In its glory days, Jungle Park lived up to its image. Spectators came to see who could survive the call of the jungle on this treacherously dangerous race track. Closed for racing since 1955, nature has since taken back its domain. Today, the area is a tranquil, shady setting next to Sugar Creek near Turkey Run State Park.
Usually the spot is closed to the public. But periodically since 2003, race fans and a few survivors of the track gather here for a day to reminiscent, view a few restored race cars and replicas and swap stories.
One story we overheard while walking around the car show was about the time one driver flew over the embankment, was tossed from the car and landed near the bank of Sugar Creek. Most of the track didn’t have an outside retainer wall, so cars careening over the embankment were fairly common. High-banked turn also created high speeds, often up to 100 mph.
Jungle Park opened in 1926 at a time when auto racing was just beginning. In 1927, the reports tallied the deaths of one race official, a spectator, and one driver. Within the next four years, another three drivers died. Eventually the track lost its popularity, but not its reputation. The last race was marred by another major catastrophe. Driver Arlis Marcum swerved to avoid another car and hit a hole. The result caused the car to become airborne, fly over the fence and into the crowd.
A number of Jungle Park veterans went on to win the Indianapolis 500, including one of Indy’s all-time greats, Wilbur Shaw, who won the 500 in 1937, 1939 and 1940.
Yet, today, the tragedies are hard to imagine in this heavily wooded area. Now trees shade the track’s interior, and the buzzing roar of the cars is gone. It’s difficult to imagine such a peaceful place in the country as anything other than a nice picnicking area. But if you look closely, dig a toe into the dirt to find the track, and follow the oval pathway, you can imagine the racing legends and stories that occurred here.
If you want more information on Jungle Park during its heyday, check out the book by Tom W. Williams The Ghosts of Jungle Park: History, Myth and Legend – The story of a place like no other.Check it out on Amazon here.
For more information on our automotive heritage, follow this link.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!