Wednesday, January 20, 2016

1967 Brawner Hawk Mark II at PRI 2015
photos by the author

The 2015 PRI (Performance Racing Industry) trade show in Indianapolis featured a special display devoted to the innovations and evolution of the IndyCar. Previous postings on this site have examined the history of the ‘Sampson “16” Special’ and the 1931 ‘Cummins Diesel Special’ which were part of the display.

Today we close out our three-part series with a look back at the history of the Brawner Hawk Mark II “Dean Van Lines Special” driven in 1967 by Mario Andretti. The Brawner Hawk is an example of the early rear-engine IndyCar evolutionary process during a very exciting period of change in IndyCar racing.

In 1961 Australian Jack Brabham, then a two-time World Driving Champion (he would capture a third in 1966) came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and qualified a rear-engine Cooper-Climax race car for the starting field of the 1961 Indianapolis ‘500.’ Brabham’s tiny machine, the first rear engine car to make it into the ‘500’ starting field since 1947, qualified fourteenth and finished the 500-mile grind in ninth place.

Unlike previous rear engine entries in the Indianapolis ‘500’ which were considered oddities, the underpowered Cooper while slower on the straightaways was noticeably faster through the corners. The Cooper’s success ushered in the beginning of acceptance of rear engine IndyCar design, which quickly revolutionized the sport.  When Brabham returned to Indianapolis three years later for his second attempt at the great race in his own car, there were eleven other rear engine cars qualified into the starting field. In  1969, when Brabham returned for his third and final try at the Indy ‘500,’ there were no front -engine cars in the ‘500’ starting field. 

According to racing historians Allen Brown and Michael Ferner, the car that Jack drove in the 1964 Indianapolis ‘500,’ known as the Braham BT12, was a product of his company Motor Racing Development (MRD) built as modified version of the company’s BT11 Formula One car as a customer car for Tulsa sportsmen Jack Zink and Charles F. Urschel Junior.

The BT12’s mild steel tube frame “semi-monocoque” chassis (according to designer Ron Tauranac, a steel sheet was welded across the bottom of the frame for additional rigidity) was longer than the BT11 to accept the 255-cubic inch Offenhauser engine. After Brabham retired early from the 1964 Indianapolis 500 with a leaking fuel tank, Jim McElreath drove the “Zink-Urschel Trackburner” in four races during the balance of the 1964 USAC season and qualified on the pole position at Trenton New Jersey.

In the fall of 1964, the Zink-Urschel Brabham BT12 was hired for use by Firestone Tire and Rubber Company for tire testing and crashed heavily twice, the second time at Indianapolis which seriously damaged the car with McElreath receiving serious burns on his arms.  With MRD’s permission and armed with the design drawings, Zink’s chief mechanic, Dennie Moore, hired Clint Brawner and metalsmith Eddie Kuzma to build four improved chrome moly versions of the BT12 for the 1965 season, one for Zink to be powered by an Offenhauser engine and three others, with low side mounted fuel cells powered by the Ford DOHC engine which became the original Brawner Hawks.

The 1965 Brawner Hawk driven by young Mario Andretti was very successful with four top five qualifying runs and one pole position start to go along with five top five finishes and Andretti’s first USAC (United States Auto Club) win at the Hoosier Grand Prix held on the Indianapolis Raceway Park road course.  Andretti was crowned USAC’s 1965 season champion and the 1965 Indianapolis ‘500’ Stark-Wetzel Rookie of the Year after arriving at Indianapolis with no previous experience in rear engine cars.  

The 1966 Brawner Hawk Mark I was a refinement of the original Hawk with the most obvious visual change the “duck tail” rear section beneath the exhausts of the DOHC Ford engine.  With this version of the “Dean Van Lines Special” Mario Andretti dominated the 1966 USAC season with ten pole position starts (including a new track record at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and eight victories to capture his second straight USAC season championship.

The 1967 Brawner Hawk Mark II was a further development of the original tube frame semi-monocoque chassis with the DOHC Ford engine as a stressed member in the rear of the car, but as is evident in the photographs, aerodynamics began to creep in the picture with the addition of winglets and air ducts on either side on the nose. 

Andretti started the 1967 USAC season by crashing the new Hawk in practice before the season’s first race at Phoenix International Raceway. Clint Brawner rebuilt the Hawk in two weeks and Andretti won the 150-mile race at the Trenton New Jersey one-mile oval from the pole position. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Andretti and Hawk Mark II posted the fastest lap in practice and then on ‘Pole Day’ reset the single lap track record at nearly 170 MPH and captured his second straight pole position start.  

Andretti crashed again in practice at Milwaukee and after a second round of repairs the team struggled for several races.  Andretti and the Dean Van Lines Hawk then went on a real tear, as they captured five straight race wins at five diverse race tracks - the narrow Indianapolis Raceway Park road course, the circular one-mile Speedway in Langhorne Pennsylvania, both the 36-lap races at the Saint Jovite road course in Canada and the Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 200-mile race at Milwaukee’s flat State Fairgrounds one-mile oval  

Andretti and the Hawk crashed out of the next two races at the one mile oval tracks at Trenton Speedway in New Jersey and Hanford California, but Andretti rebounded to win the penultimate round at Phoenix's dogleg one-mile semi-oval track.

As he entered the 1967 USAC season finale, the Rex May 300, at the Riverside International Raceway road course, Andretti trailed point leader AJ Foyt by 500 points, with 600 points awarded to the race winner. Foyt crashed out on lap 50 of the 116-lap race, which opened the door for a third straight Dean Van Lines team USAC championship.  Andretti led 38 laps over the last half of the race but faded over the final six circuits and the Hawk finished third, which left Mario 80 points behind Foyt in second place for the season championship.

Sadly team owner Al Dean passed away just 12 days after the Rex May 300, but Mario Andretti bought the team’s equipment and secured sponsorship for the 1968 season from Overseas National Airlines, the story of which was published in this blog on November 8 2015 (please see the archive). 

Although the Brawner Hawk Mark III used during the 1968 season appeared similar to previous Hawk designs, it was not a further development of the original tube-frame Brabham BT12 design, but instead was an all-new full monocoque design.  The Brawner Hawk Mark II on display at PRI 2015 was the restored example of the ultimate evolution of the tube-frame rear-engine race car design and construction. 

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