Archive for May, 2013

2013 JR released_BRISCOE_COVER

Former Team Penske Driver and IndyCar Race Winner to Take Reins of No. 4 Entry This Weekend

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – (May 30, 2013) – Two-time IndyCar Series champion Panther Racing announced today that Ryan Briscoe will drive the team’s No. 4 National Guard Chevy for this weekend’s Chevrolet Indy Duel in Detroit. Briscoe, a seven-time IndyCar race winner, spent most of the past five seasons with Team Penske after making his IndyCar Series debut with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2005. The open-wheel veteran most recently made his return to the series with Ganassi for the 97th Running of the Indianapolis 500, where he finished 12th in the No. 8 NTT DATA entry.

“We couldn’t be happier to have Ryan Briscoe join Panther Racing this weekend,” Panther Managing Partner John Barnes said. “He’s a championship-caliber driver who’s proven he can win races on any type of track in the IndyCar Series. We have no doubt he can jump right into our program and put the No. 4 National Guard Chevy at the front of the field. In his career he’s gone toe-to-toe with the best drivers in this series and won a lot of races. We’re all very excited that he’s going to become part of our family here at Panther and look forward to getting him on the track this weekend in Detroit.”

Briscoe’s seven career IndyCar Series race wins have been spread across every type of track configuration on which the series runs; street courses (St. Petersburg, 2009), permanent road courses (Mid-Ohio, 2008; Sonoma, 2012), short ovals (Milwaukee, 2008) and superspeedways (Kentucky and Chicagoland, 2009; Texas, 2010). Briscoe also has 13 career poles, including capturing pole position in last year’s Indianapolis 500. He has spent a majority of 2013 racing for Level 5 Motorsports in ALMS, where he’s captured P2 class victories in the 12 Hours of Sebring and at Laguna Seca earlier this month.

“I’m unbelievably excited to be back in the IndyCar Series with Panther Racing and to have the opportunity to drive the National Guard Chevrolet this weekend,” Briscoe said. “I’ve competed against this team for a long time and it will be great to have the opportunity to work with John Barnes and the Panther guys. I’m confident we’ll all work well together and be able to hit the ground running this weekend in Detroit.”

The 31-year-old will become the fourth driver to drive Panther’s National Guard-sponsored entry, following Vitor Meira (2008), Dan Wheldon (2009-2010) and JR Hildebrand (2011-2013).

The Chevrolet Indy Duel in Detroit will be the first double-header race weekend on the IndyCar Series schedule. The races will be held each day of the weekend at 3:30 pm (ET) and broadcast live on ABC, with additional coverage provided by the IMS Radio Network, XM/Sirius Channel 211. Practice, qualifying and race coverage is also available on the IndyCar Mobile app from Verizon.

www.nationalguard.comwww.pantherracing.comwww.roadmaptohelp.com

2013 JR released_web_COVER
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – (May 30, 2013) – Panther Racing and JR Hildebrand announced today their mutual agreement to terminate JR’s contract with the team that was scheduled to continue through the end of the 2013 season. Hildebrand, the 2009 Indy Lights Champion, made a total of 37 starts in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet over the course of the last three seasons. He recorded his best career IndyCar finish of second place in the 95th Running of the Indianapolis 500, and led seven races during his tenure with the team.

“We’d like to thank JR Hildebrand for his contributions to Panther Racing, and especially the work he put into supporting the National Guard and all of our programs to support its soldiers,” Panther Managing Partner John Barnes said. “JR is a great young man, a class act, and somebody who has been a great representative of our race team and all of our partners since 2011. We certainly wish JR, his family and his representatives all the best in the future.”

“I want to thank Panther Racing for the opportunity to drive the No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet,” Hildebrand added. “It was a privilege to represent our men and women in uniform, along with the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe and the team’s veteran employment initiatives. I’m very much looking forward to the next chapter in my IndyCar career, and wish all my friends at Panther the absolute best.”

Panther plans to announce Hildebrand’s replacement for this weekend’s Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit later this afternoon.

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Ray R. Nichels
Nichels Engineering

In 1938, at the age of 15, Ray Nichels, went on the road as a midget car crew chief, racing at tracks across America. From 1938-1948, the drivers of the Ray Nichels prepared midgets (campaigned by his father Rudy Nichels) were Ted Duncan, Tony Bettenhausen, Johnnie Parsons, Paul Russo, Mike O’Halloran, and Ray Richards (All members of the Midget Racing Hall of Fame.)

Following his time midget racing, Nichels moved on to Indy cars and eventually participated in 12 Indianapolis 500 races, as a chief mechanic and crew chief. In those twelve 500’s, Ray Nichels won one Pole (1957 w/Pat O’Connor), garnered two top-five finishes (a 3rd and a 5th w/Paul Goldsmith), and five top-ten finishes. Most notable of his top-ten finishes was the 9th place showing in the 1950 Indianapolis 500 of the Russo-Nichels Special. Paul Russo and Ray Nichels constructed this car in the basement of Russo’s Hammond, Indiana home during the winter of 1949-1950. Qualifying in the 7th row, the Russo-Nichels Special captured the imagination of the American racing public by running with the leaders for much of the day, before the rain-shortened race ended at 345 miles. The Russo-Nichels Special soon became affectionately known as “Basement Bessie” as it was campaigned on the AAA Championship Trail during the 1950 season. In December, Nichels with Johnnie Parsons behind the wheel, won the first ever Indy car race at the newly built Darlington Raceway. On the season, Ray Nichels and Paul Russo and their hand-built “basement” creation missed the chance to win the National Championship only after a season-ending injury to Russo in the November AAA Indy car race in Phoenix.

Nichels then toiled as chief mechanic for Johnnie Parsons’ entries in the 1953 and 1954 Indy 500 races. In June of 1954, Ray Nichels joined the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company as its chief mechanic for all race tire testing. In their first test together, he and driver Sam Hanks teamed up to set a new world’s closed-course speed record of 182.554 mph at Chrysler Corporation’s newly built Chelsea, Michigan proving grounds in a Nichels prepared Chrysler Hemi-powered Kurtis-Kraft roadster. It would be the first of many world speed records that Nichels and his cars would set over the next 20 years.

In 1957, Ray Nichels and Indiana-based Nichels Engineering won the pole (w/Banjo Matthews) and won the race (w/Cotton Owens) at the NASCAR Grand National Beach Race at Daytona. Two months later, Nichels traveled to Monza, Italy on behalf of Firestone, and set a series of world speed records on the world’s highest-banked oval with driver Pat O’Connor behind the wheel of the Chrysler Hemi-powered Kurtis-Kraft roadster. Nichels and O’Connor then returned to the United States where they won the Pole position for the world’s most important race, the Indianapolis 500. It is believed Ray Nichels remains to be the only mechanic to ever win the pole at both Daytona and Indianapolis in the same year.

With his 1957 Daytona win, Nichels expanded his stock car racing business becoming the “house” racecar builder for Pontiac from 1956-1963. Working directly for Pontiac Gen. Mgr. Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen, Nichels managed Pontiac’s involvement in stock car racing from his operations in Highland, Indiana. By 1961, under Nichels’ guidance, Pontiac dominated American stock car racing. Nichels Engineering driver, Paul Goldsmith captured the USAC National Championship with 10 wins, 7 poles and 16 top-five finishes in 19 races. Overall Pontiac performance in USAC was 14 wins, 10 poles and 38 top-five finishes in 22 races. In NASCAR, overall Pontiac performance was 30 wins in 52 races. In 1962, Pontiac’s dominance under Nichels became even further evident as Nichels and Goldsmith won their 2nd consecutive USAC National Championship with 8 wins, 6 poles and 15 top-five finishes in 20 races. Overall Pontiac performance in USAC was 10 wins, 10 poles and 34 top-five finishes in 22 races. Four Nichels Engineering drivers (Goldsmith, A.J. Foyt, Rodger Ward, and Len Sutton) finished in the seasons Top Ten. In NASCAR, overall Pontiac performance was 22 wins in 53 races, with Joe Weatherly winning the National Championship driving a Nichels Engineering built, Bud Moore prepped Pontiac.

In 1961, Nichels Engineering prepared and ran two 1962 Pontiac Catalinas, setting one lap, 500 mile and 24 hour world stock car speed and endurance records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway. The Nichels Engineering driving team consisted of Rodger Ward, Paul Goldsmith, Len Sutton, Fireball Roberts, Joe Weatherly and Marvin Panch. Nichels mechanics for these historic speed and endurance runs were Ray Nichels, Dale “Tiny” Worley, Bud Moore, Cotton Owens and Smokey Yunick.

In 1963, Nichels and driver Paul Goldsmith delivered one of the most lopsided victories in Daytona Speed Weeks history, in the Challenge Cup 250, when Goldsmith piloted the Nichels Engineering #50 Super Duty 421 Pontiac LeMans to victory, beating 2nd place finisher A.J. Foyt by over 5 miles.

Later in 1963, Ray Nichels and Nichels Engineering became the “house” racecar builder for all of Chrysler Corporation. Nichels role with Chrysler was identical to his with Pontiac. Working for Ronney Householder, Nichels was commissioned to build the fastest and safest stock cars in the business, disseminate racing knowledge and design technology to all Chrysler teams in support of their collective racing efforts. Working with legendary stock car racers Cotton Owens, Ray Fox, Harry Hyde, Norm Nelson, and Petty Enterprises, Nichels Engineering did just that. It is no coincidence that the most prolific period in Chrysler stock car racing history was 1964-1970. Nichels Engineering-built stock cars won national stock car championships in USAC, NASCAR, ARCA and IMCA, several years running, setting speed records at tracks across America.

Ray Nichels and Nichels Engineering won three (3) National Stock Car Championships in USAC. Paul Goldsmith and Ray Nichels combined to win titles in 1961 and 1962. Then in 1967, Nichels and all-time winningest USAC Stock car driver Don White teamed-up for the USAC national championship.

In 13 years of NASCAR competition, Nichels Engineering campaigned cars raced 223 times, garnering 89 top-ten finishes, 62 top-five finishes, 12 Poles and 11 victories. Nichels Engineering was a winner at tracks such as Daytona, Bristol, Rockingham, Michigan, and Talladega. Nichels also won NASCAR pole positions at Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte, Rockingham, Darlington, Michigan, and Riverside.

Nichels Engineering was a seven (7) time NASCAR winner at Daytona from 1957-1970. Winning drivers were Cotton Owens, Bobby Isaac, Paul Goldsmith (2), AJ Foyt, Sam McQuagg and Charlie Glotzbach.

The list of drivers who piloted cars built by and/or campaigned by Ray Nichels and Nichels Engineering is synonymous with American racing excellence …. they are Bobby Isaac, A.J. Foyt, David Pearson, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Roger Penske, Paul Goldsmith, Rodger Ward, Don White, Tony Bettenhausen, Richard Petty, Dan Gurney, Junior Johnson, Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, Gordon Johncock, Pat O’Connor, Paul Russo, Mario Andretti, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Jim Hurtubise, Fred Lorenzen, Charlie Glotzbach, Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, Joe Weatherly, Marvin Panch, Cotton Owens, Banjo Matthews, Sam McQuagg, Joe Leonard, Len Sutton, Darel Dieringer, Troy Ruttman, Dave Marcis, Richard Brickhouse, Ramo Stott, Ernie Derr, Jimmy Pardue, James Hylton, Butch Hartman, Roger McCluskey, Bobby Johns, Ray Elder, Norm Nelson and Lloyd Ruby.

On April 25th, 1996, Ray Nichels was inducted into Mechanics Hall of Fame within the International Motorsports Hall of Fame located in Talladega, Alabama. On the same day, Indiana Governor, Evan Bayh, awarded Ray Nichels the “Sagamore of the Wabash,” the highest distinguished service honor bestowed upon an Indiana citizen by its governor.

Copyright© 2005 — Wm. LaDow / LaDow Publishing

Region Racers at the Indianapolis 500 – The Belanger Team
Speedway Sightings

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — A Chicago Sun-Times Media Company — May 27, 2007
Speedway, Indiana

Murrell Belanger loved anything that had a motor in it.

His love for speed started in the early 1920s.  Before the end of his senior year of high school, he went on the road to race motorcycles, one of the roughest ways to run an oval. After one of his best friends lost his life in a motorcycle accident, Murrell’s mother told him that his motorcycle racing career had to come to an end, which wasn’t a terrible decision to live with because Murrell wanted a race cars anyway.

Belanger soon made his paycheck by working for a local Buick dealer and raced when he could, mostly in the old Central Illinois Racing Association.  He raced at Roby Speedway and the Crown Point Fairgrounds and just about anywhere he could find a contest. One day though, he went through the fence at the North Shore Polo Grounds and that was the end of Murrell’s race driving career.

As he grew older, Murrell learned that there was one thing that he was naturally skilled at, selling.

After gathering up as much money as he could, Murrell along with his brother-in-law and some friends went into the automobile business. First they started selling Auburns, Cords, Packards, Chryslers and International Trucks, Always, working, always selling, always looking for business opportunities, that was Murrell Belanger. It wasn’t long before Chrysler came to Belanger, and made it clear that they wanted his auto sales skills exclusively. With that, Belanger Motors was born.

In time, Belanger’s business success allowed him to return to his first love; racing.  He developed friendships with a whole list of local racers, Emil Andres, Duke Nalon, Paul Russo, Johnny Pawl and Ray Nichels. But his most profitable racing friendship was with a young driver by the name of Melvin Eugene “Tony” Bettenhausen from Tinley Park, Illinois.

He purchased his first Indy car in 1934 and for the next 17 years showed up for every Month of May. But to no avail. The Indy Winners Circle eluded his efforts year after year.

He came close once in 1940, when Emil Andres finished 12th. But for all the years of toil and trouble, Belanger Racing was unable to cash in. That was until the magical season of 1951.

Their success really started in 1950, when Murrell Belanger purchased Kurtis-Kraft Chassis #327-49 from Lou Meyer and Dale Drake, the owners of Meyer and Drake Engineering, the sole suppliers of the Offenhauser (Offy) engine. In 1949, Meyer and Drake (M&D) purchased the car from Frank Kurtis. It was a newly-designed lightweight Kurtis-Kraft chassis with a specially designed super-charged Offy engine. It was labeled the M&D No. 99.  M&D, a long-time suppler to Belanger, asked that Frenchy Sirois and Dale “Tiny” Worley (from Lowell) campaign the car as a testing program for the new, smaller and lighter designed racecar. Once the Belanger mechanics got a hold of it, the No. 99 started to run with the leaders. So much so that, other racing teams to begin protesting loudly about the conflict of interest of Meyer & Drake racing their own car against other race teams; M&D’s primary customers.

So Murrell Belanger took the No. 99 home to his pristine race car operations located on the second floor of the Belanger Farm Equipment Company on Mill Street in Lowell. There his race team of Sirois, Worley, George Salih, Harold Brownell, Howard Meeker and Ralph Collins, got it ready for the upcoming AAA race season. Their first order of business was to install a standard 270 cubic inch Offy.

Then they went racing. And race they did. The end of the 1950 season saw the No. 99 and Tony Bettenhausen go on a roll in October, running the leaders and winning its first race at Springfield.

But the best was yet to come.

The Belanger No. 99 started its record setting campaign at the “Racing Capital of the World”, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May of 1951. But it wasn’t Bettenhausen who got to usher in a new chapter in racing history. Bettenhausen was already contracted to run the 500 mile race for former winning car owner Lou Moore in the No. 5 Mobil Oil Offy

So starting from the middle of the front row, the Belanger No. 99 was driven by 40 year-old Lee Wallard of Altamont, N.Y., who absolutely destroyed the competition. Wallard got out in front and stayed there winning the Memorial Day classic in record time. He and Murrell Belanger cashed in on a record purse of $63,612 and Wallard was awarded a brand new Chrysler convertible pace car.  Needless to say, Chrysler Corporation was thrilled that Murrell Belanger one of their most successful car dealers, was Indy 500 winning owner.

Unfortunately, a week later while driving another car, Wallard suffered severe burns in a race in Pennsylvania.

Tony Bettenhausen went back behind the wheel of No. 99 for the rest of 1951, and proved to everyone that Indianapolis was no fluke, with Belanger’s team winning nine races of the 14 run in the AAA IndyCar season.

When it was all said and done, the Belanger No. 99, won the 1951 Indianapolis 500, the 1951 AAA National Championship and went on to become the winningest Kurtis-Kraft built, Offy-powered race car ever. Its performance is a cornerstone of the racing career of Murrell Belanger. To this day, Belanger is one of the winningest race car owners in all of IndyCar history.

Probably the most telling instance of what the Belanger Kurtis-Kraft meant to the racing community, is when that gorgeous dark blue Belanger No. 99, entered the victory circle to collect its place on the Borg-Warner Trophy in the 1951 Indianapolis 500, a youngster from Ohio, sitting alongside his father for his very first Indy 500, made up his mind that he too one day would race at Indianapolis.

That youngster’s name was Roger Penske.

As for the Murrell Belanger No. 99, it now rests in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall-of-Fame Museum.

Dempsey wins at the stripe

Coming off Turn 4 of the final lap of the Firestone Freedom 100, Carlos Munoz, Sage Karam and Gabby Chaves were three abreast on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, urging their cars and being cheered by tens of thousands of spectators on their feet.

Suddenly, Peter Dempsey found a seam close to the outside wall on the 50-foot-wide frontstretch. A bobble and the No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing car crashes before completing the 40-lap race. But spotter Stefan Wilson told him to go for it, Dempsey kept it straight and surged even with Chaves’ No. 7 Schmidt Peterson with Curb-Agajanian car 200 yards from the checkered flag at 185 mph.

27-year-old native of Ashbourne, Ireland, immediately knew he had won the marquee race of the Firestone Indy Lights season, raising his left hand off the steering wheel, though it was a photo finish. The margin of victory was .0026 of a second — the closest on an oval in the 100-plus-year history of the Speedway.

That equals 8.47 inches. One hundred miles of racing and the winner is decided by a nose.

Click it: Box score

Al Unser Jr. beat Scott Goodyear to the line by .043 of a second in the 1992 Indianapolis 500, and none of the NASCAR races at the Brickyard come close. There was a closer margin of victory in Firestone Indy Lights, though, at Chicagoland Speedway in 2007 (.0005 of a second by Logan Gomez over Alex Lloyd).

Chaves was second and pole sitter Sage Karam was .0280 of a second behind the winner in third. Carlos Munoz, who led Laps 13-39, was .0443 of a second off the winner.

“Beers are on me tonight,” said Dempsey, who earned his first Firestone Indy Lights victory in his 20th start and moved to second in series standings. “I said it before the race, it’s 40 laps and you go around in circles, but there’s no better place to do that than in Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

“It literally took my breath away,” team owner Brian Belardi said. “He did such a great job just holding station. We knew it was going to be a shootout with those three cars in the front and they just poked a massive hole and he was able to sneak in there and just drove a flawless race. He is a great race car driver, we all know. For the team to get their first here, it is so special. Words cannot describe it.”

Munoz led Karam by .0914 of a second at the start of the white flag lap. Chaves was .1433 of a second back and Dempsey was .4915 of a second behind in fourth. Munoz, the series championship points leader, was running close to the inside line, with Karam and Chaves in the middle of the racetrack.

Karam and Munoz were running nose to tail — separated by no more than one-tenth of a second from Lap 20 through 39.

“It was insane. It was a great race, great finish,” Karam said. “It was just a lottery at the end. You didn’t know who was going to win. That’s the beauty of this place. It’s a heartbreaker, but we will take it.”

The lone caution flag flew on Lap 2 when the No. 67 car of Kyle O’Gara made contact with the Turn 4 wall.

Dempsey gave props to Wilson, a former Firestone Indy Lights driver, for his steady voice over the radio.

“I’m glad he spoke to me as much as he did,” Dempsey said. “He won the race for me. He said be patient, get us across the line. They’re going to spread out and you’ll sneak up on them. He’s never won here with himself, but I definitely owe him this one.

“If you’re going to win your first Firestone Indy Lights race, there’s no better place to do it than at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I had a feeling this end was going to happen. And you know it’s going to be four-wide across the line certain enough. It’s massive.

“Belardi Auto Racing gave me this opportunity, and it’s Brian’s first win, so it’s much his dream as mine to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And I beat the guy that qualified second in the Indianapolis 500, so that’s not a bad thing, is it?”

Dempsey wins at the stripe

By Dave Lewandowski
Published- www.IndyCar.com — May 24, 2013