Friday, February 27, 2009

Jim Hall and his mighty Chaparrals ( Part two )

Yeah I know. My consistency is leaving a lot to be desired around here. My travels over the past several days have made it extremely difficult to produce something for every day of the week. I hope you'll forgive me. I enjoy my little daily motorsports scribing and look forward to that part of the day when I sit down and put everything out of my mind but the subject at hand. The problem of course comes when "that part of the day" gets eaten by outside forces that I can't ignore. That's how we end up with a spotty week like we've had around here. The upside is that, thanks to this trying schedule and my crisscrossing of the country, I get to do one of my favorite things here, and that is to report on something from the road that I found pretty special. 

As I wrote about briefly in a previous post, I had the good fortune to visit the Jim Hall wing of the Midland, Texas Petroleum Museum last week and it really was a thrill. Like I said, I'm a big fan of Jim Hall, his accomplishments, and how he went about achieving such success. To me he is the best kind of example of the American spirit. Fiercely independent, mountains of bravery, infinitely creative, and completely unaware of boundaries. Some would chalk this up to his Texas roots and I wouldn't immediately argue with that, but I do like to think that these are the basic qualities found in any pioneering American. 

In many ways, Hall's timing of entry into racing was spot on. For starters, the American racing enthusiast had been enjoying the success and spirit shown by Briggs Cunningham with his all American effort on the international racing stage, but were very downcast by the fact that Cunningham was pulling back his involvement in racing more and more by the early 1960s. Not only that, Cunningham had mostly turned his back on racing American based entries and had turned to the European manufacturers to provide him with competitive machines. So when Jim Hall decided to change his position as a Formula One driver and Lotus pilot to an American manufacturer and racer of highly competitive American sports racing cars, the U.S. racing fans couldn't have been more excited. Of course we can't not mention that Dan Gurney would soon be doing the same, but the history books will show that Jim Hall was there a few years earlier and with groundbreaking innovation that no constructor would approach until the 1960s were over. Indeed, Jim Hall would leave a heavy stamp on international sports car racing and Can-Am before it was all said and done. 

In fact, any single achievement made by Hall would have been more than enough for anyone else. How about the first use of the wing in racing? If we just take a moment and try to imagine the impact that that single development has had, well, it's really impossible to put a value on that. Next up for me would have to be his tire development that he went to Firestone with. The concept of eliminating as much slip angle as possible by way of using a tire with a wider contact patch but shorter sidewall basically gave us what is still to this day the shape of any high-performance or racing tire. To think that the classic upright Dunlop racing tire of the '50s and early '60s was the only game in town until Jim Hall came along is staggering. And lastly, his work with aerodynamics in developing various downforce and low pressure techniques in race car design are at least the equal, if not more so, of his other accomplishments. His use of underbody skirting and air-channeling bellypans helped dramatically to his two Indianapolis 500 victories as a team owner and car designer. Now of course all of these Jim Hall developments are commonplace in nearly every form of auto racing, and yes, eventually all of these ideas would have been found out. But to have one man from Midland, Texas, with no connection to any constructor, be hit with all of these ideas, have the talent to develop them into real working and advantage producing race components- all in less than 20 years, is quite remarkable indeed. 

That is some serious spirit folks..  whether it be a Texan thing or an American thing, again, is of no consequence to me. I'm just glad, for all of us, that he came along and was inspired by the world of speed and performance as it related to the automobile. We're all a good bit better off for it. And I guess it is that much sweeter that it was all done on our own soil isn't it? 

Now lets take a closer look at some of the great Chaparral cars created and raced by Jim Hall...  

The Chaparral 2; The car that started it all. 

The Chaparral 2 was the first car designed by Jim Hall and Hap Sharp and the first to be built in Midland. During the '63, '64, and '65 road race seasons, this car notched up 22 wins in 39 races against the best of the international competition. 

The Chaparral 2 boasted a new approach in frame design. The semi-monocoque chassis was inspired by modern aircraft design and was molded from fiberglass reinforced plastic. Since the engine was mounted just behind the driver, the car's designers were free to shape a low, sleek front end fitted with a V-shaped lip spoiler. The design kept the car from lifting at high speeds. In 1964 at Laguna Seca, the Chaparral 2 introduced an automatic transmission, which eliminated the clutch pedal and freed the driver's left foot to be on the brake pedal at the same time as the right was on the throttle. Roger Penske was heard to have said at the time,"I believe Jim designed the Chaparral 2 with the automatic so that us drivers would have our shifting hand free to wave at other drivers when passing them." 

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