Wednesday, August 23, 2017


The mystery of Jay Frank 
 can our readers help?  

By Kevin Triplett

In the post war year, a racer named Jay Frank appeared in California Roadster Association (CRA) “hot rod” roadster races held at tracks throughout the Los Angeles area. Although local news reports referred to him as a “local driver” additional details are virtually impossible to locate as “Jay Frank” was likely a nom de guerre.  Many future Indianapolis ‘500’ stars competed against Jay Frank in the CRA roadster races, including future ’500’ winners Troy Ruttman, Jim Rathmann and Pat Flaherty as well as Andy Linden, Richard ‘Red’ Amick, and Jack McGrath.

Historian Thomas Schmeh found the earliest article mention of Frank in the November 25 1946 edition of the Los Angeles Times that reported on the previous night's roadster race at Bonelli Ranch where Jay Frank won the 15-lap semi-main. Originally built as a rodeo grounds, the stadium with its 1/3-mile track evolved into a popular midget and roadster racing venue. Later paved and known as Sagus Speedway the track still owned by Bonelli family closed in 1995.  

In early December 1946, Jay Frank was credited with a heat race victory in the CRA's first visit to the Bakersfield Speed Bowl, a facility in Oildale California that has continued to operate under many names through the years and is still in operation as Bakersfield Speedway. During the 1946 CRA season, Jay drove the #48  1932 Ford roadster owned by Morris McGauhey.   

In early September 1947, Jay Frank finished third in the semi-main behind Roy Prosser and Yam Oka, and Prosser went on to win that night's feature event at the ½-mile dirt Carrell Speedway which was owned by contractor Emmett Malloy and was located at the corner of 174th and Vermont Streets in the South Bay community of Gardena.  The next night in action at Huntington Beach Speedway, Frank won the 15-lap semi-main ahead of Colby Scroggin and Lou Figaro.  
Jay Frank experienced success early in the 1948 CRA season; in early April driving for car owner Reg Schlemmer he finished second to defending CRA champion Ruttman at the ¼-mile paved Culver City Speedway. Three days later Jay Frank captured his first CRA feature victory in a 25-lap affair at Carrell Speedway.

 
A replica poster for the Huntington Beach
hot rod auto races
 
During the 1948 season there was a brief Southern California roadster racing sanctioning war, which began when Huntington Beach Speedway promoter Bob Ware formed the California Hot Rod Association (CHRA). Two well-known CRA drivers, Dick Vineyard and Yam Oka (one of five racing Nisei brothers) joined to CHRA. Together with Bonelli Stadium  (which Ware co-promoted) the CHRA sanctioned roadster races under the lights at Huntington Beach on Friday nights. However by early September the 1/5-mile dirt track inside Talbert Stadium returned to the CRA fold with Sunday afternoon events.    

In addition to dealing with an upstart rival roadster sanctioning body, the CRA series lost six of its major name drivers – Ruttman, Linden, Freeland, Davies, Chuck Leighton and Spec Friedan - to the short-lived Wednesday night midget race series promoted by Hollywood car owner Bill White which was conducted on a wooden track inside the Rose Bowl. After several weeks devoted to racing midgets, three of the CRA stars - Ruttman, Freeland and Davies returned to compete in the CRA roadster races at Carrell.

The construction of the CRA roadsters changed in the middle of the 1948 season after Carrell Speedway racing director JC Agajanian ordered CRA President Tom Sloan to institute new rules following the August 11th death of driver Fred Luce.  The Gardena oval had seen three fatalities during the 1948 season – Ed (Bob) Rozzano, Morris ‘Slim’ Mathis and Luce, and with the Tommy Wise’s earlier fatality in August 1947, four deaths in a year.
 
Two of the three new rules instituted were straightforward - first each car shall be equipped with only one carburetor; second, cars had to use “stock gasoline” not alcohol for fuel. The final rule required that all chassis “be reinforced with special emphasis on the driver’s compartment.”     

Late in the 1948 CRA season, prior to the “Grand Prix” at Huntington Beach Speedway Jimmy Davies led the points chase over Bob Cross, Linden and Ruttman. The “Grand Prix” featured a unique format with twin 50-lap features followed by a 20-lap finale that featured the top three finishers of each 50-lapper.
 
Ruttman who had returned to the driver’s seat of Bert Letner’s roadster after he midget foray emerged as the 1948 CRA champion after the December 5 season finale beating out Lou Figaro and Bob Cross. Jay Frank was credited with seventh place in 1948 CRA points behind Jimmy Davies, Jim Rigsby and Roy Prosser. 

Jay Frank began his 1949 racing season at Carrell Speedway and initially was reported to have finished in second place in the February 12th 100-lap stock car race that featured many of the CRA regulars. Fellow historian Jim Thurman uncovered a later news article that revealed that the car of Troy Ruttman, the apparent victor by half a lap over Frank, was disqualified when a post-race inspection revealed an “illegal motor.”  

A month later the next 250-lap stock car race at Carrell in addition to a new requirement that competitors make two pit stops during the race - one for refueling and one for a tire change, officials required that all entries undergo a “thorough inspection for confirmation of the strictly stock specifications” before their qualification run. 

During the course of the 1949 season, Jay Frank and teammate Roy Prosser took their roadsters back to the Midwest and raced with Andy Granatelli’s Hurricane Racing Association, which also sanctioned “stock car” (more like jalopy) races. In July Jay Frank raced in the Hurricane stock car program at the ¼-mile asphalt Rockford Speedway together with a group of future Indianapolis Motor Speedway legends.
 
In addition to the fastest qualifier Vince Granatelli, Pat Flaherty, Dick Rathman and Ronny Kaplan all raced in a 25-lap feature which was run in a downpour. Future 1960 Indianapolis ‘500’ champion Jim Rathman won the treacherous race while Jay Frank finished in second place.

During the month of August 1949 Jay Frank raced with the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) during their inaugural season of stock car racing. At the ½-mile Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Cedar Rapids Iowa he finished tenth and then finished thirteenth at the famed Milwaukee Mile (which was still a dirt surface) both while driving a 1947 Ford.

After the Midwest racing circuits shut down for the season, Jay Frank returned to the West Coast and appeared in the American Automobile Association (AAA) “big car” race at Carrell Speedway on Sunday afternoon December 4 1949.  Jay led the field on the first lap of feature but spun and his car was struck by the machine of “Bullet” Joe Garson and Frank suffered what was described in the Long Beach Independent as a “gashed chin.” The crowd of 8100 fans saw Johnny Mantz who starred at Indianapolis and would later win the first Southern ‘500’ take the 30-lap feature win.

Jay Frank spent most of his 1950 season in the Midwest. On Friday night June 23 1950, Jay Frank won the Hurricane stock car feature at Kokomo (Indiana) Speedway after he finished third in his heat race to advance to the feature starting field. Although Frank won the 25-lap feature, the evening’s star was Chicago-based Hurricane stalwart “Wild Willie” Sternquist who  won the trophy dash and finished second behind Frank in the feature after he started from the 21st position.  


 

Revolutionary change was occurring in “stock car” racing, and in February 1950, the AAA Contest Board voted to “sanction and supervise legitimate stock car racing events on track one mile or more in length where a creditable race can be held under approved racing conditions and only be accredited AAA racing promoters.”  This was the opening salvo in the long-running war over the legitimacy of Bill France’s newly formed National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) created just six months earlier.

The 38-year old driver who hailed from Los Angeles excelled in the five-race 1950 AAA stock car series which was open only to 1949, 1950 or 1951 model year American-built standard stock steel-topped sedans or coupes. Foreign-made cars, convertibles, “Jeeps,” police cars or station wagons were not eligible for AAA competition.
 

A typical 1950 Oldsmobile stock car


The inaugural AAA stock car event advertised as “the first major stock car race held in the United States since World War Two,” was held July 9th at the storied Wisconsin State Fairgrounds one-mile dirt oval in Milwaukee.  Jay Frank qualified his 303 cubic inch V-8 powered 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 to start fifth in the 26-car field for the 150-mile race, behind veteran midget racer Myron Fohr, Dick Rathmann, Norm Nelson and Vince Granatelli. 

Nelson another midget racing veteran led the first 20 laps before Fohr took over and led the rest of the way in a 336 cubic inch flathead powered 1949 Lincoln. Myron was chased across the finish line by Nelson, Andy Granatelli, Art Combs and Jay Frank all driving Oldsmobiles. Of the twenty-nine starters, ten were 1950 Oldsmobiles and nine were 1949 Lincolns 

Prior to the next 1950 AAA stock car race a 100-lap event at Milwaukee on August 25, race director Tom Marchese announced a new rule - no more than four cars of any make would be allowed in the 24-car starting lineup. The starting lineup featured a large number of established AAA stars; in addition to Fohr, the field boasted Tony Bettenhausen, Jerry Hoyt and Chuck Stevenson. 

Jay Frank led the field in qualifying in his Rocket 88, but in the race was never a factor; his Oldsmobile never led a lap and retired with a broken hub on lap 46. Indianapolis ‘500’ pre-war veteran Paul Russo inherited the race win in a 1949 Cadillac after leader Myron Fohr was forced to pit with just eleven laps to go.   

With a best lap of 56.89 miles per hour (MPH) Jay Frank qualified second for the AAA “Southern Illinois 100” held on Labor Day at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds in Southern Illinois outpaced only by Myron Fohr in his 1949 Lincoln. On a sunny afternoon before a crowd estimated at over 10,000, Jay Frank led into the first turn and never looked back.

Frank lapped all the cars in the field except second place Myron Fohr by lap 25, then Fohr surrendered second place when he pitted on the 45th lap. In a race that ran non-stop in a time of 90 minutes and 26.57 seconds, Rodney Clark finished second behind Frank trailed by Don O’Dell in another 1950 Oldsmobile in third place.

A mere six days later, the AAA stock cars raced at Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta Georgia, the heart of NASCAR stock car country, in a race considered as an experiment by the AAA. Norris Friel the technical chairman of the AAA Contest Board told reporters that if the 200-mile race was successful, the AAA would sanction a 500-mile stock car race at Lakewood next year. The entry list featured all the three of the famous Flock racing brothers – Tim, Bob and Truman, known as “Fonty.”

For unknown reasons, the local Atlanta newspapers identified Jay as “Johnny Frank” and the AAA race records list him as “Jack Frank.” Frank led the race with 18 laps to go before his Oldsmobile blew a tire on the backstretch and he was forced into the pit area.  NASCAR regular Billy Carden from Marbleton Georgia in a 1950 Mercury won the three hour and thirteen minute marathon followed by Robert “Red” Byron and Norm Nelson while Jay Frank recovered to finish fourth. 
The “experiment” must not have been deemed successful, as the AAA stock cars did not return to Lakewood the following year for a 500-mile race, but did make a final appearance two years later with a 100-lap race which was marked by fatal crash of “big car” veteran Frank Luptow.   

The 1950 AAA stock car season wound up just one week after the Atlanta race with a 100-mile race held at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. Norm Nelson came into the finale leading the championship with 760 points and only needed to finish the race to clinch the championship. Jay Frank who qualified for the pole position was second in points and in order to capture the championship he had to win the race and Nelson had to drop out of the race.  

Years later in an interview, Nelson recalled “that's exactly what happened. The engine in my Oldsmobile blew and he won the race." Frank finished the 100-mile distance at a speed of 69 MPH and won the race purse of $2000 and the 1950 AAA stock car championship with 830 points to Nelson’s 760. Nelson would go on to win the United States Auto Club (USAC) – the predecessor to AAA – stock car championship three times as a driver and five times as a car owner.   

The 1951 AAA stock car championship consisted of just three races, all run at the Milwaukee Mile. The first race originally scheduled for July 8th, was rained out and rescheduled for July 15. Once again the race featured an impressive list of future and current racing superstars including Rodger Ward, Tony Bettenhausen, Myron Fohr, Rex Easton and Jack McGrath.

The entry list totaled 58 cars competing for the 24-car starting field and included fourteen Oldsmobiles, 11 Hudsons, seven Plymouths and four each from Nash, Packard, Chrysler and Studebaker, as well as Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Cadillac and a Kaiser.  The defending AAA champion Jay Frank who now listed Leland Michigan as his hometown started on the pole in his #1 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 sponsored by Bell Auto Sales with McGrath alongside in his 1951 Hudson Hornet.  

Frank led the first six circuits but the race was dominated by Bettenhausen in E.J. Carr’s 1951 Chrysler, as Tony led the next 138 laps. When Bettenhausen pitted, Rodger Ward took the lead and led the final six laps in his 1951 Oldsmobile and took the checkered flag in a new record time of 2 hours 12 minutes and 39.71 seconds.

The final two races of the 1951 AAA stock car season were run back-to-back on Thursday and Friday August 23 and 24 in association with the Wisconsin State Fair. Jay Frank’s name does not appear in the fragmented partial results of the August 23 race won by Nelson, before Nelson’s 1951 Oldsmobile was disqualified after a post-race inspection found a non-standard rear end gear ratio which Nelson claimed could be purchased in mountain states.
AAA officials awarded the win to Rodger Ward and based upon his two race wins in three races, Ward clinched the 1951 AAA stock car championship.  In the season finale the next day August 24 Jay Frank was credited with a ninth place finish driving a Chevrolet as he finished one lap behind winner Norm Nelson.

Following the 1951 season, Jay Frank’s name dropped from the racing headlines, and a July 1952 article in the Belvedere (Illinois) Daily Register published prior to the Milwaukee stock car race revealed that Jay Frank now claimed Oconomowoc Wisconsin as his hometown. Several years passed before Jay Frank now 43 years old reappeared on the racing scene in a pair of races during the 1956 NASCAR Pacific Coast Late Model (PCLM) season. West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame Chairman Ken Clapp recalls Jay Frank at that time as “a tall slim good-looking man with a mustache.”
 
 
A typical 1956 Ford stock car
 

Frank’s 1956 race appearances both came at the ¼-mile dirt Gardena Stadium oval. In the first race a 250-lap event on March 11, Frank finished 10th in a 1956 Ford built by Scotty Cain and owned by Joe Keaton. His second 1956 appearance came on April 8 as he finished in ninth place again in Keaton’s 1956 Ford. After he failed to qualify for the NASCAR PCLM race at Portland Speedway in June 1956, Jay Frank dropped out of the public eye, which only contributes to the mystery surrounding the inaugural season AAA stock car champion.

The author is anxious to learn more about Jay Frank, either before, during or after his racing career. If you have some relevant information please contact the author at kevracerhistory@aol.com.
The author sincerely appreciates the contributions to this article by Thomas Schmeh, Dick Jordan, Ken Clapp, Donald Davidson, Jim Thurman and the members of the Nostalgia forum at TrackForum.com (http://www.trackforum.com).

 

 

 

 

Monday, August 21, 2017


Duffy Livingstone

By Doug Stokes / Stokes Communications 

 

August 19, 2017: Frank "Duffy" Livingstone passed away earlier this week at the age of 92.  He was, as he once confided in me, and as his closest friends always suspected, a Martian. 

There was always a wry look in his eye that told you he was in possession of far more information (about anything) than he was putting out at the time. That cockeyed smile, the quick wink (... or did I just imagine that he winked?), and then reaching into his pocket to draw out a quarter and hand it to me all without a word, always gave him away.

That he was in fact: "...not from around here," was pretty evident.  Not that he ever had any trouble at all acting like an actual human; it was just something that was part of the general surrounding ambiance every time that we ever spent any time together ... background music, if you will, no little twitchy antennas (at least not visible ones).

He was also one of the true "fathers" of American Karting and, perhaps the best damn welder who ever shook his head to have a mask fall into place before making welds that looked like DaVinci or Michelangelo had painted them. 

In fact, he was such a master of light metal welding that a couple of high-zoot aerospace companies thought so much of his work that they regularly dropped off mysterious packages at the back door of his SuperWeld shop in Costa Mesa very late at night and came back the next night to pick up the finished pieces of some very exotic parts (er ... "critical components") which (I'm quite sure) Uncle Sugar thought sure the big-dollar aerospace guys were doing at their digs. 

Duffy (or "Due-Fay", his preferred pronunciation) was a (seemingly) laconic fellow who was just "having fun" most of the time, (no ... make that all of the time).  But that mind, that remarkable, wonderfully diverse, brain of his was always on, always alert, always tracking.
 
His lasting contribution to the sport was the International Kart Federation.  He understood early-on that the sport needed solid rules and guidance if it was not only to grow, but to be taken seriously.  He lived long enough see that and more. 

When I served as the Executive Director of the IKF from 1979 to 1984, my first official act was to give our bookkeeper, Rosemary Judy, a dollar bill and ask her to cut a check to me for that same amount.  Duffy was then the IKF treasurer and, at that time, both his and my signatures were needed on organization checks.  One of my heroes and me, signing the same check!  Wow!  I wish that I still had that check (it's probably around here somewhere) to show people.
 
 

A few years later, after getting  a couple of threatening letters from some high-powered Hollywood attorneys representing the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, I indicated to the association President, the late John Strauser, that we needed to stop referring to our Pete Millar-designed Grand National Championship award in print as: "Karting's Oscar".  John agreed, I then suggested naming it for Duffy and (of course) the board of directors agreed. 

Duffy once told me that he was at an IKF GN event in the Pacific Northwest and found himself looking at the trophies that were lined up and on display before being handed out.  There was a little boy there marveling at the statuettes.  Duffy asked the youngster what all the fuss was about with the solid bronze trophy that was a statuette of a man in a karting suit and helmet holding a smaller version of himself, who was holding a yet smaller version of himself (and so on until all detail is lost). 

The kid's eyes got very wide and he related a wild tale of derring-do and heroism that had the man (whose nickname was given to the award) fighting dragons, curing disease, and most likely changing the course of mighty rivers in his spare time.   

"He was from a long, long time ago," the kid explained to Duffy.  "He was a really great man."  

You know what?  He was                                                      


For those interested in reading more about Duffy Livingstone, may we suggest Brock Yates' book Hot Rod: Resurrection of a Legend.
 

 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Can our readers help solve 
a Hank Blum chassis mystery?  

The Hank Blum story by Kevin Triplett

7/31/17 updated with detailed photos of the chassis to hopefully identify this car

The aircraft industry and specifically Lockheed Aircraft was fertile training ground for mid-century race car builder and fabricators. Legendary car builder AJ Watson worked there and met engineer Henry “Hank” Blum  from Studio City California who along with fellow Lockheed engineer Leroy Payne “engineered” the original AJ Watson “Pots and Pans Special” championship car officially known as the “City of Glendale Special.” The city did not actually have anything to do with the program, but Watson’s shop and many of Watson’s buddies including Blum that helped and chipped in parts and money lived in and around Glendale.

Dick Rathmann qualified the car 18th for the 1950 Indianapolis 500-mile race but finished 32nd after the crankshaft broke in the Offenhauser engine built with other team’s cast-off parts. Hank Blum, Payne, Jud Phillips and Ronnie Ward among others worked as Watson’s volunteer crew which had better results at Milwaukee and Langhorne, before Joe James replaced Rathmann as the driver when the team picked up sponsorship from Lincoln Mercury dealer Bob Estes.  

1951 Joe James drove the “Pots and Pans” machine at Indianapolis but finished last with a broken driveshaft. James drove nine more races in 1951 for the Watson/Estes combination and followed Watson when he went to work for the Jack Zink team after the 1951 Detroit race. In 1952 Jim Rigsby qualified the Estes sponsored Watson upright in third starting position and finished 12th. In 1953, Don Freeland crashed the “Pots and Pans” machine on lap 76 in turn four.  

It is unclear when he built it, but in 1956 Hank Blum entered his own “long wheelbase” Wayne headed GMC-powered chassis, which could race as either a championship car or a sprint car. The car was entered in a May 25 1956 sprint car race for Chuck Hulse held on the Willow Springs road course. Hulse qualified the Blum car more than 2 seconds a lap faster than the next qualifier, but after he won the feature by over a lap, he was penalized for a jump start and placed second behind Danny 'Termite" Jones.


1956 news photo provided by Lee Hulse


Hulse obtained a United States Auto Club (USAC) license and drove the Blum car in the Pike’s Peak Hill climb. In the first of the Pikes Peak sanctioned non-points race, Hulse failed to finish his run up the mountain. 

Chuck crashed 1/4 of the way up the hill and landed upside dangling above a huge drop off. Chuck now 90 years young, say "it could have been worse."  

The #77 “Blum Engineering Special” returned to Pikes Peak the following year for driver Frank Sanborn who finished ninth, as he drove in place of Hulse who raced instead at a CRA (California Racing Association) sprint car event.  

Betty and Chuck Hulse at Pikes Peak in 1958
Photo provided by Lee Hulse
 

Over the winter of 1957-1958, Watson was itching to make more money by building additional cars beyond what the Zink team needed, and in a financial partnership with Hank Blum built a roadster chassis “on spec” which was entered at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway under Blum’s name.

The new roadster was sold to Lee Elkins and Dick Rathmann proceeded to put the ‘McNamara Special’ on the pole position for the start of the 1958 Indianapolis ‘500.’ On race day after a confusing start procedure with the 33 cars leaving single file from the pit area, Rathmann and Zink’s driver Ed Elisian eliminated themselves involved in the notorious turn three first lap wreck that took the life of Pat O’Connor.  

In 1958 at Pike’s Peak Hulse returned as the driver of the Blum/GMC car and finished eighth, then the ‘Blum Engineering Special’ missed the starting field at Sacramento. During 1959, after Hulse had trouble finding a regular CRA ride, Blum pulled the chassis out of storage and Hulse won CRA two features.


First 1959 CRA win victory lane photo
provided by Lee Hulse 


Those victories which earned Hulse a shot in the new Roger McCluskey-built 270-cubic inch Offenhauser powered Alex Morales-owned “Tamale Wagon” with which Hulse captured the 1959 CRA championship.  Hulse and Blum used the same “combination” chassis configured as a championship car at Sacramento and Phoenix but they missed the show at Phoenix and broke early during the race at the old California State Fairgrounds track.

In 1962,  Hank Blum used a set of drawings he had engineered for Watson to build his own 4-torsion bar suspended dirt car chassis which appeared as the #78 ‘Blum Engineering Special’ for Chuck Hulse at the Hoosier Hundred , Sacramento and Phoenix , the three final dirt track races on the 1962 USAC Championship trail.

Hulse recorded two top ten finishes and liked the car’s handling so well that when he signed to drive for the “Dean Van Lines” team for 1963, he convinced team owner Dean and his chief mechanic Clint Brawner to lease the Blum chassis and it appeared in seven 1963 USAC races with a second place at the Phoenix season finale.  

Over the winter of 1963-1964, Blum sold the chassis to the team of Sid Weinberger and Frank Wilseck and it was raced the “Weinberger Homes Special” in early 1964 by Johnny White. "Rookie" driver Gordon Johncock drove the car in four races later in the 1964 season after White crashed a sprint car at Terre Haute in June 1964 and was permanently paralyzed  

Also during 1963 Hank Blum and body man Wayne Ewing, a Watson employee, teamed up to build a new roadster chassis for Al Dean. There is some confusion as this car is referred to at various times as a “Blum” but more often as a “Ewing” and was driven in 1963 by Chuck Hulse which meant that all of Hulse's races in 1963 were behind the wheel of a Blum chassis. In 1964 and 1965 the Dean Van Lines Special Blum/Ewing roadster was driven by a young "rookie" named Mario Andretti.  

The original 1962 Blum dirt car chassis was driven as the “Weinberger Homes Special” by Johncock and Roger McCluskey during the 1965 season, then at the 1965 USAC season finale at Phoenix it was apparently leased to Al Dean and it was driven by Bud Tinglestad as the “Dean Van Lines Special” as an insurance entry. The car was a back-up for Andretti to take over if he encountered trouble in his regular Brawner Hawk. Andretti finished second in the Hawk and captured the 1965 USAC driving championship as Tinglestad finished fifth.

Chuck Hulse drove the 1962 Blum/Offenhauser with "Dean Van Lines" colors at the 1966 season opener at Phoenix as he returned from a two-year layoff due to an eye  injury and finished third.  Later in the year the 1962 Blum chassis was returned to Weinberger colors and  driven by Bobby Unser in four races who finished three of those races in the top five. In 1967 still in Weinberger Homes colors, Johnny Rutherford drove the 1962 Blum chassis in four dirt races and scored one top five finish.

The pilot of the Weinberger/Blum car for the 1968 and 1969 USAC seasons was Larry Dickson.  in 1968 he entered four races with the Blum chassis, qualified for three races and finished in the top 10 all three times, with a best finish of second place at the Springfield Mile, which matched the 1963 Phoenix race as the car’s best-ever finishes.  In 1969, Dickson qualified for four dirt starts in the Weinberger Blum chassis and scored two top five finishes.
 
 
The 1962 Hank Blum chassis as raced
by the Mataka Brothers
Photographer unknown
 

After the 1969 season, Weinberger dropped out of USAC racing and sometime later the Blum Chassis was sold to the Mataka Brothers, William and Ed of New Jersey who raced the car still Offenhauser powered as the “Raceweld Special” for three USAC races in 1971, driven by Joe Saldana and in one race by Jerry Karl. The 'Raceweld' Blum chassis appeared in four USAC races in 1972 driven by Saldana for the first race and then the rest of the season by Carl Williams.

In 1973 Arizona’s “Bronco” Billy Shuman drove the Raceweld car in three races but failed to finish any of them. Joe Saldana returned to the seat for the 1974 season, but it unclear whether the Blum chassis was still Offenhauser powered that season.  The 1962 Blum dirt car chassis was apparently retired by the Mataka brothers after the 1974 Hoosier Hundred. 
During its 12-year USAC racing career, the 1962 Hank Blum chassis was driven by some legendary names Rutherford, Johncock, Bobby Unser, Saldana and Dickson, and the other lesser-known Hank Blum-built chassis were driven by Chuck Hulse and Mario Andretti, mighty accomplishments for a man who was an aircraft engineer and not a full-time race car builder.   

Now for the mystery – by Tom David

David Tom the current owner of the pictured car bought the car from Ken Hillberg in 2016 after it had been restored during the period of 2000 to 2002. The restoration work was done using the original chassis and included the roll bar, seat, fuel tank, Halibrand steering brakes, wheels, quick change rear, and several other parts. Hillberg acquired the car in a trade with Jim Travis who found the car in the car in the mid-1990's at a swap meet in Southern California.  At that time the car had a distinct "Silver Crown" appearance with a bolt on cage that utilized the existing main hoop as a welding point. 
 



These restoration photos were provided by David Tom
 

There are no known photos of the car as it was found by Travis but we have a few of restoration photos as the car neared the completion. It is a 96" wheelbase car restored as a transverse leaf spring front, but there are clearly signs that it could have been a four link front at one time. The owner Mr. Tom was told that it was a Grant King car.

There is evidence on the chassis that there was significant damage in the left front at one time, therefore the Grant King claim may originate from King making repairs to the car at one time which include the replacement of the axle.  A Grant King style fiberglass engine cover fiberglass nose and aluminum grill were used in the restoration which also used a fiberglass Edmunds sprint car tail was used with 4 inches being added to the front to make it appear as a Champ car tail.  

The hand-formed aluminum fuel tank appears to be original to the chassis and pre-dates the use of a bladder although there is now a bladder in the tank. The aluminum seat is claimed to be original to the chassis.  The seat has cutouts for a "Sam Brown" belt although it has been modified for a later five-point system and right shoulder bolster support. 
 


Detailed photographs of the
engine installation from David Tom
 
The car had a Chevrolet small block engine installed when David Tom got it but that engine clearly does not optimally fit into the chassis.  The upper frame rails (front) force the Chevrolet engine to be mounted about 1.5 inches too high to enable the removal of the spark plugs.  Mr. Tom believes the chassis was originally built for an Offenhauser engine and no attempt was made to reform the upper chassis bars.  

The owner David Tom suspects that this may be the first Hank Blum car built in the nineteen fifties which raced with CRA (as a sprint car) and as a USAC championship car at Pikes Peak. Unfortunately neither Mr. Tom nor the author has had any success locating period photographs of the first Blum chassis which could be used to help identify this car.

7/31/17 UPDATE Here are some newly found photos that show details of the car's construction





 
Can any of our loyal readers help verify the identity of this car?  Contact the author with tips and leads at kevracerhistory@aol.com

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dieselpunk roadster update



Readers may recall that in December we introduced you to to the latest creation from the fertile mind of  Tom McGriff of Mac Miller’s Garage  - the “Dieselpunk roadster” a race car inspired by the ‘art deco’ era locomotives powered by a four-cylinder diesel engine.



We are proud to share an update – McGriff has obtained a Toyota KZ-TE  4-cylinder 183 cubic inch single overhead camshaft turbo diesel engine with 2 valves per cylinder and electronically controlled fuel injection. From the factory, the intercooler equipped version of the KZ-TE engine produced 145 horsepower and over 250 ft/lbs of torque. 

Tom is currently consulting with turbo diesel experts in Indianapolis to adapt this powerplant for use in the “Dieselpunk roadster.”    

graphics provided by Mac Miller's Garage 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Buzz Barton - Winner
By Galen Kurth
 
A racing legend passed away quietly a few years ago.  He was a champion, a character in an era full of characters, and a survivor of one of the toughest, grimmest eras in racing history.   He was a racer, in every sense of the word.  He was Emmett “Buzz” Barton.

Emmett was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma in October of 1916 and drove his first race in California in the mid-1930’s.  That’s where he picked up the nickname, and just to set the record straight, the first and original “Buzz Barton” was a diminutive silent movie actor who specialized in westerns.  Emmett’s distain for his own first name helped the nickname stick.

Barton’s driving career really took off back in Oklahoma after spending WWII driving trucks on the west coast.  A midget circuit popped up, centered on Oklahoma City’s Taft Stadium.  Houston, San Antonio, Tulsa, and Kansas City also had weekly shows, and Buzz remembered putting over 2200 miles a week on his tow car.  “We’d be putting new tires on my Packard about every month,” he recalled in a 1995 interview.

In those pre-interstate days, travel wasn’t much fun, but there were enough characters around to lighten the drives once in a while.  “One time, we came up behind Tex West’s car, parked on the shoulder, and his race car had bounced off the trailer.  He had this big stick and was beating the car, yelling ‘you jumped off the damned trailer you *&^^#@@, now jump back on!’  The kid he’d picked up to help asked if maybe he could ride with us the rest of the way to Houston.”

One thing about Buzz up front: you won’t see many direct, unedited quotes from him.  Listening to him tell a story would make a Drill Sergeant blush, but that’s the way he’d always been.  It probably cost him some rides and a few deals along the way, but if you didn’t like the way he talked, he had a solution for you.  Don’t listen.  Was he popular with his fellow drivers?  Probably not, but they all respected him.   Ask someone from his IMCA days about Buzz, and they’ll sort of laugh, maybe shake their head, and say something like, “yeah, old Buzz…..” then go silent.  When they do talk about him, though, it’s obvious they all knew the same Buzz Barton.  He didn’t change anything for anybody.

Buzz won the Taft Stadium and Oklahoma state midget titles in 1948, driving for Jack Zink, then moved into the Gibson Offy out of Kansas.   He’d always qualify with a big cigar in his teeth, sort of an extra digit when his hands were on the wheel.  He’d won enough that he was usually booed during time trials, but he didn’t worry about it.  “They’d boo me, and I give ‘em the finger, but after the races you couldn’t load the car for all the people wantin’ autographs” was the way Buzz remembered those days.

He went East in 1951, driving a stretched midget sprinter, and finished ninth in the AAA Eastern Division.   Reading and Williams Grove were his favorite tracks, but the circular dirt mile at Langhorne earned a rare distinction from a man who raced anything, anywhere: “I hated that place.  That %*#@+ was a killer.  It beat you up, and the dirt off your left front was always hitting you in the face so you couldn’t see.” 
 
Strangely, his name also shows up on the IMCA winners list for the first time in ‘51, with a victory at Winchester’s high banks.  He got his first champ ride at Syracuse that year in another Kurtis midget, stretched all the way to 96 inches, finishing tenth. 
 
Buzz Barton's official 1952 Indianapolis Motor Speedway photograph
courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway collection
in the IUPUI University library Center for Digital Studies
 

Buzz eventually tried to qualify for twenty-six champ races, generally driving uncompetitive cars.   That includes the 1952 and 1953 “500’s” where, according to Buzz, he “didn’t stand a chance.  I got one up to qualifying speed once and broke the crankshaft.”   How tough was it to get a decent champ car ride back then?  In 1952, he failed to qualify at Milwaukee, so he was pitting for another driver, Andy Linden.  Linden caught fire during a pit stop and was burned. 
 
Buzz pulled him out of the car and over the wall.  “Then I grabbed my helmet to sub for Linden, but when I turned around, that S.O.B. Potsy Goacher was driving off with the car, and it was still on fire!” Buzz did manage a third at Williams Grove in 1958 for his best finish in twelve starts, but he pulled the plug on his AAA/USAC career that same year.

“We pulled a real high qualifying number at the Hoosier Hundred, and I knew I didn’t stand a chance.  I went to (Duane) Carter and told him I wanted to withdraw.  I didn’t have the equipment to run with those guys, and it was stupid trying.  IMCA was running that night, and I went with ‘em.  Never went back.”

Things nearly turned the other way, though.  After future Indy winner Rodger Ward jumped to the Wilke team for 1959, team owner Roger Wolcott needed a driver for his famous 8 Ball cars.  He offered the job to Buzz, but before they could close the deal, Wolcott died and the opportunity was gone. 
 
One other chance had come early in Buzz’s career when a very drunk car owner named Alan Chapman had given Buzz a check for $100,000 and told him to buy a first class racecar.  “I tore the check up,” Buzz remembered.  “The next day, Chapman’s secretary called and wanted to know what I’d done with the check.  That check would have been good, too, but I couldn’t do that.”

The IMCA was probably where Buzz belonged.  A brilliant machinist and self-taught mechanic, he was perfect for the barnstorming, “fix it yourself and race it” style of the traveling group.  His low tolerance for BS also fit better with Frank Winkley’s crowd.  “If you had a problem with Winkley, you had it out with him right there.  Hell, one time in Shreveport, we went at it right in front of the grandstand.  I mean, we got it on, just beating on one another.  Half an hour later, he apologized and that was it.”

Buzz had one of his best runs with Diz Wilson, who ran a team of yellow Offy sprinters.  “I was on a deal for $400 a day from Winkley.  Most of the guys were getting $50 or $100.  Now, that wasn’t $400 plus, but I was guaranteed that much.”   The IMCA ran two types of races in those days -- the big fair dates and what were called “still” dates, or stand-alone races. 
 
Winkley would provide a dozen or so cars, more or less by invitation, and stage a race.  Were the races fixed?  “No,” Barton states, “they were legit, except no matter what, Bobby Grim always set fast time.  He could just putt around the track and STILL start on the pole, and that meant a lot on those dry-slick tracks.”  Winkley didn’t really care who won, as long as four or five cars finished under a blanket. 

Then it was down the road to another race, sometimes the same day.   If you stunk up the show, you might not get invited to the next still date.  That fit in with Buzz’s philosophy of car preservation:  “Drive hard until you get the lead, then just fast enough to stay in front.”  Former Wilson teammate Al “Cotton” Farmer remembered those races, too.  “Buzz and I would talk before the race, and I’d ask if he wanted the inside or outside.  Then we’d get going, and he’d realize sometimes I had the better groove, and he’d try to get where I was supposed to be.  Then we’d really start racing!”

The IMCA was the steppingstone to USAC in the fifties and early sixties, and Buzz got to see all the young talent trying to move up.  If you could beat Buzz, and Grim and Pete Folse, you might get a ticket to the big time.   Parnelli Jones, for instance, did the job in the Fike Chevy, and wound up at Indianapolis.  Buzz enjoyed racing Jones. “You could run all day, side by side with Parnelli, and have no problems.  Now Jim Hurtubise, he was crazy.  You never knew WHAT he was going to do.”  

Buzz stuck with the IMCA, winning races and finishing consistently high up in points, but he could never get past Hector Honore’s black deuce for the championship.  He was second to Grim in 1957 and to Folse in 1960 and 1961.  He won consistently at places like Lincoln, Nebraska, Hutchinson, Kansas, Des Moines, Iowa, St Paul, Minnesota and Knoxville. 
 
The only year he missed the top ten was 1962, when he took time to recover from getting thrown out of a flipping car at Jacksonville, Florida and run over.  He was an absolute wizard with Offy engines and won the last IMCA feature ever credited to a growler, in February of 1965 at Tampa, Florida.

Barton had known former driver Joie Chitwood for years, and finally went to work for the Florida-based Thrill Show promoter in the mid-60’s.  “I did the precision driving and stuff, but I never did the head-on crashes or any of that stupid #@&@*” remembered Buzz.  When Chitwood decided to go endurance racing with a team of Camaros, Barton went with him, preparing the cars and co-driving with Joie’s son in the longer races.  In the 1968 Daytona 24 hour race, they finished seventeenth overall and fourth in class.

Buzz kept racing and building cars through the 1970’s, slowly cutting back to spend more and more time in Florida until finally, in 1981, he ran one last sprint car race in Minnesota and hung it up.  “I was getting married again, and she didn’t want me racing anymore, so I just gave it up,” he stated.   Sixty-five probably wasn’t a bad age to call it a career after driving sprint cars in six (!) different decades.

Barton eventually returned to Oklahoma and lived very quietly on the Oklahoma side of Lake Texoma.   He didn’t like to be bothered, but he’d talk racing if you got him started.   Local sprint car driver and machinist Kenny Butler remembered Buzz coming into his Kingston, Oklahoma shop one day.  “I had the race car there, and he looked it over, but he didn’t say anything.   He never even said who he was.  Somebody told me after he left that he was Buzz Barton.” 

The trophies and photos were long gone, and he didn’t much care for a lot of what he saw in today’s racing.  “Most of those guys are crazy,” he opined. “Every race is just one crash after another.  They ought to have to build and fix the damned things.” 
 
Arthritis kept him from going to his induction into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2001, when Farmer subbed for him, and it restricted his race viewing to television only.  Those early days in racing took a toll even on the ones who walked away.  The last two years or so, he became a virtual recluse, apparently not wanting anyone to see him in his weakened state.
 
Names from the past came to mind slowly, if at all, and it frustrated him.  Locked inside his head were more memories than most people could imagine, from racing in the 30’s to the era of winged sprints, from Wilbur Shaw to Doug Wolfgang. 

Not all those memories were good, but Emmett “Buzz” Barton survived when so many others did not.  He made a good living out of racing for fifty years, and that may be the best way to remember him.  By whatever standards you want to apply, he battled an unforgiving sport longer than just about anyone, and he won.