Friday, March 27, 2009

Tommy Sparks, my First Hot Rod, and the Last Flathead ( Part 2 )

Because the discovery of the Montgomery books had had such an impact on me, I was now stopping by every book store that I saw- looking for more of this info. I even went to our public library which, I'm sorry to say, was pretty rare for me. I kept coming up short, and it was beginning to look like it was going to be me and these couple of hot rod scrapbooks for a while.

Then, one day, there it was. What I think is undoubtedly the holy grail on this subject; "The American Hot Rod" by Dean Bachelor. If you were going to limit yourself to just one book on the subject, you could do no better than this. First and foremost, the late Dean Bachelor was a very fine writer. He had experience as an automotive journalist that few in the field could approach, he worked for a wide range of publications and could write about nearly every facet of the sport, and could use his first hand knowledge of the subject matter to really firm up the credibility of a piece.

Although he could write about Ferrari with the best of them ( he was the long time owner of a 340 Mexico ), we would find out in early 1995 that Dean Bachelor grew up in southern California in the 1940s, had an early interest in speed, and was out on the dry lakes as soon as he was able in a hot rod roadster of his own construction... right along side all of our hot rod pioneers. Dean was one of the founding members of the famous "Road Runners" roadster club and an early SCTA member, all before the onset of WW2. He had one of the nicer '29 on a '32 street/competition roadsters that ran back then, and it was competitive too. He also built and ran a long line of modifieds, lakesters, and streamliners. He was instrumental in starting the So-Cal Speed Shop with close friend Alex Xydias and, together with Alex, built one of the best looking, finest designed streamliners of early Bonneville which ran an astonishing 193mph in 1949 using Ford flathead power. Oh and it keeps going; Dean was the official photographer for the Pebble Beach Concours for over 20 years and his level of excellence as a writer earned him the honor of having an award named after him... the "Dean Bachelor Award", which is given out each year for the finest automotive publication. Oh, and as long time editor of Road and Track magazine, Dean is largely credited for establishing that brand and making R-n-T what it is today.

So we had a good man on the scene to be writing about the history of hot rodding. And a fine job he did. It seems somehow appropriate that Dean passed away just as he was putting the final touches on this book. This was, after all, the story of his childhood, teenage, and early adult years. And somehow, with a lifetime of automotive writing under his fingertips, he had never tackled the subject of the very thing that had given him his addiction to speed. In the book, it almost feels like he had so much he wanted to do for this that he saved it until the end. A colleague and close friend of Bachelor's states in the book's forward,"This is Dean's book. This is the book that he talked about writing his entire life."

The book is so thorough in its documenting of hot rod history every step of the way, that it is truly awesome. Who could have ever guessed that guys were building and racing jalopies out on the California dry lakes as early as the late teens? And more striking is the fact that there are grainy old photos of these happenings! How about a photo of the first known speed shop, Lee Chapel's, from 1932!!!??? He is able to take you through the entire history of it from inception through every era and movement, even when these pockets of time were 3-4 years or less. I do know that the first time I read it I thought it should be used as a formal text book if and when the history of hot rodding would ever be an elective... and I mean that as a compliment. It is that detailed.

This was what I'd been waiting for. Here, in front of me, was the story AND the characters. The real live history of hot rodding. You can imagine how quickly everything else in my world stopped when I found this. I know I read it cover to cover the first day I had it, and continued to go back and re-read it over the next few months. Slowly I started to not only get a handle on the story and the names behind it all, but I began to get a true feel for how this happened. It was really making sense to me. Almost feeling like there wasn't a choice for the lucky young guys who lived out there during these early days. Money and entertainment were scarce, the cars were cheap and plentiful, and ( especially after the war ) - thrills were scarce... certainly compared to what a lot of these guys had just been through. The greatest race courses for flat out top speed runs were all around them and free to run on. Again, it would have been strange if it hadn't happened.

Last but not least were the great names and characters populating this book and the stories within. Truly amazing accomplishments being performed by kids. Kids. Not young adults, but kids. Late teens early twenties. This seemed to be the age group that was getting everything done. Inventing all the componentry, inventing the speed equipment and companies that would become the standards of the industry to this day. Pulling off daredevil-like feats behind the wheels of exceedingly unsafe and homemade machines. Raising the standards of what was considered fast several times a year and ultimately bringing the world land speed record back home to the United States. Proving to the rest of the country that what may have started as a youth movement steeped in danger and rebellion would develop into a very well organized community that promoted safety and innovation, and would have its effects felt all throughout the automotive world in the years to come.

These were some pretty impressive kids. And as is the case with anything you read or follow, some players begin to stand out to you more than others. For whatever reason; personal taste, style, a common interest with what the person's specialty might be, whatever the case, you just start to find yourself paying closer attention to what a couple of folks in particular are up to and accomplishing. With every reading of the book I began to pick out some of my favorites. It was hard to choose, but again, they find you.

One guy in particular was really impressive to me. As I've said before, I like the enthusiasts who have a wide interest. Dean Bachelor was certainly this way, and so was one of the guys that seemed to be getting a lot of ink in this book. He was an early hot rod pioneer for sure, dry lakes racer, renown engine builder working alongside the best guys there were at the time, was in on the beginning of drag racing as a successful builder and competitor, he even built a series of Ford based American road racing specials using all that he'd learned from his engine building and chassis building days... and this was all accomplished by this kid during a span of about ten years!

What was his name you might ask???, well, you may just have to tune in tomorrow to not only find that out, but hear about my first hot rod safari out to So-Cal looking for any of these guys that might still be around. I think you'll be surprised by how lucky I got. I know I was.

( The photos above would be of my original dog-eared copy of Dean Bachelor's "The American Hot Rod" , and of course Dean himself in his beautifully turned out roadster about to push off down the salt. )

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tommy Sparks, my first Hot Rod, and the Last Flathead ( Part One )

Let me just start by saying that this one has been on my mind for a long time. Ever since I started doing these posts I knew I would have to get to this someday and try to tackle it. I'll tell you up front that it is a big daddy and one that I'm a bit intimidated by, as far as communicating it to you in some kind of tidy way. The first problem is the fact that the story is a bit open ended, and just getting us to that point means having to cover about 15 years. But because it has been the major automotive distraction in my life for these past 15 years, has taken me on multiple crazy adventures, forced me to develop some new talents in the shop that I thought would be years down the road, and paid off handsomely in what will surely go down as one of the greatest and most rewarding friendships of my life, it would be impossible to not eventually tell this tale. So I guess I'd better get started...

The beginning of this story will be a familiar one to many out there who became infatuated, as I did, with early hot rodding in the last 15 years or so. I say this because (  and I made a case for this in an earlier post ) I believe the work of one man is quite possibly responsible for this motorsports phenomenon of the early 1990's...  Don Montgomery. For those who don't know, do yourself a favor and seek out a couple of Don's wonderful books on early hot rodding. These are basically scrapbooks from immediate pre-war and post-war southern California, and what makes them so wonderful is that Don was an active participant who was right on the front line with Vic Edelbrock, Isky, and all the rest. Fortunately for us, Don Montgomery was an avid photographer, had good equipment, shot often, and loved shooting his favorite subject- Hot Rods. 

I honestly can't remember where I bought my first Don Montgomery book. It was around the time I'd just moved to Nashville, which would make it about 1993, and his books were not at all widely available then ( not that they are now ). My guess would be that I spotted them at a car show somewhere in the mid-west and picked one up there. I do know that my first viewing of that book, "Hot Rods as they were", truly changed my life. Looking back on this fact, I can see clearly now why this happened. First would be the fact that I had simply never seen photos like this of early hot rodding. Of course I had seen a picture here and there, and I'm sure they grabbed me when I did, but it wasn't until I saw Don's book with page after page covering 20-25 years of development and lakes racing and roadster clubs that I realized ( and I know this sounds crazy considering how long I'd already been obsessed with old car culture up to this point ) where hot rodding and the idea of the high performance American car came from. I honestly don't think I gave it a lot of thought until then. Where did this stuff actually come from? How did it start? These were not heavy thoughts on my mind. I really think I just thought... that it just happened. Just sort of happened one day that people wanted to go fast and fast cars were suddenly available...  like it all came from a vacuum. 

I had to know that this wasn't the case. But again, it just didn't occur to me. I think I just assumed that it all came from organized auto racing and left it at that. Of course a good bit of it did but, as this book showed, there was at one time a huge youth driven cultural movement that nearly consumed a good portion of southern California, as literally thousands of young men and teenagers decided that they had to have one of these Gow-Jobs, one of these Hop-Ups, one of these Hot Rods. 

The other, and probably most important element to my instant love for this stuff, was the fact that this was the first big gear-head interest that I'd had that was all mine. As anyone who's been reading this knows, my father was a world-class enthusiast. He had my favorite quality in a motorhead, which was a passion for anything mechanical that was beautiful, fast, or just plain  interesting, from any era, from any walk of the auto world. Therefore, I was exposed to pretty much everything automotive while growing up. Pretty much. The one thing that my Dad didn't have a lot to say about was early hot rodding. This makes perfect sense, as he was simply not the right age to have a connection with it. And there probably wasn't a lot of hot rod roadster action in the Buffalo area right after the war and leading into the 1950s...  to say the least. He was certainly a car nut at a very young age, but by the time he was to begin driving the flat-head and Ford based hot rodding was on its way out. So I think it was probably as simple as that for him. He was just never around that stuff and didn't have a connection to it. I do remember him saying that he had a friend in Hamburg, New York, while in his teens, ( Ray "Zippy" Zell ) that had a chopped Merc or two and ran full house flat-heads. He also used to comment to me when we'd see a hopped up flat-head at a car show that those were the engines to fear in the early '50s and that they were very durable ( For some reason I clearly remember that "durable" comment. Good to know that someone wasn't just walking by them and saying how they over- heat ). And now that I think about it, he did own a flat-head for a while when I was probably around 12-13. He had a 1934 Ford 1-ton dump truck that had a 1946 (59A) flat-head in it. Not exactly a hot rod, but I do have a crystal clear memory of him driving the complete running chassis around the back yard as my brothers and I turned the front tires by hand, because he hadn't installed the steering column yet. 

But I digress. So, here I was. I had my first real look at the early days of hot rodding and my mind was blown to bits. Beautiful primitive cars that looked so at home with dirt roads and orchards as backdrops. Like they were in their natural habitat. That southern California was made for these hopped up jalopies whose owners never had to worry about having a top or fenders. The roads looked flat and straight and ready to be sped on. It was like finding a new planet. One that I'd discovered. Again, one that was mine. I didn't have a single car friend who was on board with this or had an interest in any way. Admittedly, my Dad was interested, but I don't think he ever thought a usable car could ever come from the piles of old Ford parts that I kept hauling home ( I hope he doesn't end up being right about that ). So he was curious, and would keep an eye on me and this new craze of mine, but he was keeping his distance. 

I continued to obsess over this, bought another Montgomery book through the mail, and found an entire new section of Hemmings that I now turned to every time it arrived. I was trying to find out what the parts make-up was for these cars when they were built back in the day. What were these guys using to make these cars go 120mph on the dry lakes? They couldn't possibly be using the existing Model A components could they? Also, I was on a fierce quest to try and find some kind of first hand account ( again, the Montgomery books are mostly scrapbooks with limited and plain captions and very little text ) , some kind of story thread that would help explain what started all of this. When exactly it started, and when exactly ( and why ) did it die. Who were all of these guys who shaped it? Who were the big players? Who invented what? etc etc etc. 

Again, I was feeling pretty alone in this, and for good reason. I needed to find that magic portal to go through that would help connect some of these dots. Maybe even find out what happened to some of these original cast members. Yes, it was a few years ago that all of this happened, but it was reasonable to think that quite a few of these folks could still be around. 

Little did I know that soon a lot of my questions would be answered about the story of it and the cast behind it. This would of course ad a huge amount of fuel to my fire and, I'm happy to say, all of my wild enthusiasm was about to pay off in a way I could have never imagined. I would soon find the magic portal...    

...  Stay tuned 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Achille Varzi

As someone who prides himself on having a decent knowledge of our pre-war racing heros, I'm certainly no Doug Nye. I do the best I can with what I have but, even with what sometimes feels like a limitless amount of enthusiasm and energy for this stuff, I can only keep up with so much. Some stuff should be a no brainer I know, and some of the historian material does enter the transom and then drift past to be forgotten in the currents, nobody's fault but mine if it doesn't stick to my mental ribs. 

One of these points of motorsport's history that I was recently reminded of was the fact that a good number of pre-war racing drivers started there careers competing on two wheels. The list is long and impressive, but may I throw out two names that might just ring a bell with you???, Tazio Nuvolari and Achille Varzi. That's right, both of these great ( actually the greatest ) pre-war Italian racing champions began their careers on motorbikes. In fact, Nuvolari kick-started his career by becoming the Italian motorcycle champion in 1924. 

Although Varzi didn't have the success on two wheels that Nuvolari enjoyed, he learned much from his time behind the bars and was able to make it instantly translate to his new career in sports and Grand Prix cars. 

The bike that is pictured above is a rare piece of hard documentation from Achille Varzi's past.
This extremely rare 1924 Sunbeam Model 9 is not only the earliest surviving example of this model, but is the very bike raced by Achille Varzi. This bike began its life on display as a brand new machine under the Sunbeam banner at Italy's 1924 Turin show just before Varzi took ownership. 

Being one of the great early examples of a high-performance 500 single, these bikes were highly sought after when new, as they were among the fastest and most competitive in their day. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fast Ford

Well kiddies, it's good to be back yet again. The road has been trying to eat me alive and, once again, has taken me away from this very enjoyable outlet. Speaking of the road, I have to quickly tell you fellow gear-heads that last night we played a show in Minnesota and one of my favorite things happened...  my two favorite worlds of music and motorsport collided again. 

Our pedal steel player, CJ Udeen, casually mentioned to me that he had a friend coming to the show who he used to play music with back in the day and that he was a serious car-guy. I perked up and said that I would look forward to meeting him and bench racing after the show if he hangs around. A couple hours later CJ says to me that his friend is a major league high-performance Ford guy and will be driving to the show in one of his seven! Shelby Mustangs. Interesting, I thought. 

Well, sure enough, when I went to the bus before the show there was a red '68 GT-350 convertible parked outside the door. A nicely restored car too. Soon I met the owner and we had a very fun and lengthy talk about these great cars and the magical era that was the 1960s for Ford motor company. I think anyone who looks back on that era with Ford has to be awestruck by their accomplishments. From drag racing super stocks, running their "Cammer" 427s in top fuel and funny car, NASCAR, and of course their tremendous showing on the stage of international sports car racing with the GT40 project. It truly is astounding, and I think as much as we hear about it and are aware, much like Bob Dylan and the Beatles, it is still hard to comprehend their achievements and therefore will always be, in my book, under-recognized. Just as an example, I have heard countless crew chiefs, race car constructers, designers, team managers etc., say that the impact that the GT40 program had on racing, just from a professionalism and development standpoint, is still being felt today and is somewhat responsible for the face of what is today's big time modern racing world. And I can see how that would not be an overstatement. 

Never before had racing experienced such an absolute flat-out, cost-be-damned, approach to winning. Of course many constructers had come along before and had had the same passion and the same attitudes towards winning, but never before had such limitless resources been available. As we all know, the story begins with Henry Ford II deciding he had to win the LeMans 24 hours. How was he going to do that? Well, at the time the company dominating this most prestigious race was of course Ferrari. Being a famously impatient man, Ford went directly to Enzo Ferrari, checkbook in hand, ready to purchase Ferrari at any cost. He would soon learn that Enzo had no intention of selling his beloved company, no matter what the offer. Especially to some Detroit assembly line minded hot head who only wanted ownership of the company long enough to win this single race that had become an obsession to him nearly overnight. This was not Enzo Ferrari's style. Ferrari spent most of his time in this meeting talking about his creations like they were both his children and his great works of art. Money wasn't what drove Enzo. This was a passion that was in Ferrari's blood and, again, was not something that any person could just buy. Upon realizing this, Ford stormed out of the Ferrari offices and was heard to say,"Now winning LeMans will only be half of this. I want to crush Ferrari, crush him at his own game." It is interesting to think how two men could have had such equally monstrous egos that were so completely different. 

And of course we all know how the rest of this story goes. Ford went out and bought a Lola Mk 6 GT, pulled the Chevrolet V8 from it, and began developing the GT40 around this basic platform. They would go on to have multiple LeMans victories in the 1960s and Henry Ford II would get his wish granted to him by doing exactly as planned- beating Enzo Ferrari at his own game by not only winning LeMans but the very coveted "manufacturers championship" multiple times as well. All done with an almost completely American cast, including Carrol Shelby and a good number of California hot rodders. A very proud time for the American motorsports fan. 

Of course many other Ford accomplishments were discussed by myself and my new gear-head friend before the night was over. It was stunning to learn that this guy did in fact own 7 different 1960s Shelby Mustangs, as well as an original '65 427 Cobra, and possibly the most interesting to me from his collection...  an original '64 factory A/FX Comet. Turns out his business is Mustangs and he owns over 1,500 1960s parts cars! Too bad I didn't know this guy when I was driving one of these everyday. 

The real kicker came just before my new friend had to leave. He opened the trunk of his Shelby and pulled out a guitar case and asked,"Hey, do you think your boss would sign my guitar?" I said I was pretty sure he would. He pulled it out of its case and low and behold it was a 1950s Martin D-18. A very serious collector guitar. I noticed that it already had one signature on it... Merle Haggard. This guy not only was proving that he had very good taste in everything but that my idea of music people and car people running in very close circles is a nearly proven theory. 

As it was approaching 1am I knew there was no time to get into the music talk. We had already burned down the gear-head speak with talk of Enzo, Henry Ford, Tasca, Mickey Thompson, Holman/Moody etc.,...  if we had started in on Elvis, Dylan, The Beatles, Hank Williams, Haggard, etc., well, we'd still be sitting there. 

( The photo at the top of this post is a rare shot of a Lola Mk.6 GT on the grid with a number two on its nose. These cars had relatively short careers and photos of them from back in the day are scarce. If you study the car even casually it is easy to see where a lot of the GT40 came from. ) 

Friday, March 20, 2009

Barber Motorsports museum delivers another gem ( The 1964 World Championship winning Ferrari 158 )

Here's yet another reason to make the trip to Birmingham, Alabama and visit the Barber Motorsports museum. I was really in awe of this car. I'm not sure that I've stood in the presence of a F1 World Championship winning car before. I suppose I must have at some museum somewhere at some point, but it didn't come to me if I had. And if I had, I can't imagine too many cars in that category that would have as much of an impact on me as this. 

This is the very car that carried the great John Surtees to his 1964 Formula One World Championship. Unlike today, where race teams build and use up to 6 cars per driver throughout a season, John scored most of his top finishes and ran the majority of his races in this car. The series that year went right down to the wire with Surtees finally taking the World Championship at the last race in Mexico. 

This car was basically Ferrari's answer to the Lotus 25, using a semi-monoque chassis with a 1.5 litre V8 in the rear rated at 250 hp. All previous Ferrari's used the tried and trusted tubular space frame design. The car also featured a unique for the period direct injection fuel system much like the LeMans Mercedes Benz racers. 

This was an incredibly clean and simply designed Formula car. As Enzo Ferrari was famous for not following trends ( and oftentimes scoffing at them much to the detriment of his teams success ) , he was also famous for jumping out in front when he finally did join in with what others had already shown to be a way of the future. This car was a spectacular example of that. 250 hp in a car that tipped the scales at under 1,000 lbs when fully dressed with a top speed of 165 mph. It is no wonder that with a driver as talented as Surtees, this combination clinched the 1964 World title. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Heads up

Yes, I know some of you have already seen the car and the photo above. And for those who aren't in my immediate life circle, to recap, this is my first car and has supplied me with (mostly) trouble free transportation and a lot of fun since 1987. Yes, I agree that's a long time. 

In a previous post I took us through the entire ride that she and I have been on and the recent facelift/transformation that the old girl received. I'm still very pleased with the results and stand by my decisions of going with period wheels/tires and the sometimes controversial matte-black paint scheme. For the record, I still am planning to lay out gloss black versions of the original optional SS stripe package. As my brother Rob pointed out, "That'll at least let people know that it is done." 

Well, as Robert Earl Keen once wrote... The road goes on forever and the party never ends. The same could be said for vintage car projects, especially if they are yours and you spend a lot of time with them. And I spend a ton of time with my Chevelle, as it is my primary source of transportation. I should have know that this would happen, but apparently the paint job is not going to be enough. That's right folks, the engine is coming out. 

Now don't completely blame me for this. As was earlier reported, I had a rather spirited drive with a friend earlier in the year that resulted in bent valves and pushrods. The key here is to never believe that you can't hurt something- no matter how well you think you know it or how many times you've beat it to death only to see it ask for more. That is certainly the case with my little 406 sb that lives between the fenders of the Chevelle, but nothing ( I don't care what it is ) likes to be over-revved. Consider this lesson now officially "learned" by yours truly. 

So, here we are. Time to correct some issues with the way she's running these days. Now if it feels like I'm not appropriately heart broken over the situation, it's because I'm not. I built this engine many years ago ( I believe in '92 or '93 ) on a budget. The short block was actually constructed by my old friend Kyle Ray of R-n-S motors fame. A great Chevrolet performance guy in southern Indiana. The engine was built with great care, but couldn't be considered "Blue-printed". At the time I wanted something stronger than the original 350/270 that was equally as street-able, but would lay down respectable quarter mile times. In those days that meant somewhere in the 13s to me. Remember, when I installed this engine the first gen 5 litre Mustangs were kings of the street and if you could safely run in the 13s in street trim you were at least not embarrassing. 

Fast forward nearly 15 years. Since the car has been under ultra mild 406 power it has never laid down anything better than a 14.00. In fact, almost every time I've ever made a pass in it I get a 14.0 something back. Should be bracketing it I guess. Anyway, I've always known that the main culprits in holding back the performance were the heads and cam. They almost always are. The heads were what I could afford at the time, which are stock mid '70s sbc head with 1.94/1.50 valves, standard three angle valve job, and Comp Cams roller rockers. The cam is a Crane (RIP) and I honestly don't remember the grind. I remember it is a dual pattern hydraulic grind with the lift being something like .497 on its highest side. So obviously there is a lot of room for improvement here. The engine has always felt fantastic as far as balance, always pushed perfect oil pressure, and appears to be in fine condition short block wise. But it's time to not only fix the car properly so I can enjoy driving it again, but to outfit the engine with the top end that I've always wanted for it. 

This is where you come in. Any thoughts, opinions, feelings, criticisms, two-cents, that any of you have will honestly be greatly appreciated. I used to be very into the street/drag racing scene, and kept up on all of the latest heads, cams, intakes, carbs, exhaust, everything that made a street car go faster. But that was 15 years or longer ago and I know a lot of progress has happened. So you folks who are super up on this please chime in. I plan on knocking this out sometime in the next month or so, or as soon as the Bronco is finished and gone, so it's definitely on the table. 

I'll just tell you what I have so far, what I have in mind, and we can go from there. 

The car weighs 3,800lbs for starters. The engine is a 406 sbc, currently running 9.1 comp, Holley 750, Edelbrock Performer RPM, stock GM HEI, the current headers are shot and will be replaced during this BTW, 2 and half inch exhaust all the way out the back with flowmasters, 3,500 stall conv with T350 AT equipped with B-n-M shift kit and manual valve body ( trans is fresh ), 3.73 12 bolt posi. The rear susp is stock, the axles are stock, the driveshaft is recently rebuilt but stock, the cooling system is a four-core with a multi-blade flex fan. No AC but power brakes...  and that's about all I can think of that might come up. 

My plan right now is to upgrade to good quality high-performance heads ( Maybe Edelbrock RPM alum ) , a much more aggressive Comp Hyd cam, possibly larger than I have now tube headers, rebuild the Holley to match the new set up as well as the dist. , and leave the rest the same. My goal is to keep the car reasonable as a daily driver but run solid 12s. And that's it. That's the goal. 

Seems simple enough I know, but I'm sure a lot of you out there will have plenty to say on the subject. And I say this for my own profit...  bring it on! 

PS  The good news is I'll be doing this build and keeping you up to date throughout it and will post my first timeslips to see if I meet my goals.       Stay tuned!!!  

Monday, March 16, 2009

Odds and Ends...

Hello folks, and welcome back to the Steelworks blog. As I explained/whined about in an earlier e-mail, things have been a little hectic around here with the planning of our first large scale event. Fortunately, I'm coming up for air and am happy to be able to get back to a little gear-head journalism. 

In feeling overwhelmed by the planning and sorting of this event, I found myself in my shop today taking a break from it all and just walking around looking at wall art, projects in various stages, parts, and all the other soothing and comforting things that make a gear-head's shop such a sanctuary. It worked. I calmed down, began to really enjoy the fact that we were experiencing one of the warmer days in recent weeks, had the garage doors open etc. It all started to feel right again...  slowly. 

Taking a true love of your life and mixing in a business concept with it is always dangerous. Especially when that love has been completely untainted by the outside world for as long as you've known it. This is yours and yours alone. Your feelings about it have never been affected by other peoples opinions. This is your escape, your expression, a safe haven, and now you're taking the leap into exposing it to the literal world. A world of numbers, dates, and deadlines. Very risky business indeed. 

What if you ruin it for yourself? Did you ever think that was possible? No not really, but you never know until you've crossed over with it. What could be worse than having this great life escape represent something other than that for years to come? Yes, you can get over a lot with time, but do you want to have to? As all of this was going through my head the thoughts and feelings all felt very familiar. I have been in this part of my brain before on many occasions. 

Music. That's what it was. This is something that I've been having to badminton around in my head for as long as I can remember. I do this with music. Of course, I set off on my path to make a living as a professional musician so long ago that all of my little self-preservation tactics have become firmly placed in the muscle-memory category and I'm barely aware of them any more. This is of course a great thing, as you are doing constant maintenance on your psyche and not even realizing it. Simple stuff, like developing a habit of listening to the music that most inspires you when you feel like your performances are falling off or you've been on the road too long, have played 3 shows that week and have 3 to go and don't know that you have anything new to say...  and are wondering how the great ones always do. Being drawn to pick up your instrument to play some musical ideas that are completely different from what your job is requiring of you at the time, so as to make the stuff you have to play every night somehow seem fresh. Sort of channeling new-found energy from new ideas into matter-of-fact material that has become too familiar. 

Of course you're doing all of these things and not realizing why, you just know it's feeling right at the time when you are. You can see it when you step outside of it of course, but you never want to be too aware of it when in the act or it won't work. I'm sure Stanislavski had a great way of dealing with all of this. Though I suppose there are those times when even your little psychological self-cleaning oven can't keep up with the sludge of whatever feels like a life-dirge at the time and you have to be pro-active. That's when I call in the reinforcements. 

When most people would just gather with friends down at the pub and thrash this stuff until it's been left for dead ( which I promise, does work ), I call on a dear friend of mine who is not only one of our greatest songwriter/performers, but also provides very solid and free psychotherapy. Now the funny thing is, I've done this enough times over the years that it has now nearly become a bit- it goes something like this; First, I get very down about whatever I'm doing at the time musically, then I phone ( that's the really easy part ). When the phone picks up I say,"Hey, tell me again why you love Bob Dylan." This gets a laugh every time because this person now knows this call and also knows where my head must be at. I get to listen to an inspired and well articulated case as to how and why music can mean so much, and that it always should. Soon I'm back in a great place with music, as I'm reminded of its beauty, why I got into this in the first place, and that there are much heavier, more talented, and more musical people who set the bar very high every day, providing inspiration and motivation. 

Ahh, and all is right with the world once again. Again, it was a funny feeling to experience this with my love of all things vintage and speedy in the world of motorsports. This had never happened, but let me be clear... I certainly wasn't getting down about the work I was having to do in organizing what I know will be a glorious event, I just found myself bogged down in a lot of stuff that had to be done that didn't have anything to do with horsepower, speed, or automotive style. It felt like busy work. And I suppose that's what it was, very necessary busy work. 

And I guess this is just what happens when you decide to get just a little more serious about one of your passions than you had originally planned. That's when the issue of balance can enter the picture. I do know this though; If I had not accomplished the task of being able to pay my bills with music, then music would not be as big and important a part of my life. I certainly would not have experienced the great highs with it that I have and I wouldn't have developed what is now a solid "in-for-life" relationship with it. Yes, my relationship with it can be challenging from time to time, but when it's working ( which is, fortunately, most of the time ) there is nothing greater in my life or that brings me greater joy. 

Now, I have been around, and have had a great passion for, the old car world my entire life. If I look back at the trajectory of my journey with it, this next step is the natural one. This is where it should be heading. I'm too crazy about it to be casual, and what could be better than to try and go to this next level of involvement? I can't think of a single reason not to. As has been proven to me with my music, my passion will just grow stronger. So what if occasionally I have to ring a friend and ask,"Hey, tell me again why you think the sound of a 12 cylinder Ferrari at full song is glorious"? 

I'll know I've done the right thing, because, as is the case with Bob Dylan, ...  I already know the answer. 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Time out of mind...

Five bits to the first bloke who knows the recording artist who I stole this post's title from...  

Yes, it's all about time, and it often drives me out of my mind. But I don't think that has anything to do with what Bob Dylan was feeling when he named a record "Time out of mind..." , so I'll not try to co-opt any more of a connection than that. 

Really, all I'm here to say is that I apologize to any and all who look forward to my miscellaneous ramblings that happen here nearly every week day. I've clearly been very lax this week and I can only just tell you the truth and say that other life happenings have been getting in the way. It happens to all of us I suppose- you wake up one day and realize you've simply taken on too much or are taking on too much. That's where I'm at. I've suddenly found myself trying to plan out the details of a motorsport event, be a touring musician who's rarely home, completely restore an old vehicle ( that resides at my home ), and be in the recording studio working on a new record with my boss...    all at the same time. I need at least two more of me to pull this off, and hopefully they can be improved versions. Of course, if they were a true improvement on the current product they wouldn't let themselves end up in a predicament like this. At least I'd hope not. 

So, all that being said, I keep finding myself getting home at well past midnight, knowing I have to be up early, and realizing that I haven't checked in with a new post yet. Now, I know this doesn't pass for a post- I just wanted to let you know that I hadn't fallen asleep at the wheel and run into a snow plow again ( with worse results ). I'm as gung-ho as ever to scratch out some kind of motorsport daily rant, its just simply been a bad week. So bare with me and please try and stick around...  you never know when I may have to report on another instance of me trying to outrun a German engineered sports car with a 1960s drum braked American pony machine. 

Stay 'tuned' !!!   

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

1956 MV Augusta ( another gem from the Barber Motorsports collection )

Returning our attention once more to my visit of the Barber Motorsports Museum outside of Birmingham, Alabama, and one of my favorite sightings from the day. A very tough one, picking favorites from this astonishing collection, but being a huge fan of John Surtees, it was an awesome thing for me just to be seeing this bike in person. 

As most of us know, Surtees is the only person to have ever won the world championship on both two wheels and four. On motorcycles, he won the 500cc category an incredible four times and paired that with winning the 350cc championship three times. He is also credited with being the first person to win the Senior TT on the Isle of Man three years in a row. That of course would be enough for most, but John went on to try his hand at sports car and Formula One racing. He, and all who witnessed him behind the wheel, would soon recognize that his talents quickly translated to his newfound discipline. Surtees would end up taking the Formula One World title in 1964 for Scuderia Ferrari, only four years into his career in auto racing. 

By the late 1960s, Surtees would conquer most of his motosports goals and turn his attention to becoming a constructor. Surtees racing cars would gain immediate respect for their beautiful construction, reliability, and competitiveness. 

Today I'd like to turn the attention to one of John Surtees' early winning mounts, the 1956 MV Augusta 500cc race bike pictured above. This bike is very special, as it was hand made at the MV Augusta factory for the sole purpose of being the best racing motorcycle of its time. Ridden by a young John Surtees, the combination of rider and machine captured the 500cc World Championship crown in 1956, and three more from 1958 to 1960. 

The specs on this bike would be as follows;  air-cooled, transverse four cylinder, four stroke engine producing about 55hp @ 10,500 rpm. It featured gear-driven twin overhead cams, four Dell 'Orto 28mm carburetors, and a five speed gear box. Weighing in at a touch over three hundred pounds, these factory race bikes could easily hit speeds of up to 150mph. Not bad for 1956! I can't imagine the sound this makes when ridden in anger. 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Amelia Island

Coming up soon on the '09 car calendar is Bill Warner's wonderful Amelia Island Concourse d'Elegance. Already in its 14th year, "Amelia" is going strong and is quickly proving itself to be the Pebble Beach of the east coast. Thanks to Mr. Warner's wide range of automotive interests and love of all things "motorsport", those who attend are treated to not only the best examples of European exotics and American pre-war classics but also to some of the best restored and most historically significant race cars in existence. Also of interest to lovers of speed are the intimate panel discussions and meet-and-greets with some of racing's greatest legends that have become a staple of Amelia.

 This year will honor racing legend and commentator extraordinaire David Hobbs and will feature the west coast custom creations of Bohman and Schwartz. Also in attendance will be both Indy drivers and Formula one drivers, along with a collection of cars representing both, all from the great 1950s and early '60s era. Drivers in attendance will include Johnny Rutherford, Bobby Unser, and Parnelli Jones. Friday will feature an amazing panel of legendary 1950s California customizers Dean Jeffries, George Barris, Daryl Starbird, and modern builder Chip Foose. 

Bill Warner has done a tremendous job building this into a world class event in a relatively short period of time, and with his history as a successful SCCA Pro-Racing driver and lover of "all things speed", he is definitely our kind of car guy. Make your plans to be there now on the weekend of March 13-15 and enjoy the experience that is Amelia! 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

LOOK OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm fortunate to be able to say that I've had very few instances in my life when I've been responsible for bending metal. Now that is certainly not to say that I haven't been in dozens of situations where I should have in a big way, and that it is an absolute miracle that I'm alive ( no kidding ) when I think back about these examples of stupidity and recklessness...  but, it really is just dumb luck that it has worked out the way it has. Maybe in a few instances I developed just enough sense during the last millisecond that good decision making and a touch of skill saved me from disaster, but examples of that are extremely rare believe me.

In fact, I believe I can run down all of my fender benders pretty quickly; Well, the first, and far and away the most life threatening, was in 1992 when I was driving from Indianapolis to Bedford, Indiana in a blinding snow storm at around 3:45 am, returning from a gig with my then blues band "The Kings of Rhythm". I was driving my Dad's freshly re-done 1975 Chevrolet Cheyenne half ton pick-up that was nearly show quality and had around 70,000 one old man owner miles on it. I can still feel how like new that truck felt and ran. Anyway, somewhere around 35 miles north of my parents home I fell sound asleep and managed to drive downhill for about an eigth of a mile while the truck accelerated. Amazingly, I woke up just as I was about 20 feet from the back of a salt spreader/snow plow that was traveling about 35-40 mph slower than I was. I of course slammed into the back of this thing, rolling the front half of the truck up into a ball. The impact was so severe that the roof of the cab folded in the center, bringing the headliner down to within an inch of my head. The drivers side windshield pillar post folded inward and was up against my left shoulder when I came to ( which was about 20-25 minutes after impact ). This same windshield post provided me with a huge gaping gash above my left ear that traveled about half way around the back of my head. How this didn't end me I'll never know. The frame had bent downward just below the firewall, pitching the steering column down into my lap with such force that the steering wheel was bent all the way around both of my legs and had me pinned down into the bench seat so far that my but had started to make its way out the back of the seat between the seat top and bottom. 

OK, maybe that was a little too much information. I do know that when I came to, it was dead quiet, snow was falling in my face, and every time I tried to move little cubes of safety glass would roll off of me. My face and head were all sticky ( I remember thinking this was probably anti-freeze as I could smell it around me ) as I had no idea of my injuries. I could see the snow plow off in the distance about 100 yards up the road from me and could just hear the engine idling. No one was around or on the scene yet. I was able to push down into the seat with both hands just hard enough to free my legs one at a time. At that point I crawled over to the passengers side door ( which was completely undamaged ), opened it, and walked out into the road. Being in shock, my first reaction was to start picking up all of the parts I could find in the road and in the median that belonged to my Dad's truck. We were going to need these after all to fix it! I clearly remember picking the grill up off the shoulder and finding it almost completely unharmed. It had one plastic tab broken off of it. I still can't understand that one.

The saddest part for me was looking in the back window of the bed topper and seeing my beloved 1964 Black Face Fender Super Reverb amp scattered all over the inside of the bed in a million pieces. Fortunately my guitar was in a road case and made it unscathed. 

After I'd found everything I could that went with the truck, I walked up the road to apologize to the driver of the snowplow. When I reached the cab of the truck I looked up and saw that he was sitting in his driver's seat talking on the CB. I reached up, knocked on the door, and when he looked over at me he screamed at the top of his lungs and jumped about a foot out of his seat. You see, what I didn't realize was that my head had this huge gash in it and had been bleeding down over my face for 20 minutes while I was passed out in the truck. The blood was nearly solid over my entire face and most of my shirt was soaked as well. So, not only was this quite a sight for this poor guy to look over and see, but he had gone back to my truck right after the accident, looked at me slumped over and bleeding, and called into the police that there was a fatality! 

Now hopefully that's as close as I'll ever come without going all the way into the ground. I can't imagine coming any closer. I just keep thinking about that windshield post going by my head. Crazy. The truck was totaled and I eventually healed up and grew the hair back on my head that hospital shaved off. Lots of ballcaps were worn that year. But I learned my lesson. I still get tired while driving, but with that memory always fresh in my mind, all I have to do is recall it for a second and I'm wide awake again. World's greatest caffein rush. 

The others are, fortunately, nowhere near as dramatic. Oh there was the time I was hit by a fellow student in the high-school parking lot at a walking speed. The bad thing about that one was that my older brother Rob had been kind enough to let me drive his super cool and super minty red/red with white top '67 Tempest convertible to school that day. Wouldn't you know it. Kinked the mile long rear quarter in and was a chore to repair and make as straight as it was. Then I guess there is the dear that I hit at 65mph that wiped out the front end of an '85 Chevy pickup I was driving at the time. And that's all I believe. 

I have no way of even beginning the task of laying out all of the close calls, and the shame and embarrassment might be too much for me. Lets just say I've been lucky. Running 135 for nearly 10 minutes on an open highway in my old Chevelle, only to get home and see that the front tire had split open and was showing radial chords...   that was pretty stupid. Letting a 15 year old friend take 15 year old me for a ride in his Dad's '57 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider only to get the car airborne, land in the oncoming lane, run the car down through a ditch, cross back over the road while spinning out , and end up in a field having somehow passed through a row of full grown trees!!! all with no seatbelts!...  that was pretty stupid  ( and that poor defenseless beautiful Alfa, I should be ashamed of myself just for that ). Or the time I made a complete fool of myself during a track session at Watkins Glen in my '65 Mustang fastback trying to take the same line, at the same speed, as the early '80s 911 in front of me was. Of course I spun the car ( through traffic !!! ) and ended up backwards just at the exit of the turn...   and I still had to drive the car back to Tennessee!!!!!! Brilliant! 

You see, they'll just get worse if I keep going. But I think it proves my point- dumb luck, that's all it is in so many instances. Fortunately I don't have a story like the photos above depict, and I plan to do everything I can for the rest of my time to keep it that way. I feel like having made it through my teens and early 20s helps my chances greatly, and I'm sure used up all of my "get out of jail free" cards. I'm not saying I've completely grown up, I'm hoping none of us have, because I ( like you ) intend on continuing the hard use of my high-performance machines. I just hope the days of me getting chased down by the police for street racing ( only to have the officer inform me that my plate is for a completely different car than the one I'm driving, that it isn't registered in any way, is not insured, and that he just clocked me doing 70 in a 35 while trying to beat [ yet another 911 ] that new Porsche to the next stop-light ) are over. I hope. 

   You can only talk your way out of one of those per lifetime...  

The above photos are of a Ferrari that I spotted on a car hauler in North Hollywood on a recent trip. This poor 512 bbi Boxer was either rear ended, or swapped ends and went "into the wall" backwards. What a shame. 

And of course the James Dean Porsche at its holding cell after the crash. In this form the car would soon make its way out to the midwest to be shown to highschool students as a way to promote safe driving among teenagers ( nice visual aid educators! ). Within a few months the car would be stolen out of its transporter and would never be seen again. One of the all time great mysteries in the old car world. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Doin' the right thing...

The final installment from Monterey 2003...

First up is a fantastically patinated Bugatti Type 35 grand prix car. If this was ever even "touched up" I wouldn't believe it. Wonderful stuff. Dig the bitchin' early ARCA badge in the grill. 

Now finally the reason we all made the trip; Lets race! 

A mouth watering parade of priceless '50s sports racing cars come through the good old Laguna Seca corkscrew. 

Couldn't resist picking this as one of my all time all time favorites is leading the way through the corkscrew- The fabulous Cunningham C4-R. I know the red car well but for the life of me am drawing the biggest blank ( help anyone? ), I'm sure that's an Allard J2X coming in behind it. 

Finally, a lovely gold C-type Jaguar leads the way for our first American born Formula One World Champion- Phil Hill driving a to-die-for Alfa Romeo 3000CM. This is one of four closed 3000s built and is the very car that Juan Manuel Fangio drove in the 1953 24 hours of LeMans. This would be one of the very last races that Phil would run in his lifetime. The following year, Phil would run his final race in this same car during the Monaco historic Grand Prix. 

Doin' the right thing...

It would appear that I can't stop myself, I hope that's OK. 

We've now moved onto Monterey 2003;   

Remember what I was saying about the comradery and spirit of early racing still being alive and well? Well, this is what happens when your Type 35 won't start after coming in from its track time and you don't have your crew nearby; a kind civilian, namely my friend Mark Lambert, will gladly step up and help a fellow car guy. 

This was a real treat to see in the paddock, and talk about rare!, the Offy powered Scarab Formula One car of Don Orasco. Nine of these cars were originally built. This is one of three in existence. 

Finally,a really important moment to me, and one that I'm happy to have caught on film. Tom Sparks visiting with his old friend Phil Hill. Just happened to run into him on the street! Tom and Phil go back to when Phil had a hot rod as a teenager. They came up together in racing and even moreso in the classic car restoration business. As I said in an earlier post, this guy is one of my biggest heros from any walk of life. I had a nice visit with him that day and it became one of the great highs of my life that he would remember me ( as Tommy's friend ) the next couple of times that I saw him over the years before his passing. Again, this is the stuff that our wonderful hobby/sport can make possible. It's always about the people isn't it? 

Doin' the right thing...

And even more Monterey '06...  

Hard to say but I think this guy is a Bugatti fan. Nice collection and rig. 

In case you were wondering about who won the very first Pebble Beach sports car race back in 1950, well it was none other than one of my real heros in life- the great Phil Hill. What did he use to accomplish this?, well, this very XK-120 that's what. 

Period photo attached in case you were doubting it...

Doin' the right thing...

Sometimes half the fun is just walking the paddock, Monterey '06 continued... 

Love the row of vintage Formula One cars, mid/late '60s Ferrari in the foreground, lovely looking front engine Ferrari Formula One near the end, and what looks like a 904 Porsche on the very end. The big boys play at Monterey! 

My lord talk about curves!!! The row of 1950s sports racers is chilling. Is that a Conault in the foreground? Of course the Maserati 300S is one of the all time greats. The Ferrari next to it looks like one of the last TR250s, a '60 or '61? Hard to say what's further down. 

This last shot can really only be Monterey. What an outrageous line-up of road going sports cars this is. What do we have here; a lovely open DB2 in the foreground, a very drab-patina'd pre-war Alfa...  a 2300 I believe ( I spent a lot of time looking at this car, what a stunning survivor it was ), next we have the ubiquitous Ferrari 275- they couldn't possibly have left one of those out of this line-up, with non-other than a Zagato bodied DB4GT next door, and finally my all time favorite Ferrari... the 250GT SWB. Just breathtaking! Maybe I'll take a stab at the Alfa way down on the end as being a 1750. 

Finally we have Jaguar E-type hanging with cousins Lister Jag etc... 

Doin' the right thing...

More fun at Monterey 2006...

Again, we have good friends enjoying taking in the times. This time it's my good friends Mark Lambert and Tom Sparks with a bird's eye view of the goings-on. 

Spotted this in the paddock, one of my all time favorite little race cars from the pre-war era, or should we say ERA. That's right it's an ERA R2B. Check out the patina in that old green leather race seat! You can almost hear Alain de Cadenet exclaiming,"Fantastic!" 

Doin' the right thing...

Well, I must say, I got so fired up after writing out my post last night on Vintage Racing that I went back and thought about the many vintage events that I've had the pleasure of attending in recent years. Which ones were highlights, and which ones were super highlights. Those are really the only two categories. 

In doing this the photo albums came out and I thought I'd just throw out some quick pics to share with you. I'll do my best to identify where need be. Enjoy!  

The shot of the Edelbrock trailer and family racecar stable features quite a lineup for Vic Jr. and his daughters Cammie and Christi. These folks are super cool and know how to have fun. It truly is a family affair with Vic and the girls racing out on the track and Mrs. Edelbrock keeping track of lap times. The cars in this photo that I can make out would be the red and black original George Follmer '69 Boss 302 Trans-Am car, the '66 Shelby GT350 Mustang that Cammie races which is a former B-production championship car from back in the day, and finally the original Smokey Yunick '67 Camaro Z-28 that Vic campaigns. Vic can also be seen racing his silver blue '63 Corvette Z06 coupe ex-Bondurant 614 Washburn Chevrolet car as well. Taken at the Monterey historics in 2006. 

The unidentified but stunning collection of cars featuring the D-type in the foreground was in Monterey as well in 2006. I love the mid '50s Ferrari sports racer parked next to it, and is that possibly a late Porsche 908 on the end down past the single seater Formula cars? 

Lastly, here's what it's all about...  old friends catching up. This time my pal Tom Sparks says hello to lifelong friend Vic Edelbrock. Tom knew Vic's dad from the time he was a teenager and remembers Vic Jr. being born. I guess you could say he goes back to the early days of hot rodding! 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Do the right thing...

I truly am a bit of a nut about vintage racing. And when I say vintage racing, I mean any and all kinds of vintage racing. It's the natural progression I think; to become obsessed with beautiful vintage high-performance racing machines, research them through books and magazines, pursue seeing them in person at either concourse events or in museums, and then finally- it's time to see them move and hear them run...  hopefully in anger. 

After all, it is what they were made for. This is their natural environment. I mean, who wants to see a D-type Jag with mirrors underneath it? That gives me the same awful feeling as seeing a polar bear in a zoo laying on a fiberglass rock in 90 degree summer heat. Gives me a strong sense that someone somewhere needs to be reprimanded in a big way for going against nature. 

I'm not sure how we can help the polar bear but, fortunately for us, a whole lot of folks who feel like I do ( and I have a feeling a lot of you out there as well ) are doing plenty to help the wild English cat population- among other cantankerous species. I'm of course talking about vintage racing! 

In my opinion, this is the single greatest movement that has happened in the old car world since the AACA decided to start preserving antique cars way back in 1935. In fact, I believe the first vintage racing organizations in both the U.S. and the U.K. were started around this same time, although the VSCCA is on record as being our first official organizing body which dates back to the 1950s. At any rate, it's a great thing that the cars on both sides of this fence began to be preserved so early in their lives. 

Now when I say I'm a fan of all vintage racing, I'm quite serious about that. I don't know if it has something to do with my age (39) and the fact that I missed a lot of "golden eras", or simply the fact that I'm such a rabid enthusiast in general, but I just am. I have no less interest in going to Milwaukee to see the great Harry A. Miller meet than I do in traveling to Watkins Glen for the fall vintage festival or Limerock Park for the same, or Goodwood for the Festival of Speed or Motor Circuit Revival ( OK, those actually top the lot ), or Michigan for the wonderful Pure Stock Muscle Car drag race series, or to El Mirage or Bonneville, or to Jungle Park Indiana to see the old dirt trackers come together once again, or to Bakersfield for the vintage drag races at the NHRA Hot Rod Reunion. It all makes my heart pound.

 You can look at these cars in books all day long, or even view old footage of them running back in the day... but to hear an old Offy fire up and run hard, or an early small displacement Ferrari 12cyl howl, or the wonderfully primitive rasp of a period hopped-up flat-head V8, or heaven forbid an early top-fuel Hemi running at full song on nitro, again...  the heart pounds. 

This is exactly what our vintage machinery should be up to when their owners have the chance. As I said early on, I'm 39 and was born right on the edge of when a lot of this stuff was being put away as no-longer-competitive. I can't imagine what a 16 year old kid must think of some of this stuff when they finally get to see and hear it. And isn't that the point? The celebration of it all, the education of the uninitiated, and the nostalgic trip back in time for the lucky ones who were there, back in the day, when it was simply the norm. Oh to have that stuff stored away deep in my memory! "I guess I just wasn't made for these times...  "  is how Brian Wilson put it. 

But again, here we are, lucky enough to be living in a new kind of golden age. It almost seems too good to believe that we can go and see nearly anything from the past run as it did back in the day. Sure the community that supports it is coming from a different place psychologically than it was when it was "win at all cost", but a lot of the spirit is the same, a lot of the comradery is the same, and thanks to many, the lifestyle of it can still be seen in action. How lucky we are. Imagine;  if you want to see Sterling Moss drive his old Mille Miglia winning 300 SLR, you actually can! Does anyone else find this amazing? You can go to the NHRA Hot Rod reunion and stand next to Big Daddy Don Garlits in the pits like it's 1965 and watch him hold the starter up to the front of his blown-nitro-burning-Hemi top-fuel sling-shot-dragster and experience the sensation of one of these firing up, then see him climb into it in his old racing suit, pull up to the line, and blast off in a cloud of rubber smoke... using the tires as a clutch, just like the old days. Again, amazing! 

I have a funny feeling that we're going to look back on the 1990s and early 2000s as a golden era for these reasons. No one can say where the vintage racing world is headed. It does seem to split off into group after group after group. And maybe that's a good thing. Because as soon as something gets a little too competitive or historically inaccurate for some tastes, a correction is made and a new and safer playground is built for those folks. The same happens when there isn't enough competition for other folks. I think this is good for everyone involved. The more the merrier. You never know when you might want to go watch a pack of 300hp bug-eye Sprites on extra wide slicks battle it out after you've done a weekend with the VSCCA... and I'm not being sarcastic. 

I have faith that some kind of balance will always be maintained in my favorite part of the motorsports world. It may not always be as comfy as it is right now, and most importantly, we won't have as many members of the original first season cast to help us with the reliving of the old days. But either way, it'll always be a great ride no matter what. The important thing is to get that old race car out of retirement 'cause time's a wastin'...   do it now...  do the right thing! 


Monday, March 2, 2009

More Jim Hall ( The Chaparral 2H )

Built for the 1969 Can-Am season, the Chaparral 2H introduced a dynamic new design. Dubbed "The great white whale" by its competitors for its unusually long and narrow shape, the 2H featured a fully stressed fiberglass shell with only a small sub-frame to stabilize the load-bearing engine and transmission. The 2H's streamlined shape reduced drag and produced downforce for added tire grip. In addition, major mechanical components were placed in the rear to aid in rear weight bias. Additionally, an innovative ride-height control system automatically adjusted the suspension for changes in aerodynamic downforce at speed. 

A major set-back occurred during development of the 2H when Jim Hall was severely injured in a crash in the Chaparral 2G during a race in Las Vegas. Hall's rehabilitation severely delayed development and testing of the 2H. Driver John Surtees was hired to drive the 2H but always felt uneasy with the unorthodox design of the car and its uncharacteristic driving style. Despite going through several modifications, the 2H never reached its potential. For the 1970 season the Chaparral team decided to shelve the 2H project and focus instead on the 2J. 

"The 2H was a predecessor to the kind of cars people build today."-  Jim Hall

More Jim Hall ( The Chaparral 2J "The Sucker Car" )

As un-race-car-like as it appears, this angular, boxy car built for the 1970 Can-Am series was designed to create immense down-force independent of speed.  With two 17" fans driven by a second engine mounted at the rear of the car, the 2J earned the name "sucker car' as it literally sucked air from under the car and forced it out the back, thus creating a vacuum that held the 2J on the track surface. This downforce increased grip to the tires independently of the car's forward motion, and allowed the car to corner faster in both slow and high-speed turns. To create a seal between the car and the road, sliding polycarbonate skirts were placed around the bottom edge of the car and maintained a constant gap to the ground. Theoretically, enough suction could be generated by the fans to hold the car upside down on the ceiling of a room. The airflow generated by the fans alone could propel the car up to speeds of 40mph or more. 

In its first race, the 2J recorded the fastest lap at Watkins Glen, New York, and then earned the pole position in every other race it entered. In fact, it was so fast that the FIA officials banned the 2J at the end of the 1970 Can-Am season because the sliding polycarbonate skirts were said to be in violation of the "moveable aerodynamic ban" ; thus ending the car's career at its Dawn of Victory. 

"If I come up with a better mousetrap that is within the guidelines of the regulations, than I ought to be able to use it." - Jim Hall in 1970 commenting on the 2J's ended career. 

More Jim Hall ( The Chaparral 2F )

Chaparral cars built the 2F to compete in the 1967 World Manufacturer's Championship races. The 2F was extremely fast and led or ran near the front of every race in which it competed. In spite of development problems with a new aluminum big block V8 and three speed Chaparral automatic, the 2F won the last race of the season at Brands Hatch, England ( The BOAC 500 ) winning against the full might of the factory teams from Porsche, Ford, Lotus, and Ferrari. 

Like the 2E, the 2F featured a high, moveable wing above the inclosed cockpit chassis. To control the wing, the driver pushed a pedal with his left foot to hold the wing in a flat low-drag position when accelerating on high-speed straight sections. When cornering, the driver released the pedal, which moved the front of the wing to a downward angle to increase downforce and aid in deceleration. 

"It was terrific to not go flying off into the wild blue yonder but just make a tiny, little jump and just come down again."  -  2F driver Phil Hill describing a famous jump at the German Nurburgring that sent most cars airborne.