American Motorsports Timeline (continued)
January 8, 2010
Compiled by Gene Crucean
Indy attempted to slow cars even further by again reducing fuel consumption to 37.5 gallons – it did not. Magnaflux tests were used for the first time at Indy. Parts were magnetized then dipped in oil containing iron filings to reveal cracks. And Indy also placed asphalt patches over the rough bricks in sections in the corners.
With the sandy beach at Daytona too short and rough for 300 mph land speed attempts (causing tourist numbers to fall), former big car and LSR driver Sig Haugendahl suggested building a three mile course using 1 ½ mile of paved highway and 1 ½ mile of beach. At completion, the AAA sanctioned a 250 mile stock car race. The $5000 purse attracted a large field including Indy 500 winner Bill Cummings, Bill Schindler, Doc MacKenzie and Bob Sall. The race was won by Milt Marion in a Ford after it was stopped at 200 miles due to track deterioration. Bill France finished fifth…and his imagination was sparked (3-8-1936).
The Vanderbilt Trophy (nee Vanderbilt Cup) was revived and raced on a road and dirt circuit at Roosevelt Airfield, Long Island, NY. Tazio Nuvolari, who was the last entry, won the 300 miler in an Alfa.
After the 21st man was killed, the Legion Ascot Speedway in Los Angeles closed (it had opened in 1924.) Top of page
Indy began to open regulations to more pure racing cars as the worst of the depression was over. The 366 ci limit was retained but superchargers were permitted and fuel consumption limits were lifted.
The Vanderbilt Trophy was run a second time on dirt tracks linking the runways of Roosevelt Air-Field. Bernd Rosemeyer won in an Auto Union over Dick Seaman and Rex Mays. Top of page
Indy dropped the unpopular 366 cu inch displacement and set a new limit of 274 inches. And single seaters were back. For the first time in a decade, the Indy and European formulas were the same. Top of page
Chicago industrialist Mike Boyle bought three Maseratis, the first cars at Indy to use torsion bars. Wilber Shaw won in the Boyle Spl., a Maserati. Defending winner Floyd Roberts was killed during the race.
Indy paved all but the middle section of the main straightaway with asphalt. The unpaved section remained brick. And Carl Fisher, the driving force behind the building of the Speedway died in Miami of sclerosis of the liver (7-16-1939). Top of page
The Ed Walsh owned, Tom Joyce 7-Up Spl. #28, driven by Sam Hanks, qualified for the Indy 500. Although the car was a re-design and rebuild of an old Miller chassis, Frank Kurtis later considered this his first Indy car. The car crashed in practice a day prior to the race and did not compete.
A race morning fire in the Indy garages destroyed 3 cars and caused much damage.
WWII brought an end to racing in the US and Europe. In the years prior to the war, European racing was dominated by the German Mercedes and Auto Union teams which had the full support of Hitler. The successful rear engine Auto Union inspired Harry Miller to build the rear engine Gulf-Millers for Indy racing. Top of page
During the 1942 – 1945 period, the AAA ceased all sanctioning activities due to the war (2-1942) and later, the US government ordered auto racing to end until war’s end effective 7-10-42 (extended later to 7-30-42). Harry Miller died in poverty of facial cancer in Detroit (1943). The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) was formed by seven sports car enthusiasts in Boston (2-26-1944). Rickenbacker sold the dilapidated Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Terre Haute, IN businessman Anton “Tony” Hulman for $700,000 – Hulman appointed Wilber Shaw, who helped facilitate the deal, as president (11-14-1945). War driven technology provided advancements that would impact racing going forward, e.g. high stress building techniques, radial tires, cast alloy wheels, disc brakes, fuel injection, turbochargers, monocoque construction and higher octane fuels. Indy retained the pre-war formula but reduced car weight to encourage entry of the lighter weight, Offy powered, dirt track cars. Top of page
George Robson’s Sparks engine was and is only the second 6 cylinder motor to win the Indy 500. Ray Harroun in 1911 was the other.
Fred Offenhauser sold his engineering company to three-time Indy winner Louie Meyer and Dale Drake (who promptly hired Leo Goossen).
Bill France planned to promote a 100 mile stock car race in Charlotte. Seeking an AAA sanction, he contacted Jim Lamb, secretary of the AAA Contest Board. Lamb refused to extend a sanction, telling France “We are only interested in the big stuff”. Top of page
In a meeting in the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, William Henry Getty France oversaw the formation of NASCAR (12-14-1947).
A group of top Indy drivers organized a union, ASPAR, and threatened to boycott the 500 unless their demands were met (their use of collective bargaining leverage was much like CART’s actions later in the 1990’s). The Speedway held firm and the union collapsed. However, its actions, in concert with inclement weather during the late month, cut the starting field to only 30 cars. Top of page
Bill France incorporated NASCAR with himself as sole owner (2-21-1948). Six days prior, France held NASCAR’s first race on the beach at Daytona. It was won by Red Byron who went on to win the first championship – he was driving a modified stock car (NASCAR’s “Strictly Stock” class, which would evolve into the Grand National/Winston Cup/Nextel Cup class, did not run its initial race until next year).
The Pat Clancy six-wheeler, driven by Billy Devore to 12th place at Indy, was the first to use magnesium wheels. And mechanical fuel injection, developed by Stuart Hilborn and Jim Travers, first appeared at the Speedway. Jimmy Jackson qualified the Keck front drive car 7th but switched back to carburetors for the race.
The AAA crowned the first national midget champion, Roy Sherman. Top of page
NASCAR conducted its first “Strictly Stock” race at Charlotte, NC, Speedway, a three-quarter mile fairgrounds dirt oval (6-19-1949). It was won by Jim Roper in a Lincoln (which he had driven to the racetrack from Kansas). The initial winner, Glen Dunaway, who was driving a Ford (which was also used to haul whiskey), was disqualified for illegal modifications (stiffer rear springs). Red Byron won the second race at Daytona Beach in an Oldsmobile on 7-10-1948 and went on to win the inaugural championship. Top of page
At Indy, cars designed and built by Frank Kurtis are successful and ubiquitous. Twenty-five rookie drivers, many from the west coast midget and roadster circuits, passed their driving tests.
On March 8, 1950 the AAA announced it would sanction stock car racing for the first time since before WWII.
In Europe, the FIA established a World Grand Prix Driving Championship for its Formula 1 cars. Italy’s Giuseppe Farina was the first champion. Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio made his F1 debut.
The FIA also established a Formula 3 class for 500 cc cars. As an indication of racing’s future, an English garage owner named Charles Cooper began a successful run in F3 with a rear engine chassis design. His successes eventually would carry him and his chassis concept to the highest levels in racing.
Hershel McGriff of Portland, OR. won the initial Carrera Panamerica Road Race in a 1950 Olds-Mobile 88. The race was a grueling, 6 day, 2,096 mile race from Juarez in the North to El Ocotal in the South. The annual event was designed to celebrate the opening of the new Panamerican Highway. Top of page
Speeds at Indy increased due to improved car handling. The Conze brothers were the first to use disc brakes (developed for aircraft) at Indy. And Frank Kurtis became the first to use a wind tunnel for aerodynamic design. In late 1951, Kurtis utilized a wind tunnel at the University of Kansas while building the Cummins Diesel Spl. which would start the 1952 Indy 500 from the pole.
A NASCAR race, the Motor City 250, which was run on the one mile dirt oval at the Michigan Fairgrounds in Detroit, featured 15 American makes: Chrysler, Oldsmobile, Ford, Nash, Plymouth, Pontiac, Chevrolet, Mercury, Hudson, Packard, Lincoln, Studebaker, Kaiser, Cadillac, and Buick (8-12-1951).
In what is reported to be stock car racing’s first “factory deal”, Hudson gave Marshall Teague $1000 monthly plus a new Hornet to race for the company.
So & so won the Carrera Panamerica Road Race in a blah. A new category for the large sports cars was won by Piero Taruffi in a Ferrari 212. This year, the race reversed course, running north to south. Top of page
Offy engines and the Kurtis chassis dominate Indy. Of 33 starters, 29 are Offys and 20 cars were built by Kurtis. Cummins Engine had Kurtis design & build a car for their 401 ci diesel. Kurtis layed down the engine on its side, allowing the drive shaft to run along the side of the car. This permitted the driver, Fred Agabashian, to sit beside rather than straddle the driveshaft. The lower center of gravity car design was termed a “roadster”. Agabashian started from the pole but dropped out early with supercharger trouble. A new roadster chassis was also built by Kurtis
for oilman Howard Keck (the Fuel Injection Engineering Spl.). Driven by Bill Vukovich, the model KK500A dominated the 500 until the steering failed with only 8 laps remaining. Troy Ruttman, in a traditional dirt track chassis built by ex-Kurtis employee Eddie Kuzma, was victorious.
Chuck Stevenson, the 1952 AAA national driving champion, won the Carrera Panamerica race in a Lincoln at an average speed of 91.41 mph. The large sports car class was won by Karl Kling in a 300SL Mercedes. Top of page
The Indy 500 was characterized by the oppressive heat and the many relief drivers who participated…and by the dominance of Bill Vukovich and his Kurtis roadster.
Chuck Stevenson again won the Carrera Panamerica in a Lincoln. Juan Fangio won the large sports car class with his Lancia D24.
The first flag-to-flag radio broadcast of the Indy 500 occurred. Previously, race bulletins and occasional live radio reports began in 1922.
Eighteen year old AJ Foyt won his first race, a 5 lap trophy dash in a midget event at Arrow-head Speedway in Houston, TX (7-11-1953). On 9-22-1053 Foyt made his AAA debut in a midget event at Oklahoma City, OK. He was 28th fastest in quals and finished 4th in the semi-feature. Top of page
In the fall, Chevrolet introduced its new V-8 engine. The popular engine took over the performance market and spawned an even greater parts aftermarket.
Ray Crawford won the final Carrera Panamerica race in a Lincoln. The large sports car class was won by Umberto Maglioli in a Ferrari 375 over teammate Phil Hill. The inaugural race was held in 1950, however, it was abandoned after the 1954 event due to the many spectator fatalities. Top of page
Bob Sweikert’s win in the Indy 500 in a Kurtis KK500C roadster was the fifth win for Kurtis in the last six years – it was also his last. Sweikert also became the AAA national champ and Mid-west sprint car champion (never before accomplished). However, the titles were the last for AAA which began its involvement in racing in 1909. Tragedy hit hard with several deaths including two time Indy winner Bill Vukovich. In Europe, former world champ Alberto Ascari was killed at Monza. And, on 6-12-1955, 83 spectators were killed and over 100 injured in history’s worst
accident which occurred at Le Mans, France. Racing was then banned in Switzerland, Mexico & Spain. A ban was proposed in Congress but it failed. The AAA ceased involvement with domestic racing and was replaced by the newly formed United States Auto Club (USAC). Top of page
At Indy, two-thirds of the starting field were Kurtis chassis, however, Pat Flaherty won in a roadster built by A.J. Watson who based his car design around the Kurtis he had wrenched to victory with Sweikert the previous year. USAC’s inaugural national champion was Jim Bryan, driving the Dean Van Lines Spl. with Clint Brawner as chief mechanic. Top of page
The Indy 500 tradition of giving the pre-race order: “Gentlemen, start your engines” was begun.
The Race of Two Worlds at Monza, Italy was conducted on 6-29-1957. Intended as a race between the best of America and Europe, it failed as no European cars or drivers raced. Jimmy Bryan in the Dean Van Lines Spl. was the victor.
In the Formula One GP at Monaco, a rear engine Cooper chassis, powered by a small, 2 litre Coventry Climax engine, made its debut. Financed by wealthy Scot Rob Walker, the car finished sixth with Jack Brabham driving. Top of page
The Race of Two Worlds was again held at Monza. This time with Formula One drivers and cars participating. Jim Rathmann was the winner in the John Zink Offy.
Paul Goldsmith, driving a Pontiac, won the last race held on the sandy beach and road circuit at Daytona Beach.
The Argentine GP was a battle between Mike Hawthorne and Luigi Musso in Ferraris and Sterling Moss in a blue Cooper T45. The leading Ferraris pitted for tires while Moss did not…and won. Moss’ car was owned by Rob Walker and was the first rear engine car to score a GP win, thereby forever altering the course of race car design.
In England, Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth established Cosworth Engineering to develop racing engines from Ford production engines. Top of page
In Europe, rear engine cars were beginning to dominate. Jack Brabham, in a 2.5 litre Cooper Climax, won the Formula One driving championship.
Formula One returned to the US, racing at Hendrick Field near Sebring, FL. Twenty-two year old Bruce McLaren became the youngest ever (to date) to win an F1 race. Indy winner Rodger Ward participated in a Kurtis chassis, Offy midget.
The last championship car race to be won by a Kurtis chassis was at Langhorne. Van Johnson won a 100 miler in a KK4000 dirt chassis (6-14-1959).
USAC mandated roll bars and long sleeve, flame retardant uniforms for champ car racing.
Bill France completed a 2.5 mile tri-oval superspeedway at Daytona Beach, FL. The inaugural stock car race, the Daytona 500, was won by Lee Petty in an Oldsmobile (2-22-1959).
Prior to the Daytona 500, Marshall Teague ran 171.82 mph during practice. It was the fastest unofficial lap on an American closed course. His car was the streamlined Sumar Spl., an Indy car (2-9-1959). Two days later, Teague’s car spun, lifts then flips. Teague was killed in what is America’s first aero-related accident. Top of page
The Indy 500 was the last in which all 33 starters were powered by an Offy.
Phil Hill won the Italian GP in a Ferrari, becoming the first American to win a GP since Jimmy Murphy in 1921.
The US GP was held at Riverside, CA. Sterling Moss, in a Lotus 18, took the pole and won the race. Top of page
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway pave with asphalt the brick section of the main straightaway, leaving only a yard of bricks at the start/finish line.
Defending world driving champion Jack Brabham finished ninth in the Indy 500 driving a rear-engine Cooper Climax. The car was similar to his 1960 GP championship car except the suspension was modified and the engine was offset to the left. The smaller engined car was 10 mph slower than the regular roadsters on the straights but 5 mph faster in the turns. The car was also more fuel efficient.
American Phil Hill won the world driving championship in a Ferrari, and became the first American to do so.
Innes Ireland won the US GP at Watkins Glen in a Lotus works car. Surprisingly, Ireland was then fired by Colin Chapman and replaced for 1962 by Scotsman Jimmy Clark.
USAC consolidated their Eastern and Midwest sprint car titles into a national championship – which was won by Parnelli Jones. Regional titles commenced in 1929 when Mel Kenealy was crowned AAA Pacific Coast Champion. Top of page
Dan Gurney persuaded Colin Chapman to visit and watch the 1962 Indy 500. For 1963, Chapman, in concert with Ford Motor Co., combined energies and resources to produce the Lotus 29, powered by a lightweight 4.2 litre V-8. In qualifications, Parnelli Jones put his 252 ci Offy roadster on the pole. He also led much of the race. Fifth starting Jim Clark, in the Lotus, ran with him most of the race. Jones began leaking oil and, amid controversy over whether to use the black flag, won the race with Clark second. It was not clear to all that rear engine technology was to be the future of the Indy 500. The Ford V-8 engine would win its initial race at Milwaukee later in the year then go on to win a total of 85 victories. Top of page
Of the 33 Indy 500 starters, 12 were rear engined. Clark, Dan Gurney and Bob Marshman were fastest in Lotus Fords but were sidelined. AJ Foyt won, the last time for a front engine roadster.
The second lap Eddie Sachs/Dave MacDonald inferno brought out the red flag – the first time the 500 was halted for an accident. The fiery accident also resulted in USAC banning gasoline. The race also was the first to be broadcast live on television (closed circuit, movie theatres, etc.). Top of page
Jim Clark won the Indy 500 in a Lotus 38 – the first victory at Indy for a rear engine car. Arnie Knepper finished 18th in the Tassi Vatis owned Konstant Hot Spl. This was the last Kurtis chassis to race at Indy. And Bob Mathouser attempted to qualify the Chevy powered, front wheel drive, Mickey Thompson built, Challenger at Indy. He hit a speed of 153.374 mph. This remains the fasted lap recorded for a front wheel drive car.
The last USAC championship car race to be won by a roadster was at Phoenix and was won by Don Branson (3-28-1965). Top of page
Graham Hill won the Indy 500 in a Lola Ford and became the first rookie to win since George Souders in 1927. The field included 24 Ford V-8’s and 9 Offys. Of the Ford rear engine cars, 5 were built by Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers shop and were known as Eagles. Only 7 cars were running at the finish – a record. Top of page
Andy Granatelli, long-time Indy entrant, developed and entered a gas turbine for Parnelli Jones to drive. The “Whooshmobile” and Jones dominated the race but, with three laps remaining, a bearing failed giving the win to AJ Foyt, his third victory. Bobby Grim, in a Watson Turbo-Offy, became the last front engine roadster to make the field.
Jim Clark won the Dutch GP at Zandvoort in a Lotus powered by the Cosworth DFV engine. The engine became one of the most dominant in racing history, eventually winning 155 grands prix over 17 years. The engine, in its DFX form, would make its Indy debut in 1976 and would begin to dominate American racing.
Dan Gurney, in his own Eagle chassis, was victorious in the Belgian GP at Spa. It was the first all American (car and driver) win since Jimmy Murhpy and Duesenberg in 1921. And, following his victory in the 24 hour event at Le Mans, Gurney began the now common practice of spraying victory lane celebrants with champagne. Top of page
Colin Chapman and Andy Granatelli entered turbine powered Lotus 56 chassis in the Indy 500. Offenhauser developed a turbocharged engine to compete with the Fords and turbines. Thirteen cars in the race chose Offies including Bobby Unser in a Gurney Eagle chassis. Jim Clark, who was scheduled to drive one of the turbines, was killed in a Formula 2 race at Hockenheim when his car hit a tree. His place on the team was filled by Mike Spence who was then killed during practice at Indy. Lotus teammates Joe Leonard and Art Pollard saw their turbines stop near race end, each with victory in sight. Unser’s Eagle/Turbo-Offy won. The turbine era became history.
The first USAC championship race to be run at night, under the arcs, was held at Nazareth on the 1.125 dirt dirt oval. The race was won by Al Unser. And Dan Gurney became the first to wear a full face, “Bell Star” helmet during the 500.
Mario Andretti and his Lotus 49B won the pole position at the US Grand Prix in his very first race. Top of page
The first USAC championship race to be run in the rain was at Seattle International Raceway, a 2.25 mile road course. The race was won by Al Unser. Top of page
Treadless tires, or slicks, were used for the first time at Indianapolis. Top of page
USAC separated its dirt tracks from its national championship circuit and formed a separate all-dirt division. Now the Indy car national champion was determined exclusively on pavement. Top of page
At Indy, the addition of bolt-on rear wings increased speeds drastically. In 1971, Peter Revson had recorded a fast lap of 178.696 mph. In 1972, Bobby Unser’s pole winning speed in his turbo-Offy Eagle was 195.940, an incredible 17 mph increase. The McLaren M16’s of Roger Penske, driven by Gary Bettenhausen and Mark Donohue were fast with Bettenhausen dominating the race. But mechanical problems sidelined him and Donohue went on to win, also scoring McLaren’s first victory.
AJ Foyt won the Daytona 500 stock car race, becoming the first driver to win there, the Indy 500 and Le Mans. Top of page
All 33 starters at Indy were turbocharged, 22 of them were Offys which produced 1000 hp. Johnny Rutherford hit 199.071 in a McLaren. Eagle chassis were used by 26 of the 33. Art Pollard was killed in practice. A chain reaction crash on the first lap badly injured Salt Walther and 13 fans who were sprayed with burning fuel. Rains stopped the race then postponed it until the third day. Early leader Swede Savage hit the wall, disintegrating his Eagle and dying days later. A pit mechanic was struck and killed by a rescue truck. It rained again after a restart and officials ended the race, declaring leader Gordon Johncock the winner in a Eagle Offy.
The most powerful closed track race car built to date was the 5.4 litre, turbocharged Can-Am Porsche Spyder which produced 1,100 hp (it remains to today). The car was driven by Mark Donohue. The 12 cylinder car was owned by Roger Penske.
American Peter Revson won the British GP at Silverstone in a McLaren.
USAC opened its sprint and midget divisions to rear engine equipment. In sprints, Tom Sneva scored 6 wins and 5 fast times in 17 races driving a rear engine car. Top of page
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