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.

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