Tag Archives: Indianapolis 500

Wall Smacker by Peter De Paolo

On January 21st, I attended the Indiana Racing Memorial Association’s Collectible Show and found Wall Smacker a book written by Peter De Paolo in 1935.

Pete De Paolo in his 1925 Duesenberg
Pete De Paolo in his 1925 Duesenberg

After perusing the many tables of racing collectibles, I picked De Paolo’s book to learn about auto racing in the early days. In this well-written book, De Paolo describes his life as a riding mechanic and as championship driver from 1920 to 1935.

His introduction started watching his Uncle Ralph De Palma’s racing exploits at the Brighton Beach Course in 1914, where he won all five of the program’s races. His uncle went on to win the 1915 Indianapolis 500 driving a Mercedes Benz. Shortly thereafter, his uncle convinced De Paolo to get some mechanical experience working on cars in New York City.

In the fall of 1919, his uncle hired him as a riding mechanic on a Ballot racer that they campaigned across the country in 1920. Of his first racing experience at the Beverly Hills, California, board speedway, De Paolo stated, “I’ll never forget the thrills that were packed into those opening laps of my first speed experience.” He shares a lot of details of his first experience at the Indianapolis 500 where they finished fifth. Later that summer, they raced Ballot racers in France and Italy.

After the spring 1922 Beverly Hills race, De Paolo parted working with his Uncle Ralph. De Paolo started his first race driving one of Louis Chevrolet’s Frontenacs. In his first Indianapolis 500 driving the Frontenac, at 255 miles he had a lap and a half lead before having to stop for fuel and tires. After returning to the race, while attempting to pass three Duesenbergs, he slid into the northeast infield and smacked the inside wall and damaged the transmission. As the relief driver for Joe Thomas’ Duesenberg, De Paolo finished in tenth place.

In 1924 at Indianapolis, De Paolo finished in sixth place driving a Duesenberg Special. He drove the rest of the season for Duesenberg. In spring 1925, De Paolo finished second at Culver City, California, and first at Fresno, California. De Paolo’s confidence was growing as they reached Indianapolis for the 500. He qualified in second place to start the race. By the 25th lap as he came down the home stretch, no other car was less than a mile behind him. On his 250-mile pit stop, he was relieved from his car for bleeding hands. When he took over again, his car was in fifth place and quickly moved up to second place. He soon drove the Duesenberg Special to first place. In winning the Thirteenth Annual Indianapolis Classic he set a record of 101.13 miles an hour average, which stood for seven years, and answered a question many times asked of him – “What was your greatest thrill?” His total winnings were approximately $40,000. Later that summer, he won at Altoona, Pennsylvania, and Laurel, Maryland.

He continued to win in 1926, at Fulford-By-the-Sea, near Miami, Florida, and finished fifth at Indianapolis. He finished third place in the national standings. He continued to race in 1927, winning again at Altoona, and finishing second at Salem, New Hampshire and won the AAA National Championship. He retired from racing in 1929. In 1935, he was the mentor for Kelly Petillo in winning the Indianapolis 500.

Pete De Paolo had a colorful career in auto racing. His book Wall Smacker does a great job telling his story. I invite you obtain a copy and enjoy the story.

You should attend the Indiana Racing Memorial Association’s Collectible Show in late January and the Indy Bench Racing Weekend in late March to find some racing collectibles.

Lexington Motor Car Company

Another of the lessor-known autos in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit is the 1922 Lexington Model U.

1922 Lexington Model U
1922 Lexington Model U

This manufacturer’s Indiana history began in 1910, when a group of Connersville businessmen enticed the infant Lexington Motor Car Company to relocate from Lexington, Kentucky, to Connersville.

The company was promotionally minded and entered both the Glidden Tour and the Indianapolis 500 in 1912 to attract attention.

In 1915, the four-cylinder engine was supplemented by a light six and a supreme six. With the new Ansted engines, Lexingtons became modern and powerful.

Lexingtons became popular with the release of the Thoroughbred Six and Minute Man Six models. In 1918, the newly formed Ansted Engine Company acquired the Teetor-Hartley Motor Corporation of Hagerstown. The combined Lexington and Ansted facilities measured three blocks long and two blocks wide totaling 270,000 sq. ft. of floor space.

Lexington built two short-wheelbase race cars with the powerful Ansted engine for the 1920 Pikes Peak hill climb. The cars placed first and second in their initial outing and brought home the Penrose trophy. The company cars also second place wins in 1921 through 1924. Again in 1924, Otto Loesche won in 18 minutes and 15 seconds. He brought the trophy home for keeps. The Penrose trophy is on display at the Reynolds Museum on Vine Street in Connersville. In the 1926 event, Joe Unser, an uncle of Indianapolis winners Bobby and Al Unser, placed second place.

Frank B. Ansted, president, announced the formation of the United States Automotive Corporation at the New York Auto Show on January 12, 1920. It was a $10 million merger with the Lexington Motor Car Company, the Ansted Engineering Company, and The Connersville Foundry Corporation from Connersville, plus the Teetor-Hartley Motor Corporation of Hagerstown.

The high point of Lexington production arrived in 1920 with over 6,000 cars built. On December 16, 1921, William C. Durant, founder and former president of General Motors, ordered 30,000 Ansted engines for his new Durant Six that was being built in Muncie by Durant Motors of Indiana, Inc.

Records show that in 1922, United States Automotive Corporation owned 10 different factories that were building parts for its cars. Lexington Motor Car Company and United States Automotive Corporation were affected by recessionary events in the early 20’s. Production in 1922 plummeted to roughly a third of the 1920 total.

In 1923, The Ansted Engine Company entered receivership with William C. Durant as a principle shareholder. Lexington Motor Car Company also entered receivership in 1923. In 1927, E.L. Cord’s Auburn Automobile Company purchased Ansted Engine and the Lexington Motor Car Company, respectively. The Lexington was soon phased out.

I believe the story of the Lexington Motor Car Company adds to Indiana automotive history and thank the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum for sharing this car.

Be sure to visit the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit ending March 26, 2017, to see the gems of Indiana automotive production.

For more information on Indiana-built automobiles, follow this link.

Congratulations to Indiana Racing Memorial Association for recognizing the Chevrolet brothers

I must say congratulations to the Indiana Racing Memorial Association for renovating the Chevrolet brothers grave site in Indianapolis.

Chevrolet brothers memorial

I have known about the Chevrolet grave sites in southern Indianapolis for many years, but was concerned about the poor up-keep and failure to recognized their accomplishments in our automotive industry.

The Indiana Racing Memorial Association, with sponsorship from Chevrolet Motorsports, and the Central Indiana Chevrolet Dealers Association have corrected this oversight. They have created a renovated grave site in the Holy Cross and St. Joseph Cemetery at 2446 S. Meridian Street. They have constructed an exquisite granite monument for
the Chevrolet brothers: Louis, Arthur, and Gaston.

chevrolet-brothers-marker

In addition to the monument, they dedicated a historical marker celebrating their automotive accomplishments. All three raced multiple times in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with Louis winning the first 10-mile race at the Speedway in August 1909 and Gaston taking the 1920 Indianapolis 500.

In 1911, Louis was named president of the Chevrolet Division of General Motors and developed the Chevrolet Classic Six five-passenger touring car. Upon leaving General Motors in 1915, he began developing race cars that competed at the Speedway and across the country. In 1922, Louis and Arthur created the Chevrolet Brothers Company, in Indianapolis, to develop Frontenac cylinder heads to extract greater horsepower from the Ford Model T engine. They produced over 10,000 units that dominated dirt track racing across America.

The easiest way to get to the site is to turn west on Pleasant Run Parkway off South Meridian Street and go about a quarter-mile. Then turn north into the cemetery and proceed to the flagpole. The monument and marker are right there north of the flagpole.

I believe IRMA’s efforts with the monument and historical marker beautifully recognizes the Chevrolet brothers automotive accomplishments. Thanks to IRMA for commemorating our automotive heritage.

For other Louis Chevrolet articles click here. For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

Homage to Parnelli Jones

In the early 1960’s Parnelli Jones was one of the popular drivers on the United States Auto Club circuits. At that time, I was a gearhead who went to many USAC races around Indiana and cheered Parnelli on to victory. Later on, I built these scale models to celebrate his racing accomplishments.

Homage to Parnelli Jones
Homage to Parnelli Jones

From left to right are the 1964 Mercury Marauder that he drove to the 1964 USAC Stock Car championship, the J. C. Agajanian Special in which he won the 1963 Indianapolis 500-mile race, and the Fike Plumbing Special which he drove to USAC sprint car crowns in 1960, 1961, and 1962.

The Fike Plumbing Special has special meaning to me, because in the summer of 1963 I was a parts washer and go-fer on this car while assisting the crew at their garage in Speedway. This is a scratch-built model I built to reminisce about this adventure. Scratch-built items include the sectioned body, grille, driver’s seat with vinyl upholstery, exhaust pipes, rear bumper, roll bar, and computer generated the decals. I started this project in the early 1970’s, put it aside, and finished in the fall of 1998.

The Mercury Marauder and the Indianapolis roadster are vintage AMT kits that I built and detailed with Fred Caddy decals in the late 1990’s.

These models have a special meaning to me that I hope comes across in the finished products. I believe they are the only 1/25 scale models of these famous racers. They are my homage to Parnelli Jones.

Louis Chevrolet Memorial

Louis Chevrolet is best known as the Swiss-born American race car driver and co-founder of the Chevrolet Motor Car Company in 1911 and who later moved on to other ventures. That is only part of the story.

Are you aware that there is a Louis Chevrolet memorial at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? I believe that this memorial at the Speedway is a great honor to an icon who is overlooked in our automotive legacy.

LCM memorial

Fred Wellman conceived his idea for a Louis Chevrolet memorial in 1964 after visiting Chevrolet’s grave in the Holy Cross and St. Joseph Cemetery in Indianapolis. He recognized that Chevrolet deserved a more impressive memorial and set out to create it. In spring 1975, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway completed the construction of the Louis Chevrolet Memorial just west of the entrance to the Speedway Museum.

Adolph Wolter, an acclaimed artist throughout the United States, created the magnificent bust of Louis Chevrolet and the four bronze panels depicting Louis Chevrolet’s major accomplishments.

LCM memorial

The panels show Louis and William C. Durant, founder of General Motors, with the first Chevrolet Classic Six touring car in 1911.

LCM panel2

Chevrolet’s first winning car at Indianapolis 500 in 1920, driven by his brother Gaston, with four Speedway pioneers in the background, Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, Lem H. Trotter and T. E. (Pop) Meyers.

LCM panel3

Chevrolet’s second Indianapolis winner in 1921, driven by Tommy Milton, with Capt. Edward V. Rickenbacker, Col. Arthur W. Herrington, Louis Schwitzer, and Cornelius W. Van Ranst.

LCM panel4

Chevrolet’s 1923 Barber-Warnock Fronty-Ford, which placed fifth driven by L. L. Corum, with Henry Ford at the wheel, flanked by Barney Oldfield, Louis, and Harvey Firestone.

Around the back of the monument are four panels bearing the names of the Automotive Pioneers of Progress.

During the late 1910s and the early 1920s, Louis and his racers had numerous wins across the country. He was second in AAA national point standings for the years 1909 and 1915. With the Chevrolet Brothers Manufacturing Company, he and his brother Arthur produced over 10,000 Frontenac high compression cylinder heads for Ford Model T engines for competition across America. The success of this business was largely due to the fame that he and his brothers had earned racing-especially in the Indianapolis 500.

In all of his years racing and developing race cars he put his best effort forward and enjoyed much success.

His legacy is nearly forgotten, but perhaps we should all live by his motto “Never Give Up,” which is highlighted on the pedestal that holds bust of Louis Chevrolet.

I invite you to visit the Louis Chevrolet Memorial at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on your next visit to Indianapolis.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.