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



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