As I continue to develop the article on 1902, here are several images from race meetings at Brighton Beach in August, Cleveland in September, Detroit in October, and Eagle Rock in November, that I found and worked with for possible use.
As I continue to develop the article on 1902, here are several images from race meetings at Brighton Beach in August, Cleveland in September, Detroit in October, and Eagle Rock in November, that I found and worked with for possible use.
As I develop the outline for an article that will cover American automobile racing during the 1902 season, I am considering the images that I might use in that article.
The incident on Staten Island on 31 May is, of course, one of the major focal points that needs to addressed. The Baker Torpedo is an important part of the Staten Island speed trials, so I want to include several images of the ill-fated electric vehicle.
This image of the Torpedo appeared in the automotive journal, Motor World. Although easily the best of the images that I found for the Torpedo, it needs a bit of cleaning up if I am going to use it in the article.
This is the image that I will probably use in the article.
I also wish to provide a schematic drawing of the Torpedo and the Motor World article also, fortuitously, provided one:
However, I want to provide a clearer idea of the location of the batteries powering the Torpedo while also giving a better contrast as to the internal configuration of the vehicle:
I was also looking for an image of a machine on a track and found this image of Harry Harkness driving his Simplex-Mercedes at the Grosse Pointe race meeting:
However, it is a big image with a small car…
I like this image much better and thought that I might wish to consider making it look similar to many of the images that one finds in the early American automotive journals:
At this point, I think that I now have at least three images that I will use in the article.
The broad, general area that I have come to focus upon as an automotive competition historian is the first quarter-century of automobile racing in the United States, the period covering the years from 1895 to the end of the 1920 season. This is when the sport was in its formative stages and developing not only the men and machines but the necessary infrastructure for conducting racing. It was also a time when automotive contests were held in places that might seem unusual or even odd today. A century later, few New Yorkers could imagine that their city was once a major hub for American automobile racing during the dawning years of the 20th Century.
The day following Decoration Day in 1902, Staten Island was the site of speed runs sanctioned by the Automobile Club of America, which had just helped form the American Automobile Association at a meeting held in Chicago in early March. The speed runs were held on public roads, those portions of Southfield Boulevard that ran through Grant City on Staten Island. Both the flying kilometer and flying mile were the distances measured during the speed trials. The course used can be seen below:
The course map is from The Horseless Age, 28 May 1902, page 662.
I was interested in seeing what images I could find from this event as well as one held in August at Brighton Beach. Once I found the images, I wanted to see what I could do to adapt them for use in a possible article on these races. This posting will focus on Staten Island with a later one on the Brighton Beach meeting.
Here is a photograph of Percy Owen, on his 15-horsepower Winton, the winner of the 1,000 to 2,000 pound class for gasoline cars, that appeared in the New-York Daily Tribune on 1 June 1902, page 4:
Here is the same image after a few simple changes:
The speed trials on Staten Island were halted when the Baker Torpedo lost control and plunged into a crowd of spectators not far from the end of the timed run area. Two of the spectators died either at the scene or after being evacuated and a third died roughly six weeks later; a half-dozen other spectators suffered injuries severe enough to require hospitalization.The two in the Torpedo suffered only minor injuries, The crash led the ACA to pass resolutions barring the club from conducting speed contests, to include road races, on public roads.
Here is the Baker Torpedo from the front page of the New-York Tribune for 1 June 1902, showing the Torpedo prior to its speed run and then the aftermath of the crash:
I split the two images:
This image also appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune (3 June 1902, page 4) and The San Francisco Call (7 June 1902, page 6).
The 2 June 1902 edition of the Boston Globe (page 7) had an image of the Torpedo that was claimed to be taken just seconds prior to the crash:
Here is the image after a few changes:
I am beginning to grasp the ways that a few simple modifications to an image can help an image become easier to literally be seen. Those images can then be used as part of an article to literally illustrate the topic being discussed. Given the often poor quality of the images that one finds, these modifications often seem necessary to make them useable or even identifiable in some cases.
Next, I will look at images I found for the August event at Brighton Beach.
In 1964, with Understanding Media: The Extension of Man (New York: Mentor, reissued Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994) Marshal McLuhan introduced the notion that, “The medium is the message,” which then became the basis for The Medium is the Massage (London: Penguin Books, 1967, and New York: Bantam Books, 1967) which McLuhan produced with Quentin Fiore as a means to further explore that idea. It was McLuhan who also introduced the term “global village” into the lexicon of the discussion of culture. media, and the effects (and consequences) of a world increasingly connected together. A look at how various automobile museums use images on their Web sites brought McLuhan to mind, given that the images are the median for the message. I selected several automobile museums, most selected from the membership listing of the National Association of Automobile Museums, in order to examine their sites and consider their images and their uses.
The first is the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum (http://www.barbermuseum.org/index.php) located in Birmingham, Alabama. The home page shows the museum building itself with a rotating display of motorcycles in the middle of the page serving to attract the attention of the visitor to the site. As one uses the various buttons on the home page, the background to the museum is provided under the “About Us” button, several showing founder George Barber. Under the “About Us” button is a link to a gallery which provides a set of museum images along side the images of a number of motorcycles and cars found in the collection. There is also a button on the home page that opens to allow a view of the cars in the Barber collection. In general, Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum site makes good use of the images presented to entice the both the automotive historian and the enthusiast to visit the museum.
The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California (http://museum.nhra.com/index.asp) — the NHRA being the National Hot Rod Association which Parks founded in 1951 in Southern California — is located in Pomona, California, where the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds is located, the site of the first event that the NHRA sanctioned in early 1953. The images used on the home page of the Parks NHRA Museum are related to current activities of the NHRA rather than to the museum exhibits or activities itself. Using the “History” button on the home page leads one to an introduction which has an image of the museum and the board of directors, but nothing image-wise regarding the museum collection itself; for that one must click and download a page from an issue of the National Dragster, the NHRA magazine, which contains the latest museum news. However, the latest issue on the site is March 2013. Taking a look at several pages of Museum News from issues of the National Dragster, the images tend to be related to the news stories being related, probably not very interesting to an automotive historian for the most part.
The Memory Lane Museum (http://www.memorylaneautomuseum.com/Home_Page.html) is located in Mooresville, North Carolina. The images on the home page seem, well, not very dynamic or even interesting, especially to an automotive historian. Using the button on the home page to open the “Photo Galley,” the images are simply presented without captions or any explanation. While not necessarily an impediment to some within the ranks of automotive historians, others will more likely be muttering under their breath, “And, the point…?” Much like the NHRA Museum, the images and the site is not very attractive, lacking any of the dynamic elements of the Barber museum. Whatever the merits of the Memory Lane Museum might be, there is little to nothing in the message conveyed by the images on the site to excite the interest of most automotive historians.
The Simone Foundation Automotive Museum (http://simeonemuseum.org/) of Philadelphia site is similar to that of the Barber Museum, very dynamic use of images, the ones on the home page being in a rotation of 12 images. There are many images on the site, well-presented and attractive, obviously designed to spark the interest of those interested in automotive history as well as the automotive historian (the two are not necessarily synonymous). There are images of the cars in the collection as well as a link to Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/25974539@N02/) providing images from the driving demonstrations held twice a month at the museum. Overall, a very effective use of images and a very good Web site.
For those interested in automotive competition history, there are three sites that I looked at and considered their images: the International Motor Racing Research Center (http://racingarchives.org/index.php) located in Watkins Glen, New York; the Racing In America (http://www.racinginamerica.com/) exhibit of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan; and, the Revs Institute (http://revsinstitute.org/) of Naples, Florida and Sanford University. Of the three, the Revs Institute Web site is the one that effectively uses both its images and ease of accessing information to a visitor to the site. The Revs Institute at Stanford has placed the photograph collections that the institute has acquired over the years on the Stanford University digital library site (https://revslib.stanford.edu/collection), something which has become a boon to automotive historians. It should be noted that the Biennial Conference of the Society of Automotive Historians took place at the Revs Institute Program at Stanford in April 2014.
Although the Racing In America exhibit at The Henry Ford Museum does not make very good use of images on its Web site, The Henry Ford does have a Flickr site (https://www.flickr.com/photos/thehenryford/sets/) which has become very useful to automotive historians, especially those of the late Dave Friedman for automotive competition historians. The Benson Ford Research Center of The Henry Ford (http://www.thehenryford.org/research/index.aspx) has few images on the site, but provides access to images for use by automotive (and other types, of course) historians.
The International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC) Web site is rather simple and even plain, especially when compared to that of the Simone Museum or the Revs Institute. However, it does have a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/International-Motor-Racing-Research-Center/125843280761761) where images from its collection are often posted. Of course, I need to provide the disclaimer that I have been associated with the IMRRC since shortly after its opening in the summer of 1999 when it was still known as the International Motor Racing Research Library at Watkins Glen; I was part of the effort that led to its being renamed.
In addition to the use of images on Web sites related to automotive history, I also decided to take a look at the use of images in several articles that appeared in the Automotive History Review of the Society of Automotive Historians (SAH). The first is an article that appeared in Issue Number 16 (Summer 1984):
In “Automotive Deception at Indianapolis,” Jerry Gebby uses an introductory paragraph to present a story regarding deception at the International 500 Mile Sweepstakes race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which is then presented entirely in the form of images and the accompanying captions. The images used are well-chosen to represent the thesis being presented, the author placing the emphasis on the image and the captions rather than an article detailing the issue at hand, racing machines being presented as something other than what they were, such as the Chevrolet Special at the bottom of page 12 which was actually a Stutz constructed during the 1915 season. This approach appears to be an effective use of both the images and as a means to present the information.
In Issue Number 26 (Spring 1991), David Styles presents a look at Raymond Mays and the English Racing Automobiles (ERA) team that he formed in Bourne, Lincolnshire:
The use of images by Styles is very effective, providing the reader with appropriate background material in the accompanying images that allows the one to visualize what the ERA machines looked like, even if one cannot tell one “old racing car” from another. The images are integrated into the article in such as way that the text and the images work very well together. This is an excellent article that provides not only the story of the ERA team and Mays, but also opens the door for further research.
In Issue Number 39 (Fall 2002), Patricia Lee Yongue of the University of Houston provides a look at Ettore Bugatti and the all-too-brief racing career of Elisabeth Junek (born Alzbeta Pospisil). Among the other female racing drivers of the day, the Twenties, it was Junek who may have been the best, the Czech driver actually leading the 1927 Targa Florio before retiring with a broken steering column on her Bugatti Type 35B; that the course was over 67 miles in length should put the achievement in perspective. She finished fifth in the 1928 race
The images used by Yongue in the article provide a sense of place and time, which are essential for those not familiar with either Bugatti or the racing scene of that era. The arrangement of the images is important, that Yongue begins with the photograph of a demure young women sitting on the front axle of a Bugatti Type 35C sets the framework for the article, which discusses both Bugatti and Junek, neatly tying together the two themes of the article. One wishes that there may have been an additional photograph or two (or three…) in the article, especially one showing the Type 35B or Type 35C without the crease as evidenced in figure 6. It should be noted that Pat Yongue has interests in both Bugattis and female racing drivers; Pat was also the leader of the International Motor Sport History Section of the SAH prior to my being appointed as her replacement.
So, what about all these images and their placements and what they might tell the historian or that the historian might be telling us? With the Global Village now a reality, the Global Information Grid having now morphed into The Cloud, the ubiquity of the Internet and the Web, images are now not only the medium for the message, but the means by which we seem to be judging what we see in the ether. Just as the message “narrative is not your friend” has been long embraced by recent generations of historians, similarly, dull images and lifeless Web sites can send a message at odds with what those generating those images intend — dull Web site, dull museum is what results rather than the message of welcome and please visit us.
The International Motor Sport History Section of the Society of Automotive Historians
The primary reason that I joined the Society of Automotive Historians (SAH) was that it was forming a group that would be focused upon the automobile racing history, the International Motor Sport History Section (IMSHS). While I had known about the SAH for many years, it seemed that the interests of most of its members in things automotive and mine differed somewhat. My interest in automobile racing itself seemed to be at odds with their focus on the automobiles themselves, especially the mechanical and technical aspects of the cars, while my interest in such matters might best be thought of as minimal. While there was some interest in automobile racing, it was definitely something on the back, back, back burner for all but a very few. That said, there was enough interest to encourage those so inclined to launch a campaign to have a group formed within the SAH devoted to this niche within the field of automotive (and sport) history.
This effort came to my attention about 2006, during which time I was deployed to Southwest Asia. After due consideration and the usual mulling and pondering, as well as being prodded by Pat Yongue (University of Houston), I decided to join the SAH and become a part of the IMSHS that was in the process of being formed. It turned out to be something of a longer wait than I had anticipated. For whatever reasons, Joe Freeman (who idea it was to form the group, something that he did during his tenure as president of the SAH) had problems getting the group up and going, Joe then passed the baton to Pat Yongue.
The focus of the 2008 Biennial Conference of the SAH was automotive competition. I was unable to attend due to being engaged in the usual nastiness that goes with the budget process at the Pentagon as the lead functional analyst for a large chunk of the funding for the Army’s training programs. As it has been pointed out to me, it was not one of the better attended conferences and there was restrained enthusiasm for many of the panels. This seems to have done the IMSHS cause little good.
There were meetings of the IMSHS during the 2010 and 2012 SAH Biennial Conferences. As usual, I was elsewhere: in 2010 I was back in theater and in 2012 I was at Kirkland AFB working on a counter-IED program as a technical integrator at JIEDDO (Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization). At the 2012 conference, the IMSHS did have an organizational meeting (finally) to develop a set of goals and lay out an overview of the group. At the 2014 Biennial Conference, there was not a meeting of the IMSHS, one of items from 2012 being that the group would meet during the SAH conferences. The IMSHS, it seemed, was either AWOL or dead. Thus, there being little reason for me to venture to the wilds of Palo Alto and Sanford University, I stayed home. And, fumed a bit while doing so.
As one should have learned by the time one is my advanced age, be very careful what ruckuses one raises since the one stuck sorting out that ruckus almost inevitably is you. Which is say that the nice president of the SAH, after following the usual meandering bureaucratic path of an organization that is composed largely of university professors, appointed me to figure out the IMSHS problem.
I am currently working on this and will (hopefully) have figured out a campaign plan by the end of the summer.
Today, I found out that John Bishop, the founder of the International Motor Sport Association (IMSA), died. John had not been in very health in the past few years, so while this was still very sad news, it was not entirely unexpected. His wife, Peg, died last year. John and Peg were very kind to allow me to visit with them for better part of a week some years ago as part of the oral history program at the International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC) at Watkins Glen. John was a pivotal figure in helping the IMRRC become a reality. When either John and Jean Argetsinger — or both! — put the squeeze on you, resistance was futile.
I am currently in the final stages of a book review for the SAH Journal and trying to find a way to write something nice that is genuinely deserved, yet at the same time point out that the author really missed some pertinent issues related to the topic. Looking at the footnotes, I have serious reservations regarding the sources used in the research, which appears to have affected the interpretations found in the book. This is scarcely the first time I have encountered this sort of thing, but we get so few books on the topic that despite one’s issues with various points, one still wishes for the book to be read — both to encourage others to do work in this area as well as keep books appearing.
The Nostalgia Forum first saw the light of day on 13 November 1999. It was a new forum on the Bulletin Board of what was then Atlas F1. It was not the first internet forum to be focused on the history of automobile racing, but there was a time it was undoubtedly — and by far — the very best such forum on the Web. Period.
None of the other similar fora really came close at the time, and none have since then.
The Nostalgia Forum, or TNF as it was always referred to, was both the outgrowth from my Rear View Mirror column for the Atlas F1 Journal and the need for a dedicated history forum given the persistent problems with the general Atlas F1 forum.
It did not get off to a great start, but it did manage to grow and develop over the years. That it managed to attract a great number of literate and knowledgeable people, many of whom who had a good grounding in the history of motor sport. It played a central role in several hard looks at various stories or myths associated with the sport, as well as being literally the forum for several important research efforts. Halcyon days, indeed.
Due to a number of issues and conflicts with the editor of Atlas F1 that I will not go into, some trivia and some very serious, I departed Atlas F1 in September 2004. I quit both writing my column and serving as the moderator of TNF. Although I did return after a period and participate in the discussions, things for me were never quite the same, of course.
After Atlas F1 was acquired by Haymarket and re-branded as Autosport.com, there were few noticeable changes on TNF, the forum continuing to function, almost on cruise control, which was one notions I had attempted to embed into the forum from very early on. That my successor as moderator took a very hands-off approach to the forum made this self-policing trait a fortunate one, one that, however, was less and less evident as time passed and there was little — if any — direction to the forum.
In the Spring of 2010, as Joseph Heller put it, Something Happened. Several members of TNF, Michael Ferner and Allen Brown, for reasons of their own, decided to “out” one of the long-time characters on TNF, “Buford.” This was actually an attack on Buford. I was still deployed on my second tour in Southwest Asia when this happened. Having known Buford for many years at this point, I protested and condemned what Michael Ferner and Allen Brown had done.
Both Ferner and Brown were suspended for their action. Ferner returned using a new “name” — using his own in place of the previous “Fines” — and Brown served out whatever the term of suspension was, relatively short as I recall, and then returned and continues to participate. Unfortunately, this incident led to Buford pretty much abandoning TNF. His absence was something of a blow, at least to me, given that Buford was exactly what he said he was, to say nothing of his adding some much needed color and character to the forum.
In the sort of bizarre scenario that Kafka would have truly appreciated, I was tossed into the outer darkness, banished or banned or exiled or something. No warning, no explanation, no nothing. Needless to say, this did not go over well with me. It was a matter of simple courtesy, if nothing else.
Although I continued to “lurk” at TNF, it was evident that the forum was missing something, my absence being rather inconsequential in all honesty. In August 2013, after a few efforts to return, none of which were very serious, I managed to return to TNF. This was due in no small part to a massive forum update and the usual lack of involvement by the moderator, Stuart Dent.
The implementation of the new format and layout of the forum was seriously botched by the Autosport.com folks. It is now literally an eyesore, the bland, uninspiring layout being difficult on the eyes. The “upgrade” also dropped into the “archives” all those threads and posts prior to 1 January 2011 being locked away. Of course, more than a few of the threads genuinely deserve that fate, but one of the things that made TNF unique was that nothing was ever archived given that information might later emerge regarding the issue and, thus, updating the thread. Needless to say, this demonstrates the regard — obviously very little — with which Autosport holds TNF.
Since the update, there seems to be a very noticeable drop in both quantity and quality at TNF.
At any rate, I managed to last on TNF until the forum’s 14th birthday, when I was once again tossed out, Stu Dent being unable to tolerate my presence — as muted and low profile as it was, it would seem. What is different this time around is that it really does not matter. It was the unfortunate dullness and lifelessness of the forum combined with the irony of being booted on the forum’s anniversary that finally cut the Gordian Knot solving the situation that, unfortunately, allowed me to stay tied to the forum.
So, at least as far as I am concerned, The Nostalgia Forum and dead and gone. Given the direction it seems to be headed, this might be the case for many others — and, perhaps, the forum itself. The only way for TNF to begin to save itself is to finally ditch Stu Dent, who is for all intents and purposes an absentee landlord and scarcely involved in its activities, and finally replace him with someone who might be able to turn the forum around and point it along the correct azimuth. Nine years is long enough, especially given that the forum is clearly in a serious decline, something Obvious to Even the Untrained Eye. Along with this, there should be some effort put in making the site layout and format more akin to what it once was, along with restoring the archived threads.
Needless to say, I am not holding my breath…
RIP, TNF, it was great knowing you!
Here are links to the post-Atlas F1 edition of Rear View Mirror:
Here is a link to the very first Rear View Mirror column that appeared on 21 April 1999:
I cannot post a link to the final RVM column, published on 8 September 2004, given that it is now hidden behind a paywall at the Autosport.com site, but here it is from my personal records. It was written while I was in what is an all too obvious foul mood, the situation at Atlas F1 finally reaching the point where I had decided that it was intolerable. Certainly not one of the better columns, but not the worst either…
The Persistence of Memory
I don’t know why I bother.
It was a bit of a jolt to realize that it was about a decade or so ago that I really began to end my irrevocable drift from contemporary race fan to racing historian. Although my interest in motor racing history was almost as old as my interest in racing itself, by the mid-1990s this was my primary interest in motor racing. While I have often wondered exactly why the contemporary scene – especially in Formula One – began to lose its appeal, there is little doubt that it was the result of numerous small things and nothing that could be laid at the foot of a single person or event. Actually, my interest in the contemporary motor racing scene dwindled from a wide-ranging interest in many series to just a handful of series.
Long before the salt of Formula One lost its favor, that series was becoming more and more secondary in my universe. Part of that was due to age (mine) and part of that was due to the series just lacking that appeal it once had. The more technology that got poured into Formula One, the less and less I seemed to enjoy it. The more and more organized that Formula One became the less and less I enjoyed it.
From about the mid-1970s until the early-1990s, one series I thoroughly enjoyed was the GT series that IMSA (International Motor Sport Association) sanctioned and was sponsored by R.J. Reynolds through its Camels brand of cigarettes. The Camel GT series was great stuff and I really, really enjoyed it. The venerable Trans-Am series nearly died in the late-1970s because the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) miscalculated by just that tiny bit and IMSA almost handed them their head. But, after John Bishop sold IMSA it soon began to feel the effects of not having his vision and leadership at the helm and soon IMSA began to slip from its perch. A decade after the departure of John Bishop, the American sports car racing world was in disarray, a state of affairs which continues until today.
After about a half-dozen seasons in which the National Championship Trail exploded from being something that USAC (United States Auto Club) tacked onto the International Sweepstakes (AKA the Indianapolis 500) each year to being a series which now actually had a following, for the 1971 season things changed a tad. A separate national championship was created for the dirt track events and road courses were dropped from the National Championship Trail itself. There were teams lining up to play and the ante got raised considerably to take the field. Unfortunately, most of the events on the National Championship Trail – which USAC had convinced first Marlboro and then Citicorp to sponsor – still paid about they same as they way back when, which is say very little.
By 1978, there was obvious dissension in the USAC ranks which finally led to an open revolt and the formation of CART – Championship Auto Racing Teams. In 1979, there was the often bewildering situation of USAC and CART hosting “championship” events on the same weekends. This did little for either organization and the two attempted to patch things up for the 1980 season by forming something called the “Championship Racing League,” where each group alternated handling the rounds for a re-united championship. That is, until USAC terminated its participation in the CRL after the fifth round at Mid-Ohio in July.
For the 1981 season, USAC created a new version of the National Championship Trail, the Gold Crown Championship. In addition, it changed the name of the former USAC national dirt track to the Silver Crown Championship. Due to problems attracting sufficient entries for the Gold Crown Championship, which would begin with the 1981 International Sweepstakes and end with the following year’s event, both Silver Crown car and events were pressed into service. George “Ziggy” Snider managed to win the first Gold Crown Championship, but in the coming years it was basically reduced to simply being awarded to the highest-placed USAC driver (in good standing with the club) in the International Sweepstakes. No one ever said this was easy.
CART and its IndyCar World Series managed to go from strength to strength during the years following the 1980 season, only USAC managing to continue to sanction the Indianapolis event each year marring its control over American major league open-wheeled racing. Road courses were an important element of the schedule and reflected the fact that many of the CART teams entered the series from the world of road racing. In 1984, CART replaced Formula One at Long Beach and the crowds didn’t blink. The same thing happened in Detroit. Along with IMSA, CART was riding high as the 1980s ended and the 1990s began.
In 1966, the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) and with its Canadian counterpart – the Canadian Automobile Sport Clubs or CASC – created a series of a half-dozen events for what was rapidly becoming a most popular form of road racing – the two-seater sports racing cars formerly known as the “modified” sports cars in the SCCA way of thinking. In 1958, USAC had created a professional road racing division and in doing so let the hypocrisy of the SCCA system of “amateur” racing face some competition by herding up some of the best drivers and cars in some of the best events and creating what was to become known as the Fall Pro Season within a few years – events at Riverside and Laguna Seca alone catering to thousands more than most road races could dream about in a year.
In 1963, the SCCA finally created a professional racing series, the United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC) and the USAC series died despite USAC continuing to sanction many of the Fall races for the next several seasons. The USRRC came along just as it was becoming apparent that an American engine with lots of cubic inches jammed into the rear of a racing sports car was the ticket for some righteous racing. The appearance of the Chaparral team in the USRRC in 1964 and 1965 was the stuff from which legends emerge….
The Canadian-American Challenge Cup – as the Can-Am was grandly and formally known – opened with a season that saw the title not decided until the final round in Las Vegas. There is now a strip mall and residences sitting where the Stardust Raceway once sat. Then the Can-Am died in 1974 from a combination of some sort of apathetic collapse. It was revived in 1977 for single-seater, full-bodied cars and after a few encouraging seasons passed away largely unnoticed at the end of 1986.
In 1964, a SCCA committee looked at single-seater racing and suggested creating a “Formula SCCA” which in 1967 spun up a series grandiosely called the SCCA Grand Prix Championship. The first series champion promptly quit when the SCCA changed its rules to allow cars with American push-rod, stock-block engines with displacements of up to five-litres join the fray beginning in 1968. The 1967 champion, Gus Hutchison, returned in 1970 with a pukka Grand Prix car – a Brabham BT26 with a Ford Cosworth DFV engine – but soon switched to a Chevrolet-powered car.
The series became the Continental Championship, picked up sponsorship from the L&M cigarette folks and became quite a nice little series. It became known as Formula 5000 in an effort to show some sense of unity with its European counterpart. Then it croaked in 1976, but not before running for three seasons in a cooperative effort with USAC – of all people. I missed it and never quite had the same fondness for the converted F5000 cars that now became the basis for the “new” Can-Am.
Once upon the Grand National Division of NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) ran a championship could have as many as fifty-something events and began in November of times. It was quite a feat to survive a full season on the GN circuit – it was a brutal pace with events at the small half-mile tracks under the lights during the week and then the larger tracks – the “superspeedways” – on the weekends, more and more of the latter appearing throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. Ironically, the so-called “stock cars” were really much more stock than one would imagine today. One of the great joys of this period, the 1950s and 1960s, was that the GN circus usually came to town twice a year.
The R.J. Reynolds sponsored a championship within a championship in 1971 and then sponsored the whole series, the name Winston Cup replacing the old GN name in time. The factories came and went and then television discovered the sport – it was the same sort of luck that the debut of Howdy Doody had in December 1947 in that the 1979 Daytona 500 was run when a snowstorm had many on the East Coast looking at their television sets for ANY form of entertainment on a Sunday afternoon in February. Throw in a last lap fracas on the track, a fistfight off the track and suddenly people who had probably never really watched an automobile race featuring stock cars were saying to themselves, ‘Gee, that was pretty neat and exciting!’
Ah, but Indianapolis was still supreme, the epicenter of American racing. Then a serious of poor management decisions, unnecessarily cruel remarks, inflated egos, and an appetite for geese that laid golden eggs landed American open-wheeled racing in the malaise from which it has yet to recover – the Indy Racing League and – I hope this is correct – Champ Car World Series both playing to generally less than full houses. Ironically, only the other Americans – the neighbors to the north and south in Canada and Mexico – seem to appreciate the series formerly known as CART and the IRL is now struggling to even pack ‘em into the Speedway. As David Phillips of Racer put it so well, it is like “two bald guys arguing over a comb.”
So, what was all this rambling about?
Nothing. I am just wondering why I bother, that’s all….