Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Gasman

School's out for summer
School's out forever
School's been blown to pieces
No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher's dirty looks
‘Cause School's out forever!
(Alice Cooper, lyrics; School’s out Forever)

It sure seems like a very long time ago that Spokane, Washington native Thomas E. Sneva (who just celebrated his 60th birthday on June 1st) won the 1983 Indianapolis 500…

Sneva’s first career was rooted in Education, wearing multiple hats as a School Bus driver, dutifully chauffeuring Farmer’s children of the tiny Lamont, Washington town to their miniscule single four room school building… Where Sneva was also the math teacher, Err head of the one man Math Department, , Junior High School Principal, assistant High School Football & Basketball coach, assistant High School Tennis coach (largely since he could drive the School Bus to events) and Driving Instructor… (“C’mon! You’re NOT going FAST enough!”)

Yet, in the early 1970’s, Sneva decided to move cross country to Indianapolis in order to take a shot at becoming a professional racing driver by hurtling about in USAC Midgets, which apparently must have gone quite well since Sneva would make his Rookie debut at the Speedway in 1974… (Of which he was involved in one of the most violent looking crashes at The Speedway! But one can only assume that “The Captain” (Roger Penske) saw enough raw talent in the fellow “Warshentonian” to hire him as a driver the following season, where Sneva would spend a tumultuous four years, before being fired by Penske for being too outspoken.

But during his tenure at Penske Racing, alongside such notable talents as Mario Andretti and Bobby Allison, Sneva would ultimately be replaced by his newest teammate and some young Californian named Rick Mears… While being constantly a thorn in Mario’s side, going on to win two USAC National Championships (1977-78) before moving onto “Greener” pastures…

Although according to noted journalist and author Doug Nye, Mario Andretti was the first to go 200mph at the Speedway… Nye refers to Sneva as “snively” in his book; McLaren: The Grand Prix, Can Am and Indy Cars.

Yet, Sneva would become the first official driver to crack the 200mph barrier at the Speedway, when he won the pole in 1977, with a record single lap speed of 200.535mph and a four lap average of 198.880mph aboard his Penske Racing Norton Spirit McLaren M24 Cosworth. And although Tom started first, as we know, someone by the name of “Super Tex” (AJ Foyt) would go onto become the very first driver to win Indy four times that year, while Sneva finished runner-up.

Robin Miller;
“Snively is something we always called him, not sure of its roots.”

“The day before he broke the 200 mph barrier, he tried running flat out in Turn 4 with Mario's set up and crashed. Jim McGee wanted to fire him but snively came back the next day with his setup and his bravado to break 200 and win the pole.
'That night he was driving a bunch of us to dinner in his van and there was a mile of cars behind us because Mr. 200 MPH was driving 28 in a 45 mph zone.”

And while Tom is the best known driver of the Sneva clan, his younger brother Jerry also contested the Indy 500 (1977-80, 1982) as well as competing in the USAC/CART championship trail alongside his brother, while unfortunately Tom’s younger brother Ed “Babe” Sneva Jr. was involved in a racing accident at Cranbrook, BC during a CAMRA Super Modified event and died after going into a coma.

The following year, in what would become Tom’s last driving for The Captain, Sneva once again stuck his Norton Spirit on the pole, for a second consecutive year, as Penske had switched over to running his own chassis, with the debut of the Penske PC6/Cosworth. Yet, once again Sneva would be frustrated by taking the runner-up position behind future Penske piloto Al Unser Sr.

As typical in motor racing, the landscape of Indy was rapidly changing, as 1978 was the first year that the entire front row was propelled by the Formula 1 derived DFV Ford Cosworth V-8 “lump” which was known as the DFX, having been turbocharged in order to finally slay the ubiquitous four cylinder “Offy” (Offenhauser) dragon that had ruled Indy for nearly four decades. (Pole: Tom Sneva, Penske/Cosworth; 2nd: Danny Ongais, Parnelli/Cosworth; 3rd: Rick Mears, Penske/Cosworth)

And thus as the Offy went, so too did the wedge shaped McLaren’s and Eagles, as Jim Hall’s revolutionary “Yellow Submarine” (Chaparral 2K) ground effects car made these past winners obsolete.

Yet, there were some last minute heroics for the McLaren IndyCar, as originally Sneva had been set to race the Bon Jour Action Jeans sponsored Phoenix ground effects chassis for Jerry O’Connell’s team and had qualified it fourth. But an accident left the car destroyed and the team was forced to settle upon rolling out ‘Ol Hound, its three years old McLaren M24 chassis, as the Indy 500 rules stipulated, Sneva would be required to start dead last in the field, yet The Gasman was soon mixing it up midfield and even briefly led before finishing runner-up to Johnny Rutherford, (in the Yellow Submarine) as this impressive feat of going from 33rd to 2nd had never been accomplished before and would be Sneva’s third second place finish at Indy.

Can you name the other driver to accomplish the same feat? Yeah, his name is Scott “What Pace Car?” Goodyear. (1992)

For 1981 Sneva briefly ran up front once again at Indy aboard a finicky March 81C/Cosworth chassis in which Sneva recorded the fastest overall qualifying speed, (200.690mph) but was forced to start 20th due to not qualifying during Pole Day, before ultimately retiring.

Then in 1982, Sneva decided to join forces with the mercurial George Bignatti, which resulted in another very tumultuous partnership, as Sneva would duel with eventual first and second place runners Gordon Johncock and Rick Mears before winding up fourth with an engine failure on lap 197.

Yet, for 1983, I seem to recall that in order to reduce the pressure of working for Bignotti; Disney’s “Goofy” was employed to lighten up the Texaco Star Bignotti-Cotter gang’s mood in Gasoline Alley…

Robin Miller;
“Johnny Parsons nicknamed Tom the Gas Man when he drove the Texaco Star.”

Making his tenth start at the Speedway, Sneva would ultimately go on to win his first and only Indianapolis 500, a record seventh victory for Bignotti as Chief Mechanic… Recall this was the year that a Rookie “pip-squeak” by the name of ‘lil Al tried to play blocking back for his father Big Al, and frustrated Sneva for 16 laps before he finally got around both of them enroute to victory.

For 1984, driving for the newly formed Mayer Motor Racing, (Sneva’s final year of Texaco sponsorship) Tom would capture his third and final pole at Indy, enroute to becoming the firs driver to go 210mph, with one (210.689mph) and four (210.029mph) lap averages respectively. Starting from pole, Sneva would finish a disappointing 16th, due to a CV failure before moving to the Skoal Bandit for the following three seasons. And while The Gasman was quick, he also was involved in a lot of incidents, as his career ultimately began to slide downhill, as Sneva currently holds the dubious record of most race crashes at the Brickyard. (1975, 1979, 1985-88, 1992)

Sneva spent his twilight years piloting inferior machinery, although the stock block Buick V-6’s never lacked for horsepower, just the fact that they were most likely over-boosted in an attempt to make up for the lack of two cylinders, they routinely “DONE BLOWN UP!” as they seemed notorious for their lack of reliability…

Sneva announced his retirement from Indy Car racing after contesting the 1992 Indy 500 and now resides in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he owns a Golf Course which reportedly still has the world’s fastest golf kart…

But my favourite Robin Miller story about The Gasman is when CART made its initial foray south of the Border, racing in Mexico City. (1981-82) And apparently while the drivers were waiting to be shuttled back to their hotel rooms, Sneva was coerced into commandeering an empty School Bus missing its driver in order to leave the track! As it musta seemed like the Good ‘Ol Days in Lamont…

Jim Murray:
“Tom Sneva was the only race driver who knew that a hypotenuse wasn't an animal…”

Monday, July 28, 2008

Back in the USSR?

Here comes the Helicopter
Second time today
If I had a rocket launcher

(Bruce Cockburn, Stealing Fire, 1983)

I’d guess that my case ‘O JET-RAG FEVER must’ve finally broken this morning... As I was rudely awoken to the sound of my most favourite “McChopper,” (NOT!) a sound I’d conveniently NOT heard for an entire blessed three weeks... “As did I have a Dream or did the Dream have me?” (RUSH; Vapor Trails, 2002)

As abruptly around 5:47AM I heard the DREADED sound of the “Sno-homer” County “CHiP’s” Sherriff’s helicopter buzzin’ overhead, SHEISA! (Oh whale! At least it AIN’T Sherriff Joe of Maricopa County, eh?) But wait, it came back again a second time? Closer, LOUDER and in full stereophonic (Dolby TX) surround sound as they must’ve forgotten to take their doughnuts, eh? And then the tranquil BLEEP-BLEEP of a neighbor’s car door alarm as it was time to go to work at 5:51AM, doppelte Scheiße!

Call me spoiled rotten, but I’ve become much more accustomed to the symphonic drone of the overly large hooting Doves in Bergisch-Gladbach (Germany) vs. the dreaded shrill of the minuscule bleepin’ Starlings outside my humble abode’s window...

Can it already be nearly one week since Mary Ellen & Co. dropped me off around 11PM, after an amazingly fast paced non-stop action packed two weeks in Germany along with an impromptu trip to Paris! And thus, I was tired, sore, sick and completely "Knackered!"

So I finally went to bed around midnight after having awoken at 4AM in Koln, (Colone) Germany, having been a very long tiring day... Ja Volt! “I've got blisters...” (Oh Never mind!) As we’d just gone via two trains to Dusseldorf to fly to Heathrow (Which SUCKS!!!) And then to SeaTac which was surprisingly pleasant and Customs was way LESS of a PAIN IN THE ARSE then London.

You see, I made the mistake of trying to carry on my newly acquired corkscrew, since it’s considered a LETHAL WEAPON as I might use it to “MacGyver” the cockpit door off our Airbus A330 Aeroplane and is strictly VERBOTTEN, Ja Volt! (Yet my METAL collapsible walking stick, with SEMI-SHARP CONCEALED METAL TIP was only curiously looked at!) Thus, this meant after putting all of our clothes back on... We’d had to go and check my carry-on backpack in Heathrow, if I wished to keep the present?

In order to do so, we needed to fill out a Landing Card in order to check-in my corkscrew, as the Customs Agent seemed most surprised when Claire said she needed to accompany me since I was Blind… Oh, what do you mean by that? Well your sign says “Only One person at a time.” It does? Where does it say that?

… “Purpose of visit?”
Oh, we have to check in a BLOODY corkscrew that I bought in Paris... Which brought a wry smile to his face!

Then back upstairs to print our boarding passes and proceed thru the next gauntlet… Where the first high school aged security Boffin asked:

“Do you know each other?”
Reason of visit?

“We’re trying’ to check-in a BLOODY corkscrew…
(Whale actually it doesn’t have any blood on it yet hya-hya-hya… But, Y’all know the routine ‘bout absolutely ZERO joking in Airports, eh?)

Ok, right, can I just have you both step over here please… While I get things sorted.

This led to his superior… Another pimply faced security boy pulling us outta line ‘cause Claire was traveling with an expired US Passport since she’s a “KUH-NAID-IUN” citizen… And Uh DUH! Was traveling under her current Canadian Passport! (How dare she!)

To which after a multitude of phone calls by this second security Boffin… We were given some goobley-gock about how Immigration had been on “The Fence” but the Airline hadn’t given a “CRAP” so we were allowed to complete our flight’s final leg and re-enter Washington Airspace as long as Claire promised to drive home to Canada immediately the next day! (Do NOT pass go! Do NOT collect your $200.00, just get your lily white ARSE Up North Eh? DON’T uze just hate those Freakin’ Dual Citizen Hosers...)

WHY that was mighty white of ‘dem BLOODY Brits! Yet in Amsterdam it was simply where are you going? Germany, Stamp-Stamp (Passports) Next!

So, having managed to nearly lose my voice after getting dehydrated at the race on Sunday, (Yeah, NOT enough BitBurger’s I suppose?) I decided to take the phone off the hook and try to just sit still for a few days, and NOT have anybody BUMP into me... As I thought I was the Blind guy, but people sure DON'T seem to move outta the way too much in Europe for somebody walking with a white cane…

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Zeppelin von Champ Car

Obviously the face of Open Wheel Racing has changed dramatically since the Spring of 2006, which was also Pre-No Fenders…

Yet, interestingly, on Monday following the Roadster Show, RuSPORT announced new primary sponsorship for Justin’s No. 9 Champ Car, with new primary sponsorship from CDW, while just two days later, (Wednesday) Oriel Servia was signed to replace Cristiano “What’s duh Matter?” da Matta at PKV Racing as the ever growing Black Hole nebulous shadow of the Zeppelin von Champ Car was ever increasing in size.

Meanwhile Captain Kevin “Smiley-Face” Kalkhoven and Co-pilot Jerry “What me Worry?” Forsythe were busy sawing away at the recalcitrant controls… “Drop ballast, All hands to the left side of the Gondola, Schnell- Schnell!

Thus, here’s a quick all speed reverse look back from the surviving members of the Zeppelin von Chump Carzs… As ironically Toyota was sponsoring the Long Beach GP, although they had Pulled-Out” of all open wheel racing in the US after having their BUTTS SPANKED by the then dominant Honda Indy engine. Nevertheless Toyota has retained its title sponsorship of the LBGP and actually had CCWS’s LARGEST field in quite some time in the series swan song this April… You know, when we had that most PATHETIC two Open Wheel races in two countries on the same weekend!

Dale Coyne Racing
Cristiano Da Matta/Mario Dominguez
Jan Heylen

Simply known as the little team that could! Coyne recognized early in his driving career that perhaps he’d be better suited to taking the route traveled by such luminaries as Penske, Haas and Ganassi… As in focusing upon the managerial side of the fence, Ahem Mr. Roth!

The team started off with brilliant performances by Cristiano Da Matta who was making his return to the series after driving for Toyota in Formula 1, while rookie Jan “Van Hagar” Heylen was also busy impressing in the under funded Sonny’s Barbeque car.

Forsythe Championship Racing
Paul Tracy
Mario Dominguez/AJ Almendinger/David Martinez

Not sure what to say about Mr. Forsythe, as I was led to believe that many of CCWS’s problems stemmed from Paul Gentilozzi’s mis-management. (Can you say SCCA Pro Racing Trans Am?) Yet it was Forsythe who had sour grapes and left Paul Tracy standing at the altar upon the “Uni-fish-ication” of Open Wheel Racing this February.

And while Mr. Chrome Horn was without a doubt the team leader, after the incredulous firing of AJ “Wall-Dinger,” the Californian got engaged, hired by Forsythe and went on to win his first of five races that season in a span of just ten days. Yet, once again another “Yank” went for the easy money and DEFECTED to RASSCAR for 2007 behind the wheel of “Juan ‘O” Deeter Majestic’s Toy-yoter’s.

MiJack Conquest RacingAndrew Ranger
Charles Zwolsman Jr.

This team has been owned by Eric Bachelart with long-time partner and “Money-man” Mike Lanigan of MiJack, before ultimately splitting to become the third wheel (Amigo) at the reformulated Newman Haas Lanigan Racing outfit in 2007, which saw Bachelart scramble to scrape by with a one car effort in Champ Car’s penultimate season.

And perhaps its just me, but I’m sure that everyone would prefer to see the three “KUH-NUCK” racing drivers Andrew Ranger, Alex Tagliani and Paul Tracy pounding’ round Edmonton City’s Centre INSTEAD of Marty “Gerritol” Roth, eh?

Newman Haas RacingSebastian Bourdais
Bruno Junqueira

What can I say about one of Champ Car’s most DOMINANT teams, which would ultimately see The Hamburgular (S. Bourdais) re-write the history books on his way to an unprecedented four consecutive championships before departing for Formula 1.

Yet “Junky” was back (literally) from his surgically repaired backside, grabbing pole position ahead of Almendinger with Sea Bass and Wilson starting on row two as it was most impressive of Newman/Haas to have returned Bruno to his seat in what would ultimately be his last season at N/H, while current driver Graham Rahal was then toiling away in the Atlantics championship and would finish runner-up to Simon Pagenaud, who’s now co-driving Gil DeFerran’s ALMS Acura LMP2 prototype.

PKV RacingOriel Servia
Katherine Legge

The 2006 Long Beach, CA race was the venue of team co-owner and 1996 Champ Car Champion Jimmy Vasser’s unofficial final start at that years Long Beach race, before coming back for another “One-off” Champ Car farewell drive aboard a third KV Racing Technology entry this April.

If memory serves me correctly? (Shush! Danny!) This was the weekend that Servia demolished NOT one but two Lola tubs and actually raced aboard Legge’s back-up chassis, of which the team mockingly made reference to with a sticker adorning the racecar’s nose. Servia would be unceremoniously dumped from the team the following season, only to return once again for this year’s season, while Legge, who still has MORE major career wins then somebody named Princess… Is now keeping busy giving Ralfanso (Ralf Schumacher) grief in the German DTM series.

Justin Wilson
AJ Almendinger/Cristiano Da Matta

Of course everybody remembers RuSPORT, eh? As this was the year that team owner Carl Russo did the unthinkable and FIRED the driver he’d built the team around… As AJ Almendinger was let go to make way for Da Matta who in turn was replaced at Dale Coyne by Mario “BOOM BOOM” Dominguez… As Mario had lost favour at Forsythe after punting PT twice out of races in the first four events and would ultimately get the short straw in the three driver Monty.

Sadly, Da Matta would nearly perish in the freakish testing accident at Road America later that summer, when a wayward Deer decided to high jump the 8’ fence topped with barbed wire… Hmm? Perhaps this critter should be competing in Beijing shortly?

Da Matta has since made a full recovery and competed for Bob Stallings Grand Am team in a second Daytona Prototype co-driven by ex-boss/teammate/friend Jimmy Vasser at Laguna Seca this May.

After Da Matta’s nightmarish testing accident, Russo effectively threw in the towel in what started the team’s way towards eventual shut-down, as Kalkhoven enticed former business partner Dan Pettit to purchase the team for ’07. After a lackluster season, Pettit closed RuSPORT’s doors in order to join forces with Gerald Forsyte in the reconstituted Forsythe/Pettit Racing for 2008, when the team effectively threw Paul Tracy under the bus…

Ironically Forsythe/Pettit Racing was busy contesting the Formula Atlantic championship in Alberta this weekend with Canadian James Hinchcliffeand Mexican David Garza.

Also, FPR apparently announced on July 15th that they would be joining the Firestone Indy Lights championship in 2009 and are now also close to announcing deals to compete in both Indy Car and ALMS next year...

Team Australia
Alex Tagliani
Will Power

The Team Aussie set-up was made by long time racer Derrick Walker, who gained an infusion of cash from new team co-owner Craig Gore, who unceremoniously split with Will Power to the cozier confines of KV Racing Technology this season.

Thus it seems a tad ironic that Walker is trying to once again resurrect his Indy Car aspirations out of a “One-off” race with Paul Tracy behind the wallet of Tony George and his third Vision Racing Dallara chassis, as the Subway car hopes to keep itself “Fresh” the entire weekend, as Tracy has clearly been the fastest of the three Vision drivers… Along with being the oldest! Good luck PT and Derrick and watch your backsides… As some dude named EJ (NOT Ernesto) Viso may wanna borrow your pit stall, eh?

Hopefully, Tony George and Indy Car will do the RIGHT thing and re-instate Portland to the 2009 Indy Car World Series calendar, which as I’ve previously noted will be the 100th Anniversary of the FIRST Indy Car race…

2006 Seattle Roadster Show

RuSport Champ Car Star Justin Wilson's "Hero Card" from the '06 Seattle Roadster Show. (The Tomaso Collection)
There seems to be several overlapping themes to this weekend’s Indy Car race Up North, Eh? As originally today was scheduled to be the 25th Anniversary of the Portland Champ Car race, which had been moved from its traditional Father’s Day weekend.

(Saturday, March 4th, 2006)
Thus it was with great irony that I’d been so insistent upon attending the Seattle Roadster Show, as it had been a long, long, long time since I had attended a ”Detroit Iron” Hot Rod show… In fact I think the last “Juan” was a World ‘O wheels show held in the Seattle Center; Pre-Key Arena and LONG before some “Oakie Horn Toad” had STOLEN away our Seattle Supersonics… But I digress!

Yeah, back then I had truly wished to make the event for two separate reasons; First of all to meet Justin Wilson and get his autograph… As after all it’s NOT everyday that I have the chance to rub elbows with a Formel Ein Piloto! Secondly, because I’d never been to an event held at the then newly opened Quest Event Center

Clyde and I met Kevin and Terry for breakfast in Sea Tac before “moseying” to Downtown Seattle for a “Boyzs” outing at the BIG car show. Pulling into the nearby parking garage, it was a good day to head there. Since “MUH-Nuher’s” (Seattle Mariner’s) tickets were on sale and parking was FREE.

We entered the Roadster show around 11AM and immediately made a “bee-line” towards the Champ Car display to meet Justin Wilson, where I suppose I should not have been surprised to notice that absolutely NO ONE was there… As this was just one more sign of the Zeppelin von Champ Cars impending “Death Star” implosion!

Yet, after entering our names in that year’s contest for a Long Beach Grand Prix weekend for 2, we sauntered over to Justin “BIG UNIT” Wilson, who was standing ALONE!

Justin stuck his hand out and greeted us warmly, as I quickly realized just how tall the lanky BRIT was… OH MY (FREAKIN’) GOD! I’m “HOBBS-SNOBBING” with an ex-Formula One driver… “HOLY SHIT!” As I’d first seen Justin piloting the Jaguar at Suzuka in 2003. Where he’d started the season with Minardi before running the final 4 races for Jaguar, prior to loosing his ride in F1, while Terry asked: “Are you signing things?” Justin’s “handler” (Security? Champ Car DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ SECURITY!) replied, “in about 5 minutes,” so, as “Just the two of us” stood there side-by-side, I decided this was my big chance to “talk smart” with Justin. I turned to Justin and in my best Robin Miller impersonation asked him…

TOMASO: Are you going to BEAT Tracy this year?

T: How did you feel about Portland last year? It looked like you were dominating the race before your engine failed… (Justin did DOMINATE the entire weekend, fastest in practice, Pole position & then simply walking away from the entire field before his “Feurd” (Ford/Cosworth) Lump went KABLAMOE! Letting go right in front of me in the Festival chicane just past the halfway point of the 2005 race)
JW: There’s nothing you can do about it, so you just go on and try to put it out of your mind.

T: I was very glad to see you win Toronto…
JW: Smiling.

Then Justin’s handler” returned, handing me a brochure for the upcoming Portland race… I already have my tickets, I responded…

T: Are you going to do any more testing before Long Beach?
JW: Yes, we’ve (RuSport) got a test planned for next week.

T: Sebring?
JW: NO-We don’t like Sebring, we’re actually going to a new track, and I think PKV may be there also?

T: Who’s your main competition this year?
JW: Bourdais, Tracy & Allmendinger (Justin’s teammate)

T: What about Bruno? (Bordais teammate)
JW: It’ll be interesting to see how Bruno does after his accident (Bruno broke his back last year at the Indy 500 & has just returned to testing)

T: And what about Servia? (Bruno’s replacement last year)
JW: I haven’t heard if he’ll be racing this year?

T: How many cars do you expect for Long Beach?
JW: I don’t know? I think about only half the teams have announced their line-ups

T: Do you worry about the competition or just worry about yourself?
JW: I just concentrate on myself and hope to do the best…

Then Justin walked over and grabbed a card and signed it for me. Thanks! Here, how about another “Juan?” Although I could have stayed there the entire day and talked Justin’s ear off… The other 3 Musketeer’s in my party had long since dispersed and Justin seemed non-committal about continuing our conversation, so I thanked him once again and wished him further success…

“I hope you win some more Champ Car races this year!”
Surprisingly, “Chump Carzs” was ACTUALLY PROMOTING its upcoming race at Portland; in what was to be one of the Zeppelin von Champ Car’s last round trip voyages…

Catching up with the Boyzs, we began looking at the smorgasbord of show vehicles… Unbeknownst to me, the Seattle Roadster Show was now in its 7th year with OVER 300 vehicles on display, as we blew past a few rods, then stopped to look over a 1963 “KUH-NAID-IUN” Split window Corvette, with its turbocharged big block claiming 700bhp, past a nice ’55 Thunderbird and a few others before Clyde asked if we wanted to go upstairs?

There were more cars along with a plethora of “Choppers” and a model contest upstairs, as Kevin was trying to be funny by saying: “Hey Tomaso, look at the Mustang.” Looking towards where he was pointing, I turned and said: “Kevin, that’s NOT a Mustang, it’s a Beetle!” With Kevin laughing, I studied the Beetle more closely and replied: “I think it’s a ’74 Super-Beetle?” Kevin then pointed out how the entire rear seat was consumed by speakers… Before we meandered quickly through more “Detroit Iron,: as Kevin became my “point-man,” reading the various car placards. Kevin pointed out a “Khebbie” Nova SS, a Shebelle, Impala, etc. We stopped and glanced over the late model “Mod-motor ‘Stang,” (Silver, 4.6 liter V-8 with after-market wheels) before passing a “Chopper” that was so bright you needed shades… “High Bling Quotient;” a la Unique Whipes. (Completely chromed, on mirror’s with spotlights)

Then we headed towards the staircase back down to the main floor. Halfway down we stopped to stare at the sea of “eye-candy” below, where Kevin said: “There’s my boat!” (Kevin is a water ski fanatic thanks to Clyde) The Roc’s “Miami-Vice” cigarette boat was being pulled by a Ford F-650! (Later we overheard “some-Juan” muttering ‘bout how the Pizza biz must be doing OK, eh? The Roc also owns their own Helicopter! And makes some really tasty oven fired pizano’s)

Walking downstairs, we gravitated towards the bright banana “Hertz-Doughnut-Fly Yellow” rocket ship jumping out at us. It must be a Corvette? It was the AWESOME Z06 with the monstrous 7.0 liter 427cid V-8 peeking out from underneath the hood. The front snout looks “Ferrari-ish,” with rounded corners and oval-esque covered headlights… This has to be the “BADDEST” production ‘Vette to date… Pre 2008/9 ZR1, as it’s simply all business with a magnesium roof and a top speed of 198mph! Yet, for something different, in the rear trunk was an oval racetrack with 4 cars on it.

While Kevin & I meander through more cars, I had to stop at the Cobra racing car. It was the yellow #96 Alan Grant chassis and it was “Sweet!” While stopping to gaze at ‘Ol Number 96, Clyde disappeared on us… So the three of us perused more “Chebbie’s,” another Nova SS, Shebelle, etc. A few Bel Airs’, “Juan” turned into a drag racer with a 502cid V-8 “shoe-horned” into it.

For some reason the 62-63 “Feurd” T-Bird seems to be a popular hot rod… “Juan” had custom flames on it along with another “ride from Overhaulin” featuring the most stunning airbrushed Indian artwork… With Kevin being drawn towards another Overhaulin “pimped” ride, while I was enamored with the mini armada of 3 Dodge Viper GTS coupes.

One was red, with the other two in dark blue and all three had the twin white stripe treatment, with one of the blue Viper’s having race numeral’s on the door panels… While I was busy admiring the Viper, I overheard somebody say in mock disbelief: “Is that a Pinto?”

Then Kevin came over and said: “Hey Tomaso, Guess what that is?” A Pinto… Surprisingly this Pinto actually looked”nice.” The silver Pinto had been lowered & customized, including after-market chrome wheels… As I’d previously thought it was impossible to soup up a Pinto!

Then Terry spotted Clyde and soon it was just Kevin & I. Although Kevin likes “Kebbie’s,” at least he seemed fixated upon the row of 12 Corvette’s. Starting with the yellow Z06, we looked over the many early ‘Vette’sc including: 2 ’63 Split windows, ’56 convertible, a very sweet, plain Jane white ’65 Sting Ray, ’78 T-Top & ’89 T-Top…

While checking the Vette’s out Kevin asked me if I noticed anything wrong with the “souped-up” Beetle. Yes… The engine’s in the front! There were a pair of front engine Beetle Drag Racer’s…Afterwards, we found Clyde & Terry, Clyde said he needed to go outside to get some fresh air.

So the 3 Musketeer’s returned to viewing countless more “rides.” We checked out a 426 Hemi Charger and more Late-30’s rods with Corvette V-8’s stuffed inside their engine bays. While I had to stop to check out the silver ’98 Saleen S-281 convertible, across the aisle was a ’67 Shelby GT-350? White with blue stripes, but I didn’t have a chance to look it over too much as Kevin blasts past each car.

Then what I presume was the first of two “replicar’s,” Kevin spotted a wild 427 Cobra. The midnight blue chassis had the entire front half of the body raised into the air to expose the big block and I had a hard time with this car since it appeared that the hood was opening in the wrong direction, with the inside of the engine bay painted in Mystic paint.

Later we stumbled upon a second dark blue 427 Cobra. It had to have the largest exhaust side pipes I’ve ever seen. (5” diameter?)
Walking around some more, Kevin stopped at the empty table to get the “Big Swag’s” (Monster Garage) autograph, while Terry said he wanted to sit down since his back was hurting him, so we decided to leave instead.

On the way out we passed another yellow ‘Vette, this time a ’78 with a blue nitrous bottle installed between the seats. Then we blew past a late ‘60’s (1969?) Torino in brilliant blue with a big block packed under its bonnet…
Kevin then drove me home, and after dropping me off I decided to look over the cards that Justin Wilson had autographed. In what seems to be a NEVER-ending cycle of mildly bad karma… The cards were gone, SHEISA! As I’d carried them inside my 2005 G. I. Joe’s program I’d brought along for the entire day… Yet apparently they must have slipped out during “Juan” ‘O the countless times I was bumped into while not moving fast enough through the throng’s of onlookers… Thus, I’d just have to get it again later that summer at Portland during the Friday driver’s autograph session, eh? (Portland: June 16-18, 2006)

Overall it was a very well done car show, far bigger then the last “World ‘O Wheel’s” event I went to many years ago,

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Batteries NOT included

Holy Motorola radios Batman! Come in Batman… Err Princess Danicker, I said move over for TK! I repeat, move over for TK! So, it was pretty funny to hear that AGR did NOT believe Danica towards her radio NOT working, as I’m not sure what the deal was, but I’d guess that drivers filling’s were also taking a beating on the bumpy Canadian temporary road course, eh?

Quote of the week has to go to Paul Tracy when asked about his thoughts on Edmonton’s race track;

“It’s like Cleveland on Steroids!”

Which of course could have been the reason why so many radio connections weren’t working, eh?

And wouldn’t it be nice to see somebody else beside the big three win a few races… As in imagine Newman Haas Lanigan or KV Racing Technology stepping up to the plate to dethrone AGR, Ganassi and Penske… Nah, AIN’T gonna happen anytime soon, but perhaps, just perhaps next year?

And how ‘bout that court jester Paul Tracy, eh? I’d say he made quite the statement with a 4th place finish in only his second race of the year and first in “Juan ‘O ‘dem CRAP Wagons!”

YO Princess! Somebody named Mikey is on line three...

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Hallo, meine Mitleser

Why yes indeed… I’m showing off half of my German vocabulary… As Shed a TEAR please for mwah… As I know Y’all will be heartbroken to hear that your humble scribe has just spent the past two weeks frolicking about Der Fatherland… Thus being forced to go to Koln (Colone) and Traben-Trarbach, (ironically during Wine Fest weekend…) Germany and ultimately partaking in this year’s German Grand Prix at der Hockenheimring, Ja Volt!

Therefore I’ll be dealing with the dreaded (Sniff, Sniff, Boo Hoo Hoo, eh?) Jet Rag for the next few dazes, so please be patient as I try to readjust to Seattle time and what in the HELL has been going on in Der Vurld de Motorsporten, Ja-Ja? (Not to be cornfused with Yo-Yo or Ro-Ro!)

Kudos to my most excellent Blogmeister Miguel for keeping the site rollin’ while I was out N ‘boot in Der Fatherland…

Gratzi, Miguel!

Edmonton Thriller

Although I’m still way behind on my Indy Car racing news, I’m glad to have read that “The Thrill from West Hill,” a.k.a. Paul “Chrome Horn” Tracy will indeed saddle up with the cobbled together Walker Racing Subway Sand-whiches “one-off” race this Saturday in Edmonton, Canada… As surely this was a Vision of Tony George’s to ensure a packed crowd of fellow “Kuh-nucks, eh?” As Paul Tracy will be piloting the #22 Black and hopefully NOT Blue Subway Dallara… Which was previously the third Vision Racing HP sponsored entry driven by Davey Hamilton at Indy… As I hear that Tracy’s personal Subway sandwich favourite is the Meatball Sub!

Meanwhile, I’m pleased to hear that Bob Jenkins will fill-in for Marty Nationwide” Reid who’s on N-Car Lite duty this weekend, while my favourite pit lane reporter Jon Beekhuis will make a cameo performance and is long overdue a return role to full time Indy Car reporting duty… And although I’m told that “Jenks” (Bob Jenkins) and Scott “The Kuh-naid-iun Nerd” Goodyear may be “Sommanex” inducing, hopefully I’ll be able to refrain from the “No Dough’s,” as I believe that my “Jet Rag” is indeed overtaking me, as I’m still wide awake 24 hours later! Just sittin’ hear listening to the “Tweedy Birds” chirpin’ away at Breakfast time…

Meanwhile, the funniest quip I’ve noticed yet over the Princess Danicker vs. Milka-Licious poodle fight was Jeff’s comments about Milka Yip-yip-yiping away in the pit lane… Careful Gwil’s even Chihwowa’s can BITE! And why did my “Sand-whiches” swipe make me think of The Witches of East wick?” As all we need is for Sarah Fisher to join the frame, although I’m not gonna try picking “Whose Who” from our three Indy Car Felines!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Let’s get ready to rumble!

So I hear there was some little Cat Fight over the weekend in Lexington, Ohio, eh?

And in this corner we have The Princess, a.k.a. the Roscoe, IL girl vs. Milka “Licious, the Venezuelan Bomber, a.k.a. Milka Duno, whom I’m told was heard tellin’ Princess Danicker;

“You wanna piece of this?”

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Sorry ‘bout ‘dat, just couldn’t resist… As some of Y’all may think I’ve been consumin’ der BitBurger beer a bit too much while in Der Fatherland… But I’ll tell uze, there’s NOTHING like a freshly poured domestic BitBurger in the Home country! But I digress…

Like most current and former F1 piloto’s Gerhard Berger cut his racing teeth in go karts, before graduating to Alfa SUD’s and Formula 3, where he won multiple races before graduating to the big leagues of Formula 1.

Gerhard started his F1 career with the minnow-esce ATS team, while it’s reported that the Austrian contested his debut Grand Prix (Austria, 1984) with a severely “tweaked” neck, courtesy of a road accident in which he’d almost perished…

For 1985, Berger contested his first full season in F1 for the Arrows team, before moving onto the blossoming Benetton team, where Gerhard would score his and the team’s maiden Grand Prix victory at Mexico City in 1986, helped in large part by tyre strategy, as the Pirelli’s were able to endure the entire race distance without changing.

Impressed by his ever growing form, Enzo Ferrari snapped up the Austrian as Michele Alboreto’s teammate at the Scuderia for 1987, where he replaced “Stevie Johnson.” (Stefan Johansson) Although the Prancing Horse got off to a slow start, the team would be in the hunt for victory from nid-season onwards and Berger would finish out his debut season with the Scuderia by winning the final two races, the Japanese and Australian GP’s from pole.

Obviously the 1988 Formula 1 season was immensely frustrating for the entire paddock, excluding the all conquering McLaren Honda duo of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. Yet, it would be Berger, followed across the stripe by Alboreto, chalking up a memorable 1-2 victory at Monza just weeks after Enzo’s death… As this would be the race that Senna tripped over back marker Jean Louis Schlesser and later went off to give “IRV THE SWERVE” a celebratory punch…

For 1989, Nigel Mansell joined Berger at Ferrari, where BLOODY NIGE’ would earn the respect of the Tiafosi and become known as Il Lione… As Berger would suffer a horrifying shunt at Tamberello corner during that year’s San Marino GP, with his Ferrari 641 engulfing him in flames for 16 seconds before fire marshals could dose the flames! Berger scored his fourth GP victory at the Portuguese Grand Prix, which was overshadowed by Mansell-Senna’s collision…

For 1990, Berger and Prost effectively swapped team seats, after “The Professor” had announced he was leaving the Woking based squad to get away from his bitter arch nemesis Senna… While Gerhard ruffled a few feathers by out qualifying the Brazilian in his very first race at McLaren, starting from pole at the USGP. Berger would net a further three victories and three poles during his three year tenure alongside Senna.

For 1993, Berger was wooed back to Maranello to instill some stability into the floundering Scuderia organization which was in a massive state of flux. Of course a huge retainer didn’t hurt either, reportedly the highest of all drivers that season! But the active ride F93A was a disaster and Ferrari went winless once again.

In 1994, upon recovering from Black Sunday, with countryman Roland Ratzenberger and close friend Ayrton Senna having lost their life’s, Berger bounced back by scoring an emotional victory from pole in the 412T at the Hockenheimring, Ferrari’s first GP victory since 1990... During Berger’s final season at Ferrari, he was enroute to victory once again at Monza when teammate Alesi’s onboard camera fell off and shattered Berger’s front suspension! At the end of 1995, it was announced that Michael Schumacher would be moving to Ferrari, which triggered one of Flavour Flav’s (Flavio Briatore) most infamous statements in regards to the double World Champion’s exit us; It’s NOT the Driver, but OUR Car that WON the World Championship!”

Thus, with Berger and Alesi switching to Benetton for the 1996 season, the No.’s 27 and 28 era, which had spanned back to 1981 with Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi (interrupted only by Prost’s bringing his No. 1 plate to Maranello in 1990) came to an end. And while Benetton would go without victory in 1996, Berger who’d missed three races due to injury along with the death of his father, scored his and Benetton’s final victory in the 1997 German Grand Prix, completing the trifecta at the Hockenheimring, where he’d also scored pole position and fastest lap before announcing his impending retirement at the end of the season…

Berger has since gone on to become co-owner of Scuderia Toro Rosso, with a 50% controlling interest, along with overseeing the career development of Bruno Senna, Ayrton’s nephew…

"He taught me a lot about our sport; I taught him to laugh." Those words were Gerhard Berger's valediction to his friend, Ayrton Senna.
Those who came to know the lanky Austrian well knew that his sense of humor, at times somewhat macabre, has passed into Formula One legend. Who else could throw Senna's briefcase from a hovering helicopter, claim to have filled his room with snakes and frogs, or alter his passport photograph to resemble parts of the human anatomy that were not his face? Who else could douse a public relations girl's computer with water, ruining months of work, and believe it a joke? Or deliberately provoke Senna, under the influence of a few unfamiliar Schnapps, to confront a mouthy Eddie Irvine at Suzuka in 1993…

It was during Berger’s tenure at McLaren that his reputation as a practical joker gained phenomenal adulation, as long as you weren’t on the receiving end, as the Austrian sought to break thru the overly serious, focused and devoted Ayrton Senna’s demeanor.. Yet, Senna rised to the Austrian’s challenge, in part spurred on by team boss Ron Dennis, as the aforementioned helicopter briefcase toss stems from an incident in Monza, where Senna had boasted to Berger during a helicopter flight that his new custom made carbon fibre briefcase was nearly indestructible… To which a shocked Ayrton watched Gerhard proceed to open the helicopter’s door and toss the briefcase!

"It fell somewhere near the course but we found it again," Berger recalled with a cheeky grin.
These pranks continued to escalate when Berger filled Senna’s bed with animals in an Australian hotel, to which a furious Senna told Berger;

"I've spent the last hour catching 12 frogs in my room," to which Berger replied, "Did you find the snake?"

Actually they were larger, like toads Berger explained and Senna retaliated by placing a very strong smelling (Limburger?) French cheese in Berger’s air conditioning unit…

On another occasion, Senna and fellow countryman Mauricio Gugelmin decided to fill Berger’s dress shoes with shaving foam on a Japanese Bullet train as they were headed for an important dinner and Berger was forced to attend the event wearing tennis shoes with his tuxedo…

Yet, Berger vowed revenge and apparently was successful, when a glass of orange juice delivered to Gugelmin one hour prior to the start of the Japanese GP spiked with sleeping pills, saw the Brazilian fast asleep and snoring thru the roar of the Formula 1 racing cars in the motor home…

Yet, Berger’s most famous caper, was the switching of Senna’s passport photo with said image of male genital… Although Senna’s passport was rarely checked, when inspected in Argentina, officials held Senna for 24 hours. To which Senna retaliated by later super gluing all of Berger’s credit cards together…

Several years later, at Ferrari, Berger played another practical joke on teammate Jean Alesi, who was chaffering Berger aboard team boss Jean Todt’s newly delivered personal Lancia around Fiorono, when Gerhard decided to unexpectedly pull the hand brake which caused Alesi to lose control, flip the car onto its roof and send the Frenchman to the hospital,

When Jean Todt asked later what had happened? Berger coolly replied that they’d put a few kerb marks on it!

SHEISA!!! Guess you DON’T wanna ever be on the receiving end of ‘Ol Blockhead’s humour, eh?

Quick Stats:
First race: 1984 Austrian GP
Last Race: 1997 European GP
Career starts: 210
Wins: 10
Poles: 12
Fastest laps: 21 (Two more than Ayrton Senna)

1986: Benetton; Berger out qualifies teammate Teo Fabi; 12-4
1987 Ferrari; Berger out qualifies teammate Michele Alboreto; 12-4
1988 Ferrari; Berger out qualifies teammate Michele Alboreto; 16-0
1989 Ferrari; Berger out qualifies teammate Nigel Mansell; 8-7
1995 Ferrari; Berger out qualifies teammate Jean Alesi; 12-5

Friday, July 18, 2008

McLaren at Indy (Part 2)

As some of you will recall, I’ve failed to mention that while although founder Bruce McLaren lost his life in a testing accident at Goodwood in 1970, the team did indeed carry on and upon its third attempt was successful in winning the prestigious Indianapolis 500, which had been one of Goodyear’s incentives for sponsoring the team, albeit this first victory came at the hands of customer Roger Penske, could McLaren win at the hallowed Speedway?

NOTE:Upon posting the updated Revision A of this story, I was contacted by an ex-Open Wheel Racing Mechanic who had several comments to make towards my story but requested his name not be used in the article. Therefore I’ve inserted his various comments into the portions of the article I felt they reflected upon. As any further comments towards either portion of this story are welcomed – just leave me a comment below...

1974Model: M16C/DAfter the horrific ’73 Indy 500, major rule changes were made to the regulations in regards to safety, with an emphasis on fuel protection and vehicle length being shortened to a maximum of 15 feet to reduce speeds, as competitors had been flirting with speeds of nearly 200mph.

David Hobbs joined the Works effort as Rutherford’s teammate aboard his Carling Black Label liveried mount and qualified ninth at Indy while Johnny missed the first week of qualifying and would be forced to start 25th with a speed of 190.440mph clocked during the second week of qualifying. Yet, the even year charm was once again cast upon McLaren as Rutherford stormed his way to the front to capture his first Indy 500 victory while Hobbs finished a respectable fifth… Rutherford went on to take three more victories that season at Ontario, Michigan and Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, Penske’s 1974 USAC campaign saw major driver changes, as Donohue had become thoroughly frustrated during 1973, that he’d announced his retirement from racing.

Thus, the recuperated Gary Bettenhausen would become Penske’s lead USAC driver, with a second Indy 500 entry slated for Peter Revson, which sadly would never occur as Revson was killed in F1 pre-season testing in South Africa.

Bettenhausen’s entry was sponsored by Score, a motor oil product developed by Sunoco which would later be renamed CAM2, as Sunoco was hesitant to run its Oil Company sponsorship in the wake of the current energy crisis, even though Methanol wasn’t an oil derived product.

Penske then selected Mike Hiss, a Californian native to replace Revson, as Hiss had previously been the 1972 Indy 500 Rookie of the year and substituted for Bettenhausen in ’73. Hiss was the first Penske Racing driver to pilot the “Norton Spirit,” in what would become a long standing partnership.

Hiss was quick to show up his elder teammate, by qualifying third at Indy, while Bettenhausen could only muster an 11th place grid slot. Yet, Bettenhausen’s Offenhauser engine would expire on lap 2 while Hiss would suffer two painstakingly long pit stops to diagnose and rectify electrical problems before ultimately finishing 14th, albeit 42 laps behind.

1975Model: M16ENow five years old, the M16 model received further design refinements, which saw the new model updates “penned” by Gordon Coppuck’s assistant, an English bloke by the name of John Barnard, as Coppuck was fully engulfed in the Formula 1 side of the house, as McLaren’s M23 had won the 1974 World Championship with future Indianapolis victor Emerson Fittipaldi.

After having ran two cars in 1974 with less then expected outcome, Penske increased his Indy 500 entry tally to consist of three modified M16C/D’s for Bobby Allison, Mario Andretti and Tom Sneva, the fastest school principal ever.

Ironically Sneva, a fellow Dirt Tracker himself, was hired as Gary Bettenhausen’s replacement for the 1975 season after The Captain had grown tired of Bettenhausen being constantly injured, as Mike Hiss had filled in at Penske once again after Bettenhausen had suffered severe nerve damage to his arm in a Dirt Track race at Syracuse, NY.

Meanwhile, at McLaren, Lloyd Ruby replaced “Hobbo” (Hobbs) as Rutherford’s wingman and the rain soaked race was halted on lap 174 with Bobby Unser’s Works Eagle being declared the victor, while Rutherford finished runner-up.

1976Model: M16EIn another tough year of finding sponsors, McLaren retained Rutherford as its sole driver, which would pay off handsomely, as Johnny once again secured the Pole position (188.950mph) and piloted his Hy Gain sponsored McLarein to his second Indy 500 victory, as the even year charm worked once again and would become the factories third and final win at the Speedway.
ANONYMOUS:In 1976 HyGain came on board at the last moment and helped pay the bills. It was a shortened race (rain) but we were the quickest (despite what Foyt says) so another win...

Meanwhile Roger Penske continued to soldier on with McLaren, with Tom Sneva once again his primary pilot, at the controls of the Norton Spirit, while veteran driver Mario Andretti was hired to contest the Indy and Pocono 500’s in a second CAM2 sponsored Penske entry.

ANONYMOUS:I find some fault with your comment on Penske “soldiering” on as he had the latest and greatest equipment for his (then very) small team. The Penske team in those days was just (Jim) McGee, ‘Soppe & ‘Tzounakis with some weekend warriors...

1977Model: M24
For 1977, McLaren debuted the M16’s predecessor, the M24, of which had actually been an earlier exercise in 1971-72, when the team had grafted the M23’s 3.0 liter Cosworth onto a M16 test mule which led to the development of the M23, with which McLaren would win two Formula 1 championships with in 1974 and 1976.

With the arrival of Cosworth’s 2.65 liter V-8 turbocharged DFX variant, at last the Offenhauser became obsolete, as the DFX would propel the M24 to new heights. Although Mario andretti was the first to pass the 200mph barrier, the first official one lap record would be set by Tom “The Gasman” Sneva at the Brickyard with his pole setting run of 198.880mph, including a top lap speed of 200.535mph! As both drivers remained in Penske’s employ that season.

With all of the hoopla surrounding Sneva’s 200mph blast, the “Works” McLaren team effort was greatly overshadowed, as Rutherford could only muster a 17th place starting position and would finish dead last, retiring after only 12 laps with gearbox failure.

Ironically, the first M24 racecar had actually been completed in 1976 with the second chassis being delivered to Penske later that season, although Sneva and Andretti would outshine Rutherford during the month of May. Yet, interestingly the ’77 Penske chassis were heavily modified cars that served as rolling test beds for what would become Penske Racing’s Engineer Geoff Ferris’s Penske PC6 chassis the following season.

ANONYMOUS:The M24 – V8 actually ran through most of 1976 on Mondays testing after a Sunday’s Indy car race with the ‘Offy car. (Offenhauser 4-cylinder engine
The engine was actually a (Cosworth) DFV variant. Not a DFX variant. At McLaren - McLaren engines built their own engines for Johnny Rutherford and for Roger Penske, as did Vel’s Parnelli Jones for Al Unser Sr. and Danny Ongais. They were not really officially DFX’s until Cosworth came into Indy car racing and Larry Slutter (formerly of Parnelli’s) went to work for Cosworth in North America.

The three Indy (formerly DFV) engines were quite different; actually at Indy J.R. (Rutherford) broke the 200mph-barrier first but USAC claim they did not get it although we did and so did Penske. The (McLaren) “Works” car suffered an ignition switch problem in qualifying and then jumped out of gear at the first restart. I believe (Tom) Sneva had a similar problem at the same time. The M24-001 was the test mule which became a race car. Penske’s cars were standard McLaren M24s but later they built their own lightweight chassis which was actually a dead copy but was called a Penske PC-1 chassis...
Model: M24B
For 1978 McLaren upgraded the M24 chassis to its final configuration and one updated M24 along with a new M24B chassis were on hand for Johnny Rutherford’s hoped for even year mojo at the Brickyard, as the team was running a single car effort for Johnny with First National City Travelers Checks as their sponsor.

There were two M24’s to fear that year at Indy, with the Works team and privateer Jerry O’Connell’s Sugaripe Prune chassis piloted by Wally dallenbach, yet Tom “The Gasman” Sneva was on pole again with a speed of 202.156mph, while Rutherford lined up fourth at 197.090mph and Dallenbach started seventh at 195.220mph.

Future CART Chief Steward Dallenbach was the highest finishing McLaren, coming home fourth, while Rutherford finished 13th, behind Janet Guthrie, with Salt Walther in a third M24 winding up 28th, retiring with clutch issues, while three older McLaren Offy’s finished in various positions.

Interestingly First National City Travelers Checks is listed as the sponsor of the winning car driven by Al Unser Sr. which seems to imply that the Citybank group was covering their bases…
ANONYMOUS:In 1978 the M24B had different front suspension geometry to the M24 and the team cars were just modified from M24 to M24B-spec. Newer cars were built as M24B’s. Both cars at Indy were thus McLaren M24B-spec. The “Works” car broke an exhaust pipe, which we replaced, to get to the finish. In 1978 we actually led all three 500 mile races, but had problems in each allowing Al (Unser Sr.) to win them. At Pocono we had a tire problem at the last stop, while in the lead. And at Ontario the crankcase broke while leading...

1979Model: M24B
1979 was the final year of factory participation in IndyCars, as Team McLaren ran a single car in Budweiser livery for Johnny Rutherford, yet the team was on a slow downhill slide and Rutherford was hard pressed to compete against the newer era IndyCars, while Tom Sneva had taken over the bright yellow O’Connell Sugaripe Prune and continued to drive the wheels off of the aging McLaren M24 chassis, affectionately nicknamed ‘Ol Hound.

Rutherford lined up eighth and finished 18th, with Sneva starting 2nd and finishing 15th due to an accident on lap 188, while the highest placed McLaren Cosworth was Roger McCluskey’s privateer National engineering entry, finishing 13th.

But, with McLaren trapped in mediocrity, having become uncompetitive in Formula 1 and the newly formed Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) series, as the newer ground effects chassis were making the McLaren’s obsolete, along with lack of sponsorship and Rutherford having left to drive for Jim Hall’s Chaparral team, McLaren decided to shut down its Indy Car operation and focus solely upon Formula 1. Ironically, Rutherford would win his third and final Indy 500 in 1980 behind the wheel of the Yellow submarine, a.k.a. the Chaparral 2K, a revolutionary ground effects chassis designed by John Barnard, who in later years would design Formula 1 World Championship winning chassis for McLaren before working his design magic on Ferrari’s ill handling racecars.

Yet, there were two last minute flashes of glory for the McLaren IndyCar’s, as originally Tom Sneva had been set to race the Bon Jour Action Jeans sponsored Phoenix ground effects chassis for O’Connell’s team and had qualified it fourth. But an accident left the car destroyed and the team was forced to settle upon rolling out ‘Ol Hound, its three years old M24 chassis. As the Indy 500 rules stipulated, Sneva would be required to start dead last in the field, yet The Gasman was soon mixing it up midfield and even briefly led before finishing runner-up to Rutherford, as this impressive feat of going from 33rd to 2nd had never been accomplished before.

The final moment of glory for the fleeting McLaren Indy Car’s came when Vern Schuppan scored an impressive third place finish aboard his Red Roofs Inn during the 1981 Indy 500 after having started 18th. Yet, by 1982 the Indy 500 field would be totally devoid of any McLaren chassis, as sadly their time had passed…
ANONYMOUS:In 1979 Indy had been resurfaced and the (McLaren) Works-team broke top gear on lap 99 having just taken the lead from Al Unser Sr. in Jim Hall’s Lola. We replaced the gear and finished back in the field.

In late 1979 Marlboro had instructed the team that they had to get their Formula One house in order. We had no sponsorship to speak of and no ground effect car so the decision was made to shut down the Indy car effort...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

McLaren at Indy

Recently, Roger Penske scored his 300th major motor racing victory at the Milwaukee mile, at the hands of new hire Ryan “Disco Inferno” Briscoe, which was also the 30th Anniversary of perennial Penske Racing driver Rick Mears maiden Indy Car victory… And as I’ve been painstakingly researching the McLaren Indy Car odyssey, for a pet project of mine, I thought the above accomplishment was a nice tie-in to the following story…

Model: M15A
The McLaren M15 was born out of the frustrations that Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme experienced during the 1968 Indy 500, (Bruce’s one and only race) in which Bruce had been originally scheduled to compete in the stillborn Shelby American turbine Indy Car project… Having been scrapped prior to that year’s running of Indy, while Denny had originally been slated to drive a Lotus turbine chassis before both drivers switched to Eagle chassis instead, while Interestingly the Shelby turbine car would serve as a show car for Paul Newman’s movie Winning.

A prototype and two race cars were built for the ’70 Indianapolis 500, with drivers Hulme and Chris Amon originally scheduled to drive, but Denny was forced to miss the event after being burnt in a fire, while practicing, as a fuel filler cap unexpectedly opened at speed as the “Kiwi” noticed droplets of fuel spewing onto his windscreen like rainfall and when he attempted to slow down, fuel surged onto the red hot turbocharger and immediately ignited the flameless methanol at 180mph!

Every time Denny stomped the brakes, more fuel gushed out of the open fuel petcock, as Hulme’s hands were searing hot… Finally at 70mph Hulme decided it was time to jump from the stricken McLaren, which was now fully engulfed in flames, hoping to clear the rear wheels during his exit! Hulme suffered severe burns to his hands and there were even whispers of possible loss of fingers, as obviously the Kiwi would be out of action for awhile… In the meantime, Denny’s teammate Amon was unable to get up to sufficient speed, thus Peter revson and relative unknown Carl Williams were drafted into duty.

The M15 was designed by Gordon Coppuck and powered by the ubiquitous 2.65 liter Offenhauser “Offy” inline four cylinder turbocharged motor. With its single Garret turbocharger and Hillborn fuel injection, the Offy developed 650bhp. This venerable lump was so antiquated that some members of McLaren were tempted to write where the British chassis met American motor; “1970 ENDS HERE!”

McLaren focused upon that year’s three long distance events; Indy, Ontario and Pocono, with two newer M15A’s being built; with Peter Revson qualifying 2nd at Ontario, while the older M15’s were sold to Gordon Johncock, which I’m assuming was the chassis he used in the following year’s Indy 500.

1971Model: M16A
Roger Penske and Mark Donohue flew to England in search of potential Can Am machinery to purchase and upon their visit to the McLaren workshop at Colinbrook immediately wished to purchase a McLaren M16 Indy Car, with Penske saying; “Build me one.”

The prototype would eventually become Donohues Sunoco liveried mount, engineered by Don Cox, while McLaren’s “Works” entries would be later chassis sprayed in the traditional papaya colours of McLaren’s Can Am cars and sponsored by Gulf Oil.

The Offy produced 700bhp and was transferred to the rear wheels via a Hewland LP500 three speed gearbox, eschewing the traditional two speed unit.

The M16’s “Wedge” shape was inspired from the then all conquering Lotus 72 Formula 1 car… And as an interesting side note; cornering speeds at Indy were 60mph SLOWER… In the early 1970’s (210/150mph) pre-ground effects era.

During Indy tire testing in March, Donohue ran a staggering 181mph while the Works entries struggled to keep pace and Penske instructed Donohue to share information with Teddy Mayer in order to not make their supplier mad, noting it was a long term deal which would pay off in the future. During Indy qualifying Donohue was on pole at 177mph but had honestly told Mayer why he was so slow and during his Pole Winner’s interview the crowd roared to life as Revson snatched it away with a top speed of 178.690mph and would finish second in the race, while Donohue and Hulme both retired.

Donohue’s stricken car was totally demolished in a later accident by Mike Mosley and the tub was salvaged, with a new car being built back in England in time for the inaugural Pocono 500 that July, where not only would Donohue start from pole, but win Penske’s very first USAC event in his team’s and sponsor Sun Oil (Sunoco) home state. Donohue would win again at the next race at Michigan, along with another pole at Ontario in September, but ran out of fuel after missing his pit signals.

1972Model: M16B
For 1972 McLaren made minor revisions to its chassis, with new front and rear wings, along with a bullet shaped induction fairing, as once again Penske ordered chassis from McLaren, this time two cars, one for Donohue and one for new recruit Gary Bettenhausen. While Penske would contest the entire USAC calendar, once again the factory concentrated on the 500 mile events, with Gordon Johncock replacing Carl Williams at McLaren.

And although Donohue was once again out qualified by Revson at Indy, this time Penske had opted to utilize a slightly less boosted Offy and when leader Jerry Grant made an unexpected pit stop with 13 laps remaining, Donohue swept into the lead and went on to win the first of Penske’s record 14 Indy 500 victories, after only his (and Penske’s) third attempt.

Gary’s brother Merle was seriously injured in a Kingfish (McLaren knock off) and lost his right arm in the accident at Michigan International Speedway, while Gary’s younger brother Tony, who also raced at the Speedway would later lose his life in a plane crash.

1973Model: M16C
McLaren built six new chassis this season, with the new model receiving mostly cosmetic updates aimed at improving airflow, as aerodynamics were slowly evolving. Teddy Mayer hired Johnny Rutherford to replace Johncock, who rewarded the team with pole position at Indy, but the race would be diabolical with rain postponements and Swede Savage losing his life before ironically “Gordy” Johncock would take the checquered flag aboard a Pat Patrick Eagle.

Meanwhile, defending Indy 500 champion Mark Donohue was contesting a limited USAC season aboard a customer Dan Gurney Eagle, with less then encouraging results, while teammate Gary Bettenhausen broke his arm in a Sprint race following Indy and Roger Penske offered the drive to some chap named David Hobbs, but the Englishman was unable to accept due to sponsorship conflicts and relative unknown Mike Hiss would subsequently fill-in.

Rutherford would win twice at Ontario and Michigan, while Bettenhausen would win at Texas, but at the end of the season Gulf Oil withdrew its sponsorship of the Works team, while Mark Donohue would retire from racing, immediately being officially named to his previous role the past seven years at Penske; President of Penske Racing...

To continue, see; McLaren at Indy (Part 2)

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Three Rings of Germany

While I suppose there have been other venues to host major races in Der Fatherland, I’ll focus upon what are known to be truly the Big Three, a.k.a. AVUS, The Hockenheimring and the Nordschleife…

AVUS was the popularly used acronym for the Automobil-Verkehrs- und Übungs-Straße, a racing circuit located on the southwestern outskirts of Berlin, which called for construction to hopefully begin in 1907.

Yet, this racing circuit and automotive test track was primarily nothing more then two extremely long straights connected by ninety degree flat radius turns, with automobiles circulating counter clockwise, while groundbreaking was delayed by six years due to lack of finances… And construction was further halted in 1913 due to further lack of funding, while during World War I, Russian prisoners were conscripted into the completion of the racing venue, which still remained unfinished in 1918.

Additional funding was made by a businessman and in 1921, upon the circuit’s grand opening, measured 19 kilometers, (12 miles) with the two long parallel straights being approximately half that length.

The circuit hosted the first German Grand Prix in 1926, a race for Sports Cars won by the German Ace Rudolf Caracciola, driving a Mercedes. Yet AVUS would face competition For Germany’s top racing events from the newly completed Nurburgring. *1927)

In an attempt to boost its image as the worlds fastest racing venue, the North Curve was rebuilt in 1937, steeply banked at 43 degrees, made out of brick and quickly gaining the moniker; Wall of Death, as there was NO retaining wall to prevent competitors from flying off, if they missed the corner…

The all conquering Silver Arrows of Auto Union and Mercedes ran their speed record streamliners only once on this layout, also in 1937, with eventual winner Herman Lang completing the race at an average of 260+ kp/h (160mph) of which speeds wouldn’t be reached at the Brickyard for nearly a further three decades.

Interestingly, AVUS is wrongly credited as being the circuit in which the extremely popular racing driver Bernd Rosemeyer lost his life in 1938 during his quest for the top speed record, which actually occurred upon a similar portion of the Autobahn Frankfurt, which caused the AVUS to be deemed unsafe for competition… And with further expansion of the Reichsautobahn network being planned to connect to the track, the South Curve was demolished to make way for a new roadway junction.

After World War II, the Soviet Quarter and Berlin Wall’s checkpoint Bravo came NO further than one mile to the existing track, which various reports erroneously note that the Berlin Wall cut the track in half, yet a new South Curve was introduced, cutting the track’s lengthy straights in half and shortening the circuit to 8.3 kilometers (5+ miles) and a non championship Grand Prix was held in 1954, basically a Mercedes show of farce. In 1959, AVUS played host to the German Grand Prix, which was won by Tony Brooks in a Ferrari, yet sadly Brooks victory was overshadowed by the death of Jean Marie Behra in a supporting Sports Car race during the same weekend, as his Porsche went flying off the North Curve, which still lacked a retaining wall. The North Curve would stand this way until being demolished in 1967 to make way for further roadway additions.

From 1967 onwards, the AVUS played host to only Formula 3 and German Touring Car (DTM) races and the straights were reduced in length a further two times in the late 1980’s – early ‘90’s and with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the circuits time was destined to pass, with a farewell event being held in 1999. From 2000 onwards, the newly constructed EuroSpeedway (Lausitzring) Lausitz in Brandenberg has been considered the former circuit’s replacement.

The Hockenheimring was the last of these three major venues to be completed, with construction finishing in 1932, as

The nearly eight-kilometer circuit was viewed as an alternative to the Wildpark circuit and were primarily two long straights running thru the forest. After its completion, officials banned competition on the Wildpark circuit with Motorcycle racing taking place at Hockenheim instead. The track was then extended to be utilized as a testing facility for the Mercedes Benz’s and Auto Unions in 1936 and the venue was renamed Kurpfalzring from 1938-47.

After World War II Grand Prix Motorcycle racing resumed at the venue and with the newly finished Autobahn A6 section completed in 1965, the original track layout was revamped, with the new Motordrome stadium section.

Yet Germany and German drivers were banned from International competition from 1945-1950 and hence Germany did not take part in the inaugural season of the modern Formula 1 championship in 1950. Thus, the German Grand Prix first resumed its place upon the F1 calendar in 1951, yet the Hockenheimring wasn’t pressed into Grand Prix service until 1970, when the Nurburgring was deemed unsafe by the Formula 1 drivers on short notice. Although the German Grand Prix returned to an updated Nurburgring circuit in 1971, Niki Lauda’s horrific crash there in 1976 sealed the tracks fate towards hosting any further Formula 1 events, with the German Grand Prix moving to Hockenheim from 1977 onwards, with the exception of 1985.

Unfortunately the Hockenheimring first garnered International media exposure when sadly in April 1968, Double World Champion Jimmy Clark perished in an F2 event, crashing somewhere out in the forest portion of the circuit. In 1980 Patrick Depailler lost his life during a testing accident aboard his Alfa Romeo at the very fast Ostkurve, while lesser known Bert Hawthorne was also killed during an F2 race at the circuit in 1972.

Facing pressure from Bernard Ecclestone, the track was severely shortened and chopped up by Herman Tilke’s circuit redesign in 2002 and in 2006, Emperor Bernardo announced that Germany would no longer be home of two Grand Prix’s, as the Nurburgring and Hockenheimring would take turns hosting the German Grand Prix from 2007-2010, with the Nurburgring hosting the event in 2007 and 2009.

Y’all may know, I’ve previously scribbled a few yarns about one of the world’s best racing tracks, the Nordschleife, a.k.a. The Nurburgring… Which actually originally consisted of four separate circuits; “With the main course being the Gesamtstrecke ("Whole Course") being 28.265 kilometers (17.563 miles) total length. This course comprised of The Nordschleife ("Northern Loop;" 22.810k) and The Sudschleife ("Southern Loop;" 7.747k) and a Warm-up loop in the pit area, The Zielschleife ("Finish Loop;" 2.281k) which was known as Betonschleife.

With early races taking part on public roads, this was deemed unsafe and in an attempt to create work and lure visitors to the region the purpose built racing venue began construction in 1925 under the design tutelage of Gustav Eifel…

The track hosted its first Motorcycle race in June, 1927 and the first German Grand Prix for racing cars was held one month later, with the circuit being open to the public during evenings and weekends as a one way toll road. The Ring’s whole loop was used for the last time in competition in 1939, prior to the outbreak of WWII.

After the war, the German Grand Prix took place at the Nurburgring, on The Nordschleife (14.2 miles) and in practice for the 1961 event, American Phil Hill became the first driver to crack the nine minute mark, with a staggering lap of 8:55.2…

Yet drivers ever demanding safety concerns eventually doomed the track’s F1 existence, as two three year contracts were granted after the 1970 Boycott and ironically 1976 was to be the final race prior to Niki Lauda’s incident, as Lauda had become the only driver to lap the Nordschleife in under seven minutes… 6:58.6! Ironically, Lauda had urged the Grand Prix drivers to boycott the 1976 race due to his concerns over the tracks deteriorating safety standards…

With the German GP now shifted to the Hockenheimring, work began in 1981 on an ultra modern, safety conscious track next to the old Nordschleife, which itself was shortened to 12.9 miles in order to host 1000 kilometer and 24hrs endurance racing events for Sports and Touring Cars. The new, stale, clinical “Ring” was opened in 1984 with an All Star race with various Formula 1 drivers competing in identical Mercedes Benz’s 190E’s, with Ayrton Senna winning. In 1985 the new 4.5k circuit hosted its only German Grand Prix, before hosting either the European or Luxemburg Grand Prix’s from 1995 to 2006 during the Michael Schumacher reign…

And as I previously noted after watching a Grand Am race in 2007…

Y’all know what they say ‘bout Co-eansy-dences… As I sat down to take a break last night. I watched my first entire Grand Am race of the season, which was being contested at Watkins Glen. And the action was fairly entertaining… Although the Grand Am and the ALMS seem to suffer a similar fait as did Champ Car and the IRL. (Pre Unification)

Immediately afterwards, there was the Nurburgring staring’ back at me via the telescreen. As SPEED was showing an entertaining half hour snippet of the World’s LONGEST race track, with The Nordschleife taking four years to build, between the years of 1923 to 1927. And although I’ve written it has over 175 corners, these numbers vary depending upon how they’re counted. As the announcer claimed there’s only 72 corners. (Actually there were 174 “Bends” prior to 1971 track modifications, with further corners being removed during later Formula 1/FIA safety improvements)

Having seen the latter half of the show previously, I’d missed the beginning and mumbled to myself how Interestingly, while there’s been a big fuss made over Audi’s winning of Le Mans (with a diesel, (2007-08) along with the Peugeot’s 908 turbo diesel contender’s... A BMW 320D won the Nurburgring 24 Hours race in 1998. Becoming the very first diesel powered vehicle to win a 24hr event…

And while the “Wee Scot” was never a fan of the track. Due to his relentless safety demands. Jackie Stewart won a Formula 1 race in the rain, beating the second place car by over 4 minutes! But the track was withdrawn from the F1 calendar after Niki Lauda’s fiery crash in 1976.

Also I was unaware that it was Stewart who nicknamed it the Green Hell. And prices have gone up slightly, as it will now cost you 16 Euros per lap to reconnoiter this truly epic circuit…