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 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 23, 2015

Lloyd Ruby and Bill Daniels

On Saturday September 19, 2015, the sixth annual Racers Reunion Banquet in Irving Texas will feature a presentation on the life and times of Lloyd Ruby. As a primer to that event, we present this article about one of Lloyd's sponsors- Bill Daniels 

The USAC (United States Auto Club) championship trail during the 1960s and 1970s was one of the major battlegrounds in the titanic struggle between the two United States tire giants- Goodyear and Firestone - for racing supremacy. Beginning in 1925, Firestone tires were the only choice of Indianapolis teams aside from isolated entries by Sears Allstate and Dunlop tires until Goodyear’s official entry into USAC in 1965.

The opening salvo of the war actually came when AJ Foyt won the 1964 Indianapolis 500 on Firestone tires while wearing a Goodyear driving suit (Foyt had tested Goodyear tires but found Firestones faster in May). In 1965, twelve cars in the 33-car Indianapolis rode on Goodyear tires, and in 1967 Foyt scored Goodyear’s first Indy 500 win since 1919 and ended Firestone’s 43-race winning streak. In the years that followed, the two tire companies practically threw suitcases full of money at car owners, drivers, and mechanics that used their respective tires.

Among other things, the ‘Tire War’ financed the importation of Formula 1 drivers, the development of the turbocharged Offenhauser engine, and the design and construction of countless new race car chassis designs. The war continued for ten years until Firestone could no longer afford it and pulled out of USAC racing at the end of the 1974 season.  

At that point, the costs of racing Indianapolis-type cars had spiraled out of control, and inability of the sport to adjust to the loss of the tire factory money eventually led to the formation of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) in 1978.

Gene White, a former NASCAR driver who was first driver to post a qualifying lap at the Daytona International Speedway, ran a Firestone tire distributorship based in Atlanta Georgia. As the Firestone tire distributor for the Southeast, Gene White had an inside track on getting his share of the Firestone Tire money and his new USAC team debuted at the 1967 Jimmy Bryan Memorial at Phoenix International  Raceway.

White’s new USAC team featured  veteran Texas driver Lloyd Ruby and chief mechanic Dave Laycock with the Mongoose chassis powered by a turbocharged Offenhauser. This first Mongoose, built by Laycock, was essentially an approved copy of the 1964 Brabham chassis, similar to Howard Gilbert’s ‘Cheetah’ chassis driven by George Follmer and others.

Dave Laycock a second generation racer (his father worked in the IMS press office) first came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1957, as a ‘stooge’ (assistant) for Herb Porter, then became a chief mechanic for Marion Indiana glass manufacturer Bill Forbes’ team in 1960.  

Laycock built a lasting friendship with Forbes’ last driver, Lloyd Ruby and would serve as Ruby’s crew chief on various teams for years. In addition to building a new chassis to Gene White, Laycock also provided a Mongoose chassis to the new team owned by 1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones and Vel Miletich, which used four-camshaft Ford power while White's used an Offenhauser engine.

The White team’s introduction to USAC championship racing at Phoenix went perfectly; Ruby won the pole position and the race. Ruby scored another win in 1967 at the oddly shaped Langhorne (Pa) one-mile oval driving a Ford-powered Lotus 38, which is an interesting sidebar story. 

Al Dean had bought the Lotus 38 chassis new in 1966 for Mario Andretti, but Andretti and crew chief Clint Brawner preferred to race the the Brawner-built Hawk (another Brabham copy) and Al Dean sold the car to Gene White for use as a backup to the Mongoose. Ruby drove the Lotus at Langhorne since the Mongoose was still in its road course configuration due to the three-week rain-delay for the Mosport race.  

Carrying American Red Ball Van Lines sponsorship, the new team notched eight top five finishes along with the two wins, to finish sixth in points but in USAC’s crown jewel the Indianapolis '500,' Ruby finished 33rd after the Offenhauser engine dropped a valve after just three laps. 

The team’s most unusual appearance came on Labor Day when Ruby unsuccessfully attempted to qualify the rear-engine Mongoose on the dirt miles in DuQuoin Illinois and the 'Hoosier 100' held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Ruby finished fourth in 1968 USAC points with two wins and seven top five finishes and the combination of Gene White, Dave Laycock and Lloyd Ruby became one of the elite Firestone teams, but the following season, 1969, proved to be a tough year. 

In addition to appearing in USAC races, Ruby served as Firestone’s primary tire tester and recorded thousands of miles of tire testing, many at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 1969, Ruby practiced the new Mongoose wedge design and showed its potential, but destroyed it in a practice crash and had to use the 1968 car for the race. Ruby famously was eliminated from the 1969 Indianapolis ‘500’ after a pit lane fueling error caused a ruptured fuel tank in a pit lane after Ruby pitted with the lead.  

Unlike the 1968 season, the White team ceased their attempts to qualify the rear-engine Mongoose at dirt tracks, and skipped some road races, so Ruby finished tenth in 1969 USAC points after he appeared at only 10 of the 24 races.The team recorded no race wins in 1969 and just top five finishes. 

Lloyd Ruby's official 1970 IMS photo. 
Photo courtesy of the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection 

In 1970, after his earlier overture to sponsor driver Bobby Unser fell through, cable television mogul Bill Daniels stepped up to sponsor the Gene White USAC entries driven by Lloyd Ruby. 

Bill Daniels posed next to his fighter plane. 
Photo courtesy of the Daniels Fund

Born in Colorado in 1920, Robert W. “Bill” Daniels joined the United States Navy after graduation from the New Mexico Military Institute and served as a fighter pilot in the Navy through World War 2 and the Korean Conflict. After his Navy retirement, in 1952, Daniels started a company to transmit via microwave the signal from a Denver television, to Casper Wyoming, after he had seen a televised out-of state boxing match in a bar in Denver.

Bill formed Daniels & Associates in 1958 to bring capital sources to the fledgling cable television industry, and became instrumental in building the nation's cable infrastructure. Daniels owned and operated hundreds of cable television systems under the CableVision banner before selling them in 1988. Bill Daniels was worth over $1 billion when he died in 2000.
An avid sports fan, Daniels had ownership stakes in several sports team during his life and started with the ABA (American Basketball Association) Utah Stars franchise.   In June 1970, Daniels bought the Los Angeles Stars franchise from construction company owner Bill Kirst, moved the team to Salt Lake City and the following season, the Utah Stars won the 1971 ABA championship.

To start the 1970 USAC season, Ruby qualified the #12 Laycock chassis in fourth starting spot at Phoenix and finished third just one lap behind Al Unser. The team skipped the Golden Gate100 at the Sears Point road course, but at Trenton at the end of April, Ruby qualified the ‘Daniels CableVision Special’ second and went on to win the 200-lap race at an average speed of 135 MPH.   

The 1970 Daniels Cablevision Special 
Photo courtesy of the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection 

At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Dave Laycock unveiled the new and improved Mongoose, a wedge-style monocque chassis with an aerodynamic fairing over the turbocharged Offenhauser engine.  The car carried Daniels CableVision sponsorship and a memorable patriotic paint scheme of red and blue with white stars.

Though they had one of the fastest cars on the grounds, the team struggled mightily during the month losing five engines during the month including on his first two qualifying attempts.  Ruby eventually qualified in 25th position on the third day at 168.890 MPH, a speed that would have earned Lloyd sixth starting spot had it come on the first day of time trials.

Daniels, who also sponsored Apollo 12 Astronaut ‘Pete’ Conrad’s SCCA Wheeler Formula Vee racing team, arranged for Conrad to serve on the race day ‘500’ pit crew.   Ruby made a terrific charge through the field and surged into the lead on lap 50. However, as he led the next lap, his car began to smoke and Ruby soon retired with drive gear failure on lap 54 for a disappointing 27th finish.
After the team finished fourth at Milwaukee in June with Offenhauser power, by the second Milwaukee race in August Dave Laycock modified the Mongoose to accommodate turbocharged four-cam Ford power.  Ruby practiced with the 825-horsepower turbocharged Ford power plant at Ontario Motor Speedway for that track’s inaugural event, but switched to the team’s backup turbo-Offenhauser powered Mongoose for time trials and became the first pole-sitter at the new start-of-the-art 2 1/2-mile speedway.

Ruby led the first seven laps of the California 500 in the ‘Daniels CableVision Special,’ but retired on lap 42 with engine failure. The final 1970 appearance of the ‘Daniels CableVision Special’ came at Phoenix when Lloyd crashed out on lap 63 after he had started in fourth position.

The White team expanded to two cars for the 1971 season, with Ruby paired with NASCAR stock car refugee William ‘Cale’ Yarborough who had lost his factory-backed stock car ride after Ford pulled out of NASCAR at the end of the 1970 season. Yarborough had driven twice at Indianapolis in 1966 and 1967, and crashed out of the race both times. 

The team started the 1971 USAC season with turbocharged Ford 1970 Mongoose entries that carried ‘Gene White Firestone’ sponsorship, but at the Speedway, Ruby’s car sported sponsorship from Bill Daniels’ Utah Stars basketball team that had defeated the Kentucky Colonels in the seventh game of the playoffs on May 17 and won the ABA championship.

The appearance of Ruby’s car closed matched that of the 1970 ‘Daniels Cablevision Special’ with a red white and blue patriotic paint scheme but due to the larger size of the Ford powerplant, the engine cover replaced by small winglets built into the bodywork. 

After Ruby scored a pole position start and three top five finishes in the first four 1971 USAC season races, Ruby qualified seventh for the Indianapolis ‘500’ on the first day of time trials with a  four-lap average speed of 174.310 MPH.

In a race rife by gearbox failures, Ruby retired with gear problems on lap 174 while he ran in fourth place after he led the race earlier for five laps. Ruby and the ‘Utah Stars Special’ closed out a solid 1971 season with four top ten finishes over the last seven races that included an eighth place finish at the inaugural 500-mile race at Pocono International Raceway and a fourth place finish at Ontario to finish fifth in USAC season points.

By 1972, Bill Daniels focused on his budding political career and he scaled back his sponsorship commitment to Lloyd RUby for the Indianapolis '500' and for Cale Yarborough in two of the three USAC 500-mile races but combined it with his political aspirations as the cars were dubbed the ‘Bill Daniels GOP Specials.’

After five seasons of the Mongoose chassis, car owner Gene White, with Firestone backing, commissioned former Lotus fabricators Graham Bartils and Eamon “Chalkie” Fullalove to build the Atlanta chassis, a copy of the successful McLaren M16B with side-mounted radiators and huge rear-mounted wing. 

The major difference between the copy and the original was that the Atlanta chassis housed the Foyt (formerly Ford) turbocharged engine which was larger than the turbocharged Offenhauser used by McLaren. The paint scheme on Yarborough’s car remained red white and blue, but was not as attractive as the 1970 and 1971 Mongoose schemes.

Yarborough, never a great Indy qualifier, posted a four-lap average of 178.860 MPH on the last day of time trials to bump Wally Dallenbach from the starting field. Ruby failed to qualify the #21 'Bill Daniels GOP Special' for the starting field, but instead drove the #5 "Wynn's Special.'

With the slowest speed in the field, Cale and the ‘Daniels GOP Special’ withstood seven bumping attempts before the final gun. The Daniels GOP Special moved up to 32nd starting position for race day after Wally Dallenbach replaced the injured Art Pollard in the rebuilt STP Lola T270/Ford. 

Cale completed 193 laps on race day to finish in tenth position. Two months later at the triangle-shaped Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania  the combination of Yarborough and the Atlanta/Foyt turbocharged Ford were not fast enough to make the starting field, which was the end of Bill Daniels’ Indy Car sponsorship.  

Daniels would later run for the Colorado governorship in 1974 and lost badly in the primary. Bill tired of the continuing financial losses and sold his basketball team in August 1974, but ownership reverted to Daniels two weeks later after the new owner missed a payment. 

Daniels re-sold the team again May 1975, only to have ownership again revert to Daniels after missed payments just before the 1975 season. Daniels had enough and on December 2, 1975, the American Basketball Association canceled the Stars franchise after Daniels failed to fund its payroll.

Daniels remained interested in sports ownership however, and in 1982, Daniels and fellow cable television pioneer Alan Harmon were awarded the San Diego franchise for the new United States Football League (USFL). 

However, it turned out that the only San Diego venue available to the pair was Balboa Stadium, one-time home of the United Racing Association midgets racing. Balboa was deemed far too small so Daniels and Harmon moved the franchise to Los Angeles to play in the enormous (93,000 seat) Coliseum. After the LA Express suffered through a season of miserable attendance, Daniels and Harmon sold the team.

Daniels acted as a auto racing promoter years after his foray into IndyCar sponsorship to bring racing to his beloved home state. 

The state of Colorado had hosted two AAA (American Automobile Association) championship races in late September of 1951 and 1952 promoted by JC Agajanian on the one-mile Centennial Turf Club horse track in Littleton, a southern suburb of Denver.  In the 1951 race, Tony Bettenhausen started from the pole position and went on to one of his eight wins in the Belanger #99 on his way to the AAA National Championship. 

In 1952, Bill Vukovich won the second of his two AAA championship dirt track victories at he started from the pole position in a race where 17 of the 18 starters finished. From 1968 to 1970, USAC staged three annual road course races at the 2.66-mile Continental Divide Raceway in Castle Rock Colorado. 

A.J. Foyt won at Castle Rock in 1968, Gordon Johncock won in 1969 after Foyt crashed out with five laps to go (but still finished third), and Mario Andretti led the final 41 circuits to win in 1970 to record the only USAC win for the odd German-built McNamara chassis.  

In 1989, Andy Shlenker, the son of Sidney Shlenker then the owner of the Denver Nuggets NBA franchise, pitched the Denver City Council on the idea of a CART Indy car race through the streets of Denver. After the USAC/CART split of 1981, by 1983 CART’s leadership began to add street courses in the schedule beginning with the 1983 Caesar’s Grand Prix in Las Vegas that replaced Formula 1.

By 1989, the CART schedule featured four street courses, and the promotion of these events became a cottage industry. In his pitch to the Council, Shlenker compared hosting a CART race to the Olympics, and the Council votes to approve sign a five-year contract that included $3.3 million dollars in taxpayer funding.

Bill Daniels initially loaned Denver Grand Prix Auto Race Inc. $500,000 but eventually upped his stake to $6 million. Shlenker negotiated a $90,000 contract with Texaco for naming rights for the inaugural race to be held August 26, 1990. The new Denver race, which replaced the 500-mile race at Pocono, was one of six street courses on the 1990 CART schedule.

The 1.9-mile 13-turn Civic Center course wound around City Hall and the US Mint building but Shierson team manager Neil Micklewright spoke for the teams and stated, ''Our initial impression of the new street course is it's somewhat tighter and twistier than we had thought and it’s quite narrow.”  

Teo Fabio in the Porsche powered March won the pole position for the inaugural Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Denver and led the first seven laps only to crash in turn one on the eighth lap. Bobby Rahal and Al Unser Junior battled through the race, with Unser finally taking the lead for good on lap 73 of 80 laps. While the race initially seemed to be a success, with over 100,000 fans in attendance, and an estimated $11 million impact on the Denver area economy, the 1990 race lost $4.5 million dollars.

The city was willing to absorb its investment losses, but demanded payment for the damage to Civic Center Plaza from the grandstands. With the losses coming on the heels of the negative publicity following his father’s sale of the Denver Nuggets, Andy Shlenker was out as the promoter, replaced by a new team of South African Alan Wilson (Desire’s husband) and Roger Werner, who had moved to Denver after the financial collapse of the Columbus Ohio downtown street races.   

The new promoters appealed to Daniels’ civic pride of Denver’s fledgling reputation as a city capable of hosting ‘world-class’ events, and Daniels provided an additional $4 million to support a second year to allow vendors and investors, including the City of Denver to recover their investments. 

 Despite serious cost cutting efforts, one of the major expenses remained constant; compensation to 129 businesses for business interruptions caused by the event.
A month before the 1991 event, the promoters publicly announced their projection that the race would lose $1.5 million. The promoters stated that the City of Denver had to re-negotiate their contract or they would move the venue if the City refused. The spokesperson for the Mayor replied, “Once the race is finished then we talk about this matter.”

The second Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Denver held on August 25 1991 drew nearly 120,000 fans but the quality of the racing suffered on the narrow course. Michael Andretti started from the pole led the first six laps until Al Unser Junior passed him and led the remaining 64 laps in a race that averaged just 69 MPH.

Just eighteen days after the 1991 race, Denver Grand Prix Auto Race Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and asked the court to grant concessions in their contract with the City of Denver, or allow the race to move to a permanent facility. Roger Werner cited the Denver Grand Prix’s “strong consumer franchise” as proof of its viability in a new location. Included in the filing were 19 promissory notes that showed that Bill Daniels loaned the promoters a total of $8.3 million dollars.

The City filed a claim to recoup their $3.3 million investment and their share of the projected for the remaining three years of the contract. Bill Daniels, in another show of civic pride, paid off all of what he termed “undisputed claims by legitimate creditors” (which did not include the City of Denver). 

Despite Daniels' rescue, CART dropped the Grand Prix of Denver from the next season's schedule, and Denver Grand Prix Auto Race Inc. ceased to exist.  Bill Daniels passed away at age 79 on March 7 2000 never having any further connections with auto racing after 1993. 

If this article has whet your appetite to learn more about the life of Lloyd Ruby, please join us at the sixth annual Racer's Reunion on September 19! You will also listen to presentations and learn about J.C. Agajanian and Bob Nowicke.  Details of the event and tickets are available at

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Lee Gehricke – “old time racer”

Recently while researching  for another automobile racing history story, the author stumbled across a small article published in the November 17 1939 issue of the San Jose Evening News newspaper headlined “Lee Gehricke, famed old time racer, dies at Los Angeles.“ 

The article noted Gehricke’s career achievements included victories at the first Santa Monica road race in 1907, the 1909 Portola Exposition race, and in 1912, a 24-hour endurance race held the “old” (meaning the original) Ascot Speedway. 

Lee Gehricke’s name and exploits were unfamiliar to the author, and subsequent research provided an important lesson about accuracy in journalism and a connection to another interesting racer and aviation pioneer.

Lee Gehricke was born in Los Angeles on August 15 1885, the middle child and first son of Mary and Henry Gehricke, who had married in Los Angeles in 1882. Mary born in 1855 was a clerk for The Broadway Department Stores chain, while Henry, born in 1857 in Germany, was a bookkeeper at Isadore Eisner’s Sun Realty Company. Henry was also a tinkerer and inventor, and in 1900, patented the ‘Gehricke Strap Lock,’ a system of locking adjustable straps for luggage security, the drawing of which is shown below on the patent #665,204 documentation. 

The Gehricke family lived at 750 South Los Angeles Street near the Flower Market District of Los Angeles and eventually the household grew to five members with daughter Ethel born in 1883 and son Earl born in 1887. In 1904, 19-year old Lee still lived at home and worked as a machinist for the Mills & Chick machine shop located at 1932 Magnolia Avenue.

Two years later, in 1906 Lee was employed as an “automobile repairer” at the Leon T. Shettler Auto Agency in Los Angeles, the West Coast sales representative for Reo and Apperson automobiles. In the early days of the automobile, dealers were keen to use racing to prove the durability of the cars sold through their agencies. Shettler, originally from Lansing Michigan, moved to Los Angeles in 1902 and quickly established himself in the retail automobile business

Throughout 1905, the local press was filled with stories of Colonel F.C. Fenner’s December 1904 7 hour and 25 minute dash in his steam-powered White motor car from Los Angeles to the San Gabriel Mountains. Fenner’s historic 103-mile route took him across the San Fernando Valley up to Fenner’s Big Horn Mine, 6900 feet up North Baldy in the San Gabriel Mountains.  

Leon Shettler became sick of reading about the superiority of the White automobile sold by the local White steam car dealer (and his former employee) Harmon Ryus, and Shettler challenged Ryus to a 1906 race over the same mountainous course.

Shettler wagered Ryus $1000 that his driver, Harris Hanshue, behind the wheel of a 2-cylinder Reo could defeat Ryus driving Colonel F.C. Fenner’s White. For the race held on August 25, 1906, each car carried a mechanic and it is not unreasonable to assume that Lee Gehricke was the mechanic who rode with Hanshue.  Although the Reo was the faster of the two cars, it lost a wheel near the halfway point in Soledad Canyon, crashed and thus handed the race victory to Ryus and the White.

The “match race” up Mount Baldy became an annual event for Ryus and Shettler. In 1907, the prize increased to $2000, and was a match between Fenner’s White and an Elmore, a car built in Clyde Ohio which Shettler briefly represented on the West Coast. Harmon Ryus again drove the White, while the Elmore was driven by its owner A.J. Smith, and for the second year in a row Ryus was victorious.

The Mount Baldy race in 1908 featured Fenner’s White against Shettler’s KisselKar driven by Bert Latham, and Shettler’s entry lost for the third straight year. Publicity about the Mount Baldy race had grown and the race became known as the “most dangerous race in the world.”

The event grew to three cars in 1909, then five entries in 1910. By the time of the final “Mount Baldy run” in 1911, Shettler passed on posting an entry likely because he was involved in the site selection for a major new race at a new venue in Southern California. Shettler continued to represent the Apperson, Reo, and Kisselkar automobile brands at his dealership located at 633 South Grand Avenue in Los Angeles.

The reader will recall that the 1939 Gehricke obituary stated that he won the first Santa Monica Road Race in 1907 - an example of the inaccuracy of the article, as the first Santa Monica Road Race was not held until 1909. The book Real Road Racing, written by Harold Osmer and Phil Harms, considered the preeminent source of information on the Santa Monica races, does not list Lee Gehricke as a driver in any of the races held between 1909 and 1919. The author’s research uncovered newspaper reports that Gehricke participated as a riding mechanic in the 1909 Santa Monica Road Race. 

Leon T. Shettler served on the site selection committee for the Los Angeles Auto Dealers Association with fellow automobile dealers Ralph Hamlin and William Ruess. After much deliberation and study, the trio recommended that the races be conducted on an 8.4-mile long D-shaped course in the resort town of Santa Monica.  

The city of Santa Monica,  for its part, agreed to bank the corners and close the public roads for 10 days of practice by the racers before the races on Saturday July 10, 1909. Leon Shettler stepped forward to provide the trophy and prize money for the ‘light car' race.

Shettler entered a bright red 519-cubic inch powered Apperson ‘Jackrabbit’ for the Dick Ferris Trophy ‘heavy car’ race, one of two events to be staged on July 10, 1909. Several weeks before practice opened on the Santa Monica course, Shettler’s driver, Harris Hanshue, probably accompanied by Lee Gehricke, traveled east to pick up the specially prepared racer at the Apperson Kokomo Indiana factory and then practiced for days on nearby Hoosier roads. With these well-publicized practice sessions and a claimed top speed of 85 miles per hour, the Apperson ‘Jackrabbit’ was considered the pre-race favorite to win the 1909 Dick Ferris Trophy.

Hanshue also made speed runs with the 'Jackrabbit' on the early Playa del Rey
board track, known as the Los Angeles Motordrome 

On race day, Harris Hanshue’s Apperson was the first of the 15 entries to depart from the start-finish line in the staggered start format before an estimated 50,000 fans. Bruno Seibel’s Chadwick took the early lead, but Hanshue, a Menden Michigan native transplanted to Southern California, nine days past his 28th birthday with his riding mechanic Gehricke, grabbed the lead on lap 10 of the 24-lap race. The Apperson led the rest of the way and finished the 202-mile distance in 3 hours and 8 minutes, with a 7 ½ minute margin over Bruno Siebel’s second place Chadwick.

Post-race newspaper reports claimed that by averaging 64.53 miles per hour (MPH) over the distance, the Apperson ‘Jackrabbit’ had established a new American record for stock cars.  The “second-hand” 1907 Apperson had bested the average speed posted by George Robertson’s Locomobile when he won the 1908 Fairmount Park race in Philadelphia Pennsylvania.

Three months later, Hanshue and Gehricke were in action again with the Apperson ‘Jackrabbit’ at the inaugural Portola Festival Road Race contested on closed public roads in rural Alameda County near the modern day cities of San Leandro and Hayward California. Although the race was staged in northern California, it was organized and sponsored by the Automobile Club of Southern California with 12 laps around a 21.2 mile course for a race distance of 254 miles. 

Hanshue and Gehricke started 12th, as the cars that started earlier in the staggered start program were lighter machines. The #13 Apperson “Jackrabbit” was one of only three cars to complete the full race distance, and finished second, eighteen minutes behind Jack Fleming’s lightweight 300-cubic inch powered Pope-Hartford. The reader will recall that the newspaper article published after Gehricke’s 1939 death incorrectly stated that he won the 1909 Portola Road Race.  

Hanshue and Gehricke raced again on November 6 1909 in the second annual Los Angeles-to-Phoenix point-to-point 480-mile road race known as the “Cactus Derby.” Rather than the trusty Apperson ‘Jackrabbit,’ the pair drove a KisselKar, another manufacturer represented by Hanshue’s patron, Los Angeles car dealer Leon Shettler. Kissel cars and trucks were built by Alsation immigrant Louis Kissel and his two sons in a factory in Hartford Wisconsin beginning in 1906 through 1931.

Hanshue, Gehricke, and the Kisselkar were the tenth and final team away from the start in Los Angeles for the 1909 Cactus Derby and they crossed the finish line in Phoenix with an elapsed race time of twenty-six hours. The Kissel was scored in fifth place, as it took the pair nearly seven hours longer to complete race than the winning Nickrent brothers, Joe and Louis, driving a Buick. During the course of the race, run over a period of three days, Gehricke had at times substituted for Hanshue as the driver.

The 1909 Santa Monica winning car was entered again for the 1910 Santa Monica Road Race this time with Harris Hanshue as part of two-car Shettler Apperson team, paired with relocated New York race driver Jimmy Ryall. Ryall, whose reckless driving had earned him the dubious honor of being known as “the man who had been in more automobile accidents than any man alive,” had recently purchased a home in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale.  

Hanshue contracted typhoid fever in the weeks before the race and was replaced as the driver of the bright red entry by another New York driver, Ben Kerscher, fresh off a sixth place finish in the 1910 Wheeler-Schebler Trophy Race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

On the day before Thanksgiving, in pre-race practice session on the fog-shrouded Santa Monica course Kerscher crashed. After the accident the frame of the Apperson racer was found to be twisted beyond immediate repair. The next day his teammate Ryall’s Apperson dropped out of both races early with unspecified mechanical troubles.

Harris Hanshue retired from automobile racing after the August 1913 Santa Monica Road Race when his Apperson caught fire on the 16th of 53 laps. Hanshue escaped uninjured but the car burned to the ground. 

This near-disaster came on the heels of Hanshue’s crash during the July 4 1913 Pan Pacific point-to-point road race from Los Angeles to Sacramento. Hanshue’s machine crashed into a drainage ditch and Hanshue was widely reported as having been killed although he suffered only minor injuries.

After he retired from racing, Hanshue served in several management positions with Apperson that included Pacific Coast district manager and manager of the Apperson factory sales branch at 1059 Flower Street in Los Angeles.

With creation of air mail service, in 1926 Harris founded Western Air Express (WAE) and won the contract to fly United States air mail between Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.  Five weeks after the company’s first air mail flight in April 1926, WAE installed two chairs in the mail plane for passengers who paid $90 to fly along with the mail; not surprisingly the passengers were required to wear parachutes. 

In 1928, WAE merged with Transcontinental Air Transport to form Transcontinental & Western Air (TWA).  By 1930, TWA passenger service had expanded to Dallas, Kansas City and Seattle but trouble was on the horizon. In 1931, a TWA Fokker airplane crashed in Cottonwood Falls Kansas and the crash killed famed football coach Knute Rockne and seven others.  

Still reeling from the negative publicity from the crash, in 1934 Hanshue was one of three air service owners who became entangled in an air mail contract investigation that involved Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aeronautics William P MacCracken. Amid claims of fraud and political nepotism, at one point Hanshue and his personal secretary were both arrested on charges of contempt of Congress due to alleged destruction of documents. Eventually two of the four aviation company officials involved were found guilty of the charges, but Hanshue his secretary were both found not guilty.

Before the Senate investigation began Hanshue had broken away from TWA, with his new Western Air Lines fleet was reduced to six airplanes and four pilots, but clouded by the investigation, Harris lost control of his company before he could rebuild. 

Three years later, ostracized by the commercial aviation industry, Hanshue took ill while he was in New York City as he sought financing for his last venture, a gold mine in Placer County California. Following an emergency operation, Hanshue suffered a stroke and he died on January 8 1937 leaving behind a widow, son, and a daughter. 

The reader will recall that the article that announced Lee Gehricke’s death claimed that he won a 1912 24-hour endurance race held at the original Ascot Speedway, a claim widely repeated in many places. 

An early photo of Ascot Speedway 
from the archives of the Library of Congress

The original Ascot Speedway, the first of four Southern California tracks to be so named, was a one-mile failed horse racing facility located at Central and Florence Avenues near modern-day Los Angeles which operated from 1907 to 1919 before it closed.  The land the track stood on later became the site of a huge Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company factory, complete with a blimp hangar, built in 1936, which at its peak employed 2500 workers.

There are no records of a 1912 Ascot Speedway 24-hour race, but the track did host a 24-hour endurance race in 1908 and Lee Gehricke did compete in that race. Lee was behind the wheel of Leon Shettler’s entry, a single-cylinder 10-horsepower Reo, known as the “Kiddo,” a nod to its small size compared to the other six machines entered.

Seven hours into the race, when the race was stopped by organizers for two hours to roll the track surface, Gehricke and the Reo “Kiddo” were scored in fifth place with 132 laps completed.  At the finish of the 24-hour grind at 4 PM on Sunday afternoon November 1, 1908, the winning Locomobile driven by San Franciscan J. Murray Page (or Paige)  had covered 916 miles, while Gehricke’s tiny Reo, the last car running, had completed 474 miles, credited with a fourth place finish

Newspaper post-race reports on Monday reported that Gehricke and the Reo “Kiddo” actually ran many laps faster than the winning Locomobile in the last four hours, understandable since Page was wisely “stroking it” to the finish, as his Locomobile held more than a 100-lap lead over the second-place Franklin. Gehricke and the tiny Reo had been delayed numerous times earlier in the race by a leaking fuel tank which broke repeatedly in the same location caused by the rough track conditions.  

Lee Gehricke later won a 6-hour endurance race held at Ascot on May 31 1909 behind the wheel of a 1907 Kissel 6 ‘60’ Speedster. Gehricke and the Kissel, powered by six-cylinder 505 cubic inch engine that developed an advertised 60 horsepower, reportedly ran countless laps timed at one minute and ten seconds a lap and eventually amassed 207 total laps during the 6-hour race.

While Lee Gehricke’s racing resume did not match up to the claims in his 1939 newspaper obituary, this article is not meant to minimize Gehricke’s accomplishments. It is impossible to overlook the racers that competed in the early part of the twentieth century, an era when drivers and their riding mechanic rode on, rather than in, rudimentary cars that rode 36-inch wooden spoke wheels without the benefits of any safety equipment. Without the bravery and skill exhibited by early racers like Lee Gehricke and Harris Hanshue, automobile racing as we know it today would not exist. 

The author extends his sincere appreciation to fellow Yahoo! Racing History group members Jim Thurman and Jim Taggert for their valuable research assistance on this difficult, elusive subject.