Archive for May, 2008

Region Racers at the Indianapolis 500

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published by the Chicago Sun-Times News Group
Speedway, Indiana

Indianapolis Motor Speedway has long been the destination of many world-class racers. The 2 and 1/2-mile Mecca of American motorsports is where young boys and now young girls dream of racing their way to Indianapolis 500 glory. The path to Indy comes from all corners of the Earth.  Few realize, however, how many of those traveling to racing immortality has made a stop in the Calumet Region during their respective eras of racing greatness.

 WmLaDow PhotoThe most commonly recognized example is New York state’s Lee Wallard taking the reins of the Lowell-based Belanger No. 99 in 1951 and driving the legendary Kurtis-Kraft to the winner’s circle for owner Murrell Belanger.

Hammond’s contribution in the late 1940s and early 1950s was resident Paul Russo, who also drove in 14 Indianapolis 500s and was recognized in his time as one of the best “shoes” in the business. Russo’s partnership with legendary race mechanic and car builder Ray Nichels gave the region one of the most beloved mounts in Indy 500 history, the Russo/Nichels Special, affectionately known by racing historians as “Basement Bessie.”

Racing fans know Tinley Park’s Tony Bettenhausen‘s two national championships and 14 entries in the Indy 500, driving much of his career for Belanger before Tony’s death in 1961. That success spawned a migration of top-notch drivers through the region for the next 22 years, all of them tied to Ray Nichels and Nichels Engineering.

Indianapolis 500 winner Johnnie Parsons, drove Nichels-wrenched Indy cars is 1953 and 1954. Parsons was then followed by Sam Hanks, who was hired by Nichels as part of Nichels Engineering’s management of the Firestone Racing Tire Test program.

Hanks and Nichels set a closed-course world speed record in 1954 of 182.550 miles per hour with a Nichels prepared Kurtis-Kraft Roadster powered by a 331 cubic-inch Hemi engine. Hanks won the 1957 Indianapolis 500 and retired in victory lane.  

Hanks Nichels 1954

He was followed by national sprint car champion, Indy 500 pole winner and Monza, Italy, world record holder Pat O’Connor, who drove for Nichels from 1954 through 1958 before he lost his life in the 1958 race.

Next was Rodger Ward, test driving for Nichels in 1958 and then driving USAC stock cars for Nichels Engineering in 1961 & 1962. Ward won the Indy 500 twice, 1959 & 1962.  Ward was joined at Nichels Engineering by A.J. Foyt, who drove for Ray from 1961 through 1964 and again in 1971. Foyt is a 4-time Indy winner, capturing the 500 in 1961, 1964, 1967 and 1977. The USAC stock car team Nichels assembled with Foyt & Ward included 2-time national stock car champion and 6-time Indy 500 entrant Paul Goldsmith along with 7-time Indy 500 driver; Len Sutton.

Joe Leonard joined the Nichels Engineering stable in 1964 and won the USAC Rookie of the Year award in a Nichels stock car and then moved on to Indy, where he won back-to-back USAC national IndyCar championships in 1971 and 1972.

Nichels employed Bobby Unser from 1971-73 as one of his key stock car drivers in USAC. Unser is a three-time Indy 500 winner, with victories in 1968, 1975 and 1981.

cropped-nichelsjohncock.jpgDriving for Ray Nichels’ son Terry in 1972 was Gordon Johncock, who would go on to win the Indianapolis 500 six months later and then again in 1982.  Also driving for Terry Nichels in 1973 in the USAC stock car competition was Johnny Rutherford. “Lone Star JR” who would win Indianapolis in 1974, 1976, and 1980.

Make no mistake. although Northwest Indiana has only one Borg-Warner victory to its credit, drivers and mechanics who visited Indy’s victory circle, on many occasions, came through the Calumet Region to do it.

The Chicago Gang ….

Posted: May 24, 2008 in Uncategorized

By: Wm. LaDow

Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune – a Chicago Sun-Times News Group Publication — May 24, 2008
Speedway, Indiana

Nichels Service Midget Bettenhausen Chicago Gang

Tony Bettenhausen in the Rudy Nichels Service / Calumet Auto Parts Special

The first recognized race for midget cars was held in California in the summer of 1933, and by 1937 it was one of America’s fastest-growing recreational experiences, spreading across the nation like wildfire.

Midget racing quickly became known as “diminutive dynamite.”

Midget cars, weighing approximately 750 pounds, with wheelbases ranging from 66 to 72 inches and car bodies that rested as low as four inches off the ground, were miniaturized versions of the much larger AAA Championship Cars that were running at tracks like Indianapolis. These lightweight cars ran at speeds upwards of 70 to 80 mph down the straightaways, taking the turns between 40 and 50 mph. Taking the turns in a midget, at these speeds, was a test of skill and courage.

Wally “The Human Cyclone” Zale

The smaller midget cars allowed for much more economical racing as they could be run on smaller-sized dirt or cinder tracks than the big Champ Cars. The normal track for such racing was a quarter-mile in distance, which meant that any cinder track circling a normal-sized high school football field could stage a midget race.

In time, midget cars would be racing on outdoor tracks as big as a mile and on indoor tracks as small as one-seventh of a mile. The beauty of a midget car race was that it could be staged just about anywhere. Once the midget craze took hold, drivers towed their midget cars across the country, looking for the most lucrative winning purses.

In the Chicago area, the first midget race was held at the old Calumet Speed Bowl in Lansing in 1934. One of the first midget car races held within the city of Chicago was run on May 19, 1935, at Soldier Field. Soon summertime races could be viewed at Raceway Park in Blue Island, Riverview Raceway off of Western Avenue, as well as Soldier Field. In the winter, they ran venues such as the 124th Field Artillery Armory on 52nd Street and Cottage Grove and the Chicago Amphitheatre.

Drivers running Chicago area midget tracks soon gained national prominence. Drivers such as Harry “Leadfoot” McQuinn, Ray “The Highland Park Flyer” Richards, Myron “The Milwaukee Blitzkrieg” Fohr, Teddy “The Flying Rail” Duncan, Pete “The Flying Serb” Romcevich, Frank “Candy Man” Burany, Bob “Bombshell” Muhlke, Joie “Chief Wahoo” Chitwood, and Mike “The Flying Irishman” O’Halloran, all raced on tracks in and around the windy city.

But within this group of great racers, even a smaller more revered fraternity existed and it became known as The “Chicago Gang.” The fast-paced club consisted of Wally “The Human Cyclone” Zale, Tony “Tinley Park Express” Bettenhausen, Dennis “Iron Duke” Nalon, Cletus “Cowboy” O’Rourke, Jimmy “South Side Speed King” Snyder, Emil Andres and Paul Russo.

Frank Burany with Dale “Tiny” Worley to in dark coveralls …

Though all of the members of the “Chicago Gang” came to win various track championships, Wally Zale was the driver who set the pace. In 1936, Zale won a record 65 features in a single season. He broke his own record in 1940 scoring 67 victories, believed to be the greatest number of wins in a single season by a midget driver. Tragically, Zale’s career ended prematurely when he was killed in his own passenger car when struck by a train in April of 1942.

All but O’Rourke went on to race at Indianapolis.

Their collective record in Indianapolis 500 competition was quite impressive, 52 starts, three poles, seven top-five finishes, 15 top-10 finishes, $233,888 won in competition, 5841 laps completed for a total of 14,602 miles run at the worlds greatest speedway.

Paul Russo in the Nichels Calumet Auto Parts Special

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 23, 2008
Speedway, Indiana
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The sound of engines returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday as the Firestone Indy Lights Series went through practice and qualifications for today’s running of the Firestone Freedom 100.

Dillon Battistini in the No. 15 Panther Racing entry recorded a two-lap average of 188.397 mph on the 2 and 1/2-mile oval to make his first Firestone Indy Lights start at IMS.

“It’s probably the most challenging oval that I’ve driven,” said Battistini, who won the season-opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “It goes really quick, and you have to be really accurate and try not to lose your concentration.”

James Davison in the No. 11 Lifelock/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car will start in second after posting an average of 188.390 mph.

Wade Cunningham, in the Royal Spa/Brian Stewart Racing No 33 car will start in third.

Ana Beatriz captured her fourth consecutive top-five start with an average of 187.875 mph in the No. 20 Healthy Choice/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car.

“It’s just really fun to race here and I hope to continue doing well in the season,” said Beatriz, who was third at St. Petersburg.

The final qualifier of the day was Crown Point’s Logan Gomez in the Menards entry for Guthrie Racing. His two-lap average of 187.053 mph put him on the inside of the fifth row and was the best qualifier of four Guthrie Racing entries.

“The Menards car was stuck to the track,” Gomez said. “We specifically worked on a race setup, so that’s what we qualified with.”

The top seven qualifiers were separated by less than half a second

Gasoline Alley Notes

Sarah Fisher Racing announced that text4cars.com will serve as the team’s primary sponsor for her No. 67 entry. Text4car.com is replacing ResQ and Gravity Entertainment, who reneged on their agreement as the team primary sponsor in just the last few weeks. “I can’t express how emotional I feel at this point and time,” Fisher said. “I realize this is a gift with only 72 hours left before the race.”

LONG BEACH ON BOARD: The Grand Prix Association of Long Beach (GPALB) and the Indy Racing League, the sanctioning body for the IndyCar Series, have agreed to a five-year contract that will have the cars and stars of the IndyCar Series racing on the streets of Long Beach beginning next year through 2013.

Also, Michael Andretti informed guests at the annual Indianapolis Motor Speedway gathering of the Michael Andretti Foundation that Andretti Green Promotions, LLC has completed the purchase of the assets of the Grand Prix Association of Toronto and are planning to stage their first IndyCar Series event there in 2009.

By: Wm. R. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published by the Chicago Sun-Times Newsgroup — May 22, 2008
Speedway, Indiana

Granatelli Chicago Store

When racing fans hear the name Granatelli, the first image that usually comes to mind is that of a large, jovial man wearing a white sport coat, covered in red, oval-shaped, STP decals. Although an accurate image of Andy Granatelli, it is a far, far cry from what the Granatelli name really means to the legacy of American motorsports.

You see there wasn’t just one Granatelli, there were three and each contributed significantly to how Americans eventually nurtured their cars. It was the Granatelli Brothers who brought the word “high” to high-performance, creating a multi-million dollar business based on the automotive parts aftermarket. It was the Granatellis who would create the concept of the “Speed Shop” as we would come to know it, and they would do it by example, becoming a major force in American motorsports.

Tough Beginnings

As youngsters growing up in Depression-era Chicago, the three Granatelli boys, Joseph (born 1919) Andrew (born 1923) and Vincent (born 1927), leaned about life the hard way.

Their father, Vincent, an immigrant born near Palermo, Italy, became a widower when the boys were just 16, 12 and 8, respectively. In the 1920s, Papa Granatelli worked as a grocer during the day and taught himself how to read and write English at night. It was his work ethic that seemed to catch fire in the hearts of his young sons.

As they got older, they hauled around a car battery during cold Chicago winter mornings and gave jump starts to stalled cars for a dollar. All three of the boys worked multiple jobs, pooling their money together to fund their various money making schemes until Joe was finally old enough to get a job as a mechanic. It wasn’t long till he was one of best “wrenches” on the north side. He then taught Andy and they both taught Vince.

Getting into Cars

With all three becoming master mechanics, their wallets began to thicken with cash. They bought new cars and souped them up, racing on rural roads for money. Fast cars brought easy money, and that bought the boys more high-performance parts to make their cars even faster. Again they pooled their cash and opened up Andy’s Super Service at 4506 N. Clarendon, just off Lake Shore Drive. The business was a huge success.

But as with just about every Granatelli success there came a setback. As the boys were beginning to bank some serious money, they showed up for work the morning of Aug. 6, 1944, to find that they had been the victim of a heist. Not only was everything in the shop gone — tools, equipment, parts, and cash register — but the boys’ two hot rods and tow truck also were driven away by the thieves. With no insurance, they had to start over from scratch.

They devoted their next business strictly to speed. Opening up a shop at 5058 North Broadway, they continued their mechanical mastery working on cars and began to contract out their sales services for other companies that were producing high-performance parts, such as cams, crankshafts, intake manifolds and superchargers. Their business took off as they became known for their engineering expertise building high-performance Ford V8 engines.

Their dedication to selling the “secret of speed” took them racing, first as drivers, then as promoters. The Granatelli Brothers founded the Hurricane Hot Rod Racing Association and put tens of thousands of racing fans in the seats of Chicago’s Soldier field, night after night. Short tracks, drag strips, anywhere people could race, the Granatellis were right there to manage the racing and sell the racers some more “speed.”

Their reputation growing, there was only one more place for the Granatellis to challenge, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Off to Indianapolis

They showed up at Indy in 1946, right after World War II. The Granatellis ran Grancor cars out of their own speed shops from 1946 through 1954, but didn’t make it to the winner’s circle. Their best showing was a second place with Jim Rathmann in 1952. All the while they continued to grow their reputations as some of the finest engineering minds in the racing business, all with very little formal education.

By 1956, the Granatelli Brothers were doing $14 million a year with Grancor as masters of the concept of mass merchandising high-performance auto parts. In 1957, they walked away from it all and retired — or so they thought.

Relocating to California, Andy got the bug to get back in business and he and Joe purchased the supercharger business of Paxton Products Corporation.

They sold it for a hefty profit three years later to Studebaker, with Andy joining the management of South Bend automaker in the deal. (Joe reacquired the company years later, serving as president until 2003.)

Enter the Novis

The next few years, pushing the high-performance benefits of their superchargers, the company set more than 300 land speed and endurance records at various racing venues. These successes led to opportunities with Chrysler and ultimately, engineering a redesign of the famed Indianapolis Novi engine. It was during this time that the Granatelli Brothers started racing the fan favorite Novis at Indianapolis.

Then the one product that would define Andy Granatelli as the guru of auto product sales and marketing surfaced in 1963, when Studebaker’s Chemical Compound Division was looking for guidance. Andy took over as CEO, leaving his other businesses in the sound hands of his brothers and took a product by the name of STP, short for Scientifically Treated Petroleum and grew the business to a level of more than 80 percent market share.

It was a marriage made in heaven. Granatelli mass-marketed his product like none ever before. The STP logo became the most recognizable in all of advertising, as the company became the advertising “voice” for all of motorsports through its huge (and overly generous) advertising budget. So powerful was the image of Granatelli and STP’s marketing, that a cartoon was published in the New York Times of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon and the first thing he saw was an STP decal.

Heartbreak and Triumph

The meteoric growth of their businesses allowed the Granatelli Brothers to go racing more than ever before. They became an institution at Indianapolis. They raced at the Brickyard over the course of the next three decades.

Their most defining moments were: 1) dominating and almost winning the 1967 Indy 500 with Parnelli Jones piloting the STP Turbine “Whooshmobile” before a $3 gearbox bearing cost them the race with just three laps to go; 2) winning the 1969 Indy 500 with Mario Andretti driving and; 3) winning the 500 in 1973 with Gordon Johncock. The Granatelli brothers were so innovative that race sanctioning bodies soon began to legislate their cars out of existence.

Next they went to stock car racing first with Nichels Engineering and Fred Lorenzen in 1971 and Petty Enterprises, in 1972, a relationship that continues to this day.

The myriad of their automobile related businesses kept the boys busy into the new millennium. Joe, Andy, and Vince continued to be leaders by example and amassed personal fortunes during the course of their lives.

Joe passed away in 2003. Andy resides in southern California and spends his time as a philanthropist. Vincent is retired and resides in Arizona.

The Granatelli brothers story is one of hard work, commitment and never giving up, all qualities they learned growing up on the streets of Chicago.

By: Wm. LaDow

Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune – A Chicago Sun-Times Media Company
Speedway, Indiana – May 19, 2008


Indy

The field is now set for the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500.

“Bump” day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday was one of illusion and late day drama.

Sunny skies were combined with stiff winds making for a very challenging day on the track.

For those who stayed until 6 p.m., they saw 40 minutes of late-day furious activity that saw two drivers bumped and a crash end a valiant attempt by Mario Dominquez to make the field.

Done for the weekend even before the track opened for business was 2007 Rookie of the Year Phil Giebler and his No. 88 American Dream Racing Panoz that crashed terribly in Turn One Saturday afternoon, completely destroying the car

After spending the night at Methodist Hospital for pulmonary contusions and a cervical sprain, Giebler was released Sunday afternoon.

Team owner Eric Zimmerman announced that the team is in the process of acquiring a new Dallara (they were the only team here with an outdated Panoz chassis) and will be entering the June 7 IRL race at Texas Motor Speedway with Jaques Lazier behind the wheel. Following that race, they plan on running three-to-four more races in the 2008 schedule with Giebler returning to the cockpit when he is cleared to drive.

The day’s on-track activities started with a morning practice that saw 13 drivers run 225 laps. At that point, drivers who were still on the outside of the grid looking in were A.J. Foyt IV and Dominquez in the No. 96 Pacific Coast Motorsports Dallara, who was back running after crashing hard Saturday.

Still in Gasoline Alley during the practice session was Max Papis and his Rubicon Race Team trying to get the No. 44 LifeLock Dallara assembled from parts they had been acquiring since his crash, also Saturday morning.

The practice ended prematurely when Davey Hamilton’s No. 22 Vision Racing Dallara blew an engine.

Less than an hour later, the track opened for qualifying.

Foyt was the first to challenge the vast speedway, running a four lap average of 219.075 mph issuing the first “bump” of the day to Marty Roth and placing Buddy Lazier on the bubble.

At 1:14, Papis finally made it on the track with his reconstructed Dallara.

At 1:15, Roth and his No. 25 Roth Racing Dallara ran a qualifying run of 218.965, bumping Lazier from the field and putting Roger Yasukawa on the bubble.

At 2:47 p.m., a freak accident occurred that had many in the paddock shaking their heads, when Foyt made contact with the Turn 3 wall. He initially appeared to have had some sort of mechanical failure on his way out of the pits. By the time he got around the track, the car spun and backed hard into the wall. It was later learned the fuel cap wasn’t properly attached and flew off AJ’s car as he headed into Turn 1. By the time he got to Turn 3, he had ethanol on his tires, lost traction and had the car come around on him. He was released by the Clarian Infield Medical Center with a minor burn on his neck and some singed hair.

The next qualifying attempt came at 4:23 p.m. with Dominquez running a much too slow 217.775 mph four lap average and was unable to crack the field of 33.

At 5:20, the tension that had been simmering all day finally boiled over.

Lazier in the No. 91 Hemelgarn/Johnson Dallara, ran three laps at 217.272 mph, 217.204 mph, and 217.097 mph before waiving off his attempt.

Dominguez then put down a four lap average of 218.620 mph, bumping Yasukawa from the field, but by only one spot, leaving Dominguez himself on the bubble.

Next in line was Yasukawa in the No. 98 CURB/Agajanian/ Beck Motorsports Dallara, who ran a solid first lap of 218.894 mph. But his four lap average of 218.559 mph wasn’t enough as it left him just five hundredths of a second short of making the field.

Papis in the Jason Priestly owned entry, started to roll off next, but a clutch failure finished his day and month.

Then to the cheers of many fans lining the main straightaway, who clearly had made Lazier a sentimental favorite to make the field, Buddy’s car was pushed into the qualifying line.

With Lazier in the cockpit, Dan Wheldon leaned in and said something to Lazier, before he rolled off onto the track. The former Indy 500 winner then went out and blistered his competition with a four-lap average of 219.015 mph, bumping Dominguez from the field and leaving Roth on the bubble.

Yasukawa went out one last time and with an average at 218.476 and failed to bump Roth.

At 5:57 p.m. Dominguez in his No. 96 Pacific Coast Motorsports Dallara finally rolled onto the track for his qualifying run. His first lap of 219.780 looked solid, and as he raced down into the first turn the gun sounded to signal the end of qualifying, leaving a helpless Roth next in the qualifying line.

But it wasn’t to be. Dominguez spun on the exit of Turn 1 making contact with the outside wall.

His car got airborne for just a moment, finally settling on the ground, ending his attempt and his month.

Roth was safely in the race and Buddy Lazier, will start his 16th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — Chicago Sun-Times News Group — May 18, 2008
Speedway, Indiana

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Ask any engineer what makes an IndyCar go and you will likely get a long dissertation about the internal-combustion engine, gearbox ratios and the aero effects created by the car’s downforce. In fact, if you listen long enough, you will be bombarded with enough physics to make your eyes glaze over and head swim.

Ask any car owner what makes an IndyCar go and they will say one word … money.

The faster you want to go, the more money it takes.

One of the greatest misconceptions in motorsports is that race team owners can operate on the money they win on the track. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It takes sponsorship from either a privately held company or a corporation to adequately field a viable entry in IndyCar racing. And that doesn’t mean just writing a check; it means building a partnership between the car owner and the company that they both feel can successfully market their products.

A classic example of the pitfalls encountered in developing a solid relationship between a race team owner and a quality sponsor reared its ugly head here at the Speedway during the month of May, severely challenging the people at Sarah Fisher Racing.

Fisher’s trailblazing journey through IndyCar racing has produced several Indianapolis 500 and Indy Racing League records that still hold: youngest woman to compete (2000), fastest woman to qualify (229.439 mph, 2003), first woman with a podium finish (third place, 2000, Kentucky Speedway), first woman in North America to win a pole position (2002, Kentucky Speedway) and voted Most Popular Driver (2001, 2002, 2003).

So when the 27-year-old Fisher decided to start her own race team in 2008 with her husband Andy O’Gara and his father, John O’Gara, both IndyCar racing veterans, it was clearly a labor of love that drove her.

To complete in the IndyCar series it’s estimated that it takes $7-10 million, per car, to run with the leaders. Fisher’s effort is substantially shy of those figures. She operates out of a small shop on Rockville Road in Indianapolis and came to compete at the Speedway with one car, one engine, no wind-tunnel testing and virtually no laps on the car. But she was ready to compete and has qualified for her seventh Indianapolis 500.

What she wasn’t ready for was her primary sponsors disappearing during the first week of May. After trumpeting the arrival of her new sponsors at a news conference in April, in front of a crowd of 75 media members in attendance for the ribbon cutting of Sarah Fisher Racing’s new shop, it appeared that both ResQ, a sports drink company from Gulf Breeze, Fla., and Gravity Entertainment of Fort Lauderdale, were the very type of sponsors she needed.

Neither copmany has come through with the promised dollars, leaving Fisher’s sidepods virtually bare this month. She’s been successful in lining up several associate sponsors that, along with contributions from fans, are helping to keep the operation going, albeit day to day.

Northwest IndianasContribution

The terrific challenge that Sarah Fisher Racing has encountered in the last few weeks is not without precedent in Indianapolis 500 or big-time auto racing history.

Probably the most glaring example of a race team laying it all out on the line for a sponsor who was never really confirmed as paying his way was the run of the 1972 “Mystery” Eagle. Dan Gurney and his company, All American Racers were building some of the most technologically advanced Indycars (labeled the “Eagle”) in the world when they showed up at Indy for the month of May in 1972.

Gurney’s primary car, the No. 6 Olsonite Eagle, was the class of Gasoline Alley. Bobby Unser took the pole for the race at a new track record of 195.940 mph, beating the former pole speed record by 17.244 miles per hour, the largest track record incremental increase in the history of IMS.

Team owner Gurney was thrilled. Even more inviting was the proposition that if he could find sponsorship, he could run a second car.

Enter Chris Vallo, then of Highland. Vallo was the man behind CV Enterprises, whose logo sported the slogan “You Name It.” Vallo fancied himself an entrepreneur and was introduced to Gurney by Unser, who met him while driving for Nichels Engineering in 1971.

Gurney was desperate for sponsorship and Vallo was looking for another avenue to pursue his financial goals.

What wasn’t apparent to many at the time was that Vallo was being sued by Ray Nichels, who alleged Vallo had defaulted on his agreement to sponsor a $7 million stock car program preparing Pontiacs in NASCAR for David Pearson and Plymouths for A.J. Foyt and Unser in USAC.

Before anyone knew it, the No. 48 Mystery Eagle, driven by Jerry Grant, appeared on the track with the big CV Enterprises oval logo. The car ran so well it almost won the race. Grant was leading with 12 laps left when he unexpectedly pitted because his right-front tire was out of balance. During the confused stop, he was given fuel from Unser’s tank and subsequently was disqualified and scored 12th.

There was much discussion about who the man was behind the “Mystery” Eagle at Indianapolis that year.

Not long after Indianapolis, Vallo vanished from the Indy-car scene as he continued to fight a handful of lawsuits in Lake and Porter counties. He eventually would be imprisoned on two separate occasions and died in 2000.

Interview requests about Vallo and his relationship with Gurney have been politely refused by Gurney over the last several years. Gurney’s company would weather its involvement with Vallo and continues to build race-related vehicles to this day.

Nichels and Nichels Engineering were not so fortunate. Nichels’ financial challenges related to being associated with Vallo and CV Enterprises would sap his business of much-needed capital just as Chrysler Corporation pulled its support from all of auto racing in 1972.

Nichels would close his world-class race-car construction business and enter into a series of other business in the automotive and aircraft markets until his death in 2005.

Make no mistake about it.

It takes money to make the race cars go fast.

BoyleHenning

By: Wm. R. LaDow

Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune – Chicago Sun-Times NewsGroup
Speedway, Indiana – May 18, 2008

As the son of a Chicago South Sider, I learned long ago that if you want to get something done, “It takes a guy, who knows a guy.”

Michael J. “Umbrella Mike” Boyle was just such a guy.

One of most colorful and controversial labor leaders in the history of this country, Boyle ruled the Windy City’s most-powerful electricians’ union for more than a half century.

In a time when corruption and lawlessness gripped the city, Mike Boyle walked the fine line between crooked politicians and the Chicago Mob. He did it all the way to the pinnacle of the American labor movement, constantly doing it in a shroud of mystery.

When he wasn’t in Chicago dominating union politics, he was racing at Indianapolis with his Boyle Racing Team, winning the Indianapolis 500 three times.

The Early Years

Born in rural Minnesota in June of 1879, Michael J. Boyle was one of 11 children raised on a potato farm. His early years were spent in parochial schools until he joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) at the age of 16.

By 1905 he became certified as a full-time electrician for the Chicago Tunnel Company, the firm responsible for the construction and management of some 60 miles of underground tunnels that linked Loop businesses — 40 feet below the streets of downtown Chicago.

Boyle joined the IBEW in Chicago in 1906, and by 1909 was a business manager for Local 134. By the 1920s he rose to the position of vice president within the local and ruled it with an iron fist, eventually amassing a union membership of 10,000 steadfastly loyal electricians.

Early in his career, “Umbrella Mike” Boyle reportedly earned his nickname for his ability to gather “tributes” or “donations” if you will, from contractors and other citizens who sought his much-needed support for various business projects.

Boyle would simply hang his umbrella on the edge of the bar at Johnson’s Saloon, his unofficial headquarters on West Madison Street when he entered early in the evening. Those requesting his favors or guidance would then drop cash in the unattended umbrella. At the end of the evening, Boyle would then retrieve the cash-laden umbrella on his way out.

When once confronted on how he was able to amass a grand total of $350,000 on a weekly paycheck of $35, Boyle replied, “It was with great thrift.”

Rising to the Top of Labor

The early 1900s was a period of great unrest between the corporate owners of American industry and the American worker. Long hours and low pay, coupled with abuse of the worker’s rights, gave rise to the need for unions to protect the rights of working men and women.

As the country’s industrial base prospered, workers across America united under the guidance of men who showed no fear in the face of overwhelming odds. Mike Boyle was such a man.

In one of the clearest examples of Boyle’s power, in January of 1937, he yanked 450 of the 800 city-employed electrical workers off the job at 8 p.m., shutting off 94,558 municipal street lights, along with all of the traffic lights in Chicago’s Loop, along with putting 38 of the 55 drawbridges that cross the Chicago River, in the up position.

Automobiles, streetcars, and pedestrians were trapped, with the city’s police force helpless as the power to their telephones was shut off, too. Two hours and 40 minutes later, Boyle acquiesced and turned the city back on, all with a simple phone call.

Racing at Indianapolis

Mike Boyle was a sportsman at heart who loved competition. That was what drew him to IndyCar racing. Once Boyle made up his mind that he wanted to go racing, he pursued his quest with abandon. Starting in 1926, Boyle first got his feet wet with a single-car entry in the 13th running of the Indianapolis 500. In his first showing at Indianapolis, the No. 36 Boyle Valve Miller driven by Cliff Woodbury overcame a flat tire to capture third place, earning a purse of $5,000.

Over the next seven years, Boyle entered a total of 15 cars in Indianapolis 500 competition with the best finish being a seventh place. He always entered top-notch equipment and hired the best drivers, such as Woodbury, Ralph Hepburn, Billy Arnold, Peter DePaolo and Lou Moore.

In 1934, all of Boyle’s efforts came to fruition when “Wild Bill” Cummings in the No. 7 Boyle Products Special/Miller took the checkered flag in record time, earning a record purse of $29,725.

Having won the Indianapolis 500 only made “Umbrella Mike” thirst for more.

The next four years saw him enter 13 cars in the Memorial Day Classic, garnering three top-five finishes.

In 1939, having tired of trying to wring out more speed from the oversized Millers and Stevens-Offy he owned, Boyle reached across the Atlantic Ocean to a tiny Italian automobile company and without fanfare quietly purchased a Maserati 8CTF. The car was shipped to Boyle Racing headquarters in Indianapolis.

There Boyle turned the car over to his crew-chief, Harry “Cotton” Henning, a former riding mechanic. Henning was greatly respected by his peers and along with Boyle’s money was able to outfit a pristinely kept racing operation that was second to none.

Then Boyle hired arguably the best “shoe” in the business, Indiana native Wilbur Shaw.

The marriage between Shaw and the Boyle Special Maserati was magic, dominating both the 1939 and 1940 Indianapolis 500s. Boyle’s combined winnings for the two successive victories was $58,100. In addition, Boyle’s other driver, the legendary Ted Horn, copped successive fourth place finishes to add another $9,325.

Following his two-year domination of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Mike Boyle raced again in 1941 and 1946, with the best results being sixth-place and third-place finishes, respectively. But the war years took their toll on Boyle and he left Indy-car racing for good after 1946, while in his mid-60s.

During the course of his racing career, it was never clear where the money was coming from that funded one of the most well-equipped racing operations in the business. “Umbrella Mike’s” livery on the cars was seemingly changing from season to season. Boyle Products, Boyle Valve, Boyle Racing Headquarters, the IBEW — all these names were seen on the side of Mike Boyle’s cars.

After retiring from IndyCar racing, “Umbrella Mike” still dominated union politics in Chicago through his role as a vice president of Local 134 of the IBEW. He died from heart failure in 1958 while in Miami Beach, Florida.

The Chicago Daily Tribune reported on the filing of Boyle’s estate in probate court. It was revealed that his entire estate — which included a 40-acre ranch in Texas — was valued at only $19,000.

It would appear that “Umbrella Mike” left us with one more mystery.

Photo Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

It’s Now or Never …

Posted: May 17, 2008 in Uncategorized

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 17, 2008
Speedway, Indiana
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Like Thursday, the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened for business at 12 noon sharp.

Unlike Thursday, the sun showed brightly on Friday afternoon when 36 cars took the track.

Track temperature at the start of the session was 94 degrees, with an ambient of 62 degrees, along with winds from the north-northwest at 14 miles per hour, making for some of the best conditions this month for IndyCar practice.

Dan Wheldon proved to be a bit of a profit with his comments on Thursday morning about rookie driver E.J. Viso. The 23-year-old Venezuelan former test driver from Formula One slammed into the Turn 3 wall after completing only one lap. Viso was helped from his No. 33 HVM Racing PDVSA Dallara, whose rear tires and rear wing were heavily damaged. He was checked and cleared to drive by the Speedway medical staff less than a half-hour following his crash.

However, soon after Viso’s adventure, Will Power, the rookie driver that Wheldon indicated had probably been the most consistent rookie throughout the month, found himself sliding into the Turn 2 wall, just after running his fastest lap of the day at 223.039 mph, as the result of a tow. Power, in his No. 8 Aussie Vineyard-Team Australia KV Racing Dallara, who hadn’t been up to full speed without the benefit of the draft said of his wreck “There was a lot of blustery wind out there and I just got caught out. I wasn’t even up to speed yet and the car came around on me sending me into the wall.” Power was also cleared to drive by Speedway medical staff not long after his incident. As one of the Champ Car transition teams, KV Racing does not have a race-ready backup car available; as a result, it appears that they will work through the night to get the No. 8 rebuilt for qualifying tomorrow. Power was scheduled to be the first qualifying attempt of the day Saturday.

Later in the afternoon, after running 86 laps, Ryan Briscoe in his backup car, the No. 6T Penske Racing Dallara, crashed hard into the SAFER barrier exiting Turn 2. The car was substantially damaged with the rear suspension and wing taking most of the abuse. Briscoe was released to drive by the Speedway medical staff within a half an hour.

Last incident of the day was rookie Graham Rahal in his No. 06 Newman/Haas/Lanigan Dallara, who “white walled” his right side tires glancing of the wall coming out of Turn 1, essentially ending his day.

His teammate Justin Wilson, in the No. 02 Newman/Haas/Lanigan McDonalds Dallara also had uneasy episode during his team’s effort to trim out the car for qualifying. Wilson’s assessment of the episode was chilling … “I had a big moment in Turn 1. I think it was more luck than judgment that the back (of the car) came in line. I basically crashed but didn’t hit anything. It was the crash that never happened, but should have. We thought that was enough luck for today, so we put the car away.”

“Fast Five” of the day consisted of the race polesitter Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Dallara at 223.713 mph, followed by Helio Castroneves in the No. 3T Penske Racing Dallara at 223.411 mph. Next on the speed chart was Ryan Briscoe in the No. 6T Penske Racing Dallara at 223.372 mph, Will Power in the No. 8 KV Racing Dallara at 223.039 mph and Graham Rahal No. 06 Newman/Haas/Lanigan Dallara at 222.959 mph.

Most track observers agree the speed needed to capture one of the final 22 spots on the grid of 33 for the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500 will likely be over 220 miles per hour. On Friday, 14 drivers fit that criteria.

Drivers like 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice, although they have yet to qualify, but are confident that they have the speed to make the field, spent the majority of their day working on racing setup, rather than “trimming’ their cars out for qualifying.

Buddy Lazier, 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner, made it on the track in his No. 91 Hemelgarn entry putting in 51 laps on the day. His car ran the lowest speed of the day at 216.392, but he was pleased with the effort of his team shaking the car down. He plans to get more practice time in tomorrow between qualifying attempts in an effort to find the speed he needs to make the show.

The only car yet to see time on the track is 2007 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, Phil Giebler’s No. 88 American Dream Racing Panoz/Honda. They had hoped to be out this afternoon, but were delayed until their Honda engine lease became official. They are committed to qualifying this weekend.

It all comes down to 12 noon Saturday, when the most competitive field at Indianapolis in over a decade will lay it all out on the line to earn their way into the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” The weather forecast for Speedway, Indiana calls for isolated thunderstorms with a 30 percent chance of showers.

You can bet that the team engineers will once again be working late into the night here at the Brickyard.

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 15, 2008
Speedway, Indiana
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The weather finally set the Indianapolis 500 field and hopefuls free for an afternoon of practice.

Conditions were nowhere near ideal with overcast skies, a temperature of 60 degrees, and winds from the east at 14 mph, but 35 cars made an appearance with four teams also running their “T” or backup cars.

It was an afternoon of “have” and “haven’t yet” as teams who have already qualified for the 500 were working on their race setups and those hoping to qualify on Saturday were searching for speed.

In one of the busiest days at the Brickyard this May, drivers and race teams completed 2,628 laps or just over 6,500 miles for the afternoon, without incident.

A total of 27 cars topped the 220 miles per hour mark with Ryan Briscoe running 223.708 mph in his No. 6T Team Penske Dallara/Honda. He was followed by his teammate and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 3T Team Penske machine at 223.284 mph.

Scott Dixon once again ran in the top five, finishing the day with a top speed of 223.192 mph in his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Dallara/Honda. Spots four and five on the speed chart were held down by Tony Kanaan in the No. 11 Team 7-11 Andretti-Green Dallara/ Honda at 222.880 mph and Tomas Scheckter No. 12 Symantec Luczo Dragon Racing Dallara/Honda at 222.804 mph.

Based on his performance again Thursday, one can’t fault car owner Marty Roth’s decision to put John Andretti in the seat of the No. 24 Roth Racing Dallara/Honda. Andretti came out and promptly posted a lap at 222.474 and finished seventh fastest on the day, quite a solid outing considering that all of the Penske, Target Chip Ganassi and Andretti-Green cars participated in practice.

The fastest rookie of the day was Kalkhoven/Vasser Racing’s Will Power in the No. 8 Dallara/Honda at 222.657 mph. Power continues to impress fellow drivers with his workman-like approach. He became a subject in the early morning press conference with Dixon and Dan Wheldon, both agreeing that the most-polished among the newcomers on the track this year might just be Power.

“I personally think the one that seems very calculated and pretty quick is Will Power,” Wheldon said. “From what I understand, I don’t think he particularly likes the ovals.

“Just looking at him from a style standpoint, I got a feeling that he could potentially be the best. But obviously you got to get your head around liking these places.”

Wheldon was less complimentary of E.J. Viso, who drives the No. 33 HVM Racing PDVSA Dallara/Honda.

“The craziest by far is Ernesto Viso, I think his name is,” Wheldon said. “Dude, he looks nuts. You can tell he (Viso) hasn’t hit the wall yet. When he hits the wall, you’ll know, because he’ll pull out slowly from the car in front, move back nicely.

“You can tell he hasn’t hit yet. You can tell the guys that haven’t hit hard. In 2003, I came out of the box swinging. Then you hit the wall and you just start to calm down a little bit, then you start to hit the wall a bit more, then you really start to calm down. You realize it’s not a nice feeling.”

Dixon echoed Wheldon’s sentiments.

“Yeah, I tend to agree,” this year’s polesitter said. “Viso is pretty crazy. (Will) Power, he’s got good car control, definitely thinks about things a little more than maybe some of the others.

“I think the other one is probably Justin Wilson. Seems very, very good, as well.”

Today is the final day of practice before qualifying on Saturday and Sunday.

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 14, 2008
Speedway, Indiana
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When contemplating how to run an IndyCar at 220 miles per hour, your first prerequisite would likely be to have perfect weather. Secondly, you would probably demand a perfectly dry track with some race tire rubber built up on it.

Here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today … not so much.

Wednesday morning brought more rain to the Indianapolis area.

As the day went on, it really wasn’t clear if any of the race teams pent up in Gasoline Alley were going to get a chance to shake down their cars.

Finally, at 5:19 p.m. the green flag flew. Over the course of 30 minutes, Indy race teams laid down almost 1,000 miles of track time before rain ended the session prematurely at 5:49 p.m.

Twenty-nine cars including six of the eleven already qualified for the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500 got some sorely needed track time.

High speed for the day belonged to the race polesitter Scott Dixon at 222.834 miles per hour. Second fastest was his Target Chip Ganassi teammate Dan Wheldon at 222.810 mph and third fastest was Marco Andretti at 222.801 mph. Marco was followed on the speed charts by his two Andretti-Green teammates, Hideki Mutoh and Danica Patrick, both over 221 mph.

Dixon’s stated goal was to “determine how his car handled in traffic and see how the balance was.” He went on to say “We have a little bit of understeer, but it was good day for Team Target because you learn something every time you’re on the track

As the end of the day’s practice session neared at 6 p.m., an example of the sheer magnitude of this premier racing facility was experienced as we witnessed practice along pit lane. With eleven minutes left in the session, the yellow flag was waved indicating a caution. Anticipating debris on the track we were later informed the cause of the yellow was that it was raining along the backstretch, east of us.

Speedway Sighting Notes …

Following his crash into the Turn 1 SAFER barrier and subsequent visit and tests at Methodist Hospital last week, Rahal/Letterman Ganassi driver Alex Lloyd was cleared to drive today by Dr. Michael Olinger, Medical Director for the Indy Racing League. Lloyd participated in practice running over 219 mph sporting new livery from his newly announced sponsor in the No. 16 Wii Fit Dallara/Honda. Commenting on how he felt after practice Lloyd said “I feel fine, absolutely perfect. One hundred percent. Lloyd’s time testing was strictly for determining the soundness of his rebuilt car after his crash on “Fast Friday.”

Car owner Greg Beck had been quoted in the Indianapolis Star as saying that “Either Alex Barron or Roger Yasukawa, both five-time Indy 500 starters, will be in my car. It’s just a matter of whose money shows up first.” Apparently Yasukawa’s check cleared first because Wednesday morning it was announced that Roger got the ride in the No. 98 CURB/Agajanian/Beck Motorsports car. It is Beck Motorsports thirteenth year in a row running in the 500.

The No. 21 Playa Del Racing entry has been officially withdrawn and replaced by the No. 88 Gardner Trucking/American Dream Motorsports Panoz/Honda with 2007 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, Phil Giebler behind the wheel.

Jeff Simmons will attempt the Indy “double” of driving in Carb Day’s Indy Lights Series’ Freedom 100 and the May 25th ‘500’. Simmons driving for AJ Foyt’s Indy Pro Series team in 2004 accomplished the same feat when he finished second in the F100, and sixteenth in the rain-shortened Indy 500 won by Buddy Rice after starting in the tenth row.

Andretti Green Racing driver and second-row 2008 Indy 500 starter Danica Patrick is on the cover of the May 19th issue of Sports Illustrated, available at newsstands Wednesday, May 14.

For those interested in owning some Indy car history, Champ Car, by virtue of its bankruptcy, is auctioning off their remaining assets on June 3 at their former headquarters at 5350 W. Lakeview Parkway, South Drive, in Indianapolis. Included in the auction are race cars, pace cars, shop equipment, scoring/timing equipment and memorabilia. Auction info can be found at www.njgallivan.com/auction_detail.php?ID=383972

What’s it all Worth …

Posted: May 14, 2008 in Uncategorized

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 13, 2008
Speedway, Indiana
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The world’s palace of speed, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is silent today.

The mammoth two and one-half mile race course constructed in 1909, has no cars on the track.

But that in no way means everyone has taken the day off.

Just the contrary, behind the closed doors of the Gasoline Alley garages, mechanics for the teams that covet the final twenty-two spots in the 2008 Indy 500 grid are working feverishly.

A few of the teams still on the outside looking in are: Newman/Haas/Lanigan, AJ Foyt Racing, Vision Racing, Rubicon Racing/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Roth Racing, KV Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold, Sarah Fisher Racing and CURB/Agajanian/Beck Motorsports.

They are all searching for speed and have only a handful of days to find it. The lights have been burning late into the evening here at Brickyard.

So what is this all worth and why do people sacrifice so much for it.

Here are a few reasons why …

Money

This year’s Indianapolis 500 purse has skyrocketed to $13.4 million with the winner taking home a record $2.5 million. This is 25 percent larger than the record $10.67 million purse for the 2007 race.

The Indy 500 runner-up could earn at least $1.25 million. The third-place finisher will earn at least $750,000. Fourth and fifth-place finishing cars will be guaranteed bonuses of $475,000 and $375,000, respectively. Every driver who races in the 2008 Indianapolis 500 will earn at least $270,000.

Joie Chitwood, President and COO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway explained why the purse was dramatically increased over last year saying “As the Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway approach some historic milestones in 2009 and 2011, it was only appropriate we strengthen the incentive to compete in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. The new purse structure for the Indy 500 will help all entries earn more money than ever during the Month of May.”

Trophy

After taking the checkered flag, you will soon have your face permanently etched onto the 72-year-old Borg-Warner Trophy, one of the most coveted trophies in the world of sports. You will also receive a “baby” Borg for your own collection.

Cool Drink

You will have the opportunity to take a cool drink of milk in front of 400,000 cheering race fans at Indy and millions around the world celebrating your 500 win.

What it all means …

Here’s what a few past winners have had to say about how an Indy 500 victory affected their lives.

BOBBY RAHAL (1986): “There is nothing in my racing career that replaces winning the Indy 500. The series championships were great, and the accomplishment felt tremendous. But wherever I go, I am listed as a champion of the Indianapolis 500. That title will always be with me.

A.J. FOYT (1961, 1964, 1967, 1977): “Indianapolis is what made A.J. Foyt what he is today.”

MARIO ANDRETTI (1969): “Winning the Indy 500 changed my life. It created tremendous opportunities that I wouldn’t have had at that stage of my career. It’s the only single auto race in the world that is as valuable as winning a championship.”

BOBBY UNSER (1968, 1975, 1981): “We Unsers made Pikes Peak famous, but it was the Indianapolis 500 that made the Unsers famous. You don’t know how hard it is to win that race once. I lost my brother Jerry there, and in my first two starts I only completed three laps. But I didn’t give up and won it three times. And that was battling against Foyt, Andretti, Rutherford, my brother Al, Mears, Johncock. It was tough. Today, I’m still Bobby Unser, three-time Indy 500 winner. The world will always know me for that.”

Windy City Chargers at the Indianapolis 500 – The Bettenhausens

May 13, 2008

By: Wm. R. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune & Chicago Daily Southtown — Chicago Sun-Times NewsGroup
Speedway, Indiana

Nichels Service Special

There have been a handful of families who have shown brilliance in American open wheel auto racing.

Families like the Unser’s and the Andretti’s all began their careers on small-town race tracks and rose to greatness.

But it is likely that no family has sacrificed as much for auto racing as the Bettenhausens from Tinley Park, Illinois.

Its patriarch, Melvin Eugene “Tony” Bettenhausen was born in September of 1916. By the time he was 13, Tony was so adept at repairing mechanical things that he had become the farm handyman.

At 19, Tony was working at a local Ford plant and looking for a way to leave the farming life behind. As he ventured out around the Windy City, he soon learned about the newest craze, midget car racing. The first evening of racing he attended was at the Riverview Raceway, part of the famed Riverview Amusement Park.

It was that night while listening to famed racing announcer; Ed “Twenty Grand” Steinbock, yell over the crowd about racing’s “thrills and spills” that Tony said to himself “I can do that!” And do that he did.

Bettenhausen chased his dream of being a racer, by first visiting an accomplished race driver by the name of Emil Andres, who lived near the Bettenhausen farm. Tony knocked on the door and before he knew it, was standing in front of an honest-to-goodness Indy 500 driver. Tony blurted out “Mr. Andres, I’m Tony Bettenhausen and I want to be a race car driver!” Andres started to chuckle, saying “So your name is Tony, and you are going to be a race car driver, eh? A life-long friendship had begun. Andres took the young driver under his wing and in a matter of no time; Tony was racing the midget circuit.

Over the course of the next decade Tony Bettenhausen would burn up the midget tracks. His most productive period midget racing would be while driving for Rudy Nichels of Highland. Rudy had his son Ray, manage the car, while Dale “Tiny” Worley was the chief mechanic. Bettenhausen was part of a three car Nichels Service team with Teddy Duncan and Paul Russo. All three eventually voted into the Midget Racing Hall of Fame. Bettenhausen won midget car track championships in 1941, 1942 and 1947 at Chicago Raceway Park in Blue Island and at the Milwaukee Mile in 1942, 1946, and 1947.

The “Tinley Park Express” as Tony was now known then moved on to Indy cars. His racing career would flourish. Tony’s run to the AAA National Championship in the Belanger No. 99 Kurtis-Kraft is considered by many racing historians as the gold standard for Indy car racing dominance. Of the 14 races he ran in No.99 in 1951, Bettenhausen won eight races, finished 2nd twice and copped two poles. His success that season was so overwhelming that Tony went into semi-retirement, competing in only “money” races such as the Indy 500. In 1958 he won his second national championship.

In 1961, while testing a car for close friend and former Nichels teammate, Paul Russo, Tony lost his life at Indy.

In the meantime, three of his four children grew and started racing themselves. They made it their quest to finish the job their father had started — to win the Indianapolis 500.

Gary, born in 1941, won two sprint car championships (1969, 1971) and two USAC (United States Auto Club) Silver Crown titles in 1980 and 1983. He was a six-time winner in the IndyCar series. His Indianapolis 500 record of 21 starts ranks him seventh on the all-time list. His best finishes were a third (1980) and two fifths (1973, 1987). 

In 1972, Gary joined Roger Penske’s IndyCar team. He arrived at Indianapolis leading the points standings and with the best chance ever for a Bettenhausen son to win the race his father never had. Gary took advantage of the opportunity, dominating the 1972 Indianapolis 500 for 182 laps breaking almost every Indy track record, only to have the ignition system on his Penske-McLaren fail. Teammate Mark Donohue inherited the lead and gave Penske the first of his record 14 Indy 500 triumphs.

In 1974, Gary’s career took a terrible turn with a crash severely damaging his left arm. With his arm still partially paralyzed, Gary continued his racing career until 1996 and was inducted into both the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

Tony Bettenhausen’s second son, Merle, born in 1943, followed the same path as his father and older brother racing in the midget and sprint car ranks. After winning five USAC midget races, he passed his rookie test at Indianapolis in 1972. Two months later, on July 16th, in his very first Indy car race, Merle completely lost his right arm in an accident at Michigan International Speedway.

Tony Bettenhausen’s youngest son, Tony Jr., born in 1951, started in stock cars. By 1972, he finished second in points in the NASCAR Sportsman Division, while earning honors as most popular driver. But open wheel racing was what really interested him. He raced sprints and midgets until his Indy car break came in 1979. Tony raced for 14 seasons in Indy car, competing eleven Indianapolis 500s, with a best ever finish of 7th. In 1993, he became a race team owner and gave career changing driving opportunities to two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Helio Castroneves and NASCAR driver Patrick Carpentier.

In 2000, while traveling to Indianapolis, Tony Bettenhausen, Jr. and his wife Shirley McElreath Bettenhausen were lost in a plane crash.

Gary and Merle are both retired now and live in the greater Indianapolis area. They periodically give interviews which inevitably lead to discussing the great pain their family has suffered over the years.

They are the first to tell you that they can’t change the past, and offer only that life goes on.

I prefer to recognize their courage and passion for something they loved — auto racing.

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 12, 2008
Speedway, Indiana
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SPEEDWAY — With Sunday’s complete washout of the second day of qualifying, remaining driver and race team matchups now becomes a chess match that will play out over the course of the next six days.

The loss of Sunday’s qualifying has moved 11 qualifying spots in the grid to Saturday, combining qualifying for the remaining 22 spots in the 2008 Indy 500 field to just one six-hour afternoon. Final bumping will then take place Sunday.

This scenario creates even more activity than previously planned.

Several of the “Indy second week program” teams like CURB/Agajanian/Beck Motorsports (who will soon announce their driving decision between Alex Barron and Roger Yasukawa), A.J. Foyt Racing (rumored to be talking with Jeff Simmons for a second entry), and Hemelgarn Racing with 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier, now have a shot at qualifying as high 12th on the grid, rather than 22nd as would have normally occurred had qualifying been held Sunday.

One of those “second week program” drivers is Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Phil Giebler who said “It’s tough being here at the Speedway and listening to cars practicing and not be able to be behind the wheel. But I’m really looking forward to being in the (No. 21) American Dream Motorsports Panoz/Honda next week.”

But not all of the driver opportunities end on a positive note.

Rookie Jay Howard, who had already run the first three races of the 2008 IndyCar Series season for Roth Racing, woke up Saturday morning and found his Indianapolis 500 dream ride pulled right out from under him.

Due to the decreased track time, loss of a team engineer and Howard’s being at Indianapolis for the first time, team owner Marty Roth elected to go with John Andretti in the No. 24 Roth Racing Dallara/Honda.

Andretti is reportedly bringing sponsorship with him, which is always a major factor in securing a ride.

Roth has indicated that Howard will be back in the seat for the June 1 Indy Racing League race at the Milwaukee Mile.

The IRL has confirmed that there are now a total of 37 cars at the Speedway that have passed inspection and one of those is the No. 77 Penske Racing entry, which does not have a driver listed, nor has been out of the garage on Gasoline Alley.

Even with a handful of “wild card” entries, Thursday’s and Friday’s practice sessions are expected to be the busiest of the month as all of the teams here to race will be after as much track time as they can get.

Brian Barnhart, President, Competition and Operations of the Indy Racing League stated “I anticipate a lot of track activity as teams will be running on full (fuel) tanks in preparation for the 92nd running (of the Indianapolis 500). You will have some pretty big groups of cars running, maybe eight or 10 running together (in practice) at a time.”

Combining the current 11 cars that have already secured spots in this year’s 500, with the remaining 26 cars available for running for the last 22 spots, toss in this year’s 11 rookies still in the hunt at the end of this week and you have a recipe for a lot of fast traffic.

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
May 11, 2008
Speedway, Indiana
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INDIANAPOLIS — Starting last night, the rain now continues to fall at Indianapolis …

The prospects for second day qualifying for the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500 today are dismal at best.

Check out the three great articles by Jeff Majeske, the sports editor of the Post-Tribune in this morning’s paper …

My stories can continue to be found here

More as the day develops …

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 9, 2008
Speedway, Indiana
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INDIANAPOLIS — On the surface, Thursday seemed like just another laid-back rainy day in Indiana.

But inside the garages of Gasoline Alley, it was a day of rising tensions.

For the second day in a row, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was rendered silent as rains continued to fall in Indianapolis.

The canceling of open IndyCar practice for both Wednesday and Thursday now leaves only Fast Friday’s afternoon practice as the lone window for the entire Indianapolis 500 field to put its cars in qualifying trim for Saturday’s pole run.

Qualifying at the front of the Indy field is widely considered a must for two reasons.

First, with a third of this years competitors likely being rookies, being in the middle of the field as it takes the green flag and charges into the first turn at over 220 miles per hour might not be the ideal place to be. Secondly, the winner of the pole for the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500 cops the $100,000 PEAK Motor Oil Pole Award.

More than 30 drivers and their teams, searching for just the right setup, have been secluded in their garages. They’ve been unable to confidently implement the changes needed in their cars after the wide-open practice session on Tuesday when 33 cars hit the track, running almost three and half thousand miles in a six-hour period. Speedway conditions on Tuesday had ambient temperatures in the low to mid 80s and track temperatures running just over 120 degrees.

Another contributing factor to Tuesday’s run of 29 drivers breaking the 220 mile per hour barrier was that there had been two days of rubber put down on the track during the course of the Rookie Orientation Program.

Factors concerning race teams for today’s final practice include two primary issues, the weather forecast for Indianapolis calls for mostly cloudy skies in the afternoon, with a 40 percent chance of rain and highs in the mid 60s with light winds. The second issue is that the track is now completely green, with all of the tire rubber washed away by rain.

Attitudes differ from driver to driver on the need for substantial practice time on Friday.

“The Team 7-Eleven car was fast on Tuesday, so I don’t think we missed anything by not getting on the track today,” said Tony Kanaan, driver of the Andretti/Green No. 11 car. “I feel comfortable with where we are right now.”

Ed Carpenter in the No. 20 Menards/Vision Racing felt just the opposite saying, “We weren’t real thrilled with our runs Tuesday, so I really wanted to get back out on the track to see if we made any gains.”

All eyes will be skyward this morning as the clock ticks down to Saturday’s run for the pole.

Pent up speed and a green track is what awaits the Indy 500 field on what is likely to be a fast and furious Friday.