Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Lloyd Ruby’s 1966 airplane crash

The author has a long-standing interest in race car drivers and their fascination with airplanes and flying, and recently found a reference to Lloyd Ruby’s short-lived flying career. This article adds another chapter to the author's series of articles on racers and airplanes.

A Beech Bonanza similar to Lloyd Ruby's

During 1966, Lloyd Ruby purchased a Beech B35 Bonanza tail number N5201C from fellow USAC (United States Auto Club) championship racer Bobby Unser, who had purchased a twin-engine Beech 95 Travel Air.  On the morning of June 4, 1966, Ruby and his three passengers departed in the Bonanza from the Speedway Airport, a small airfield located northeast of the intersection of West 21st Street & Griswold Road South of I-74 near the town of Avon, Indiana. The passengers on board with Ruby that day were Ruby’s chief mechanic Dave Laycock, fellow USAC driver Bill Cheesbourg, and Harold ‘Tex’ McCullough, identified in press reports as a friend of Ruby’s from Hondo, Texas.

Lloyd Ruby waits patiently on pit lane during practice for the 1966 Indianapolis 500 as Dave Laycock makes adjustments to the Ford engine. Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection of the IUPUI University Library center for Digital Studies.  

Just five days earlier, Ruby, a 38-year old veteran racer from Wichita Falls Texas led the first laps in his seven years of competition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Ruby led the 1966 Indianapolis 500-mile race on three occasions for a total of 68 laps, before his Bardahl Eagle had retired with a broken camshaft stud in the 255 cubic inch quad-cam Ford engine.

Ruby and the Ford GT40 in action at the 1966 Daytona 24 hour race. Photo from author's files.

Despite the Indianapolis disappointment (the first of many to come) Ruby was having a spectacular 1966 season, as he and his English teammate Ken Miles had won the 24-hour sport car races at Daytona International Speedway driving a 427-cubic inch powered Ford GT 40 Mark II and the 12 hours of Sebring in a similarly powered GT40 X-1 roadster. Hopes were high for a victory at the 24-hour race at LeMans France on June 19, so that the team of Ruby, Miles and Ford could claim a historic same-year sweep of the three major sports car endurance races.      

Bill Cheesbourg, long-time friend of Ruby’s had first come to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a rookie in 1956 but only started six Indianapolis 500-mile races in his career, the last being in 1965.  During the month of May 1966, Bill had driven two entries, neither of which had any legitimate chance of making the starting field - the Jack Adams Special, an Epperly lay-down roadster fitted with a gas turbine engine, and former Northern California midget racer Al Stein’s Valvoline-sponsored twin-engine powered creation, which had a modified Porsche 911 engine at each of the car to provide power to each axle.

Dave Laycock, at age 27, USAC’s youngest chief mechanic had started in USAC championship racing in 1957 right out of high school as a helper to “Horsepower” Herb Porter on the supercharged Offenhauser powered Roger Wolcott-owned entry. By 1960, Laycock was a chief mechanic in his own right with the team owned by Marion Indiana glass heir Bill Forbes, and first met Ruby when Lloyd drove for the Forbes team in 1964;  the pair had worked together ever since.

Bob Laycock in his office in 1974. 
Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection of the IUPUI University Library center for Digital Studies.  

Laycock came from a racing family, as his grandfather, C.P. Laycock worked as a mechanic for the Stutz racing team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the early days. Dave’s father, James Robert, known as “Bob” attended the 1915 Indianapolis 500-mile race as an infant, and as of 1966 Bob had not missed attending a single 500-mile race, a string that would continue unbroken until 1993.  Bob, whose regular career was with the US postal service, worked during the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a variety of roles beginning in 1949 that included timing and scoring, registration and finally the press office.

Gaylord "Snappy" Ford in 1939
Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection of the IUPUI University Library center for Digital Studies.  

Much of Bob Laycock’s early career at the Speedway was spent as an assistant to Gaylord ‘Snappy’ Ford, known around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as “the man without a title.” ‘Snappy’ born in 1889, first worked at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as an assistant to the Chief Starter for the 1920 race and simply never left –Ford did whatever task around the Speedway that was asked of him.
In the late nineteen thirties ‘Snappy’ became the track’s chief scorer and served in that role until the outbreak World War 2 forced the Speedway to close.  

‘Snappy’ Ford spent the war years in charge of the Marmon-Herrington Company tank proving grounds, then he returned to work at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1949 at Wilbur Shaw’s request and was in charge of the press office until his death. Legend has it that instead of downplaying the dangers of the Speedway, Ford took novice newsmen on a pace car tour of the 2- ½ mile brick surfaced track and pointed out the gouges in the walls from past fatal crashes. 

After ‘Snappy’s’ death in January 1953, Laycock assumed Ford’s duties in the press office also served as the editor of the Indianapolis ‘500’ record book and the USAC rule book, and during the winter worked as a publicist for the ABA (American Basketball Association) Indianapolis Pacers.  After Bob retired from the post office in 1969, he joined the Indianapolis Motor Speedway full time as its historian and served in that position until 1993.  Bob had two sons in racing besides Dave – Dan, also known as “D.O.” and Bobby who worked as a scorer for USAC.      

The Ruby group’s destination from the Speedway Airport on Saturday June 4 1966 was the General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee Wisconsin. The group then planned to travel the short distance by car to arrive at the Wisconsin State Fair Park one-mile oval in time for the start of practice for the USAC Rex Mays 100-mile race to be run the following day. At approximately 8:30 AM on that Saturday Bobby Unser in his Beech Travel Air took off in the downwind direction, rather than into the wind as is typical. Pilot witnesses on the ground later reported to Indiana State Police troopers that seconds after take-off, the Travel Air wobbled, but Unser, a pilot since 1958, applied more power, the twin-engine plane recovered and climbed away from the airport.

Just after Unser took off, Ruby rolled down the runway for his take-off, also in the downwind direction. Ruby’s V-tailed single engine Beech Bonanza reached approximately 100 to 200 feet in altitude, and then fell into Irene Timmons’ freshly planted corn field approximately ¼ mile northwest of the airport. Eyewitnesses that included Henry Goebel an architect and experienced pilot, and flight instructors Stan Leonard and William Lewis stated that the Bonanza had stalled. When rescuers arrived at the crash scene a few moments later, they found all four men outside of the severely damaged Beechcraft.

Lloyd Ruby suffered the most severe inquires, with compression vertebrae fractures and multiple cuts on his face which took a plastic surgeon 48 stitches to close. Laycock also suffered vertebrae fractures, while Cheesbourg suffered cuts to his scalp, arm and leg. The fourth passenger, ‘Tex’ McCullough who complained of a bruised chest and abdomen was treated and released while the other three men were admitted to the Methodist Hospital under the care of Indianapolis Motor Speedway track physician, Dr. Thomas Hanna. Ruby and Laycock remained hospitalized for two weeks before they were released to complete their recoveries at home.

Ruby’s injuries meant that he wouldn’t be able to race at LeMans, and officials at the Ford Motor Company received more bad news later that day, after A.J. Foyt crashed his #82 Sheraton-Thompson Lotus-Ford in practice at Milwaukee and suffered second and third degree burns on his hands, face and neck. 

Jackie Stewart's 1966 rookie Speedway portrait.
Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection of the IUPUI University Library center for Digital Studies.  

The news got worse for Ford just a week before LeMans when another scheduled Ford GT40 team driver, Jackie Stewart, who nearly won the 1966 Indianapolis ‘500’ as rookie, crashed his BRM entry during the rain-soaked Formula 1 race at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium and suffered a broken shoulder, broken ribs and gasoline contact skin burns.

Ford hurriedly called up three replacements for Ruby, Foyt, and Stewart.  NASCAR Ford stock car driver Dick Hutcherson as the substitute for Foyt in one of the Holman-Moody GT40s was paired with sports car and Formula 1 driver Ronnie Bucknum, who had practiced but did not attempt to qualify for the 1966 Indianapolis ‘500’ in George Reeves’ Chevrolet V8-powered Lola T80.   Australian touring car racer Brian Muir replaced Stewart, paired with Graham Hill in one of Alan Mann GT40s, and Kiwi Formula 1 driver Denis Hulme teamed with Ken Miles in the Sebring and Daytona winning Shelby-American prepared GT40 Mark II. 

The finish of the 1966 24 hours of LeMans. Instead of the intended 'dead heat,' GT40 #2 on the left was declared the winner. AP photo.

The fleet of Ford GT40 Mark IIs of course dominated the later stages of the 1966 LeMans 24-hour race and in an ill-advised publicity stunt, Ford team managers ordered the two front-running GT40s, scored on the same lap to cross the finish line together. Ford racing officials believed this would result in a dead heat, but as the Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon driven machine had started further back in the starting field, it technically had traveled further and was declared the winner, which thus cheated Ruby’s friend Ken Miles out his hoped-for 1966 endurance three-race “clean sweep.”  

In addition to the races at Milwaukee and LeMans, Lloyd Ruby missed two other USAC championship short-oval races held at Langhorne Pennsylvania and Atlanta Georgia while he recovered from his injuries. Lloyd returned just fifty days after his aircraft accident to race the All American Racers’ Lotus 38 - Ford in the 150-mile Hoosier Grand Prix held on the Indianapolis Raceway Park 1.875- mile road course.  Ruby started from the pole position, but never led a lap and spun out the race on lap 43.  

Lloyd Ruby told FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) accident investigators that on take-off the Beechcraft Bonanza “just wobbled and started to dive,” while the flight instructor witness Lewis stated that in his opinion the “race drivers were in a hurry.” As aviation safety expert Max Trescott told the author “the same approaches that bring them success in the racing world are not the best practices for safe flying.” 

John Lingle's biography of Lloyd Ruby is highly reccomended

The subsequent FAA preliminary accident report faulted Ruby who only had a total of 55 hours of flight time for three mistakes – inadequate pre-flight preparation, improper and over-loading of the aircraft, and selection of the wrong runway relative to the existing wind, all of which resulted in the aircraft’s failure to obtain flying speed. The FAA suspended Lloyd’s pilot’s license for six months, but it really didn’t matter, as Ruby had taken his last flight as a pilot. As he told author John Lingle for his excellent book Hard Luck Lloyd “I didn’t want to fly anymore anyway,” and Ruby told Lingle he sold the Beech Bonanza for $12,500, which brought a close to this little-known part of Lloyd Ruby’s life.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

The 1934 “Jinx Day Auto Derby”

Part two - The “Big Three” of the 1933/4 World’s Fair

Among the largest displays and most visited of the displays from more than 300 companies involved in the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago were those built and operated by the “Big Three” Detroit automakers.

A postcard of the Ford exhibit

General Motors was celebrating its 25th anniversary, and the General Motors “Hall of Progress” building designed by famed industrial designer, Albert Kahn, stretched 1/8 mile in length and was over 300 feet wide, capped by a 177-foot tall neon illuminated tower, which was the tallest of any at the World’s Fair. Throughout the building were forty original murals which recounted the contributions of all the 48 states in the United States to the growth of the automotive industry. 

The General Motors building contained a working Chevrolet assembly line, where visitors watched the final 24 steps of assembling an automobile and customers could take delivery of their new Chevrolet at the Fair. The entire General Motors building was powered by generators turned by a pair of GM-Winton diesel engines. General Motors had purchased Winton, the one-time automobile manufacturer, in 1930. The GM-Winton # 201 eight-cylinder 600-horsepower two-stroke diesel engines featured welded steel plate construction throughout.  

The GM-Winton engine display

The Winton Engine Company and Charles “Boss” Kettering’s General Motors Research Department had jointly developed a revolutionary two-stroke diesel engine that was smaller, lighter, more powerful and more efficient than the traditional diesel engine. General Motors accurately predicted these new diesel engines would be supplied for railroad locomotives and heavy commercial trucks within a few years.

In practice at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, however, the relatively untested Winton diesel engines were a headache and frequently required teams of General Motors technicians to work all night to repair the engines so as to have at least one engine serviceable during each day.  Eugene Kettering, chief General Motors engineer on the project and the Boss’s son, later stated in report “to mention the parts with which we had trouble in Chicago would take far too much time. Let it suffice to say that I do not remember any trouble with the dip stick.”

The Pontiac exhibit inside the General Motors building featured Chief Pontiac, “the mysterious mechanical Indian who moves sees, breathes, hears, and talks.“ Chief Pontiac however spoke in response only to visitor’s questions regarding features and advantages of the 1934 Pontiac Economy Straight eight sedan.

The Cadilac Fleetwood V-16 Aero-dynamic Coupe

In yet another part of the General Motors building the Cadillac Motor Car Division introduced the Harley Earl-designed 1933 Cadillac Fleetwood V-16 Aero-Dynamic Coupe, of which six were eventually built. Among its features that later went into production were an all-steel roof, elegant flowing fenders, chrome beltline molding that emphasized the car’s flowing lines and a trunk that contained a built-in spare tire compartment.

The Cadillac Aero-Dynamic Coupe was powered by an all-new 452 cubic inch V-16 overhead valve engine developed by Owen Nacker, formerly the Chief Engineer for the Marmon Motor Car Company in Indianapolis. The Cadillac’s 16-cylinder engine, built with 45 degrees between the two eight-cylinder banks, weighed 1300 pounds and due to its relatively low compression ratio and the poor quality gasoline available in that era, only produced about 175 horsepower, but developed an astounding 320 foot pounds of torque at just 1200 RPM. The magnificent Cadillac V-16 engine was finished with enamel paint, porcelain, polished aluminum, and chrome.

A postcard of the Ford exhibit

As visitors entered the Ford Motor Company’s 900-foot long 12-story Rotunda, they glimpsed a chandelier made of three full-size Ford cars suspended from a welded Ford steel wheel at the glass ceiling which hung above a gigantic globe which marked Ford’s far-flung worldwide operations.  Inside the Ford pavilion were more than 30 exhibits that included the “Roads of the world,” a recreation of twenty-one famous roads reproduced in an oval track which visitors traveled around in just four minutes.

Initially Henry Ford vehemently initially opposed the company’s participation in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair but he relented after he learned of General Motors’ grand plans. This turned out to be a smart decision by Ford, as the company’s exhibit turned out to be the most popular corporate display at the Fair.     

Visitors to the Ford exhibit toured the industrialized barn of the “Farm of the Future,” while the Ford Theatre showed an original motion picture entitled “An Artistic Triumph”  about the building of a Ford V-8 engine from start to finish. Another Ford exhibit known as the “Century Room” featured a display of Henry Ford’s first workshop, complete with his first engine and first car, along with a collection of early horseless carriages and early Ford cars.

The Briggs Dream Car

Lincoln Motor Company (the marque had been part of the Ford Motor family since 1922) presented its aerodynamic rear-engine “Briggs Dream Car” concept car. The four-door “small Lincoln” prototype authorized by Edsel Ford and designed by Briggs designer and Dutch immigrant John Tjaarda, featured a unitized body. The rear mounted engine permitted the hood to dramatically slope downward, which Lincoln stated would afford the driver of the car to have an excellent view of the road.

The design of the ‘Briggs Dream Car’, so named as it was built by Briggs Manufacturing, Ford’s largest body supplier) was issued United States patent #D94396 on January 22 1935. Although it never reach production, many elements of the ‘Briggs Dream Car’ design were used for the design of the ground-breaking production “small Lincoln,” the1936 Lincoln-Zephyr, albeit with a front-mounted V-12 engine.

After the Chicago World’s Fair closed at the end of October 1934, the Ford Rotunda building itself was dismantled and permanently rebuilt (with some improvements) in Dearborn Michigan and  served as the visitor center for Ford Motor Company’s World Headquarters before the building burned down in November 1962.

The largest private exhibitor at the 1933 World’s Fair was Chrysler Motors - the Chrysler building covered over 68,000 square feet divided among two floors. In the building were scores of exhibits ranging including a huge drop forge where workmen made parts for new cars right before the fair goers' watchful eyes. The steel furnace, 60-ton drop forge hammer, and trimmer produced one steering knuckle for a Plymouth automobile each minute.

Visitors to the Chrysler Motors building also viewed the manufacture of Pittsburgh Plate Glass (PPG) ‘Duplate’ laminated safety glass, an operating automatic loom, a "Belgian Roll" road testing device, and an actual operating wind tunnel. A 145-foot long, seven-foot wide table, advertised by Chrysler as “the world’s largest display table” contained every single part of a dissembled 1934 Plymouth Six four-door sedan.

A handout showed the Chrysler expo and test track 

Outdoors, the Chrysler Motors pavilion covered over seven acres of land on the Chicago World’s Fair site and included sunken gardens with a 325-foot long reflecting pool, a 105-foot diameter revolving Cyclorama that depicted an airplane trip from coast to coast, new car display areas, and a test track.

Plymouth ads used Barney Oldfield as spokeman

The quarter-mile long oval track presided over by Barney Oldfield, described as “the most famous and colorful figure in racing history” was 18 feet wide at its narrowest point, with 40-foot wide banked turns and the western straightaway featured a bypass that led to a 25-foot high 100-foot long ramp (a 25% grade) that demonstrated the hill-climbing ability of new Chrysler automobiles.

Six times each day, Barney Oldfield and his crew of "Hell Drivers" performed thrill shows to demonstrate Chrysler products on the track.  The show’s climax came when Oldfield or one of his drivers, deliberately rolled over a new Plymouth in the sand pit located in the center of the track pit to demonstrate the strength of the all-steel body built by Chrysler.   Between shows, fairgoers stood in line to take demonstration rides around the track in new Chryslers or Plymouths driven by the “Hell Drivers.”

Poster of the 1934 Fair

The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair proved to be very successful despite the Depression with fair admission of 50 cents for adults (equivalent to $9.00 today) and 25 cents for each of their children. Advertising literature distributed across the country heralded the low cost for visitors to the World’s Fair and stated that the average fair goer in 1933 spent just $1.17 after admission for transportation, entertainment and food. With over 22 million visitors during 1933, the Century of Progress Exposition board members voted for the fair’s run to be extended into 1934 to run from May 26 to October 31.

Our next installment will share all the details of the event that highlighted the 1934 Century of Progress, the unique “Jinx Day Auto Derby.”

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The 1934 “Jinx Day Auto Derby”

Part One- The wonders of the 1933 World’s Fair

The 1934 ‘Jinx Day Auto Derby’ held on Friday, July 13, 1934 which matched 13 famous cars and drivers holds a unique place in automotive racing history, but before we get into the details of the race, we first need to examine the setting for this unique race.

The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair officially known as the “Century of Progress Exhibition” opened May 27 1933 and ran through November 12 1933. Its purpose was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the city's incorporation and, more importantly to provide jobs and recreation for a nation mired in a deepening depression. The fair site covered 424 acres on the shore of Lake Michigan between 12th and 39th streets, south of the Chicago Navy Pier in Chicago, within walking distance of Chicago's downtown.

The 1933 World’s Fair proved to be such a success for the local economy that as the original scheduled closing date drew near, the organizers announced that the Fair would be opened again to run from May 26 to October 31, 1934. But let us not get ahead of ourselves just yet…..

With more than 300 companies involved, to see the all the exhibits at the ‘Century of Progress’ would have required visitors to walk more than 84 miles.  New consumer products shown to the world included items as simple as the Metflex stainless steel  ice tray which enabled consumers to easily go from “from tray to glass,” to the new air-cooled Electrolux, the gas refrigerator advertised as “totally silent and trouble-free” as it had no moving parts. The fair was also the site of the debut of streamlined passenger trains, irradiated milk, automatic signal control elevators, and Westinghouse’s high-pressure mercury lights.

A postcard of the Havoline Thermometer

Visitors could ride the Sky-Ride, designed by Robinson & Steinman which took passengers on an 1850-foot ride in zeppelin-shaped cars suspended 219 feet above the fair, then look over the world's tallest thermometer, which was twenty-one stories (218 ft.) high and displayed the temperature with neon light tubes, sponsored by the Indian Refining Company, Lawrenceville, Ill., makers of Waxfree Havoline Motor Oils which was sold at all Texaco stations. The Sinclair Refining Company presented an outdoor exhibit of animated dinosaurs that included recreations of a stegosaurus, protoceratops and a seventy foot long brontosaurus. 

Two postcards of the Houses of Tomorrow 

The ‘Houses of Tomorrow’ exhibit  contained ten complete finished houses in a neighborhood setting which featured the  two-story Armco-Ferro Porcelain Enameled Frameless Steel  House Built By Ferro Enamel Corporation (builder and supplier of enamel service stations). 

The Masonite Corporation bragged that “millions of feet of Masonite was used in thousands of places” at the Fair built a house out of  insulated Masonite.  Century Homes’   presented “America’s first glass home” a three-story octagon home, while the Brick Manufacturers' Association of America presented “the supersafe home of the future.”

The Southern Cypress Manufacturers' Association exhibit a house built entirely of Pecky Cypress, while the Rostone Company of Lafayette Indiana , makers of Rosite fiber-reinforced unsaturated polyester resins used in electrical gear, introduced the Rostone synthetic stone fireproof steel framed home with a cellwood interior, and  Stran Steel built two steel framed homes,  the “town house” and “garden home”  which they claimed were “fire safe, lightning proof, shrink proof, termite proof and salvageable.”

A postcard of the Firestone World's Fair factory
Firestone Tire and Rubber Company had a small tire factory built on site and a display of the 1911 ‘500’ winning Marmon Wasp in a glass-enclosed case alongside “one of the winning cars from the 1933 Indianapolis 500-mile race” (actually Tony Gulotta’s 1933 fifth place finisher, a Studebaker). The display not so subtly reminded visitors that for 14 consecutive years, Firestone Gum-dipped tires have been on the winning car “in the most grueling test of tire dependability the world has ever known.”

A postcard of the Firestone singing fountain

The Firestone exhibit also featured two one of a kind display, a “singing color fountain,” six dome-shaped fountains which shot water 20 feet in the air synchronized to music, and the “first in the world” 80-foot long multi-color shadow sign. Goodyear countered by offering rides in its new blimps, the Reliance and the Puritan, which became familiar sites cruising over the Fair from Goodyear’s landing field south of the Chrysler exhibition building.

While there were many wonders to be experienced in this Depression-era World’s Fair, the most stunning had to be the automobiles, as all the manufacturers were represented, and many of the luxury brands introduced one-a-kind customs built just for the Fair. 

The restored Packard Car of the Dome
Packard showed its “Car of the Dome,” a Packard 1107 147-inch wheelbase V-12 powered chassis fitted with a four door sedan body built by Dietrich, Inc. designed by Raymond Deitrich that featured a V-windshield style. All the body hardware was gold-plated, as were the steering column and all the instruments. 

A view of the interior of the Packard Car of the Dome

The Packard's  interior was outfitted with highly polished Carpathian elm with a cabinet behind the front seat stretching the width of the car. One wonders how well the 160 horsepower engine worked to move a vehicle with a curb weight of over 5000 pounds. This restored car was later purchased by Bob Bahre, owner of new Hampshire Motor Speedway. 

The restored Duesenberg "Twenty Grand"

Duesenberg presented the "Twenty Grand,” so called because it reported cost $20,000 to build (nearly $6 million today). The Arlington Torpedo Duesenberg SJ chassis number 2539 was fitted with the body built by Rollston of New York designed by Gordon Buerhig. This beautiful machine was later restored and fitted engine 513 and is one of the gems of the Nethercutt Museum Collection in Sylmar, California. 

A restored Silver Arrow 

Pierce-Arrow presented the third of five modernistic ‘Silver Arrow’ concept cars designed by Phillip O. Wright and originally introduced at the January 1933 New York auto show. Each car was hand-built reportedly a cost of $10,000 each on a Pierce Arrow model 1236 chassis, the Silver Arrow featured sleek fastback styling recessed door handles, no running boards and carried its spare tires in compartments behind each front wheel. 

Each of the five Silver Arrow cars was powered by a 462-cu.in. L-head V-12 engine, rated at 175hp with a claimed top speed of 115 MPH. An eight-cylinder Silver Arrow 2-door production version followed in 1935 and 1935 but these cars were weak imitations of the originals.  

A postcard view of the Studebaker display

Studebaker went in a different direction and built a mammoth wooden model of their President Land Cruiser automobile. The giant Land Cruiser, displayed in the great hall of the “Travel and Transport Building,” was 80 feet long, 28 feet high, and 30 feet wide. The running boards were 21 feet in length, the windshield wiper three feet long, and the tires 12-1/2 feet in diameter.

A photo of one of the Studebaker miniatures 

For maximum appeal, the giant Studebaker was painted ‘Canary Yellow,’ a color later made available on production cars for an extra $80. Below the running board was a door that led visitors into an auditorium inside the massive wooden creation that held 80 guests. Films were shown that extolled the virtues of the new Studebakers and that Studebaker had set more than 140 records for speed and endurance. A 5 3/4-inch long pot-metal miniature, molded on site by National Products with “Replica of Giant World’s Fair Studebaker” cast into the trunk, was sold as a souvenir.

A postcard of the Nash display

The Nash display featured the Whiting Corporation’s (an overhead crane manufacturer) Auto-Parking Tower an eighty foot tall glass-enclosed tower stocked with sixteen Nash six and eight cylinder automobiles on “an endless chain”

The Dymaxion 

The Gulf Oil exhibit featured Buckminster Fuller's “Dymaxion Car” a 20-foot long aluminum bodied car shaped like a blimp that rode on a steel frame with a canvas top. The front-wheel drive car had three wheels, two up front, one in the back and a periscope instead of a rear window. “Dymaxion” was the combination of the words “.dynamic, maximum, and tension,” to summarize Fuller’s goal to do more with less.

Chicago Daily News columnist Howard Vincent O’Brien described the Dymaxion on August 15, 1934 as “well worth a look if you are interested in knowing what sort of vehicle may soon be taking you about. It’s a three-wheeled affair, driven from the front wheels, and with the engine in the rear. It turns on its own base, and, using a standard Ford engine as a power plant, it will go – says Mr. Fuller – 125 miles an hour, doing 30 miles to the gallon of gasoline. I haven’t ridden in it yet, but those who have say it floats like an airplane.”

Fuller formed the Dymaxion Corporation on March 4, 1933 and set up his workshop in a former building of the defunct Locomobile Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut  In three months Fuller and his 27 employees finished the first of three prototypes which was sold to Gulf Oil to promote its aviation gasoline.
On October 28, 1933, the Gulf Dymaxion was hit and rolled over four times in a traffic accident near the entrance of the World’s Fair. At the time of the accident the Dymaxion to transporting two male passengers to the airport to board a plane to Akron Ohio so the men could board the Graf Zeppelin to return home. 
The 36 year old driver, Francis T. Turner, described at the time in news reports as an a race car driver from Birmingham Alabama but actually an aviation mechanic, died of his injuries, and his two passengers were injured. William Francis Forbes-Sempill of Scotland suffered a fractured skull and Charles Dollfuss of France suffered cuts and bruises and internal injuries.

Press reports following the accident only stated that Fuller’s “weird car” had rolled in the accident, which led to the public perception that the Dymaxion was unsafe.  The subsequent coroner’s inquest found the actual cause of the impact was a collision with a car driven by a Chicago parks commissioner who wanted a closer look at the Dymaxion.  

According to witnesses' testimony, the two vehicles were traveling down the road in the same direction at and estimated 70 mph, and Turner tried to evade colliding with the politician's wandering car to no avail. The inquest found the design of the Dymaxion was not a factor in the accident, but by the time that decision was announced the negative publicity had already done its damage; financing collapsed and Dymaxion cars never entered production.

Part two of the Jinx Day Auto Derby history, coming soon, will provide more background for our story that includes an examination of the amazing exhibits of the Detroit “Big Three” automobile manufacturers at the 1933 World’s Fair. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Three forgotten Indianapolis ‘500’ trophies

All the photographs that accompany this article appear courtesy of the the Indianapolis Motor Speedway collection in the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies.  . 

Since the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s earliest days,  accomplishments at the great track have been rewarded with magnificent trophies, the most notable and enduring of which is the Borg-Warner Trophy, which Nick Schwartz a writer for the USA Today newspaper oddly proclaimed in 2013 as the “one of the creepiest trophy in sports.” 

1965 Indy 500 winner Jimmy Clark received his "Baby Borg" at the 1966 Indy 500 driver's meeting, with the Borg-Warner trophy resting on the table beside him. Note that the base we now know of today has not yet been added in 1966. 

The hollow sterling silver Borg-Warner trophy, which has a removable domed top, was first unveiled in 1936 and immediately became the most coveted trophy in automobile racing awarded to the winner of the famed Indianapolis 500-mile race.  

Harry Hartz with the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy in 1932 posed beside the winning car which he owned that was driven to victory by Fred Frame. It appears that the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy is nearly eight feet tall.  

The predecessor to the Borg-Warner trophy was the Wheeler-Schebler trophy which dated back to 1909, but was first awarded during the Indianapolis ‘500’ in 1914 to the race leader at the 400-mile or 160-lap juncture. Sponsored by the Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor Company the Indianapolis-based carburetor manufacturer owned by Speedway founder Frank Wheeler, the magnificent trophy was retired and permanently awarded to Harry Hartz in 1932. 

Hartz never won the Indianapolis 500-mile race as a driver but won the great race twice as a car owner in 1930 (with driver Billy Arnold) and 1932 (with driver Fred Frame) and owned the car driven by Arnold that led the great race  at 160 laps in 1931. The Wheeler-Schebler Company was one of four companies along with Warner Gear, Borg & Beck and Mechanics Universal Joint Company, which combined to become the Borg-Warner Corporation. 

The author’s review of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway collection in the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies found photographs of three forgotten trophies in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

When the author identifies these three trophies as “forgotten,” this only means that no records have been found for these three trophies being awarded in recent years. It is very likely that these trophies still reside in the Hall of Fame Museum collection at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway General Manager T.E. 'Pop' Myers seated beside the 
Sargent Edward Stomper Memorial Trophy in 1946

 In May 1946, the press office of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced that two new trophies would be awarded for the 1946 Indianapolis ‘500.’ 

The first, the Sargent Edward Stomper Memorial Trophy was an award for the chief mechanic of the winning car. Mrs. Evelyn Stomper of Chicago donated the trophy in memory of her husband who was one 3,504 servicemen who lost their lives in action during the World War 2 invasion of the Philippine Island of Leyte. Research found the last mention in the press of the award of the 33-inch tall gold Stomper trophy came in 1961.

The Robert M. Bowes Memorial Trophy 

At the same time as the Stomper trophy announcement, officials of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Bowes Seal Fast Corporation announced the creation of the Robert M. Bowes Memorial Trophy to be awarded the fastest qualifier on the first day of time trials. This trophy in the memory of Bowes Seal Fast Company co-founders Robert M. Bowes who passed away in October 1945. The Bowes trophy was awarded through at least 1954 to the pole position winner.

The Walter E. Lyon Memorial Trophy

In 1959, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway first awarded the Walter E. Lyon Memorial Trophy to the fastest qualifier in the 33-car starting field. Firestone Tire and Rubber Company president Raymond C. Firestone presented the trophy to honor the memory of Mr. Lyon, the director of tire engineering and development for Firestone until his death in October 1958 at age 55. 

Mr. Lyon pushed Firestone management spend the monies to establishing a Firestone in-house tire testing program. The tire company bought a specially-modified Kurtis KK500C roadster chassis and hired Ray Nichels to fit their new Kurtis chassis with a 331 cubic inch V-8 Chrysler engine.  With Nichels as the crew chief, the Firestone test machine logged extensive tire testing miles, including pre-race testing for the “Race of Two Worlds” at Monza in Italy.

Walter Lyon was also the driving force in the construction of Firestone’s Fort Stockton Texas test track.  At the Texas test track’s grand opening in 1957, Lyon stated to the local newspaper that the nearly 8-mile oval track “was designed to permit speeds up to 130 MPH.” 

It was on the Firestone Fort Stockton track in August 1987 that A J Foyt drove the Oldsmobile  140-cubic inch ”Quad 4” powered ‘Aerotech’ based on a March 84C IndyCar chassis to a closed course speed record of 257.123 MPH, nearly double the speed that Mr. Lyon envisioned.

Readers, please contact the editor of  this blog  if you have additional information on these “lost trophies” such as when they were last awarded and their current whereabouts. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The short life of the Hoosier Motor Speedway

The Hoosier Motor Speedway was a half-mile banked dirt track in Indianapolis Indiana located at the intersection of Pendleton Pike ( now known as Massachusetts Avenue) and 38th Street, about 10 miles east of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and while it was not a western Indiana track it was considered by racers to be part of the of the “Suicide Circuit.“

Nowadays the track location is well within the Indianapolis city boundaries, but from 1922 to 1925, when the oval track was in operation, it sat just beyond the eastern outskirts of the city of Indianapolis. When it opened on November 11, 1922 with a 75-mile ‘big car’ race, the Hoosier Motor Speedway billed itself as “the greatest half-mile race course in the world.”

It appears that the Hoosier Motor Speedway did not run a schedule of regular weekly racing programs; rather it staged long distance races on holidays, such as July 4th and Armistice Day. For example, on July 4 1923 the track played host to races attended by the famed General “Black Jack” Pershing and his guest the visiting World War One French General, Henri Gourard.

An advertisement in the September 1923 Indianapolis News newspaper illustrated the urban growth that the short-lived Hoosier Motor Speedway battled from the start. The ad for Shadelands Park urged buyers to “come take a breath of nature just one square north of Hoosier Motor Speedway and view the 80 large tracts in this beautiful home site addition out northeast, right in the line of the growth of Indianapolis.”

During 1923, manager J.V. Lines struggled to keep the Hoosier Motor Speedway financially afloat with boxing exhibitions at a temporary arena on the grounds, but that plan ran afoul of the Indiana State Boxing Commission and the Marion County Sheriff George Snyder, as the authorities contended that these were actual fights, not exhibitions.

The final boxing match in August, which featured famed Argentine boxer Luis Firpo and Joe Downey from Cincinnati, ended in financial disaster when the promoter of the event absconded with a portion of the gate receipts and Lines, out the 1/3 of the gate he was promised, had to make good on the $2000 appearance fee guaranteed to Firpo.

Despite that financial disaster, the Hoosier Motor Speedway continued to stage races that included a 75-lap mile benefit race for the Riley Memorial Hospital Fund on October 21 1923 that featured drivers Ray Harlan and Hilton Crouch, and the season finale held on Armistice Day November 11 1923.    
The 1923 Hoosier Motor Speedway season finale was known the ‘Hoosier 100,’ a 100- mile race for the Central States Championship and the J.V. Lines Trophy. 42 cars and drivers from across three states entered the race but only 16 cars would start the 100-mile feature. 

Starters in the feature included Arthur ‘Fuzzy’ Davidson from Chicago, George Lyons from Chicago in his Essex Special and future Indianapolis competitors William ‘Shorty’ Cantlon, Joe Huff, Charles ‘Dutch’ Baumann Homer Ormsby and Stuart Wilkinson.

Also entered  in the field of mostly “Fronty-Fords,” which used Arthur Chevrolet’s Frontenac double overhead camshaft cylinder  head on a Ford Model T engine block, was the ‘Hartley Special’ built by brothers Ted and Calvin Glenn ‘C.G.’ Hartley who ran the Hartley Garage an auto repair shop in tiny Roanoke Indiana with mechanics Charles Bowman and Arthur Smith. The engine in the ‘Hartley Special’ used a standard Ford crankshaft, but featured a Bosch battery ignition system built by Harry Bonewitz also of Roanoke.

 At the drop of the green flag at 2 o’clock in the afternoon Davidson grabbed the lead but was soon passed by Lyons, who led until his Essex suffered a broken axle on the 50th lap. Joe Huff in his eponymous racer took command and held the lead until he was forced to pit with engine trouble and Huff lost two laps to the leaders. 

The J.V. Lines Trophy today
photograph by Gene Ingram

Ted Hartley took the lead then held the point the rest of the way without a pit stop, and finished the 100 miles in one hour 56 minutes and 29 seconds. Second place went to Joe Huff who had made up one of his lost laps. The Hartley brothers won $260.00 in addition to the J.V. Lines silver loving cup, which was displayed in the lobby of the Farmers State Bank in Roanoke. The J.V. Lines trophy is still displayed in Roanoke in the trophy case of the local historical society.

The Central States Championship was Ted Hartley’s first race victory in what proved to be a long and successful racing career. Ted raced into his 70’s before he retired in 1973.and raced across the United States and Canada, in Mexico and South America. Ted scored the 1939 Central States Racing Association midget championship and the 1950 Great Lakes Auto Racing Association championship. 

Ted Hartley's son, Leslie Eugene “Gene” Hartley was the 1959 USAC (United States Auto Club) midget series champion, scored 33 USAC midget feature wins in his career,  and drove in ten Indianapolis 500-mile races. Both father and son are members of the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

Brother C.G. Hartley who built the winning machine also drove race cars and later entered his own #29 ‘Hartley Special’ a Fronty-Ford powered machine in the 1924 Indianapolis 500-mile race but failed to qualify. C.G.’s real talent was in working on machinery, as he patented two inventions, a steering attachment for tractors and an engine governor system which made it into production.  
After the 1923 season, J.V. Lines departed as the track operator and the promoter of the Hoosier Motor Speedway beginning in 1924 was the Indianapolis firm of Morton & Brett. Elvin D. Morton and his partner, Jack Brett, were major distributors and manufacturers of aftermarket Ford and Dodge speed parts sold through regional distributors and mail order catalogs. While under Morton & Brett management, the track suffered a driver fatality, but not in the manner one might expect.

28-year-old Arthur ‘Fuzzy’ Davidson from Chicago, one of several drivers whom lived on the grounds was found dead on the grounds on the evening of July 22 1925.  The following day, Marion County Coroner Robinson announced that Davidson, who won a race on the Hoosier Motor Speedway in 1923, died as a result of “congestion of the lungs that resulted from overindulgence in alcohol.” Recall that at the time the 18th Amendment to the Constitution banning the manufacture and sale of alcohol was in effect at the time.  

A few weeks after what proved to be the final race, held on Labor Day 1925, won by 1924 Indianapolis 500-mile starter and Detroit native Fred Harder, the Hoosier Motor Speedway grandstands and bleachers, valued at $12,000 were destroyed by fire on the night of September 15, 1925. The arsonist was never captured and the grandstands never rebuilt. 

Within two years, the site was overgrown with little evidence that the track ever existed.  Ninety years later, there is no evidence that the Hoosier Motor Speedway ever existed, as it is now is the site of commercial shopping center.