Wednesday, December 30, 2015

REMEMBERING THE GLORY DAYS OF USAC SPRINT CARS

All photographs by the author 

For a New Year's update, please see the bottom of this post

On Thursday December 10 2015,  the first night of the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) show in Indianapolis, the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum led by Bob Baker and Tom Schmeh hosted an event at former USAC racer ‘Red’ Bledsoe’s nostalgia-filled race shop. The evening hosted by Pat Sullivan and Brad Dickison, honored the USAC (United States Auto Club) sprint car racers of the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s.  

The evening was magical, as Pat and Brad did a terrific job of calling up personalities up front from the audience then drew out some of the best “bench racing” stories ever heard. The stories flowed both from those on the "hot seat" and those in the audience. Each personality got about 15-20 minutes in the spotlight before another set of personalities took their turn sharing memories. 

The evening's hosts. Pat Sullivan, left and Brad Dickison right

Famed sprint car mechanics/car owners 
Steve 'the Big Bopper' Stapp, left and Galen Fox right 



Norman "Bubby" Jones 


Chuck Gurney "the Rim Rider"



USAC Triple Crown winner Duane "Pancho" Carter


"Racy" Bruce Field



This was the team to beat in USAC sprint cars from 1986 through 1988
Driver Steve Butler, left and chief mechanic Phil Poor with his ever-present notoebook



 USAC's  vice president of communications Dick "DJ" Jordan
Dick has been with USAC since 1968 and attending races since the 50's



Legendary racing photographer John Mahoney



 A pair of great racers- Danny Smith left and Shane Carson right



Jerry Weeks, left and current USAC director of Silver Crown division 
(and former Silver Crown racer) "Indy" Andy Hillenburg 



Left to right - Greg Staub,  Kenneth Nichols, and Kevin Thomas 

Many thanks to "Red" Bledsoe, Pat Sullivan, Brad Dickison, Bob Baker and Tom Schmeh for putting on such a terrific event.    




AN UPDATE - GREG STAAB and HIS GIRLFRIEND PENNY WERE INJURED IN A NEW YEARS EVE FIRE THAT DESTROYED GREG'S HOME. 

HOW YOU CAN HELP  - Mail a check made out to Gregory Staab to

Hoosier Tire Midwest

4155 N CR 1000 Suite A

Brownsburg, IN 46112

Or 

Indy Race Parts

361 Gasoline Alley; Suite A

Indianapolis IN 46222



Wednesday, December 16, 2015


The mighty Sampson “16” was displayed at PRI 2015

photo by the author


The 2015 Performance Racing Industry (PRI) show in Indianapolis featured a special treat for racing historians, with a display dubbed “The Evolution of Speed – an Exhibition of Speed” co-sponsored by PRI and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame and Museum.  Over the coming weeks, we will feature each of the significant cars displayed – today it is the 1940 Sampson “16” Special.

Years ago, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway offered rules packages that encouraged innovation and experimentation rather than cookie-cutter “spec” race cars of today. The Sampson “16” Special, built and owned by multi-millionaire Alden Sampson on Van Nuys, California is an example of such innovation.     

Alden Sampson III born in 1902 an heir to the Aden Sampson & Son oilcloth flooring fortune started by his namesake. His father, Alden Sampson Junior founded  the Alden Sampson Manufacturing Company in Pittsfield Massachusetts that built the Sampson touring car, but the company achieved more success with heavy trucks, such as a the 1905 4-ton 40 horsepower truck.

Alden III’s father passed on a love of machinery, as he built his five-year old son a miniature gas-powered car to drive around the family’s 40-acre estate Westenhook Farm. Sadly, Sampson Junior passed away at age 31 in 1909, and his widow, Florence sold the assets of the company to the United States Motor Company, which continued to manufacture Alden Sampson trucks until its collapse in 1913.

At age ten, Alden III was heir to a 6 million dollar fortune, equivalent to $ 140 million today. While in high school, Alden ran away from home, hopped on a westbound freight train and got off in the small Ohio community of Tippecanoe City. Alden dropped the ‘III’ from his name and started a garage. At age 21, Alden legally assumed control of the principal of his inheritance and invested in a Maxwell (later Chrysler) dealership while he somehow disguised the true source and extent of his wealth from the public and his wife Mildred.

While racing a Chrysler stock car on the Atlantic City board track in 1927, Sampson met 23-year old Louis Meyer, then a mechanic for Frank Elliott with aspirations to become a race driver. The two became fast friends, and in 1928, and the pair headed to Indianapolis Motor Speedway where Meyer had driven 50 laps in the 1927 ‘500’ for Wilbur Shaw. Shaw was named a driver for one of two cars owned by Phil ‘Red ‘Shafer but when sponsorship did not materialize, Shafer put the supercharged Miller up for sale.

Sampson bought the car and told everyone in Gasoline Alley that that he had mortgaged his Ohio garage to buy the 91 cubic inch rear-drive Miller for his friend Meyer to race. Meyer started qualified the gold-colored #14 Miller over his ten-lap run at an average speed of 111.352 to start in the 13th position in the 200-lap 1928 Decoration Day classic. Over the course of his 500-mile run, Meyer made just one pit stop and ran steadily in the top ten before he passed Tony Gullota of lap 182. Louis then led the last 18 laps to win the race and the $28,250 purse for his himself and his rookie car owner.  Meyer went on to win the Indianapolis ‘500’ again in 1933 and 1936 to become the great race’s first three-time winner.  

In 1938, former driver and engine and car builder Riley Brett, Leo Goossen, and Alden Sampson were busy with development of the “Sampson Midget Motor” and their new entry for the 1939 Indianapolis ‘500,’ the ‘Sampson Motors Inc. Special.’

In 1930 Sampson and Riley Brett built a radical ‘U16’ engine which used Miller 91 cubic inch engines, placed side by side and backwards in the Miller 91 chassis. Spur gears replaced the flywheels on each engine, while a third spur gear mounted between them drove a hollow driveshaft to the clutch housing, containing a standard Miller 91 flywheel and clutch assembly. In turn, the power was transmitted through a standard Miller 91 transmission. The car in this configuration successfully qualified for the ‘500’ on four occasions, but it was time for a new design.

The starting point of the ‘Sampson Motors Inc. Special’ was the unique 16-cylinder engine originally developed in 1927 by Frank Lockhart for his ill-fated attempt at the land speed record.  After he set a 160 MPH record on the Muroc Dry Lake with his 91 cubic inch supercharged intercooled Miller in 1927, Lockhart planned to break the absolute world’s land speed record. With sponsorship from the Stutz Motor Company, the Lockhart team, led by the young self-taught mechanic built a 16-cylinder engine that consisted of a pair of 91 cu in (1.5 L) Miller straight-eight engines installed 30-degrees apart on a common crankcase. The flywheel attached to a central gear at the rear of the engine, with each engine’s crankshaft geared to the central gear.

The finished engine weighed approximately 630 pounds and produced more than 550 horsepower at 8,300 rpm. From wind tunnel tests, Lockhart predicted that the engine would propel the narrow (60 inch tread) 2,800-pound Stutz Black Hawk to a maximum speed over 280 MPH on the sand of Daytona Beach Florida.  On April 25, 1928, Lockhart died when the crashed on its second southbound run of the day at an estimated speed of 225 MPH. Many historians attribute the cause of the crash to either a gust of wind or the failure of one of the car’s Dickinson Tires. 

Riley Brett bought the wrecked Stutz Black Hawk engine from Ella Lockhart, Frank’s widow, who administered his estate. Riley initially planned to use it in the 1930 Sampson Indianapolis entry but decided to start fresh with the same ‘U-16’ concept rather than deal with removal of the superchargers and intercooler on the Lockhart engine.  After the Rickenbacker Indianapolis  ‘junk formula’ rules package ended in 1938, the American Automobile Association (AAA) Contest Board adopted the European standard rules package that allowed supercharging of engines up to 183 cubic inches, so once again the 180-cubic inch Black Hawk engine was viable as it was originally built in 1927.

The central gear of the Black Hawk engine, located below the plane of the crankshafts, allowed the engine to set low in the frame designed by Offenhauser Engineering’s Leo Goossen. Goossen’s design chassis used an under slung aluminum boxed frame fitted with parallel quarter-elliptic leaf springs and tube axle at the front, paired with rear parallel torsion bar suspension of the constant velocity joint de Dion ‘dead axle.’ Myron Stevens and Gordon Schroeder constructed the new ‘Sampson Motors Inc. Special’, chassis that was cloaked in an attractive cigar shaped aluminum body finished in cream and pastel blue livery.  
 
The fantastic Sampson 16 as shown at PRI 2015 photo by the author

On March 15, 1939, Alden Sampson was the first car owner to post an entry for the 27th running of the ‘500’ and the use of the eleven-year old “beach death motor” quickly generated considerable publicity. For a driver, Alden Sampson selected handsome Bob Swanson, one of midget racing’s early stars along with Billy Betteridge.

Swanson won the first Turkey Night Grand Prix held in 1934 at Los Angeles’ Gilmore Stadium, and won the 1935 National Midget Racing Association title (the NMA was a short-lived group created by drivers during a dispute with Earl Gilmore).  Swanson made his first appearance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1937 as the driver of Paul Weirick’s Adams/Sparks entry. Bob missed the 1938 ‘500’ due to injuries he sustained in a late 1937 midget crash but recovered sufficiently, though with a noticeable limp, to become the second repeat Turkey Night winner in 1938.

Along with the typical problems that crop up during any new car’s debut, the complications of the rear de Dion suspension and the complexity of the power plant led to long frustrating days for the Sampson crew during May 1939.  The car was not ready until the final weekend of time trials, and though Swanson posted the month’s third fastest 4-lap average of 129.340 MPH, the Sampson started deep in the starting field in 22nd position. 

During the race, a part of the de Dion rear axle failed on lap 19, and the Sampson placed as the 31st finisher. Swanson later relieved Ralph Hepburn in the ill handling ‘Hamilton-Harris’ Stevens/Offenhauser on lap 104. Two laps later, Swanson lost control as he exited turn 2, crashed into the backstretch fence and then 1938 ‘500’ winner Floyd Roberts smashed into Swanson’s machine. Roberts soon died from head injuries, while the unconscious Swanson was trapped beneath his overturned machine and received burns, but he returned to racing just over two weeks later.
 
The tail of the Sampson 16 as shown at PRI 2015 - photo by the author

Swanson returned as the driver for Alden Sampson in 1940, with the car dubbed the “Sampson 16 Special” and painted a pale yellow with blue trim, although it retained the same car number, 32, as the year before.  Once again, the team struggled through the month, and Swanson did not make his time trial run until May 27. Bob posted the fastest time that day and the fifth fastest speed average of the month at 124.619 MPH, but started in the 20th position.

Swanson put in a yeoman’s effort on Race Day and finished sixth, flagged by the starter on the conclusion of his 196th lap due to rain on the race course.  Two weeks later, Swanson died in the Perrysburg Ohio hospital of injuries he suffered in a midget race time trial crash at the quarter-mile Fort Miami Speedway. Swanson’s wife, Lillian, became a widow for the second time, as her first husband Ernie Triplett died at El Centro California in March 1934.   

For the third entry of the “Sampson 16” in the 29th annual ‘Decoration Day Race’ Alden initially named William ‘Shorty’ Cantlon as his driver, but Cantlon never was comfortable in the car, and late in the month Alden lured veteran driver Artha ‘Deacon’ Litz out of retirement. Deacon squeezed the “Sampson 16 Special” “into the field in 29th position with a 10-mile average of 123.440 MPH. Litz’ final appearance in the 1941 ‘500’ ended on lap 89 when the Sampson suffered oiling problems and he finished 22nd.  

During the course of World War 2, Sampson sold his “16” and the remaining parts and patterns for Sampson midget motor to Gordon Schroeder. Schroeder obtained sponsorship from bandleader Spike Jones for the 1946 ‘500’ driven by Sam Hanks but the car fell out early from a broken oil line on the Sampson 16-clinder engine. Schroeder later sold the car to H.C. ‘Cotton’ Henning who replaced the 16 cylinder engine with an older 268 cubic inch Miller engine and painted the car black with sponsorship by the Bennett Brothers for the car’s final appearance in the 1948 ‘500’ driven by George Connor.    
The Sampson 16 on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum in 1962.
Photograph courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection in the
IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies

The restored ‘Sampson 16’ reappeared as one of the first cars in the ‘Firestone history display’ part of the original Indianapolis Motor Speedway museum at the corner of 16th Street and Georgetown Road (outside of turn one) that opened in 1956. Initially it was shown in its original 1939 cream and blue ‘Sampson Motors Inc.’  livery, but in its current IMS museum iteration,n as shown at PRI 2015, the mighty Sampson “16” is painted yellow with blue trim as was raced by Swanson in the 1940 500-mile race.     

 

Monday, December 14, 2015

“If you build it, they will come”
 
The story of the inaugural 'Bad Boy Indy Invitational' midget/outlaw kart race



While "if you build it, they will come” is not exactly the line uttered by the characters in the baseball-themed film Field of Dreams, it was true on Saturday night December 12 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. A group of young promoters, Cody Sommer, Jeremy Burnett, and Tommy Baldwin III, pulled off the impossible and staged an indoor dirt race, the historic inaugural 'Bad Boy Indy Invitational.'

Cody Sommer grew up around Kewanee Illinois, raced a bit himself, and after a year of community college, moved to North Carolina to get a job in auto racing. He bounced around from team to team and eventually wound up at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing where he was laid off after the economic slump of 2008. 

Cody became an entrepreneur, and built up his business, Stout Brewing Company, which makes and sells alcoholic beverages. Sommer never forgot about racing, as he promoted the “Carolina Crown” a $30,000 to win Super Late Model race in 2012 and 2013. Sommer’s partner, Jeremy Burnett and his wife Ashly own and promote the 1/6-mile Millbridge Speedway near Salisbury North Carolina which features weekly outlaw kart racing.

Sommer and the Burnetts convinced the managers of Bankers Life Fieldhouse to allow them to stage an indoor midget car and outlaw kart racing event in a luxury venue in downtown Indianapolis. The date they selected was ideal, on the final night of the prestigous Performance Racing Industries 'PRI 2015' trade show, which was held just down the street at the Indianapolis Convention Center. The team then lined up a title sponsor, Bad Boy Buggies, and an impressive list of associate sponsors.

When the 'Bad Boy Indy Invitational' race was announced, there were many nay-sayers on social media that claimed that the race would never happen. The invitations to the 40 outlaw kart and 40 midget drivers were offered through the social media platform Twitter using the handle “Indy Indoors” and though there was some controversy over which drivers garnered invitations, and a few substitutions, a couple of weeks before the race, the field was set.


The most daunting task for the promoters was to build the race track in 16 hours. On Friday night, December 11, the NBA  Indianapolis Pacers, the regular tenants of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, defeated the visiting Miami Heat basketball team by a final score of 96-83.  The Indy Indoors construction team was able to begin work inside the venue at midnight and at 2 AM the 800 feet of fabricated sheet steel outer wall and chain link fencing arrived and was installed. At 4 AM the first of 50 truckloads of dirt arrived, and when the author arrived just after 11 AM on Saturday, all the dirt was in place on the floor of the fieldhouse to a uniform depth of 8 inches and the approximately 1/10-mile long track was being shaped compacted and groomed.  

The drivers meeting and press conference was held in the IMS Pavilion inside the Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The pre-race press conference was combined with the drivers meeting and introduced the officiating team, Kenny Brown and his staff from the POWRi midget series would work the race track, while Mike Hess of the World of Outlaws sprint car series served as the Race Director. The scheduled format for both classes was unique - hot laps also served as time trials with the driver with the fastest lap time automatically seeded into the feature. Hot laps were followed by five 10-lap heat races, with the top two finishers in each heat advancing into the feature.

The winners of the heat races would meet in a 6-lap winners dash to set the front three rows of the field, while the top three finishers in the two last chance races to advance to the feature. The two fourth place finishers were then scheduled to return to the track for a three-lap head to head to set the final starting positions for the 40-lap features races.  The outlaw kart feature winner’s purse was set at $5000, while the midget winner’s purse was announced as $10,000. 

A view of the track and a portion of the crowd.


With no press facilities provided, thankfully the author had the foresight to purchase a ticket for $45 lower section seat from which to view the racing program. Hot laps started shortly after the scheduled start of 4 PM, but were not completed until 6 PM which foreshadowed events to follow.  Once the racing program began, chaos reigned. 

The five outlaw kart heat races took over an hour to complete, but seemed even longer with a seemingly endless numbers of spins and crashes, and quite frankly by the end of the heat races, the infield POWRi track crew looked exhausted. The midget heat races ran a bit smoother, but not without problems and also took far too long to complete from this reporter's perspective.

This type of multi-car tangle off turn two 
was unfortunately all too frequent

2014 POWRi National Rookie of the Year Spencer Bayston won the first heat, 2015 POWRi West series champion Anton Hernandez won the second heat race, and 2015 POWRi National Series Rookie of the Year Kyle Schuett took the win in the third heat. 

A problem arose towards the end of the fourth heat race, when the red flag flew unexpectedly, which was later explained to the crowd as having been shown on orders from the Fire Marshal due to hazardous levels of pollution inside the Fieldhouse. A lengthy nearly hour long delay ensued before the final laps of the fourth heat were run with NASCAR star Kyle Larson, who was also entered in an outlaw kart the winner.

The fifth and final midget car heat race was won by World of Outlaw regular Joey Saldana, followed by 2014 USAC National Sprint Car champion Brady Bacon and 2015 USAC/CRA Sprint Car champion Damion Gardner in third.   Chris Windom, the “people’s champ,” Dave Darland and Chris Gehrke were the top three finishers in the first midget last chance race, while Parker Price-Miller, Danny Stratton, and Alex Bright advanced from the second midget last chance race.

Mike Wheeler claimed the outlaw kart "Golden Wheel" trophy
and a check for $5000

By the time the outlaw kart feature field was introduced and pushed off, it was nearing midnight and it was announced over the public address system that the race length was now to be 30 laps.  Mike Wheeler of Central Point, Oregon led all thirty laps from the pole position in his RFC Karts/Oregon Outlaw Speed Shop #1W to claim the victory.

Kyle Schuett won the midget 'Golden Wheel" trophy
and a check for $10,000

After a touching video tribute to grand marshal Kevin Swindell, who is still recovering from serious injuries suffered in a crash at the Knoxville Nationals was shown on the Fieldhouse video screens, the drivers in the 19 midgets for the feature were introduced to the crowd and pushed off. Unfortunately, at approximately 12:50 AM with approximately nine laps of the 30 lap distance were completed, the red flag again flew for air quality issues, and the author had to leave.

The midget race was reportedly completed at 1:41 AM won by pole winner Kyle Schuett in his family-owned #9K machine, followed by Spencer Bayston in the Clauson Racing midget. The work was not over for the Indy Indoors team, for immediately after the races ended, the crew had to peel up, load and haul out the dirt track, take down the wall and fencing, and clean up the massive amount of dust inside the Fieldhouse in time for the Indiana Pacers home game at 7 PM on Monday night, which the Pacers won by the score of 106-90 over the Toronto Raptors.  

There has been much criticism of the event posted on social media - admittedly the racing itself was frustrating to watch, took much too long, and the venue had its problems, particularly with dust and the aforementioned air quality. The promoters, Cody Sommer and Jeremy Burnett, deserve a lot credit and a big “thank you” from the midget racing community for simply achieving what many social media “experts” claimed would never happen. 

The inaugural 'Bad Boy Indy Invitational' was very well attended by fans and drew 40 midgets for a one-night show, while the prestigious Turkey Night Grand Prix held last month drew a small crowd and only 22 entries. Cody Sommer stated during the press conference held before the race that he had already taken pages of notes for items that needed improvements. The author hopes that the promoters learned some lessons about the number of cars entered in the program, track configuration and maintenance, and the building ventilation requirements that will be implemented for their second annual race.   

Photographs by the author
    
  


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.