Saturday, December 20, 2014

Bench Racing Weekend set to return for 2015! 

Editor's note: If you are a racing history buff, this is an event to put on your "bucket list!"

The Bench Racing Weekend tradition continues in 2015 with interesting events, cars, memorabilia, movies, good food and fascinating people and of course great racing stories. The event originally created by Emil Andres and Duke Nalon, and continued by Nan & Jack Martin and Junior Dreyer, carries on in 2015.

The dates for the Bench Racing Weekend have been set for March 13 through 15 2015 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel located conveniently at the Indianapolis Airport.  Early whispers suggest that a famed race track historian will be on hand for the banquet presentation on Saturday night!  

Registration is set to begin in early January 2015. Stay tuned! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

George Place’s Hudson sprint car
By Dale Fairfax

Editor’s note: Like many of you, I have watched the high-dollar automobile collector auctions on television, and while the provenance of the million dollar muscle cars always seems well-documented, the history of the race cars offered at these auctions is often overlooked. This article from renowned racing historian Dale Fairfax traces the history of one such car.  Thanks for sharing Dale!
While recently reviewing auction results Hemmings Motor News I was surprised to see that a Hudson Hornet-powered sprint car offered at auction again for the third time in two years. I fear that this ‘1930s Hudson-powered Champ Car’ is going to be worn out just from travelling across the country and across the auction block.

My interest in this race car is based on having known the builder, George Place, and thus being familiar with some of its mechanical details.  Some of this information that has been stated previously is incomplete and somewhat inaccurate. For example the car was actually built in the mid 1960's, not the 1930's. The frame and front axle may be from the nineteen thirties by virtue of being sourced from a Model A Ford but the car dates from the nineteen sixties. The auction description claimed the body is alloy although the builder told me that it was a steel body. As opposed to its current appearance, the original body color was a coppery maroon with few, if any, decals.
The car was built by George C. Place, who ran an auto parts store and garage in the small northwestern Ohio town of Delphos. George was a passionate Hudson aficionado who started racing in 1949 at Landeck Speedway with a track roadster in the Buckeye Roadster Association. Over ensuing years, his cars became ever more sophisticated, especially as he absorbed and acquired technology from his mentor and friend, Joe Walls of Muncie, Indiana. 

Joe Walls started out with the roadsters of the Mutual Racing Association in 1939 and raced a car powered by Terraplane 6-cylinder engine in a Model A frame.  Over time, Joe developed concepts like needle bearing camshafts that ran in bores created by a unique Walls-designed boring bar,  custom camshafts with  profiles ground on a home-built grinder, a dry sump oiling system on a flathead engine, and his own "Rhyne-Walls" quick change rear end.

In the late nineteen fifties, George Place acquired Joe Wall’s tooling and incorporated many of Wall’s concepts into his own series of sprint cars and modified stock car which he campaigned throughout the Midwest during the nineteen sixties.
Regarding the much-auctioned Hudson Hornet-powered race car, other than the "million lightening holes" drilled in the frame of the car, the most unique feature was its home-made mechanical fuel injector.  It worked and looked much like a Hilborn fuel injection system but, except for the barrel valve, was all built by George.

The throttle bodies were made from 2" black pipe, the injector butterflies were brass slugs made of stamping scrap from the National Seal Company of Van Wert Ohio, and the fuel pump came from a military surplus store in the Chicago area. George claimed the system ran quite well even though he frequently struggled with an overly rich condition and readily out-performed the Joe Walls-built twin Riley carburetor manifold that he had used earlier.

When I last saw the car in George's shop, it was equipped with a bolt-on roll cage and a set of very robust wire wheels on the rear. As is typical of any old race car, the need for money led to its sale.  George couldn’t remember the details of the sale but some years later the car was discovered in Larry Rust's racing museum (actually a chicken coop) in Fayetteville, Ohio.  The discovery was reported in the May 1994 issue of Rod & Custom magazine with a subsequent follow up article in the October 1994 issue, and at that point the Place home-built fuel injector was still on the car.

Later, Larry Rust died and the contents of his collection were auctioned off. Kirk DuQuette, a custom woodie station wagon body builder from the Cincinnati area bought the car then “flipped it” to Don DeSalle of Anderson, Indiana.
DeSalle commissioned a cosmetic, inaccurate, non-running restoration as the 'DeSalle Promotions Special' painted to resemble the 1952 Indianapolis ‘500’ winning car which he used to promote his vintage toy show and flea market business.  During DeSalle’s ownership the injector system was lost, then the throttle bodies were welded closed, though presumably the internals of the engine still included all the Walls/Place ‘High Tech’ details.

DeSalle sold the car to Rick Hadley in Marshall, Michigan then in early 2013 it was sold from the Hadley estate sale to new owner in California.  The new owner dropped off with a mechanic in Arizona who fabricated an intake system for it and got the car up and running, before it was sold again at auction in August 2013 for $23,650. Most recently it reappeared in Auburn Indiana in August 2014 at Auctions America and it was a ‘no sale’ with the high bid of $14,000

George C. Place passed away in his hometown of Delphos Ohio on October 11, 2014 at age 93.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Southern auto racing novel

Today we return to part three of the racing novel provided to us by a racer who wishes to remain anonymous. You can find the first two chapters in the Archive section to familiarize yourself with the characters and locations.  

I spent a quiet Sunday around my house, doing chores in the morning and washing my Olds in the afternoon under the tree in the front yard. I was anxious to get to work Monday morning and talk to my boss Mr. Johnson about what I’d seen Saturday night at his race track. Based on what I considered my years of experience from attending “real” races back home in Indiana, I’d thought some ideas to improve things at Union Speedway.

Monday morning, after work got started and I was sure that things were running smoothly down on the shop floor, I knocked on Mr. Johnson’s door about 9 o’clock and he invited me into his office. As I took a seat, Mr. Johnson asked with a grin “How are you adjusting to living down South, Yank? You’re doin’ a fine job but after just a couple of months it’s a mite early to ask for a raise.” I told him that I enjoyed my new life and that assured him that I wasn’t angling for a raise. “What I wanted to talk about was that I went out to Union Speedway Saturday night.” “Yeah? What’d you think?”

I told him honestly that the facility was too primitive and that the racing action was too rough for my taste, and that one particular ruffian ought to be asked by track officials to tone it down or find a new hobby. Mr. Johnson laughed “you mean Sims, I take it.” I nodded. “Well, even though you’re new in town, I feel like I can trust you can keep quiet about information offered in confidence.” I nodded agreement.

“The truth of the matter is…..” said Mr. Johnson “we pay Sims 100 bucks a month to be our bad guy. You see the first couple of years after my brother and I inherited the Union Speedway from our father, attendance was sorry. Since we started paying Sims, more fans come and the stands are close to full.” “Wait a minute,” I said, “you’re saying you pay him to act like that? I don’t get that.” Mr. Johnson chuckled “It’s called promotion my boy. We have a different fellow to play a role at our other track, but that’s a whole different deal with the crowd at Standard Speedway.”

Now I was really confused “you mean your family owns both tracks? How come two tracks so close? Doesn’t attendance suffer?” Mr. Johnson explained, “Our father loved dirt racing and blacktop racing equally, so he built one of each. We divide the responsibilities, I handle the dirt track, and my brother John watches over the blacktop track. The tracks run on alternate weeks, but draw different crowds. If you want, I’ll have him leave you a pass at the back gate at Standard for Saturday night.” I thanked him several times, and as I left his office, he called out to me “Remember our little secret.” I felt like my feet weren’t touching the floor as I walked back to my desk. Maybe life in this little Southern town wouldn’t be so bad after all with racing every Saturday night.  

Tuesday night after work, on my way to Piggly-Wiggly for groceries, I swung into the Pure Oil station for a buck’s worth of ethyl. Sims came out of the tiny office and growled, “I bet you want me to check the oil too, huh college boy?” As I matter of fact, I did, and said so. After he popped the hood, I head a low whistle, “you got a pair of Winfield carbs on this thing, and that ain’t the factory exhaust. Pretty hot for a six banger.” Thanks” I said, “you did some nifty driving Saturday at Union, little rough on some of the boys, though.” Sims slammed the hood in reply. “I give ‘em all a chance to get out of the way when they see her coming. If they ain’t gone when I get there, they get the horn.”

“That’s quite a machine,” I said as I gestured towards the red and white #5 1940 Ford coupe parked alongside the grease rack “she’s a beauty.” “She’s fast too,” Sims said” got a flathead with all the Clay Smith goodies, lotsa horsepower and I know how to get it to hook. That’s why she’s never been beat this season. They put a bounty on me last year that got high enough for a fellow to tow in from Memphis to beat me one time last year. Just one time!” I asked Sims if he would be at Standard on Saturday night, Sims shook his head and the scowl returned to his face. ”Heck no, that’s too high class for the likes of me. Your oil’s fine, you owe me a buck.” As I drove away, he mumbled “Nice car – come again.”

The rest of the workweek flew by as my anticipation built for Saturday night. When Eddie brought my mail Saturday morning, he was sheepish. “My wife’s been mad at me all week for drinking too much and yelling at you last week, she says I was rude,” he said. I waved it off, and asked if he was headed to Standard that evening. “No way, that highfalutin pavement racing got nothing for me, and I’m lucky my wife goes to races every other week. You’re on your own there Yank.”

“What do you mean?” I replied "that’s the second time I’ve heard that - what do they race out there anyway - Packards and Caddys?” “No" Eddie said, “they race late model stock cars and high dollar modifieds, but they run careful not to rub each other and scratch up their shiny paint jobs.”  

Before he left, I asked Eddie about his brother’s car. “Oh yeah, that’s a good car alright. He bought it late last year from a fella in Northern Ohio - it was “B” track champion at a track called  Landeck Speedway up there. Good running stock six cylinder Chevy with a hot cam, but it ain’t a match for that beast that Sims got though.”      

I was so anxious to check out Standard Speedway that I didn’t even look through the latest issue of National Speed Sport News that afternoon before I cleaned up, put on my fresh Champion t-shirt and left early to make the 15-mile drive to Standard Speedway.  

Check back next week for the next exciting chapter! 


Thursday, October 16, 2014

First photos of  the completed Arizona Hard Chrome midget

The restoration of the Arizona hard Chrome Chevrolet V-4 midget is competed! Here are the first photos courtesy of Ron Trainor. 

See this beauty in person during the 2014 Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremonies at the Arizona Open Wheel Racing Museum. The ceremony will be held on Thursday, November 13 2014 from 6:00 to 9:30 PM at the Museum located at 3534 East Broadway Road in Phoenix Arizona. Call 602-276-7575 for more details.    

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Arizona Hard Chrome V4 midget is nearly complete! 

 The Arizona Hard Chrome V4 midget is now in the final stages of completion. Ron Trainor took these photos on October 7 2014, and everything  is complete except to install the gauges, mount the tires and wheels when the wheels came back from polisher, bleed the brakes, set the injectors, and re-installation of the body panels.    

The completed Bud Trainor / Arizona Hard Chrome V4 #92 midget owned by Dan Ricehouse will be unveiled at the Arizona Open Wheel Racing Museum during the 2014 Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremonies. The ceremony will be held on Thursday, November 13 2014 from 6:00 to 9:30 PM at the Museum located at 3534 East Broadway Road in Phoenix Arizona. Call 602-276-7575 for more details.    

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Continuing our change of pace, here is chapter two of  a work of fiction. The author has asked to remain anonymous.

A Wild Ride- chapter two 
A work of fiction by “Anonymous”

As I drove west on Highway 23 into the setting sun that Saturday night in my two-tone grey Oldsmobile, I looked forward to finally see some racing. About five miles out of town, just as Eddie as said, there were a few cars that turned south onto a narrow road - Union Road. 

I followed a dusty 1934 Ford sedan for half a mile until turned it left into a small dirt lot already halfway filled with cars. In the distance I could see the top rows of open grandstands and I heard the roar of racing engines being tuned in the distance so I knew I had arrived at Union Speedway. 

As I approached the tiny ticket booth, I heard the pretty blonde inside exclaim “Hi Yankee boy! I see you found us!” I realized that it was Louise, the cashier at Hubin’s Rexall Drugstore whom I had unsuccessfully asked out earlier in the week.  Now I understood that she had been truthful when she told me she was busy on Saturday night.

After I greeted her and paid the $2.00 admission, she said “if you’ve have asked I’d have given you a free pass. My Daddy runs the spectator side of things here, while my Uncle Dub runs the track operation for the owner your boss Mr. Johnson” I mumbled my thanks and as I walked away, she called out “Enjoy the races, and ask me out for some other night sometime.”

Once inside the gate, I walked past the restrooms and concession stand then clambered up a rickety grandstand to the right of the flag stand, which hung out over the track just above the low block retaining wall. I found a seat and surveyed the facility, which was pretty primitive even for 1955. 

The ¼-mile track built in an open field had little banking in the turns and the only retaining wall was on the front stretch to protect the spectators. There were a row of lights strung along each of the straightaways from poles, with one big light mounted on poles in the infield at the center of each of the turns.  

I counted two dozen jalopy race cars and ten more sleeker-looking hot rods and roadsters in the infield as their respectively crews clad in t-shirts and white pants toiled over them.

After a few minutes the public address speakers crackled to life and the announcer said “Welcome folks this is your announcer Fats Harrison. I’ll be here all night to call the exciting race action.”  After a pause, he said “Okay boys let’s get this program started- line them cars up to go work the track before we start racing.”  

As the cars slowly tooled around the track, Eddie the postman walked up the grandstand. “Hey, glad to see you! If you want you can come and set with me and my family we're just a couple rows behind you.” Under his breath, Eddie added, “I got a flask with some hard stuff.”  I gladly accepted Eddie’s offer not so I could drink but so I could get the “inside scoop” on the night’s races.

The night was a whirlwind of racing; as I had observed there were two classes which Eddie described as ”stock” and “modified.” The stock class cars looked to my eye to be escapees from a junkyard, while some of the better modified cars were similar to the Mutual Roadsters I’d seen a few times back home in Indiana. Eddie’s wife Martha told me that ‘Fats’ was a radio announcer down at the state capitol and not fat at all, “in fact” she giggled “he’s very handsome,” which earned her a dirty look from her husband.   

As darkness fell, my eyes adjusted to the dim track lighting, but I had to wonder how much the drivers saw on the track. The ‘stock car’ heat races and feature were mostly of the “slam bang” variety with a lot of spins and crashes which brought the crowd of 500 fans to their feet. 

By comparison the ‘modified’ cars were faster and they raced clean for the most part. I say for the most part, because the driver of one car, the number #5 a white cut-down flathead-powered 1940 Ford coupe treated his fellow racers pretty roughly and ‘Fats’ pointed out each bump to murmuring crowd.    

Even though he clearly had a superior car, at the start of the 15-lap feature he bulled his way towards the front. A few laps later the number #5 ran second to the pale blue #34 1930 Ford roadster driven by Eddie’s brother. As the pair entered turn three, the #5 car locked onto the bumper of the leading roadster and spun him into the dusty infield. 

After he got the lead, the #5 car led the rest of the way and lapped about half of the remaining cars. After the checkered flag fell and the #5 car pulled to a stop in front of the grandstands, the crowd heartily booed as the driver climbed out.

As he removed his Cromwell helmet, I recognized the scowl and long greasy black hair of “Sims” the attendant at the Pure Oil station in town. As the flagman scampered down from the flag stand onto the track to hand the winner the checkered flag, the booing continued, and after he was handed the flag, “Sims” snapped it in half, threw it on the ground and stamped on it. 

I thought there would be a riot as “Sims” climbed back in his car, fired it up and drove it back to his pit. Once there he began to attach it to the tow bar behind his pickup truck as the catcalls rained down. Eddie drunkenly yelled in my ear “That Sims! What a bum!  They ought to have kicked that cracker out of the race for how he done my brother.”

I was curious to learn more about the local racing scene, but as excited (and drunk) as everyone was, I knew I wouldn’t get straight answers to my questions tonight, I could ask around town next week, so I climbed into my Olds and headed for home. 

The author is anxious to judge the racing history community's reaction to his fictional work. If there is enough interest, he's promised to continue his story............. 



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

For this installment of The Checkered Past, we are going to try something a little different- a work of fiction. The author has asked to remain anonymous.

A Wild Ride- chapter one
A work of fiction by “Anonymous”  

I was born in Terre Haute Indiana in July 1934, and grew up on a corn farm in Fountain County near the town of Covington, the hometown of my racing hero, Forrest Parker. My Dad was a racing fan, and I became one too at a really young age. I fondly remember that he and I visited many dusty dirt tracks as I grew up and of course, every May we made the trip to see ‘the big one’ in Indianapolis. My first ‘500’ was in 1941, and the war years were hard for me with no racing. Dad and I missed the 1946 ‘500’ because he didn’t think it would be worth it because “that old place has got to be falling down, son.”  We went again in 1947 and I saw all the 500-mile races through college. 

During the summer of 1954 in between my sophomore and junior years of college at Purdue University, I went into partnership with a couple of buddies, Hal and Sam, to buy and race a ¾ midget powered by a tired little Crosley engine. I did most of the mechanical work on the purple ‘HCS Special,’ but we took turns driving. Sam, whose Dad’s 1952 International pickup hauled the car, spun out twice in Plymouth Indiana, and I drove okay at Mount Lawn Speedway near New Castle, but then in the third race at Rushville, with Hal driving, the crankshaft broke.

With no money to fix the ruined engine, we sold the car at a big loss which temporarily ended my dream of becoming big-time racing driver. Hal and Sam both lost all interest in racing after the tragedies during the terrible summer of 1955, with Vuky, Jack McGrath, and all those people killed at LeMans France.  Not me, though; I was a life-long racing fan no matter what happened.      

After I graduated from Purdue in 1956 with my Industrial Engineering degree, I took a job with a furniture building company in the Deep South. It was my first time ever below the Mason-Dixon Line, and I’ll tell you that it took some adjustment for a Hoosier what with the different foods, the heat and the accents. The engineering work at Mr. Johnson’s factories came easy to me, and not surprisingly, my nickname at work was “Yank,” short for Yankee which everyone (but me) found hilarious.

After I lived in the downtown hotel a few weeks, I rented a little furnished house complete with a carport to protect my prized 1947 Oldsmobile ‘Series 66’ Club Coupe my high school graduation present. With my new adult responsibilities I grew up a lot over the next few months as I learned what it was like to live as an adult. Outside of the movies once a week, I stayed home and saved my money but I sure missed going to races.  

One Saturday morning in mid-September, I was listening to the radio and checking over the Olds when a heard steps. It was the postman about ten years older than me who handed me my mail that included the latest editions of my connections to the racing world - Speed Age magazine and National Speed Sport News. “Say, I been meaning to welcome y’all to town, since I couldn’t help but notice you’re a race fan, too. My name’s Eddie.”

After a few pleasantries about races and tracks we (mostly I) had seen, Eddie asked “Y’all ever been to either of our local tracks?” I confessed to my new friend that I hadn’t heard of them. “Well,” Eddie said “They’re running tonight at Union Speedway, out five miles west of town on Union Road off Highway 23. It ain’t no Indianapolis Speedway but y’all ought to come. The fun all starts at 6 o’clock.”

Distracted, I told Eddie I would think about it, and turned to go in the house, but not before Eddie gestured at the copy of National Speed Sport News in my hand. “Heard of that new kid on the cover- Foyt? I wonder if he’s as hot as they say he is? I read my copy last night and it says he won a bunch of them ‘midget car’ races in Texas and just won an IMCA ‘big car’ feature.”

I coughed instead of snorting “I don’t know Eddie, never heard of him, but he’s probably just another of those guys that’s a flash in the pan.” Eddie grimaced “you may be right. I’ve never seen a midget or big car race like you so I wouldn’t know.”  As he turned and walked across the dusty lawn towards my neighbor’s house Eddie said over his shoulder “Well, hope to see to y’all out there at Union tonight.”

Later that afternoon my mind kept drifting back to Eddie’s invitation as I read the Speed Age article on Charlie Sacks’ Hal Ford ‘Offy Killer.’ What with graduation, moving, and starting my job, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard the roar of a racing engine, so I changed into my Bardahl t-shirt and grabbed the car keys. 

Please feel free to offer your comments, either good or bad. The second installment will be posted on October 1 2014.                  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Progress on the Arizona Hard Chrome midget! 

If you are regular visitor to this site, you have been able to follow progress of the restoration of Bud Trainor’s 'Arizona Hard Chrome Special' midget that was driven through the years by drivers that included Bobby and Al Unser, and Paul Jones.

We are honored that Ron and the car’s owner Dan Ricehouse has allowed The Checkered Past to show off progress of the restoration. If you are a first time visitor, please check the archive for previous stories.  When we last left Ron Trainor (Bud’s son) the restoration of the V-4 midget engine was completed and ready for installation in the restored chassis.

Here is the latest update from Ron:

“I also sent these pictures to the Unser Racing Museum in Albuquerque.  About two hours after I sent the email, I received a call from Al Unser.  He said when he looked at the pictures he got a tear in his eye. He also said we were doing a great job on the restoration and that he would love to have the car in their museum for one month or ten years -as long as we want and promised they would manage it and take care of it. 

If the car was mine that’s where I would leave it, but since my friend Dan Ricehouse is the owner of the car, it’s up to him.  He says he has offers from three other museums that also want to display the car. So it looks like we may have to split time between all the interested museums. “

Keep up the great work on the restoration, Ron I'm sure your Dad would be proud. Thanks again for sharing!   

Monday, June 16, 2014

More of Roy Morris' list of great drivers 

Roy Morris in front of the Dallara 
factory in Speedway Indiana
photo by Wayne Kimbell

In today’s installment, we return to contributor Roy Morris’ list of great drivers that he saw perform which dates back to the first race Roy attended in October 1945. Many of the drivers on today’s list are best remembered primarily as midget drivers. 

Jerry Piper
Andy and Gilbert Guthrie   
George Amick
Paul Russo
George Lynch
Henry Banks
Troy Ruttman
Karl Young
Jimmy Bryan
Jack McGrath
Andy Linden
Jack Tate
Perry Grim
Bill Mackey
Chuck Hulse
Johnny McDowell
Tony Bettenhausen
Cecil Green
Gib Lilly
Sam Hanks
Norm Holtkamp
Wayne Dickerson
Don Cameron
Bob Kelsey

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

'Racer' Roy Morris remembers Ray Crawford 

Ray Crawford's official Speedway photo
courtesy of the IUPUI University Library
Center for Digital Scholarship
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection

One of the names on  Roy Morris's list of great drivers that he saw race is that of Ray Crawford, who was a P-38 fighter ace in the World War 2 African theater and jet fighter plane test pilot. Crawford raced midgets following World War 2,  won the stock car class of the Mexican Road Race in 1954, and competed in the Indianapolis '500' three times, All his accomplishments came in addition to his day time job running his family's Southern California supermarkets. 

Ray befriended a young race fan, Roy Morris, who shares with us his memories of Ray Crawford:

“I knew Ray fairly well back when he first started midget racing. I was born in 1933 and saw my first midget race at the Los Angeles Coliseum in October of 1945 and have been a race fan and part time participant ever since. 

Around 1948, I was hitchhiking my way to a midget race at Culver City Stadium. I was on the corner of Washington Boulevard and Western Avenue in Los Angeles when a brand new red Ford convertible with white leather upholstery stopped to pick me up. It was Ray Crawford! He took me all the way to the track at Culver City and then drove me home after the race. He did this many times back in those days and even called my house to make arrangements.

I remember how Ray used to qualify at Gilmore when he first started driving. The outer crash wall at Gilmore was more of a rounded rectangle while the track was itself an oval shape with short straight-aways. Ray would follow the crash wall line while pitching the car sideways violently as he entered and exited the turns. He was almost too brave for that time and place! 

Usually, Ray wore brown flying coveralls over his business clothes (usually a suit and tie) when he raced. I taped his wrists at Gilmore one night to keep out the dust and dirt. I remember when he finished the Gilmore Grand Prix near the front and I was proud of him (Ray finished fifth in the 150-lap Grand Prix in 1949).”  

One thing I will never forget about Ray was something he said to me as we were driving back to my house from a race in Culver City around 1950. Ray said to me that he would not be doing any racing for a while and I asked why. 

He said very nonchalantly, "We're building a new store in El Monte and I need to me there. I can't afford to get hurt right now." It did not dawn on me at first, but Ray was acknowledging the risks he took while driving a race car- to me, this was the ultimate in confronting the risks!”

I lost track of Ray after he went to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Years later, I went to his store (Crawford’s Village Market) in El Monte to look him up. Outside in the parking lot, I found an old Indy car painted a cream color with red highlights, had no engine or transmission with Edgar Elder's name listed on the side as Chief Mechanic. 

I went into the store and asked for Ray, but he was out of town that day.  The last time I saw Ray was at Ascot in 1988 - he was dressed to the "nines" as usual in sport coat and slacks. 

I took my collection of pictures to one of the last Gilmore reunions at the Gilmore Adobe. Johnny Boyd was there and wanted to see them. Boyd was engrossed looking at them when he came across the pictures of Ray, he laughed and said Ray was not much of a driver but was brave as could be.

In all the time I spent with Ray, he never once mentioned his WW II flying experiences. It was only recently that I began to understand his contribution to the war effort. I now know that he flew P-38's in Europe and shot down at least five German aircraft, qualifying him as an Ace. 

After the war, Ray was assigned as one of the test pilots on the first jet fighter, the Lockheed P-80. He and Richard Bong, one of the most successful fighter pilots of WW II, alternated test flights out of Burbank in the P-80. 

One day, Ray had a mechanical problem before takeoff and returned to the hanger. After the problem was corrected, it was Bong's turn. He took off but immediately ran into trouble, crashed and was killed. Ray never mentioned any of this while he was with me.”

Thanks for sharing your memories of a true American hero, Roy 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Arizona Hard Chrome V-4 engine completed! 

As regular visitor you have followed and seen the photos of the restoration of Bud Trainor’s Arizona Hard Chrome midget that was driven through the years by drivers that included Bobby and Al Unser, and Paul Jones. If you are a first time visitor, please check the archive for previous stories.  

When we last left Ron Trainor (Bud’s son) on the restoration of the V-4 midget engine he had to order new injector stacks, finish little things such as fittings and hoses, breathers, and mount the oil filter.

We are honored that Ron has allowed The Checkered Past to show off the latest photos of the completed engine ready for installation in the car. Compare the completed restoration to the black & white photo of the engine when the car first debuted. Ron and his crew at Arizona Hard Chrome did a great job! 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A thank you from a race fan! 

Recently my friend Roy Morris of San Juan Capistrano, California told me that for years he wanted to take out an advertisement in National Speed Sport News to in his words “thank all the drivers that I was privileged to watch through the years” but never got around to it. Roy sent me his list of drivers, and I am proud to share the first quarter of Roy’s list of legendary drivers with our readers.  

Ed Haddad
Rex Mays
Jack Habermehl
Bobby Ball
Frank Brewer
Edgar Elder
Danny Oakes
Swede Lindskog
Gordon Reid
Bill Homeier
Johnny Moorhouse
Bill Zaring
Mack Hellings
Johnny McFadden
Johnnie Parsons
Johnnie Tolan
Duane Carter
Bill Cantrell
Bob Cortner
Don Edmunds
Walt Faulkner
Bill Vukovich

Thank you Roy for sharing these great names and memories with our readers and I will transcribe more names and post them on the site in the next few days.   

Thursday, March 20, 2014

An update on the restoration of the Arizona Hard Chrome midget- almost ready to roar. 

Ron Trainor has provided an update on the restoration of the Arizona Hard Chrome V-4 midget engine:

"We are just about done.   Took the injectors apart to machine flats and to make the water tubes.  He jumped on them right away and I got the injectors back and back together.  Found out I had to order new injector stacks.  Don’t ask me how I got 1/16 of an inch too small.  I should have had a machinist to measure them for me before I had them chromed, but we have new ones on the way.   Just little things to finish up now such as fittings and hoses, breathers and mount the oil filter. " 

Thanks for the update Ron! - Editor

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The story of the Arizona Hard Chrome Twister

Recently, the Editor came across this Richard Cordsen photo of Gene “Tiger” Brown in a sprint car and based on the sponsor name on the hood, contacted Ron Trainor at Arizona Hard Chrome to see if he knew more. Here is Ron’s story:

“That is the original Hank Arnold “Twister,” also known as the “Arizona Hard Chrome Twister”. Hank was a good friend of my dad’s and a super nice guy. My dad, Glenn, gave him free crankshafts and was surprised when Hank put our name on the side of the hood. 

photo of 'the Twister'  courtesy of Jim Carmichael 
(this may be from the July 1963 issue of Hot Rod magazine)

The name “Twister” came from the fact that Hank who was always trying something new; he tried using a GMC blower on a circle track car. (A 301 cubic inch Chevrolet engine equipped with a GMC 4-71 supercharger) The car was a huge crowd favorite but not always successful. 

There were many blown engines, but when Hank finished a race, he won, and when he won, he won big. It was not a particularly good handling car even though it was the first car I ever knew of to have a Watts link on the right rear. But it really did not matter how it handled in the corners because it was so darn fast on the straightaways.

I can still remember the sound of those “zoomie” pipes with the engine cranking out of the chassis coming off turn four and the left front wheel in the air for as long as Hank had his foot in it. 

Hank Arnold in the "Twister" inside Jerry Coons Sr. at Tuscon
photo courtesy of Bill Van Dyke 

After Hank ran the "Twister" for a few years, he met some guy that wanted to finance a newer experiment for Hank to try. Hank sold the Twister and built a conventional sprint car with a 427 Ford for power. It was also an ill-handling car because of the torque curve and the heavy weight of the engine. In June 1967, Hank was killed in an accident at Manzanita Speedway in the new car.  

Meanwhile he had sold the "Twister" to the Gibson family, another bunch of nice people to whom we also gave free crankshaft work. They kept the 'Arizona Hard Chrome' name on the side of the hood and continued with Gene Brown as the driver. 

It was not long before they built a good powerful engine and got rid of the blower. The car was never the same, but it did become more consistent, they won many races and were the Manzanita Speedway champions.  

In those days, they called the racing cars “Open House Modifieds” and they all started with T buckets or coupes but as time went by they became nothing but sprint cars with T bucket bodies. When the California guys from CRA (California Racing Association) would come to town with their fully chromed, trick painted, sleek sprint cars it would drive them nuts to get beat by a local modified, which Gene Brown did regularly with the Gibson car. 

Eventually the CRA guys passed a rule that all cars must have a sprint car tail section. They all thought that would finally put an end to the reign of the old "Twister." After all, it had a complete roll cage and it was built extra wide for the T bucket body, so there was no way a sprint car tail would fit. 

But when the rule changed two weeks before the big Manzanita CRA race, ‘Skeet’ Gibson, the dad, said “Hey, I’ll tell you what, I’ll be damned if a damn rule change is going to keep us from winning their damn race, and hey, I mean it.” The Gibson family had owned a welding shop in the North West corner of the parking lot of Manzanita Speedway since the nineteen fifties, so they were familiar with what it took to fabricate and fix race cars. 

Richard Cordsen photo

This picture is after two weeks’ worth of work the Gibson’s did to make the 'Twister' into a sprint car. Not the most graceful design, but you can guess who won the race. I do not know everyone in the picture, but from the second from left is younger son Billy Gibson, next to Billy is son in-law Gene Gilles, next is driver Gene Brown, in the center is father ‘Skeet’ Gibson. Second from the right is the oldest brother, crew chief, and engine builder Bobby Gibson, whom I still enjoy seeing on occasion. 

Hank Arnold, Gene Brown, Bobby Gibson, and his father, ‘Skeet’ Gibson are all members of the Arizona Motorsports Hall Of Fame.” 

Thank you Ron!

If you love auto racing history, the next time you visit the Phoenix area, plan to visit the Arizona Motorsports Open Wheel Racing Museum and Hall of Fame. Their website is terrific too!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Joe Pittman

Ron Trainor  plans to place the name of Arizona racing mechanic Joe Pittman for consideration as a candidate for induction into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.

Joe Pittman first raced in the early and mid-fifties as the mechanic of his own Ferguson-powered Kurtis-Kraft copy midget built with the help of Myron Stevens that was driven by Wayne Weiler and Bill Cheesbourg. In 1958, the team of Joe and Wayne won a Saturday night 100-lap URA (United Racing Association) feature at Balboa Stadium in San Diego then after changing gears in the parking lot, traveled to Carrell Speedway in Gardena and won the Sunday afternoon 100-lap feature. 

After the midget feature was complete, Weiler then climbed into Phoenix area plumbing contractor Harlan Fike’s ‘Fike Plumbing Special,’ sprint car, also maintained by Joe Pittman, a finished second in the companion 100-lap CRA (California Racing Association) feature. Weiler and Pittman won the 1958 CRA car owner’s championship for Harlan Fike.

Joe reached national prominence as the mechanic of the Chevrolet-powered ‘Fike Plumbing Special’ paired with young driver Parnelli Jones that battled the proven USAC Offenhauser contingent. In 1959, Jones and Pittman split their time between the CRA and IMCA (International Motor Contest Association) circuits.  Racing against a bevy of future Hall of Famers, the Fike team finished fourth in the CRA season points with seven feature victories, and after five IMCA wins, finished fifth in IMCA season points.

Pittman opened the 1960 racing season by wrenching Parnelli to wins in four of the first six CRA races of the season, at Tucson and Ascot, and in races in Joe’s Phoenix hometown at the Arizona State Fairgrounds and Manzanita Speedway. In late April, the trio of Jones, Pittman and the Fike Plumbing Special headed east to run the USAC Midwest sprint car circuit. 

Based out of a two-car garage on West 15th Street in Speedway Indiana, Pittman,  Jones and the Chevy-powered ‘Fike Plumbing Special’ notched seven feature wins and captured the 1960 USAC Midwest title. In defeating the Offenhauser powered USAC elite, Pittman and Jones scored two wins each at the Salem Indiana and Dayton Ohio ‘high banks.”

Over the winter, at his Phoenix shop on Airline Way, Pittman updated the Hank Henry built sprint car for the coming season of 1961 USAC competition. As Pittman, Jones and the ‘Fike Plumbing Special’ competed for the new unified USAC sprint car title they notched nine feature wins including five race wins in a row. 

By the end of the 1961 season, Jones and Pittman’s handiwork defeated the Offenhauser-powered sprint car driven by AJ Foyt for the USAC national title.  In 1962, Pittman and Jones captured the USAC sprint car title for the second year in a row, with wins at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Allentown PA, Hatfield PA and New Bremen Ohio.

After Parnelli Jones cut back on his sprint car appearances following his 1963 Indy 500 win, Pittman teamed with a number of talented drivers on the sprint and championship circuits that included Johnny White, Chuck Hulse, Don Davis, Jack Rounds and Roger McCluskey. 

After Harlan Fike ran into financial problems in 1966, Pittman went to work for JC Agajanian as the crew chief of his championship cars from 1966 until 1970. In retirement, Joe worked for Phoenix tire magnate Bob Fletcher. After a short stint as an interim Indy car crew chief in 1973, he applied his talents by rebuilding several historic racers that included the 1951 ‘Blakely Oil Special.’ Schroeder/Offenhauser Championship Car.

Joe Pittman was inducted into the Arizona Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2002.