Archive for May 5, 2008

Region Racers at the Indianapolis 500DaleTinyWorley

By: Wm. LaDow

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Although he was nicknamed “Tiny,” he cast a great shadow over much of the American auto racing scene in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Dale “Tiny” Worley began his life in the laid-back farming countryside of western Illinois. His life ended abruptly in the Cline Avenue shop of Nichels Engineering while on the phone with Johnny Pawl.

On that sad day in June of 1964, “Tiny” was doing what had been his vocation for almost 25 years: building world-class race cars. So talented at what he did, his employer (and life long friend) Ray Nichels had business cards printed up that sported the words “I’ll Take All the Work that TINY Can Do” just below the nationally recognized Nichels Engineering logo.

Nichels already knew what many would eventually learn — that there was no one better at building racecars than “Tiny” Worley.

Getting Started

Worley’s first big break in racing came about in 1940, when he took a mechanic’s job offered him by Rudy Nichels, Ray’s father. By 1941, Tiny had become the chief mechanic for a young Tinley Park, Ill., driver by the name of Melvin Eugene “Tony” Bettenhausen. Together Worley and Bettenhausen, in the Nichels Service No. 1 Offy Midget, became the scourge of the midget racing ranks across the Midwest.

After a series of local track championships at Chicago’s Riverview Park Raceway, Blue Island’s Raceway Park and the Milwaukee Mile with Bettenhausen, Worley became the chief mechanic for Johnnie Parsons’ 1948 Midwest midget car racing championship run.

With those successes behind him, Tiny moved up to Indycars. By 1950 he was working for Murrell Belanger’s operation in Lowell and traveling across the country racing on the AAA Championship Trail. He was co-chief mechanic in the 1951 Indy 500 with Johnny Pawl, and immediately rejoined the Belanger Team after the 500 to be an integral part of Bettenhausen’s AAA National Championship run in the legendary Belanger No. 99 Kurtis-Kraft.

Worley worked the next four Indy-car seasons (and 500s) for Belanger alongside brilliant chief mechanic Frenchy Sirois, wrenching for some of the best drivers in the business, including Jim Rathmann, Art Cross, Paul Russo and Bettenhausen.

In late 1956, Worley returned to work with Ray Nichels, who by this time had founded Nichels Engineering. Ray and Tiny worked and managed three major motorsports programs. Ray was running sprint car champion Pat O’Connor’s Kurtis-Kraft Indycar program, managing the Firestone Racing tire test program and lastly, Nichels Engineering was now the “house” builder for GM-Pontiac’s stock car program.

Daytona Double

In 1957, Tiny Worley’s skills became apparent when while working with Nichels he participated in capturing both the pole (with Banjo Matthews) and the race (with Cotton Owens) at Daytona.

The next Nichels Engineering undertaking was the setting of several world closed-course speed records at Monza, Italy with O’Connor behind the wheel of the Firestone Racing test car and then finally capturing the pole for the Indianapolis 500 with the Nichels Engineering-prepped Kurtis-Kraft No. 12 Sumar Special, also piloted by O’Connor.

During the next six years, Tiny Worley balanced his duties at Nichels Engineering between building championship-winning Pontiac stock cars and magnificently fast Indycars.

Worley’s involvement with Nichels Engineering and working with brilliant engineers such as Ted Halibrand of Halibrand Engineering, along with Mac McKellar and John DeLorean of GM-Pontiac, generated a series of newly-engineered racing components, both chassis and powertrain.

When Tiny wasn’t the co-chief mechanic on Nichels’ cars at Indy, he was in charge of his own entries for Bettenhausen, Paul Goldsmith and Jim Hurtubise. In 1960, Tiny, Ray and Goldsmith finished third in the 500, and in 1961 Worley’s entry with Hurtubise, started the race on the front row.

In 1961 and 1962, Worley’s efforts on the stock cars side of the business saw two USAC National Championships captured by Nichels Engineering. In 1962 and ’63, Nichels Engineering-built Pontiacs won National Stock Car Championships in NASCAR.

Famed Pontiac

Worley and Nichels combined to construct one of the most revered Pontiac stock cars ever built, the Pontiac 421 Super-Duty Tempest LeMans that beat the competition by more than five miles at Daytona in 1963. So beautifully engineered by Worley, Mercedes-Benz made an offer to purchase the car from Nichels Engineering that was so lucrative, that Nichels couldn’t pass it up.

nichels-engineering-pontiac-tempest-lemans2

Mercedes promptly took the car back to Germany and dissected it to learn just what Tiny had engineered. Once the documentation had been filed away by the engineers at Mercedes-Benz, the car was destroyed.

Worley’s next engineering milestone was the development of the Nichels Chrysler Hemi in late 1963, early ’64. The results of his work were evident when Goldsmith set a new world’s closed-course stock car speed record of 174.910 mph, taking the 1964 Daytona 500 pole at almost 15 miles per hour faster than the 1963 Daytona pole-winner Fireball Roberts’ qualifying speed of 160.943 mph.

Nichels Engineering-built cars then went on to win both qualifying races and the 500 mile race, a virtual sweep of Daytona Speedweeks.

But only a few months later, on June 6, while on the phone with Johnny Pawl, a massive heart attack silenced the 45-year-old Worley forever.

A husband, a father, and world-class mechanic, he left this world much too soon. But no one can say that Dale “Tiny” Worley, didn’t achieve a lifetime’s worth of accomplishments in his short time on this earth.

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 4, 2008
Speedway, Indiana
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There was something mesmerizing about this morning’s sunrise against the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Pagoda. The sun’s rays seemingly glistened against the huge panes of glass and metal on the 10 story behemoth that overlooks the main straightaway of the world’s most famous speedway. It may have been signaling the dawn of just another new day, but this Month of May, it was likely signaling the dawn of a new era for IndyCar racing.

I’ll be the first to admit that over the last three decades that I have witnessed races at the storied Brickyard, at times, there may have been a more talented group of drivers, more exotic cars and even higher speeds. But I have never seen as much optimism about the future of what used to be the cornerstone of American motorsports as I did today at Indianapolis.

The unified IndyCar Series with six additional teams coming over from the Champ Car World Series has increased the Indy 500 field to close to 40 driver and car combinations looking to qualify over the next two weekends. The excitement for the upcoming 92nd running of Indianapolis 500 is clearly already beginning to build.

The speedway got down to business at noon with orientation for the 2008 Indy Rookie class. Thirteen drivers make up the largest group of Rookie drivers here since 1997. The four-stage program kept the two and one-half mile speedway busy for most of the afternoon with speeds exceeding 220 mph by the end of the day.

With the likelihood that a third of this year’s field will be made up of Rookie drivers, the possibility of having a Rookie winner clearly exists.

Beginning Tuesday, full IndyCar practice begins with expectations of speeds well into the mid 220 mile per hour mark are expected.

Gasoline Alley Notes ..

Rookies running the Brickyard today were: Will Power, Alex Lloyd, Graham Rahal, Oriol Servia, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mario Moraes, Jay Howard, Enrique Bernoldi, Justin Wilson, Jaime Camara, Hideki Mutoh, and EJ Viso. Both Rahal and his Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing teammate Justin Wilson effortlessly completed their Rookie Orientation Program by early afternoon, their runs being quite impressive.

Beautiful, clear weather made for an excellent day of track time with over 660 total laps completed.

Starting tomorrow refresher sessions will be offered for drivers: Buddy Lazier, Phil Geibler, Davey Hamilton, Max Papis, Sarah Fisher and Larry Foyt. In addition, several others drivers are here at the speedway seeking rides. One notably absent remains to be Paul Tracy who has yet to find an opportunity with sponsorship. Word around the speedway is that he was hoping for an opportunity with Derrick Walker Racing, but Walker has continually stated that he does not have enough sponsorship for another run for the Borg-Warner Trophy.

The next five days will be a myriad of activity as the search for speed continues.

Final Speeds for Opening Day:

Rank Car Driver Name Speed

1 8 Will Powerl 220.694
2 33 EJ Viso 220.445
3 5 Oriol Servia 220.102
4 16 Alex Lloyd 219.964
5 27 Hideki Mutoh 219.824
6 17T Ryan Hunter-Reay 219.797
7 34 Jaime Camara 219.175
8 06 Graham Rahal 218.619
9 02 Justin Wilson 218.142
10 36T Enrique Bernoldi 217.338
11 24T Jay Howard 217.247
12 44 Max Papis 214.068
13 19 Mario Moraes 186.445

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Windy City  Chargers at the Indianapolis 500Carl Haas
Speedway Sightings

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 4, 2008
Speedway, Indiana

Born in the Windy City in 1930, Carl Haas has never really left his Chicago roots.

With a home overlooking Lake Michigan, Haas still resides just up the road from the “City That Works” and over the last 50+ years has based his wide-ranging business interests in Lincolnshire. But while his businesses are based locally, his reputation is known the world over.

That world-class reputation is based on one word: excellence.

Since the early 1950s, Haas has forged ahead to the forefront of the American auto racing landscape. First as a driver and then car owner in the sports car ranks, the first few years saw him racing behind the wheel of Ferraris, Porsches and Jaguars. One particularly successful run saw Haas win 14 consecutive SCCA national races.

As the decade closed, Haas pulled himself out from behind the steering wheel and followed the lead of two other Chicago-area racers, the Granatelli Brothers and Ray Nichels of Nichels Engineering. Haas left his job with the Ford Motor Company and charted a course that would eventually make him one of the most powerful executives in all of motorsports.

By 1960, as the CEO of Carl A. Haas Auto Imports, he began building a racing-related sales and marketing firm that focused primarily on exotic auto racing parts and equipment. One of the first products Haas began to distribute was the Hewland gearbox line. Haas’ skills as an entrepreneur and innovator soon became apparent and by 1967, he added another emerging racing product line, Lola Chassis from England.

In both cases Haas was the exclusive U.S. importer, which meant if you wanted to race in either the sports car or IndyCar arena in America, you had to go talk to Carl Haas.

Getting to Indianapolis

The success of Haas/Lola Cars began to pick up momentum in 1969, when the late Mark Donohue barely missed winning the Indianapolis 500 (he took Rookie of the Year honors) in a Carl Haas-Roger Penske Lola.

As his company began to grow, Haas continued his quest to be a leading car and team owner in the sports car ranks, partnering up with Jim Hall of Chaparral Cars fame.

Between 1973 and 1980, no one has ever dominated American road racing like Haas and Hall did. During that period the team won seven consecutive major championships, three in Formula 5000 (1974-76), and four in the Can-Am Series (1977-80). Haas’ cars won 60 percent of all races entered during those eight seasons and finished first or second in nearly 80 percent of those contests.

Haas’ Lola success gained even greater heights in 1978 when Al Unser became the only driver to capture the sport’s Triple Crown of 500-mile races (Indianapolis, Pocono, Pa., and Ontario, Calif.) all while behind the wheel of a Lola chassis.

By 1983 Carl Haas had become the world’s largest distributor of racing cars, gearboxes and components. During that time the Hewland gearbox and other gearbox related products exclusively sold by Haas became the standard for virtually every type of racing car from Indianapolis to Formula Ford

Enter Paul Newman

Paul Newman

With that achievement behind him, and after succeeding at every level of racing he had attempted, Haas decided it was time to go compete in the fastest and most-demanding auto racing realm in the world, IndyCar.

He started by meeting with a fellow sports-car racer by the name of Paul Newman. The two were rival team owners when the SCCA Can-Am series folded at the end of the 1982 season. The award-winning actor had become active in the racing community following his starring role in the movie “Winning,” much of which had been filmed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Haas asked Newman if he was interested in partnering in the startup of an IndyCar team.

Newman simply replied “Not a chance in hell Carl.”

Haas’ follow-up sentence was “What if Mario was driving?”

Newman’s reply was “I don’t think you can get Mario.”

Following a personal phone call from Mario to Newman, Paul’s next question was “Where would you like to meet?”

Less then a year later Newman/Haas became a fledgling IndyCar team with Andretti behind the wheel.

Twenty-five years later, the Newman/Haas relationship has recorded 106 CART/Champ Car/Indy Racing Series victories with championships being captured in 1984 (Mario Andretti), 1991 (Michael Andretti), 1993 (Nigel Mansel), 2002 (Cristiano da Matta) and an unprecedented four titles in a row (2004-07 by Sebastien Bourdais.)

Newman/Haas largely stayed away from Indianapolis during the years of the dreaded split, save for a couple of one-offs in 2004 and ’05.

“We have been loyal supporters of Champ Car but one unified open-wheel series is best for our sport,” Haas said in a statement released by the team.

Newman was even more effusive.

“When I heard about the reunification, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven,” he said in the same release. “I am very happy that we are going back to the high side.”

This year’s team has already been to the winner’s circle with 19-year-old budding racing star Graham Rahal becoming the youngest IndyCar victor in history after winning at St. Petersburg.

Haas-owned and managed teams have captured eight championships, 106 poles and 106 race victories in CART/Champ Car and IndyCar Series competition.

Unlike the city in which he was born, Haas was quiet and unassuming.

But make no mistake, like the City That Works, Haas worked his way up, a step at a time, to the pinnacle of American motorsports.