Lap 31


One of the more enduring characters of Canada Corner was the Kiwanis Peanut Guy. A member of the Kiel, Wisconsin Kiwanis Club, he would roam all over Canada Corner selling peanuts and popcorn to raise money for the Kiwanis Club. He was an elderly gentleman with white hair and usually had on a red and white striped shirt with a big "Kiel Kiwanis" button on it. He always wore a straw hat with a card, displaying the price of his wares, tucked in the hatband. Bunky was especially fond of peanuts and it soon became tradition for us to buy peanuts from him at every race. The Kiwanis Peanut Guy soon knew to seek us out as he made his rounds.

The amazing thing about this guy was that he roamed all over the hillside all day long. I cannot imagine how many trips up the hill he made over the years, but we never saw him have any trouble negotiating the slope, unlike the rest of us. Of course, the Kiwanis Peanut Guy was not drinking. At least we never saw him drinking. I suppose it is possible he had a bottle stashed in his car and would take a nip or two when he went back to get more peanuts and popcorn, but I doubt it. We would naturally offer him a beer while we bought peanuts from him, but he would always politely decline.

The Kiwanis Peanut Guy was elderly when we first saw him on one of our first trips to the track, but there he was - race after race, year after year - peddling his peanuts and popcorn all up and down the hillside. Two things we could always count on in Canada Corner were good racing action on the track and the Kiwanis Peanut Guy. Even when we moved on to other viewing areas and stopped coming to Canada Corner regularly, he was still there. It has been years now since we have seen him, so I suppose he finally retired. He may even have passed away by now but, if so, it was not due to a lack of exercise.

The Can Am had two support races that year. There was to be an FSV Gold Cup race on Sunday morning and an FB race on Saturday. SCCA had cancelled the U. S. FB series, but Cliff Tufte liked the cars enough that he decided to hold a non-championship race for them. The race proved to be successful and drew many of the guys who were racing in the Canadian Atlantic series. Bill Brack won the race in his Lotus 69. He would go on to win the Canadian series championship that year and the next two years as well.

This year would be the year of the Turbo Porsches. If you did not have one of those Panzers to strap into, you simply did not stand a chance. All eight races in the series that year were won by the powerful machines from Stuttgart. George Follmer and Charlie Kemp, who had won the first two races, were driving for Bobby Rinzler, who had purchased Penske’s 917-10K Spyders at the end of last season. Vasek Polak and Brumos also had 917-10Ks for Jody Scheckter and Hurley Haywood respectively.

There were a few who were brave enough to enter the race without a Turbo Porsche but they were hopelessly out classed. David Hobbs was at the wheel of Roy Woods Racing’s McLaren M20. Lothar Motschenbacher had entered his McLaren M8E and put Derek Bell behind the wheel. There were also two Shadows in the mix. One was for regular driver, Jackie Oliver. His car had a turbocharged Chevy V8 in it. The other Shadow was normally aspirated, (no turbo charging) but had new Formula One star, James Hunt, as the pilot. Gary Wilson had also bolted a turbo Chevy into his McLaren M8E. Still, it was a small field of only 23 cars and most were just field fillers.

But there was a reason Penske had parted with his 917-10ks. That was because Porsche had equipped him with the new 917-30KL Spyder. This car’s turbocharged flat 12 put out 1100 hp in race trim. For qualifying, they could increase the boost to get a whopping 1400 hp. There was no point in waiting, the races would just be a formality; the Championship could have been given to Penske and Donahue after taking one look at this awesome machine in action.

Mark Donahue’s Porsche 917-30KL Spyder on the Road America pit lane 1973

It was no surprise to anyone when, in qualifying, Donahue served notice to the field by turning the first ever sub-2 minute lap of Road America. He did not just break the 2 minute barrier; he destroyed it by turning in a startling lap of 1:57.518, or 122.534 mph!To put that lap in perspective, it would be nine years later before anyone ever went under two minutes again. Donahue’s record lap stood for 11 years before it was eclipsed in 1984 by Mario Andretti in a Lola T-800 Champ car.

When it came to campfires, Bunky’s philosophy was,"bigger is better," and he would always throw the biggest logs he could find on the fire. That Saturday night, Bunky would add more than just wood to the fire. It was late and Bunky, Jimmy, my brother Greg and I were all that remained by the fire. Greg pulled out a bag of salted in-the-shell peanuts and began to shell and eat them. Bunky loved peanuts and was one of the Kiwanis Peanut Guy’s best customers.

Bunky watched longingly from across the fire while Greg shelled and ate his peanuts, one after the other. Finally, Bunky said, "I sure would like a peanut." Greg looked up and asked, "You want a peanut?" Bunky replied, "Yes, I would really like a peanut." "What would you do for a peanut?" Greg asked. "I would do anything for a peanut," Bunky said. Greg asked, "Would you stand in the fire for a peanut?" Bunky just got up, stepped into the fire and said, "Yes I will."

Now, we did not exactly have a bonfire going as it was late and the night was winding down, but there still were three or four logs burning with a large bed of hot coals under them. The three of us were absolutely stunned when Bunky actually stepped into the middle of the fire. Of course, we all had been drinking beer all day and all night and I think I can safely say we were all well under the influence. But we never thought Bunky was drunk enough to pull a stunt like this.

The three of us leaped to our feet as one, yelling at Bunky to "Get the hell out of the fire!" Greg, who had precipitated the whole incident, got to him first and knocked him back out of the fire and to the ground. Fortunately, his clothes did not catch on fire but his shoes were smoking. As he lay there on the ground, Bunky looked up at Greg and asked, "Can I have a peanut now?"

The Super Vee Gold Cup race that next morning was one of the better races I have ever seen at Road America, or anywhere for that matter. It was a15 lap race with a field of 19 cars. It seemed that every time they came through Canada Corner, there would be a new leader. Bertil Roos started from the pole and was the early leader. This was not for long as the five cars running up front swapped the lead constantly. The five included Fred Phillips in a Tui, Frank Maka and Bob Wheelock in Lola’s, along with Bob Lazier in a Royale.

As they came past us on the final lap, it was Maka in the lead, closely followed by Wheelock, Lazier and Phillips. Maka’s lead did not hold up even though he was first through corner fourteen. Wheelock won the drag race up the hill and nipped him at the finish line by a whisker.

As for the Can Am, we heard that David Hobbs was missing. He had been unable to get back from California, where he was qualifying for the Ontario 500, in time for the race. That shuffled the driver line up a bit as Derek Bell moved from the Motschenbacher M8F to the Woods M20 that was to be driven by Hobbs. Steve Durst, who had blown the engine in his Polak Porsche, took Bell’s seat.

The qualifying heat was, as expected, a Porsche sweep with them taking the first five places. Donohue won, followed by Scheckter, Follmer, Haywood, and Kemp. There was a lot of attrition in the 100-lap qualifier, so only 16 cars answered the bell for the feature race. Among the missing were Oliver, Hunt, Durst, and Bell.

Mark Donahue and Jody Scheckter pace the field for the start of the 1973 Road America Can-Am race

The race was as predictable as the qualifier, with Donahue leading from flag to flag. Scheckter and Follmer followed, making it another podium sweep for Porsche. Scooter Patrick did manage to bring his McLaren M8F home in fourth. The race was boring as well, especially after Haywood, Kemp and others dropped out and only a paltry 11 cars finished. Donohue won the remaining five races and the championship that year and, after the season’s final race at Riverside, he announced his retirement.

That summer, we got another wedding invitation. Pat and Ray were getting married on September 1st. When Liz and I entered the church, one of the ushers asked, "Are you friends of the bride or the groom?" I replied, "Yes"

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen


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