In 1973, a major change was made to the Road America track. Because the cars had grown wider and faster, a six-foot strip of asphalt was added all around the track. A new class was also added by the SCCA - Showroom Stock. This class included both production cars and sedans, but allowed only minor prep of the car. Basically, the car was the same as any car you could buy in the showroom, but equipped only with a roll bar and six-point harness. Some other minor modifications to shocks and such were also allowed. Midwestern Council had had a Showroom Stock class for years. It was nice that SCCA finally caught on to the idea. Naturally, they claimed it as their own idea.
The Sprints this year were highlighted for me when 63 year-old Harvey Tempelton won Formula Vee in his white Shadowfax. This was a car he had built in his own shop. Jerry Hanson, in a possible cost saving mode, was driving a two-year old Lola T-192 in the big formula race. He had sold his T-300 from the previous year. No matter, he lead from flag to flag, beating Tuck Thomas in his Lola T-300 by six seconds.
Continuing his cost saving mode, Hanson had also sold his ASR Lola T-220 to Dan Kampo. However, he did have a new Lola T-292 but this car was a 2.0-liter BSR, not an ASR. Jack Hinkle was on the pole, but Hansen had his BSR Lola second on the grid. Hinkle made the race uneventful by leading from start to finish but Hanson, after suffering some fuel starvation problems and a pit stop to correct them two laps from the end, finished 3rd overall and first in BSR, and second to Cliff Apel’s McLaren M6B.
While our beverage of choice was beer, wine began making inroads, especially among the ladies who came with us. You could usually count on at least some of the group to be drinking wine around the campfire. I crawled out of our tent one morning and joined a few of the guys standing around a resurrected campfire. One of Jerry’s college buddies was there with a gallon jug of cheap rotgut wine. Dennis lifted the jug to his lips and took a good pull on it. He sighed, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and said as he passed the jug to me, "I don’t know how they can make it so good and sell it so cheap."
We were taking turns drinking out of the jug when Jerry walked up. He saw what we were doing and was appalled by our lack of couth, chiding us for drinking straight out of the bottle like that. Ever the wine connoisseur, he looked around for a more appropriate vessel to sample the wine. He finally selected an empty beer can from the many strewn around the ground. Jerry took the wine jug and poured some wine into the empty can. He passed the jug on, lifted the can to his nose, sniffed it and said, "Mmmm - excellent bouquet." Then he held the can up to the sunlight. "However, clarity is a little hard to judge in this tin can."
Threatened by the lack of factory support and the rapidly increasing popularity of IMSA, SCCA opened up Trans Am to sports and GT cars. IMSA had replaced SCCA as the sanctioning body for the Daytona 24 hours and Sebring. The result was a field full of Corvettes and Porsche 911’s, but there was no factory involvement to be seen.
Warren Ago put his Camaro on the pole, with John Greenwood, in a Corvette, joining him on the first row. Factory support or no, this promised to be a good race with 40 cars on the grid.
The promise of a good race proved to be false. While Ago led the first lap, he was soon passed by Greenwood, who went on to cruise to the win. Only Ago, in his out-classed Camaro, was still on the lead lap at the finish.
I was very disappointed that there was no Two-Five Challenge race, this series having been eliminated by SCCA. I was going to miss cheering for those BRE Datsun 510s. Many of those cars and drivers moved over to race with IMSA. SCCA seemed to be shooting itself in the foot again and again. They also axed the FB series and these guys wound up having to go to Canada to race in the thriving Formula Atlantic series.
One of Elkhart Lake’s more famous places is Siebken’s Resort. The owner of Siebken’s, Ollie Siebken Moeller, was one of the local citizens, along with Cliff Tufte, who was instrumental in raising the money to build Road America. Many of the famous drivers who raced at the track in the early days would stay at the resort. It is still a popular watering hole for competitors at the track. It was not uncommon to see drivers like Mario Andretti or Dan Gurney in Siebken’s. In our early days of going to Road America, we often went into Siebken’s for a few beers just to see whom we could see.
That night after the Trans Am I took Big Ralph and one of his friends to Siebken’s. Bunky and Jimmy had gone off to Trudy’s and everyone else, including Liz, had gone to bed. Big Ralph’s friend was apparently not a big drinker and he was soon out like a light, face down on the table in the bar. Big Ralph swore a little, complaining about the "short hitter" and told me he would be right back. He then picked up his friend, slung him over his shoulder and carried him out to his van.
Big Ralph’s van was nearly brand new and he was fixing up the inside. In those days, if you wanted a conversion van, you had to do it yourself. He had paneled the sides and ceiling and had some nice carpeting on the floor. He was planning to add a couch he could sleep on, and some other amenities. Since the van was not yet finished, he and his friend planed to just spread their sleeping bags on the carpeted floor.
Big Ralph came back into Siebken’s and we had a couple more beers before he announced that he was hungry and asked if I knew were we could get a pizza. I did know of a place, but it was in Plymouth. That was fine by him, so we got up and left. We got outside and Big Ralph said, "Here, take this" and handed me something that looked like a trivet in the shape of an iron. "What the heck is this?" I asked. "I don’t know what it is, I just took it off the wall when we were leaving," Big Ralph said. "Why would you do that?" I asked. "I just wanted a souvenir," he replied. Smelling a rat, I asked, "Why are you giving it to me?" Big Ralph said, "Because I think the manager saw me take it."
I could not believe this and said, "You think they saw you steal this and you want me to get caught with it?" "Naw," Big Ralph said, "If they saw me take it, they will think I still have it and won’t suspect you." I was not too sure about his logic, but before I could say anything someone called out to us, "Hey! You two stop right there!"
The manager came up and wasted no time accusing Big Ralph of stealing something from the wall. Big Ralph actually seemed hurt by this accusation and denied taking anything, holding out empty hands and offering to let the manager search him. Of course, the manager then turned on me and I also held out empty hands. He then looked around on the ground for whatever he thought Big Ralph had lifted but found nothing. Frustrated at not having any evidence, he glared at us and said he did not want to see us in Siebken’s again. Big Ralph assured him that he would never see him in there again because he thought it was a crummy old bar with no action anyway.
We got into the van and as Big Ralph started the engine, I said, "Pull away slowly and go around that corner." "Why?" he asked. "Just do what I said and I will show you when we get around the corner." Once we were out of sight from Siebken’s, I told him to stop the van and I got out. A second later, I jumped back in and handed him his souvenir that I had placed on the roof of the van while the manager was confronting Big Ralph and said "Now let’s get the hell out of here." Big Ralph was pleased and said, "Man, I thought you had thrown it in the bushes and I was not going to have my souvenir." As we headed to Plymouth and the pizza place, I made Big Ralph promise me he would not take any souvenirs. He asked if the pizza place was as famous as Siebken’s was supposed to be, and I said no. He assured me that, in that case, I had nothing to worry about.
We got to the pizza place with Big Ralph’s buddy still passed out in the back of the van. This was the first time I had ever shared a pizza with Big Ralph and it was an eye opening experience. That guy could eat!! By the time the pizza came I was hungry too, and nearly left hungry despite the extra large pizza they put on the table. Big Ralph was a pizza-eating machine and I watched in awe as he shoved pizza into his mouth with both hands. Finally realizing that if I wanted any of that pizza I had better grab some quickly, I managed to salvage a couple of pieces for myself.
We had an unpleasant surprise when we got back to the van. Big Ralph’s comatose buddy had pulled a Bunky and thrown up all over the new carpeting in the back of the van. Big Ralph was a tad disturbed by this development and told me that when the guy woke up, he was going to kill him. The smell in the van was horrendous and I nearly added my recently eaten pizza to the mess in the back. Even Big Ralph was finding it somewhat difficult to retain the pizza he had eaten. We opened the windows and drove back to Old Man Miller’s field with our heads hanging out. All the way back, Big Ralph told me of all the different ways he was thinking of to dispatch his unfortunate buddy. These ranged from a simple wringing of his neck like a chicken to tying him behind the van and dragging him home to Chicago.
When we got back, I offered to let Big Ralph share our tent since sleeping in the van with that smell was out of the question. Big Ralph did not immediately kill his buddy, but as soon as he got up, he had him and the van over by the water hose cleaning up the mess. Even so, the smell in the van persisted and finally Big Ralph just ripped his new carpeting out with his bare hands and threw it away. I suspect that was the end of that friendship, but at least Big Ralph did not kill him - that I know of.
That Sunday was another bright, sunny day at Road America and we eagerly headed to the track for the F5000 race. The format was changed again by SCCA because the two-heat set up of the previous years had not proved popular with the fans. This year they would run three heats. They split the field, with those qualifying in the odd positions (1, 3, 5 etc.) in one 80-mile qualifying race, and those in the even positions in another. The top ten cars from each qualifying heat would then compete in a 100-mile finale. In addition, the promoter could add four additional cars to the back of the grid. This would cover any big name driver who blew up in a qualifying race.
The car to have this year was the new Lola T-330, which was a big improvement over last years T-300. McLaren had given up on building F5000 and Can Am cars to concentrate on their Formula One and Indy cars. Lola had also stopped building Can Am cars so Carl Haas, the U.S. importer for Lola, now concentrated on F5000. He also had talked Jim Hall, who had retired, into being his partner. To drive his T-330, Haas had signed up the very talented Brian Redman.
There were lots of T-330’s entered in the race, a total of 19. Penske had one for Mark Donahue and Hogan Racing with Haggar Slacks sponsorship, had one each for David Hobbs and Bret Lunger. One oddity was that the Penske machine was powered by an AMC engine. This experiment did not turn out too well since the AMC engine was heavier than the Chevys and sat taller in the chassis, which upset the handling.
Jody Scheckter, the very talented young South African, was there in the lone Trojan. Trojan had taken over Elva some years before and had been building the McLaren customer cars. Now that that business was gone, they decided to build their own cars. Sid Taylor was running the factory team for them and it proved to be a formidable effort indeed as Scheckter had won four races in a row coming into Road America. Proving he would be a force to be reckoned with again this race, Scheckter qualified on the pole at 2:04.926, a time almost 4 seconds faster than any F5000 car had ever managed previously.
It looked as though the South African would dominate the first heat. By the time he came through Canada Corner on the fourth lap, my stopwatch showed him with a ten second lead over Hobbs. This did not last when he fell victim to a tire that was losing air pressure. He had to pit to change it, losing three spots. He wound up finishing in fourth place behind Hobbs, Wietzes and Adamowicz.
As we waited for the start of the second heat, the ever-alert Jimmy spotted a couple of well-endowed young ladies walking below us. After taking the customary photos and with his camera still aimed and ready, Jimmy called out, "This is Wisconsin - America’s dairy land! Show us your milkers!" They didn’t.
In the second heat, it was Brian Redman’s turn to dominate the field. He took the lead in his Haas/Hall Lola at the green and led all the way to the checkered flag. Lunger was second, followed by Gethin and Hutchison.
Hobbs led the field as they swept through Canada Corner on the first lap of the feature race. But he could not hold his lead, and when they appeared on the second lap, Redman was ahead of him. A couple of laps later, everyone on the hillside jumped to their feet as Hobbs shot straight off the track and down the escape road at high speed. Turns out the throttle had stuck wide open. He managed to get his Lola stopped after this wild ride and was even able to rejoin the race, but well down in the order.
Scheckter moved quickly up through the field from eighth on the starting grid to second, but was closely followed by Wietzes. Wietzes was hounding him pretty good, and twice we saw him dive inside Scheckter as they came into Canada Corner, but Scheckter held him off both times. Redman went on to take the first of his five victories on the season. Scheckter was second, Wietzes third and, in an impressive drive, Hobbs had managed to make his way all the way back up to fourth.
Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen