Thursday, March 23, 2017


Bill Jones’ Legacy
By Galen Kurth
with additional editing by Bart Stevens

Bill Jones was born in Jennings, Oklahoma July 25, 1923 and passed away in San Antonio Texas on March 14 2017.  As a boy, he lived with family friends Roy and Bernice Wilkerson, who ignited his life-long interest in motor sports. Roy worked on outboard-engine boats and midget race cars, and Bill learned the trade on the lakes and dirt tracks around Oklahoma.

During World War II, Bill served with the 349th Aviation Battalion, Army Air Corps, as a C-47 crew chief, dropping parachutists and supplies on numerous fronts in Europe and North Africa. He survived two crashes, but one knee was so badly damaged after a crash in Paris he had to be brought home for surgery before the war ended.
 
 
Bill Jones in front of his speed shop
Bart Stevens collection
 

Bill was drawn to Taft Stadium, a mecca of midget racing after the war. That eventually led him to Indianapolis, where he was first a mechanic in 1950 and 1951 for Oklahoma City business owner M.A. Walker's team, then in 1952 as crew chief for the Jack Zink team and driver Jimmy Reece. Returning home, he owned one of the first speed equipment shops in Oklahoma. He ventured into car building, creating a two seater sports car, the Sierra. Ten were eventually sold. Bill and local racer Bob Eichor also co-owned a short-lived drag strip which was washed away in a flood.

Race promoter Ray Lavely then hired Bill as his chief steward for races at Taft Stadium, then expanded his duties to become part of his promotional team at State Fair Speedway and Lakefront Speedway in Kansas City. General Motors offered Bill the position of Regional Sales Manager for Buick and after a time moved him up to the same position for Cadillac. One final move took him to San Antonio in 1960 to work for Intercontinental Motors, the Southwestern U.S. importers of Volkswagen and Porsche cars.

It was here that Bill became involved in SCCA Racing, as he campaigned a Porsche Speedster for several years on the SCCA circuit. Charles Urschel and Tom Slick, the owners of Intercontinental Motors, wanted to take a race car to the Indy 500, and this led Bill back to Indianapolis in 1964, again with Jack Zink, as a crew member for driver Jack Brabham

In the late 1960's Bill opened an auto dealership with VW and Porsche in south San Antonio. After many successful years Bill sold the dealership then he and son Bob opened Jones Autowerks, specializing in repairing and restoring classic Porsches. When San Antonio decided to stage a street race in 1986, featuring the high-powered sports cars of the International Motor Sports Association, it was only natural that Bill would be one of the primary organizers and a mainstay for the entire four years of the race's existence. .

Bill was a member of the Indianapolis 500 Oldtimer's Club and stayed close to his racing friends. In the early 1990's he helped organize an Oval Track Racers Reunion in San Antonio, bringing together his many friends from all aspects of auto racing. This annual event, still going strong, became a meeting place for active and retired racers, plus those interested in the restoration of old race cars. This was another area Bill excelled in, restoring many cars, working either with Bob or with business partner Jerry Weeks in Indianapolis.

Bill was described by one customer as “the most meticulous man I've ever met” and right up until his passing, he was sought out for advice and information on the correct way to restore or repair vintage cars and engines. Throughout his life, Bill received many honors for his accomplishments and contributions to one organization or another, but what he was proudest of was his family. Bill married Virginia Dubour in 1944 and they were truly a team until her passing in 2013. Bill Jones is survived by his daughter Marylou Morales of Dallas and son Bob Jones of San Antonio who remained the center of their parent’s lives no matter what else they were doing.

Bill Jones’  memorial service will be held on Tuesday March 28, 2017 at 2:00 pm at First Baptist Church of San Antonio located at  515 McCullough Avenue, San Antonio, TX 78215  Phone:(210) 226-0363

Monday, January 16, 2017

Date announced for the
Columbus Racers Reunion
 
Greg Littleton has announced that the 2017 Columbus (Indiana) Racer Reunion will be held this year on March 25th.
 
This is must-see FREE event for racing history fans with displays of vintage race cars and memorabilia well as vendors selling those hard-to-find items inside a heated building on the Bartholomew County 4-H grounds 
 
Click on this photo to get all the details
 
   

Monday, January 9, 2017

“Fabulous” Freddie Agabashian
photos and article by Tom Motter

 

     Northern California has produced many auto racing stars in the past 3/4-century, but none ever shown more brilliantly than Freddie Agabashian.

 

     Born in Modesto, California, August 21, 1913, his family moved to the Los Angeles area and later still, to the East Bay Area community of Berkeley.  His racing career started while he was still a student at Berkeley High School.

 

     Fred’s first races were in modified street roadster races held at Oakland, San Jose, and Calistoga in the early 1930’s[1].  At that time local auto clubs such as the Oakland Auto Club and the R.P.M. Club of San Francisco were promoting most of these roadster races in northern California. The Oakland Auto Club held most of its races on a half-mile track cut within the one-mile Oakland Speedway in San Leandro.  San Jose’s 5/8- mile dirt track was popular with the roadsters as was the ½-mile fairgrounds track at Calistoga.

 

     In 1933, Bay Area newspapers were reporting Aggie’s successes in roadster competition at San Jose’s 5/8-mile track.  His battles with Johnny Fannuchi were often mentioned in press stories of ’33 and ’34.  In August 1934, Aggie suffered his first serious injuries in a racing crash.  On August 19th, The San Jose Mercury News reported “Fred Agabashian of Berkeley, 21, sensation of the San Jose Speedway, was inured seriously here in today’s time trials when his car overturned, pinning him beneath it.  Agabashian suffered a jaw fracture, severe lacerations of the head, several missing teeth and internal injuries.”

 

     By 1935, Aggie had expanded his racing interests to include competing with the A.A.A.’s Pacific Coast “Big Cars”. 1935 and ’36 were the last years that A.A.A. sanctioned races at the Oakland Speedway and Aggie was by then a regular competitor at these events.  The 1935 Pacific Coast Point Standings list Aggie in 38th position.

 

    In September 1936 Agabashian married the former Mable Nyman, a high school sweetheart and it was probably at this point that he decided to confine his racing to northern California.  No doubt Aggie could have placed higher in the A.A.A. point standings but his decision to race “close to home” and never to venture too far from the Bay Area excluded him from a number of the A.A.A.’s major point races.  It wasn’t until 1947, his first trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that Aggie did any racing outside of California.

 

     Aggie was a regular victor at the big car” races held during 1936 at the Oakland Speedway (then sanctioned by the American Racing Assoc.).  He eventually won seven straight main events at that track.  These winning ways continued at Oakland through ’37.  1936 was also the year the Aggie added midget racing to his list of racing endeavors.  He was a regular at San Francisco’s Motordrome as well as the Emeryville track, all races sanctioned by the newly formed N.C.M.R.A (Northern Calif. Midget Racing Assoc.).

 

     In 1937 Aggie captured the N.C.M.R.A. midget racing crown in northern California, culminating a two-year effort in the “small” cars.  He continued racing big cars, roadsters and even stock cars at races held mostly at the Oakland Speedway.  1938 and ’39 continued to be big racing years for Aggie as he continued his winning ways in midgets, big cars and an occasional stock car race. 

 

     By 1940, big time racing on the west coast was beginning to wind down.  Looming war clouds in Europe were beginning to have a telling effect on auto racing in this country.  On the west coast, particularly in northern California, inter-association strife between Charlie Baker’s S.T.A.R. organization and Joe Banzi’s N.C.M.R.A. had so severely split the midget owners and drivers that there just weren’t enough cars and drivers to put on a quality race for any one promoter.

 

      Two of the street-modified roadster clubs (Oakland Auto Club and the San Francisco R.P.M. clubs) consolidated and formed the Bay Cities Roadster Racing Association[2] in 1939 and within two years began sanctioning midget auto races, primarily held at the Vallejo Recreational Ball Park. 

 

     With the Emeryville, San Francisco and Neptune beach tracks now gone, there was no more weekly racing being held in the Bay Area.  Only the Oakland Speedway was racing and these were held on a sporadic basis only.  By 1940 Freddie Agabashian had pretty much “retired” from auto racing.

 

     In July 1942 the Federal Office of Defense Transportation (O.D.T.) decreed that all auto racing in this country would be banned for the duration of World War II.  This Act was an attempt to preserve the countries use of rubber and gasoline, two commodities crucial to the War effort.

 

     On September 21, 1945 Bay Cities Racing Association once again began racing midgets in northern California.  It was a short (12 races) season and the pre-war star, Freddie Agabashian was missing from the line-up of those twelve races. He was still in “retirement”!

 

     With the start of the regular 1946 season of midget racing, car owner, Jack London, debuted his “hot” Roy Richter-built, rail frame, V8-60 midget that had recently been brought up from southern California.  In the cockpit was none other than Freddie Agabashian!

 

     Thirty-three cars flashed by the timing lights at Bayshore Stadium[3]during qualifying on April 7, 1946.  When the evening’s events were over, it was Petaluma’s hard-driving Ed Normi who had won that initial Main Event.  116 races latter, on October 27, the 1946 season came to an end, and it was Freddie Agabashian, driving the Jack London, Number 2X, who had won the championship by winning thirty five Main Events and finishing over a thousand points ahead of second-place finisher Fred Friday. He had won over 30% of the races run that season!

 

     When the 1947 BCRA season began Freddie had a brand new midget and a new car owner.  George Bignotti, a Daly City florist, supplied Aggie with a new, state-of-the-art, Kurtis Kraft midget and Aggie proceeded to repeat his success of 1946.  After a season that went 154 races, Aggie won 27 Main Events and, once again, won the BCRA championship.

 

     In 1947, Aggie departed from his long-time rule of not leaving the Bay Area to go racing.  Bay Area auto dealer and race-track owner, Ross Page, made an offer to him to drive the Ross Page entry in the ’47 Indianapolis 500.  The temptation was too great and Aggie left for Indianapolis to have his fling against the top drivers in the nation. He finished a creditable ninth in his first attempt at the “500”.   

 

The winning team of Agabashian and Bignotti was back for the 1948 BCRA midget racing season.  Not only did this potent combination repeat their 1947 performance by winning the ’48 Title, they also went to Mexico City in February 1948[4] for a seven race series and won the so-called, “Aztec Championship” as well.

 

     Again, in 1948, while leading the ’48 BCRA title chase, he headed back to Indianapolis to compete in his second “500”.  Unfortunately, Aggie, in the same Ross Page entry, was forced out on the 48th lap due to oil leaks.

 

     In 1949 Aggie began to cut back on the number of races he participated in.  He had made a good deal of money in racing and it was time to enjoy some of it.  He still participated in BCRA midget races, coming in 7th in the final point standings for the season.  1949 also marked another high point in his racing career.  Driving for another famous Armenian, J.C. Agajanian, Agabashian won the inaugural “Golden State 100” Championship, Big Car race held at the old State Fairgrounds in Sacramento in October.  The fact that Agajanian, the car owner, was also the promoter of the prestigious race made the win even more significant. In winning this “West Coast Classic” Agabashian proved once again that he indeed was one of the biggest stars in auto racing.  In ’49 he again competed in the “500” but once more was forced out after 38 laps with mechanical trouble.

 

     1950 was Aggie’s last year in the midgets.  He drove only occasionally with BCRA during the ’50 season and finished in 29th spot at season’s end.  He was, however, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the annual “500” Classic.  Driving a brand new Kurtis Kraft car, Aggie qualified second only to go out of that race after 64 laps with a plugged oil line. 1951 saw him qualify in 11th position and finish in 17th, out after 109 laps with clutch problems.

 

     In 1951 Aggie made headlines at the “Speedway” by qualifying a conceptual diesel powered race car that was larger and heavier than anything that had ever been seen at the Speedway.  The car, powered by a Cummins Diesel engine, had been built by Frank Kurtis specifically to accommodate the diesel engine.  Freddie’s pole setting, qualifying speed of over 138 mph was a new record!  Unfortunately, during the race, the supercharger intake clogged at 71 laps, forcing him to drop out of the race.

 

     Aggie raced in each Indy “500” for the next seven years, ending his racing career in 1958 when he failed, for the first time, to qualify a car for the annual race.  His best finish at the Speedway was in 1953 when he came home in fourth spot. 

 

     After his active racing career was over, Freddie worked for the Champion Spark Plug Company and their Highway Safety Program[5].  This public relations concept placed famous racing drivers at high schools, military bases and business’s throughout the country, talking about safe driving practices.  They had no more congenial personality than Fred Agabashian!  He also spent a number of years as a “color-commentator” for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network, as a commentator for the “500” race.

 

     “Fabulous Freddie” was many things: A great racing driver, a devoted family man and in particular, a great spokesman/ambassador for the racing community.  His genuinely likable personality was infectious.  When he entered a room, he was immediately the center of attention.  His years of racing experience were put to good use in many ways.  At the Speedway Aggie was considered a mentor to many of the new drivers.  He had the ability to be able to show and tell rookie drivers what they might be doing wrong or how to do it better and faster.  In a word: He was respected!
 


 

      I was fortunate to be able to witness Freddie’s last ride in a race car.  On August 12, 1983, the Western Racing Association (a group of old-time racers running exhibition races in restored, vintage race cars) were a part of the contemporary midget racing program at the Contra Costa County Fairgrounds track in Antioch.  Agabashian happened to be in the grandstands that afternoon and when his curiosity got the best of him he ventured down to the pit area to look over the W.R.A.’s restored versions of classic midget race cars from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. 

 

     The vintage race cars were actually running exhibition races on the quarter-mile dirt track as an added attraction to the regular midget racing program of the night. 

 

     It didn’t take too much coaxing to get Aggie to just “sit in one of them” for a moment.  He was right at home!  When it was suggested to him that he might want to put on a helmet and strap into the midget and take a few laps he jumped at the chance.  A dozen vintage midgets took the green flag to start a 10-lap race for the old-timers with Aggie starting in the back of the pack.  It had been, after all, a long time ago that Aggie had competed in a midget race.  Thirty-three years earlier in fact.  The green flag dropped and all twelve of the vintage midgets were once again fighting for the number one position.  What a sight!  Twelve beautifully restored midgets, gleaming with new paint and chrome, once again roared down the front straightaway, disappearing into turn one in a cloud of dust. It had all of the excitement and color of those early days of midget races.  Not too many fans in the grandstands knew that Aggie was in the number 48, Bob Hansen Offy,  but there he was working his way towards the front, just like he’d done many times, many years ago.  At the white flag (signifying one lap to go), Aggie was in fourth spot, charging hard.

 

     As the leaders came out of turn four, heading for the checkered flag, Aggie made his move to the outside of the track, up against the crash wall.  The scream of the four-cylinder Offy racing engine could just barely be heard over the roar of the crowd as they watched the #84 car blast down the front straightaway, rear tires spraying dirt, front wheels turned slightly to the right to correct for the fact that the race car was speeding forward in a slightly sideways position.  As the flagman dropped the checkered flag, only those of us in the pits knew it was 70-year-old Freddie Agabashian who had just won another midget main event. 

 

     When Aggie pulled the race car into the infield after a cool-down lap, I was standing close by and was able to watch him reach down, pull the car out of gear, shut off the fuel valve and hit the ignition shut-off switch; all moves that seemed to have been made “naturally”.  They were, of course; he’d made them all, hundreds of times, years ago.   It was only when he pulled down the goggles, un-snapped the helmet and looked up with that famous grin on his face that we knew Aggie was back!  He had been gone from the sport for a long, long time and it was good to have him back.  He belonged there!

 

In 1984, the Bay Cities Racing Association inducted Aggie into their BCRA Hall of Fame.

 


     I saw Aggie just one more time after that, in August 1988.  The Napa County Fairgrounds track in Calistoga was one of those tracks that Aggie had raced on back in the 1930’s in those early street roadsters.  He was just visiting at the race track, enjoying himself and like he was prone to do, made a visit to the infield to chat with his old friends with the vintage racers.  I like to think that he recognized me but it was probably my race car that reminded him of one that my Uncle Earl used to drive in those days when he and Aggie used to compete with BCRA.  He came over and we chatted a bit about those by-gone days.  A photographer came by, recognized the familiar Agabashian smile and took a picture of Aggie and me alongside my restored vintage midget.

 

     Fred Agabashian passed away the next year, on October 13, 1989.  The bright light from the racing star that had shown so brilliantly in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s had finally flickered out.

 

      In 1994 he was inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame.




[1] Before the completion of the Oakland Speedway in September 1931 there were apparently a couple of “impromptu” street roadster races held there. The personal account of Henry Schroeder (an Uncle of  race historian, Don Radbruch) recalls that Freddie Agabashain did participate in at least one of those events. As a spectator, Schroeder recalls hearing the announcer (using a bullhorn) referring to Freddie and having a terrible time pronouncing his last name.
[2] Even though the B.C.R.R.A. was incorporated as a modified roadster racing only organization, it was quickly determined that most of its members had an interest in a resumption of midget racing in northern California. By 1941, B.C.R.R.A. was sanctioning midget racing and in 1943 they revised their corporate by-laws to include midgets. For those interested in a complete history of the Bay Cities Racing Association, please see BCRA, The First 50 Years (The Official History of Bay Cities Racing Association) by Tom Motter, Published by BCRA, 1990.
[3] Bayshore Stadium, located behind the Cow Palace in South San Francisco, had been a pre-war dog-racing track.  California legislation had banned pari-mutual betting on dog racing in 1935 but the grandstands and facilities were still there. It didn’t take much to convert the track to allow for midget racing.  That venue lasted until 1949 when the property was sold for a drive-in movie site.
[4] Aggie, still mindful of his desire not to go racing at the expense of his “home life”, took his wife and two small children with him on the Mexico City trip.
[5] Other northern California racing drivers that participated in this program were Bob Veith and Johnny Boyd. All three of these drivers were “graduates” of Bay Cities Racing Association midget racing.

Monday, December 12, 2016


The Dieselpunk Roadster
 
Tom McGriff of Mac Miller’s Garage in Indianapolis has over 50 years of experience at the top levels of professional automobile racing as a mechanic and fabricator and has been involved in the design, construction and development of sports racing, Indianapolis and sprint cars including chassis, suspension, components, systems and bodywork.
 
Tom behind the wheel of the 1920's Boyle Valve Special
replica he built from the ground up at Winchester Speedway
 
For the last twenty-five years, Tom has worked as an independent designer and constructor of vintage style American racing cars which include nineteen twenties and thirties style speedway cars, as well as ‘big cars’ and Indianapolis style roadsters from the decades of the nineteen fifties  and nineteen sixties. 

    

At the 2016 Performance Racing Industry (PRI) racing trade show in Indianapolis, McGriff shared with the author his plans for a race car inspired by the ‘art deco’ era locomotives to be powered by a four-cylinder diesel engine which he calls the “dieselpunk roadster.”
 
 

McGriff hopes to use a new Cummins four-cylinder diesel, or possibly a Mazda Skyactiv diesel engine. The “dieselpunk roadster” would be a hit at car shows and  trade shows and could be used in vintage racing events such as those sanctioned by the SVRA (Sportscar Vintage Racing Association).

To learn more visit  http://indyroadsters.webs.com/ or http://macmillersgarage.webs.com/ or send Tom McGriff an email at tmd46222@yahoo.com

Monday, March 7, 2016

Indy's Bench Racing Weekend coming soon!



 
 
We are less than 2 weeks away from Bench Racing Weekend 2016 with another terrific event planned. The event starts Friday March 18 and concludes on Saturday night March 19th with a featured interview -no doubt attendees will hear some interesting racing history.

In summary, Bench Racing Weekend includes:

·         This year’s events begin on Friday evening. Dave “The King” Wilson will lead an informal conversation session from 7PM to 8PM on Friday with Terry Lingner in the Ballroom area, right next to registration. Also included in that evening event will be a display of fabulous race cars courtesy of Bob McConnell.

Barb Hellyer and the RacingHistory.org group will also provide video in the Stapleton Hospitality Suite featuring memorable videos and conversation about racing.  If you are arriving Friday night or if you are local to Indianapolis, you may want to drop by to enjoy these additional features. You can also get your registration material and avoid the rush on Saturday morning.

·         Saturday morning there are two private race shop tours including a visit to renowned race car restorer Walter Goodwin’s shop. Then the second tour of an active F2000 race team – John Cummiskey Racing.  John Cummiskey is also a restorer and will have some interesting cars in addition to his F2000 program.

·         An outdoor car show dedicated to former driver Bob Harkey.

·         A presentation of two very rare and immaculately restored Indy cars from the private collection of Bob McConnell.  A 1962 Watson roadster driven to second place by Len Sutton in the 500 and a 1970 Mongoose driven by Lloyd Ruby.

·         A small memorabilia and art exhibit.

·         Wanda Devin, mother of Al Unser Jr. will host a conversation with attendees.

·         A presentation of rare 16mm films of the Indy 500 from raresportsfilms.com presented by Doak Ewing.

·         A cocktail hour, and banquet. We expect to see many former Indy 500 drivers in attendance. The main feature, will be  “A Conversation with Chief Mechanics.”  Donald Davidson will interview Paul Diatlovitch, the owner of PDM racing and Ron Dawes from Hemelgarn Racing.

Information provided by
Bench Racing Weekend 2016 Team Members
Chuck Shuman & Anne Mitchell
408-373-8701, 317-243-7288
Clare Poremsky
419-350-2371

Sunday, March 6, 2016

A pair of must-read websites for Indy 500 fans  and racing historians 

Here at the Checkered Past, we promote the writing of racing history. Our friend William LaDow does a great job with his site Speedway Sightings which follows IndyCar happenings throughout the season, but particularly in May. The current posting is entitled "The Indianapolis 500 is a unique slice of Americana that should be on everyone's bucket list." I strongly encourage our readers to check it out

here's the link
  

https://speedwaysightings.wordpress.com


William is also the author of Conversations with a Winner - The Ray Nichels Story which you can get details about at 

 http://www.raynichels.com/index.html


Friday, February 12, 2016


AMERICAN AUTO RACING WRITERS & BROADCASTERS ASSOCIATION 2015 ALL-AMERICA TEAM
 
 

By Patrick Reynolds, AARWBA Secretary & writer Motor Week Live http://motorweeklive.com/

Founded in 1955, the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AARWBA) is a motorsports organization comprised of writers, broadcasters, photographers, and other media-related professionals. The organization's charter is aimed at providing not only proper recognition for members of the motorsports media, but to recognize their work as well as the work of the competitors that they follow in print, on the air, and on film.   

AARWBA announced its first All-America Team following the 1970 season, and that annual tradition continued with the team being announced for 2015's top performers.  The association's members vote on drivers within their participating categories of racing. The driver receiving the most votes from each discipline is elected to the All-America Team.

The AARWBA 2015 All-America Team members:

Scott Dixon was the top vote getter in the Open Wheel division. Dixon claimed the Verizon Indycar Series Championship driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, as he clinched the crown with a victory at the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.

Road Racing saw the driving team of Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi, earn the most votes on the strength of their United SportsCar Championship with Action Express Racing. The team scored a pair of wins at Sebring and Road Atlanta during the 2015 campaign.

World of Outlaws Sprint Car kingpin Donny Schatz led the vote tally in the Short Track Division. Schatz's 31 wins, 60 top-fives and 70 top-tens highlighted his championship year. Schatz's title was his seventh crown in the last ten seasons. Schatz is also recognized as the Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy winner for the driver having the most overall votes.

Kyle Busch led the way in the Stock Car category. Busch claimed his first-career NASCAR Sprint Cup championship after missing the season's first 11 events due to an injury suffered in the Daytona Xfinity Series event. He capped off the year by winning the title and the final race in Miami.

The Drag Racing category was led by Erica Enders who won her second straight NHRA Pro Stock championship. Enders scored the Las Vegas Toyota Nationals win in November and clinched her title with one event remaining in the season.

In the Touring Series, NASCAR Truck Series Champion Erik Jones earned the most votes. He won three races at Iowa, Bowmanville Canada, and Ft. Worth, TX.

Indy Lights champ Spencer Pigot was the "At Large" category's top vote earner. He swept the series' final two races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and won a scholarship to compete in the 100th Indianapolis 500 for 2016.

Rico Abreu was voted the Rising Star award on the strength of multiple open wheel dirt short track victories including back-to-back Chili Bowl wins. Abreu will compete full-time in the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Thorsport Racing.
 
The editor is this site is a proud member of AARWBA