Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Historic Indianapolis race cars on display at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum

In observance of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500-mile race this year, the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum has a very special display of three historic front-engine Indianapolis cars.  

The three featured cars are the 1966 Racing Associates #39 turbocharged Offenhauser powered Watson chassis, the last “roadster to start the ‘500,’ the 1958 #7 D-A Lubricants Special, the only Kurtis-Kraft 500 H chassis ever built, and the 1954 Myron Steven built #27 H.A. Chapman Special upright. All photographs are by the author. 

This car was built by A.J.Watson in 1963 for Ebb Rose, who was bumped from the starting field. Johnny Rutherford drove it in 1964 but was eliminated in the lap two inferno. After Bobby Grim was bumped from the starting field in 1965, for 1966 chief mechanic Herb Porter built the first turbocharged Offenhauser engine to make the '500' starting field, which is how the car is shown.  Unfortunately driver Bobby Grim was caught up in the massive crash at the start of the race. In four years, this car made just two '500' starts and completed just two laps. It is considered by historians as  the last "roadster" to make the '500' starting field.  

This Kurtis Kraft 500 H was ordered new in 1958 by Indianapolis-based Racing Associates for driver Johnny Thomson and featured independent front suspension with massive trailing arms and the Offenhauser engine laid on its side 22 degrees from horizontal. Thomson  and the crew couldn't figure out how to get the car to handle properly and started deep in the field. Johnny was involved in the first lap crash and the car sustained some steering damage which later forced the car's retirement on lap 52. In 1959 the car reappeared as "Smokey Yunick's Reverse Torque Special" with a solid front axle and an Offenhauser engine that backwards. It has been restored to its 1958 livery with sponsorship from D-A Lubricants, a company run by Tom Binford, who later served as the "500's' Chief Steward.      

Many people mistakenly refer to this car as a roadster, but it is not, as the driveshaft passes directly under the drivers seat and thus is an upright. The multi-talented Myron Stevens (he was a riding mechanic, driver, car builder, mechanic and later race official) built much of this car in his Los Angeles  shop but before the car was completed, Stevens got into a dispute with car owner H.A. Chapman a Tulsa oil magnate. Chapman then took the car to Frank Kurtis' shop for it to be finished in time for its debut in May 1952. The car is shown as it appeared in its final appearance in the 1954 '500' driven by Oakland California's Ed Elisian to an 18th place finish. 

To see these and many more beautiful racing machines up close, stop by the National Sprint Car of Fame & Museum in Knoxville Iowa - open every day of the week. 

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