Monday, May 30, 2016

‘Doc’ Williams at the Indianapolis '500'
Part three- from 1936 to 1940

Doc Williams poses in this photo from the author's personal collection
the year, photographer and location are all unknown


‘Doc’ Williams, the main subject of this article and the Cooper front-drive race cars intersected at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1936, as ‘Doc’ was paired with veteran ‘Dusty’ Fahrnow on the two-car Superior Trailer Team.   ‘Doc’ who had been employed at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit since 1933 reportedly resigned from Ford to take advantage of the Gauss/Goldberg opportunity.  

In just one year, conditions had changed dramatically at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In order to enhance the impact of the AAA “junk formula” rules and encourage the use of passenger car engines over pure racing engines, races teams were given a limited amount of fuel with which to qualify and then complete the 500-mile distance.

In 1935, the fuel limit for the race was 42 ½ gallons (11-3/4 miles per gallon average) and after the race, testing found that winner Kelly Petillo had two extra gallons, second place Wilbur Shaw had three leftover gallons, and fourth place finisher Floyd Roberts had five gallons in reserve, while only one car ran out of its entire allotment during the 1935 race. With those results in hand, for the 1936 ‘500’ the fuel allotment was reduced to just 37 ½ gallons, or a 13-1/3 miles per gallon average.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway facilities had been improved as the turns on the 2-1/2 mile oval were repaved with new asphalt, which improved the grip of the tires through the corners, although lap speeds did not increase. On the safety aspect, the concrete apron on the inside of the track’s corners had been widened, and a new outside reinforced concrete retaining wall built which was perpendicular to the racing surface.

One of the Race Car Corporation’s partners was Fred T. “Fritz” Holliday who had been involved at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1927, when he was one the owners of the ‘Jynx Special’ driven by rookie Wilbur Shaw.  The ‘Jynx Special’ was the supercharged Miller rear-drive in which Jimmy Murphy had been killed at the Syracuse “Moody Mile” in 1924. During the 1927 ‘500,’ Shaw became fatigued and Holliday suggested that young Louis Meyer relieve Shaw. Together the pair who would score six Indianapolis victories between them, brought the “Jynx Special” home in fourth place in 1927. 

Holliday was a 1920 graduate of Yale University, and a former vice-president at the family’s J.W. Holliday & Company steel company based in Chicago, although “Fritz” lived in Indianapolis. In 1935, “Fritz” and his brother started the Monarch Steel Company. As a partner in the Race Car Corporation of Indianapolis, Holliday continued to own the Cooper front-drive race car up until his death in July 1951, and was a long-time friend of Anton Hulman Junior, and was partner with Hulman in the ownership of the 98-foot, 103-ton yacht Marmot which was berthed in Michigan City Indiana.

After “Doc” qualified for the ‘500,’ the Franklin Evening Star newspaper proclaimed on May 25 1936 that “Doc Williams is back, with a new car, nerves of brass and silver dollars, and is ready for his fourth and by far his greatest assault on the 500.”  The article continued that “after four years of worry and work at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Doc has got the best combination money can buy. 'Doc' was quoted "I'm out for gold and glory, with the emphasis on the gold. The glory won't buy sandwiches."
The Evening Star article described his qualifying run: “Doc not only the smallest but the youngest driver on the track, and his riding mechanic, brother-in-law, Ray Short, both were so light that they bounced around on those rubber cushions like balls on a feather bed." The article noted that ‘Doc's’ father, Dr. Walter J. Williams, was at the Speedway to see his son qualify. Williams’ teammate ‘Dusty’ Fahrnow did not make the 33-car starting field with the #55 Cooper front-drive ‘Superior Trailer Special,’ but the details of 'Dusty’s' failure to qualify are unknown. 

During the race, on the 26th lap 'Doc’s' machine and Babe Stapp’s ‘Wheeler’s Special’ driven by Louis Tomei brushed together in one of the turns but both cars continued.  On lap 192, the ‘Superior Trailer Special’ Miller engine exhausted its fuel supply and the Cooper front drive machine coasted to a stop and was placed 16th. Clearly the AAA rule makers had gone too far in further reducing the fuel allotment for the 500-mile race, as six other entries ran out fuel during the last 20 laps.

As result of the late race attrition due to fuel starvation during the 1936 ‘500’, the fuel allotment rule was rescinded for 1937 and the #57 chassis for ‘Doc’ Williams was again powered by the Gauss U-16 “twin Miller” engine. The Race Car Corporation of Indianapolis was the official entrant for the second time and also entered a second Cooper chassis for mustachioed rookie driver Louis Webb which still carried a four-cylinder Miller engine. Both entries sported Superior Trailer Manufacturing sponsorship, and neither ‘Doc’ nor Webb made qualifying runs fast enough to make the 33-car starting field for the 1937 '500.'

Webb, a former Legion Ascot ‘big car’ mechanic and racer originally from Knoxville Tennessee who listed Beverly Hills as his home, had been around the Speedway since 1934 as a riding mechanic, but 1937 was his first time to drive on the big 2-1/2 mile brick oval.  

Louis Webb tried unsuccessfully to make the ‘500 field in 1939 in Walt Woestman’s McDowell powered machine and 1940 in Charles Voelker’s V-16 car  before he was killed at the Syracuse ‘Moody Mile’ on Labor Day 1940.  Webb’s Marks Offenhauser ran over the back of Cavino ‘Kelly’ Petillo’s machine and flipped end-over-end three times in front of the New York State Fair grandstand on the 18th lap of the 100-mile race.

1938 AAA engine displacement/weight sheet

For the 1938 ‘500,’ ‘Doc’ Williams’  entry, the 4-cylinder 248 cubic inch Offenhauser powered #46 ‘Ben Been Special’ was reportedly the only car on the grounds that still carried a riding mechanic, which was no longer required. The AAA “Junk Formula” rules package, in effect since 1930, had been scrapped in favor of the new international rules package which used a sliding scale of weight and engine displacement. Williams’ riding mechanic in the ‘Ben Been Special’ was again his brother-in-law Ray Short.
'Doc' Williams and Ray Short in the 'Ben Been Special'
photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies

An article in the Logansport Press described the car as “a Miller type machine,” entered by first time entrant Ben Been who owned a LaSalle car dealer in the tiny Carroll County town of Burrows Indiana, although the author suspects Williams was the actual race car owner.  

The fastest laps ‘Doc’ ran all month were around 120 MPH, and he made his two unsuccessful attempts to qualify on May 25. During his third and final qualifying attempt on May 28, the ‘Ben Been Special’ spun as it exited turn two and into the infield. Williams and Short were uninjured in the incident, but they had run out of chances to make the 1938 ‘500’ starting field.  

For the 1939 ‘500,’ ‘Doc’ was again the driver of the "Miller type" front-drive machine now powered by a 270 cubic inch Offenhauser engine and sponsored by the Quillen Brothers Refrigerator Company of Indianapolis. On the final day of time trials May 28, there was drama as Billy Devore beat the clock to start his run then bumped out George Robson with a ten-mile run with an average speed just 2/10 of a mile per hour faster than Robson’s. When the final qualifying gun went off, Williams’ #36 was sitting second in line to make an attempt, so ‘Doc’ missed racing on Decoration Day for the second year in a row.    

‘Doc’ Williams’ sponsors, Carl L. and Clarence A. Quillen, started their commercial refrigerator business which sold units throughout the Midwest in September 1931 and had built their new factory building in 1936 at 1639 Lafayette Road just north of 16th Street on a lot which  backed up to the White River.  Their company slogan was "Our customers know that every Quillen product more than pays for itself."

'Doc' Williams in 1940
photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies
By the 28th running of the International 500-mile Sweepstakes in 1940, the Cooper front-drive chassis had been narrowed and fitted with new bodywork that disguised its 1927 origins. ‘Doc’ qualified the red #36 ‘Quillen Brothers Special’ powered by 255-cubic Miller Marine engine into the starting field on May 26 with a four-lap average of 122.963 MPH for nineteenth starting position on the inside of the seventh row.
'Doc' Williams in 1940
photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies

Williams was the only driver to qualify on the second weekend of time trials due to rain, which forced Speedway officials to stage qualifying runs on Monday and Tuesday in order to fill the 33-car field.  In a race marked with low attrition, the ‘Quillen Brothers Special’ finished 25th after the oil line broke on lap 61. For his second ‘500’ start in eight attempts ‘Doc’ earned $590.

The years following their 1940 Indianapolis ‘500’ race car sponsorship did not go well for the Quillen brothers. On January 21 1944, less than six weeks after the death of “Doc’ Williams’ original sponsor Clarence O. Warnock, Carl Quillen was killed when he lost control of his car as he drove through the north side of Indianapolis on his way home to Zionsville.  Carl’s car swerved across the centerline and struck a tree on the opposite side of the road. The car was demolished, and Quillen was thrown into the road where his lifeless body was found by Marion County Sheriff Deputies Glyndon Macy and Meritt Smith. Carl Quillen, survived by his wife and two sons is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery.
Clarence Quillen's patent drawing for a refrigerated 
display case patent number 2513675

Clarence continued to run the Quillen Brothers Company which profited handsomely from selling refrigerators to the military during the Second World War, and on December 9 1945 announced plans for a 5000-square foot plant expansion. Quillen planned to install $75,000 worth of new equipment for the manufacture of two sizes of home freezer units and several sizes of Clarence’s patented design of display cases for national distribution.

Unfortunately less than three years later in April 1948 the firm filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy in Southern District Federal Court, a situation which Clarence blamed on the steel shortage which caused the 17-year-old company to “run out of cash." Quillen's petition showed that the firm had only $1 cash on hand, $51,513 in bank deposits versus $231,818 in debts. The plant and equipment of the Quillen Brothers Refrigerator Company valued at $230,000 were sold at a private sale on July 14 1948.

Our next installment will trace ‘Doc’ Miller's ongoing attempts to qualify the Cooper front drive machine at Indianapolis in 1941, 1946 and 1948 and his big shot at glory in 1947.

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