of-speed

They said it couldn’t be done. When Ron Huegli, curator of the World of Speed museum in Wilsonville, Oregon suggested putting together a grid of thirty three cars in honor of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, who among us wasn’t skeptical? I know I was. If successful, it would be biggest assemblage of Champ Car machinery on the west coast since the days of Ontario Speedway. It’s a safe bet that neither Long Beach nor PIR ever drew that many entries.

Well, Huegli got ‘er done! In an exhibition they are calling “Heroes and History”; bonafide racers from nine decades adorn a facsimile of the famed Brickyard in eleven rows of three. Many of the cars have a Northwest connection; here are ten of my favorites:

The Sampson “16” Special evolved from the “more is better” school of thought. The “16” represent sixteen cylinders, literally two Miller V-8’s mounted side by side. Alden Sampson had been experimenting with this concept since 1930 and in ’34 garnered a fourth place finish. The Stevens chassis on display was qualified by Bob Swanson in 1939 & ’40 (finishing 6th), Deacon Litz in ’41 and popular Sam Hanks after the war in ’46. With sponsorship from band leader Spike Jones, Hanks qualified a remarkable third fastest but unfortunately was one of the first cars to fall out.

The Howard Keck entry on the turntable is a classic example of a car from “The Cucumber Era”. This Deidt built Offenhauser never qualified slower than seventh in four starts and only finished outside the top ten once. Jimmy Jackson drove in 1948 and ’49. In 1950 Mauri Rose qualified and finished third in this early Pennzoil livery. Sadly a collapsed spoked wheel sidelined Rose in ’51.

Mack Hellings was a close friend of car owner C. George Tuffanelli and had driven for him in previous 500’s. The maroon and gold leaf #19 Deidt chassis qualified 23rd in 1951 but retired early. When Hellings crashed to his death in another car six months later, Tuffanelli was so devastated he never ran his Indy car again.

Murrell Belanger’s cars compete at the same time as the aforementioned Deidt cars but had a leaner appearance. There was a Belanger Special in every 500 from 1947 through ’54 with legends like Tony Bettenhausen and Duane Carter handling the driving chores. Lee Wallard won Indy outright for Belanger in 1951 so this Lujie Lesovsky creation first appeared with a numeral #1 on its flanks. Carter qualified sixth and finished fourth in ’52 but it was downhill from there. Two years later, renumbered #97, Walt Faulkner failed to qualify.

This #99 Norm Demler Special is a perfect example of Quin Epperly’s “Laydown” design that was dominate in the late fifties. With Portlander George Amick at the controls followed by Paul Goldsmith, this roadster finished in the top five, three consecutive years. Jim Hurtubise qualified it in the front row for 1961 but finished 22nd. It missed the show the next two years then reappeared in 1966 with a General Electric turbine engine under the hood. Veteran Bill Cheesbourg took it out for a few fast laps but no qualifying attempt was made.

World Champion Formula One driver Jack Brabham entered this small displacement Cooper Climax in the 1961 500. The steady Aussie had a lackluster afternoon, holding his own through the turns and getting blown off on the straightaways. He started 13th and finished ninth- nothing earth shattering but Brabham is credited with starting the (modern day) rear engine revolution.

1964 was the first year Portland short track racers Rolla Vollstedt and Len Sutton entered a car in the Indianapolis 500. Built in Vollstedt’s basement, the rear-engined Offenhauser was a respectable effort put together on a shoestring budget. Capable Sutton (second in 1962) qualified eighth fastest but fell out with fuel pump woes. Canadian Billy Foster qualified the car sixth the following year but he too succumbed to mechanical failure. Oregonian Art Pollard took over the car (now renumbered #44) in 1966 and missed the show by qualifying too slowly. This car is in unrestored condition and looks exactly as it did when Pollard climbed out of it fifty years ago.

Established Indy Car builder A.J. Watson observed Vollstedt’s design at a pre-500 tire test and endeavored to build his own rear-engined cars for the 1964 500. Watson installed a four cam Ford in his #2 racer and two-time Indy winner Roger Ward was retained to drive. The effort was successful with Ward setting third fast time and placing second in the race. Watson was awarded builder of the year but ultimately turned that prize over to Vollstedt, admitting that his entry was essentially a copy.

Vollstedt’s second effort (#16) for 1965 was leaner and meaner, this time powered by a state-of-the-art four cammer. He again signed Bryant Heating as his primary sponsor and Sutton as driver. The race was not without its issues but Sutton was running at the finish and credited with twelfth. A year later Foster qualified the car in the same position but was knocked out in the first lap debacle on the front straightaway.

Andy Granatelli’s Lotus Turbine 56 (#20 as driven by Art Pollard) was probably the coolest race car a twelve year old kid could imagine. It blew my mind. The clean, simplicity of the wedge design, the four-wheel-drive, the turbine engine, the day-glo paint…whew! Lotus man Colin Chapman deserves most of the credit. This shape influenced all forms of racing and even street car design. Pollard qualified 11th with no practice and his teammates Joe Leonard and Graham Hill started in the first and second slots. The turbines failed about ten laps short of the finish but what an impact they had on the sport. This is perhaps the most historically significant race car in the exhibit.

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