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.         


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The restoration of the Arizona Hard Chrome midget
By Ron Trainor Phoenix Arizona

A  period photo of the Arizona Hard Chrome Special  
Editor's collection

A funny thing very few people know is that my dad (Bud Trainor) bought Joe Pittman’s old Ferguson powered midget that became the “Arizona Hard Chrome half Chevy”. Joe and Myron Stevens originally built the car in the 1940’s as a Kurtis copy. 

Dan Ricehouse found the car several years ago back east – I do not know where for sure. A lady had it after her husband had passed away. She had a list of four or five former owners and the last name on the list was Bud Trainor. They did not realize the first on the list should have been Joe Pittman. When Dan bought the car, he thought it was an original Kurtis, so he took the frame to Harlan Kurtis in Bakersfield California to have the frame repaired. 

The Arizona Hard Chrome Special during the mock-up phase
photos by Dan Ricehouse

The main tubes were so badly rusted out on the bottom side they needed to be replaced. However, it would not fit the frame jig; the main tubes were too large in diameter, measuring 2 3/16”. We all know the Kurtis main tubes measure 2”, so very special tubing had to be ordered. 

That development started everyone wondering, where in the late 40’s did Joe and Myron come up with such a strange size of tubing? A year or two later I mentioned the fact to an old racer friend who knew my dad and Joe, and he said, “I know exactly how they came up with that size, it’s old drive-shaft material, we all used drive shafts to build our frames with in those days, it was good stuff”. 

It was only when Harlan Kurtis replaced the main tubes that we found a splice in the frame where in the 40’s or 50’s Joe had shortened the frame by four inches. That splice helped us to confirm that this is the ‘Arizona Hard Chrome Special.’ While my dad had the car in the 60’s the frame developed a crack at the splice on the right side so we put a sleeve in it and welded it back up, and that’s when I was able to set my mind at ease and positively identify the car, the sleeve was still there.

More progress photos and details
Photos by Dan Ricehouse  

Dan stays busy with his business and has had other cars he has restored so the ‘Arizona Hard Chrome Special’ has been on the back burner for several years. I have helped a little and a few others have also, currently the car is in final assembly at Tommy Brawner’s shop (the nephew of Clint Brawner)

A period photograph of the "half Chevy"
Editor's collection 

I have the engine here at Arizona Hard Chrome. My shop foreman Donnie Stubblefield (great grandson of Stubby Stubblefield) and I, in our spare time have the engine at about 75% complete.

Editor's note: Thanks for sharing Dan Ricehouse and Ron Trainor! Please keep us posted on the progress on returning this unique of racing history back to life.