Monday, August 29, 2016

Time is running out to save five bucks

Photographer Pete Lyons is offering his new 2017 VELOCITY CAN-AM Calendar at a special discount — $5 off for Pre-Orders placed by the last day of August 2016.

Through August 31 Lyons is offering Early Bird buyers a discounted price of $24.99 (plus shipping and handling and Calif. tax if applicable) for pre-orders placed through his website,

Friday, August 26, 2016

The 1970 Shriner’s Indianapolis race
1970's IMS logo

For many years, from 1919 until 1994, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted just one race each year, the International 500-mile Sweepstakes. Today when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts multiple races and events during the calendar year, it is hard to imagine that the great track sat idle for eleven months out of the year except for testing sessions.  The exception is an all-but-forgotten exhibition race held at the Speedway in mid-July 1970.

The 1970 Shriner's Convention

During the third week of July 1970 from the 13th to the 17th the City of Indianapolis Indiana hosted the 96th annual convention of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, an organization commonly known as the Shriners. 1970 marked the third time the city played host to the Shriner’s Convention with the previous conventions held in 1919 and 1940. Unlike the 2013 Indianapolis Shriners convention which hosted 15,000 members, in 1970 the convention hosted an estimated 40,000 Shriners as articles in the local press described local hotels as “jammed.”

With the convention held in the hometown of the first native Hoosier Imperial Potentate J. Worth Baker, the principal theme was automobiles and automobile racing so many of the meeting venues used a black and white checkered flag motif.  The highlight of the week, at least for racing fans, was what was described as “a shortened version of the Indianapolis 500” held on Wednesday afternoon July 15 between sessions of the Shriners Convention. The Superintendent of the Speedway grounds since 1948, Clarence Cagle, himself a Shriner was the driving force behind the special event. 

The United Press International (UPI) reported that the 10-lap exhibition race would be contested by seven drivers but listed eleven drivers as probable entrants; Johnny Rutherford, Roger McCluskey, Art Pollard, Rick Muther, Bruce Walkup, Jim Malloy, Mike Mosley, Bob Harkey, Joe Leonard, Bentley Warren and Mel Kenyon. During the 25-mile race, drivers and the teams would be required to complete one demonstration pit stop complete with a tire change.

In addition to the estimated 10,000 Shriners on hand, there were several distinguished guests Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Anton “Tony” Hulman Junior was joined the Imperial Potentate Worth, the 43rd Governor of the State Indiana Edgar Whitcomb, and Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar.

There were long-standing connections between the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the local Shriners Murat Temple, as Captain Eddie Rickenbaker the owner of the Speedway from 1927 to 1945 was a member. The traditional Pole Position Mechanic and the Indianapolis ‘500’ Victory banquets were both held in the huge Egyptian Room at the downtown Murat Temple until 1972 when the Victory banquet moved to the newly-opened Indiana Convention Center.

The Shriners’ national leader in 1970, J Worth Baker, then the local potentate was one of four men who founded the “500 Festival Associates in 1957 along with then Mayor Alex Clark, Joseph Quinn, Safety Director for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Howard S. Wilcox, promotions director for the Indianapolis Star and son of the 1919 Indianapolis ‘500’ race winner.

The 1922 Shriner's Day race

1970 was not the first time that an automobile race had been staged in connection with a Shriner’s Convention. On June 14, 1922, as part of the 40th annual meeting of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine Imperial Council, the Aahmes Temple in Oakland California sponsored a “Shriner’s Day” non-championship AAA-sanctioned 150-mile race at the Greater San Francisco Speedway, a 1-1/4 mile board track actually located adjacent to an airfield 25 miles south of San Francisco on the peninsula town of in San Carlos.

The race which was held as part of a day-long celebration was preceded by a parade, picnic and an aviation and automobile thrill show. Following a 25-mile “semi-stock Ford race”  the day's featured race was won by Joe Thomas in a factory Duesenberg over his teammate Roscoe Sarles.

Less than a week after the Shriners Race, on June 18 1922, about half of the San Carlos track and 3/4 of the grandstands were consumed by flames carried by a strong wind. Initially blamed on “hobos,” (a quaint term for homeless men) the cause of the fire was later traced to a pile of oil-soaked wood scraps and shavings left under one of the turns after the track’s construction. 

Jack Prince who built the San Carlos facility in partnership with engineer Art Pillsbury traveled west from Kansas City where he was supervising the building the pair’s next board track and estimated it would cost $200,000 to rebuild the facility as 1-1/2 mile track.  Despite and immediate pronouncement by Speedway association president Fred Morton that the loss was entirely covered by insurance and general manager Bill Pickens’ mid-July 1922 announcement of a scheduled 250-mile championship race on October 15, the seven-month old San Carlos track which hosted three automobile and two motorcycle races in its time was never rebuilt.

The outcome of the 1970 Shriner's race

With the last previous race on the 1970 United States Auto Club (USAC) National Championship Trail schedule the 'Michigan Twin 200s' held on July 4, many teams were in Indianapolis to prepare for the ‘Indy 150,’ scheduled for July 26 at the nearby Indianapolis Raceway Park road course. Prior to the start of the exhibition race, 25 members of the Indianapolis ‘500’ Shrine Club drove their modified Volkswagens mini-Indy cars on a ceremonial parade lap around the historic 2-1/2 mile Speedway.  

Johnny Rutherford won the 25-mile race

Texan Johnny Rutherford won the July 15 exhibition race reportedly by a mere five feet over Mike Mosley as he averaged 142.787 miles per hour (MPH) for the 25 miles. While the car that Rutherford drove was only identified in news articles as being powered by a turbocharged Ford, research can identify the likely car. 1970 marked the third year that Johnny drove an updated 1967 AAR “Patrick Petroleum” Eagle for Michigan car owner Walt Michner which at various times during the 1970 USAC season was powered by a turbocharged Ford engine. Mosley was behind the wheel of the Ralph Wilke owned “G C Murphy Special” turbocharged Offenhauser-powered Watson originally built new for the 1969 USAC season.  

Jim Malloy finished third

Third place fell to Jim Malloy in the Federal Engineering owned Gerhardt turbocharged Offenhauser “Stearns Transi-Tread Special.” This was the car sponsored by the manufacturer of rubber conveyor belts used in airport baggage handling carousels that Malloy had qualified in the ninth position for the 1970 Indianapolis ‘500’ but crashed in turn four during the pace laps after a heim joint in the Gerhardt’s right rear radius rod broke.

Art Pollard finished in fourth place in the Shriners exhibition race as he drove Jim Hayhoe’s Clint Brawner built Scorpion powered by a turbocharged Ford engine which was driven by Roger McCluskey during the 1970 USAC season with sponsorship from Quickick, an “isotonic action drink” and “sports gum” from sports medicine supplier Cramer Products.

Art Pollard's 1970 USAC season

Pollard was between rides after the dissolution of his Art Pollard Car Wash/Race-Go Incorporated racing team at the end of June.  

Art Pollard's 1970 Indy 500 photo

courtesy INDYCAR

The March 14 1970 edition of the Indianapolis Star carried the story that Art Pollard had signed to drive a new Grant King built 750 horsepower turbocharged Offenhauser semi-monocoque entry for Race-Go Incorporated. The unique part of the deal was that the car one of three entered by the new team would be called the “Art Pollard’s Car Wash Systems Special,” which made Pollard one of the few racers ever to be his own sponsor. 

The Star article said Race-Go Inc. “was organized two months ago by John F Newcomer and Allan Warne of Indianapolis to sell car wash systems” and that “a second driver will be named to the team after Pollard qualified for the ‘500.’” Grant King, like Pollard a veteran of the Northwest CAMRA racing circuit was identified as the team’s chief mechanic; King and Pollard had worked together the previous season with STP Oil Treatment sponsorship.

Contrary to the claim in the Star, Art Pollard Car Wash Systems Inc. filed for its Indiana State business license on July 21, 1970, with three principals: Newcomer, Warne and Roger R Isch of Bluffton Indiana. Newcomer, Race-Go’s Chairman of the Board, had relocated his family to Indianapolis in early 1970 after he worked as an area manager for a grocery store chain and a homebuilder in Tucson. Newcomer told the Star that “auto racing will go down as the sports of the 70’s,” and that his company was getting in on the ground floor.

Allan Warne was a vice-president of Acme Building Materials Incorporated a well-known Indianapolis building material firm and local manufacturer of Precision Homes, prefabricated homes sold in five Midwestern states. Nothing is known of Isch or Marley Mangold who was identified as the President and General Manager of Art Pollard Car Wash Systems Inc., but it suffices to say that none of the four men had been involved in the racing industry prior to the formation of Race-Go Inc.

Nearly 50 years later, Pollard’s role in Race-Go Inc. is confusing to say the least. At different times it was stated in various Indianapolis Star articles that “Pollard signed a contract to drive,” “Pollard got into the car wash business,” and at one point the Star reported that the company named Pollard President. Pollard was quoted “they even gave me an office. The other day I sat in on a board meeting and they even let me say something once in a while.” Later, Pollard told the Associated Press (AP) auto racing editor reporter Bloys Britt that “his investment for the year” would exceed $400,000. Depending on which statement you chose to believe, Pollard was a contract driver, employee, investor, car owner or some combination of the four.  
Greg Weld's 1970 IMS photo
Courtesy INDYCAR

Pollard drove the #93 turbocharged Offenhauser powered 1969 Gerhardt chassis at the 1970 USAC season opener at Phoenix, and was running in fourth place when he spun. Pollard then drove the new #10 King chassis at Trenton New Jersey with the Gerhardt driven by Greg Weld. At Indianapolis Art Pollard qualified the #10 at 168.595 miles per hour to start the ‘500’ from sixth position on the outside of the second row.  
Car owner Newcomer told the Star “the whole thing is very exciting, of course, but it is also great for promoting our car wash business. This is the best advertising in the world."  After he crashed on the first day of time trials, Greg Weld qualified the #93 Gerhardt chassis at 166.121 MPH on the third day of time trials to start from 28th position as the fastest rookie driver in the starting field.    

In an article published in the Anderson Herald on May 30 the day of the ‘500,’ Grant King related “there is no such thing as a car being completely ready. You keep tearing them down and putting them back together. You never know what you’re going to find after even a practice run of a lap or two.” “After Art qualified we discovered missing tooth in the rear end so we replaced the entire rear end with a new unit,” said King.  Prior to the race, King decided he wanted to re-size the rods and shipped them to Los Angeles. On return flight, the plane carrying the rods was delayed eight hours in St. Louis so the team worked all night to get the car completed in time for tests on Carburation Day.  
The end of Pollard's 1970 Indy 500
courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway collection
IUPUI University LibraryCenter for Digital Studies

In a pre-race poll of four unidentified veteran observers Bloys Britt quoted the following odds: Al Unser at 2-1 was ranked as “tough to beat if he doesn’t break.”  Pollard was ranked as “could finish well up with 15-1 odds, while Weld went off at 30-1 odds with the comments “if it was only a sprint race.”
Alas both the “Art Pollard Car Wash Systems Specials” were eliminated very early in the race both with burnt pistons. Weld retired on lap 12 and Pollard brought out the race’s first caution flag on lap 28 to finish 32nd and 30th respectively. Pollard appeared in the #10 car in the Rex Mays Classic and fell out on lap 119 with an oil leak. Pollard was entered at Langhorne on June 14 but the car did not appear.

In his “Speaking of Speed” column in the June 21 1970 edition of the Indianapolis Star, George Moore’s revealed that Race-Go had fired Grant King. Moore reported that ”financial remuneration-or the lack of it” was the root cause but also that “there were some personality differences.” Moore wrote that “the team is reorganizing personnel and moving its base of operations to Atlanta.”

Newcomer admitted that “Atlanta doesn’t sound like the best location for running a championship car, but then we may not be there permanently.” The new chief mechanic was Jim Ruggles backed up by JD Roberts. As the team decided to switch to Ford engines, “Ruggles is slated to spend some time at the Foyt engine plant in Houston to pick up some points on the power plant.”

Ruggles earlier in his career was a shop foreman at Nichels Engineering and would later build the Buick V-6 engines which powered Rich Vogler to the 1989 USAC national sprint car championship. Art Pollard told Moore that he “had worked with Grant King for a long time but there were factors involved which just made it advisable for the people involved to pursue another course.”

Pollard appeared at the ‘Rocky Mountain 150’ at Continental Divide Raceway on June 29 and drove the #21 “Art Pollard Car Wash Systems” entry a turbo-charged Ford powered 1967 Vollstedt chassis rented from Rolla Vollstedt. John Cannon had failed to qualify the #21 Vollstedt chassis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Pollard retired after just two laps due to overheating, and this was the last time the Art Pollard name appeared on a car as a sponsor. In four months, Pollard went from sponsoring his own car to hunting for a new ride mid-season.  

Pollard picked up a ride for the “Michigan Twin 200s” at Michigan International Speedway in Dayton industrialist George Walther’s Morris Marauder chassis powered by a turbocharged Ford engine. The entry built by former Halibrand employee George Morris known as “Walther’s Tyrone” carried sponsorship from a Volkswagen dealership located on Tyrone Boulevard in St. Petersburg Florida that Walther co-owned with Ted Meuche.

Pollard would later drive a sister Scorpion to the car he drove in the “Shriner’s Race” to a second place finish at the Ontario Motor Speedway in the inaugural ‘California 500.’  Pollard initially lodged a protest that he won by a lap but withdrew after he reviewed the scoring tapes. Based primarily on his finish in the California 500, Pollard wound up third on the USAC winnings list with earnings of $102,155 for the 1970 season.

The final finishers in the Shriner's Race

Rick Muther grabbed fifth place

Fifth place in the Shriner's Race went to Rick Muther in the Two Jacks Racing tube frame Brawner-Hawk which had sat on the pole for the 1965 Indianapolis 500. Of the seven exhibition racers, only Muther had finished the 1970 ‘500’ as he recorded an eight place finish.

Bill Vukovich Junior crossed the finish line in sixth as he drove Don Gerhardt’s Thermo-King Gerhardt Offenhauser in place of Gary Bettenhausen the USAC trail’s most recent winner at Michigan International Speedway.

Bruce Walkup finished seventh in the seven-car exhibition as he drove a car only identified as a “car that did not qualify for the Indianapolis 500.” Walkup had qualified for the ‘500’ only three months earlier in JC Agajanian’s “Wynn’s Special” the only car fitted with a roll cage to qualify for the ‘500.’

After the completion of the Shriners exhibition race the Indianapolis Motor Speedway remained mostly silent for over nine months until May 1 1971 when it opened for practice for the 55th 500 Mile International Sweepstakes.

All images appear courtesy of INDYCAR except as noted



Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The racing life and times of Jerry Grant

Part nine – 1977 and retirement

Courtesy of Hemmings


In a May 1977 interview with Bob Gallas a sportswriter for the Chicago area Arlington Heights Daily Herald Grant revealed that he had been bothered by a fever all during the previous summer which he treated with aspirin. Grant shared that he had raced to a tenth place finish in the 1976 “California 500” at Ontario Motor Speedway while suffering with a fever of 102 degrees.

Grant said after he got home after he finished the race in Fred Carrillo’s American Motor Corporation (AMC) 209 cubic inch turbocharged “stock block”-powered Eagle, he slept for two days. When he awoke he said he had a 106 degree temperature so he drove himself to the hospital.

While in the hospital Grant nearly died twice before doctors diagnosed a severe gall bladder infection which had spread to his liver and lungs. Once he recovered and was released Grant rehabilitated and rebuilt his stamina by riding his off-road trail motorcycle for hours each day.  Unfortunately he was ill during the time of the year that car owners sign up their drivers for next year, so Grant said “I’m lucky to have a ride at all.”  Grant mused “I’ve always been religious… my recovery brought home the fact that the man upstairs has more for me to do down here. I look forward to winning the ‘500’ and getting paid for it this time, all my bill collectors are counting on that.”

Jerry Grant was entered as the driver for the “Hoffman Trucking Special,” a turbocharged Offenhauser powered 1973 Eagle chassis, a far cry from the top-flight equipment he had commanded just a few years earlier. According to fellow historian Allen Brown, the Eagle owned Richard and August “Gus” Hoffman carried All-American Racers (AAR) chassis tag # 7223 had been driven in the 1973 Indianapolis 500 by David Hobbs for car owner Roy Woods.

The Hoffman family, involved in racing since 1929, purchased the car from Woods in 1976 and fielded the “American Financial Special” Eagle for John Mahler in seven races during the 1976 United States Auto Club (USAC) championship season, including the Indianapolis 500-mile race.

In his 1977 interview with Bob Gallas, Grant admitted that it was “tough competing against these new entries with a five year old car,” but added “our engine is reliable.” Grant counted on the track getting oily on race day as then “the difference in horsepower won’t mean as much.”  In practice early in May, Grant posted a best lap speed of 187.797 miles per hour (MPH) which was considered marginal by the “railbirds,” but in fact would have easily been fast enough to make the 33-car starting field.

Grant made two attempts on the first day of time trials, May 14, but waved off each attempt after just one lap had been completed. In practice late on Friday afternoon, May 20, Grant’s Eagle hit the third turn wall with the right side of the tub, and tore both wheels away. The wounded Eagle then slid 1000 feet across the north short chute and hit the wall again with the right side of the tub before it came to rest in the middle of turn 4.

Grant climbed out of the wreckage of the Eagle and was transported to the infield hospital where he was checked and released. USAC officials reported that the right side of the Eagle was “extensive damaged” and the Hoffman team deemed the car as “not repairable” particularly since the crash came on the eve of the final weekend of qualifying.

Grant picked up a ride in the Alex Foods #75 1974 turbocharged Offenhauser powered Eagle, car originally driven by Mario Andretti during the 1975 season for the Vel’s- Parnelli Jones Racing Viceroy sponsored team. Purchased by Alex Morales after season’s end, the Eagle served as Billy Vukovich’s primary car during the 1976 season, and served as the Morales  team’s backup car for the 1977 Indianapolis 500-mile race. 

Grant took practice laps in the #75 on Saturday May 21, and took the green flag for his first qualifying attempt but pulled into the pits before he completed a lap. On a busy “bump day” on Sunday, May 22, Grant was one of two drivers, along with Daniel “Spike” Gehlhausen eliminated by an accident as Jerry crashed the Alex Foods Eagle on the second lap of his second qualifying attempt.

After Indianapolis, the Hoffman team bought a 1973 Eagle, chassis tag number 7221, originally a Leader Card Racing team car primarily driven by Mike Mosley for two seasons. The Hoffman team bought it from car owner Patrick Santello, and this Eagle became Jerry Grant’s entry for the balance of the 1977 USAC season. Hoffman Racing fielded a championship car beginning with the 1973 Indianapolis 500 for Larry Cannon, and would start seven Indianapolis 500-mile races, but the 1973 season was not a good one for the Cincinnati area team. 

Grant’s next USAC race appearance came at the end of June in the “Schaefer 500” at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond Pennsylvania. Grant started the race 29th in an admittedly weak 33-cars starting field after he qualified for a four-lap average of 173.160 MPH compared to pole winner AJ Foyt’s average of 189.474 MPH.  

Foyt was in rare form that weekend in Pennsylvania. An unnamed source close to the race organizers told some newspaper reporters that Foyt had demanded “appearance money,” which Foyt denied – he termed it as “expense money” to reimburse his travel expenses. When the money went unpaid, Foyt became uncooperative and did not practice his Gilmore Coyote at all on Wednesday, and told reporters that the car was entered for a rookie named “Sam Houston” and went so far as to add yellow rookie stripes on the rear wing.  

On Thursday Foyt delayed his qualifying run then he won the pole position with a run in the last half-hour of time trials. After his run Foyt refused to be interviewed on the public address system, and as the crowd continued to boo Foyt, the hot-tempered Texan responded by showing the crowd an obscene gesture.  Foyt refused to pose for a “front row” photograph with Rutherford and Mario Andretti, and then skipped the pole winner’s banquet which 250 fans had paid $60 a head to attend.

Foyt’s behavior brought to a head a controversy that had been brewing all season long between Foyt, the reigning four-time Indianapolis ‘500’ winner and Fred Stecher, the President and self-appointed Director of Racing of Citicorp Services, Inc., at the time the title sponsor of the USAC Championship Trail.  The dispute between the two strong-willed men presented a crisis for USAC officials.  

USAC's biggest star exchanged barbed comments with the series title sponsor for which they searched in vain for several years. The USAC national championship trail had gone without a title series sponsor since the end of the1971 season when Marlboro cigarettes terminated their sponsorship program after just two seasons when USAC allowed the Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing team to sign Viceroy Cigarettes as the main sponsor on two of the team’s entries.

The loss of Marlboro combined with the Energy Crisis brought about a financial crisis in late December 1973 that led to the layoffs of USAC series directors Shim Malone and Bob Stroud. The USAC Board of Directors then forced out Executive Director Bill Smyth in January 1974 in an awkward situation that day before the club’s annual banquet. The Indianapolis Star quoted USAC president Reynold C. MacDonald’s statement as “the board is appreciative of the effort and contribution Bill has made to USAC and will prepare a letter of commendation for his services." When the Star reporter asked if Smyth felt that he was forced to resign, he replied with a terse "no comment."

The sponsorship search went on for two years before on the eve of the 1976 Indianapolis ‘500,’ USAC Executive Director Dick King and James A. Melvin, assistant vice-president of Citicorp Services, Inc. announced that First National City Travelers Checks would be the official sponsor for the championship division trail with $35,000 added to division point fund for 1976 while King said the two groups were “still working out the details for 1977.”

At the end of the 1976 USAC season, the Citicorp Services contract with USAC called for the national champion (Gordon Johncock) to receive $20,000 from Citicorp, the second place finisher (Johnny Rutherford) $10,000, and third place driver (Wally Dallenbach) would get Citicorp check for $5000.

While now they are largely obsolete, from the nineteen fifties through the nineteen eighties, traveler’s checks were a safer way to travel with money versus carrying large amounts of cash. If the checks were lost or stolen, the issuer replaced them for free. The issuer standard fee was one to three percent of the check value plus one to three percent when the check was cashed. In the late nineteen seventies the $20+ billion-a-year traveler's check industry consisted of multiple giant banks who each spent millions of dollars annually on advertising. 

The second largest player in the field with 22 percent of the market was First National City Bank, whose holding company was named Citicorp. Citicorp Credit Services, Inc. a wholly owned division, provided travelers checks processing, marketing and distribution services for Citicorp. In 1976 Citicorp began a major drive for international growth which included motorsports sponsorships.

First National City Travelers Checks first appeared as a race cars sponsor at Indianapolis in May 1976 as the sponsor of Tassi Vatis’s Eagle driven by Steve Krisiloff. Like many sponsors through the years, Citicorp expanded from car sponsorship to series sponsorship which carried the potential of more visibility.

For the 1977 season, Citicorp increased its USAC participation and rewarded top finishers in each race on the First National City Travelers Checks Championship Trail with cash for race qualifiers and then points for their finish towards the Citicorp Cup and a $20,000 season ending award.  Citicorp also established a rookie program that paid the top-finishing rookie of each race $500, and the season’s rookie of year $10,000, and $1000 in appearance money at each race they appeared in the following season.

Wearing this patch on the drivers uniform
was required to get Citicorp's money

All this money came provided the drivers and their cars carried the required First National City Travelers Checks stickers and the driver’s suit sported the company logo. The exact amount of the 1977 deal was never released but in an interview Stecher said that “$350,000 to $400,000 would not be inaccurate,” although some of the awards required matching funds from the race promoters. In addition to the series sponsorship, First National City Traveler’s checks provide race car sponsorship for Roger McCluskey in Lindsay Hopkins’ entry and Johnny Rutherford in the Team McLaren entry.

Foyt had earned the ire of Fred Stecher at the second race of the year, the Jimmy Bryan 150 at Phoenix International Raceway, when Foyt engaged in a post-race physical confrontation with McLaren team boss Tyler Alexander. On national television Foyt grabbed Alexander’s collar and shook him as he claimed that Alexander had used the team radio to instruct race winner Johnny Rutherford in the Citcorp-sponsored McLaren to block second-place Foyt in the final laps of the race.

Stecher called USAC President Dick King after the Phoenix race and told King that Foyt should be penalized. Stecher later claimed King agreed to do so, but USAC did not penalize their most famous driver.  Foyt retaliated against Stecher at Indianapolis and refused to carry First National City Travelers Checks stickers on his #14 car or wear the uniform patches. Stecher told the press “that’s not the way we intended this to work when we became involved,” so despite scoring his historic fourth Indy win, Foyt did not earn the 1000 “Citicorp Cup” points for the victory.  Foyt told Roger Jaynes of the Milwaukee Journal. “I’m not required to carry stickers; they say that I need to use stickers to be eligible but I don’t care.”

After the Pocono incident the dispute between Foyt and Stecher further escalated and the two men went to war in the press.  After USAC declined to reprimand Foyt, Stecher threatened to file a lawsuit against USAC and Foyt for breach of contract. “Foyt behaved in a manner detrimental to the sport of auto racing. Foyt is a leader and hero in sports and that presupposes he’ll behave in a gentlemanly manner,” said Stecher. He then blasted USAC President Dick King "Foyt’s actions Thursday and USAC’s inability or unwillingness to the take action was the last straw.”

Foyt fired back “The man’s a damn fool and a liar. I’m an independent contractor and have nothing to do with his (Stecher’s) contract agreement with USAC. I resent him telling me how to act without the facts. If Fred is looking to get out of sponsoring USAC, then I’m the goat.”  As an aside, Foyt was correct: in 1977, USAC did not have a rule that tied the drivers to any series or sponsor requirements.

After all the pre-race fireworks, the “Schaefer 500” itself was fairly exciting.  Foyt and Johncock dominated the first sixty laps, and then six drivers took turns leading until Foyt’s turbocharged Foyt engine burned a piston on lap 1118 and retired. After Foyt’s retirement, the race fell to the two Penske Racing drivers Tom Sneva and Mario Andretti who between them led 73 of the race’s final 75 laps, as they both held a lap lead over the third and fourth place Patrick Racing cars driven by Johncock and Dallenbach.   After he started 29th, Jerry Grant and the Hoffman Racing Eagle finished 13th, the last car running 55 laps behind Sneva, mainly due to the remarkable high attrition rate that saw 22 of the 33 starters fall aside with mechanical failure.     

The whole ugly Pocono affair was reported in detail in an article written by Sam Moses in the July 4 1978 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine. Stecher was quoted on his threatened cancellation of the First National City Traveler’s Checks series sponsorship. "I don't think that it is in the best interest of Citicorp to be identified as a sponsor with a professional sports series where the conduct of the participants and the tolerance of that conduct isn't governed by rules within the sanctioning organization. I'm in no position to dictate to USAC, but on the other hand I don't have to sit down at a riot and pay the bills, either."

Grant made an uncharacteristic appearance at a USAC road course event, his first in over seven years, with the Hoffman Eagle at the Mosport Park Road Course in Canada. Grant qualified seventeenth in the puny 19-car field for the “Molson Diamond Indy” race, and finished in fifth place, three laps behind Foyt after 75 laps over the 2.46 mile road course on July 3.

Two weeks later at Roger Penske’s 2-mile high banked Michigan International Speedway, Grant and the #69 Hoffman Eagle were too slow to make the 22 car field for the “Norton 200.” The week following that race, won by rookie Danny Ongais in his benefactor Ted Field’s Cosworth-powered Parnelli chassis, Citicorp Services Inc. announced its surprising decision about sponsorship of the USAC national championship trail for 1978. 

Given the recent controversy, few would have expected Citicorp to expand its involvement, but that’s just what it proposed- but with stipulations. Citicorp proposed a nine-fold increase over 1977 to half a million dollars, with prize fund enhancements at fifteen races, a $275,000 appearance fund, and the continuation of the rookie incentive program provided the USAC board accepted the stipulations. “We feel our association with USAC is very beneficial,” said Fred Stecher, “we want to take a step to protect our investment.”

The previous year's Citicorp Cup champion (in 1977 Tom Sneva) was scheduled to receive $1,500 per race, while the defending Indianapolis ‘500’ winner would get $1,000 a race while the Pocono and Ontario winners $500 each. Interestingly, all other past series champions or USAC “Triple Crown” race winners were scheduled to $250 per race for each honor.  This meant that in 1978, six-time USAC titlist, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, two-time Pocono victor and single-time Ontario winner A.J. Foyt was guaranteed $3,250 every time he rolled his Coyote through the pit gate.

At the end of July, Grant and the Hoffman team appeared at the Texas World Speedway in College Station Texas for the “American Parts 200” a race sponsored the Houston based   American parts system Inc. the distributor of auto parts, licensed and sold under the "Big A" brand. The track record at the two-mile high-banked oval billed by track president RC Conole as the “Indy of the Southwest” of 214.158 MPH was set by Mario Andretti in 1973. Grant did not make a qualifying run either on July 30 or the pre-race session held the morning of the race on July 31 but Ongais won the pole with a lap of 205.141 MPH.

Three weeks later at the ‘Milwaukee Mile’ for the “Tony Bettenhausen 200,” Jerry Grant and the Hoffman #69 Eagle edged out USAC sprint car regulars James McElreath and Todd Gibson to start dead last in the 22-car field. After Johnny Rutherford took the checkered flag, Grant was the last car running and was flagged home in sixteenth 35 laps down.

Grant showed up at Ontario Motor Speedway over Labor Day weekend in search of a ride but was unsuccessful. Shortly thereafter, Grant a long time member of the Champion Spark Plug Highway Safety team that toured schools around the country retired as a driver and accepted a full-time position with Toledo-based Champion as a field representative for the 1978 season.  

In a 1980 interview with Bob Longwith of the Kokomo Tribune newspaper, Grant reflected on his final USAC racing season after his recovery from the near gall bladder infection in 1976. “When I came back there were no equipment around, so I drove cars that were also-rans. There is no way you can be competitive in an also-ran car no matter how good a driver you are. There is no enjoyment in being an also-ran”’

Later in the month of September 1977, the USAC Board of Directors accepted the Citicorp contract and adopted a new rule known as the “Foyt Rule.” Beginning with the 1978 season, USAC officials had the authority to withhold points in any USAC division if a driver failed to comply with the requirements of the series and its sponsor. 

For the 1978 racing season, First National City Travelers Checks dramatically expanded its motorsports activities. In addition the USAC series sponsorship, the firm continued to sponsor the entries of McLaren and Lindsey Hopkins and added Jim Hall’s Chaparral entry driven by Al Unser. Citicorp also sponsored three cars on the National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) circuit driven by Benny Parsons, Caleb “Cale” Yarbrough and Ricky Rudd as well as support of the NASCAR rookie program. Citicorp’s diverse sponsorship included Doug Caruthers’ USAC midget and a 45-foot offshore racing boat.

For sports car racing, the company sponsored the SCCA Citicorp Economy Challenge series, the revitalized SCCA Canadian-American Challenge (Can-Am) series and International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) competitor David Hobbs BMW race cars. In Europe after previously sponsoring Roger Penske’s entries, in 1978 Citicorp supported Ken Tyrell’s two-car team.

In short, the red-white and blue colors of First National and their logo appeared in some form in virtually every professional racing series in 1977 and 1978. Fred Stecher was no longer involved in racing, as the Citicorp has a triumvirate in charge of racing - Ralph McEldowney, Don Porter, and Rich Lewis.      
Unfortunately at the end of the 1978 USAC season, Citicorp did not renew its sponsorship of the USAC national championship trail and also withdrew race team sponsorship. Dropping USAC was a precursor as over the next few years, Citicorp withdrew from all motorsports involvement.

Left without a major series sponsor, no national television contract, and the organization still reeling from the death of seven of USAC’s leaders in an April 1978 plane crash, the stage was set for USAC’s loss of control over championship-car racing with the formation of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) in late 1978.  

In early 1979, Jerry Grant replaced Don Garner as the Director of Racing for the Champion Spark Plug Company after Garner left to work for the new CART organization as its chief steward.  Grant led Champion's racing division for ten years, during which time he ran the Champion Sparkplug Challenge IMSA series, originally started as the IMSA RS (Radial Sedan) series in 1971. Grant also was involved as Champion took over the NASCAR rookie program from Citicorp.

Factory brochure drawing of  the Jaguar XJ220
In 1993, Grant got a chance to return to the seat of a racing car for the 1993 Fast Masters Championship promoted by ESPN sports network producer Terry Ligner to air as part of the “Saturday Night Thunder” broadcast. The tournament matched a group of over 50 year old drivers in identically prepared $750,000 Jaguar XJ220 mid-mounted twin turbocharged V-6 engine powered sports cars modified for racing by the Tom Walkinshaw Racing shop in Valparaiso Indiana.

Grant, who in pre-race publicity tour admitted this his participation was “all about ego,” raced in the first of the series of five weekly heat races held on the Indianapolis Raceway Park (IRP) 5/8-mile banked oval on Saturday June 19.  Nine drivers drew for positions in the first ten-lap heat race after the scheduled tenth driver, Gary Bettenhausen, had withdrawn after he crashed and destroyed his assigned Jaguar during practice on Friday afternoon.

As the field completed the second lap Jim McElreath tried to go “three wide” coming out of turn four, but spun and the ensuing crash took out both McElreath and retired NASCAR driver Dick Trickle. Then on lap three, former AAA and USAC roadster driver Troy Ruttman spun and crashed in turn three. Grant started seventh avoided the carnage and finished fifth. The race can be viewed at

Saturday night’s second ten-lap heat race used a majority of the oval with an infield dog-leg to create the quasi “road course.”  Only six cars started less the damaged cars of McElreath, Trickle, and Ruttman. As the field entered the “road course” for the first time, Grant locked up the brakes on his Jaguar, ran into the back of Bobby Allison, and damaged the front end too badly to continue. A video of the second race can be viewed at

After the disastrous first round, with two of the cars damaged beyond repair, the format of the Fast Masters Challenge was completely revamped with eight competitors each week that raced on the so-called IRP “road course.” Grant’s former AAR teammate and rival Bobby Unser won the inaugural Fast Masters championship finale and the $100,000 purse. The series was never repeated.

At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994, Grant contributed to an Associated Press article on the progress of race car engineering. “The cars are so safe it’s beyond my wildest dreams. When I started here, the drivers would limp into the garage and that’s how the crowd knew who they were.” In response to another question, Grant offered his opinion that in 1994 the drivers at Indianapolis were "10 percent responsible for the overall performance of the car," and  then stated that he would "like to see it go back to the other side of 50 percent."

After retirement from Champion Spark Plug Company, Jerry founded his own boutique public relations firm, Motor Sports Unlimited PR and did branding work for Prolong oil treatment and the Honda Motor Company.  Jerry Grant died August 12, 2012 from liver failure and diabetes at St Joseph Orange County Hospital at the age of 77, survived by his wife, sister, two daughters and five grandchildren.

Dan Gurney told Road &Track magazine "Jerry Grant was a natural; he was brave and playful and always could rise to the challenge. Apart from being an excellent racer, he was an accomplished story teller and after dinner speaker, an ability which served him well in his business career after his retirement from active driving. In the middle 60's we shared many adventures on and off the track here in the US and in Europe. We stayed friends ever since and many Sundays went riding our motorcycles in the Southern California countryside. We extend our condolences to his wife Sandy and his family. Farewell Jerry, we will miss you."

As we have traced through the previous eight chapters, Jerry Grant had a varied career in one of the most exciting period of Indianapolis car racing, and came close to grabbing the win on “the greatest racecourse in the world” once in 1972.  Grant was one of eleven drivers that debuted as rookies in the 1965 Indianapolis ‘500,’ along with such familiar names as Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Gordon Johncock , Joe Leonard, and George Snider. Combined that august group is responsible for seven Indianapolis ‘500’ wins and seven USAC national championships.

Jerry Grant competed in ten races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and failed to qualify twice- his first year 1964, and his last, 1977.  The official record which does not include the final 12 laps of the 1972 race shows that Grant completed 1,275 laps of which he led 16 with a total of $166,403 in IMS prize money.  Sadly, the versatile Grant never had the opportunity to run for the USAC national championship; the year with his most entries was 1967 when he entered 11 of 20 races for Tom Friedkin.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The racing life and times of Jerry Grant

Part eight –1975 & 1976 seasons

Grant's 1975 Champion Spark Plug Highway Safety Team postcard
 from the author's collection

Just before the start of the 1975 United States Auto Club (USAC) championship car season,  Jerry Grant signed to drive for car owner Fred W. Carrillo, (frequently misspelled Carillo) a legend in the automotive aftermarket performance parts industry who returned to USAC after a year’s suspension.   

Carrillo, born in Los Angeles in 1926 served in the Army Air Corps as a radar operator during World War 2 then when he returned home he studied mechanical engineering and metallurgy at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) on the GI Bill. Carrillo continued to race hot rods on the dry lake beds until a serious September 1953 accident on the Bonneville Salt Flats ended his race driving career.

Carrillo worked as an engineer for Aerojet-General Corporation, but in his spare time he developed the high-performance connecting rods that would make him a legend. Carrillo established his own company, Warren Industries, in 1963, and Carrillo’s connecting rods were used in the 3-liter Repco V-8 engine that powered Jack Brabham to the 1966 Formula One world championship. 

In 1971, Carrillo partnered in a new race team with Oklahoma oil magnate Doug Champlin driver Sam Posey, and chief mechanic Jack McCormack known as Champ-Carr Racing Enterprises Incorporated. The team started competition with a Surtees chassis in the 1971 Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Formula 5000 open-wheel road racing series with the ultimate goal of racing in the 1972 Indianapolis ‘500.’ Posey qualified well in all the 1971 Formula 5000 races and finished the season in second place in the championship. 

Champ-Carr had a new 1972 All-American Racing Inc. (AAR) Eagle on order, but the team did not have a sponsor and so did not have the money to pay for it. Pioneering racing marketer and AAR general manager Max Muhleman hooked Champ-Carr up with a well-heeled sponsor, Norris Industries, for a package to compete in the three USAC 1972 “Gold Crown” 500-miles races at Indianapolis, Ontario, and Pocono.

Posey had unsuccessfully tried three previous years to qualify for the Indianapolis 500-mile race in underfunded efforts. In 1969 Posey drove shipping company owner Tassi Vatis’ turbocharged Offenhauser powered Finley chassis, and tried again in 1970 with Vatis but in an Eagle. In 1971 at Indianapolis, Posey drove Jerry Grant’s updated 1968 Eagle and bumped his car owner, who drove the Carroll Shelby owned ‘Norris Industries Special,’ from the 33-car starting field before Posey himself was bumped out of the race day lineup.

Sam Posey easily qualified the ‘Norris Industries Special’ to start from seventh place on the grid for the 1972 Indianapolis ‘500’ and then cruised to a fifth place finish. Posey expected to win the Stark-Wetzel “Rookie of the Year” honors, but the media members voted instead to award the honor to Mike Hiss who started the 1972 Indianapolis ‘500’ in 25th place and finished seventh. Later in the 1972 season, Posey finished fifth in the ‘Schaefer 500’ and nineteenth in the ‘California 500’ after ignition failure.

Norris Industries remained on board as the team’s sponsor for the 1973 season as the team expanded to a three-car operation with Posey again slated for the three 500-mile races paired with John Mahler whose car was funded by Richard Deutsch, Chairman of the Board and Treasurer of the Harbor Fuel Oil Corporation in Connecticut.   At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1973, the Champ-Carr team and Posey suffered the dreaded “sophomore jinx” as on the first day of time trials, Posey posted a slow qualifying four-lap average of 187.921 MPH.

During the week between the two qualifying weekends, the Champ-Carr team abruptly fired John Mahler and he was replaced by veteran Jim McElreath in the #35 car.  Realizing that Posey’s entry would likely be bumped, the team announced late in the week that they were going their shop to build up a new car. The third car the team had entered as the #31 car was actually just a bare tub at that point that bore AAR chassis tag number 7226.   

On Sunday May 19 USAC Technical Supervisor Frankie DelRoy revealed that rather than building a new car, the Champ-Carr crew had attempted to change the identity of the bumped #34 car to make it appear as #31 in order to make a qualifying attempt. “The car was actually a fraud” said DelRoy, “they cleaned it up and removed all identification. It got past the first inspection crew but it didn’t get by me. We finally got them to admit what they did. I was told the crew was under direct orders from Fred Carrillo to make the changes on the car.”   

McElreath made the stating field in the #35 Norris Industries Eagle (chassis tag number 7220) on Sunday as he bumped out the slowest car in the field, driven by Tom Bigelow. Posey’s original entry, #34 was the second and final car bumped from the 33-car starting field by George Snider.

On May 22, USAC officially disqualified Posey’s #34 car, which moved Bigelow up to the position of first alternate. As the Champ-Carr registered crew chief, Carrillo was assessed a $100 fine by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a $1000 fine from USAC with Carrillo’s USAC license suspended for one year. Champ-Carr’s chief mechanic McCormack was fined $100 and $250 respectively and placed on probation by USAC for one year.

A storm of controversy followed. The press published Posey’s accusation that his former teammate John Mahler was “to blame for the whole thing” and precipitated the incident by “creeping around the garage at night to see what the crew was doing.” Posey said that “USAC knew we were using parts from #34 to make the #31. There was no attempt to be misleading,” and that USAC’s “reasoning has eluded us as much as our maneuvering eluded them, but USAC rulings change from day to day.”  

USAC also required Champ-Carr Racing Enterprises Incorporated to post a $5,000 performance bond against “future attempts at misrepresentation for the rest of the season” in order for McElreath to start the ‘500.’ On Wednesday May 23 Carrillo admitted in public that he was personally responsible for the fraud and personally apologized “for the great embarrassment I have caused to Norris Industries.” Despite his apology, Carrillo was reportedly fired by as president of Champ-Carr Racing Enterprises Inc. by the company’s board of directors.

Following Carrillo’s admission, Sam Posey changed his earlier story. “It was a bad deal all the way. I really didn’t find out until Saturday morning. By then I had to help cover up. Carrillo wanted to do it his way. Maybe it would have been better if I had known because surely it could have been disguised a little better than it was.” Posey closed his statement by reflecting that “it was all so unnecessary; the team could have obtained another car and qualified it with no problem.”

Rich Roberts’ comments in the Long Beach Independent Telegram were typical of those in the press in the days that followed. In a sports page editorial, Roberts’ lambasted Carrillo for being “so stupid as to get caught,” and Roberts stated that in his opinion Carrillo “has a lot to learn.”

There initially were Gasoline Alley murmurs that Posey would replace Jim McElreath as the driver of the #35 Norris Industries Eagle in the Indianapolis ‘500,’ but after the team posted the required $5000 bond, McElreath started the race as scheduled from 33rd position. McElreath and the Norris Industries Eagle retired on lap 54, ironically enough with a broken connecting rod in the four-cylinder turbocharged Offenhauser engine.   McElreath and Champ-Carr entered six subsequent 1974 USAC championship races and posted two late-season top ten finishes at Milwaukee and Trenton.

Sam Posey drove in the other two 1973 USAC “Gold Crown” championship events but never again appeared at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a driver. Posey and Champ-Carr Racing Enterprises Inc. continued to compete in the USAC/SCCA Formula 5000 series through 1974, the same year that Posey debuted on the ABC Sports broadcast of the Indianapolis ‘500.’

The car that Fred Carrillo entered for Grant just a few days before the 1975 Ontario ‘California 500,’ the #73 “Spirit of Orange County” was a turbocharged Drake-Offenhauser powered Eagle. Researcher Michael Ferner has identified Grant’s car as either AAR tub number 7305 or 7306, which had been driven by Steve Krisiloff for Michigan oil man U.E ‘Pat’ Patrick’s team in 1974 USAC competition.

Part of Carrillo’s deal with Patrick Racing to purchase the Eagle was that the Carrillo entry was serviced by the Patrick Racing crew with the input of crew chief George Bignotti and engine builder Louie “Sonny” Meyer Junior at Ontario. Patrick had left Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing for Patrick since 1973, while Meyer had worked for Patrick Racing since Pat Patrick bought Louis Meyer Inc. in 1970.

On Saturday March 2 during morning practice before time trials the unpainted Eagle popped out of gear at 185 miles per hours (MPH) and the engine over-revved before Grant could shut it off. According to Carrillo, the crew found the bolts stripped out of the clutch pack and the sudden spike in the revolutions per minutes (RPM) had “warped” all the valve stems in the Drake-Offenhauser engine.  

Fred Carrillo told Santa Ana Register newspaper reporter Art Parra “we will fix the gearbox and qualify on Sunday morning. We will have to be very cautious because the engine is sick with those valves. We’ll put a new engine in it Monday but we’ll have to get the car in the race with what we have.” Talk about low budget! 

The team got away with that plan because the 1975 ‘California 500’  field was short of entries withonly 29 cars qualified into the planned 33-car field at the end of time trials on Saturday afternoon.  On Sunday morning, Grant started at the tail of the second 100-mile heat race. Grant completed two laps at a reduced speed then shut the wounded Drake-Offenhauser engine off and coasted into the pit area to place 16th in the heat race.

Still in primer Sunday for its ‘Twin 100’ appearance, the Eagle was revealed with a new name, “The Sspirit of Orange County” and its new orange and white livery on Tuesday March 4.  With a fresh Drake-Offenhauser turbocharged engine behind him, Grant started the ‘California 500’ from 28th position and within a few laps was up to 12th place when the first caution flew on lap five. Grant rolled in for his first pit stop during the initial caution period only to find that the fuel nozzle would not properly engage according to reporter Art Parra.

The crew sent Grant out to make another lap and when he returned to the team’s pit, “The Spirit of Orange County” was successfully refueled. Before Grant left the pit area,  a USAC steward spotted an oil leak at the rear of the car and three minutes passed before the crew convinced the official that it was not a rear main seal leak, but that the crew had overfilled the transmission. Grant returned to the fray, many laps down, but the Eagle reportedly turned lap speeds just as fast as the leaders.

After the race was briefly slowed for 15 laps due to rain showers, on lap 163 Grant pitted to replace the tires and the crew found that the locating pin for the right rear wheel had broken off and more time was lost with repairs. Grant finished the 1975 ‘California 500’ in 12th position, the next to last of the ten cars still running at the drop of the checkered flag. Grant was scored 22 laps behind winner AJ Foyt, awarded 50 USAC championship points and a check for $6364.

In April, Carrillo asked for and received the “blessing” of the Orange County Board of Supervisors to officially carry the name of Orange County on the Eagle. The Board was eager for the publicity provided by two Orange County residents, as Carrillo hailed from San Juan Capistrano and Grant lived in Irvine.

The County’s proclamation provided no sponsorship monies, but Carrillo had a plan which today would call be “crowd funding.” Carrillo sold sponsorship of each orange painted on the bodywork for $2500 each with the goal sell thirty sponsorships. One of the first sponsors to sign up was the Nelson Iron Works Company of Seattle, Jerry Grant’s sponsor from the 1970 Indianapolis 500-mile race.   

The Eagle also carried associate sponsorship from the short-lived Goodyear Motor Sports Club, a group organized and subsidized by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in 1974.  The intent of the club, according to its founder and executive director H. Leo Mehl, Goodyear’s director of racing, was “to stimulate racing in this country and allow fans to get closer to the drivers and their cars.”
Scan from the author's collection

For a $15 annual membership to the Club, a fan (such as the author at 16-years old) received a monthly newsletter, the club’s quarterly Challenge magazine and “other benefits to put you on the inside of the sport,” which included access to discounted race tickets and the chance to order items from the Club’s catalog of unique apparel and accessories such as a set of 8 x 10 inch pencil sketch prints of the 22 members of the club’s driver advisory panel.

An original club sticker from the  author's collection

Members of the Goodyear Motor Sports Club’s advisory panel included drag racers Don Prudhomme and Raymond Beadle, stock car racers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison, and USAC drivers Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and A.J. Foyt. The Goodyear Motor Sports Club never met it expected goal of 50,000 members, with a peak of 42,000 members before it was dissolved on January 1 1977 due to “economic factors beyond the Club’s control.”  
Grant at an estimated 240 pounds in his 1975 IMS qualifying photo
courtesy of INDYCAR

The Fred Carrillo-Jerry Grant “Spirit of Orange County” entry was received by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on April 16 1975. With the effects of the national energy crisis still being felt, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway stuck with a shortened practice schedule with the track set to open on May 4 1975.  However, after the debacle of the shortened two-day time trial schedule of 1974, the Speedway returned to the traditional four days of time trials in 1975.

An article in the Santa Ana Register dated May 1 indicated that the “Spirit of Orange County” Eagle  would make its first appearance on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval on Tuesday May 6. Carrillo told the reporter that “We are going to Indy with the thought of winning.  Our fundraising has been good but not fantastic. If we come home with the Borg-Warner Trophy it will be much easier in the future.”  

The tiny team had expanded their fundraising efforts; for a $5 donation, the donor received a membership card, a “racing patch,” a “racing decal,” and an autographed 8 x 10-inch photo of Grant and the car.  The leader of the fund drive, Dave Whitcomb, an automotive technology instructor at Santa Ana College, promised that a newsletter, poster, caps, jackets, and t-shirts would be available soon.

The Santa Ana Register reported on May 9th, the day before the start of time trials, that during his three days of practice at the Speedway, Grant posted a fast lap of 188.20 MPH, reportedly the seventh fastest car in practice. As USAC continued to limit the turbocharger “boost” levels for the Offenhauser engines at 80 inches of Mercury (nearly 40 pounds per square inch) qualifying lap speeds remained below the track record.

After their first qualifying attempt was waved off after three laps as too slow, Jerry Grant and the Carrillo Eagle became one of 20 car-and-driver combinations that qualified on the first day of time trials, May 10 with a184.266 MPH four-lap average to start in fourteenth position.  On May 14, Art Parra reported in the Santa Ana Register that former drag racing promoter Don Rackeman of Newport Beach California identified as the publisher of Motor Sports Weekly, Drag News, and Motorcycle Weekly had acquired half interest in the car and that the Eagle had a brand new engine.

The 1975 Indianapolis “500,” run on May 25 once again did not go the full distance for the third consecutive year, as torrential rains hit the track with leader Bobby Unser on his 173rd lap and starter Pat Vidan displayed both the red and checkered flags. Unfortunately, Grant and “ The Spirit of Orange County Special” had retired from the Indianapolis ‘500’ on earlier lap 137 with a burnt piston.   

The next appearance for the “Spirit of Orange County” team came at Pocono Raceway for the “Schaefer 500.” Grant qualified the #73 Eagle at 181.864 MPH and started on the outside of the front row. Grant led laps 85 and 86 before a long pit stop dropped the Carrillo Eagle from contention. After the race Carrillo told reporter Parra “when we took the lead, it looked like it was going to be our race. Then a little scavenge pump broke and we were in the pits for 16 laps.”  Like the 1975 Indianapolis ‘500,’ the 1975 ‘Schaefer 500’ did not run the full distance, with the red and checkered flags displayed at 170 laps. Grant wound up scored as the14th place finisher nineteen laps behind winner AJ Foyt.

On July 17 the Santa Ana Register reported that the “Spirit of Orange County” entry would race at Roger Penske’s Michigan International Speedway in the July 20th “Norton 200.”  Carrillo was quoted that “we are more than pleased with our progress. We began the season at the back of the pack at Ontario, we were in the middle of the pack at Indy, and sat on the front row at Pocono.”  Grant again qualified well on the high-banked two-mile oval to start from the fifth position, but on the 24th of 100 laps the Eagle coasted into the pits with engine failure. 

In the same July interview, Carrillo claimed that the team was considering an entry in the Formula 5000 races on the streets of Long Beach, as under the rules package at that time, USAC turbocharged cars were allowed to enter the series. “We feel that we can compete with the Formula 5000 cars and it will give us a chance to show our car close to home,” said Carrillo.

The “Spirit of Orange County” did not appear at Long Beach, but it was entered at the 1975 USAC season finale at the Fastrack International Speedway in Phoenix Arizona. The Eagle’s result at the “Phoenix 150” is a mystery, as the car is listed as “did not start” and reportedly powered by a Pontiac engine. Developments in 1976 lead the author to believe that Carrillo deliberately mislead officials with the engine’s identification.  


Fred Carrillo and a slimmed-down (from his high of 240 pounds) Jerry Grant entered the same turbocharged Offenhauser powered Eagle at the “Jimmy Bryan 150” held at the Phoenix International Raceway, renamed by the new five-member ownership group. Grant qualified poorly to start ninetieth in the twenty-two car field, and then Grant’s unnamed Eagle was the first car to retire on lap eight when Grant pitted with no oil pressure.

The use of the Offenhauser for the Phoenix race entry must have been a stop-gap measure because Carrillo was deep into the development of turbocharged 209-cubic inch American Motors Corporation (AMC) rocker-arm stock-block engine, with funding from the Champion Spark Plug Company.

The Champion/AMC “stock-block” power plant project was another attempt at reducing engine costs in USAC championship racing. The ground-breaking engine had been first publicized in the Indianapolis Star newspaper in February 1976 in an interview with Dick Jones, Champion’s West Coast racing manager. "The company felt that even though it had almost 100 per cent of the field," Jones said, "it would be shirking its responsibility if it didn't look into means of reducing cost to car owners. So they let me do this."

Jones stated in the Star interview that based upon the basic data for the prototype, it would represent a price reduction of 50 per cent over the Offenhauser or the Foyt V-8 engine. “This possibility was one of the determining factors of why Champion opened its Long Beach shop for the development work,” as Jones revealed to the Star that design layout started in July 1975, and that “the project was entirely funded by Fred Carrillo and Champion authorized me to do the design and development."

The work involved to build the “stock block AMC” engine was extensive and the completed race engine shared little with a production engine. Years later in an interview, Carrillo recounted the details of the unique engine. “Basically, these were 209-cubic inch engines, and I worked with Champion on them. I built the crank, rods, pistons and pretty much everything else, and they put it together," Carrillo said. "It was a de-stroked 343 cubic inch “Trans-Am” block, and I shortened the stroke to about two inches, something like that, and before that it had about a 4-inch stroke, if I remember right. I made a 180-degree crank for it.”

Notice the small diameter pipe atop the manifold
Photo courtesy of  the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
 in the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies

The engine used dry sump oiling, a standard racing practice in which the oil is carried in a separate reservoir tank instead of in the pan.  The cylinder heads were modified to accept bigger 2- inch intake and 1.625-inch exhaust valves. The utilization of a turbocharger required complete fabrication of intake and exhaust manifolds, with a round tube atop the intake manifold designed to equalize the increased flow to each cylinder.

1976 United States Auto Club (USAC) rules regulated a maximum of 75 inches of Mercury manifold pressure for rocker-arm stock-block engines. In his February interview, Champion’s Dick Jones revealed that Jerry Grant ran 180 miles an hour with the AMC engine in winter tire tests at Ontario Motor Speedway, while "the fastest ‘Offy’ there ran 186 MPH with 75 inches, so I'd say you probably would make the program at 180.” At this stage, Jones said “we want to ascertain the reliability of the parts for the time required. The engine has in excess of 400 miles on it on the track as well as considerable dynamometer time."

At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, California-Oklahoma Racing, which historians suspect was a second Fred Carrillo-Doug Champlin partnership, entered two AMC-powered Eagle chassis painted red-white and blue. In an article in the Star on May 14, the writer offered the opinion that the AMC engine “represents an approach to a racing engine which has had many advocates as a power plant from a standpoint of speed and durability and it brings an entirely new aspect into automobile racing.”

Grant was quoted in the May 14 Star article as stating that “the engine is very smooth and the throttle response is better than anything I've ever driven here."  Grant admitted that he had to work with the car chief, former AAR mechanic Dave Klym, to “dial in” the chassis to deal with the added weight of the AMC engine. Carrillo did not reveal horsepower figures to the Star, but said the AMC horsepower output was “comparable to anything at the track.”

The only drawback Carrillo admitted to in 1975 was “the condition of added weight, some 138 pounds over an Offenhauser engine.” In an interview years later, Carrillo remembered that “we were supposed to get an aluminum block and heads from AMC, but I guess AMC was running out of money so we had to go with the iron block, and because of that, we were 500 pounds heavier than anyone else.“
Notice how slim Grant has become in his 1976 Indy 500 qualifying photo
photo courtesy of INDYCAR

Grant did not make a qualifying attempt in the “California-Oklahoma” Eagle until the third day of ‘500’ time trials on May 22nd, and his 183.617 MPH four-lap average was the second fastest run of the day. Grant started the bicentennial ‘500’ from 20th place alongside the fastest qualifier for the race, Mario Andretti.  In the race on May 30, Grant was running well in the ‘500’ when the Eagle stopped on the backstretch on lap 91 reportedly out of fuel. After Grant’s #73 car was towed into the pits, light rain began on fall on the Speedway and the yellow flag was displayed, as cars continued to circulate on track at reduced speeds. 

On the leader’s lap 102 with Grant’s disabled car still in its pit area, the rain fell harder and the red flag was displayed with the remaining field of cars stopped in the pit area. The rain showers continued intermittently through the afternoon and at 3:30 PM Chief Steward Thomas Binford declared the race complete. For the fourth consecutive year the Indianapolis 500-mile race ended earlier due to rain.

With 91 laps to his credit Jerry Grant finished 27th, which matched his finish in his rookie year, 1965, for his worst-ever Indianapolis ‘500’ result.  For some unknown reason Grant skipped the picking up the $15,594.34 check at the Victory banquet along with Mario Andretti, who was enroute to Sweden to test his Lotus Formula 1 car,  Billy Vukovich, and David Hobbs.

The Carrillo/Grant/AMC Eagle returned to action at Ontario Motor Speedway for the California 500 which had returned to its original Labor Day race date for 1976 after two unsuccessful years as a spring race. After the first two days of practice in 100-degree heat, Grant’s was the fastest of the 18 Eagles entered and fourth fastest overall with a best lap of 186.637 MPH.   In qualifying the best Grant could do with the AMC-powered Eagle was a 15th place starting position after he posted a two-lap average of 182,866 MPH.

Ranked at 12-1 odds in pre-race poll conducted by the Associated Press of “newsmen, officials, drivers and mechanics,” Grant finished the “California 500” in tenth place nine laps in arrears to the race winner, his former teammate Bobby Unser who drove for Grant’s 1974 car owner, Bob Fletcher.  Finishing just ahead of Grant was a young rookie driver from Bakersfield named Rick Mears in his first USAC championship car start in Bill Simpson’s 1972 Eagle the “Do-It Wax System Special.”  In contrast to the record heat earlier in the week, the race day high temperature was 85 degrees, but the 1976 “California 500” still only attracted 52,466 paying spectators.  

According to Carl Hungness, after the 1976 Ontario race, Fred Carrillo’s 1973 Eagle was converted back to Offenhauser power and sold to Jim McElreath for his son James to race as the #26 McElreath Racing entry during the 1977 USAC season. The sale was likely part of the deal that Jim McElreath as the replacement for Jerry Grant as the driver of the Carrillo/AMC Eagle during the 1977 season.  Jim and James became the first father and son combination to race in the same USAC championship race at 1977 “Schaefer 500” at Pocono Raceway. James’ career tragically ended with his fatal crash on October 16 1977 at Indiana’s Winchester Speedway.

The AMC engine was not the only new V-8 engine design to debut in 1976, as the Vel’s Parnelli Jones (VPJ) Racing Team debuted the turbocharged 161-cubic inch displacement Cosworth DFX, a development of the successful Cosworth DFV formula 1 racing engine. Roger Penske had originally worked with Cosworth to bring the engine to USAC in 1975, but he lost interest and the engine was developed by VPJ.

Al Unser won the pole position in the DFX’s first race, and Unser won the 1976 “Schaefer 500” in the turbocharged Cosworth engine’s fourth race appearance. Al Unser for VPJ racing scored a total of three USAC race wins in 1976 with their exclusive engine before the McLaren and Penske teams began to use them in 1977.         

In our final installment coming soon. we will close out the story of the racing life and times of Jerry Grant with his 1977 season and retirement from racing.