Monday, May 22, 2017

Can our readers help solve 
a Hank Blum chassis mystery?  

The Hank Blum story by Kevin Triplett

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, for Chuck Hulse in the Pike’s Peak Hill climb. In the first of the Pikes Peak United States Auto Club (USAC) sanctioned non-points race, Hulse failed to finish his run up the mountain.  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.  

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 which earned him 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.

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.