Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Little Big Horn

Out here on the ponderosa, we are stone, immaculate. As I wanna tell yuh ‘bout Texas radio and the big beat…

As I’m told everything’s bigger in Texas, thus I’ve decided to make my very first pilgrimage to the Lone Star state, just to see what all the fuss is about.

Of course some of motor racings biggest names come from Texas, names you’re probably familiar with, such as Carroll Shelby, Jim Hall, Lloyd Ruby, Johnny Rutherford and AJ Foyt…

Carroll Shelby
What can I say about this automotive icon? As the tall lanky Texan Chicken farmer cut his teeth as a racing driver in bib overalls while flogging private owner’s saloons in local SCCA events, Yet Shelby would rise rapidly thru the ranks to ultimately win the 24 Heurs du Mans for Aston Martin in 1959 before retiring as a race driver.

Yet, Carroll, along with Jim Hall, Roger Penske, and Lloyd Ruby also tried their hand at Formula 1, by taking part in various Grand Prix’s during the early 1960’s, albeit with unsatisfactory results.

Meanwhile, ‘Old Shell was using some of his magic Snake Oil to convince Lee Iacocca and AC Cars to give him the raw materials to complete what would come to be known as the Cobra. This car would be the launching towards Shelby’s immortality as a Ford racing legend, as Carroll would debark upon beating his arch nemesis Enzo Ferrari in International endurance racing, by becoming the only American manufacturer to win the World Sports Car championship in 1965 with his Cobra Daytona Coupes, after having told Enzo the previous year; “You’re ass is mine!”

Ford was so impressed that they had Carroll put the “Shelby Touch” to the Mustang and ultimately the GT 40 programs, as Shelby GT 350 Mustangs dominated SCCA B Production and Shelby won Le Mans in 1966-67 with the vaunted Mark II & Mark IV’s.

1966 was the year that the GT 40’s crossed the line 1-2-3 in the bungled photo op which ultimately gave the victory to Bruce McLaren & Chris Amon over the expected pairing of Ken Miles & Denny Hulme. The ’67 victory was shared by AJ Foyt & Dan Gurney whom impromptly sprayed champagne in victory circle, thereby starting another racing tradition.

Shelby was also instrumental in Ford’s factory backed Trans Am efforts, winning the championship twice with Jerry Titus as well as running such luminary drivers as Parnelli Jones, Peter Revson, Dan Gurney and Sam Posey,

Yet, not one to stand still, Shelby tried working his magic on the Toyota 2000GT’s, but ultimately wasn’t given enough time and has since stuck to fanning the flames of his namesake by being a key representative at multiple Shelby American Automobile Club events.

Jim Hall
Born in Abilene, Texas, Hall is most notably recognized as the creator of the bone white Chaparral Sports Cars that were the most innovative of their time in regards to cutting edge aerodynamics, as Hall was a leading pioneer in this arena. Based out of Midland, Texas, the Chaparrals were always thorns in the two mighty behemoths (Ford vs. Ferrari) quest for overall victory. Hall also contested the Can Am and Trans Am series and was the Trans Am champion in 1969.

Hall also was a leader of ground effects in Indy Car racing with his revolutionary Yellow Submarine Indy cars designed by John Barnard, which won the Indy 500 twice in 1978 and 1980 with Al Unser Sr and Johnny Rutherford respectively.

Lloyd Ruby
While looking up information on this Texas gunslinger, I’ve discovered that Lloyd has just celebrated his 80th birthday on January 12th.

I’ve known of Ruby’s name from his exploits as one of ‘Old Shel’s hired guns during the Ford Motor Co. factory backed GT40 days, when Lloyd won the Daytona Continental, 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Daytona with Ken Miles while being part of the vaunted Shelby American racing team. He also took part in International racing by competing in the ’67 24 Heurs du Mans with Formula 1 World Champion Denny Hulme as his co-driver, while claiming he’d never drank so much wine as when in France with Super Tex.

Yet, Ruby was also an accomplished Indy Car driver, contesting the USAC championship trail from 1958-77, making 177 starts and contested the Indianapolis 500 from 1960-77. Ruby won seven USAC races and was known as the greatest driver to never win Indy, having missed out several times due to mechanical woes. Lloyd was quite the accomplished driver, having cut his teeth as a Midget pilot and loosing count of his total victories after 200!

Johnny Rutherford
Although born in Kansas, Rutherford grew up in Texas and somewhere along the line, when told he needed a nickname, the moniker “Lone Star JR” was anointed upon him. Rutherford, like most drivers of his time, started by racing midgets before getting his shot in the big cars of the USAC Championship Car trail.

While Rutherford was searching for a ride, Team McLaren was searching for a driver and they hooked up with each other, ultimately garnering Lone Star JR his first two Indianapolis 500 victories. (1974, 76) Rutherford then joined Jim Hall’s Indycar effort when Big Al (Unser Sr) decided to no longer drive for him, in the recalcitrant “Yellow Submarine.” Yet Rutherford was able to blitz the field enroute to his third Indy 500 victory in 1980 with the revolutionary ground effects chassis, becoming one of only a handful of drivers with three Borg Warner trophies to their credit.

Rutherford also became one of the youngest drivers ever to win a RASSCAR points race, when he won one of the qualifiers for the Daytona 500 aboard a Smokey Yunick prepared race car. Lone Star JR retired from racing prior to the 1994 Indy 500 and has served as the IRL’s pace car driver since the leagues inception, with the exception of the Indy 500 pace car duties. Rutherford has recently been appointed to the Board of Directors for the Harold E. Lemay museum.

AJ Foyt
Arguably the greatest American race car driver ever, Anthony Joseph Foyt Jr dropped out of school in order to become a mechanic, prior to beginning his illustrious racing career as a midget racer. Foyt went on to accomplish a list of statistics that will probably never be eclipsed in the world of Open Wheel racing, as Foyt has the most USAC victories, 138 which surpasses the late Rich Volgler’s tally of 132.

AJ also won seven times in RASSCAR, including the 1972 Daytona 500, as well as winning several major Sports Car endurance races; the Daytona 24 Hours, (twice) 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Heurs du Mans. The funniest part about his victories in the Daytona 24hrs, is that he didn’t want to drive with any damn Frenchmen, i.e.; Bob Wolleck aboard Al Holbert’s dominating Lowenbrau sponsored Porsche 962. Yet, supposedly his last major career victory was the 1985 Sebring 12hrs with yep, you guessed it, Monsieur Wolleck.

Yet Super Tex is best known for his exploits behind the wheel of a Indycar, in which he made a record 374 starts enroute to an amazing 67 victories. Foyt is the only driver to win the Indy 500 in a front and rear engine racecar, becoming the very last front engine victor in 1964. AJ was also the very first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times, (1961, ‘64, ‘67 and ’77) a feat shared by only two other drivers; Al Unser Sr and Rick Mears.

On his way to his massive victory tally, Foyt won an unprecedented seven USAC National Championships as well as making a record 35 starts at the Speedway. Yet, Foyt will always be idyllically etched in my memory for his outside the cockpit antics. Like when he beat the hell outta a recalcitrant turbo pop off valve with a Craftsman ratchet, or when he destroyed an engineers lap top confuzer in the pit lanes after his car had run out of petrol. Or when he decked Arie Luyendyk in victory lane and to this day refuses to give the Flying Dutchman his winner’s trophy! And that’s not to mention his various bulldozer follies, which have almost cost him his life twice…