Monday, December 11, 2017

Roy Bowe - 2017 NMARHOF honoree 

Roy behind the wheel of the 1949 RMMRA championship car
with car owner Miles Spickler standing
Photo from Bill Hill's book Decades of Daring

This is one of a series of articles on a few of the inductees into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame to be honored on January 12, 2018 in Tulsa Oklahoma. 

William Roy Bowe born in Denver’s west side Valverde neighborhood in 1916 and after graduation from Regis High School raced co-worker Johnny Boomer’s Continental powered midget during 1937 on the track inside the Merchants Park ball field.

For the 1938 Merchants season drove Bob Van Buskirk’s V8-60-powered midget and when racing ended at Merchants after 1939 Bowe raced with the AAA (American Automobile Association) midgets at Lakeside Speedway a newly-paved 1/5-mile track inside the Lakeside Amusement Park. With the outbreak of World War II Bowe enlisted in the US Army Air Force and served with the Army Air Transport Command in China, Burma and India as a radio operator.

When Roy returned from overseas he resumed racing and in 1946 he won 8 features and then in 1947 driving Ray Koch’s Ford flathead V-8 powered midget he won five features and was the runner-up to Johnnie Tolan with 524 points to Tolan’s tally of 667 points.  

During that period the Kurtis Kraft midget owned by brothers Miles and Burton Spickler was very successful in RMMRA competition but during the 1947 season, Burton was seriously injured in a crash at Lakeside Speedway. Miles took over the driving duties to finish out the season, but his wife was uncomfortable with Miles’ driving so Roy was hired to drive the Spickler midget for 1948 with sponsorship from Nu-Enamel paint a leading consumer paint brand.  

In 1948, Roy Bowe dominated the Rocky Mountain Midget Racing Association (RMMRA) competition - he scored ten wins at Lakeside Speedway, seven at Fort Collins Speedway Park and six at Colorado Springs. Bowe won the championship with 1244 points to runner-up Buddy Shay’s 836 points.

Bowe won the RMMRA Championship again in 1949 driving for Miles Spickler with O’Meara Ford sponsorship and the Kurtis Kraft car painted in a striking unique plaid livery. Bowe captured five feature wins during the 1950 RMMRA season and finished third in points behind Sonny Coleman and Shay.

In 1951 Roy won two RMMRA features, and after midget racing ended at Lakeside Speedway, he went on the road in 1952 and won two American Automobile Association (AAA) features at Olympic Stadium in Kansas City. 

During 1953 Roy quit midget racing after he witnessed a serious accident that involved Danny Morgan in a RMMRA racing program at Brush Colorado. During his career in which he garnered 64 RMMRA feature victories Roy was never seriously hurt in a racing accident - his worst injury was a broken foot, suffered after he drove over his own foot at Walsh Stadium at St Louis.

Roy married in 1947 had one son and three daughters, and retired as a mechanic in 1985 then passed away just a few days short of his eightieth birthday on July 12, 1996 and is interred in the Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver.  We are proud to welcome one Colorado’s greatest midget pilots as a new inductee into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Tunison Speed Roadster - "an airplane on wheels"

At the Spring AutoLitFest 2017 held on the grounds of the NHRA museum, the author spied a period brochure for the virtually unknown Tunison automobile for sale on one of the vendor tables, but when he returned to try to buy it, the small (3 inches by 5 inches) multi-page ultra-rare folded Tunison brochure was gone. The Tunison was a car built in Oakland California in 1921 which apparently never got beyond the prototype phase.

The car’s namesake, Murray Cuthbert (M C) Tunison, was born March 2 1877 in Jacksonville Illinois but he spent much of his life in California.  Tunison began in engine design around the age of 20 and around the turn of the twentieth century he offered a line of gasoline and kerosene powered engines under the “Success” nameplate for use on the farm and for marine applications via catalogue sales from his Los Angeles California factory. Tunison’s small stationary engine used two large cast iron disks enclosed inside a heavy steel channel frame driven by a heavy I-beam connecting rod that rode in phosphor bronze bearings driven by a hit-and-miss single cylinder engine.

Tunison made his first foray into the automobile trade as he formed the Pacific Motor and Automobile Company with partners H. L. Boyer and W. B. Harrington in June 1906 to build an air-cooled 8-cylinder 86-horsepower car known as the Coyote. The engine designed by Tunison was reportedly made up of two rows of four cylinders set at an angle of 90 degrees to each other.  

In December 1908 it was announced that the lightweight “Coyote Special” roadster demonstrator prototype was completed and being tested while Pacific Motor was building a new garage in Redondo California. At that time of the factory announcement the Los Angeles Herald reported that “the company is well financed and will not be handicapped in getting out its product for lack of capital” but by April 1909 the company was in financial trouble and the company soon folded.   

Tunison like many others became fascinated with the rapidly emerging aviation field and in 1910 he leased Dominguez Field an early airport located near modern day Carson California.  In May 1911 Murray and George B Harrison the President of the Aero Club of California proposed that the US Congress set aside a fund of $150,000 devoted to the development of aviation. Tunison and Harrison’s plan called for the fund to pay aviators a dollar per mile flown with the provision that he “placed his services at the command of the government whenever there was a call for them.”   

Tunison was involved in the organization and promotion of the second International Air Meet held at Dominguez Field in December 1910 that featured Wright brothers’ exhibition team with pilots Archibald Hoxsey, Walter Brookins and Philip Parmelee. During 1911, Tunison moved to Northern California and the November 1911 issue of Aircraft magazine reported that Tunison was “constructing a large monoplane of his own design which he intends to try out shortly.” The plane’s overall design was described as “to carry two persons and has a spread of 59 feet and length of 54 feet” powered by an engine of 125 horsepower. What came of this Tunison monoplane is unknown.

The following year, Tunison was named the manager of the new Aeronautical Corporation in San Rafael a firm that employed fourteen workmen. One of the first projects was a biplane built for noted aviation French pioneer Didier Masson with the goal of Masson flying the new aircraft over the Sierra mountain range. Masson, who had earlier flown from San Francisco to Oakland and became the first man to fly an airplane across San Francisco Bay, and Tunison hoped to sell copies of the biplane to the United States military.

The new biplane’s first flight at the San Rafael airfield in March 1912 was mostly successful, that is until a skid broke off while landing and the plane rolled over into the soft mud but Masson emerged uninjured. In April 1912 Masson in the repaired Tunison creation carried fifty copies of the San Francisco Call newspaper from San Rafael to Vallejo and he became known as the “newsboy of the clouds.”  

In August 1912 Tunison started construction of a new larger aircraft which a writer in the San Francisco Call identified as “the largest biplane in the west.” The writer revealed that he had surreptitiously measured the craft with a yardstick and listed the dimensions as a wingspan of 60 feet a length of 42 ½ feet and body with a 3-1/2 foot depth designed to hold two persons. The biplane was powered by a 120-horsepower engine which drove triple propellers one in the nose of the plane and one of each side of the cockpit between the wings. One fascinating futuristic feature of this design was the placement of the gasoline tanks inside the wings.

The power of the massive Tunison-designed engine was needed as the plane was designed for commercial use to carry freight to far-off locales such as Sacramento, Bakersfield, and San Diego, although Tunison admitted that one of the drawbacks with the plan was “the lack of suitable landing places”.  The author could find no further information on Tunison’s large commercial biplane.
Murray Tunison had a fertile inventive mind which was demonstrated in May 1918 as he and a partner Samuel Nunn filed a patent application for an invention which was entitled “tractor attachment for automobiles.” A car’s front axle and front and rear wheels would be removed and replaced with mounted “traction belts” with the driven axle of the automobile geared to drive the traction belts. The pair’s creation received patent US 1356945A in October 1920, but by that the time, Tunison was totally immersed in the design and construction of his next venture, an eponymous automobile with the prototype revealed in late March 1921.

The prototype Tunison automobile was powered by a V-type 8-cylinder engine with overhead valves and a pressurized oiling system  which it was claimed would propel the car to a startling 70 miles per hour while it average 30 miles per gallon of gasoline as a result of a 1600-pound curb weight.

The most important engineering detail of the Tunison’s design was that its frame and body were made of laminated spruce, which led to the description of the car as “an airplane on wheels.” Plans were to initially build 250 per month cars built completely on site except for the bearings and the electrical components. Production was projected to grow to 1000 cars a month from the new factory to be built on the east side of Oakland. Publicity claimed that Murray Tunison “designed and built 380 engines of all sizes, ranging from 2 to 600-horsepower” and that he held US patent #57800 for the design of the speedster body.   

An article in the Oakland Tribune stated that “laminated spruce is 65 per cent stronger than steel of the same weight and 60 per cent lighter than steel of the same strength. Its use in automobile construction as fabricated by the “Tunison process” provides lightness and strength, freedom from vibration, absence of squeaks and rattles and furthermore admits designs not possible with metal bodies.” The Oakland Tribune article stated that “it is a well-known fact that steel transmits shocks, while wood absorbs them” which makes Tunison’s use of steel wheels surprising. 

The car’s frame was built of five layers of spruce cemented with waterproof glue under high pressure while the laminated wood body was built in a mold and covered with Fabrikoid imitation leather manufactured by DuPont which was cotton cloth coated with nitrocellulose. The Tunison catalog at AutoLitFest 2017 showed a Tunison Speed Roadster and a Tunison Touring car with a cost of $1250 for the roadster & $1350 for the touring car.

The Tunison Motor Company was incorporated in Oakland in April 1921 with a reported $2,500,000 in capital stock to be offered to the public. In August 1921 Tunison General Manager Clifford Williams announced that the East Side Board of Trade had secured an option on $1,250,000 worth of the company's stock. Williams claimed the company is “determined to make Oakland the home of the Tunison. Bringing the Tunison factory to Oakland will encourage other industries to seek manufacturing sites in the City.”

A little more than a month later Williams filed suit against the Tunison Motor Company as he claimed breach of contract. Williams hired on June 28 1921 for $100 a week and a promise of a 20 5 commission on all stock sold. On September 28 Williams claimed that Mr. Tunison and LP Hughes entered his office, “rifled his desk and changed the combination of his safe.” Williams claimed that Tunison’s misleading statements to banks had caused the California State Commission of Corporations to issue a warning to investors concerning the company’s stock offers. 

Despite the warnings in November 1921 it was announced that all the $2,500,000 in stock had been sold and that Tunison would build its modern automobile factory in Oakland which would provide employment to 3000 men. A one-story concrete reinforced building that measured 150 feet by 450 feet with a value of $250,000 was scheduled to begin construction immediately. The Tunison corporate office had moved from its original location in room 317 in the three-story Thayer Building located at the southeast corner of 14th and Jefferson Streets in downtown Oakland to the Pacific Building a 5-story brick building at the corner of 16th and Jefferson.

The November 15 1921 issue of Motor West magazine revealed the results of the election of Tunison Motor Company officers and Board of Directors.  A W Beam, the President of the Hayward Chamber of Commerce was named the company president with George Reuben, Phoenix automobile distributor and vice president of National Automobile Dealers Association as Tunison’s general and sales manager.

The prominent name on the board of directors was  John Paul Rettenmayer, the President of the California Brewing Association and the owner of Acme Brewing Company,  the Cereal Products Refining Company, manufacturers of malt syrups, as well as Peerless Yeast, Peerless Vinegar and the Remar Company  of Oakland, makers of Remar Bread and Remar Candy.
Other board members included JD Howell an engineer with the Union Ice Company of San Francisco and a pair of attorneys - EW Davis and James M Oliver who was the legal advisor for the California state banking commission. The Board membership also included three contractors - JJ Stahl of San Francisco and C U Cunningham and BT James of Oakland.

The Tunison automobile failed for unknown reasons without any cars built beyond the prototype, and Murray Tunison dropped from the public eye for several years but he did receive a patent in 1925 for his design for a car storage garage Tunison’s invention showed that automobiles would be stored on a group of independent floor panels riding on horizontally movable trucks operating on each floor.  The insertion and removal of the automobiles would be achieved through the use of an elevator mounted in a fixed shaft.

In 1929 the Santa Ana Register reported that members of a US Naval investigating board led by Admiral Moffatt stopped at Eddie Martin’s Airport to meet the local aviator and to look over a new type airplane housed at the field. The plane which attracted their attention was a low-wing, streamlined, enclosed cabin, monoplane built of plywood named the Tunison Scout.

The blue and red trimmed 4-passanger Tunison Scout was built during 1928 by Murray and his son both of Fullerton featured a 36 foot wing span and was built of molded plywood excluding the 150-horsepower water-cooled Hispano-Suiza H-3 engine mountings and fittings. There were no internal spars for bracing of the wings as the entire wing section consisted of layers of laminated plywood. The plywood wing was nearly 2 feet thick at the intersection with the fuselage and the seats for the occupants of the cockpit were attached to the wing.

The Scout won a design award, was test flown during in December 1928 by famed aviator Jimmie Angel and was featured in an article in the July 1929 issue of Aviation magazine but it never received the required certificate from the Department of Commerce. Tunison’s company later was purchased by Pacific Air Industries and the company installed a new engine and intended to offer two additional models - a two-place Scout Junior and a seven-passenger Scout Cruiser, but those plans never materialized.

A few years later Murray Tunison was the featured speaker in a three-part lecture series on aerodynamics presented to the Fullerton Hawks a group of young aircraft model builders. In his later years Murray lived in Chico California and researched and wrote a book about the mining of uranium before he passed away in 1953 in Utah.

If any readers have a copy of the Tunison ephemera that you would be willing to sell, please contact the author at

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A pair of real race cars at the Petersen

During a summertime 2017 tour of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, the author photographed a pair of nineteen seventies real race cars. 

This McLaren M8F represents what the author considers the pinnacle of American road racing, the Canadian-American Challenge Cup for group 7 race cars, basically no rules racing. In 1971, the author, then a teenager, pleaded with his father for weeks to attend the Valvoline Can-Am race in August at the Mid-Ohio sports car course. 

The author was thrilled when Denny Hulme qualified his #5 McLaren M8F powered by a 494-cubic inch Chevrolet big-block engine for the pole position, but was disappointed when the mighty McLaren broke its drive line on the pace lap and never raced. 

Hulme and his teammate Peter Revson battled Jackie Stewart in the weird box-like Lola T260 all season long, and no racer besides those three men won any of the ten Can-Am races held in 1971. Stewart won two races that included Mid-Ohio, while Hulme won three races. Peter Revson won five races and was crowned the Can-Am champion.

This McLaren M8F example part of the Museum's permanent collection was restored by Canepa Motorsports of Scotts Valley California. 

In 1976, regular race fans could watch a Formula 1 grand prix race without confusion; the Ferrari is powered by a 183-cubic inch flat 12 cylinder engine connected to a transverse mounted five-speed gearbox. There was no carbon fiber, electro-hydraulic shifted transmissions, DRS wings, or  two-way communication with the "strategist" of the modern Formula One, just drivers that drove like hell. 

This Ferrari 312T2 represents the car defending world champion Niki Lauda drove that season, thus it carried the number 1. Even casual fans know the story of the 1976 season due to the success of the motion picture Rush.  Lauda nearly burned to death in a crash in Germany but returned to action after he missed two races six weeks later at Italy and finished fourth. 

Lauda won five races to James Hunt's six and lost the World Championship to Hunt by a single point after he withdrew after three laps in the season-ending Japanese Grand Prix. Citing the danger of racing in a downpour, as Lauda later said "my life is worth more than a title."  Lauda returned with the 312T2  in 1977 and won the second of his three world championships.    

This Ferrari  312T2 is part of the exhibit "Seeing Red: 70 years of Ferrari" in the Bruce Meyer gallery through April 2018.   

Photos by the author 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Al Putnam’s final ride

updated December 12 2017
Al Putnam in 1946


George Kuehn born in 1907 grew up in a wealthy family in Milwaukee Wisconsin to become what was then known as a “gentleman sportsman.” Kuehn was the 1937 and 1939 APBA (American Powerboat Association) outboard class high-point champion and at one time held the C-class outboard world record, made the move into automobile racing in a big way as in late 1941 he became an Indianapolis race car owner.

Kuehn was president of Metal Products Corporation which manufactured the Flambeau outboard motor in a factory located at 245 East Keefe Avenue in Milwaukee Wisconsin. The 2-1/2 and 5 horsepower Flambeau outboard motors were unique as both were constructed using a two-piece clamshell aluminum casting which resulted in light weight a very attractive benefit.  Flambeau also advertised that their motors sported two other features - “uni-control for one simple control for fuel mixture” and "visual control priming - to take the guesswork out of starting."

George’s father Louis Kuehn was born in Alsace-Lorraine immigrated to the United States in 1888 at age 20.  Louis arrived in this country with $60 in his pocket and at first worked in a pottery shop in Canton Ohio. He later became the Midwestern territory salesman for a steel products company then he left that firm and started the La Crosse Steel Roofing & Corrugating Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1896.  

In 1902, Louis sold his La Crosse firm and relocated to Milwaukee where with the help of the Fred Pritzlaff of the Pritzlaff Hardware Company, he founded the Milwaukee Corrugating Company.  Initially, the Milwaukee firm produced corrugated steel siding but Louis steadily expanded the company’s product line through acquisitions to feature a wide selection of products for the hardware and sheet metal trades.

By the 1920s Milwaukee Corrugating was one of the country’s leading building materials suppliers offering items such as steel roof tiles and stamped metal ceilings with branches in six cities. In 1930, the company name was changed to Milcor Steel Company and In 1936 Milcor was purchased by Inland Steel Company for three million dollars. Louis remained involved as Milcor’s chairman until 1940 when he retired and later helped his son fund the creation of the Metal Products Corporation in 1943.  

The car George Kuehn bought was a “three-spring” championship car, with two parallel leaf springs on the front axle and a transverse spring for the rear suspension had been built in 1936 by Curly Wetteroth for Harry Hartz. According the fellow historian Michael Ferner the car with its body built by Myron Stevens proved to be too heavy at 1800 pounds to be competitive on half-mile tracks but was a decent mile track car.

Hartz’ driver Ted Horn did not care for the new single-seater and only drove the grey and blue car twice – both times in the George Vanderbilt Cup races held at Roosevelt Raceway in 1936 and 1937.  After the car sat idle for the 1937 season, in 1938, Hartz sold the car to the Chicago IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) union president and racing team owner Mike Boyle.

Boyle Racing Team mechanic Harry “Cotton” Henning pulled the car's Miller engine and fitted the car with a 255-cubic inch four-cylinder Offenhauser engine. Painted in Boyle Racing’s trademark maroon and cream colors, Elbert “Babe” Stapp drove the car to victory in August 1939 at the Milwaukee Mile. 
Harry McQuinn drove the car in 1940 in two AAA races but failed to finish. After the 1941 season during which the ‘Boyle Special’ was driven by George Connor in three races with two top three finishes, Boyle sold the car to George Kuehn who planned to enter it in the 1942 Indianapolis 500-mile race for driver Adelbert William “Al” Putnam.

Al Putnam was born in Salt Lake City Utah in 1908, but grew up in southern California, and began his racing career in the nineteen thirties at San Diego's 5/8 mile Silvergate Speedway. Throughout the thirties Putnam competed in the AAA (American Automobile Association) Pacific Coast championship up and down the West Coast with races at the second 5/8-mile Ascot track, Oakland and Legion Ascot (the third track called "Ascot"). Al finished 17th in the 1936 AAA Pacific Coast standings prior to his relocation to the Midwest.

Putnam considered himself a “hard luck driver” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  He tried to qualify for the 1936 Indianapolis 500-mile race in one of Phil Shafer’s “Buick 8 Specials” but he wound up as the first alternate after his ten-lap qualifying average speed of 110.481 miles per hours (MPH) was surpassed by Emil Andres’ 111.455 MPH qualifying run.
In 1937, Putnam returned to the 2-1/2 mile brick paved oval again behind the wheel of one of Shafer’s Buicks sponsored the local Indianapolis Kennedy Tank Manufacturing firm but once again his qualifying speed fell short of making the 33-car field.

Prior to the 1938 Indianapolis 500-mile race, Al, who had been married previously with two sons, married Pearl the widow of William “Spider” Matlock who had died in a crash at Legion Ascot Speedway in January 1936 along with driver Al Gordon.
Being a newlywed must have helped as Al qualified for his first Indianapolis race driving a Miller-powered Stevens chassis owned by Arthur Sims with sponsorship from Tidewater Petroleum through its Troy Tydol brand. Al started 23rd in the first race since the end of the two-man AAA “Junk Era” but finished a disappointing 32rd position after the Miller engine broke its crankshaft on lap 15.

In May 1939 Al who had relocated to Detroit was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month but never was nominated for a ride.  During the 1939 race Al drove relief on two occasions for Harry McQuinn for a total of 59 laps in the Brisko-powered machine.  

In 1940, Putnam was named as the driver of Tony Gulotta’s Offenhauser powered Clyde Adams chassis sponsored by the Refinoil Motor Oil Company. Refinoil advertised as the “tough-bodied oil” the result of a “patented refining system that lubricates your motor better and lasts longer” and was “guaranteed equal to or better than any 35 cent per quart motor oil at 12 cents per quart.”

Al qualified the Refinoil Special at 120.818 MPH to start from the twenty-eighth position and was still running when race officials flagged off the remaining cars due to rain. Later in the season on Labor Day Al Putnam was gravely injured in a pre-race practice crash at the Moody Mile at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse New York
 In 1941, Al who had recovered from his injuries and relocated to Indianapolis, drove all three of the AAA championship series races for Milwaukee car owner William Schoof in a six-year old Curly Wetteroth chassis powered by a 270-cubic inch Offenhauser engine. Al bumped his way into the 33-car starting field with a speed of 121.951 MPH that bumped out Louis Durant’s Mercury V-8-powered ‘G&S Special.’ 

The ‘Schoof Special’ went on to finish the 1941 '500' in 12th place at an average speed of 101.381 MPH after Al Putnam was relieved at lap 154. Louis Durant who had driven the Schoof car in 1938 and 1939, drove the car the rest of the way to the full 200-lap distance.

Later in the 1941 season, Putnam finished fourth in the bright orange ‘Schoof Special’ at the Milwaukee mile in August and eleventh at Syracuse New York in September and wound up twelfth in the 1941 AAA drivers’ championship.     

Al and the Kuehn crew members prepared their new car for the 1942 Indianapolis 500-mile race but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 1941, plunged the United States into World War II.  The coming of war brought about the cancellation of the 1942 Indianapolis ‘500’ on December 29 1941 followed later by the government mandated cessation of all automobile racing in June 1942 to conserve rubber and gasoline. Like all race cars, the Kuehn/Putnam car went into long term storage for the duration of the war. 

During the War, Al Putnam was one of 3,250 workers at the massive Indianapolis Curtiss-Wright Corporation plant that manufactured hollow steel airplane propellers. The historic 400,000 square foot plant on South Kentucky Avenue at Harding Street originally part of the massive Nordkyke Marmon factory before it was purchased by Curtiss-Wright in 1941.

During the war Al Putnam was featured in an article published in the Indianapolis Star newspaper on Memorial Day 1943 that marked the second year of no racing at the great Brickyard.  In the article Al was quoted; "No, I haven't won a Speedway race, yet, because something always has gone haywire, but I did manage to make a good showing in each race. And I intend to win some day." Putnam was shown in a photograph that accompanied the article with fellow Curtiss-Wright employee George Souders the 1927 Indianapolis 500-mile race winner.

Within months after the war was won, Curtiss-Wright laid off its employees and closed the plant, but transferred Al Putnam to one of its Indianapolis based subsidiaries, LGS Manufacturing.  LGS whose product line consisted of spring clutches had at one time been a division of the Cord Corporation, and became part of Curtiss-Wright after their purchase of a number of Cord’s manufacturing assets including LGS after the collapse of the Cord Corporation during 1938.  
Al Putnam posed in the LGS Spring Clutch Special
for a promotional photo for Permalube Motor Oil.

On March 7, 1946 Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Wilbur Shaw announced the cream and blue #12 car owned by Kuehn to be driven by Putnam and sponsored by Putnam’s employer, LGS Spring Clutches as one of first 10 entries in the 1946 Indianapolis 500-mile race.  
Al posed with two Indianapolis motor officers

Al qualified for the 1946 Indianapolis 500 on Wednesday May 22, described as “the full day of sunshine since time trials last weekend.” There had been three qualifying runs held on Monday May 20th after persistent rain on Sunday May 19th had prevented qualifying runs.

Al’s average speed was the slowest of the five cars that qualified which also included Emil Andres, Mauri Rose, Joie Chitwood and Russell Snowberger. Putnam’s average speed of 116.483 MPH for the 10 mile run was barely above the minimum speed of 115 MPH set by Speedway management. Even though it was the slowest time in the field Al’s speed held up and Putnam started the first post-war Indianapolis 500-mile race from the thirteenth position.
The LGS Spring Clutches Special on pit lane on Race Day

On Memorial Day, George Robson who started 15th in the Thorne Engineering Special on the outside of the same row as Putnam, took over the race lead on lap 93, and led the rest of the way. Meantime, Al was relieved at lap 110 by veteran George Connor whose own entry, the “Ed Walsh Special” Kurtis chassis, had dropped out on the 38th lap. Connor was at the wheel ten laps later when the ‘LGS Spring Clutches Special’ was forced to out of the race with a broken magneto and was awarded a fifteenth place finish.   

During August 1946, Kuehn sold the car to Indianapolis resident Richard L “Dick” Palmer and Rex Mays qualified the ex-Hartz machine dubbed the “Bowes Seal Fast Special” at Atlanta’s Lakewood Speedway but retired after just three laps due to a loss of oil pressure.  

The “Palmer Special” was entered for the ‘‘Indianapolis 100,’ promoted by the Indianapolis Auto Racing Association Inc. a group run by former riding mechanic driver and current car owner Lou Moore. On Sunday September 15 1946 there were 16 mostly rag-tag cars on the grounds of the Indiana State Fairgrounds mile for the first dirt race to be run in Indianapolis since before the war.

The racing world was still in mourning from the tragic crash two weeks earlier at Atlanta’s dusty Lakewood Speedway in which the reigning Indianapolis champion George Robson and veteran driver George Barringer died after they collided with Billy DeVore in the slow ‘Schoof Special.’  
The ‘Indianapolis 100’ program contained a memorial page dedicated to the two fallen heroes lost at Lakewood Special 

Al a veteran at 37 years old who was driving his first dirt race since 1941, was the fourth car out and was on his third warm up lap before qualifying  when the car skidded at the west end of track between third and fourth turns. The cream and blue “Palmer Special” crashed through the wooden fence and hit the concrete abutment of the vehicle access tunnel nearly head-on. The impact was so powerful that the steering wheel pierced Putnam’s chest and he was thrown from the car.

After the gravely injured Putnam was loaded into an ambulance, the confused ambulance driver reportedly made several laps around the track as he missed the track exit several times.  By the time the ambulance carrying the 37-year old Putnam reached in the field hospital at the nearby Fairgrounds Coliseum building where his wife Pearl was waiting Putnam was pronounced dead on arrival.

Following the crash cleanup and fence repairs, qualifying was completed with Rex Mays in the mighty Bowes Seal Fast Winfield straight eight powered machine on the pole position with a best lap of 41.34 seconds.  The race’s fourteenth and final starter Bud Bardowski was determined by a draw after both Charlie Rogers in the ‘Jewell Special’ and Bardowski in his ‘Army Recruit Special’ were unable to complete their qualifying runs.  Rex Mays dominated the race as he led every lap from the pole position and won by a lap over second place finisher Mauri Rose who had started sixth in the Blue Crown Lencki machine.

According to the Palmer team’s chief mechanic Bill Castle, the car originally built for Harry Hartz in 1936 was scrapped. Al, whose two children lived with their mother in Santa Ana California, was laid to rest on September 20 1946 in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. Al’s widow Pearl was laid to rest next to him after her death in July 1989 and the pair shares a headstone.

It would be easy for a casual observer to discount Al Putnam’s AAA championship career which included just six appearances in the famed Indianapolis 500-mile race, two of those as a relief driver, with a best finish of fifteenth in his final ‘500,’ but clearly the man was dedicated to racing and determined despite repeated misfortunes.         

Scans of the 1946 “Indianapolis 100” program courtesy of Wesley Winterink
Thanks to Jim Thurman for his information regarding Al Putnam's early racing career on the West Coast.

Black and White photos are courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection part of the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Scholarship

The author is always interested in learning more about Al Putnam’s early racing career on the West Coast, as well as contact information for Al Putnam’s children.  


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The historic1967 LeMans winner
Deservedly the centerpiece of the Ford Motor Company exhibit  at the 2017 SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) show was the 1967 24 Heures du Mans (24 hours of LeMans) winning Ford GT40 Mark IV chassis  number J-5.

This car represented the ultimate development of the Ford GT40 series which first appeared at LeMans in 1964, as Henry Ford II was driven to beat the Italian Ferrari team. The initial Ford Advanced Vehicles Limited effort with British built chassis originally designed by Lola Cars powered by Ford’s 260 cubic inch V-8 engines managed by John Wyer did not perform well, and for 1965 management of the program moved to Carrol Shelby’s Shelby American Racing Team.

In 1965 Shelby American was still pushing its Cobra Daytona coupe program and after a difficult 1965 LeMans appearance in which both the Mark IIs entered retired with transmission failure, in 1966 the Shelby American GT40 Mark IIs powered by Ford 427 engines dominated at LeMans. 

The 1966 finish was botched as Ford tried to stage the 1-2-3 finish and the team of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon were declared the winners of race over the team of Ken Miles and Denis Hulme.  The next iteration of the GT40 known as the “J-car” (chassis J-2) was destroyed in testing and killed Ken Miles and Ford dropped its development.  GT40 Mark III were cars built for road use.

Six (6) GT40 Mark IV chassis were built at Kar Kraft Inc. in Detroit powered by the mighty 427 Ford V-8 engine with cast iron block and aluminum cylinder heads fed by a pair of Holley four barrel carburetors that developed an estimated 530 horsepower and carried the Mark IV to terminal speeds of 212 miles per hour on the 3-1/2 mile long Mulsanne Straight. Lessons learned from the deaths of Walter Hangsen and Ken Miles meant the Mark IVs were more stoutly built with a steel roll cage.

Four Mark IV chassis were entered for the 1967 LeMans 24 hour race, two cars by Shelby American on Goodyear tires consisted of the driver team of three-time Indianapolis 500-race winner AJ Foyt and Dan Gurney in the red #1 car and the other team of 1966 LeMans winner Bruce McLaren and Mark Donohue in the yellow #2 car.

The other two Ford GT 40 Mark IVs were entered by the Holman Moody team shod with Firestone tires driven by teams of Lucien Bianchi and Mario Andretti in the bronze #3 car and the other by Denis Hulme and Lloyd Ruby in the dark blue #4 car.  The red #1 car chassis J-5 was visually different from the other entries because of the “Gurney Bubble” over the driver’s seat to accommodate Dan Gurney’s 6-foot-3 inch height.

The car #2 of Donohue and McLaren finished fourth while the #3 car assigned to Bianchi and Andretti and the #4 car of Hulme and Ruby were both eliminated in accidents during the 19th hour.   Foyt and Gurney in the #1 car led the race for the last 23 ½ hours and completed 388 laps (3251 miles) at a record breaking average of 135.48 miles per hours and won by four laps over the Ferrari 330 P4 driven by Ludovico Scarfiotti and Michael Parks.
The car that crossed the finish line on June 11 1967 was truly “all American”- car built in Detroit powered by an American-built Ford engine riding on American Goodyear tires driven by a pair American drivers.  This car chassis J-5 only ran one race and today the conserved car is part of the collection of the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, Michigan.

To learn more about Ford Motor Company’s racing program at LeMans in 1967 and view historic photographs visit

Friday, October 27, 2017

Chance Kinsley- Hoosier hero

Part six - 1925

Chauncey “Chance” Kinsley remained on the West Coast during the early months of 1925 and raced at the re-organized Ascot Speedway. The previous promoter George Bentel and his Ascot Speedway Association who had “imported” the eastern drivers including Kinsley were out after drivers were not paid the promised $50,000 purse following the special 250-mile Thanksgiving Day event.

The 5/8-mile oiled dirt track reopened under new management on Sunday January 25 1925 with a nine-event program, six of which were auto races. When he raced at Ascot, Chance adopted the last name of “Kingsley” a nom de guerre which he had occasionally used in Indiana. In 1923, when “Kingsley” won a 30-mile feature race at Greensburg Indiana, and in late 1924 when “Kingsley” finished second to Ralph Ormsby in the “Midwest Racing Championship” at Roby Speedway in Hammond Indiana.  

Chance “Kingsley” in his Frontenac “swept the card” at Ascot on February 1 as he posted the fastest lap one lap “dash” of 33.2 seconds, won the Australian Pursuit race, and the featured 15-lap Sweepstakes race. It was later claimed that Chance won the Ascot feature two weeks later over George Beck and Cliff Bergere and again won the 15-lap feature on February 22. The author has been unable to document these two latter wins which supported the claim that Chance Kinsley won “five races in a row at Ascot.” The later claim, that Chance was crowned “the King of the Dirt Tracks,” also remains unproven.   

Several months later the Frontenac car that Chance drove to victory on February 1 at Ascot was reportedly owned by Joe Brady of Bakersfield who was “able to purchase the car after it was sold by the Sheriff” and Brady had re-registered it with the AAA (American Automobile Association) to be driven by Babe Stapp according to published reports.  

As one might infer from Chance’s use of an alias and the involvement of the Sheriff’s office, Chance Kinsley’s life had taken an unfortunate criminal turn. Before we detail  Chance’s legal difficulties. we first must provide some historical context. 1923 was during the time period of American history known as “Prohibition.”  The production, transport, and sale (but not the consumption) of alcoholic beverages in the United States had been illegal after the adoption of the Eighteen Amendment and the passage of the Volstead Act in 1920. 

On February 15 1925 Chance Kinsley who rented a room in Irvin Heuser’s house at 919 Park Avenue in Indianapolis was arrested with four other Indianapolis men for impersonating government officers as part of their efforts to extort money from Joseph Bridges.  

Bridges a farmer who lived two miles north of Greenfield had previously been arrested for violations of the prohibition laws. On February 8th, 1925 while Bridges and his wife were away from home, three men - Norman Zolezzi, Edward Griffin, and Kinsley visited and hid a keg of “white mule whiskey” (moonshine) in the Bridges home.    

When Bridges and his wife returned to their home late that afternoon they found Zolezzi and Griffith waiting for them and Zolezzi, according to Bridges identified himself as “George Winkler, Federal prohibition officer,' and pointed to the keg of moonshine, which he claimed he and his fellow officers had found in the Bridges home. Bridges told Zolezzi that he knew that he was not George Winkler, because Bridges knew Winkler on site from his prior arrest.  

Zolezzi then identified himself as prohibition enforcement officer Irwin Horner. Bridges denied ownership of the keg of liquor then noted that his wife was not well and sked if there was “not some manner in which he (Zolezzi) could overlook the case.” According to Bridges, Zolezzi said he would overlook the case if Bridges would pay him a $1,000 bribe. Bridges gave Zolezzi $195 cash on the spot, and agreed to deliver the remaining $805 in one week later on February 15 1925.

During that week before the balance of the payoff was due, Bridges contacted Winkler, the real group chief of Federal prohibition enforcement officers, and once informed of the scheme the Federal officers set up a “sting.”  Instead of being paid off at the clandestine meeting as expected, Zolezzi, Griffin, and Kinsley were arrested.  Further investigation of the alleged blackmail scheme including interrogation of the suspects led to two other accomplices, Fred Thomas and Lawrence Kinder a deputy sheriff of Hancock County.

The five “rum blackmailers” were bound over for trial by the Federal grand jury which began on March 17 1925. During their two-day trial in Federal Court in Indianapolis, George L. Winkler and Bridges were the main witnesses against the men. The primary evidence against Kinder was a signed written agreement which read: "I hereby agree to protect J. M. Bridges from arrest In Hancock County, for which I am to receive $60 a week (signed Lawrence Kinder).” Two men, Marshall Winslow, the mayor of Greenfield, and handwriting expert Herbert S. Wood both testified as to the authenticity of Kinder’s signature on the note. 

On March 18 1925 after one hour's deliberation J.C.Hutchinson, the jury foreman announced that the jury had found Norman Zolezzi, Lawrence Kinder, and Chance Kinsley each guilty of impersonating Federal officers and conspiracy to violate the federal prohibition laws. Fred Thomas had entered a plea of guilty to the charges earlier in the day but the fifth man implicated, Edward Griffin, was found not guilty. 

Judge Robert C. Baltzell of the Federal District Court of Indiana discharged the Jury and announced that he would pronounce sentences on March 28.  Zolezzi. Kinsley and Kinder were freed on $2,500 bond while Thomas was released until sentencing on a $1,000 bond. Kinder and Zolezzi were later each sentenced to fifteen months in the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth Kansas and a $300 fine. Thomas was given four months in jail and a $200 fine but there was no mention in news reports of Kinsley’s sentence. 

Kinder was sent to Leavenworth by special train on April 1, but “Zolezzi and Kinsley were not included in the list of defendants who were on the Leavenworth Special” according to the April 2 edition of the Indianapolis Star.  Why the pair was spared from immediate imprisonment was not explained in the article. Norman Zolezzi later did serve a sentence at Leavenworth, but Kinsley did not, for reasons which will soon become evident.    

On Sunday afternoon April 26 1925 while competing in a twenty-five-mile race at Elkhart Indiana Chance suffered “painful but not dangerous injuries” after his “Fronty-Ford” race car crashed into another machine in a turn and turned over. Initially pinned underneath Kinsley was freed from the wreckage and rushed to the Elkhart General Hospital where he was confined for several days.  

Chance reportedly was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during May 1925 to support his 21-year old car owner Herbert Jones in his efforts to race in the 1925 ‘500.’ Jones drove a borrowed (or leased) 122-cubic inch Miller racer sponsored by the Jones-Whittaker Sales Company an Indianapolis Chevrolet dealer. According to historian Michael Ferner the car owned by Harry Heinle  of Crown Point Indiana had originally been a Miller factory entry in the 1923  ‘500’ but was badly wrecked in a Indianapolis serious practice crash in May 1924 that seriously injured its driver, the “Boy Wonder” Harlan Fengler.

During the second week of May, Kinsley found time to visit the north central town of Rochester Indiana and the Lake Manitou Speedway located on the Fairgrounds in advance of races scheduled for May 17 1925. After he viewed the half-mile track Kinsley predicted that at the upcoming races promoted and sanctioned by the short-lived Interstate Racing Association he would set a new record; that is after he returned to Indianapolis to change the gearing in his Frontenac race car to suit the high-banked track. May 17th dawned chilly, but the 2,000 hardy fans that showed up saw Kinsley back up his boast as he posted the fastest qualifying time of the 14 entries with a lap completed in 32 seconds flat. 

In the day’s first event a three-car three-mile “match race” for Kinsley, second qualifier Howard Wilcox (II) who had timed in at 32.1 seconds and Wilbur Shaw, with the third fastest single-lap time of 32.3 seconds. Wilcox won trialed by Shaw and Kinsley as the three Frontenacs finished the short race in just over three a half minutes. 

In the second event at Rochester a 10-mile race for the five fastest cars, Wilcox was again victorious, this time over Charles “Dutch” Baumann with Kinsley in third place, as Shaw spun out as he tried for the lead and failed to finish. Wilcox then swept the show with his victory in the 25-mile (50 laps) finale with Kinsley in second place as once again Shaw spun himself out of contention as he tried to pass Wilcox.     

At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the Jones-Whittaker Miller one of only handful of non-supercharged cars, qualified 16th in the 22-car starting field (possibly driven by team manager Wilbert ‘Bill” Hunt per a note in the Indianapolis News ) for the first ‘500’ that featured the use of low-pressure Firestone ‘balloon tires.” Prior to the race Herbert Jones nominated two of Kinsley’s dirt racing contemporaries Ford Moyer and Hunt as his relief drivers.

However, during the course of the race, Jones was relieved twice by Alfred Moss, the father of future Formula 1 racer, who had driven as a teammate to Hunt with the Barber-Warnock “Fronty-Ford” team for the 1924 ‘500.’ There is some confusion as to whether Moss had turned the ‘Jones-Whittaker’ Miller back to Jones prior to the accident in the south short chute on lap 69 which eliminated the car from the race.   

On June 7 1925 Chance was entered as the driver of Herbert Jones’ Frontenac for a 30-mile race promoted by Jack Leach at Roby Speedway. Roby was a one-mile dirt speedway that was the last of three tracks originally built for thoroughbred racing in the Hammond Indiana area. During time trials, as Kinsley raced down the front straightaway a front axle spindle broke. The front wheel fell off and the car flipped end-over-end three times before it came to rest in the first turn.

Chance was removed from the wreckage and rushed to the hospital but was pronounced dead upon arrival with a broken back, crushed skull, and multiple internal injuries.  The day’s slate of races in Hammond continued after the wreckage of Kinsley’s Frontenac was removed.  After two “light car” races, Harry Nichols of Chicago drove Walter Martin’s new Frontenac racer to victory in the featured 30-mile race ahead of Cliff Woodbury, George Beck, and Erwin ‘Cannonball’ Baker.  

Chance just three months shy of his 27th birthday and survived by his parents, brother and three sisters was later laid to rest in the Park Cemetery in his hometown of Greenfield, Indiana. Visitors to his grave are likely unaware of the seemingly unlimited potential of Chance Kinsley which ended with his racing career tragically cut short. 


Two people closely associated with Chance Kinsley would also perish at race tracks within the next year.

The first was Arthur ‘Fuzzy’ Davidson, Chance’s competitor and one-time Frontenac factory racing teammate.  “Fuzzy” had become notorious in racing circles following a tragic crash at the Elkhart Driving Park on Memorial Day 1925. According to witnesses, during the running of the 50-mile feature, Davidson’s car and the car driven Floyd Shawhan “locked wheels with Floyd Matthews’ machine. The collision forced Matthews’ machine through the outer wire fencing and into a spectator area. An 11-year old male spectator died at the scene and a dozen spectators were hospitalized two of which passed away the next day. Floyd Shawhan reportedly won the Elkhart race with Davidson finishing third.   

Davidson and Shawhan were later accused of intentionally causing the accident due to rumored bad feelings between themselves and Matthews, and both men were arrested on charges of assault and battery. Each racer posted $1000 bond and were released and after a Grand Jury investigation returned no charges the matter was dropped. Shawhan was involved in a fatal accident a week later at the one-mile Fort Miami Ohio which resulted in the death of another spectator.   
On the evening of July 22 1925 the 28-year-old Davidson was found comatose near a shack at the Hoosier Motor Speedway where he had been drinking with other drivers, who like Davidson camped on the grounds. His seven companions loaded him into a taxicab headed for a hospital but Davidson died enroute.   

On July 23, 1925 Marion County Coroner Dr. Paul Robinson announced the results of his autopsy - Davidson had died as a result of “congestion of the lungs that resulted from overindulgence in alcohol.”  With the manufacture and sale of alcohol banned, the illegal trade in “home brewed” alcohol flourished and frequently deaths such as Davidson’s occurred as a result of the victim ingesting stronger than expected blends of alcohol.  Davidson survived by his mother, brother, and sister all of whom lived in Rochester was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis on June 26 1925.

The Hoosier Motor Speedway where Chance Kinsley established the single-lap track record of 30.2 seconds did not survive much longer with the grandstands and bleachers destroyed by a suspicious fire on the night of September 15, 1925. As the track owners did not have adequate insurance coverage the grandstands never rebuilt and within two years, the site was overgrown with little evidence that the track ever existed and the site today is a small shopping center.

L. Herbert “HL” Jones, Chance’s erstwhile car owner obtained sponsorship from the Elkhart Carriage Company manufacturers of the Elcar automobile for his entry in the 1926 Indianapolis 500-mile race. His Miller race borrowed (or leased) from its new owner Al Cotey had been revised to the new AAA 91-cubic inch engines rules and fitted with a supercharger.  The ‘Elcar Special’ which promoted Elcar’s “new” line of  4-, 6-, and 8- cylinder passenger cars introduced in 1925, the most powerful of which, the “8-81,” used Continental straight-eight engines fitted with a Swan Carburetor.

Speed shop owner Wilbert “Bill” Hunt returned to act as Jones’ team manager. Jones, once again the youngest driver in the race, nominated Canadian John Duff to act as his co-driver during the race. Though a “rookie” at Indianapolis, Duff had extensive high-speed racing experience in England and Europe driving his ‘Mephistopheles’ record car and for the Bentley team at the 24-hour endurance race in LeMans France.  
The aftermath of the 1926 Herbert Jones crash
IMS file photo
On May 27 1926 while on his second qualifying lap, Herbert Jones clipped the inner wall in turn four and the “Elcar Special’ Miller rolled over multiple times. Jones was removed from the car and rushed to Methodist Hospital where he died early the next day from a fractured skull. Jones just 22 years old and survived by only his mother, Lillian Daily, was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery on June 2 1926.  
John Duff in the repaired Elcar Special
IMS file photo

The “Elcar Special” was repaired by car owner Al Cotey and his crew in time for John Duff to qualify the car at over 95 miles per hour and although the ‘Elcar Special’ was far from the slowest qualifier, Duff started dead last in the 28-car starting field. The ‘Elcar Special’ was advertised as the only car in the 500-mile race that used Caspar Motor Oil, “an indestructible blend of castor and mineral oils.” At the end of the 1926 ‘500’ which was flagged short of the full distance due to rain, Duff finished ninth credited with completing 147 laps, 13 laps fewer than winner Frank Lockhart.  

Despite the Jones tragedy, apparently the Elkhart Carriage Company saw value in the sponsorship of a race car, as they provided funding to Duff and Cotey for more races. Duff a veteran of the high-speed high-banked Brooklands course in England scored a promising third place finish at the Altoona Pennsylvania board track but crashed through the upper guardrail at the high-speed Rockingham New Hampshire board track in July and suffered career ending injuries.   

Car owner Al Cotey entered a different  supercharged 91 cubic inch Miller dubbed the  ‘Elcar Special’ for the 1927 running Indianapolis 500-mile race with himself  as the driver, eight years after his failed attempt to qualify a Duesenberg-powered Ogden for the 1919 Indianapolis race. Cotey qualified 29th as a 39-year old “rookie” but the Miller was sidelined after 87 laps with a broken universal joint.