Archive for November, 2019

HOUSTON Nov. 27—A.J. Foyt does not eat turkey at Thanksgiving or any other time of year. However, in the 1960s, he spent nearly every Thanksgiving trying to win the turkey as in the Turkey Night Grand Prix at  Ascot Park, the now-defunct half-mile dirt track in Gardena, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles.

Foyt is a three-time winner (’60, ’61 and ’66) of the Turkey Night Grand Prix but the triumph that stood out for him was the first victory in 1960 which he won in Jack London’s No. 5 midget.

“It was nothing to have over a hundred midgets there and I think they started just 18 or 20 cars,” Foyt recalled. His midget ride came about through Foyt’s chief mechanic George Bignotti, who in addition to fielding the Bowes Seal Fast Indy car in which Foyt won his first national championship in 1960, also worked on the midget owned by London.

“I was running up high coming from the back,” said Foyt, who had qualified 17th for the 150-lap race. “I was running up against the fence and coming off Turn 4, I thought my goggles were sweating up and I thought ‘What the hell is going on?’ I pulled them down a little bit and everything cleared up and then I come off Turn 4 again and I couldn’t see anything! And it got worse and worse and finally, they red-flagged it. I was thinking to myself, what the hell is wrong with my goggles because it was kind of warm and I was sweating and I thought my goggles were just fogging over. I was glad to see them stop it because you were coming off 4 and you were just blind for maybe half a second but you were running real fast up against the fence. They must have let it run like that for 10 or 15 laps—it was dangerous. Finally, the fog just came down really thick and you couldn’t see nothing. That was a spooky night.”

The race was called after 122 laps with Foyt taking home the honors. As much as he enjoyed racing out there, he admitted to feeling the pressure of qualifying at the track which was one of the fastest half-miles in the country.

“Everybody wanted to run the Turkey Night race—there were a lot of great drivers and great cars that would miss that race. You were always worried about the number you drew for qualifying because the track would change a little bit before they would get down to you. It would get dry slick and then you couldn’t get the traction. It was kind of nerve-wracking.”

A.J. in the No. 5 Jack London midget as the action gets underway at Ascot Park in 1960.

The race was called after 122 laps with Foyt taking home the honors. As much as he enjoyed racing out there, he admitted to feeling the pressure of qualifying at the track which was one of the fastest half-miles in the country.

“Everybody wanted to run the Turkey Night race—there were a lot of great drivers and great cars that would miss that race. You were always worried about the number you drew for qualifying because the track would change a little bit before they would get down to you. It would get dry slick and then you couldn’t get the traction. It was kind of nerve-wracking.”

When asked what made racing at Ascot so challenging, Foyt said, “It was a tricky race track. Don Branson and Jud Larson were probably the greatest dirt drivers that ever were and neither one of them could get around that race track good. I couldn’t believe that. It was just a tricky race track you had to really be on your toes and watch what you were doing.

“The track would change up on you so quick,” he continued. “You’d be good for ten laps and then the tires you started the race with maybe would quit working, and that’s what made it tricky because you never knew which way the dirt was going to go. I always used to run high against the fence, not around the pole—but a lot of people would run down low. When the top groove would fade out, it really would hurt me. That was the only way I could really get around it was to run up high.”

Foyt, who raced in the Turkey Night Grand Prix from 1959 through 1968 qualified in the top-5 five times, including winning the pole in 1966. He finished in the top-5 five times as well, three of them victories.

This year’s Turkey Night Grand Prix will be the 79th running of the venerable midget race which has since moved to Ventura (Calif.) Raceway. Open-wheel and NASCAR star Kyle Larson will try to make it three straight midget race wins in a row tomorrow night, a feat he accomplished in 2012. Billy Boat is the only other driver to achieve that goal which he did in 1995 en route to winning the USAC Western States Midget title. Two years later he was driving an Indy car for A.J. Foyt in the Indy Racing League.

As for Thanksgiving Dinner back in the ‘60s? Foyt, Bignotti and the team would go to the casino afterwards where Foyt ordered steak.

“I didn’t want turkey on Thanksgiving, I just wanted to win the Turkey!”

By:   Anne Fornoro — A.J. Foyt Racing
        November 27, 2019

The tie between auto manufacturing and auto racing here in the states go hand-in-hand …

Here is a look back at one of the world’s automobile manufacturing cornerstones:  Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge complex in Dearborn, Michigan

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019 – John Martin, a veteran of five Indianapolis 500 starts and the eighth-place finisher in the rain-shortened 1973 event, died Nov. 20. He was 80.

A gifted mechanic and engineer, who performed much of the work on cars he drove, Martin was active in racing until his death. His most-recent role was working near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at Billy Throckmorton’s Grant King racing shop, restoring and preparing a variety of racing engines for vintage car meets, including normally aspirated Offenhausers, turbocharged Drake Offys, Volkswagen midget car engines and an abundance of vintage sprint car powerplants.

Last summer, he drove in Vintage Race of Champions (VROC) Charity Pro-Am race during the SVRA Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational at IMS, a race he competed in every year since the inaugural in 2014.

The Cushing, Oklahoma-born Martin, who lived in Missouri, Wisconsin, California and in the Indianapolis area, made a total of 52 starts in the United States Auto Club National Championship series and under the Championship Auto Racing Teams banner, placing within the top 10 on 17 occasions in Indy car events. His highest showing was a pair of fifth-place finishes, scored in the Ontario 500-mile races of 1973 and 1975.

He attempted to qualify for every Indianapolis 500 between 1971 and 1982 and was successful for five consecutive events between 1972 and 1976. Driving an ex-Peter Revson McLaren fielded by himself, Martin placed eighth in 1973, when the car was called the Unsponsored Special, and 11th in 1974 when it ran as the delightfully named Sea Snack Shrimp Cocktail Special.

Long after he was no longer driving, Martin continued to work on teams in a variety of capacities, including engineer, fabricator and spotter. Far into the night prior to an event, Martin could be seen dressed in an apron and engrossed in a mechanical exercise of some kind.

His early days of driving were as an amateur road racer with the Sports Car Club of America. While living in Wisconsin, he converted a 1963 Corvette Stingray into an A-production racer and won a national title with it in 1965. He also took part in several United States Auto Club stock car races between 1966 and 1969, and contested SCCA’s Trans-Am series in 1968 with an AMC Javelin. In 1970, he drove a Surtees in the SCCA Continental series for stock block-powered Formula 5000 cars and placed within the top 10 in eight out of 11 starts.

A great storyteller, the laid-back Martin was blessed with a rich baritone voice that the professionals would describe as a “radio” voice.

He is survived by his wife, Linda, and a married daughter, Kristen De Muth.

Services are pending, but a celebration of life is being planned for some time in December at the Grant King racing shop.

Plainfield, IL (November 22, 2019) – Dale Coyne Racing announced today that it has parted ways with driver Sebastien Bourdais, who has spent four years with the Plainfield, Illinois-based team since his return to North American open-wheel racing in 2011.

“I want to thank Sebastien for having the confidence to come back from his Formula 1 tour and join our team in 2011, and again for his commitment to the team during the past three years,” commented Team Owner Dale Coyne. “It is not a decision we take lightly, but due to the ever-changing landscape of Indy car racing, we have no choice but to make a change for 2020. We wish Sebastien all the best with his future racing endeavors.”

Bourdais competed under the Dale Coyne Racing banner in 2011 and 2017 and Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan for the 2018 and 2019 IndyCar seasons. In that time, Bourdais has won back to back races at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, his home town event, and scored three other podium finishes. He returned from a horrific crash in qualifying for the 2017 Indianapolis 500 to win his second season opener at St. Petersburg in 2018. Bourdais has been one of the, if not the quickest Honda in Indianapolis 500 qualifying in each of the past three years.

“I want to thank Dale, Jimmy and Sulli for giving me this opportunity to continue racing in the NTT IndyCar Series over the past few years,” remarked Bourdais, “I look forward to pursuing new opportunities in racing in the years ahead.”

Vasser-Sullivan Racing Co-Owners, Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, said: “We both want to thank Sebastien for the outstanding job he did driving for our teams KVSH Racing and Dale Coyne Racing Vasser-Sullivan. Looking back Seb has driven 84 races for us. In that time, we captured poles and won a lot of races. Sebastien is a great friend, a great driver, a true champion and a fantastic ambassador for our partners and Indy car racing. We wish him the best of luck in the next phase of his career where we hope there will be an opportunity for us to race together again.”

The team is exploring several options in order to complete its driver lineup for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series and an announcement will be made in the near future.

About Dale Coyne Racing:

Dale Coyne Racing (DCR) is an NTT IndyCar Series team based in Plainfield, IL, 40 miles southwest of downtown Chicago. The team has participated in every season of the INDYCAR/Champ Car World Series since 1984. DCR earned its first IndyCar win in 2009 with the late, great Justin Wilson at Watkins Glen and picked up its most recent one after becoming back to back winners on the Streets of St. Petersburg with driver Sebastien Bourdais in 2018. Team owner Dale Coyne is a true racer with a long history in racing. As an Indy car driver for five years, and a team owner for more than 30 years, he is among the most experienced team owners in the Series paddock and highly respected by his peers. Coyne is a Midwestern entrepreneur who designed and built Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, IL. He and Tony George, along with International Speedway Corporation (ISC), expanded the facility by forming a partnership and building Chicagoland Speedway. Coyne served as president of the facility through its construction and opening season and served on its management committee until its eventual buyout by ISC in 2007. The DCR Team Owner has several other investments, including being the largest Sonny’s BBQ franchisee in the country.

About Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan:

Dale Coyne Racing w/ Vasser-Sullivan is owned by veteran driver, team owner and successful businessman Dale Coyne (Owner of Dale Coyne Racing), and partners with Vasser-Sullivan owned by 1996 IndyCar champion Jimmy Vasser and sports marketer James “Sulli” Sullivan (co-owners of Vasser-Sullivan). Vasser-Sullivan also co-own AIM VASSER SULLIVAN competing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship campaigning two Lexus RC F GT3s. Dale Coyne Racing w/Vasser-Sullivan is based in Plainfield, IL, located about 40 miles southwest of downtown Chicago.

Rick Mears on film …

Posted: November 15, 2019 in Uncategorized