Monthly Archives: May 2016

Jimmy Clark in a sprint car?

Jimmy Clark in Ford Model T Sprint Car
Jimmy Clark in Ford Model T Sprint Car
Copyright © 1965 Ford Motor Company

While perusing my collection of mid-1960s Indianapolis 500 Mile Race press kits, I found this photo of Jimmy Clark sitting in a Ford Model T sprint car. Let me tell you the story behind this photo.

In 1965, Ford Motor Company entered two Lotus powered by Ford specials in the Indianapolis 500. In the process of developing these racers, the company developed the 495 horsepower Ford double-overhead-cam V-8 racing engine available for use by the entire racing fraternity.

The 1965 Ford Motor Company press kit explaining their entries included this photograph showing the old and new look at Indianapolis. A Lotus-Ford is in the foreground with Jimmy Clark trying out the cockpit of the vintage sprint car in the background. What a contrast between 48 years of technological development, front-engine versus rear-engine, four-cylinder versus eight-cylinder, and valve-in-head versus double-overhead-cam!

In 1963, Clark won “Rookie of the Year” honors for placing second in a Ford-powered Lotus entry. Clark earned the coveted pole position with a speed of 158.828 mph in 1964 in another Lotus-Ford. Unfortunately, he dropped out of the race after 47 laps with mechanical failure.

The third time would be the charm for Jim Clark driving the Lotus powered by Ford entry to first place in 1965 Indianapolis 500. A second Lotus-Ford driven by Bobby Johns finished seventh. The Ford double-overhead-cam V-8 racing engine powered a number of other entries in this race.

So, that’s the story of Jimmy Clark sitting in a sprint car. I often wondered how would Jimmy Clark do driving around a ½ mile dirt track in a 1960s era sprint car? I guess that’s a discussion for another day.

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

Check out this book on Andy Granatelli

Jimmy Clark's 1966 STP Gas Treatment Special
Jimmy Clark’s 1966 STP Gas Treatment Special
Copyright ©1966 Studebaker Corporation

I really enjoy stories about mid-twentieth century racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and They Call Me Mister 500 is one of the best. It chronicles the events in a 23-plus year saga of the Granatelli brothers, Joe, Andy, and Vince, in their attempts to win the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Author Andy Granatelli describes their journey from a speed shop in suburban Chicago in 1946 all the way to winning the 500 in 1969.

All three Granatelli brothers probably had gasoline in their veins as they grew up during the Depression hawking their automotive knowledge along Halsted Street in Chicago. All of their experience hopping-up cars led them to establish Grancor, a speed shop and one of the premier mail-order speed equipment businesses in the country in 1944. Plus, they had their eyes on a grand prize – the Indy 500 trophy.

A quote from Andy explains the elixir of the Indianapolis 500: “Indy is a special brand of hypnotism, and it sets up an impossible dream. And, in all this, I am like everyone else. I love it; I hate it. Yet, it draws me as it does the rest of them.” So, in 1946, the brothers modified a 1935 front-wheel-drive Miller-Ford and qualified in 33rd position for their first 500. Driver Danny Kladis improved his position to near the top 10 only to drop out of the race due to a pit stop error.

Most of my memories of the Granatelli racers are of the mid-1960s. I can remember Jim Hurtubise starting in a Granatelli-entered Novi on the outside of the front row in the 1963 race and setting a new track record while leading the first lap. Jimmy Clark drove the STP Gas Treatment Special Lotus-Ford to second place in 1966. Parnelli Jones was leading the 1967 race in the STP Turbine Car when a six-dollar bearing failed and sidelined him on lap 197. Finally in 1969, Mario Andretti drove the STP Oil Treatment Special to win the Indianapolis 500. The Granatelli brothers dreams of winning were finally realized after thinking about and working toward it for over 30 years.

I thoroughly enjoyed how Andy Granatelli uses personal stories to weave you into the story. I found it to be a riveting rags-to-riches tale of how the Granatelli brothers grew up during the Depression and later enjoyed success at the pinnacle of American auto racing.

Peruse They Call Me Mister 500 at Amazon.com

Let’s revitalize this Indianapolis landmark

Ford Indianapolis Assembly Branch
Ford Indianapolis Assembly Branch
Copyright © Ford Motor Company

The Ford Motor Company opened its four-story, Indianapolis Branch Assembly Plant (known as Plant 215) at 1315 East Washington Street in the fall of 1914. Production of Ford cars and trucks continued unabated for nearly two decades, except for a period during World War I and model changeovers.

In May 1924, the new Car Delivery Unit was erected at the rear of the site fronting on South Eastern Avenue. The plant layout was expanded twice in the mid-1920’s to allow more space for assembly operations. These expansions increased the plant’s capacity to 300 assembled cars per day. With this capacity, the Indianapolis assembly branch had the highest output of any Indiana auto manufacturing site in its era.

Ford body assembly and finishing operations commenced at this plant in 1929. The Great Depression, however, also took its toll on Ford. As a result, Ford discontinued production operations in December 1932. Limited operations resumed at the site as a Ford parts service and automotive sales branch in July 1934. The plant operated on this basis into the 1940’s.

Over the course of its operations, Ford Motor Company produced over 581,000 automobiles at this site. The Ford Indianapolis Branch Assembly Plant operated during Indianapolis’ heyday of automotive manufacturing in the first part of the Twentieth Century. This plant’s production led all of the city’s other 97 auto producers from 1915 to 1932.

The Ford Indianapolis Branch Assembly is meaningful to Indianapolis automotive history for its location along the National Road – Washington Street as the gateway to the city.

In article in the Indianapolis Star June 19, 1922, ranked the city of Indianapolis as third nationally in manufacturing automobiles. Indianapolis had an output of $75,000,000 a year, employed 11,000 men and women, and had an annual payroll for city auto producers was $2,000,000. The approximate annual payroll of the Ford plant was a little over $1,100,000.

Like the Ford Motor Company Cleveland Ohio Branch Assembly Plant that is now the location of the Cleveland Institute of Art, the Ford Indianapolis Branch Assembly could serve as the cornerstone for redevelopment for SEND area. This site is underutilized and with renovation could highlight Indianapolis’ growth in the twenty-first century. Possibly a portion of the building could be set aside to celebrate Indianapolis’ automotive history.

I celebrate the story of the Ford Indianapolis Branch Assembly with a facebook page.

I invite you to help revitalize this Indianapolis landmark as a cornerstone of neighborhood development and celebration of our history.

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

Thanks, Wilbur Shaw!

Wilbur Shaw is probably best known as a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1937, 1939, and 1940. He was also the first to win consecutive races.

Yet that is only part of his story. Another notable achievement in his career was his leadership in restoring the Indianapolis Motor Speedway following World War II.

Shaw’s racing career began in 1921. He raced his own car built from used parts. By 1924, he was assigned the famed old Red Special and became the National Light Car Champion.

Wilbur Shaw in Boyle Maserati
Wilbur Shaw in Boyle Maserati
Courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway

As a rookie driver, he finished fourth in his first Indianapolis 500 in 1927. He finished second in 1933 and 1935. In 1936, he returned to Indianapolis as the builder and majority owner of the Gilmore Special and finished in seventh place. Driving the same auto, he finally won the 500 in 1937. After a second place finish in the Shaw Special the following year, he charged back in 1939 to win in one of the most famous cars in Speedway history—the Boyle Maserati. In 1940 it was another win for Shaw in the Boyle car. He was well on his way to becoming the first four-time winner of the Indy 500 in 1941 when his right rear wheel collapsed, and his Maserati crashed into the wall.

Then World War II intervened all racing activities. During this time, Shaw organized and directed Firestone Tire and Rubber Company’s aviation division. He developed Firestone’s Channel Tread tire and the self-sealing fuel tank.

Following World War II, Shaw was back at the Indy track. This time he drove a 500-mile test run at Firestone’s request to test the durability of a new automobile tire made from synthetic rubber. He was the first to drive the track after the war.

Wilbur Shaw - Speedway executive
Wilbur Shaw – Speedway executive
Courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway

But, he found the famous Speedway in deplorable shape. Weather had almost stripped the paint from the wooden stands, and hundreds of cracks marred the track surface in all four turns. Grass was growing between the bricks on the main straightaway. As soon as possible, Shaw visited Speedway owner Eddie Rickenbacker to ascertain his plans for the track. Shaw developed a prospectus for potential investors and finally interested Anton Hulman, Jr., in saving the once-grand racing facility in the fall of 1945.

Thus, the six and a half month saga began to rebuild the Speedway for the Memorial Day classic in 1946. Seven wooden stands and the Pagoda required major repairs. The largest safety challenge was replacing the Paddock and grandstand G. Due to material shortages after World War II, there wasn’t enough of the right kind of steel available in the entire country. Finally, Harry Tousley walked into the Speedway office and proposed to build the stands around the kind of steel available. His proposal was accepted in early January, and the new steel stands were finished by race day.

Wilbur Shaw served in the dual role of president and general manager of the Speedway until his untimely death in an airplane accident in 1954. His contributions became a major part of the track’s viability. Thanks, Wilbur Shaw!

This article was excerpted from Indiana Cars: A History of the Automobile in Indiana

A book for all Indianapolis 500 fans

Blood and Smoke
Blood and Smoke

This week I would like to share with you a book for all Indianapolis 500 fans. That book is Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500 by Charles Leerhsen.

Before I go further, I have to disclose that Charles talked to me as a resource in his research, and he mentioned our interviews in his book. With that being said, I want to share why I think this book is of interest to Indy race fans.

When I met Charles a few years ago, I was not aware of the controversy surrounding the running of the first 500. I accepted as fact that Ray Harroun won the race.

One of the items that drew Charles to write Blood and Smoke was the controversy around the publishing the first 500’s final results. He uses this as a springboard to write a compelling tale of the people and events that shaped that race and events that make the 500 the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Charles takes us back to the coming-of-age of automobile racing in the American entertainment industry. Some race fans might remember that Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, Arthur C. Newby and Frank H. Wheeler hosted the first auto races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August 1909. The track’s attendance was over 75,000 for the three days and numerous records were set. By the time the three days of racing were over, one driver, two riding mechanics, and two spectators were dead. To make the track safer, the owners decided to repave the track with 3,200,000 ten-pound paving bricks “The Brickyard” was born.

Shortly after the 1910 events, the Speedway founders announced plans for a automobile race with a purse of $25,000 in cash prizes for a single day of racing. The date for the first Indianapolis 500 was finally set for May 30, 1911.

Leerhsen does an incredible job of describing the story as the event unfolded. As the race progressed, the race standings of the 40 race cars became more and more confused. The Speedway’s four manual scoreboards were usually not in agreement, and at mid-race the pit timing stand was unattended for about 10 minutes due to a nearby accident. Other problems with the official timing system further muddled the race results. Ray Harroun was awarded the first place winnings of $14,250 in purse and accessory prizes.

Charles Leerhsen’s incredible research, writing, and character studies of the story’s key figures, like Carl Fisher, Barney Oldfield, Ralph Mulford, Ray Harroun, Howard Marmon, and their riding mechanics weave you into the story. His familiarity with the times of the era create a riveting tale of the birth of the Indianapolis 500.

Peruse Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery Mayhem and the Birth of the Indy 500 at Amazon.com

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.