Sunday, March 4, 2018

Porsche 917/30 – “the Can-Am killer”

After John Surtees drove a Lola to the inaugural 1966 season championship for the Johnson Wax-sponsored SCCA Canadian-American Challenge (Can-Am) series, the series for FIA Group 7 racing machines was dominated for the next five seasons by Team McLaren in their orange Chevrolet-powered rockets.  

Then as now, Porsche, the German sports car manufacturer sold a large percentage of its production in North America, had made previous attempts at competing in the Can-Am series with a spyder (open-top) short-tail version of the 908 sports car for driver Tony Dean in 1969 and 1970.
In 1969 the 183-cubic inch flat six powered 908 was part of a two-car factory effort and the following year Dean himself was the entrant of the 908.  Dean in the 908 emerged as the surprise winner of the seventh round of the 1970 Can-Am series at Road Atlanta after four separate accidents eliminated the leaders. 

In the latter stages of the 1969 Can-Am season, in addition to the 908 entry the Porsche factory entered a spyder version of the new 917 sports car, known as the 917 PA that was driven by Swiss driver Jo Siffert. The 917 PA consistently placed in the top five finishers but being heavier and with “just” 580 horsepower as it was typically two seconds a lap slower and never in the hunt for victory versus the mighty big-block powered McLarens and Lolas.   

Porsche tried again with the revised bright red 917/10 spyder with STP Oil Treatment sponsorship for the 1971 Can-Am series. Powered by a naturally aspirated 305-cubic inch flat twelve-cylinder engine the 917/10 finished in the top five positions in all six races that it appeared in, but it remained heavier and underpowered compared to its competition. That would change for the 1972 season, as the Porsche factory partnered with Team Penske, led by driver and engineer Mark Donohue.

Donohue and the Porsche developed an improved version of the Porsche 917/10 powered by the twin-turbocharged 330-cubic inch flat twelve-cylinder engine that could develop over 1100 horsepower in qualifying trim. The #6 car with sponsorship from the Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company’s L&M cigarette brand, won the pole position for at the opening race at Mosport Park and dominated the early stages of the race until Donohue pitted with engine problems.

With the problems solved, Donohue returned to the track three laps down then stormed back to finish second to finish on the same lap as winner Denny Hulme’s McLaren. After Donohue was injured in a pre-race test crash before the series’ next race at Road Atlanta, he was replaced by George Follmer who won five of the remaining eight races and the 1972 SCCA Can-Am championship while Donohue, recovered from his injuries, won one race in his twin 917/10.

Although the McLaren juggernaut had been vanquished in 1972 and McLaren had quit the series, for the 1973 Can-Am season Porsche and Team Penske continued their development program and built the most powerful racing car ever built to that time.  The 917/30 was bigger and faster in every aspect compared to the 1972 racer with a longer and aerodynamically efficient body and an engine that developed up to 1500 horsepower for qualifying.
Mark Donohue and the Sunoco-sponsored 917/30 won six of the season’s eight races, finished second once and won the championship in dominant fashion over his ex-teammate Follmer and Charlie Kemp who drove the former Penske 917/10 cars for Rinzler Racing with RC Cola sponsorship.  

The Porsche 917’s back-to-back domination of the series combined with the nationwide gasoline shortage led the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) to introduce a rule requiring 3-miles per gallon maximum fuel consumption for the series for 1974.  The new rule worked as Porsche withdrew from further Can-Am competition.
Without Porsche and Penske racing, competitor and fan interest ebbed and five races into the 1974 season, the SCCA cancelled the Can-Am series. Although the Can-Am series had already lost teams and spectators through the years, the death of the series was blamed on Porsche’s domination, and the 917/30 was branded “the Can-Am killer.”  Penske and Donohue saw it as another example of applying their “Unfair Advantage.”

The history of the 917/30 is worth reviewing. A total of six chassis were eventually built, but only three cars were actually raced in period, and only two of those competed in blue and yellow Sunoco colors. All six cars remain in existence and today five of them are painted in the Sunoco colors. 

The first car built, serial number #001 built during 1972 featured an adjustable wheelbase and served as the factory test car. In 1973 #001 was raced three times in the Group 7 European Interserie Championship (the European version of the Can-Am series) and scored a victory at Hockhenheim Germany driven by of Vic Elford. It raced again in 1975 and won at Hockenheim driven by Herbert Mueller. It is part of the Porsche factory collection, painted as it appeared in 1975 in sponsor’s Martini & Rossi colors of silver, red white and blue.

917/30 chassis serial number #002 was one of two cars built for use by Team Penske and Mark Donohue in the 1973 Can-Am challenge series. Donohue drove it to his first 1973 Can-Am victory in the third round of the season at Watkins Glen.
Serial #002 was later seriously damaged in a testing crash then was completely rebuilt and served as the Penske backup for the remainder of the 1973 season. After the Can-Am program had ended chassis serial number 002 was returned to Porsche and it has since been part of the factory museum collection. 

The car on display at “The Porsche Effect” exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum, chassis 917/30 #003 is the most historically significant as it was the most successful, driven by Mark Donohue to six consecutive victories in the 1973 SCCA Can-Am series.
Mark won both heats at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, followed by a win at Road America (where he won the pole position by over three seconds), Edmonton International Speedway, Laguna Seca Raceway (where he won by a lap) and the season finale  at Riverside International Raceway.

With the withdrawal of Penske and Porsche from the 1974 Can-Am series following the SCCA fuel mileage rule change, the car sat in Penske’s Pennsylvania shop until 1975 when the bodywork was modified and painted in red and white to represent its sponsorship from “Cam 2” motor oil (a new hobbyist oil from Sun Oil Company) for Mark Donohue’s attempt to break the world’s closed course speed record.

In preliminary testing at Daytona International Speedway, the team broke the original 330-cubic inch engine as they discovered that the mighty flat-12 engine was not designed for sustained wide open throttle operation.  This meant they had to use the smaller 305-cubic inch engine from 1972, and with help from Porsche engineers, massive intercoolers were fitted to cool the charge air. 

The track chosen for the record attempt was the 2.66-mile long Talladega Motor Speedway oval in Alabama. Donohue, who had returned to driving after a short retirement of eight months, cut short his first attempt due to an engine wiring fire that destroyed the rear bodywork.
After overnight repairs, Donohue’s second attempt the following day on August 9th, 1975 in rainy and windy conditions opened with a lap of 195 miles per hour (MPH) from a standing start, followed by a 220.027 MPH lap, then on his third lap he set a new closed course standard of 211.160 MPH, with a recorded trap speed on the long back straightaway of 240 MPH.

The team expected faster lap speeds, but Donohue confessed after the run "I might have gone a little faster, too, but I got chicken," as he cited the weather conditions. Ten days later Donohue was killed in an accident while practicing for the Austrian Grand Prix, but his speed record stood for 11 years until it broken by Penske IndyCar driver Rick Mears, who reset the record at 233.924 MPH at Michigan International Speedway. 

In 1976 Porsche chassis 917/30-003 was sold to noted American collector and Los Angeles Times owner/publisher Otis Chandler who had the car returned to its 1973 Can-Am appearance as part of his extensive collection. Following Chandler’s death, the car changed hands several times, and within the last few years it was purchased by  investment banker racer and NASCAR team owner Rob Kauffman who had chassis serial #003 recently meticulously restored by Canepa Motorsports of Scotts Valley California.

Chassis 917/30 #004 was under construction intended for use for the 1974 Can-Am season, but became obsolete following Porsche and Penske's withdrawal from the Can-Am series. It was sold as an unpainted car to long-time Porsche racer and Melbourne Australia Porsche dealer Alan Hamilton who displayed it in his showroom and later sold the car back to the Porsche factory in 1991. Porsche had #004 painted in the Sunoco livery and fitted with a rebuilt engine which reportedly produced 1,200 horsepower during a dynamometer test. At one time 917/30 chassis # 004 was owned by comedian Jerry Seinfeld.  

Chassis 917/30 #005 was never completed as work stopped with the termination of the program. In 1979, it was found at the Weissach factory as a bare chassis by Florida Porsche/Audi dealer and Porsche collector Gerry Sutterfield. After the factory’s discovery of a mislabeled 917 engine in storage and the exchange of a huge sum of money Porsche completed the car for Sutterfield and was delivered painted white with the Porsche logos. 917/30 chassis serial #005 was used for a track test that was published in the March 1982 issue of  Motor Trend magazine, and a subsequent owner had it painted in its current Sunoco livery.

Chassis 917/30-006 the final chassis was acquired by legendary Porsche dealer Vasek Polak in 1982 along with existing parts were after he found sufficient parts to complete the car in 1995 and had it painted as it might have appeared in the Group 7 European Interserie Championship. The car has since been painted in “Cam 2” motor oil livery to resemble the 1975 record attempt 917/30 serial number 003. 
Color photos by the author


Saturday, February 24, 2018

An original Porsche 550 Spyder

The “Porsche Effect” exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum certainly would not have been complete without the inclusion of this example of the Porsche 550 Spyder, Porsche’s first production race car.

Inspired by the success of the Helm Glockler racing team's success with their Porsche 356, the Porsche factory began to develop a production racing car as project number 550 under the leadership of factory engineer Wilhelm Hild. In addition to later working on the development of the Porsche 911 passenger car, Hild also oversaw the Porsche 804 Formula One Grand Prix program as the manager of the competition department.   
1953 Paris Motor Show

The prototype Porsche 550 Spyder was first shown to the public in October 1953 at the Mondial de l'Automobile) (World of the Automobile) also known as the Paris Motor Show. Before the show, an internal Porsche memorandum announced that “this is the first time we are presenting a racing car that is not for sale as the main attraction at a motor show. Whether the cars will be delivered in small numbers to special customers for racing depends on next year’s racing season. We are therefore not able to quote a price today.”

Two 550 Coupes with bodies built by Karosseriewerk (body shop) Weidenhausen in Frankfurt were entered for the 1953 LeMans 24-hour endurance race and they both completed 247 laps and finished first and second in the 1.5 liter class. Later in the 1953 Carrera Panamericana (Mexican Road Race) two 550 coupes and two spyders were entered in the 1.6 liter and smaller sports car class. Both spyders and one of the coupes failed to finish, but the remaining coupe won its class albeit nearly six hours of accumulated time behind the winning Lancia D24 driven by Juan Fangio which was equipped with an engine twice the size of the Porsche engine.

The first two production Porsche 500 cars differed from their successors in a number of ways, primarily insofar as they were powered by modified Volkswagen 1500 Super engines. The third car, 500-003 was fitted with a new 1.5-liter, four-camshaft, four-cylinder engine equipped with two spark plugs per cylinder and twin down-draft carburetors.  Designed by Ernst Fuhrmann, the flat engine known as the 547 project developed 110 horsepower plenty of power for the 1400-pound car.

The chassis was built of seamless steel tubing with four-wheel fully independent torsion bar suspension with drum brakes and 16-inch Continental tires covered by an all-aluminum alloy body. The early series 550 Porsches were fitted with “flat-front” noses and exaggerated tail fins built by either the Weidenhausen or Weinsberg coach builders, but starting with chassis 550-016, all the sloped-front, smooth-tail bodies were built by Wendler in Reutlingen Germany. Eventually at total  of 90 production model 550s were built - three coupes and 87 spyders.  

Throughout history, Porsche 550 Spyders have attracted celebrity ownership; Ralph Lauren owns the restored chassis # 550-0061, while comedian Jerry Seinfeld reportedly owns several Porsche including #550-003 coupe, and he sold the unrestored # 550-0060 at auction in 2016 for over $5 million.

However the most famous (an infamous) Porsche 550 Spyder was chassis # 550-0055 finished in silver with red trim and red interior was delivered to actor James Dean on September 21, 1955.  Dean traded in his white Porsche 356 Speedster towards the purchase of the new machine at John von Neumann's Competition Motors on Vine Street in Hollywood.  

Dean took his new 550 Spyder to the shop of custom painter Dean Jeffries who applied the provisional race number 130 in washable black paint on the doors and across the front and rear of the car. Jeffries also painted “Little Bastard” in script across the lower rear deck lid - this was not the nickname of the car, rather it was nickname adopted by Dean, allegedly after Jack Warner the head of the Warner Brothers studio called him a “little bastard” after Dean refused to vacate a temporary trailer on the Warner lot after the completion of the filming of ‘East of Eden.’

In his first week of ownership, Dean had two minor incidents which dented the front of his new Porsche, then on September 30 1955 while enroute to the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) sanctioned Salinas Optimist Club race at the Salinas Airport, Dean struck another car head-on at the junction of Route 466 and Route 41 near Cholame, California. Dean just 24 years old with only three motion pictures to his credit was killed instantly.  

Dean’s wrecked Porsche was purchased for $876 from Dean’s insurance company, Pacific Indemnity,  by amateur racer Dr. William Eschrich, who stripped the wreckage of its type 547 engine, transmission, steering, brakes and other mechanical parts, then sold the body shell and frame to famed Hollywood automotive customizer George Barris.
The Dean death car on display
courtesy of

After partially straightening the body, the “King of Kustomizers” realized the car was beyond restoration and he loaned the mangled body shell to the National Safety Council for display at car shows the across the United States in order to raise motorists' awareness about highway safety with a sign entitled "this accident could have been avoided."  The hulk of Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder disappeared in 1960 while it was being transported from Miami, Florida, back to Barris’ shop near Los Angeles and it has never been seen again.  

The car shown at the Petersen Automotive Museum is the final production Porsche 550 Spyder, chassis #550-090, built in 1956. The car’s first owner was Willet H. Brown, a pioneer in television broadcasting who had operated the Hillcrest Motor Company Cadillac dealership in Beverly Hills before he joined Don Lee, Incorporated, a broadcasting and automotive conglomerate. Brown, who in 1956 owned the Los Angeles television station KCAL, sold the car after he had driven it a scant 634 miles.
a scanned excerpt of the author's copy
of the June 1971 Road &Track article

After passing through several hands, the 550 Spyder wound up on the sales lot of Hermosa Beach Porsche dealer Vasek Polak in 1963 where it was purchased by a man known only as “Hank.” George Sebald who ran a body shop which specialized in Porsche repairs later purchased the car in 1967 with the intention of restoring it.  Sebald’s unrestored 550 was the subject of a ‘salon’ article in the June 1971 issue of Road & Track magazine as it was test driven by retired racer Paul “Richie” Ginther, who had won a number of SCCA West Coast Championship races in 1956 driving one of dealer John von Neumann’s 550 Spyders.     

Sebald realized the tremendous originality of the car and later “flipped” Porsche # 550-090 to another owner who then sold the car to the noted Porsche collector George Reilly for a reported $4,500, and Reilly owned the car for nearly thirty years. In 2010 the car appeared at shows with its ownership attributed to Indian liquor billionaire and Formula one team owner Dr. Vijay Mallya, and became part of his 30-car museum in Sausalito California.

Because it never raced, it never needed any repairs, thus Porsche # 550-090 is so true to the appearance it had the day that it rolled out of the factory that it has been used as a reference for other 550 Spyder restorations. Although the paint finish is spotty and discolored and the aluminum bodywork has a few waves and dings, it is totally original, which is why it fetched nearly $6 million dollars when sold at auction in 2016.

All color photos by the author  

Friday, February 16, 2018

Clare Lawicki – “Little 500” standout

Several weeks ago, Roger Zellner posted this photograph on Facebook of Steve Benovich’s beautiful upright sprint car at the Dayton Speedway.  Clare Lawicki who hailed from the Northern Detroit suburbs crashed and destroyed this car which had originally been owned by Bud Tingelstad in a United States Auto Club (USAC) race at Dayton in April 1970.  
Photo courtesy of Roger Zellner

Clare Lawicki first became known while racing “hot rod” roadsters at the ¼-mile dirt Motor City Speedway in Warren Township of Detroit. It’s unclear when he started racing but on May 7 1950 he was involved when tragedy struck on the fourth lap of the day’s 20-lap feature race.  Lawicki’s roadster “locked wheels” with Louis Smith Jr.’s machine and both cars flipped over the retaining wall. Because he had the presence of mind to duck under the cowling of his car at the beginning of the crash, Clare escaped with only cuts and bruises.

Unfortunately, Louis Smith fared much worse in the accident and though newspapers initially reported that the 33-year old driver had suffered a broken arm and internal injuries, doctors at Detroit’s Holy Cross Hospital found Smith had suffered a severe spinal injury and was paralyzed. Tragically, Smith passed away the next day from his injuries just five minutes before his parents arrived from their home in Waukegan Illinois.

Many of the highlights of Lawicki’s racing career came at the high-banked ¼-mile asphalt Sun Valley Speedway in Anderson Indiana, home of the annual 500-lap “Little 500” race. Lawicki first competed in the “Little 500” in 1954 when he drove the #57 Mercury V8-powered “hot rod” roadster owned by Birmingham Michigan’s Harold Thomas. Lawicki qualified with a single lap of 15.06 seconds, far off Tom Cherry’s new track record of 14.340 seconds, to start 17th in the field.

The 33-car field was paced to the start by cowboy star Roy Rogers in Dodge Royal 500 convertible.  Lawicki’s rookie finish in the race is lost to history (as only the top ten finishers were reported) in a race that was marred by two separate incidents in which axles broke on race cars and sent errant wheels went into the grandstands which injured nine fans.  1950 and 1952 winner Tom Cherry led an amazing 495 laps to win his third “Little 500” crown.

On July 11 1954 Clare took part in a National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) event held at the ½-mile dirt Grand Rapids Speedrome, and finished 11th driving a 1949 Ford. Lawicki finished 25 laps behind the winning 1954 Chrysler driven by Randleman North Carolina’s Lee Petty and won $25 in prize money. 

The following year, with the race again sanctioned by the Mutual Racing Association (MRA) for the “roaring roadsters,” Lawicki again drove Thomas’ roadster. After 30-year old singer Mel “the Velvet Fog” Torme paced the field in a 1955 Ford convertible before the start, Clare who had qualified seventh ran in third place at the 100-, 200-, and 300- lap points of the race but apparently had mechanical problems later as he was credited with a 14th place finish with 375 laps completed behind 4-time winner Tom Cherry who led an amazing 450 of the 500 laps.  
A photo of the 1956 Desoto Indy 500 Pace Car
Photo courtesy of the IUPUI University Library
Center for Digital Studies Indianapolis Motor
Speedway Collection
In 1956, the “Little 500” sanctioned by the All-American Racing Club (AARC) was postponed from Saturday night May 26 to May 29 by rain, and Lawicki who qualified 22nd in the Harold Thomas machine. The start of the “Little 500” was paced by the same gold and white 1956 Desoto “Pacesetter” Fireflite convertible coupe driven by L. Irving “Irv” Woolson the Desoto division president the same pairing that paced the start of the next day’s Indianapolis 500.  
Lawicki’s was the first car that retired from the 500-lap race with mechanical failure and he was credited with one completed lap. Later in 1956, Clare notched two “outlaw” sprint car feature wins at the familiar confines of Motor City Speedway in July and August in fields that also featured Al Miller, Richard ‘Red” Amick and Ronnie Duman.     

Clare Lawicki was absent from the 1957 “Little 500” (the running of which was delayed by weather until July 6), but he did race in a sprint car race held August 25 1957 at the high-banked ¼-mile paved Cincinnati Race Bowl. Five cars broke the track record, led by Leon Clum’s 12.708 second lap. Clare won the first heat race and then finished the 35-lap feature race in fifth place behind Al Miller, Pete Allen, Johnny White, and Duman.

Lawicki missed the 1958 and 1959 running of the 500-lap “Little 500” classic at Sun Valley Speedway as the cars transitioned into what we today recognize as sprint cars. Clare returned in May 1960 behind the wheel of John Bennett’s #66 sprint car and qualified at 58.350 seconds for his four-lap run to start ninth on the outside of the third row.

After the start paced by actor James Garner behind the wheel of a 1960 Chevrolet convertible outfitted with rear fender skirts, Parnelli Jones surged into the lead in the Fike Plumbing sprinter from his front row starting position and led 102 laps.
The 1959 winner Ronnie Duman sailed past Jones into the lead on lap 371 and never looked back and defeated Parnelli by two laps. Lawicki finished sixth, 79 laps behind Duman who drove Hoy Stevens’ GMC-powered machine which had won the “Little 500” in 1957 and 1959 and finished third in 1958.

Hoy Stevens was a Pontiac/GMC dealer from Fredericktown Ohio who owned the #37 black and white trimmed sprint car powered by a 12-port cylinder head fitted to a 306-cubic inch GMC inline six-cylinder engine. In 1959 Stevens bought the patterns and drawings for the Horning-Fisher 12-port heads form California and had four new aluminum heads cast in a foundry in nearby Columbus Ohio.     

For the 1961 “Little 500” Lawicki moved into the seat of Stevens’ three-time winning GMC-powered machine and won the pole position with a four-lap run of 55.79 seconds. Pre-race activities included the arrival of the pace car driver, cowboy star Clint Walker in the infield via helicopter as only hours earlier he had appeared in the ‘500’ festival parade in Indianapolis.

Clare led the race’s first nine laps and finished the race in second place, fifteen laps behind rookie race winner Jim McElreath and seven laps ahead of the third place car driven by the 1951 winner Marlin “Red” Renner. Later in the 1961 racing season Clare appeared at three USAC sprint car races at Indianapolis Raceway Park (IRP) and New Bremen with the Stevens’ GMC sprint car but failed to qualify for the 15-car starting fields.

In 1962 Lawicki started the season with a non-qualifying effort at Salem Speedway as the GMC powered car timed in the slowest of the 22 cars entered, but he rebounded in early May with a 12th place finish at New Bremen after starting shotgun on the field. The International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) was in its first year of sanctioning the “Little 500” at Sun Valley Speedway, and IMCA brought out its roster of stars that included young Texan Johnny Rutherford, who won the pole, Gordon Wooley, Johnny White, and Pete Folse.

1962 “Little 500” pre-race activities featured as the pace car driver actor Vincent Edwards (aka Dr. Ben Casey) who received protection from local National Guard troops to prevent a reoccurrence of the mob scene that had occurred days earlier in Indianapolis.  Lawicki started the race in eleventh place and ran strongly most of the race in the top five, and held the lead from lap 438 to lap 481, when Arnie Knepper of Bellville Illinois passed him for the lead and held on to win over Clare by half a lap.

Five days later, Lawicki and the Stevens GMC qualified for the fifteenth and last starting position for the USAC feature at the ½-mile dirt New Bremen Speedway and after the 30-lap race marked by high attrition, finished in ninth place. Unfortunately Clare’s subsequent attempts to qualify for five other 1962 USAC sprint car races fell short at IRP, Reading Pennsylvania, New Bremen, and Salem Speedway.

In early 1963, Lawicki and the GMC-powered car failed to qualify for the twin 50-lap feature program at the brutal 1-mile circular Langhorne Speedway in Pennsylvania as he timed 28th fastest out of the 29 cars entered. AJ Foyt won the first 50-lap race ahead of Roger McCluskey, but during the second feature tragedy struck on the 41st lap. Bobby Marvin a rising star on the USAC racing scene in 1962 drifted too high in turn two hooked the outside guardrail and flipped. The car came to rest in flames and the race was stopped with leader Roger McCluskey declared the winner.

Lawicki failed to qualify the Hoy Stevens GMC machine for the 1963 “Little 500” starting field but still competed in the race. Bud Randall had qualified one two cars entered by Hoosier sprint car legend Ennis “Dizz” Wilson for the eighteenth starting spot, but Clare started the car instead and though the car retired with overheating problems on the 452nd lap, Lawicki was placed in the twelfth finishing position.

Similar circumstances again resulted in Clare running the “Little 500” in 1964. After Dick Gaines qualified the “Dizz” Wilson Chevy sprinter in 32nd starting spot, Lawicki replaced him at the last minute.  Indianapolis television show host Don Melvoin drove the 1964 ½ Ford Mustang convertible pace car to start the race, then Clare drove the #72 car up through the field to finish tenth with 442 laps completed in an event which was won by surprise winner Dick Good who drove a Indianapolis roadster style machine to victory with an eight-lap margin.

In February 1966 Lawicki debuted with the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) stock cars at the 2-1/2 mile high-banked Daytona International Speedway. He finished 10th in his 25-mile qualifying race but for the ‘ARCA Daytona 250’ itself, the #23 1966 Dodge Charger entry was driven by long-time ARCA competitor Jack Shanklin.  

After not competing in the 1965 “Little 500,” Clare Lawicki returned in 1966 behind the wheel of a familiar car, the ex-Hoy Stevens GMC-powered sprint car owned by Avery Adams of Belleville Ohio. The best time that Lawicki could coax out of the old two-time winner was 26th starting place. The fastest qualifier, Dean Mast in a caged supermodified fitted with a roof panel set a pair of new track records, four laps at 53.13 seconds and his fastest single lap timed at 13.09 seconds.
On May 28 front row starter Rollie Beale won as he drove the ‘Don-Ken Special,’ owned by Toledo transmission shop owner Kenny Lay, to victory  before a crowd of 14,500 spectators reportedly the largest crowd in the history of the event. Lawicki finished eighteenth in the six-cylinder GMC powered car, 65 laps behind the winner.

Lawicki’s tenth and final “Little 500”appearance came in 1967 behind the wheel of former driver Don Friend’s machine. Friend, a two-time “Little 500” starter in 1961 and 1963, had crashed Ted Helke’s yellow roadster in turn one at Winchester Speedway during an IMCA sprint car race on the third lap of the May 10 1964 feature. Friend’s driving career ended when the car “submarined” under the steel guardrail and Don suffered a skull fracture and his left arm was severed at the elbow.

Lawicki qualified Friend’s # 74 sprint car in 25th place for the 1967 race and then dropped out of the race on lap 255 with unspecified mechanical problems. The race’s pole-sitter Darl Harrisons won the race by three laps over Jerry Reichert with relief from Cy Fairchild over the last 115 laps.

In 1969, Lawicki drove the Benovich sprint car shown in the lead photograph at eight USAC paved track events, and the author strongly suspects that Clare tried to qualify for the “Little 500” but did not make the starting field. At June 1 at Dayton Speedway Lawicki failed to finish the 30-lap feature due to his involvement in an accident with Jim Smith, who retired after flipping out of the track.

Clare posted an eighth place finish at Toledo Speedway in the red and gold leaf trimmed sprinter, and then failed to finish at Heidelberg, New Bremen and Michigan’s 3/8-mile Berlin Speedway.   In September Clare finished fifth in the 50 lap feature behind Gary Bettenhausen Rollie Beale, Cy Fairchild and Larry Dickson, and the following month finished ninth at Salem Speedway after 30 laps of the Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial.

The USAC sprint cars made their 1970 season debut on the high-banked half-mile Dayton Speedway on Sunday April 12. In just the season’s fourth race it was already shaping up to be a continuation of “the Larry and Gary Show,” as Larry Dickson, the 1968 USAC sprint car series champion, had won the 1970 season’s first two sprint car races in Florida, while the 1969 USAC sprint car series champion Gary Bettenhausen had won the week before at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg Ohio.

In addition to Bettenhausen and Dickson, the field of entries featured 1966 “Little 500” winner Rollie Beale, Greg Weld, 1968 “Little 500” champion Karl Busson and a local 22-year old hydroplane racer named David “Salt” Walther. In qualifying Bettenhausen set the pace for the 20-car field and slotted in sixth for the feature start, while Clare Lawicki was set the start 14th on the outside of the seventh row.

After several failed attempts to start the scheduled 40-lap race, the green flag flew and Lee Kunzman charged into the lead from his pole position starting position. As the field streamed into the first turn, Lawicki attempted an outside pass for position but instead ran nearly head-on into the two-tier Armco steel outer guardrail.  The resulting impact sheared off the front of the car; a pair of photographers shooting from an unauthorized area where struck by debris and injured.  

Clare was trapped in the mangled wreckage for 15 minutes but once he was cut free and out of the remains of the Benovich sprinter, emergency personnel found that miraculously he had suffered multiple contusions on his legs and a broken wrist. When the racing resumed, Beale took the lead and led late into the race before his car’s engine failed and Dickson inherited the win. The crash apparently ended Clare Lawicki’s racing career and the Benovich car was a total loss.

Steve Benovich told observers at Dayton that day that he was out of money and that he was done with racing but he was premature in his statement.   Three years later in 1973 Benovich entered another #54 sprint car for the April 29 USAC feature at Eldora for the 1967 and 1970 “Little 500” winner and 1971 USAC rookie of the year Darl Harrison.

As reported in the following day’s Kokomo (Indiana) Tribune reported that during the feature Harrison’s car hit the outside rail coming out of the first turn on the 28th lap and flipped six times. Harrison was described as “severely shaken but otherwise unhurt” and the second Benovich sprint car was destroyed.  Sammy Sessions, the series’ defending champion grabbed the lead after the re-start in Mauri Amerling’s #1 car and held on to win the crash-filled 40-lap feature.

For his outstanding record in the “Little 500” with 3,366 laps completed, his pole position start in 1961, back-to-back runner-up finishes in 1961 and 1962, and two other top ten finishes in 1960 and 1964, Clare Lawicki was inducted into the “Little 500” Hall of Fame in 2009.  

The author is interested in learning more about driver Clare Lawicki – contact the author at








Friday, February 9, 2018

Tony Hulman’s Beechcraft 18 airplane

While researching the recent “500” Platolene gasoline story, the author found an interesting letter written in February 1972 by the company’s general manager, J.W. Connelly, to the chairman of the Carmi Illinois airport expansion committee. Originally based in Hulman’s hometown of Terre Haute Indiana, at the time Platolene 500 headquarters was based in Carmi a small Illinois town 125 miles southeast Terre Haute.

Platolene 500 Inc. was one of many local businesses that supported the long-overdue extension of the city’s airport runway to 4,000 feet. Mr. Connelly’s comment was “two of our partners in this company, Henry Smith and Tony Hulman of Terre Haute Indiana, each have Beechcraft 18 airplanes. In the past they have used our present runway but they are very reluctant to do so because of only 2,700 feet of pavement.” It is worth noting that the recommended ground roll landing distance for a Beechcraft 18 was 2,800 feet. So what is the story behind Tony Hulman’s airplane?

The Beechcraft 18

The Beech Aircraft Company of Wichita Kansas began to produce the Beechcraft Model 18 in 1937, a “tail-dragger” design all-metal semi-monocoque construction and twin tail fins similar in appearance to the larger Lockheed Electra powered by that used twin radial engines.
Beech advertised to businessmen
Intended for use as a small airliner or as an executive aircraft, sales were slow and at the time of the United States’ entry into World War II in December 1941, only 39 Model 18's had been sold. As part of the war effort, more than 4,500 military versions of the Beechcraft 18 were built during WW II. Some sources state that over 90% of United States Army Air Force (USAAF) bombardiers and navigators during World War II were trained in Beech 18-type aircraft.

Tony Hulman’s plane

A typical Beech D18S cabin

Tony Hulman’s plane was a Beechcraft Model D18S, the first post-World War II version that debuted in October 1945 and featured seating for two pilots and six passengers with 5 feet of headroom in the cabin. The plane was powered by twin Pratt & Whitney 985 “Wasp Junior” nine-cylinder radial engines with gear-driven single-speed centrifugal type superchargers. The engines were rated at 450 horsepower each and used 99-inch constant speed propellers. The Beechcraft Model 18 typically cruised at 170 MPH, with a ceiling of 20,000 feet and a range of over 500 miles.
A Pratt & Whitney 985 in a Beech 18
A Pratt & Whitney 985 data plate

There were 1,035 Beech D18S planes built; the plane which would become Hulman’s was serial number A-223 completed on May 29 1946, the day before the first Indianapolis 500-mile race under Tony Hulman’s ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The mirror-like polished aluminum bodied plane was sold through dealer Interstate Airmotive to the Trailmobile Company of Cincinnati Ohio.  The company which built over-the-road semi-truck trailers since 1915 kept the Beechcraft in the company’s hangar at Cincinnati’s historic Lunken Field until 1954.  

During July 1954 the Beech 18 A-223 was sold to the Electric Auto-Lite division of Willys Corporation which manufactured 400 different automotive parts, including generators, lamps, horns, hubcaps, wiring, and seat adjustors. Electric Auto-Lite based in Toledo, Ohio the largest independent manufacturer of automotive electrical equipment was purchased by Ford Motor Company in 1961 after which Ford changed the division name to simply “Autolite.”

Under Ford’s ownership, the Autolite division expanded into auto racing particularly with spark plugs.  Lloyd Ruby drove Lindsey Hopkins’ “Autolite Special” Offenhauser powered Epperly laydown roadster to an eighth place finish in the 1961 Indianapolis ‘500.’  In 1962, Autolite spark plugs won the Daytona GT Continental, the Daytona ‘500,’ and then swept the top three finishing positions in the Indianapolis ‘500’ as Rodger Ward and Len Sutton finished one-two for Bob Wilke with Eddie Sachs in third place in Al Dean’s ‘Autolite Special.’
Tony's plane restored

The Willys Electric Auto-Lite division sold Beechcraft D18S tail number N80242 to the Mead Corporation of Dayton Ohio in October 1954. Pilot Lloyd Fuller went along with the plane, just as he had with the previous owner as he had flown Beech A-223 since it was completed in 1946 at the Wichita factory. During Mead’s ownership, Tony Hulman flew on the plane, although according to an article in the October 1971 issue of Flying magazine, Fuller said Hulman “really didn’t care for flying.”  
The tail of Tony's plane

In December 1963 the Mead Corporation sold the plane to Hulman & Company, pilot Fuller relocated to Terre Haute, and Hulman & Company built a new hangar on Hunt Road adjacent to Hulman Field (now known as Terre Haute International Airport). Under Hulman’s ownership, the tail number of the Beech was changed to N500 which remained until 1973 when it was predesignated N5QQ. Hulman & Company sold the highly-polished Beech D18S with blue trim in the fall of 1989. The plane’s current owner keeps the restored plane in Henderson Nevada.  

Friday, February 2, 2018

“No one ever regretted buying quality”
the Hinchman story
Hinchman Racing Uniforms started the race suit industry in 1925 when  Peter DePaolo wore the first Hinchman uniform as he drove the winning Duesenberg in the 1925 Indianapolis 500-mile race .
This photo from the author's collection shows
Peter DePaolo is his Hinchman suit

Over the following  90+ years, Hinchman innovations have included:
The wrap around buttoned collar, first used by Hinchman, was developed after Eddie Sachs complained that the wind made the collars flap. Later  buttons were replaced by Velcro®

In 1966 Hinchman became the first racing suit manufacturer to use Nomex® in their suits, and In 1999 Hinchman was the first company to use the new fire resistant material called Carbon-X®.

 In 2004 Hinchman introduced their new lining called “Comfort Tech” which creates a 3-layer suit that is lighter, thinner, comfortable and more protective than most 2-layer suits.

In 2011, a Hinchman Racing Suit that was worn by actor Steve McQueen in the classic racing film LeMans fetched $984,000 at auction.

In 2013, Hinchman introduced its new 'Hinchman Performance' liner in its new HTO line of racing uniforms, and included it in the new "HP Series" in 2015.

Hinchman believes customer support after the sale is vital and is committed to customer satisfaction, just ask any racer wearing a Hinchman driving suit.

For more details visit their website at
Information for this article provided by Hinchman