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Look! It's Gizgo! [Jun. 1st, 2017|06:29 pm]
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[Tags|, , , ]
[Current Location |Old Hio]
[mood |cheerfulcheerful]

Still obsessing cheerfully over the Five Hundred. I'm quite enjoying myself here :)

Takuma Sato is the first Japanese driver to win at the Speedway. To find the first Japanese member of a winning crew, we have to go back considerably further. To the best of my knowledge, it was the redoubtable Takeo Hirashima, who went by the nickname "Chickie" (not a clue why).

He started as a mechanic sometime in the 1930s. In 1935, he became a riding mechanic* on Paul Weirick's team, riding with pole-sitter Rex Mays.

He rode with Mays again in 1936, when Mays was on the pole once again, albeit with an engine built by Art Sparks, rather than his previous engine builder Harry Miller. For '37, Hirashima followed Sparks to Joel Thorne's team, where he rode with Jimmy Snyder, who set the one lap record in qualifying (although he left it until too late to win the pole).In 1938, American racing returned to a more normal formula with single-seat racing cars, which ended the riding mechanic's position.

In 1946, he was once again with Joel Thorne, whose driver George Robson won the race. The engine was the Sparks "Little Six" (probably one of the very few racing engines in history to actually have an individual name), the same one that had powered Snyder's 1937 run.

His win as crew chief with the Ken Paul team in 1960 gave rise to a long-running controversy. Ken Paul basically allowed his driver, Jim Rathmann, to choose whoever he wanted for his crew. He got Hirashima to be his crew chief, but also signed up Smokey Yunick (he of the curious hat). Yunick had apparently understood that he and Hirashima were co-chiefs, and worked on that basis. Throughout that month of May, Hirashima did the engine and power train (which is what he liked best anyway), and Yunick supervised the crew and ran the garage and pit. Yunick most assuredly ran the team on race day. It wasn't until the Victory Banquet, the night after the race, that Yunick discovered that he was listed on the entry as a mechanic, and not as a chief. Considering that he spent the next 40 years bitching loudly about this to anyone who would listen**, I have to assume that he sincerely believed himself to have been promised a co-chief's position. Interestingly, he never blamed Chickie Hirashima or Ken Paul for this, but only Jim Rathmann.

That same year of 1960, Hirashima was also the engine builder for Rodger Ward, who came in second. Again in 1962, he was the engine builder for Rodger Ward and Len Sutton, who finished first and second. He was also Sutton's crew chief that year, so racked up two wins and two seconds as engine builder, and a first and a second as crew chief. He finally retired in 1964.

* Depression racers lasted from 1930 to 1937. In an attempt to make racing more affordable (as AAA was having trouble getting enough entries to make a full field, especially at lesser tracks), they mandated large, normally-aspirated engines (essentially passenger engine rebuilds), and a two-man cockpit, with driver and riding mechanic. The reasoning behind this was that, as racing cars of the day were built on a frame rail chassis, exactly as passenger cars are still to this day, making the cars wider would allow builders to use passenger car frames, along with the original steering gear, half-axles and suspensions. It didn't work exactly as intended, but did produce plentiful and in many cases very cool-looking cars. From '30 through '37, the Five Hundred was more or less a hotrod race.

** And he was salty. My favourite Smokey Yunick quote was to the effect that Bill France (head of NASCAR) would have to repeat fifth grade five times before he'd even be eligible for an idiot's license. Of Jim Rathmann, he said "If he dies before I do, they better bury him in a water-proof suit and goggles."

Original posted at http://rain-gryphon.dreamwidth.org/12700.html
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In all that vast host of men... [Jun. 1st, 2017|12:01 am]
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[Tags|, , , , ]
[Current Location |Old Hio]
[mood |cheerfulcheerful]

So, now I'm back home from Memorial Day. I got to see Takuma Sato, one of my favourite drivers, win the Indianapolis Five Hundred, and hang out with mom for a few days as well.

*****

It's probably safe to say that Takuma Satop isn't one of this fellow's favourites. I think that on the one hand, it's sad that anyone would still feel resentful three-quarters of a century after the war*, but on the other hand, firing the man was IMHO an over-reaction.

* A war, moreover, in which we administered one of history's most comprehensive beatdowns since Carthage pissed off Rome, then completed our victory by rebuilding their society to be pro-American.

*****

At 5'5", Sato is apparently the shortest man to ever win the Five Hundred. Surprisingly, he's one of about six or so who won their first Five Hundred when they were over 40 years of age.

*****

Delicious cherries and cold milk! Now we'll see if I'm harder to kill than Ol' Zachary Taylor.

*****

When regarding the hundreds of thousands at the Speedway, I'm always reminded of Hannibal's statement before the battle of Cannae, as true today as it was then: "In all that vast host of men, there is not one named Gizgo".

*****

Space-X static fires a Falcon Heavy core unit. I love Elon Musk's attitude: "One way or another, launch is guaranteed to be exciting".

*****

I am disappointed in the Smithsonian. When you're converting the thrust to rotary motion, it's no longer a "jet". It's a turbine engine.

Original posted at http://rain-gryphon.dreamwidth.org/12425.html
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Echoes of a Distant Time [May. 25th, 2017|10:00 pm]
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[Tags|, , , , ]
[Current Location |Not too far from Indiana]
[mood |cheerfulcheerful]
[music |Pink Floyd: Echoes]

So, while looking for my pocket AM/FM radio, I found, in a plastic storage box... The cookie (an almond biscotti) that Delta gave me on the flight when I returned from Findra's funeral. I don't remember saving it, but that's most assuredly what it is. It's wrapped in airtight Mylar, and probably still good. I may make some kind of remembrance ceremony out of eating it.

*****

So, I started thinking about the history of rear-engined cars at the Speedway...

1923 could well have been the year that rear-engined cars started to be used at Indianapolis. Mercedes Benz sent a three car factory team that year. It was headed by the great Christian Lautenschlager, so was obviously a serious effort. Benz at the time was deep into development on their rear-engined Tropfenwagen, but unfortunately, it would be September of that year before it finally raced, and then didn't prove very successful.

In 1937, Marmon Automotive brought what was, so far as I know, the first rear-engined car to Indianapolis. It practiced throughout the month of May, driven by Lee Oldfield, but had issues, and never (I think) even attempted a qualifying run.

Harry Miller, in 1938, brought his two "Cars from Mars", based on the Auto-Union B-type design, to the Speedway. One was wrecked in practice, but the other qualifed, and was raced by George Bailey. Both cars came back in '39, '40, and '41, and showed themselves competitive, but not dominant. One car was ruined in the garage fire in 1941 on the morning of the race, so that only one competed that year.

After the War, Miller was done with racing, and sold the two cars to his semi-deranged chief engineer, Preston Tucker. Tucker raced them both in '46 and '47, adding a pair of conventionally-designed Lencki dirt-cars to field a four-car team in 1947. Caught up in financial difficulties by the collapse of his passenger car company, the team folded, and didn't reappear in 1948.

1946 saw an entry which was technically both a front and rear engined car. The Fageol Special, designed and built by bus manufacturer Lou Fageol, had two engines, one in front, and one in back, with four-wheel drive. He expected the weight balance to give the car superior handling and reduced tire wear. The fatal weakness of the design was in the fact that each engine had its own drive train and gearbox - the only thing coordinating them was the throttle linkage. The handling was described as "different". In the race, Paul Russo, no small talent as a driver, managed to keep the thing under control for 16 laps before he finally spun and crashed. Fageol came back next year with a much more conventional front-engined design.

1947 saw one other rear-engined car come to the Speedway. This was the remarkably modern-looking Rounds Rocket, itself based on the Auto-Union D-type. The car had fundamental suspension design issues which made it difficult to control in the turns, and was withdrawn, never to return.

After that, no rear-engined car was entered until 1961, when Jack Brabham competed in an underpowered Cooper Formula One car, and managed a ninth-place finish. Within five years, the revolution was complete, with Bobby Grim's 1966 drive in a Watson being the last front-engined car ever to compete. Interestingly, this was also the first car to compete using straight methanol fuel with a turbocharger, so marked a beginning as well as an end.

You continued to see the occasional front-engined entry through the 60s and 70s, but none ever qualified. Jim Hurtubise brought the last one to the track in 1980, more to hang out in the garage with his old buddies than to try to put it in the race.

Edit: Also, I think, (I'm pretty sure, actually) that Grim's 1966 Watson is the same car that Gary Bettenhausen took his rookie test in in 1968.

Original posted at http://rain-gryphon.dreamwidth.org/12251.html
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Chuck Hulse! [May. 24th, 2017|11:38 pm]
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[Tags|, , ]
[Current Location |Not too far from Indiana]
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |Me: Blow the Kangaroo Up!]

Woohoo! Found my final front-engine driver, more or less by process of elimination. It's Chuck Hulse! Of the seven, he's the only one that I'd not consider a huge name at Indianapolis, but even then, he was good. He finished in the top 10 twice in only four starts at the Speedway. He's also the only one that I never saw race. He retired with injuries after a short career, and never really did any racing after that.

I had a lot of fun running that down. I'd forgotten about a lot of things, as well.

Original posted at http://rain-gryphon.dreamwidth.org/11998.html
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Laydown! [May. 24th, 2017|06:28 pm]
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[Tags|, ]
[Current Location |Not too far from Indiana]
[mood |bouncybouncy]

So, time to put bad news behind one, and spend the next few days obsessing over the Five Hundred, I think. This feels very good right now.

*****

Of the six drivers I've identified so far, I have seen every one of them race. Foyt, Unser, Rutherford, and Johncock in the Five Hundred itself, and Jones and Goldsmith (both long-retired before I started going to the track) in the Legends of Racing series when it came to Raceway Park some years back. I'll be gone pretty soon myself, I think, but I've seen some amazing things and people.

*****

The car that Goldsmith drove to third place in 1960 was that Epperly "laydown" that Jim Hurtibise set the track record with in 1961. Quinn Epperly's cars were always works of art to begin with, and this one was no exception.

Norm Demler, who owned the car, had a somewhat offbeat sense of humour, and in consequence had the grillework in the shape of his initials. It was also a common practice at the time to extend the driver's headrest back into a big tailfin, on the theory that this reduced drag. This car, for whatever reason, was built without one. Demler subsequently put that goofy little "shark fin" on the back, which you can get a good look at in:

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/56/ba/ca/56bacac028163ab5efad89b1e32928ed.jpg

The page I found this on misidentifies the car as the Salih Offenhauser. This was apparently taken at the Monterey Classics in 2007, which is a bit of a revelation to me, as I'd long thought that the car was completely destroyed in a practice crash in 1962.

I'm glad it's still around - it was a fierce old car. George Amick drove it to second place in its 1958 debut, and then Goldsmith took fifth and third with it the next two years. Hurtibise set a lap record with it in 1961, and led the early part of the race until the engine started going away.

Original posted at http://rain-gryphon.dreamwidth.org/11652.html
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And One More! [May. 24th, 2017|04:39 am]
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[Current Location |Not Far from Indiana]
[mood |cheerfulcheerful]

Paul Goldsmith, amazingly enough, is still around. Now I've identified six of the seven men surviving to have raced front-engined cars in the Five Hundred. Goldsmith never won the Five Hundred, but he's another one woho could easily have done so. He finished third in 1960, part of that titanic five-way duel with Jim Rathmann, Rodger Ward, Johnny Thomson, and Don Branson. He stalked the leaders, and took care of his car all day long, then undertook a late-race charge to the front. Sadly, he left it until a few laps too late - had it gone on another five laps, he may well have won.

Now I'm missing one more...

Original posted at http://rain-gryphon.dreamwidth.org/11304.html
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(no subject) [May. 22nd, 2017|11:07 pm]
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[mood |distresseddistressed]

What a disgusting display of savagery in Manchester :( The Australian has an excellent editorial.

Original posted at http://rain-gryphon.dreamwidth.org/11095.html
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And... [May. 21st, 2017|10:39 pm]
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[Current Location |Not too far from Indiana]
[mood |cheerfulcheerful]
[music |Genesis: Apocalypse in 9/8]

Takuma Sato's starting inside the second row Sunday, with an excellent car, and a strong team behind him. I'd love to see that man win the Five Hundred. He drives like an old-style sprint car driver, which so few still do these days. He's also the only man that I ever saw intimidate Michael Schumacher on the track, a performance that stays with me yet.

*****

Alonso's car is painted McLaren orange :) I'm inevitably reminded of Johnny Rutherford and the Yellow Submarine.

*****

The great Jim McElreath has died. He never won the Five Hundred, but he certainly could have. He and Bobby Unser and Art Malone were the Novi Team for 1964. Back in 1964, I don't think anyone would have bet a nickel that all three men would live to retire.

That leaves, so they say, only seven men who've driven front-engine cars for the Five Hundred. I can think of A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Parnelli Jones, and Bobby Unser right offhand. It's interesting, and probably relevant, that those four who survived those cars have eleven Indianapolis wins between them. So, if they're counting people who actually raced a front-engine car in the Five Hundred, that leaves me three short, which is going to bother me.

Gary Bettenhausen did his rookie test in a front-engine car, but didn't drive it in the race. The remarkable Ralph Liguori also drove a goodly number of front-engine cars at the Speedway (including the Kurtis-Novi that McElreath later raced), but never actually qualified for the Five Hundred, despite being an excellent all-around driver. It was like there was a curse on the poor man. It was he who, in 1969, had he not waved off his qualifying attempt, would have taken the pole as the only car to qualify on Pole Day before the downpour began, and would subsequently have been bumped from the field on the last day. That was Ralph Liguori at the Speedway.

Edit: Gordon Johncock drove a front-engine Watson in 1965! I'd forgotten that. So, thirteen victories among those five drivers...

Original posted at http://rain-gryphon.dreamwidth.org/10983.html
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Safer Barrier [May. 20th, 2017|11:28 pm]
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[Current Location |East Trumpistan]
[mood |cheerfulcheerful]

Sebastien Bourdais is lucky to be alive after a hit like that. That was the hardest impact I've seen in years. I'm glad to note that I was completely wrong about the "safer barrier", which I thought was a bad idea when they first installed it.

*****

I'm finding that I'm actually getting worked up for the Five Hundred this year, after some years of 'meh'.

Original posted at http://rain-gryphon.dreamwidth.org/10678.html
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All Alone, or in Twos... [May. 19th, 2017|11:18 pm]
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[Tags|, ]
[Current Location |East Trumpistan]
[mood |discontentdiscontent]
[music |Pink Floyd: The Wall]

In some ways, I hate Pink Floyd's "The Wall". It's solid madness, horror, disgust, and despair from beginning to end, relieved only by a tiny flicker of hope at the very end, a Pandora's Box of human failings. And despite all that, it's musically and artistically magnificent, on a par with Wagner's Tannhäuser.

Original posted at http://rain-gryphon.dreamwidth.org/10433.html
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