Monday, September 21, 2015

HYDROS: Drivers with Speedway connections...

Fageol Safety Coach. (Image source:
Yeah, hang in there Y'all, as I'm trying to wrap up this year's Hydroplanes coverage, for which this story apparently got washed down by other Nofendersville Ducks, Chickens, Farm Implements; Err motorboats; Hya!

As previously regaled this August during Seafair weekend, the name Fageol finally lit-up my collective Radar, especially in deference to Lou Fageol, pilot of one of Seattle's most cherished Hulls, the Slo Mo Shun's! Which I plan on visiting once again at our wonderful (Thunderboats') Hydroplane And Raceboat Museum in Kent, WA this fall.

Having learned about the Fageol Twin Coach Specials at Mother Speedway 'Wayback in 'Twenty-oh-Eight, it's taken a long-while to Sus' this all out, since I'd missed the obvious connection to Seattle and Unlimited Hydroplane racing, amongst other things...

Hmm? Perhaps I'd blocked I-T out since I'm still despondent over losing Tomas Sr's awesome balsa wood motorized Slo Mo model so many years ago when moving!

Naturally, A-L-L of this Hydroplane talk started my mind Ah-wonderin' - how many boat drivers had contested the Indy 500? For which I could only discern two, one of whom I'd actually written a brief obituary for at the beginning of 2013.

Obviously the mist from the Roostertails' is growing larger! As Walther's WICKEDPedia' page claims he was  one of eight Unlimited Drivers  to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, but of course I cannot find the others; URGH!

As surely Y'all recall Salt Walther, right? For which whenever I hear his name I immediately conjure up the name SwedeSavage, which has to be one of the "Coolest" racing driver names ever, right! And now has a Saleen "Signature" edition 570 Challenger  named after him - which apparently was released last year.

David Salt' Walther made his Indianapolis 500 debut in 1972 in the Dayton Disc Brakes P.J. Colt/Foyt, failing to complete a lap due to Magneto failure. Before that ill-fated year of '73. Arguably the Speedway's worst!

As Walther would recover from his massive burn injuries - returning to the Speedway one year later and ultimately contest the Indianapolis 500 seven times with a best result of ninth place in 1976, his lone Top-10 finish - having only completed two race distances.

But like I've said before, somehow I missed the fact that Walther was also an Unlimited Hydroplane pilot. Not to mention the fact he had a brother, George Skip' Walther III who was also an Unlimiteds' driver befallen by racing tragedy.

The other name wasn't so obvious to Mwah, even whilst scribblin' my epic Blue Crown Spark Plug Saga tome, where I learned about that unique twin-engine racing car that apparently got in three times Indy 500 winner Mauri Rose's way!

Fageol Motors was established in 1916 in Oakland, California, producing motor trucks, farm equipment and busses. And although two exquisite luxury cars were built, this portion of manufacturing quickly ceased due to the car's Hall Scott Aeroplane engines being procured for World War I airplane production instead.

Early on, the company thrived with its motor trucks, along with the very unique spiked wheel farm tractors produced under a Hamilton patent.

But these tractors were fairly expensive and therefore Fageol sold off this portion of business in 1923 in order to make room for production of trucks and busses instead.

The company fell upon hard times in the late 1920's and never recovered from the Great Depression, slipping into Bankruptcy and finally being sold to Tacoma, Washington's Timber Entrepreneur Theodore Alfred Peterman, whom reputedly sought  some form of modern transportation to haul timber to awaiting lumber mills.

In 1939 T.A. Peterman established Peterbilt Trucks, originally produced at the Fageol Truck & Motor Company in Oakland, CA before becoming another Pacific Northwest legend, which ultimately became part of Semi-trucks Conglomerate PACCAR, which owns such brands as DAF, Dynacraft,
Kennworth, Leyland and Peterbilt, along with DAF Brasil & Paccar Australia producing these B-I-G' RIGS Worldwide. But that's another story in itself!

The Fageol Twin Coach Bus Company was an offshoot of the original Fageol Motors when brothers William and Frank Fageol left the original Fageol Automotive concern in 1927. forming their own motor coach company - which revolutionized the original Fageol Safety Coach bus.

Frank's son Lou became a boat racer in the early 1930's, and commissioned  his first Hull, the So Long, before having the So Long Jr. propelled by a (seven liter) bus engine, presumably  from the Fageol Coach Works in 1941, as Lou would become the president of Twin Coaches after World War II, taking over from his father.

Fageol Indy 500 Entries
Year FP  SP   No.         Driver                          Car Name         Chassis/Engine
1941  29   21     9                Mel Hansen                      Fageol                                Miller-Ford/Offy
1946  33   2     10                Paul Russo                        Fageol Twin Coach         Fageol Twin Offy's
1948  16   7     36                R-Bill Cantrell                  Fageol Twin Coach         Stevens/Fageol

Obviously, with Lou's penchant for racing and having taken over the reins of the family business, I can only presume his branching out into the arena of racing at Mother Speedway was an attempt to promote the Fageol Twin Coach brand, since the Brickyard was arguably the most prestigious motor race at the time - following World War II.

Fageol's first driver Mel Hansen was an interesting character. Known as the "Firecracker Kid" for his penchant 'O throwing and lighting firecrackers upon unsuspecting victims!

Hansen won multiple Midget Car championships - along with making six starts at Indianapolis where his best finish was eighth in 1940. He also won the 1948 Atlanta AAA Champ Car race before becoming a Paraplegic in '49 due to a racing accident and died in 1963 due to his injury.

I vaguely know Paul Russo's name from my Blue Crown Spark Plug Saga, as he was part of what was known as the "Chicago Gang," a veritable Rat Pack 'O USAC Midget Car  drivers comprising of Tony Bettenhausen, Sr, Duke Nalon, Emil Andres, Cowboy O'Rourke, Jimmy Snider and Wally Zale.

Russo won the 1938 AAA Eastern Midget Car crown and  contested the Champ Car trail between 1940-62, scoring three victories along with making 14-starts in the Indy 500. His best "solo" finish was fourth place  in 1957, while finishing runner-up in '55 when co-driving with Bettenhausen.

Paul's brother Joe and nephew Eddie also raced at Mother Speedway, while Russo drove that Fageol's Twin Coach Special twin Offenhauser engine oddity in '46. Starting from the middle of Row-1, before hitting the wall on lap-16, retiring Dead last in 33rd. The stricken vehicle being left On-track - which Mauri Rose would inadvertently hit 24-laps later!