Tag Archives: Indy 500

From my Bookshelf-Summer 2016 Edition

If you’re like me, I know you’re continually looking for interesting auto related books. Here are some picks from my bookshelf for summer 2016.

Industrial Strength Design
Industrial Strength Design

One of the first things that draws me to an automobile is styling. In Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World, author Glenn Adamson documents Brooks Stevens’ career in Industrial Design from 1934 – 1979.

One automotive example is how Brooks Stevens customized his own Cord L-29 Cabriolet in 1938. Stevens made slight changes to the body and fender contours, finished off with a streamline paint job, and added a sloping windshield and chrome wheel discs over the stock wire wheels. Next, he removed the rumble seat and folding top and installed a seamless rear body with a rounded fin protruding from the center. (This may be the earliest tail fin to appear on an American car.) He dramatically transformed the front of the car with a bar type grille with sculptured chrome bumpers and teardrop shaped “wood lights.” Today, this car resides in a private collection.

Adamson yields a thorough look at Brooks Stevens’ influence on industrial design. The author provides insights about this creative force for over four decades.

Industrial Strength Design at Amazon.com.

Umbrella mike

I am interested in stories that involve the Indianapolis 500. In Umbrella Mike: The True Story of the Chicago Gangster Behind the Indy 500, author Brock Yates documents Mike Boyle’s love of high-speed automobiles that began at the age of 16 when he attended the Chicago Times-Herald race on November 28, 1895 (one of the America’s first auto races). This event later led to Boyle’s quest to win the Indianapolis 500. Boyle cars won the 500 three times, once with Bill Cummings as the driver in 1934, and twice with Wilbur Shaw in 1939 and 1940.

Boyle’s quest for new speedsters led him to the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup race on Long Island, NY, where he witnessed the dominance of European-built machines. Here he became further acquainted with Wilbur Shaw driving a Maserati. In early 1939, Shaw was assigned to drive the new Maserati 8CTF and drove this car to victory in the next two 500’s.

Yates provides an interesting look at Mike Boyle’s desire to be at the top of American auto racing. The author draws you into the action on the track.

Peruse Umbrella Mike: The True Story of the Chicago Gangster Behind the Indy 500 at Amazon.com.

Arsenal of Ddemocracy
Arsenal of Ddemocracy

I have always been interested in how the American automotive industry became known as the “Arsenal of Democracy.” In The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm America at War, author A. J. Baime documents how Henry Ford and his son Edsel, with the Ford Motor Company, used automotive production methods to create the Willow Run aircraft factory. The facility was able to produce bombers at the unheard of rate of a “bomber an hour.” Ford’s initiative is a leading example of how the American automotive industry became known as the “Arsenal of Democracy.”

The first Ford-produced B-24 Liberator rolled off the huge Willow Run assembly line on May 15, 1942. The B-24 Liberator remains the most mass-produced American military aircraft ever. Of the total 18,482 Liberators built during the war, 8,685 rolled out of Willow Run. At the peak of production, the plant employed over 42,000 workers.

Baime’s looks at the automotive industry’s quest to arm America and her allies.

Peruse The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm America at War at Amazon.com.

Built for Adventure
Built for Adventure

After reading Clive Cussler’s Artic Drift, I became aware of one of his nonfiction works – Built for Adventure: The Classic Automobiles of Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt

For a genuine car nut like myself, this book was a venture into cars from the classic era. The fact that 13 of the 58 cars highlighted in the book are Indiana-built didn’t surprise me. These included Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg, Marmon and Stutz models. My choice of the best Indiana-built car is the 1932 V-12 Auburn boattail speedster that is also featured on the back of the Artic Drift dust cover.

Author Clive Cussler does an outstanding job of documenting these classic cars from his collection. He presents a brief history of each auto producer, thoughts about what drew him to each car, and details about the features of each particular auto.

Cussler’s weaves a thorough look at these classic icons. The book’s production fits a classic theme with an outstanding layout and first class photography.

Peruse Built for Adventure: The Classic Automobiles of Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt at Amazon.com.

So, if you’re looking for some different books about our automotive heritage, I invite you to peruse these. See you the next time from my bookshelf.

For more information on our bookstore follow this link.

My First Indy 500

This past week at my Toastmasters club, each member reminisced about his or her first Indy 500. I thought I would share my memories of the race along with some documentation from the Indianapolis Star.

As some of you might know, I attended Indianapolis 500 practice and qualifications with my dad and uncles starting in the early 1950’s. I really enjoyed watching the activities from many vantage points around the track. One of my favorites is in the grandstand outside of turn one. I especially liked watching the drivers work their roadsters through the curve. Every driver had his particular groove around the track.

My dad enjoyed listening to the race on the radio instead of being there in person, so I was left to my own devices to go to the race. Finally, on Thursday, May 30, 1963, my chance arrived. One of my neighborhood buddies, dad was an Indianapolis Motor Speedway patrolman and saved us a place along the fence inside of turn one. There I was with 275,000 other people watching all of the pre-race festivities from our prime spot on the fence.

Dennis E. Horvath at Indy 500
Copyright ©1964 Indianapolis Star

We were unaware that Indianapolis Star photographer Tommy Wadelton was documenting the action from the other side of the fence. There we were in the middle of his photograph published in the Indianapolis Star on May 24, 1964. That skinny kid in sunglasses with a flat-top in the second row is me. Just to my right behind me was Jay Skoda and to my right in the front row was Larry Stroudman. I wasn’t wearing a hat to cover my head on that sunny day and that caused me to get a bad sun burn on my scalp. So that’s why you most always see me with a hat of some kind.

Oh well, back to the race. My favorite driver, Parnelli Jones, started the race in pole position. Jim Hurtubise started in the middle of the first row. Hurtubise led the first lap of the race, but Parnelli recaptured the lead on the second lap. About mid-way through the race, signs of oil started to show on the external oil tank of Parnelli’s car. Every lap we wondered if he would be black flagged for dropping oil. Finally, the concern about dropping oil went away. Yahoo! Parnell won the race with Jimmy Clark finishing second in a rear-engine Lotus Powered by Ford racer.

Memories of my first Indy 500 are fresh in my mind today, some 49 years later. That 1963 race was the first of many at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was probably one of the things that sparked my interest in automotives. See you at the track.

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

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.

Another approach to the 1965 Indianapolis 500

J. C. Agajanian’s Hurst Special took a different approach to the 1965 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

1965 Agajanian Hurst Special
1965 Agajanian Hurst Special

After holding out on entering a rear-engine race car for a couple of years, J. C. Agajanian entered a rebuilt Lotus Ford entry for Parnelli Jones in the 1965 Indianapolis 500 classic. For 1965, 44 of the 68 entries were rear-engine cars.

After exhaustive study over many months, it became apparent to veteran chief mechanic Johnny Pouelsen that they had to strengthen inherently weak components that had turned up in the original design. This total overhaul was to compensate for the extreme pressures on the chassis and suspension due primarily to the increase in horsepower demands plus wider tire tread widths. To accomplish this feat, Pouelsen and body constructor Eddie Kuzma transformed car 98 by replacing every inch of the original metal milled in England.

It is interesting to note that with all of this re-engineering of the Lotus Fords, A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones both suffered failure of their right-rear hub carriers in practice during May 6 and May 9 respectively. On Pole Day, the all-Lotus-Ford front row consisted of A.J. Foyt, Jimmy Clark, and Dan Gurney. Parnelli qualified for the middle of the second row. On Thursday, May 20, while Parnelli was breaking in a new engine, his right rear suspension broke off entering turn four and slammed into the wall. Agajanian vowed the car would be ready for race day.

On Race Day, Jimmy Clark’s superbly prepared green and yellow Lotus Ford was too much car for the rest of the field. Foyt, Gurney, and Jones battled for second place. Parnelli’s engine began missing at 150 miles, and Foyt’s gearbox gave out just short of 300 miles. Clark finished first after leading 190 of the 200 laps. As Parnelli completed the final lap, he was moving his car from side-to-side across the track, shaking down the last few drops of fuel in his tanks. The crowd cheered for him as he crossed the finish line in second place just six seconds ahead of Mario Andretti.

1965 first rear-engine car wins Indianapolis 500 Mile Race

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first rear-engine car winning the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

Jimmy Clark 1965 in the Lotus Powered by Ford entry
Jimmy Clark 1965 in the Lotus Powered by Ford entry

Jimmy Clark, “The Flying Scot”, completely remodeled the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 31, 1965, in his third attempt while driving a rear-engine “Lotus Powered by Ford.” His win ended the three-decade domination of the famed Offenhauser front-engine roadsters. In the race, 1963 winner, Parnelli Jones finished second, rookie Mario Andretti was third, and Gordon Johncock drove an Offenhauser roadster to fifth place.

1965 Ford dohc engine
1965 Ford dohc engine

Following the 1964 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, the Ford Motor Company decided to further develop its competition engine for use in the 1965 event. The racing fraternity showed considerable interest in this engine and a substantial number of participants designed and built vehicles around the new Ford double-overhead-cam engine. The new engine was primarily a job of designing durability improvements based on the findings of the 1964 race. This engine developed 500 horsepower at 8,600 r.p.m. compared with 425 horsepower at 8,000 r.p.m. in 1964.

Colin Chapman finalized his design for the new Lotus 38 in December 1964. One of the concerns with the new car was new regulations calling for totally new gravity refueling systems. These and other new developments proved out well in testing during the month of May.

Clark motored into the lead on the first lap and led 190 of the 200 laps, setting a new race record of 150.686 m.p.h. His winnings also set a new purse record of $166,621. Clark was the first foreigner to win the 500 since Dario Resta’s victory in 1916.

I was at the Indianapolis 500 in 1965 and still remember Jimmy Clark driving his rear-engine Lotus Ford to win. A lot has changed over the past 50 years, but rear-engine internal combustion cars are still the way to go. See you at the track.