Thursday, November 16, 2017


Al Putnam’s final ride
 
 
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 from Oakland to Legion 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

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 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 https://www.thehenryford.org/collections-and-research/digital-collections/expert-sets/101482

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. 

Postscript

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.
 
 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Get your tickets now for
the 2017 Racers Reunion
 
 

There are many exciting events on tap for the 2017 edition of Bart Stevens’ Racers Reunion to be held in Irving Texas on November 11.  In addition to the special tribute to our nation’s veterans for Veterans Day, the banquet will feature as a special guest, three-time Indianapolis 500-mile race winner, the legendary Bobby Unser who will share stories of his many racing victories and times as a racing commentator for ABC Sports. 

Also scheduled for the eighth annual Racers Reunion are programs that will examine the first 50 years of the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) and the life of pioneering Hall of Fame drag racer, Bobby Langley, the USAC Hall of Fame induction of the legendary Texas racer Lloyd Ruby and the presentation of the inaugural Brady Bacon Baton Award to one of racing's future stars.

Join the editor and writer of this website at the Racers Reunion - tickets for the eighth annual Racers Reunion Banquet, which in addition to the feature presentations includes an afternoon guest speaker, autograph session and an afternoon of bench racing with a large collection of vintage race cars and memorabilia are available at http://www.radiusnation.net

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Chance Kinsley- Hoosier hero

Part Five

The earliest news report uncovered for Chance Kinsley’s 1924 racing season did not appear until late in the summer; the reason is unclear, but later newspaper reports stated that Kinsley was “at the big track in Indianapolis,” although Chance’s name does not appear in Indianapolis Motor Speedway records as a driver.
 
 
Chance was entered to drive a Miller in the August 10 1924 50-mile race at Spencer Park in the north central town of Logansport Indiana. There was only one other Miller entry listed, a car driven by Chicago’s Mike Costello, but were a number of Frontenac-Fords entered with drivers that included Wilbert “Bill” Hunt, Louis Schneider, Ted Hartley, and Earl Warrick.
 
 

The Logansport entry list also included several other ex-Indianapolis ‘500’ cars with Chevrolet connections – Frank Swaggart and Ray McNutt both of Kokomo entered a pair of Monroe racers built by the Chevrolet brothers that raced to victory in the 1920 ‘500,’ the story of which in this site’s archives. Local driver R.D. Reddinger entered a Cornelian, believed to be the same tiny semi-moncoque chassis racer that Louis Chevrolet built and drove in the 1915 ‘500.’
 
Think the Cornelian race car was not light?
This photo from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway collection
 in the IUPUI Univeristy Library Center for Digital Studies
shows Louis Chevrolet holding the 4-cylinder Corneilan engine
 

After Creviston had advertised heavily with newspaper advertisements the billed the entry list as “the largest ever received for local track,” and personally guaranteed the size and quality of the entered cars, on race day August 10 he had been stuck with an embarrassingly small field of ten cars which did not include Kinsley.  The “Interstate Championship” which was won by Charles “Dutch” Baumann in a Frontenac over Bill Hunt’s similar machine in a race that the next day’s Logansport Pharos-Tribune described as “a thriller.”

Chance was entered as the driver of the “HL Special” for the 100-mile race scheduled for Labor Day 1924 at the resurfaced Hoosier Motor Speedway which offered a total purse of $3000. JV Lines had left the financially beleaguered Hoosier Motor Speedway at the end of the 1923 season and the track was now managed by the Indianapolis firm Morton & Brett Products.
 
A photo from the Morton & Brett catalog


Owned by Elvin D. Morton and his partner, Jack Brett,  Morton & Brett was a major manufacturer and distributor of aftermarket Ford and Dodge speed parts and the patented “Speedway bodies” which they sold through regional distributors as well as their own “Blue Book of Speed” mail order catalog.

An interesting twist was the new Hoosier Motor Speedway management’s announcement that “the size of future purses will be determined by the Labor Day attendance,” and that “should receipts warrant, the purse for the May 29 1925 race will be $5,000.”  The track claimed that it had received “50 or more entries,” and “with the new surface as smooth as glass, record times are expected from the twenty starters.”  Some of the entries for the race listed in the Brazil Daily Times pre-race article included future Indianapolis ‘500’ competitors Cliff Woodbury, Louis Schneider, Prince de Cystria and Kinsley’s car owner L. Herbert “HL” Jones.
 
A Haag Drug suburban Indianapolis store in the 1950's
 

Born in 1903 Herbert Jones worked at the Haag Drug Company in Indianapolis at that time one of the largest drug store chains in the United States. One of Jones’ assignments was to chauffeur Miss Elnora Haag the 71year old unmarried sister of the chain’s founders. A retired school teacher, Elnora became the director of Haag Drug for a brief period after the deaths of her brothers Julius and Louis in 1923, only long enough for her two nephews to reach legal age and take over the firm.

The unlikely pair of wealthy spinster and young chauffer a struck up a friendship; then Ms. Haag provided young Mr. Jones enough money to quit his day job and go automobile racing.  Jones purchased a “former 500-mile Duesenberg” which he had modified for dirt track competition and entered it for the Labor Day race at Hoosier Motor Speedway as the “HL Special.”

The following day’s edition of the Indianapolis Star reported on the Labor Day grind at the Hoosier Motor Speedway that “for the first sixty odd laps, there was at least a thrill a lap.” From the newspaper report it seemed to have been an exciting event. In time trials Dempsey Chaney won the pole by turning a qualifying lap on the half-mile oval In 31.2 seconds while Davidson was second as he turned a lap at 31.4 seconds.

At the drop of the green flag, Wilbur Shaw, driving the ‘R K T Special’ sprang into the lead but action slowed on the third lap when George Lyons, driving a Lyons Special, turned over on the south turn. The driver was thrown out and his mount caught fire and but Lyons’ injuries were described as “slight.” Kinsley “went out on the fourth lap when his car skidded on the south turn” and was the second car to retire. After he had led all the laps up to that point, Shaw’s car was sidelined on the forty-fourth lap with clutch failure.

Indianapolis native Louis Schneider, who had been running second behind Shaw, then assumed the lead in his “Roof Special” and “was going strong” until his car blew a tire which then broke the axle. The Star reported that the wheel from Schneider’s car “hurtled straight down the stretch, climbed the embankment and smashed into the crowd, flooring one man, who was knocked unconscious but who regained his wind shortly afterward, none the worse.”

At the half-way mark of the race, with 100 laps down, Kinsley’s former teammate Arthur “Fuzzy” Davidson held the lead with Illinois’ Ben Shoaff in second. Davidson continued out front until the 141st lap when he reportedly stopped for spark plugs. William Brodbeck of South Bend  whose ‘A N Bailey Special’ had been running a lap behind Davidson in third “sprang to the front” as Davidson fell two laps in arrears as repairs were made to his Frontenac’s engine.  

Davidson returned to the fray and he quickly made up one lap of Brodbeck’s lead and by the 170th Davidson was back in the lead, where he remained until the finish. Behind the leader Benny Lawell (possibly spelled Lauwell) moved into third place behind his teammate Brodbeck until the penultimate lap when Brodbeck's car "skidded and stalled within an eighth of a mile of the finish.”

Lawell’s car roared into second place and the “1923 Michigan dirt track champion” crossed the finish line just a short distance ahead of his teammate Brodbeck who recovered to finish third.  A total of nine cars finished the 100-mile grind, with Davidson winning $1,000 of the promised $3,000 purse but the payout stopped at fifth place for which Ben Schoaff won $50. The other finishers Fred Harter, Bob Huff, Dempsey Chaney, and Fred Koehler received “consolation prizes.”

Logansport race promoter Ray Creviston a former motorcycle racer required each of the entrants to post an entry fee for his race scheduled for September 7th 1924. This was after his previous race promotion at Spencer Park a month earlier suffered from a large number of “no show” entries.  

Chance Kinsley was entered for the three-race program as the driver of the ‘Jones Special’ (believed to be the same car as the ‘HL Special’) along with Lawell, who had won a race at Logansport in June, Jack Conder, ‘Dutch’ Baumann, Frank Sweigert, Russell Field, George Heller and Ted Hartley. 

The entry list boasted 32 cars but this time the success of Creviston’s promotion was doomed by a small crowd which led him to cancel the races. There were six cars still left on the grounds (three of which were owned by Ray Butcher from Indianapolis) and the drivers persuaded Creviston to run a “winner takes all” 20-mile race for $80. 

On the 35th lap Ray Butcher while running in third place crashed through the outer guardrail and his Laurel race car (a Ford block fitted with a Laurel Motor Company cylinder head designed by Robert Roof) veered up the embankment and struck a group of people. Butcher a 27 year old racer from Indianapolis who had won $300 just the day before for his victory in the 50-mile feature at Bloomington Indiana was killed instantly.  

Ray Sampson identified as a farmer was reportedly pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital from his injuries but the Logansport Pharos-Tribune reported two days later on September 9 that Sampson was recovering from critical injuries at St. Joseph’s hospital, and was expected to recover fully, barring complications.  Two other spectators, a father and son named Bowyer from Bunker Hill Indiana were also injured when the out-of-control Laurel racer struck their family sedan. The father, John, suffered a broken leg while his 11-year old son Earl was seriously burned. The accident led to the cancellation of the rest of the race with leader John Souder declared the winner.

On September 24, Doctor JJ Stanton the Cass County Coroner declared that Butcher died of a fractured skull in the accident which was caused by a broken steering knuckle on Butcher’s race car. Later court filings presented a different picture of the crash and the victims’ injuries than what had been reported in the local newspaper.

In January 1925, Raymond Sampson filed suit against the Cass County Fair Association for $15,000 (over $200,000 today) over the Fair’s alleged negligence as the track was “not shaped for extreme speed” and was not properly equipped to protect passersby. Sampson’s suit filed by local attorneys Gamble and Bradfield maintained that he was not a spectator at the races, as had been reportedly; rather he was walking past on a nearby street when Butcher’s race car “traveling 75 miles per hour” hurtled an eight-foot fence and struck Sampson. The impact broke his left wrist and elbow both of which were stiffened and caused a permanent disability.

In March 1925, John R Bowyer, represented by the local law firm of Lairy and Howell, filed suit against the Fair Association for $1,200. Like Sampson, Bowyer’s suit alleged negligence on the part of the Fair Association and pointed out that the racing event on the leased track had been held on Sunday in defiance of local law. Bowyer’s filing stated that he, his wife and son were not watching the race from their car as earlier reported.

Bowyer’s suit claimed their car was caught in a traffic jam on George Street when Butcher’s out of control race car left the track struck their car. The collision allegedly injured all three members of the Bowyer family which required the family to remain in Logansport at the home of friends for several hours while their injuries were treated.

The Logansport law firm of Long, Yarlott, Kistler, Kistler, and Hale were named to represent the Fair Association in both suits. Both the Sampson and Bowyer suits were dismissed by Circuit Court Judge John B Smith on October 28 1927 for “lack of prosecution” which meant that there had been no court filings within a specified period of time, so the court presumed that the parties no longer wished to pursue their cases.
Chance Kinsley’s final 1924 race appearances came very late in the year on the West Coast although he raced under the nom de guerre "Kingsley" on the West Coast, an alias he had previously used in Indiana races at times during the 1923 and 1924 seasons. Kinsley and at least two other Indiana drivers, Ralph Ormsby and “Fuzzy” Davidson were “imported” by Ascot Speedway promoter George Bentel to challenge the home-grown regulars on the oiled dirt 5/8-mile track.

Ascot’s reigning star at the time Frank Lockhart had married on Thursday October 30, and after he encountered problems during the Ascot program on Sunday November 2 the sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times made light of the situation as he wrote “Frank….stepped into the matrimonial harness and yesterday encountered a lot of tough sledding. The newlywed drove in two races and swallowed a lot of dust in both. It is to be hoped that Frank's ship of matrimony is running in smoother waters.”

“The eastern drivers” made their debut before crowd of “approximately 12,000 and gave the fans plenty for their money.” Ormsby, Kingsley, Iowa racer Al Waters, Canadian Jack Petticord and local driver “Curly” Young split the honors.

Ralph Ormsby won the ten-lap Babe Ruth Sweepstakes over Lockhart, then Lockhart experienced engine trouble and was forced out of the Italian Victory Crown, “busting a piston rod or something equally as necessary,” according to the Times article. Lockhart's retirement which handed the win to Petticord trailed by Ormsby.
 
Chance  “Kingsley” won the fifteen-lap Walter Johnson Handicap trailed by Ormsby as Lockhart finished third. The car Chance drove owned by Harry Heinle had originally been qualified by Jack Petticord.
 
Kinsley, Ormsby and “Fuzzy” Davidson were entered for the December 25 1924 “Santa Claus Sweepstakes” held at the Southern California Fairgrounds in Riverside California. Other prominent drivers among the fifteen entries were future Indianapolis ‘500’ competitors Cliff Bergere, Floyd Roberts, Fred Lecklider, Les Allen and William “Shorty” (then known as “Speed”) Cantlon. Bergere was entered as the driver of a “little Duesenberg” while Kinsley, Ormsby and Davidson all were scheduled to drive Frontenacs. 

Lecklider who would later race in the 1926, 1927 and 1930 Indianapolis 500-mile races, was the race’s featured star, as he drove one of the former Miller-built chassis “Junior Specials” powered by a 181-cubic inch double overhead camshaft straight six engine which had competed twice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
 
Lecklider had obtained the pair of cars (one was dissembled) following the tragic death of the cars’ owner Kansas City oil magnate George Wade in a bizarre accident prior to the running of the 250-mile 1923 Thanksgiving Day race at the Beverley Hills Motor Speedway after Wade was struck by the car driven by Harry Hartz.

The “Santa Claus Sweepstakes” was postponed by rain until December 28 and one of the original drivers entered, George Beck withdrew due to injuries and officiated the race assisted by Riverside businessmen J F Backstrand, Axel Nelson, and Roy Helgeson. In time trials, Kinsley and his Frontenac powered machine set quick time as he toured the ½-mile dirt oval in 30.4 seconds.  

A crowd of 4,000 fans watched as the days’ first event, the five-lap “Orange Belt Invitational,” was won by local driver Ed Bermuda with Chicagoan Floyd Shawhan second.  The four fastest qualified cars, those of Les Allen, Shawhan, Cantlon and Kinsley were entered in the next event the handicap Australian pursuit race.

In "pursuit" events of this type, the slowest car started first, followed in order by progressively faster cars at set intervals until the fastest car started last. Over the course of the event, as a later-starting (faster) car passed an earlier-starting (slower) car, the slower car was eliminated. This procedure continued until only the fastest car is left and declared the winner. On December 28 the pursuit race went 13 laps around the half-mile and was won by Chance Kinsley.

Ralph Ormsby won the 10-lap “San Bernardino Handicap” over Bergere, and then came the day’s featured 15-lap race, the “Santa Claus Sweepstakes.” John Vickers led the first two laps before future 1938 Indianapolis ‘500’ race winner Floyd Roberts who lived in Van Nuys took the lead and led the last 13 laps of the race which was completed in 7 minutes and 55 seconds. Roberts was followed across the finish line by Ormsby (who drove the feature in place of Shawhan) with Kinsley in third place. Les Allen finished fourth with Cliff Bergere in fifth as Bermuda and Vickers rounded out the seven finishers.

In our next and final installment of the story of Chance Kinsley, we will review his 1925 season.