Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The racing life and times of Jerry Grant

Part two - 1967 and 1968


For the 1967 racing season Jerry Grant drove exclusively for Tom Friedkin’s Friedkin Enterprises team, which provided cars for Grant during the season in the United States Auto Club (USAC) championship, National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) Grand National, and the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Canadian-American Challenge (Can-Am) series.

Tom Friedkin was then a Southern California-based 31-year old multi-millionaire who had inherited the majority share of Pacific Southwest Airlines after the death of his parents. Friedkin’s first motorsports involvement dated back to 1965, with his entry of a 1963 Ford for Grant at Riverside and Daytona,  followed by the purchase of the 1965 Impala which was campaigned in four 1965 NASCAR races by former Petty Enterprises driver Jim Paschal with chief mechanic Bill Ellis.
In 1966 Friedkin Enterprises bought a pair of 1966 Plymouths, one of which Paschal and Ellis used to participate in NASCAR sixteen races winning a pair. Jerry Grant drove the second Plymouth in three 1966 NASCAR races  

Jerry Grant’s 1967 racing season began in January as he raced Friedkin’s 1967 Plymouth in the “Motor Trend 500” held over the Riverside International Raceway short 2.62 mile road course. Grant was joined by teammate Paschal and fellow USAC drivers Paul Goldsmith, AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Lloyd Ruby, Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, and Gordon Johncock. Grant retired on 74 of the 185 laps with a hole in the car’s radiator.

Rather than racing a sports car in Florida as he had the past two years, Grant returned for his second NASCAR Daytona 500-mile race. The engine in Grant’s Plymouth failed on the fifth lap of his qualifying race which meant he started the ‘500’ in 43rd place in the 50-car starting field. At the end of the 200-lap race, Grant finished fifth, just two laps behind winner Mario Andretti.

Grant and Friedkin planned on a 1967 USAC championship program for the pavement and road races with a 1966 All American Racers (AAR) Eagle chassis, with the program set to start at Indianapolis. The 1967 USAC season opened with the Jimmy Bryan Memorial 150 at Phoenix, where Grant qualified in 10th place with John Klug‘s Eagle chassis which he had driven in the 1966 Indianapolis ’500’ and finished in twelfth place,  thirteen laps behind Lloyd Ruby’s new Mongoose.

As remarkable as it might seem for current fans who have become accustomed to only 33 DW12 single constructor  race cars entered to fill the 33-car field, such as for the recent 100th running of the ‘500,’ the 1967 Indianapolis 500-mile race boasted 77 entries. 
There was a wide variety of cars entered, with a mix of twenty-three different chassis designs and eight different power plants. The variety included Mikey Thompson’s 3-valve per cylinder Chevrolet-based engine, two brand-new front-engine machines, one a front wheel-drive, and a four-wheel drive turbine powered entry.  

Jerry Grant qualified the Friedkin Enterprises #78 1966 Eagle powered by a 255-cubic inch Double Overhead Camshaft (DOHC) Ford engine on May 13, the first day of time trials, with a four-lap average of 162.352 MPH. On that overcast cool and gloomy day, Grant’s speed was the 22nd fastest of the 25 qualified cars.

After the second day of time trials on Sunday May 14 were completely washed out by rain, conditions on the following Saturday May 20, the third day of time trials were much more favorable and after another week of practice, the second weekend qualifiers posted much higher speeds than the first day.
After the field of 33 cars was filled, the “bumping” process began with three cars from the first day replaced by fastest cars. When the 6 PM gun sounded that signaled the end of the third day of time trials Grant’s #78 Eagle was “on the bubble” as the next car in line to be bumped with a full day of qualifying left to go.

The Friedkin team clearly needed a back-up plan and overnight, Tom Friedkin bought a new 1967 Eagle chassis from Dan Gurney. The #42 255-cubic inch Ford DOHC powered car already had two qualifying attempts charged against it  as Formula One driver Paul “Richie” Ginther had waved off two runs as too slow on Saturday May 20th.

The Friedkin team’s advance planning paid off as early on Sunday, the ‘500’ defending champion, Graham Hill, who had struggled through the month of May, “bumped” the #78 Friedkin Enterprises entry from the field with a four-lap average of 164.099 MPH. 

Grant in the #42 1967 Eagle purchased from Dan Gurney
courtesy  of the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection 
Grant took some practice laps to familiarize himself with the 1967 Eagle then with the #42 car’s final qualifying attempt, and then he “bumped” Belgian Formula One driver Lucien Bianchi’s Vollstedt/Ford from the field. Grant’s Eagle was the final car to bump into the field and relegated Bianchi, as the fastest non-qualifier to first alternate status,

Grant started the 1967 Indianapolis 500-mile race from the inside of the eleventh row on Tuesday May 30. Rain began to fall after 18 laps which forced the ‘500’ to be halted and scheduled for completion the following day. Grant’s machine retired on Wednesday on lap 162 as the car’s exhaust trailed smoke into the pit area and retirement. The cause of the smoke was later discovered to be the result of broken piston oil rings in Ford 255-cubic inch engine.    

An interesting sub-plot to the 1967 Indianapolis ‘500’ story is the tale of John Klug’s 1966 Eagle which Grant had driven in the 1966 running of the race. It was initially entered in the 1967 ‘500’ for American Formula One and sports car racer Bob Bondurant as a teammate to German/Austrian Formula One driver Jochen Rindt. In practice on May 9, the throttle stuck on Rindt’s brand-new 1967 “Pacesetter Homes Special” Eagle and the resulting crash and fire against the turn one wall virtually destroyed the new car.

Although Bondurant passed the final phase of his rookie driving test on May 10, he was released from the Pacesetter team as Rindt took over the #87 1966 Eagle. Bondurant picked up a ride in George Walther’s “Dayton Disc Brake Special” supercharged Offenhauser powered Lola T90 but the crew never got the ex-Mecom car ready to qualify.

Rindt qualified the #87 Pacesetter Eagle on May 20 with an average of 162.389 MPH but was bumped the following day by his friend Jackie Stewart in the ‘Bowes Seal Fast Special’ Lola/Ford. John Klug meanwhile had arranged a deal with Gurney for Rindt to attempt to qualify the #48 Eagle powered by an early version of the 305-cubic inch Gurney-Weslake Ford engine. Gurney had practiced the #48 car earlier in the month but parked it in favor of a 255-cubic inch DOHC Ford powered Eagle.  

Rindt in the #48 Eagle then “bumped” Gary Congdon in AJ Foyt’s backup Sheraton-Thompson Lotus/Ford out of the line-up and started the race from the 32nd position. On Race Day, Rindt’s Eagle, clearly down on power, circulated around in the back of the pack until lap 108 when a valve in the engine broke. During his interview on the Speedway’s public address system, Rindt expressed bitterness at the whole experience and claimed he would never return. 

Grant appeared in ten more USAC championship races in the Friedkin Enterprises Eagle/Ford over the balance of the 1967 season but recorded only one top-ten finish, in the second 95-mile heat of the “Labatt Indy” race at the Circuit Mont-Tremblant in Canada.


For 1968 Tom Friedkin expanded his motorsports horizons as he sponsored the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) AA/Fuel Dragster of Larry Stellings and Bobby Tapia which briefly held the national quarter-mile record at 6.54 seconds and 230 MPH during 1968.

Friedkin also entered into a partnership for co-ownership of the ‘Miss Budweiser’ unlimited hydroplane team with Florida beer distributor Bernie Little. The Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered “Miss Budweiser” would capture the American Power Boat Association (APBA) high point championship three years in succession between 1969 and 1971 driven by Bill Sterett in 1969, then by Dean Chenoweth.

Despite winning four races during the 1967 NASCAR season, what some might have called a decent season, it paled in comparison to Richard Petty’s 27-win season and team owner Friedkin fired Jim Paschal at the end of 1967 but retained mechanic Bill Ellis.

Friedkin opened the 1968 NASCAR season Jerry Grant and USAC stock car star Norm Nelson at the January 1968 NASCAR race at Riverside and then Grant with Charlie Glotzbach at Daytona. Grant drove in three more NASCAR races through March and April 1968 at Bristol, Tennessee, Atlanta Georgia and North Wilkesboro North Carolina and scored three consecutive top-ten finishes. With the Indianapolis ‘500’ fast approaching, Friedkin hired NASCAR veteran drivers Paul Goldsmith and Curtis Turner to drive his 1968 Plymouth Road Runner stock cars while Grant was in Indiana.

Friedkin Enterprises entered two Eagles for the 1968 Indianapolis 500-mile race, a new 1968 turbocharged Ford-powered #78 “Bardahl Special” AAR Eagle with the team’s 1966 Eagle as the #76 backup car.  Fred Sewell of Needham Massachusetts served as the team’s USAC chief mechanic, and Sewell greeted Grant to Indianapolis in May with a tape label on the dash of the new car which read “this is a race car not a taxi cab” as shown in a photograph in Karl Ludvigson’s book Gurney’s Eagles.   

The five 1968 Eagles built for Indianapolis designed by former Lola engineer Tony Southgate featured a lower flatter nose due to the use of outboard suspension assemblies. The car’s main tub was also lower in profile, with a laid-back windscreen and a body/engine cover which ended with a squared off tail section instead of the earlier rounded tail used in 1966 and 1967 designs.  

The five new Eagles sported a variety of power plants. Roger McCluskey’s car, owned by Coca-Cola millionaire investor Lindsey Hopkins and Bobby Unser’s owned by Bob Wilke used the new turbocharged 159 cubic inch four-cylinder inline Offenhauser engine which was claimed to produce 625 horsepower for qualifying.

Dan Gurney’s personal Eagle used a nitromethane blend with methanol to obtain 525-horsepower for qualifying from his pushrod stock-block Mark 4 Gurney-Eagle Ford V-8 power plant. The second AAR Eagle team car, assigned to the reigning Formula One world champion New Zealander Denis Hulme, was equipped with a normally aspirated 255-cubic inch Ford DOHC V-8 engine.   

A scan of a Champion Spark Plug Highway Safety Team
 jumbo postcard from the author's collection 

Grant’s Friedkin entry resplendent with its striking black-and-white checkerboard livery and the Bardahl logo emblazoned in gold leaf,  was one of six cars entered for the 1968 ‘500’ equipped with the new Ford turbocharged Ford 159-cubic inch V-8 engine. At high boost levels, the Schwitzer turbocharged Ford engine suffered both head gasket and fuel distribution issues which resulted in burned pistons.

Al Unser and Carl Williams both crashed the Ford turbocharged Retzloff Chemical racing team Lola backup car in practice, so only five of the new Ford engines made the 33-car starting field. In qualifying Mario Andretti led the turbocharged Ford contingent in his own “Overseas National Airways Special” Brawner Hawk with a four-lap average of 167.691 MPH to start fourth, followed by Al Unser in sixth starting slot with a 167.069 MPH average.

Grant’s Goodyear-shod Eagle was the slowest qualifier on the first day, was edged by just ¼ of a mile per hour by former Colorado supermodified pilot Jim Malloy in the similarly powered Firestone-shod “Jim Robbins Seat Belt Special.”  The turbocharged Ford pair started alongside one another in the fifth row.

A scanned photo of Grant in the NASCAR Plymouth from the 
1968 Fall Edition of Racing Pictorial 

For Grant and the Friedkin team it had been critical to qualify the first weekend, so Jerry could head to Charlotte Motor Speedway to qualify and race in the NASCAR “World 600” in Friedkin’s 1968 Plymouth Road Runner.  In modern day terms, Grant “did the double,” although in those days, NASCAR didn’t dare schedule their 600-mile stock car race on the same day as the Indianapolis 500-mile race.

Grant qualified the metallic blue #15 Friedkin Enterprises 1968 Plymouth at 155.005 MPH for 13th starting positon, five spots behind his new teammate Curtis Turner. On May 26, the field of forty-four rumbling NASCAR stock cars took the green flag under threatening skies, and the red flag came out on lap 108 for rain. After a two-hour three-minute delay which included the use of low-flying helicopters to dry the Charlotte track, the ‘World 600’ resumed but was quickly halted after just 16 laps when rain fell a second time. The drivers, crews and fans waited another 58 minutes until the track was dried again before racing resumed.

Later on leader Elzie Wylie “Buddy” Baker’s 255th lap, the skies opened up again, and this time the 600-mile race was halted for good. Grant was credited with a twelfth place finish, scored seven laps behind Baker. The actual running of the ‘World 600’ itself took three hours and four minutes, while the rain delays totaled three hours and one minute.     

While Grant was waiting out the rain delays in North Carolina, the Sunday time trials at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway were completely washed out so the last day of qualifying to fill the 1968 Indianapolis ‘50’ starting field took place on Monday May 27. Carl Williams qualified three-time winner AJ Foyt’s #84 Coyote backup car in 28th position at 162.332 MPH as the fifth turbocharged Ford powered entry in the field.

Also on Monday the 27th, the Friedkin backup Eagle was given to Jerry Titus, a motorsports journalist and part-time racer turned full-time professional racer from Long Island New York, to attempt to “bump” into the starting field.  The Bardahl #76 was Titus’ fourth different car during the month of May 1968. After he passed his rookie test on May 5 in engine builder Carroll Horton’s Marathon entry, a Lotus 29 replica powered by a DOHC Ford engine, Jerry tested Horton’s other car before he left Indianapolis in order to compete in the May 12 SCCA Trans-Am race.

During a practice session on Saturday May 25, Titus crashed Northern California fuel injection wizard Barney Navarro’s six-cylinder 200-cubic inch turbocharged Rambler-powered 1964 Watson rear-engine chassis in turn two.  As qualifying for the 1968 ‘500’ drew to a close on Monday, Titus attempted to qualify the Friedkin Enterprises 1966 Eagle/DOHC Ford, but his laps were too slow to bump into the field.

On Race Day Thursday May 30, 1968 Joe Leonard’s four-wheel drive STP Lotus turbine quickly jumped into the lead, while on the second lap, Andretti’s turbocharged Ford pitted trailing smoke from a burned piston as the first turbocharged Ford retirement.

Al Unser pitted his “Retzloff Chemical Special” turbocharged Ford Lola for routine service on lap 39 and the crew was forced to leap into action and extinguish a fire near the turbocharger. Unser returned to the race but on his next lap, a wheel which had not been tightened fell off and Unser crashed in turn one. Two of the mighty turbocharged Fords were on the sidelines.  

Shortly after Lloyd Ruby took over the race lead from Bobby Unser, Grant made several stops to attempt to remedy an oil leak, but the Bardahl Eagle was retired on lap 60. 

None of the turbocharged Fords finished the ‘500.’ Four laps later, Malloy’s turbocharged Ford withdrew with a broken rear end, the same problem that defending ‘500’ champion AJ Foyt suffered twenty laps later, which left just one of the new Fords in the race, the machine of Carl Williams, who then crashed and the car caught fire on the backstretch on lap 163.

In our next installment, we’ll examine the low points of Jerry Grant’s career from the 1969 through 1971     

No comments:

Post a Comment