Archive for May, 2010

Speedway Sightings

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 29, 2010
Speedway, Indiana

Carb Day opened to sunny skies and warm temperatures at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday as the biggest Carb Day crowd in recent history brought a race day atmosphere to the Brickyard.

Butler men’s basketball coach Brad Stevens waved the green flag to start the final IndyCar Series practice, bringing all 33 entrants for Sunday’s race onto the track.

The top five speeds for the day were: Chip Ganassi’s No. 10 Dario Franchitti at 225.574 mph and his teammate No. 9, Scott Dixon at 225.159 mph. Next was Will Power in the No. 12 Team Penske Verizon Wirelss entry at 224.993 mph. Bruno Junqueira at 224.898 mph was fourth fastest in the No. 33 Bowers & Wilkins/TorcUP of Canada FAZZT team car followed by Team Penske’s No. 3 Helio Castroneves at 224.753 mph.

* Wade Cunningham wins Indy Lights race:

Pippa Mann, the first woman to win the pole position for a race in the 101-year history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, led the field as it took the green flag for the Indy Light Series Freedom 100.

The race turned into battle between Wade Cunningham, Charlie Kimball and James Hinchcliffe, with Cunningham taking the lead early, and Kimball and Hinchcliffe battling for the second spot. Cunningham won his record third Firestone Freedom 100 victory, having also won here at Indianapolis in 2006 and 2009. It was Sam Schmidt Motorsports’ fifth victory in the Freedom 100, more than any other team.

* Team Penske, Castroneves win Pit Stop Challenge:

Team Penske won the Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge for a record 12th time, with Helio Castroneves behind the wheel. Castroneves was the winning driver in the Pit Stop Challenge for a record fifth time. He shared the record with Danny Sullivan entering this year.

Castroneves will attempt to complete the Indianapolis 500 “sweep” of winning the pole, Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year for the second consecutive year, an unprecedented feat. Team Penske’s winning time of 8.001 seconds was the second-quickest final-round time in the history of the Challenge, which started in 1977.

Nichels Engineering 1957 Daytona Victory — (from left): Ray Nichels, Semon Knudsen, Harley Earl, Cotton Owens, Bill France, Sr. – Photo Credit: Nichels Engineering Archives

Region Racers at the Indianapolis 500
Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen changed the face of Region Racing

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published by the Chicago Sun-Times News Group — May 28, 2010

Northwest Indiana has been blessed with a long list of Region Racers.

Born and bred here, they have gone on to great heights within the auto racing community. Some have been born in other parts of the country, even Europe, but when it came time to make their mark in racing, they adopted the region as their home.

This story is about a man who was born out East and spent a good part of his life in Detroit, but is as much of a Region Racer as anyone.

Born in 1912, Semon E. Knudsen was the only son of William Knudsen, who later became the President of General Motors. Father and son were the best of friends and it was Semon’s father who nicknamed him “Bunkie.”

Early in his youth, Bunkie proved to be mechanically inclined, and by the time he was 14, he badgered his father into giving him a car. The older Knudsen, a true task master, delivered Bunkie’s new car to the house in hundreds of pieces, explaining if he wanted a car he would have to assemble it, which he did.

Young Knudsen graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1936 and after working for some smaller GM auto suppliers, joined the Pontiac Motor Division of General Motors in 1939. Knudsen was promoted to assistant manager of manufacturing at the GM-Allison Aircraft Engine Division in Indianapolis in 1953. Two years later he was promoted again, becoming the general manager of GM’s Detroit Diesel Engine Division.

It was during his time in Indianapolis, while on a tour of Gasoline Alley, he met a young Indy 500 crew chief by the name of Ray Nichels, who was prepping the No. 29 Ansted Rotary Special for the upcoming 500. After a particularly grueling day prior to qualifying, Nichels closed up shop and headed outside for a cigarette, and ended up in a conversation with one of the racing team’s guests. The two men talked racing for over an hour. As they both decided to call it a night, the gentleman extended his right hand, offered his business card and said, “My name is Semon Knudsen, my friends call me Bunkie. I run the GM-Allison operation over on 10th Street. If there’s anything I can ever do for you, just give me a call.”

Nichels later admitted that the young man had made a strong impression on him, but doubted he would ever run across Bunkie Knudsen again.

In 1956, Knudsen was named the head of General Motor’s Pontiac Division. He immediately made two major decisions; first in a move to start bringing in young car buyers, he completely redesigned the entire Pontiac lineup and second, he decided to go auto racing.

He then contacted Nichels and tasked him with a list of engine problems that Pontiac engineers just couldn’t seem to overcome at their test facility. The next day, Nichels was meeting with the Pontiac engineering staff in Michigan. The day after that he was in Phoenix, Ariz., overseeing Pontiac’s high performance testing program. Once there, Nichels uncovered the issue that he believed was creating the performance problems. He returned to Michigan, where he explained his observations. Knudsen didn’t believe Nichels’ assessment of the problem. He told Ray to go back to Phoenix and prove it. Nichels was told to build two Pontiac engines his way and run them until they failed like the other Pontiac engines had. Once the Nichels engines had failed, Ray was to call Bunkie personally and explain his observations.

Nichels did just that. He assembled two engines his way, installed them, and had the cars put out on the test track at Phoenix running full out. Two weeks passed. Nichels got a phone call from an angry Knudsen demanding to know why Nichels hadn’t called in his test results. Ray’s reply was simple, “You told me to call you when my engines failed. Well, they haven’t, they’re still running. The problem’s fixed.”

The following Monday, Ray Nichels became the head of GM-Pontiac Racing. He also inked a deal for Nichels Engineering to become the “house” builder for all of Pontiac racing.

Knudsen’s decisions were quickly rewarded in February 1957, when Nichels Engineering took the pole (with Banjo Matthews) and won the Daytona Beach Race (with Cotton Owens.)

The next six years, Knudsen invested millions of dollars in the Calumet Region economy by virtue of his business relationship with Ray Nichels. When Nichels thought of leaving auto racing following the death of Pat O’Connor in the 1958 Indianapolis 500, it was Knudsen who pleaded with Nichels to return to racing and introduced him to Paul Goldsmith, forging one of the most successful teams in American racing.

The business partnership of Knudsen and Nichels resulted in Pontiac dominating stock racing in NASCAR, USAC, ARCA and IMCA until GM left racing in 1963.

He may have never lived in the region, but his investment in our racing heritage truly makes him a Region Racer.

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 28, 2010
Speedway, Indiana

Tony Kanaan in the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Andretti Autosport entry has been moved to the 33rd and final starting position on the grid for the 94th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

Kanaan and team owner Michael Andretti made the decision to fully repair Kanaan’s primary car wrecked on Saturday during qualifying. As a result, Kanaan must start at the end of the field.

He qualified 32nd in a pieced-together chassis.

This decision essentially moves him to the outside of the 11th and final row, rather than being sandwiched between two Indy 500 rookies Takuma Sato in the No. 5 Lotus-KV Racing car and Sebastian Saavedra in the No. 29 William Rast/Bryan Herta Motorsports entry.

* Teams that failed to qualify one of their entries last weekend are beginning to pool their sponsorships.

The most notable is that of Geico and Curb Records, the primary sponsors for Paul Tracy’s failed qualifying attempt, have now been transferred to another KV Racing Technology car, the No. 32 Mario Moraes entry. Curb and Agajanian have also appeared as joint entrants for the car with KV Racing Technology.

* In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Sunoco was announced as the new fuel supplier to the Indy Racing League.

Sunoco will provide fuel to both the IndyCar Series and the Firestone Indy Lights Series.

* Michael Andretti admitted that Andretti Autosport has been unable to secure more funding for Ryan Hunter-Reay to compete after the IndyCar race at Texas on June 5, but but Andretti has been able to increase Hunter-Reay’s original three-race package to seven races so far.

* Carb Day is today, beginning at 10 a.m. (CDT) with the final Indianapolis 500 practice and continuing at 11:30 a.m. with the Firestone Freedom 100 race for the Firestone Indy Lights series with Pippa Mann in the pole position. She’s the first woman to ever win a pole at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge takes place at 12:30 p.m. CDT, and the day wraps up with the concert featuring ZZ Top. Admission price is $10.

Region Racers at the Indianapolis 500
Munster’s Goldsmith part of ‘Greatest 500 Ever’ in 1960

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Originally published in the Post-Tribune – Chicago Sun-Times New Group – May 25, 2010

goldyindy-11

Since 1909, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been the site of more drama than any other racing venue on earth. Every month of May brings a long list of stories, all of them beginning with optimism, many of them involving crisis and only a handful ending in elation.

One common denominator every May is that almost everyone remembers the winner and almost no one remembers the back story, the heart of the race itself.

True followers of this century-long Hoosier tradition get the most out of these races because even after the checkered flag, the stories behind the 33 individual drivers logging 500 miles around the world’s fastest race track remain to be compelling. Whether you follow the race either in person, on television or listening on the radio, you get an amazing insight to the dramatic pace this of three-hour soap opera.

Many fondly remember Rufus “Parnelli” Jones as the Indy winner from 1963. But few recall that many believe he should have been black-flagged for dangerously leaking oil on the track (and causing two wrecks) in the late stages of the race, opening the door for Jimmy Clark to be the true victor.

In 1995, Jacques Villeneuve needed 505 miles to win the Indy 500 after being penalized two laps early in the race for passing the pace car under yellow. His run back up to the front was breathtaking, but his victory wasn’t assured until the checkered flag, after his closest competitor, Scott Goodyear had been black flagged for the same offense.

In 1972, after “Region Racer” Gary Bettenhausen of Tinley Park led for 138 of the first 175 laps, Jerry Grant, driving a Dan Gurney Eagle (under the banner of Chris Vallo Enterprises) appeared to have the race won when he pulled in for fuel and tires on lap 188.

Grant mistakenly pulled into his teammate Bobby Unser’s pit and when he went back out on the track was black-flagged for the remainder of the race.

Mark Donohue was the victor giving Roger Penske his first of 15 Indy wins.

That leads us to the story of what is believed to be by many, the greatest Indianapolis 500 ever.

In 1960, the Indianapolis 500 Roadster era was in its prime — cars that men like Munster’s Paul Goldsmith wrestled around this behemoth of a racecourse that still had much of its main straightaway composed of the bricks originally laid down in the early part of the 20th century.

The defending champion that year was the legendary Rodger Ward, who had topped Jim Rathmann for the win in 1959.

When “Goldy” returned to Indy in 1960 he was once again the pilot of the Quin Epperly-built Demler No. 99 laydown roadster being campaigned by Nichels Engineering, a car with a great pedigree whose history included finishing second in 1958 and fifth in 1959 (with Goldsmith behind the wheel).

During the cold, rainy, windy May weather of 1960, the Nichels team just couldn’t find any speed in practice with Goldsmith becoming increasingly concerned about his ability to qualify.

Concern soon grew to alarm when the car failed to make the race during the first three days of qualifying. In fact, on one attempt, Nichels chose to yellow flag “Goldy” after just two qualifying laps at speeds just over 143 miles per hour, since Rathmann had qualified in the front row at 146.371 mph and had Ward right next to him at 145.560 mph.

Goldsmith finally made the starting grid at 142.783 mph, the very last car to make the race, finishing his last lap as the gun sounded ending the final day of qualifications.

On race day, Goldsmith started 26th on the grid and by the 28th lap was 10th as the first 50 miles brought a new race record of 144.866 mph.

By the time of his first pit stop, Goldsmith had risen to an unbelievable sixth in a 500 that was running a pace faster than ever before. Goldy was driving the tires right off the car as he continued to move up through the field.

Rathmann and Ward traded the lead an unbelievable 15 times over the last 78 laps of the extremely fast race. They had started in the front row together and battled all afternoon in a race that lasted just over three and a half hours.

So at the end of the day, who captured third place behind those two front runners in this classic Indy 500?

It was Paul Goldsmith, in what can only be described as one his quietest, most successful Indy drives ever.

Goldsmith started 26th, had four pit stops (Rathmann and Ward only had three each) yet finished the day in third spot to earn himself a nice $24,350 purse.

Many true race fans may recall one of Goldsmith’s many victories over the many years that he raced motorcycles, stock cars and IndyCars.

But almost no one recalls the tremendous race he drove on that May afternoon 56 years ago.

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 24, 2010
Speedway, Indiana

With temperatures rising inside and outside the garages along Gasoline Alley, the pressure of the new two-day Indianapolis 500 qualifying format began to show early Sunday morning.

It started with Andretti Autosport reeling from its worst showing in years. The biggest woe was the Tony Kanaan saga. After crashing his primary car during his qualifying attempt Saturday, Kanaan went out early Sunday and drove his backup car into the wall in almost the same location.

Kanaan never started worse than sixth in eight career Indy starts, so it was an especially grueling day. His team cannibalized parts from other cars and used crew members from other teams to get him back on the track. He tested twice during the afternoon, returning to the garage for more adjustments as the car lacked stability.

The Andretti team, already running midpack during Saturday qualifying, still had two cars to get into the show Sunday, with Kanaan and John Andretti on the outside looking in. Andretti qualified 28th with a four-lap average of 224.518 mph. Kanaan placed 32nd in the 33-car field at 224.072.

As the teams prepared for qualifying at noon (EDT), a stunning development came from the Foyt Garage as Anthony Foyt IV was replaced with Jaques Lazier to drive the No. 41 entry owned by his grandfather, A.J. Foyt. It was learned that Foyt IV expressed concern over the performance of the car he was scheduled to qualify later in the afternoon and was promptly replaced.

Early afternoon qualifying saw Andretti, Fisher, Vitor Meira, Alex Lloyd, Sebastian Saavedra, Takuma Sato, Bruno Junqueira, Paul Tracy, Mario Romancini and Jay Howard taking runs, with only Milka Duno waiving off her attempt.

Bryan Herta Motorsports and driver Saavedra suffered what appeared to be a crushing blow, when Saavedra crashed hard coming out of the first turn, heavily damaging the team’s only car, ending any chance to defend their spot already earned.

The final push for qualifying began at 5:23 when Kanaan bumped No. 29 Saavedra. Lazier was next, posting a 223.360, not enough to make the field. Romancini then bettered his position with another run of 224.641.

Duno then began a run, only to be waved off as too slow. Sato, in the No. 5 KV racing entry, then bumped Howard in the No. 66 Fisher car with a run of 224.178. Howard went back out and posted a 223.610, placing Tracy on the bubble.

With only 10 minutes left, Tracy stunned the crowd by relinquishing his spot and trying to requalify at a higher speed in an attempt to move off the bubble. His first two laps of 223.704 and 223.070, proved too slow to continue and his attempt was waved off.

“As soon as the track temperature came up, we couldn’t get a handle on it,” Tracy said. “I was just sitting in the car. When we needed the car to run in the heat, it just wouldn’t run.”

Neither of the next two drivers, Lazier and Duno, completed their qualifying runs due to lack of speed.

Like Tracy, Howard also gambled by waiving his spot and trying to requalify with a higher speed. This put Saavedra back on bubble for a third time, even though he had been in Speedway Medical Care Center and his car was sitting in a heap in the Bryan Herta garage.

Howard’s 223.120 was too slow to retain his position. Without being on the track, rookie Saavedra became the 33rd and final qualifier.

Like Father, Like Son …

Posted: May 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

Region Racers at the Indianapolis 500 – The Truchan’s –
Racing, building cars a Truchan family affair for more than 75 years

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 22, 2010
Speedway, Indiana

Those who spend a lot of time around auto racing can attest that it doesn’t take long for it to get into your blood. Such was the case for the father and son tandem of Steve Truchan, Sr. and Steve Truchan, Jr.

Steve Truchan, Sr.

With a car building and driving career that began in 1934, Truchan, Sr., had a thirst for speed that continued through 1950. He was one of early region racing’s true barnstormers, building his own Indy-car creations and putting them to task on the dirt tracks of middle America.

His career boasted runs with the Central States Racing Association and later the premier sanctioning body in all of racing during this era, the American Automobile Association (AAA). He pushed the limits of his own cars on tracks such as Langhorne, DuQuoin, Atlanta, Springfield, Hammond Speedway, Jungle Park and the Milwaukee Mile. Truchan was a winner some of the time, a competitor all of the time.

The year of 1946 was the most visible for Truchan in Indy cars as he took second at Atlanta, besting the likes of Ted Horn, Rex Mays, Emil Andres and defending Indianapolis 500 winner George Robson. That year also bought his best chance to run Indy. The first Indy 500 following World War II relegated many a driver to very old racecars. Truchan had just such a fate while driving an antiquated Offy for longtime Indy 500 mechanic Jimmy Chai. The car just didn’t have the muscle and Truchan lost his only Indy opportunity.

One of his closest shaves in an Indy-car race happened at a track where he didn’t even end up driving. Showing up with his own car at DuQuoin in October 1948, Truchan was called home from the track (turning over his car to Mel Hansen) because of the impending birth of his son, Steve, Jr. That day on the dirt at DuQuoin, the legendary Ted Horn lost his life.

By the late 1940s, Truchan had been reducing his racing endeavors, a process that had started slowly in 1941 after he left the employ of U.S. Steel and started his own business, which eventually became the Gary Bridge and Iron Company.

The Truchan name became synonymous with machining and fabrication excellence during this period and with the addition of Truchan, Jr., engineering soon became a major part of Gary Bridge and Iron’s expertise as it became a key supplier of fabricated structural steel for the construction of some of the city of Gary’s municipal and school buildings, Indiana University Northwest and various construction projects in Chicago.

Steve Truchan, Jr.

A graduate of Lew Wallace High School, Truchan, Jr., knew early on that engineering was his passion. He earned a civil engineering degree from Purdue and a Master’s degree in urban planning from Governor’s State. He balanced his early career by teaching engineering at Purdue Calumet, while working with his father. After 18 years of teaching, he took a position as the city engineer for the city of Hobart, while still managing operations at Gary Bridge and Iron.

The racing in his blood emerged at the age of 19, as he and his father constructed a stock car in 1967 to compete at Illiana Raceway, Grundy County Speedway, and Hartford Motor Speedway in Michigan.

In 1984, Truchan, Jr., moved into open-wheel racing with a car in the USAC Silver Crown series that he raced until 1992. He left racing at that time after the United States Auto Club made it difficult for him to campaign his car, due to an inability to understand his engineering designs. Car construction during this period was tightly controlled and Truchan, Jr.’s unique engineering approach created political unrest in the series that officials dealt with by outlawing his designs. With little patience for people who couldn’t grasp his innovative designs, Truchan, Jr., left competitive racing.

Assuring an American Legacy

It was during the 1980s that Truchan Sr., began assisting an occasional vintage race car owner with their restoration projects involving Offenhauser (Offy) engines, (whose manufacturing operations ceased decades ago.) Then in the mid 1990s, Truchan, Sr., pulled together all of the parts of one of his own Indy cars and completed a full restoration.

Truchan, Jr., soon became involved in helping others restore their vintage race cars, too. In a matter of no time, word surfaced in the vintage race car community of his immense skills. He is now one of the premier restorers in the country. His engineering expertise has also led him to be the key supplier of one-off cast parts for the legendary Offy engine, a success that many thought might never be accomplished. To see his work visit the website of Gary Bridge and Iron

Truchan, Sr., who died in 1998, and Truchan, Jr., have been an integral part of the racing history of the region for more than 75 years. Whether it was the father’s commitment to racing or the son’s enormous engineering expertise, Region Racers are words that clearly define their legacy.

Region Racers at the Indianapolis 500 – Paul Russo

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Paul Russo

Paul Russo would race anyone, anytime, anywhere. A racing gypsy.

Starting in the midget car racing ranks, Russo was one of the sport’s true pioneers.

Russo got hooked on racing early by watching his older brother Joe race in the Indianapolis 500 four consecutive times, capturing a fifth-place finish in the 1934 race. But his older brother’s success was short lived, losing his life at the notorious Langhorne Speedway in Philadelphia on June 10, 1934.

Russo remained committed to racing though and started his globetrotting career by a joining a delegation of the sport’s drivers to race in Hawaii during the winter of 1934-1935.

He returned to the U.S. and staked out a career as one of racing’s toughest drivers on the board tracks of the East Coast.

He won the first race ever held at the Nutley Velodrome in New Jersey and went on to win the AAA Eastern Midget Car Championship in 1938.

In 1940, Russo got his first in a long line of Indianapolis 500 rides in the Elgin Piston Pin Special. The following year he ran Indy again, this time for the Leader Card Race team, finishing ninth.

It was during this time that Russo joined the Highland, Indiana-based Rudy Nichels stable of midget racecar drivers and adopted the Calumet Region as his racing home. 

World War II interrupted Russo’s (and the country’s) racing, but upon his return from the service he was back behind the wheel at Indianapolis in 1946.

At Indy, he was spectacular during qualifying, ending up in the middle of the first row between pole sitter Cliff Bergere and Sam Hanks. He qualified at 126.180 mph and looked to be in great shape to run with the leaders all day. But on the 17th lap, coming out of the always tough north turn, he spun and ended up hard into the concrete retaining wall. It was a terrible accident with Russo suffering a broken knee and several broken ribs.

In 1947 and 1948, he returned for two more runs at Indy and was back racing for Rudy Nichels, teaming up with his son Ray, successfully racing the Calumet Auto Parts Special at tracks across the Midwest. Russo had now become a full-fledged member of auto racing’s revered “Chicago Gang,” that had included over the years Tony Bettenhausen, Duke Nalon, Cowboy O’Rourke, Emil Andres, Jimmy Snyder and Wally Zale.

In 1949, Russo and Ray Nichels joined the IndyCar stable of Carmen “Babe” Tuffanelli, located in Blue Island, Ill., running a “Tuffy’s Offy” at Indianapolis and along the AAA Championship Trail.

With Russo driving and Nichels as crew chief, the pair had a solid showing at Indianapolis in the Tuffanelli Kurtis-Offy, qualifying 19th and finishing eighth. It was later that season, Russo and Nichels begged Tuffanelli to buy the new smaller and sleeker  No. 99 Meyer & Drake Kurtis-Offy that had recently appeared on the race circuit.

When Tuffanelli failed to heed the warnings of Russo and Nichels as to the changing face in racecar design exhibited by the new Meyer & Drake car, the boys decided to build their own IndyCar design in the basement of Russo’s home at 6342 Van Buren in Hammond, Indiana.

Months later, Russo would drive the Russo-Nichels Special, affectionately labeled as “Basement Bessie” to a ninth-place finish in the rain-shortened 1950 Indianapolis 500. He and Nichels would campaign the car for the next few years, winning on dirt tracks in Springfield and Detroit.

Following his time racing with Ray Nichels through 1952, Russo would continue to get behind the wheel for the next 13 years. In his IndyCar career he competed in 84 races, finishing with 49 Top 10s, collecting five poles and three wins.

His most impressive statistic was starting 14 Indianapolis 500s, with Top 10 finishes in the 1941, 1949, 1950, 1954, 1957 and 1959 races, capturing fourth place in 1957.

Because of his toughness he is most fondly remembered as one of the few drivers to master the handling of the famed “Novi” powered cars at the Brickyard.

But that’s what one would expect from a stocky, bull of a man that had selected the region as his racing home.

Paul Russo died unexpectedly while attending the 1976 Daytona 500 Speedweeks.

He is buried at the Crown Hill Cemetery just four miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the very track that defined his racing toughness.

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 21, 2010
Speedway, Indiana

Once again what started as a sunny day, quickly turned into a cloudy afternoon of race practice that was interrupted by rain on two occasions, finally ending the practice session at 5:13 p.m. Eastern time. A total of two hours and 35 minutes were lost because of rain on the track.

At noon, weather for the day looked promising with an ambient temperature of 68 degrees and a relative humidity of 65 percent. It went downhill from there.

Tony Kanaan finished fastest on the day. The top five speeds of the day were posted by drivers representing four different teams: Andretti Autosport (Tony Kanaan — 226.775 mph, Marco Andretti — 226.108 mph), KV Racing Technology (Paul Tracy — 226.322 mph), Newman/Haas Racing (Hideki Mutoh — 226.230 mph) and Panther Racing (Dan Wheldon — 226.106 mph).

A total of .881 seconds separated the first 35 drivers on the grid for the afternoon.

Race teams worked on getting a handle on qualifying setups with the continuing threat of rain today.

Drivers learned at a meeting Thursday morning that as part of the change in qualifying format, the fastest car prior to the 4:30 p.m. “Fast Nine” run for the pole will be awarded the coveted first pit box — a major development. Drivers had assumed that as in years past, the pole winner would be awarded the first pit box.

With this scenario, all of the teams will be running to set the fastest time of the day during the regular qualifying period between noon and 4:30 p.m., then go out and participate in the 90-minute “shootout” matching the nine fastest drivers of day against each other.

* The tire allotment issue that has been brewing over the last three days has been reconciled. Tuesday, race teams learned that those teams who are running the Indy 500 only engine program rather than the full IndyCar season engine program are allowed a total of 26 sets of tires, rather then the full allotment of 33 sets. Although stipulated in the rule book, it was apparently interpreted differently by several race teams.

The difference in purchasing the extended engine programs runs into the tens of thousands of dollars. So after a series of discussions, the officials of the Indy Racing Series made accommodations for the teams on the reduced engine programs to purchase the additional tires.

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 20, 2010
Speedway, Indiana

At 8 a.m., before the Indianapolis Motor Speedway gates opened to the public, Gasoline Alley garages were filled with activity under warm, sunny skies.

But by the time the track itself opened for business, gray overcast skies and a cold brisk wind greeted race teams trying to bring their cars up to speed.

Scott Dixon, driving the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Dallara, bettered his top speed from Tuesday by running 226.971 mph early in the session. Later in the day, it was Ryan Briscoe in the No. 6 Team Penske car that was running almost as quick at 226.633 mph.

Right behind Dixon and Briscoe, was a surprising run by Alex Tagliani, who posted a 226.002 mph effort in the No. 77 Fazzt Racing entry. He was followed by Hideki Mutoh’s 225.926 mph run in the Newman/Haas Racing No. 06.

The track has been so busy with teams running the last two days that many drivers have been unable to run in clean air. As a result, there is much speculation that many of the speeds are the result of a “tow” aiding several drivers in obtaining higher speeds due to running in groups, reducing overall drag. However, since the weather has been cool and windy, many expect higher speeds during qualifying this weekend because the forecast calls for warmer temperatures and calm conditions.

Due to the weather conditions, many teams focused their efforts Wednesday on race setup. Today and Friday are expected to see the teams running very light fuel cells, with the cars trimmed out to maximize qualifying setup.

Wednesday was the busiest day yet at the Brickyard, with 2,282 laps laid down, equaling 5,705 miles of practice.

Good news for driver E.J. Viso. He was back at the track after his wicked crash late in Tuesday’s session and was cleared to drive by Dr. Geoffrey Billows, the director of medical services for IMS. In describing the crash in his No. 8 KV Racing Technology Dallara, Viso said: “Well, it was pretty late in the day, and I think it was a lot of factors put together. The track was a lot cooler, and we were also running light on rubber and coming through Turn 1. I just lost the rear, and that’s all I remember.”

Lastly, the situation regarding engine leases relative to tire allocation for several teams is still evolving. There appears to be an accommodation being negotiated for those teams having access to additional tires for practice, qualifying and the race.

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 19, 2010
Speedway, Indiana

With rain threatening the entire afternoon and temperatures in the high 50s, thirty-six drivers finally got out on the track after a one hour delay here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Race teams methodically laid down a total of 1,590 laps in just less than 5 hours of practice.

The almost 4,000 miles of high speed practice was really only interrupted on two occasions. At 3:23pm, Mario Moraes, who had posted the second fastest time of the day at 225.913 mph, spun hitting the inside retaining wall twice with the rear of his No. 32 KV Racing Technology Dallara, damaging the rear wing.

The day’s practice ended abruptly at 5:50pm when E.J. Viso spun, backing his No. 8 PDVSA-KV Racing Technology car hard into the SAFER barrier, sliding down the track between turns one and two. The rear of the car sustained heavy damage and Viso was carefully removed by the track safety team. At 6:14 pm. it was reported by track officials that that Viso was awake and alert and being transported to Methodist Hospital complaining of back pain.

Scott Dixon in the Target Chip Ganassi No. 9 Dallara was fastest on the day with a lap of 226.549 mph.

On a day when many teams were working on their race day setups in their primary cars, five different drivers, from five different teams were at the top of the leaderboard. Running behind Dixon were Moraes (225.913), Marco Andretti (225.751), Alex Tagliani (225.394), and Dan Weldon (225.378).

Simona di Silvestro saved the best for last, going from 33rd on the leaderboard to 10th on her 60th and final lap of the day. On the grid, less than one second separates 34 of the 36 drivers.

Of a final note on the day are reports of a developing story indicating that several teams have learned that due to their shorter-term Honda engine leases (800 mile versus the longer 1,200 mile lease,) they will be allocated 26 sets of tires, rather that the full allocation of 33 sets. Thirteen teams could be affected and one report indicates some of these teams had no idea a shorter engine lease equated to less tires for competition. We should learn more tomorrow.

Tomorrows forecast call for a 20% chance of rain, with cloud clearing later in the day and temperatures in the mid-60s, which should bring another busy day at the Brickyard.

By: Wm. LaDow

Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published by – Chicago Sun-Times News Group — May 18, 2010

Ronney Householder - Region Racer 2F. “Ronny” Householder was born in Omaha, Nebraska, began his racing career in southern California and eventually adopted the Calumet Region as his racing home.

During the 1930s and 40s, Householder was one of the most successful drivers and race team owners in America. By the 1960s he had become one of the most powerful automotive corporate executives in all of American auto racing.

Although Ronny began his midget car racing career in southern California, his first victory of record came at the 124th Field Artillery Armory located at 52nd Street & Cottage Grove in Chicago on February 24, 1935. His midget racing career amassed a total of 189 race wins, with the final victory being captured in August 1949 at a track near Crawfordsville, Indiana. Householder won at least one race every year that he competed in from 1935 through 1941 and following World War II, from 1947 through retirement.

He raced in the Indianapolis 500 in 1937 and 1938 garnering 12th and 14th place finishes respectively. In 1938, he posted the fastest qualifying speed for the race. In his last attempt at Indy, his car flipped during practice, landing in a creek, almost drowning him. Householder retired from Indianapolis 500 competition on the spot.

It was during his time racing midget cars in the late 1930s that Ronny struck up what would eventually become a lifelong friendship with Rudy Nichels.  Householder would also become the best of friends with Rudy’s son, Ray. In a matter of no time, Householder’s race team became a fixture at Nichels Service, located on the northwest corner of Cline and Ridge Road in Highland. Ronny began anchoring all of his Midwest racing efforts (and equipment) out of the Nichels shop.

Rudy Nichels Shop

Rudy Nichels shop at the corner of Cline Avenue and Ridge Road in Highland, Indiana in 1947. Working on the two Nichels owned midgets in the front of the garage is 24-year-old Ray Nichels. In the back on the right in the white tee shirt is Ronney Householder, who at the time was one of the most respected drivers in racing. He went on to manage Chrysler Corporation’s racing operations from 1955 thru 1972 – Nichels Engineering Archives

Householder’s fondness for the Region also blossomed into a love affair with a young lady from Highland by the name of Margaret “Maggie” Phillips, whom he eventually married.

Because of his engineering background from the University of Southern California, Householder was well versed in adapting the type of technological changes that seemed to evolve under race conditions. He was the first race team owner to align himself with an engine manufacturer, guaranteeing himself to have new engines and engine designs before they were available to the public. He also made it a point to construct new racing equipment at the start of every season with his own engineering design changes from observations he had made from the prior year’s racing.

When World War II broke out Householder was soon stationed overseas where his management skills soon became evident to his superiors as he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

After the war, while balancing a reduced racing schedule, he found himself in another evolving technological business, radio. Before long he had acquired several radio stations and traveled the Midwest managing them.

Ronny couldn’t stay away from the automotive business for long though and joined Chrysler Corporation in 1955. Householder also continued to maintain a relationship with auto racing, as a sanctioning official for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the United States Auto Club.

nichshop

Nichels Engineering operation near the corner of Cline Avenue and Ridge Road in Highland, Indiana – Nichels Engineering Archives

In 1962, when Chrysler decided to reenter the American auto racing landscape, it was Householder who got the job to engineer a plan of action. In 1963, he enlisted Highland friend, Ray Nichels, who had just completed a six-year relationship with Pontiac in which the GM division, won a series of national championships in NASCAR, USAC, IMCA, and ARCA to join the Chrysler racing effort.

From 1964 thru 1971, Chrysler became one of the cornerstones of American stock car racing. New powerplant and body designs, such as the Hemi engine, and Dodge Daytona/Plymouth Superbird winged cars, were the result of Householders cutting edge vision and no-holes-barred management style. From 1964 thru the end of 1970, Householder’s partner in this successful venture was the then Griffith-based, Nichels Engineering. Weekly trips in and out of the Griffith airport allowed Ronny to stay close to his adopted racing home, the Calumet Region.

Ronny Householder passed away at the age of 64 on November 11, 1972.

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 18, 2010
Speedway, Indiana

With track time already at a premium, race teams took a blow to their plans for six hours of practice time on Monday. Rain blanketed the Speedway for much of the day with track activities finally cancelled at 2:30 pm.

The only positive for race teams to be found in today’s rainout is it helped preserve tires (they’re only allotted 33 sets for the month.) But if the drivers had their choice in the matter, they’d be on the track. Such was the case during my time talking with driver Townsend Bell

In a sit-down interview with the 2009 Indianapolis 500 fourth-place finisher, I had a chance to talk to one driver, who in old school fashion has positioned himself with his best opportunity to date to win the 500.

“We’re ahead of where we were last year and having championship caliber organizations like Sam Schmidt’s and Chip Ganassi’s to work with is a great opportunity. I feel confident that I could be ready to run the race if it were held tomorrow.”

Townsend is a throw-back to Indy 500 days past. A married father of two he is now content with being a one-off driver who now spends each year focused on a plan to run in the world’s biggest race, the Indianapolis 500. A former Indy Lights Champion, Bell has a long résumé that includes running in the FIA F3000, Champ Car and the IndyCar Series as well as a test driver in Formula 1 for BAR Honda and Jaguar.

Driving for quality teams, Townsend has already driven in the 500 three times. His record has included runs with Vision Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold and last year with KV Racing. He’s clearly proven that with good equipment he can run with the leaders.

This year Bell has aligned himself with a partnership between Chip Ganassi Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports. He has the benefit of the Schmidt’s Indy Lights Championship organization and Ganassi’s crack engineering staff.

In his shakedown run yesterday, Bell showed he’s already up to speed clocking in at 12th on the speed charts at 223.472 mph in the No. 99 Herbalife Ganassi/Schmidt Racing Honda/Dallara. Although a patient man by nature, Townsend is through with waiting. He’s ready to go now.

Unfortunately the extended forecast for the Indianapolis area isn’t promising, calling for a 40 percent chance of rain every day this week. Practice continues for the entire Indy 500 entry list at 12 noon Tuesday, weather permitting.

Region Racers at the Indianapolis 500 – Rudy Nichels

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune – Chicago Sun-Times News Group — May 17, 2010

Rudys Place 1.jpg

In 1908, a 10-year-old boy crossed the Atlantic Ocean. He and his father journeyed from Austria with the intent of settling in America.

Though his last name was Puja when he entered Ellis Island, it was soon changed. It’s unclear whether in his pocket rested a few coins or perhaps he was cared for by a kind immigration worker who gave him some change to get a meal, but from that day forward his last name was Nichels.

After establishing their residency in Chicago, a teenaged Rudy could often be found at the corner pool hall, or participating in a local “game of chance.” But a few years later, Nichels settled down, got married and eventually started a family — a daughter and three sons.

Nichels was a born entrepreneur and quickly sensed that the American automobile was fast becoming more of a necessity than a luxury. He made it a point to get involved in any auto-related businesses he could find.

In time he was able to parlay his savings into the purchase of a small Fisk Tire store on Ewing Avenue in South Chicago. So small was the shop that an automobile couldn’t be completely parked under the roof while having its tires changed. Using the slim profits from this business, Nichels in 1930 purchased a restaurant located at the intersection of Fifth Street and Highway Avenue in Highland.

With his wife, Gladys, doing the restaurant cooking, Nichels turned his efforts toward another business, a gasoline service station and auto repair shop.

In 1936, he purchased a second restaurant and tavern just two miles east, on the corner of Ridge Road and Cline Avenue. Soon, he had a service station, an auto repair garage, a restaurant and a tavern all on the northeast corner of that intersection, which he christened “Rudy’s Place.”

With his early investment in restaurants and auto repair shops starting to pay off, he began a search for another moneymaking opportunity and uncovered midget car auto racing.

The more Nichels heard about midget car racing, the more he thought it might be a good fit with his other businesses. On Oct. 10, 1937, Nichels decided to take a look at this potential business venture and with his oldest son, 14 year-old Ray, visited the newly constructed Hammond Raceway located at the junction of Sheffield and Calumet avenues. With another 7,000 fans in attendance, Nichels witnessed his first midget car race. It would not be his last. A few weeks later, Nichels purchased his first race car.

From that day on, Rudy threw himself whole-heartedly into auto racing, owning several cars from 1938 through the late 1940s, giving drivers such as Ted Duncan, Tony Bettenhausen, Johnnie Parsons, Paul Russo, Ray Richards and Mike O’Halloran some of the finest midget race cars in the business. All of these drivers eventually became members of the Midget Racing Hall of Fame after capturing a series of track championships racing for Nichels Service. Johnnie Parsons used his 1948 Midwest Championship driving for Nichels as a springboard toward winning the 1950 Indianapolis 500.

Nichels established “Nichels Service” shop at the corner of Cline and Ridge Road as the cornerstone of Midwest auto racing. Working with racing equipment suppliers from across the country he built a superb reputation for racing expertise. Nationally known drivers such as Ronney Householder anchored their race teams and equipment at Rudy’s Place when barnstorming across America.

The racing business was so profitable that Nichels began promoting and sanctioning races at tracks throughout Illinois and Indiana.

It was during this time that his son, Ray, went out on his own and entered IndyCar racing, eventually competing in 15 Indianapolis 500s and building a Hall of Fame career as one of the nation’s finest mechanics and race car builders.

Rudy Nichels died in April of 1955, leaving a lasting legacy of being one of the first in a long line of region racers.

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 17, 2010
Speedway, Indiana

With teams trying to find a balance between race day and qualifying setups, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway became a beehive of activity during the combined Indy 500 Veteran/Rookie practice Sunday afternoon. Race teams completed 914 laps running 2,285 miles in just over 3 hours and 20 minutes, with the session being shortened by rain at 5:36 pm.

Penske Racing’s Helio Castroneves posted the fastest time of the month so far with a lap at 227.046 mph.

Thirty-Three cars made an appearance on the storied oval with only one being carted off after a fourth turn crash into the wall when it appeared that 2005 Indy 500 race winner Dan Wheldon, suffered a mechanical failure ending his day. Target Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon’s No. 9 car just barely cleared Weldon as the Panther Racing No. 4 car slid into the outside wall. Weldon was released by the IMS Clarian Infield Medical Center staff later in the afternoon.

Twenty-nine entries broke the 220 mph barrier during the course of the afternoon, with twenty cars being above the 222 mph mark

IMS opened the day with its Rookie Orientation Program (ROP) at 11am on a very gray and overcast morning. Seven drivers participated in the controlled process of gaining ROP certification, with all gaining approval for participation in qualifying for the upcoming 94th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Quickest of the rookie crop was Jay Howard in the No. 66 Service Central/Sarah Fisher Racing entry at 222.789 miles per hour. The second fastest rookie was Simona de Silvestro, in the No. 78T backup entry for HVM Racing at 221.370 mph. The Swiss driver is one of five women attempting to make the race.

After completing the ROP, several of the rookies joined the Indy 500 Veterans for the afternoon practice session.

Practice continues for the entire Indy 500 entry list at 12 noon, Monday. Gates open to the public at 9am.

Indy 500 Quote of the Day

“If it’s not scary in qualifying, you’re not going fast enough.” 2004 race winner Buddy Rice talking about the challenges of qualifying for the Indy 500. Rice won the 2004 Pole position with a speed of 222.024 miles per hour.

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 16, 2010
Speedway, Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS — At noon Saturday, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came alive for its first day of practice, as IndyCar teams started the process of shaking down their cars for the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30th.

In a rush of traffic, it appeared that the very first car to get on the track was defending champion Helio Castroneves, whose presence here the last two days has shown a man quite focused on his mission to become only the fourth, four-time winner of the greatest spectacle in racing.

Of the 27 cars that hit the track on the afternoon, 26 of them ran laps of 221 mph or better, with the top speed for the first day the 226.603 mph clocked in by Team Penske’s Castroneves in his No. 3T backup car. The next fastest was Dario Franchitti at 226.535 mph, also running in his backup car, the No. 10T. As a group, Indy 500 veteran drivers laid down a total of 451 laps of practice.

On the day, 11 drivers were above the 224-mph mark. In all of qualifying last year, only three drivers qualified faster than 224 mph.

Andretti Autosport relied on Tony Kanaan’s expertise for the “team” setup as he drove all five of the Andretti entries during the two-hour practice. Cars for Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, John Andretti and Danica Patrick all were initially driven by Kanaan, before being turned over to their respective drivers.

Rain curtailed practice on three occasions during the course of the afternoon, eventually ending practice activities early, with the rookie group getting very little track time, only registering 146 laps. With rain again threatening today, race teams are already beginning to feel the pressure of the shortened track schedule as they try to bring the cars up to both qualifying speed and race trim for the 500.

IMS and Indy Racing Series Race Control announced that today’s schedule would be adjusted to allow more track time for both groups. Rookie drivers will be allowed to begin practice at 11 a.m. and run until 3 p.m. The veteran drivers group will run from 3-6 p.m.

* Quote of the Day: “Dad taught me everything I know. Unfortunately, he didn’t teach me everything he knows.” — Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser, Jr. talking about his father, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser.