Thursday, March 31, 2016


Photo by the author

On a recent trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum and Hall of Fame, the author photographed several of the historic trophies on display. One which really caught the author’s eye was the silver cup engraved with the phrase “Water from Wilbur.”

Louis Meyer asked for buttermilk after he won his second Indianapolis 500-mile race in 1933, and that was repeated following his third win in 1936. The tradition of the winner drinking from a bottle of milk continued until World war 2 interrupted racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Beginning in 1947 this silver cup was filled with ice and water and presented to the ‘500’ race winner by Indianapolis Motor Speedway President and three-time ‘500’ winner Wilbur Shaw. This new tradition continued through the 1954 ‘500’ despite Shaw suffering a major heart attack in 1951 at the Soap Box Derby in Akron Ohio.  

Wilbur Shaw, right, presents the "Water from Wilbur" 
to 1949 '500' winner Bill Holland, center.
photograph appears courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection in the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies.

On October 30 1954, on the eve of his 52nd birthday, Shaw, pilot Ray Grimes and artist Ernest Roose flew in a Cessna airplane to Detroit so that Shaw could test drive a new Chrysler at the Chrysler Proving Grounds. On the return flight, with Roose presumed to be at the controls, the Cessna plunged into a field on Homer Ginter’s farm near Peterson Indiana, in Adams County and all three men were killed.

Sam Hanks drinks "Water from Wilbur" in 1957. Photograph appears courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection in the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies.

To honor Wilbur Shaw’s memory, the Speedway continued to present the ‘500’ race winner with “Water from Wilbur” through the 1957, with Sam Hanks the last documented winner to drink from the "Water from Wilbur" cup, which now rests in an honored location in a display case in the Museum.  

The earlier tradition of the winner drinking milk that began with Louis Meyer in 1933,  resumed in 1956, with sponsorship from the American Dairy Association according to Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson.  Maplehurst Dairy, an Indianapolis firm, had a refrigerator stocked with milk set up in break room in the Garage Area during the month of May in 1955, and this break room area was used a frequent background during the month. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Details of the careers of the 
2016 USRRC Hall of Fame inductees 
click to enlarge

The 2016 class of the United State Road Racing Championship (USRRC) Hall of Fame will be formally inducted during the “Tribute to the USRRC” dinner scheduled for April 9 2016, at the Wally Parks HNRA Hall of Fame Museum in Pomona, California.  

The USRRC was the Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) first professional racing series and held races from 1963 to 1968, when it was abandoned in favor of the hugely popular Group 7 series, the SCCA Canadian-American Challenge Cup, best known simply as the Can-Am series.  During its six-year run, the USRRC crowned five champions, all of which are well-known names to racing historians –Bob Holbert, Jim Hall, George Follmer, Chuck Parsons and Mark Donohue.

For regular readers of these posts who are open-wheel racing fans, there is an intriguing historical connection between the USRRC and United States Auto Club (USAC) championship car racing, as seven of the previous Hall of Fame inductees have that connection – Parnelli Jones, Mark Donohue, Jim Hall, Roger Penske, Dan Gurney, John Cannon, Peter Revson, and Chuck Parsons.  
The USAC/USRRC connections continue in 2016 with seven of this year’s USSRRC Hall of fame inductees – George Follmer, Bill Krause, Dave MacDonald, Lothar Motschenbacher, Wally Peat, David ‘Swede’ Savage, and Jerry Titus - all raced in both series, and their accomplishments are detailed in the latter part of this article, after we highlight the careers of the nine road racers.   

The second class of the USRRC Hall of Fame inductees include Gerry Bruihl, from Portland Oregon who drove a 2.0 liter Lotus 23 in the USRRC series in 1964 and 1965,   Bob Challman, the West Coast Lotus cars distributor from Manhattan Beach CA who raced a Lotus 30 in the 1964 and 65 USRRC series, and Don Devine, who drove the front-engine ‘Meister Brau’ Scarab Mark II in the 1965 USRRC series, and still maintains and races car from his large vintage race car collection.

Other 2016 Hall of Fame inductees are Jerry Entin, who drove a factory Cheetah in the 1965 and 1966 USRRC seasons, then raced the first customer McLaren Elva Mark 1 powered by an Oldsmobile engine  in 1966. Entin later drove the ex-Peter Revson McLaren Mark II in 1967 and a Lola T70 in 1968 USRRC competition. Hall of Famer Davey Jordan raced Porsches in the 1964 and 1965 USRRC series, in 1965 as teammate with Scooter Patrick, and in 1966 drove both Otto Zipper’s Porsche 906 and a Ford-powered Lola T70.

During 1969 both Jordan and Patrick drove for actor James Garner’s ‘American International Racing’ team; first in Corvettes, then a Lola T70. Jordan then raced the Toyota 2000 GT in SCCA C-production competition for Shelby American Racing during 1968.   Also to be inducted will be Frank Monise a Lotus mechanic and car owner from Pasadena California, who later fielded race cars for his son.

Also to be inducted in the USRRC Hall of Fame April 9  will be Paul Reinhart a Union 76 dealer from Oakland California, who was dominant in Corvette racing in Northern California during the early nineteens sixties, then fielded his own purple and orange Genie Mark 8 in the USRRC series from 1964 through the 1967 season.
Another great driver slated for induction is Tony Settember, who passed away during 2014. Tony  drove as a privateer in six Formula One races in the 1962 and 1963 seasons, then raced in the USRRC series from 1964 through 1968  driving a variety of cars that included a Lotus 23, the Webster Special, an Oldsmobile-powered Matich SR3, and  a Lola T70 through the years. Isaac “Ike” Smith in honored for his efforts as a long time mechanic and crew chief in the USRRC series, most notably for Lola importer Carl Haas. Smith is still is active in restoring vintage USRRC and SCCA Can-Am race cars is expected to be on hand for the ceremony.   

Now for those men with Indianapolis car connections -

George Follmer, the 1965 USRRC champion in the Tom Nuckles’ “Trans Ocean Motors” Lotus 23 powered by a Porsche 904 engine, then drove a John Mecom owned Lola T70 in the 1966 USRRC series and then a similar machine for Roger Penske in 1967. In 1972, Follmer became the only man to win both SCCA professional championships in the same year. He won the SCCA Trans-Am series championship for ‘pony cars’ with Roy Woods’ Javelin and Can-Am series crown behind the wheel of the mighty Penske Porsche 917-10, and repeated as the 1976 SCCA Trans-Am series champion in a Porsche 934.

George Follmer drove in three 1967  USAC races for car owner Rolla Vollstedt, two on road courses and once on the tricky one-mile Trenton New Jersey oval track. During the 1968 USAC season, Follmer drove for George Bryant’s team on two short one-mile ovals at Hanford California and Phoenix, and four road courses with a best finish of 8th at the season ending Rex Mays 300 at Riverside, but George failed in his first attempt to qualify the Cheetah chassis for the Indianapolis 500-mile race. 

In 1969 Follmer became the first man to win a USAC race in Howard Gilbert’s stock-block powered Cheetah in the season-opener at Phoenix and made the starting field at Indianapolis in the Cheetah chassis fitted with a turbocharged Ford engine, but George’s car retired early with a broken wastegate.

Follmer drove for Andy Granatelli’s STP team at Indianapolis and at its west coast twin, the Ontario Motor Speedway in 1970 but he retired from both races with engine problems. George ran the 1971 Indianapolis 500-mile race in Grant King’s turbocharged Offenhauser powered creation but the engine broke a piston just before halfway. Four years later, George returned to Indianapolis but the ‘American Kids Racing’ turbocharged Offenhauser owned by California millionaire Richard Beith of ET Wheels fame was not fast enough to make the starting field

Bill Krause grew up around open wheel racing, as his father, Arnold, and his Uncle Bert both owned potent Offenhauser powered midgets during the post-war midget racing boom. Bill started racing in three-quarter (TQ) midgets and was the National midget Racing Association (NMRA) inaugural season champion in 1957, but his family insisted that Bill switch to sports cars. In 1963, Mickey Thompson pegged the red-hot Long Beach sports car racer to join his four-car Indianapolis 500 team as the driver of the #82 Harvey Aluminum rear-engine Chevrolet powered “pancake” entry fitted with tiny 12-inch wheels.

In testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during March 1963, Krause impressed his teammate, Bill Cheesbourg, and the USAC observers, and he ran a best lap of 139.96 MPH.  When the giant 2-1/2 mile oval opened in May, Krause started his required rookie test on May 4, but the following day, Krause spun off the third turn into the infield, and then the car slid back onto the track where the Thompson entry was hit by Roger McCluskey’s ‘Konstant Hot Special.’
After the car was repaired, Krause was replaced by Formula One veteran Masten Gregory, who failed to qualify the repaired machine. Krause probably felt some compassion for his teammates Graham Hill and Cheesbourg also crashed in the small-wheel Mickey Thompson cars. During the 1966 USRRC series, Krause drove John Klug’s “Pacesetter Homes” Ford-powered Lola T70 Mark II in two races then retired.

In 1964, Mickey Thompson chose another West Coast sports car “hot shoe,” Dave MacDonald, to pilot one of his three cars entered at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, teamed with Masten Gregory and Eddie Johnson. MacDonald, who had made his reputation racing Corvettes and Cobras, started the 1964 USRRC season in speculator fashion behind the wheel of the Shelby American Cooper “King Cobra” with two wins and a second place finish in four races, with his last USRRC win came on May 10, 1964.

MacDonald was reportedly spooked by the handling of the “Allstate Special” Thompson “pancake” rear-engine car, which for 1964 had been updated with a powerful Ford double overhead camshaft (DOHC) engine and bodywork that partially enclosed the wheels.  MacDonald nonetheless started the 1964 ‘500’ from 14th, the best of the two Thompson cars that made the starting field, but crashed as he exited turn four on the second lap with fatal results for both himself and Eddie Sachs.  

Lothar Motschenbacher was born in Germany but lived and worked in Beverly Hills California, and was a regular competitor for years in Group 7 racing in both the USSRC and SCCA Can-Am Series, but he also raced in a handful of USAC championship events. Lothar started in the USSRC series in 1964 driving an Elva Mark VII, and then in 1965 he drove the former Shelby “King Cobra.” 1966 Motschenbacher bought and raced his own McLaren Elva Mark II customer car and in the latter part of the season was a part of actor Dan Blocker’s racing team. Lothar briefly switched to a Lola T70 during late 1967, but continued to race a former team-owned McLaren M6B through the end of the USRRC series in 1968.

Lothar had limited success with USAC with just five appearances in two seasons. In 1967 he debuted at Phoenix International Raceway and drove Ken Brenn’s Gerhardt to a ninth place finish. Motschenbacher failed to qualify for the starting field in the next race at Trenton Speedway, so USAC rejected his entry for the Indianapolis ‘500’ as “not in good standing.” Lothar drove in the 1967 USAC season-ending race at Riverside International Raceway for Jerry Eisert but the car’s clutch failed after 8 laps.

In 1968, Motschenbacher raced just once with USAC in the August twin-100 mile heats event at the St. Jovite road course in Quebec in Bob Wilkie's Watson built “Zecol Lubaid Special” turbocharged Offenhauser. Lothar was entered for the 1969 Indianapolis 500 as the driver for Minnesota’s Pat O’Reilly’s “Serendipity Racing” Lotus/Ford entry, but was again declined due to his lack of a USAC license. O’Reilly then enlisted veteran driver Dee Jones, who promptly failed his refresher test.

 Wally Peat was a fabricator at Shelby American who worked as the crew chief with Dave McDonald on Cobras and the Shelby “King Cobra,” then worked for Mike Goth on his McLaren Elva USRRC racer. Wally and his brother Don then built several impressive supermodified race cars, including a series of dominant Ford Model T-bodied cars whose drivers included Don Edmunds, Wayne Weiler, and Billy Vukovich.

After a stint with Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing in which he served on the 1970 '500’ winning team, Wally went to work as co-crew chief and car builder for former insurance executive Dick Simon and Canadian American Racing Association (CAMRA) supermodified racer in 1971. Simon ran a Wally Peat modified Lola T152 powered by a turbocharged Ford engine though most of the 1972 USAC season. Peat returned to Salt Lake City  

David “Swede” Savage raced go-karts, three-quarter midgets, and motorcycles before his skills came to the attention of Dan Gurney who put Savage in his Ford powered Lola T70 for the final two races of the 1968 USRRC series. Savage went on to become a star driving for Gurney in the SCCA Can-Am and Trans-Am series and USAC racing. In his first season with USAC in 1969 Savage drove on four road courses, with three top ten results. The following year, Swede ran a limited USAC schedule and won his first USAC race on the short oval at Phoenix.  

In March 1971 Savage suffered critical injuries in a crash that nearly ended his career in the Questor Grand Prix at Ontario Motor Speedway in an ill-advised entry driving a former Gurney-owned car.  Savage lost most of his 1971 season as he recovered and perhaps returned too soon as he crashed out of his three late season USAC starts. For 1972 Savage signed with U.E. “Pat” Patrick’s USAC team and had a frustrating season filled with mechanical failures.

The 1973 season started well with a pair of top five finishes, and at Indianapolis, after topping the speed charts for most of the month, “Swede” qualified fourth for the Indianapolis ‘500’ and he briefly held the one and four-lap qualifying records.  During the race, Savage grabbed the lead on lap 43 which he held until he pitted on lap 54. On lap 58, Savage’s STP Eagle spun as he exited turn four (nearly the same location at Dave MacDonald in 1964) slammed into the inner retaining wall and his car burst into flames then slid across the track to come to rest against the outside wall. “Swede” Savage died on July 3 1971 at age 26 from complications of the burns he received and ended a promising career.

Jerry Titus a journalist and part-time racer turned full-time professional racer from Long Island New York will be the last alphabetical 2016 USSRC Hall of Fame inductee. Titus born in 1928 raced in every major road racing series in the United States during his career. Jerry raced Genie Mark 5 in the inaugural 1963 USSRC season, a Cheetah in three races for the 1964 USRRC GT series. Jerry drove the Webster2-liter Special and an Elva Mark VII for a combined four USRRC races during 1965, and his own Buick-powered Piper in three troubled races during 1967. In 1967 Jerry began his career in SCCA Trans-Am racing and won the championship; Jerry then concentrated on that series for which he became known as ‘Mr. Trans-Am.”

Jerry drove in two USAC races both at Riverside; in 1967 for the notorious engine builder and car owner Carroll Horton in one of the original BRP-Fords, and again at Riverside in 1968 as teammate to Mario Andretti on Andretti’s Overseas National Airways team. Titus in Andretti’s’ backup Brawner Hawk-Ford was intended as a “safety entry” in case Andretti’s car encountered problems, but Titus’s car had already retired with suspension failure when Andretti’s engine blew on lap 59.

In between those two races, Jerry Titus tried to qualify for the 1968 Indianapolis 500-mile race, but he missed the field despite using four different cars. After he passed his rookie test on May 5  in Carroll Horton’s Marathon entry which was a Lotus 29 replica powered by a DOHC Ford engine, Jerry left Indianapolis in order to compete in the May 12 SCCA Trans-Am race.

On practice on Saturday May 25, Titus crashed fuel injection wizard Barney Navaro’s six-cylinder 200-cubic inch turbocharged Rambler-powered 1964 Watson rear-engine chassis in turn two.  Jerry then attempted to qualify multi-millionaire airline heir Thomas Friedkin’s Bardahl-sponsored 1966 Eagle in a last minute effort in the rain-delayed final day of time trials held on Monday May 27, but his laps were too slow to bump into the field.   Instead of racing in the ‘500,’ May 30 1968 found Titus finishing second to Mark Donohue in the three-hour SCCA Trans-Am race at Lime Rock Connecticut.

On July 18 1970, Titus was practicing in his SCCA Trans-Am Pontiac Firebird at Road America when the car’s steering failed and the car struck a bridge abutment head-on. Titus died of his injuries seventeen days later. The American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association issues an award in Titus’ memory to the highest vote-getter in its annual AARWBA All-American Team balloting.

Special plaques commemorating the inductions will be presented at the annual “Tribute to the USRRC” dinner, with a number of the drivers and or family members will be on hand to accept the honors and reminisce about the times. Two of the highlights of the evening will be the presentation of two very special awards.
The Road Racing History Award recognizes worthy participant from the USRRC era for their historic accomplishment and personal dedication to the sport. The highly regarded Peter Bryant Award Challenger Award, named for the legendary racing engineer and designer, will be presented to the crew chief, car builder, or team mechanic who best epitomizes the unlimited spirit of the sport. 

Tickets for the event are available at

Details of the event and names of the inductees were provided by Doug Stokes of Stokes Communications, all research on the inductee's backgrounds was conducted by the author. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

A 'Giant' on the Bay Area racing scene is remembered

click to enlarge 

There was a large turnout of racing friends and family at the Friday morning memorial service held at Stockton 99 Speedway for Thomas “Tom” Manning, 74, long time Chief Steward for the Bay Cities Racing Association.  Tom passed away on March 18 at home in Tracy surrounded by his family with his beloved dog "Midget" in his lap.

Tom Manning was born in Gloversville New York and first saw races at the half-mile dirt Fonda Speedway near his childhood home.  During the Vietnam War, Tom served as in the United States Army as a firefighter at Fort Richardson near Anchorage, Alaska.  

Once his military service was completed, Tom moved to the Bay Area and worked as a machinist, first at Lukes & Shorman Porsche service shop in Albany for 23 years and later at Hasselgren Racing Engines in Berkeley for ten years before he retired as a machinist in 1996.  

During those years, Tom also road raced Porsche sports cars and raced super-modified cars on the dirt at Vallejo, Santa Maria, Atascadero, and Clovis Speedways, and later served as a track official at Petaluma and Antioch Speedways. 

Tom worked on the first Porsche entry at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the twin-engine creation owned by early BCRA midget racer Al Stein that unsuccessfully attempted to qualify for the 1966 Indianapolis '500.'    
Tom who stood 6’6” tall, never really retired, as he and wife Linda reopened Altamont Speedway near Tracy which they managed from 1995 to 1998.  Tom and Linda then went to work for the BCRA organization, with Tom as the BCRA midget Chief Steward for 18 years succeeding Tom Palmer and Linda working alongside as the BCRA Business Manager.  Tom was inducted into the BCRA Hall of Fame in 2008, (a year after Linda) and was the recipient of the Lloyd Nygren Midget Sportsmanship Award in 2015. 

The service featured memories of Tom shared by his friends and family with a military honor guard from the Stockton American Legion Post.  A P-51 Mustang warbird flyover by three-time BCRA champion Terry Tarditi and laps turned on the Stockton ¼-mile pavement in midgets driven by nine-time BCRA champion Floyd Alvis and 2013 BCRA car owner champion Gary Conterno closed the memorial a racing legend.

Tom's survivors include his wife of 25 years, Linda; two sons, Scott of Klamath Falls, Ore., and Steven of Tracy; two daughters, Kelly Johnson, and her husband, Chet, of Twenty-Nine Palms and Kimberlee Dahl, and her husband, Randy, of Tucson, Ariz.; two sisters, Barbara Leo of Gloversville and Kathy Manning of Johnstown, N.Y.; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Contributions in Tom Manning’s name may be sent to the Bay Cities Benevolent Fund, P.O. Box 398, Tracy, CA 95378

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The completed restoration of Mario Andretti’s 1965 Brawner Hawk unveiled
click to enlarge hi-res photos

When Ray Evernham chose the 21st annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance to debut his restoration of the car that took Mario Andretti to the 1965 USAC National Championship and Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award, he knew it was a special car for such a prestigious show.

The 2016 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance held from March 11 to 13 at  The Golf Club of Amelia Island at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island.  The show’s Foundation has donated over $2.75 million to Community Hospice of Northeast Florida, Inc. and other charities on Florida’s First Coast since its inception in 1996.
Ray Evernham, left and Jim McGee, right

Evernham’s painstakingly accurate restoration of Mario Andretti’s Brawner Hawk was led by four-time Indianapolis 500-winning crew chief Jim McGee with Steve Panarites, with the four camshaft Ford engine built by Joe Boghosian. The car which retains 80% of the original chassis, bodywork and drivetrain appeared at the 2016 Amelia Island Concours exactly as it did in May 1965 when Andretti won the Stark-Wetzel 'Rookie of the Year' award after a third place finish in the 49th running of the Memorial Day classic.

The Brawner Hawk was given the recognition it deserved by the concours judges, as it was awarded ‘Best in Class – Race Cars from 1961 to 1967’  and the Phil Hill Restorer’s Award, created to honor the artisan whose restoration of a classic, antique, historic or competition car is judged the best new restoration in its first concours appearance.

“I’ve been a lifelong fan of Mario Andretti.  I watched him race growing up and have always admired his talent, his business leadership, his commitment to philanthropy and his passion for the sport,” said Evernham.  “To be able to restore his rookie Indy Car was truly a special opportunity. I can’t thank Jim McGee enough for leading the restoration of the car and am thrilled the Brawner Hawk was not only recognized for its historical significance but also for all of the effort Jim and the team put into it.”
“From the historian’s point of view, Ray Evernham’s 1965 Brawner Hawk is a pivotally important car,” said Bill Warner, founder and Chairman of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. “It crystalizes a moment of monumental change in American race car design and construction: a true ‘technological changing of the guard’ -- the first American-built rear engine car to win the national championship.”

The exciting news for racing historians is that the 1965 Brawner Hawk’s next stop will be Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indianapolis 500 race weekend, where Mario Andretti will once again get behind the wheel of his rookie Indy Car for the first time in nearly 50 years.
Information and photographs used in the article were provided by Deborah L. Robinson at Victory Management Group PR




Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Dean Van Lines Kuzma roadster

During a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum and Hall of Fame this past weekend,  the author was fortunate enough to photograph the 1955 Dean Van Lines Kuzma roadster. 

This car was built new for car owner Al Dean crew chief Clint Brawner and driver Jimmy Bryan for the 1955 Indianapolis 500-mile race. Bryan led the race twice for 31 laps before the fuel pump on the Offenhauser engine’s failed on lap 90.

During the 1956, ‘500,’ a tire blew around lap 100 and Jimmy spun into the south infield. Jimmy returned to the pits and he and crew returned to the car, put on a new tire and restarted the car to rejoin the race. Bryan and the Kuzam were still running at the finished 15 laps behind the winner pat Flaherty and finished 19th.

During the winter of 1956-7 Eddie Kuzma narrowed the chassis and built and new body for the car.  Bryan qualified the ‘Dean Van Lines Special’ for 15th starting spot on the third day of time trials. During the 1957 ‘500.’ Bryan ran in the top 5 last half of the race and finished third but never challenged winner Sam Hanks. This is the livery and configuration the car has been restored to represent. 

For the 1958 ‘500’ a young rookie from Houston Texas named Foyt drove the Dean van Lines Kuzma but finished 16th when he spun out in turn one on lap 148 after a radiator hose broke and dumped water under his tires.

During practice on May 23 1959, Earl Motter spun and backed the car into the south short chute wall and severely damaged the tail which ended its racing career. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

1948 Anglia Gasser at SEMA 2015 


We do not typically cover drag racing history in this blog, but on occasion, a car comes along that just cannot be ignored. In 1948 Ford Motor Company began to import the pre-war styled English-built Anglia and Prefect passenger cars and Thames vans to the United States. In 1948, 12,250 of the economical “English Fords” were shipped to the United States, but records show only 3,223 of the little passenger cars were sold in 1948.  It took Ford years to unload all the remaining stock, and as unpopular as the little cars were with the United States buying public, with their light weight they were a big hit with drag racers, particularly in the  national Hot Rod Association  (NHRA) “Gasser” classes.

In 1968, Jay Lindley an employee at Blair’s Speed Shop in Pasadena California bought an undamaged 1948 Ford Anglia body from a fellow employee and set out to build a gas-class race car. In six months, Lindley built the chassis and installed a 427-cubic inch Chevrolet fitted with Hilborn fuel injection that fed power through a 4-speed Muncie transmission. After a few months, Lindley realized that the ‘big block’ Chevrolet engine was too powerful for the short wheelbase race car and replaced the engine with a small block Chevrolet. Lindley set several NHRA national records in the NHRA B/Gas class before he sold the car in 1972.

The little car spent the many years in bracket racing circles and was purchased by Don Lindfors in 1995. In 2009, Lindfors decided to restore the car back to its original ‘big block’ configuration with Blairs Speed Shop livery. Completed in just 2-1/2 months, the restored car debuted at the 2010 Grand National Roadster Show. The restored Anglia was featured in issue #65 of the Rodder’s Journal magazine and at the 2015 SEMA show in Las Vegas, it was center stage in the Petronix Performance Products booth, where the author photographed it.   

Saturday, March 12, 2016


Left click on the photographs to enlarge

Recently, while cataloging a group of old photographs recently purchased through an online auction site, the author found a reprint of a remarkable newspaper photograph of a 1932 crash that involved driver Frank Suess at the historic Legion Ascot Speedway. Before we discuss the circumstances of the photograph, we will profile the driver and his career. 

Frank Suess' yearbook photo from Santa Monica High School 
courtesy of the Santa Monica High School archives.

Frank L. Suess was born August 27 1910 and raised in Santa Monica California by his parents Frank J. and Ruby along with an older sister Helen and younger brother Gordon. Frank graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1928, and two years later, in 1930, his name first appeared in the press as one of the listed entries for the November 2 ‘Western Circuit Sweepstakes’ at Bakersfield Speedway. 
Bakersfield Speedway builder, owner, and promoter Paul J. C. Derkum, a former bicycle and motorcycle racer who raced in the first event held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909, promised fans “the greatest aggregation of cars and drivers seen on a California dirt track in the last decade,” a promised Derkum could safely make because the race had been granted American Automobile Association (AAA) sanction number 2407, a first for the Bakersfield track. 

Frank Suess’ #36 ‘Santa Monica Special’ was one of 52 cars entered for the event, in which only the fastest 36 cars participated in a series of short 5-mile heat races to advance to the 25-lap feature race on the one-mile dirt track.  In qualifying, Francis Quinn established a “new world record for mile dirt tracks” with a lap of 39.41 seconds, then drove his “Dayton Thoroughbred Special” to victory in the 25-mile feature easily over Johnny Krieger and Chester ‘Chet’ Gardner.

Suess entered the inaugural race at the new Oakland Speedway on October 19 1931, as the driver of the #71 ‘PAL Special.’ Other notable entrants included Indianapolis 500-mile race veterans Billy Arnold, Ralph Hepburn, Louis Meyer, and Ernie Triplett. No records of Suess’ performance were found, but Triplett led all 100 laps over Hepburn and Meyer on a track surface that deteriorated throughout the event.

Francis Quinn in 1929 behind the wheel of the "Schmidt Special" 
photo from the Ed Reynolds collection owned by the author

Frank Suess and the ‘PAL Special’ were entered for the race at Oakland Speedway scheduled for December 13 1932 which was rained out. 1930 AAA Pacific Southwest champion Francis Quinn enroute to Oakland from Southern California, called ahead and after he learned that the race was rained out, turned around. North of Fresno, a suspected drunk driver crossed the centerline and hit Quinn’s Ford Model A head on; 28-year old Francis Quinn was killed instantly but his $4,000 Miller Marine powered “big car” was miraculously undamaged in the accident.

The rescheduled Oakland race was rained out for the second time on December 27, and eventually was run on New Year’s Day 1932. It is unclear whether Frank Suess was in Oakland that day as the newspaper report listed only the first seven finishers in the accident-shortened race won by Elbert “Babe” Stapp.

Two days later on Sunday January 3 1932, Frank Suess was in action at the ‘Western Circuit Sweepstakes’ held at Derkum’s Bakersfield Speedway. Suess and the ‘PAL Special’ finished fourth in the third of three five-mile heat races, while Ernie Triplett in Bill White’s new four-cylinder 16-valve Miller Marine- powered car won his heat race and the 50-mile feature over Stapp.

A Ted Wilson photograph oF Frank Suess behind the wheel of the PAL Special.
Photograph  from John R. Lucero's book Legion Ascot Speedway 

Frank Suess and the ‘PAL Special ‘began to record better finishes as the 1931 AAA Pacific Southwest season progressed, with a third place finish in the 10-lap consolation race at the 5/8-mile oiled dirt Legion Ascot Speedway on February 28, and a second place finish in the 5-mile consolation race at the Oakland Speedway on March 6.

A week later, on March 13 1932, Suess qualified for the 100-lap feature at Legion Ascot Speedway, but during the course of the race, Suess’ car fell off the pace and Frank hugged the bottom groove of the track as he entered turn three. As Nick Martino sped past, Martino, who was dueling for position, misjudged the distance, and the ‘Stricker Special’ clipped the right front wheel of Suess’ machine and flipped end over end, but Martino escaped unscathed. 

During the 1932 racing season, Legion Ascot Speedway began to stage regular ‘Class B’ events to help develop the skills of the younger, less experienced drivers who drove lesser quality equipment. Besides Suess, Class B drivers included Ted Horn, Chris Vest and George Connor.

Frank Suess cheats death in 1932
photo from the Ed Reynolds Collection owned by the author

Late in the season, Frank Suess was involved in the accident for which he became nationally famous, but a mystery which surrounds the photograph is the date of the crash. The photograph ran in many newspapers across the country between November 1932 and February 1933, without the exact date ever noted. Most of the newspapers titled the photograph with the headline As Death Rushed by Speed Demon, or He Lived to Laugh About It with a caption that stated “Frank Suess probably wouldn’t have given a thin dime for his chances, nor would anyone else who witnessed the crash.”  

The captions generally provided a few details about the crash - Frank’s #40 ‘S & S Special’ lost a wheel as he entered turn three at Legion Ascot during a 5-lap heat race. The edge of the airborne wheel can be seen in above photograph in the upper right corner.  In the original full-frame photograph, the entire wheel was visible, a detail which was lost when this copy was made by amateur photographer Ed Reynolds.  

Just after the photograph above was taken, Frank fell onto the oiled dirt surface and slid 50 feet across the track in the face of oncoming race traffic. Remarkably unhurt, Frank Suess was according to the caption “back in the infield pit area within moments trying to find another car to race.”

The final tally of the point standings for the 20-race 1932 AAA Pacific Southwest circuit listed Frank Suess in the 25th positon behind Howard “Howdy” Wilcox, William “Bryan” Saulpaugh, and William “Shorty” Cantlon. While Frank raced most of the circuit, those successful Eastern AAA drivers left the West Coast after the early season races at Legion Ascot Speedway to race back East, including at Indianapolis,  and did not return to the West Coast.    

For the 1933 AAA season, Frank Suess moved into better equipment, the #25 ‘Stewar Special’, which featured a drawing of a foaming mug of beer on the cowling. Suess was entered for the March 25 races at Oakland, the second AAA race of the season at the track, which was rained out and rescheduled for April 23.

Before the rescheduled Oakland race could be held, two tragedies befell the West Coast racing fraternity. Bob Carey was killed in a crash at Legion Ascot Speedway while practicing for the ‘Easter Sweepstakes’ on April 16 after the throttle of Joe Marks’ ‘Lion Head Special’ (formerly owned by Louis Meyer) jammed open. On April 22, Bryan Saulpaugh died in a practice accident at the Oakland Speedway after his car overturned and the 28-year old driver was killed after he was thrown out onto the racing surface.       

On April 23, disaster struck again during the 15-lap consolation race which was run after the 150-mile feature race which was won by Chet Gardner. Race leader Chris Vest’s car was apparently touched by the trailing machine of Portland Oregon’s “Swede” Smith (real name George Smyth). Vest lost control and the machine turned right, rocketed up the banking, hit the guardrail, and rolled three times.  

Smith, apparently unnerved by the accident, slowed and was passed by Al Richardson and Suess.  The wreckage caught fire and Vest suffered burns on his chest, a fractured skull and lost four fingers on his left hand, but recovered from his injuries and returned to racing before the end of the 1933 season.

At Legion Ascot Speedway, on May 1, Frank Suess finished in the sixth positon in a remarkable 100-lap feature.  Rex Mays’ original mount was forced out on the 23rd lap with a broken axle, then on lap 40 he took over for Art Boyce when Boyce lost all feeling in his left arm after he was hit by a rock and pitted.   Mays rejoined the race in seventh place but stormed back through the field to win in a time of 48 minutes and 14 seconds. Suess, in sixth place, trailed Mays, Gardner, former motorcycle racer Johnny Krieger, future 14-time Indy 500 starter George Connor and Seattle’s Eugene “Woody” Woodford to the checkered flag.  

Frank Suess and the AAA Pacific Southwest division ‘big car’ drivers were in action on Sunday June 11 1933 at the new Silvergate Speedway built on the marshlands near the San Diego River. The 5/8-mile dirt track which opened on May 7 1933 was planned as the third major California track along with Legion Ascot and Oakland.  This track was built by a group of businessman led by Lee Conti that replaced the nearby ½-mile “Neal’s Sportsman Park.” 

The 50-lap Silvergate feature was won by George Connor in a time of 26 minutes and 45 seconds. A local newspaper reported the Ted Horn, Frank Suess and ‘Swede’ Smith all failed to finish the main event due to what the paper termed “minor mishaps.”      

The following Wednesday evening, June 14, the same cars and drivers were back in action on the oiled 5/8-mile surface at Legion Ascot Speedway when tragedy struck during the 15-lap ‘Class B’ race. As Ted Horn entered turn one, his car spun into the path of Frank Suess in the ‘Stewar Special.’ Unable to either spin or slow the ‘Stewar Special’ hit Horn’s machine and in turn was struck by the following car, #39 driven by “Frenchie” LaHorgue from Van Nuys California. 

The life and prior career of the third driver in the incident, “Frenchie” LaHorgue is a mystery; even his given name is unknown. All we know of LaHorgue prior to the crash is that in February 1933 won a 50-lap ‘big car’ race at Neal’s Sportsman Park.

The Ted Wilson photograph of the remains of the Stewar Special 
from the Bruce R. Craig Collection  
courtesy of the Revs Institute of Automotive Research Inc.  

The cars of Suess and LaHorgue slid up and over the banking, tumbled and came to rest resting on their sides against a perimeter wire fence, with the engine torn from the ‘Stewar Special.’  Both drivers were quickly transported to White Memorial Hospital less than three miles away. LaHorgue recovered from injuries, but Frank L. Suess, just 22 years old, died at the hospital in the early morning hours of the following day, June 15, and was later laid to rest by his family in the Woodlawn Cemetery in his hometown of Santa Monica.  

Frank Suess was the thirteenth driver to lose his life in the short history of Legion Ascot Speedway, a track that claimed twenty-four lives before it closed in January 1936.   Just how deadly racing was on the oiled 5/8-mile Legion Ascot racing surface can be shown statistically. In 1933 alone, Legion Ascot Speedway saw six driver deaths, which accounted for nearly 20% of the 32 United States race driver deaths recorded that year.  

While Legion Ascot Speedway was deadly, it also served as a fertile training ground, as many Legion Ascot drivers who raced with Frank Suess including Wilbur Shaw, Rex Mays, Ernie Triplett, George Connor, and Chet Gardner went on to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Midget Racer Bob Harner in 1948 and beyond

To place this article in the proper context, the author suggests that if you have not already, read the three previous articles regarding Bob Harner’s racing career entitled  ‘before World War 2’  'in 1945 & 1946’ and ‘in 1947’ before reading this final installment.

During the height of the midget auto racing’s popularity in the United States, on Sunday night June 13, 1948 Bob Harnar (alternately spelled Harner), the midget auto racer from Akron Ohio was scheduled to appear at the opening race for the Manchester Motordrome’s second season.
 Bob Harnar in a Ford V8-60 powered midget - assumed to be pre-war era
Photograph courtesy of JD Cormack

 Built at a cost of $70,000 (nearly $3/4 million today) by brothers George and Walter Hart and their partner, Robert Early, the Londonderry New Hampshire track slightly shorter than a ¼ mile in length, opened in July of 1947 and featured seating for 10,000 fans. After the short 1947 racing season, Walter Hart was killed in an automobile accident and his widow succeeded him in the track partnership.  

That June night in 1948 the races at Londonderry were to be sanctioned by the new Bay State Midget Racing Association (BSMRA), and advertisements promised appearances by such local stars as Joe Sostilio, Frankie Simonetti, and Buddy Tatro. Besides Harner and Jimmy Florian, his teammate in the Pollock Racing Kurtis Kraft Offenhauser-powered midgets, another “guest driver from the Midwest” included Bill Spear (Spier), who was advertised as driving the only rubber suspended car in the county.

Apparently the scheduled race did not come off, as the local newspaper described in an article the following week “racing was delayed at the Manchester Motordrome because of a misunderstanding between the promoters and the Bay State Racing Association. This misunderstanding has been eliminated and both parties have agreed to abide by a newly- drawn contract. As evidence of good faith, the Bay State Association has announced that 24 drivers and cars will participate in the opening Sunday (June 20).”

The following week saw the opening of a new midget track, Hudson Speedway, less than ten miles away from Manchester. The two tracks spent the rest of the 1948 season locked in a scheduling battle with one another and the BSMRA, the AAA, and the United Car Owners Association (UCOA), and as expected, all parties lost. The Motordrome reportedly ran midget races as late as 1962, and today the site features a velodrome and a BMX bicycle track.

Joe Sostilio from Massachusetts, the defending 1947 BSMRA champion, became entangled later in 1948 in a bizarre criminal case after the June 25 crash at the ¼-mile paved Mohawk Stadium in Lunenberg Massachusetts that killed 22-year old driver Steve Bishop.  Even though newspaper reports the day following the accident did not mention Sostilio’s name in connection with the fateful second race nor was there contact between the cars of Bishop and Sostilio, a grand jury indicted Sostilio in August 18 1948 on two counts of assault and one count of manslaughter. The indictment stated that Sostilio "did in a wanton and reckless manner operate a motor vehicle in a race with other motor vehicles, and as a result of said wanton reckless operation caused mortal injuries to one Stephen D. Bishop, said injury resulting in his death." 
Free on bail, awaiting trial Sostilio continued to race, and then in February 1949 a Worchester jury rejected his defense of the incident being “an unavoidable accident” and convicted Sostilio on all three counts.  Judge Charles Fairhurst gave Sostilio a three-month jail sentence but stayed the sentence pending appeal. Sostilio’s conviction was affirmed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in December 1949, but it is unclear to this historian whether Sostilio ever served the sentence.  The ill-fated Mohawk Stadium which had opened just two weeks before the Bishop fatality closed sometime during 1949 and after several years of being the target for vandals was demolished and replaced by a drive-in movie theatre in 1955.

Joe “Rosie” Sostilio passed his rookie driving test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 1953 in the Belanger-owned Chrysler 331 cubic inch “Hemi” V8-powered Kurtis 500A but failed to qualify. In 1954 Sostilio was the assigned driver for Ed Walsh’s Bardahl -sponsored Kurtis, but was replaced at the last moment in final day ‘500’ time trials by veteran Art Cross. Sostilio who finished his quarter-century racing career in 1958, passed away in July 2000 in St Petersburg Florida.

Bob Harner also won a heat race and the class B race during the early part of the 1948 season at the Lonsdale Sports Arena a 1/3-mile high-banked paved oval located on the banks of the Blackstone River two miles north of Pawtucket, Rhode Island which operated from 1947 to 1956.

A consistent winner at both Lonsdale and Manchester race tracks during this period was Johnny Thomson who won 32 midget features in 1948 on his way to claiming the 1948 UCOA title. Thomson later won the 1952 Eastern American Automobile Association (AAA) midget title winner and then graduated to the AAA Eastern sprint cars where he won the 1954 and 1958 championships. Thomson raced in eight Indianapolis 500-mile races and won seven AAA championship car races before he lost his life in a sprint car accident on the first lap of a 25-lap feature on September 24 1960 at the Allentown (Pennsylvania) Fairgrounds.

Bob Harnar in the post-war Pollock Kurtis Kraft Offenhauser midget
photograph courtesy of JD Cormack

On Tuesday night June 15 1948, “all the New England Stars” along with Harnar, Florian, and Spears appeared at the ¼-mile Westboro Stadium in Massachusetts. Racing began at Westboro Stadium in 1947 and continued there until the track closed in 1985.  After the property was sold off and the track demolished it became the site of the ‘Speedway Plaza’ shopping center.

On July 16, 1948, Harner returned to race in familiar surroundings in the AAA sanctioned 50-lap ‘Mid-season Championship’ at Ebensburg Pennsylvania, and raced with Bobby Orr, Jack Kabat, and one-legged California racer Cal Niday. Former ‘big car’ racer Mike Little was aiming for his sixth straight feature win at Ebensburg, but was beaten to the checkered flag by Kabat.

On October 31, 1948 Bob Harner was entered in the midget races at the Conococheague Speedway near Hagerstown Maryland, a track with a particularly colorful early history.   Construction of the track on Route 40 six miles west of Hagerstown adjacent to the Conococheague Amusement Park began in April 1947 by a group led by farmer-contractor Stanley Schetrompf. When it was completed, the covered grandstand, advertised as the largest in Western Maryland, was 375 feet long and seated over 3,000 fans with additional uncovered bleachers for another other 2,000 fans.  The ½-mile banked clay race track facility was built at a reported total cost of S60.000.  

The grand opening motorcycle races set for August 8 1948 were delayed by rain first to the 15th then again by rain until August 22 1948. Almost immediately, Sherriff Joseph Baker acting at the behest of the Washington County Ministerial Association ordered no racing on Sundays in accordance with Maryland “Blue Laws” which since Colonial times prohibited hunting and retail sales or entertainment activities on Sundays. In September 1948 the track dropped its AAA sanction, citing low car counts and went with Central States Racing Association (CSRA) sanction and continued to race on Sundays, but during the CSRA midget races on September 12 1948, tragedy struck and Pennsylvania driver Earle Fattman was killed.

While the State Police investigation assigned no blame for the tragedy, Sherriff Baker took the opportunity to renew his call for no Sunday racing, but given the fact that Harner and the CSRA midgets ran there on October 31, it was clear that the promoters ignored the “Blue Laws.”  In November 1948, citing poor attendance Calvin “Mike” Shank and Ed Goetz took over active management from   Schetrompf despite the fact that the track sat on Schetrompf’s farm.

Racing resumed at Conococheague over the 1949 Memorial Day weekend and then on June 10  1949 the Washington County grand jury indicted seven men associated with the Speedway for “Sabbath breaking” along with the employees of the local movie theater. All seven men were promptly arrested by Sherriff’s deputies and released after they posted the required $7.45 bond.  

A jury trial on June 24th found six Conococheague Speedway employees and officials guilty of “Sabbath breaking,” yet all the movie theatre employees were acquitted.  A seventh track employee was granted a new trial because Judge Joseph Mish ruled that the state “inadvertently failed to show that he was among those working at the Conococheague Speedway on Sunday, May 29, 1949.”  Judge Mish then imposed the maximum fine of five dollars and court costs on each of those convicted, and thereafter no Sunday racing occurred at Conococheague Speedway.

After the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of “Blue Laws” in 1962,   it was not until 1987 that Maryland legislators finally  repealed most of the ancient “Blue Laws,” although  Maryland still permits Sunday automobile sales in only Charles, Prince George's, Montgomery, and Howard counties. Conococheague Speedway is known these days as Hagerstown Speedway and since 1982 has honored Schetrompf’s memory by staging the “Stanley Schetrompf Founders Day Classic,” a 50-lap feature for late model stock cars. 

While much of his 1948 season results remain unknown, Bob Harner is credited with a second place finish in the 1948 AAA Michigan Ohio Valley Circuit midget championship behind Ralph Pratt. The 1949 season for Harnar is even more of a mystery with only one mention was found after extensive research.  On July 20, 1949 Harnar was one of many midget racers entered in a race at Williams Grove Speedway which was cancelled due to the failure of the track’s 300,000 watt lighting system following a rainstorm.

Bob Harnar’s single career AAA championship car appearance came on September 10 1950 at the Michigan State Fairgrounds dirt one-mile track where he unsuccessfully tried to qualify Ralph Miller’s ‘Vulcan Tool Special.’  Ralph S. Miller from Dayton in Ohio started his racing career as young man in ‘stock’ cars, then worked in Harold Hosterman's shop and helped build tooling and patterns for the famous ‘HAL’ engines and components.  

Walt Geiss in the Vulcan Tool Special in 1952
Photograph courtesy of Rick Patterson

Starting in January 1946, Ralph Miller, a tool maker by trade built his own “rear-drive double tubular  chassis” powered by a 4-cylinder supercharged intercooled racing engine for which Miller “made every part” according to an April 1948 article in the Dayton Daily News.  The car which Miller built with the assistance of driver Carlyle “Duke” Dinsmore debuted at the Illinois State Fairgrounds mile at DuQuoin September 1948 with 1941 Indianapolis 500-mile race co-winner Floyd Davis behind the wheel. The ‘Ralph Miller Special’ started last in the 18-car starting field and finished the 100-lap race in ninth position after Davis was relieved at lap 70 by Dinsmore.  

The team then moved on two days later to the “Atlanta 100” at Lakewood Speedway where Davis went the full 100-lap distance and finished seventh out of twelve finishers.  The following month, back at the 1948 season-ending race at DuQuoin, Dinsmore qualified 17th in the Ralph Miller creation but failed to finish the race in which Ted Horn lost his life.    
Cy Marshall at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1950 in the Vulcan Tool Special
Photograph courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection in the
IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies

Over the next eight years, through the 1956 AAA season, the Ralph Miller machine made sixteen entries in championship events, with drivers that included Harnar, Cy Marshall, Frank Armi, and Cal Niday, none of whom were able to get the ‘Vulcan Tool Special’ (Ralph’s employer at the time)  into the starting field. Only Colorado native Keith Andrews was able to qualify the “Syer-Hal Special” for a race;  Keith finished second in the 1953 Pikes Peak “Race to the Clouds,” with a run that was only 2-1/2 seconds slower than Louie Unser.  

After Van Johnson failed to qualify the ‘Vulcan Tool Special’ for the 1956 DuQuoin race and finished fourth in the consolation race, the car stopped competing on the AAA circuit.  In 1957, Ralph Miller was granted United States patent number 2817322 for his supercharged engine which was designed to run on “diesel, dual fuel, or gasoline and operated so as to limit or reduce the engine’s thermal load” by using early intake valve closure to reduce heat build-up in the combustion chamber. Miller retired from the Dayton Reliable Tool Company and passed away in 1992 at age 87, found through research by Rick Patterson. The Ralph Miller car is currently in a private collection in the Midwest.

Many diesel engine manufacturers have developed and patented new engine designs based on Miller’s principles. In 1995, Mazda introduced a 2.3 liter (140 cubic inches) V-6 engine option on its Millenia S model that used “Miller Cycle” technology with an intercooler, early intake valve timing and low-pressure supercharging to achieve 210 horsepower and 28 miles to the gallon. The primary advantage of the Mazda engine was it reduced exhaust temperatures by 11% which lowered nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions.

After his active racing career ended, Bob Harnar entered the contracting business and reportedly served as an official at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  In 1952, Bob Harnar, now 36 years old, appeared in an indoor race at the Toledo Sports Arena together with a roster of “former champion drivers” that included Harnar’s contemporaries Jack Kabat, Carl Forberg, Gays Biro, and Ralph Pratt. Later on June 19, 1952 many of those same “former champions” appeared in a 50-lap feature program staged at Bedford’s Sportsmans Park.

  Ten years later, on January 10 1962, Harner had his final moment in the racing spotlight when he and a group of “old time racers” that included Gays Biro, Ralph Pratt, Jim Florian, Al Silver, and Herb Swan appeared in a special indoor race presented as a part of motorcycle and ¾ midget racing program on a 1/10-mile track inside the Cleveland Arena.  Bob Harnar passed away at age 68 in 1984 in Fairlawn Ohio.  

While Bob Harnar did not win any major races or championships, or race at our sport’s mecca, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, hopefully this series of articles about Harnar’s career has given the reader insight into the life and travels of a midget automobile racer in the sport’s halcyon days in the years before and after World War 2.