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

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