Lap 33

 

One of the ways Chicagoland Sports Car Club used to promote amateur racing and recruit new members was to put on auto shows. We would do this early in the spring before the season began. We would make arrangements with an indoor shopping mall to allow us to display some of our members' racecars in the mall. The malls were usually very agreeable to this idea, since it was another way of attracting customers to the mall.

The first show we held was at the old Hillside mall. Denny and I were the last club members to leave the mall just before closing. Before we got out of the door, we were confronted by a fire marshal from the village of Hillside. He asked us if we were with the racecar group and we admitted that we were. He said, "Those cars have gasoline in them. Either take the gas out or have the cars out of the mall by morning." It was late, with the mall about to close. Taking the cars out was not an option. We had no place to put them and could certainly not leave them outside all night. Besides that, there were only the two of us there to push a dozen cars out.

So we opted to remove the gasoline. The only way we could do that was to pump it out, but we had no pump or hose. But Denny had an idea. I ran to a hardware store and bought some gas cans while Denny went to the pet store. There he bought a small, cheap siphon pump and some plastic tubing used for circulating water in a fish tank. With this, we were able to pump the gasoline out of all the cars except those with fuel cells. Denny felt this would not matter since the fire marshal could not tell how much fuel was in the cells anyway. The fire marshal was back first thing the next morning and we managed to pass muster with him, much to our relief.

We opted for a different mall the next year, and moved to the Woodfield mall in Schaumburg, which was three times the size and much nicer than Hillside. It also had much larger crowds, so it was better for us all the way around. The improved surroundings encouraged more members to bring out their cars as well. One year, we were even able to get Gordon Johncockís Indy car to put on display with our cars.

We would always have some Chicagoland members on hand to answer questions and hand out membership applications. By far, the most common question we got was, "Where are the restrooms?" The next most common question was, "Why is there no tread on these tires?" Other popular questions were, "How fast will it go?" and "What will it do in the quarter?" We would tell these drag racing fans that any of our cars could beat any top fuel dragster. We would just race the quarter mile twice. At the end of the first quarter, we would do a 180-degree turn and race back to the finish line. First one back wins. We agreed the dragster would finish the quarter mile first, but we would be back to where we started before they got turned around.

Gregís Camaro at the Woodfield Mall auto show


The group of Ericís football friends who came to the races kept growing each year as his friends would bring friends of theirs and so on. We soon had a large crowd around our campfires at the Sprints, many of whom we did not even know. Even so, they were, for the most part, a pleasant enough bunch and seemed to really enjoy singing along with Jerryís guitar. And they seemed to especially enjoy the dirty songs and limericks.

I especially recall one of these friends of friend of a friend. He was a black man, which was unusual to see at a race. It still is, although you do see more of them these days. But racing just does not seem to be a black manís sport. No matter, he was a friend of a friend of Ericís friend, so he was welcome even though Eric had never met him before either. The funny thing was that he drove up in an old, battered, faded green Dodge and when he got out he was wearing leather driverís gloves! Sure, we use gloves when racing, but those are Nomex gloves worn mainly to protect the hands from fire rather than keeping a grip on the steering wheel. He was wearing open backed leather gloves that you would normally associate with someone driving a high performance sports car like a Ferrari, not a battered old Dodge.

He and a couple of his buddies decided that since the track was four miles around, there had to be someplace they could sneak in through a hole in the fence, or someplace they could climb over the fence unseen, thus saving themselves the price of admission. As they prepared to walk down to the track to sneak in, this guy pulled on his driverís gloves! I nearly laughed out loud, but we all kept our cool and just looked at each other and grinned.

Turns out that old Cliff Tufte did not short himself on fencing, and they wound up having to pay to get in. While sitting in Canada Corner, I would look over and see this guy wearing his driving gloves and I would just have to snicker. I wonder who he thought he was impressing. I guess he figured the race fans would notice him wearing those gloves and naturally assume he had a Porsche or Ferrari sitting up in the parking lot.

Another of Ericís football buddies was Joe, who was the fullback on the team Eric played for. Joe was a pretty good player too, and had been a starter at the University of Wisconsin. He was a good-looking guy and was married to a very attractive blond named Jenny. We never saw her with a hair out of place and she always had her makeup perfectly applied. The most amazing thing about Jenny was that even after a night of partying with us around the campfire, she would step out of their tent the next morning looking like she had just stepped out of a beauty shop. Not a hair out of place and makeup perfectly applied.

Liz hated her. She would see Jenny come out of her tent and complain to Mary Ann and Lynne, "How does she do that? I get within ten miles of the track and I have dirt under my fingernails!!"

The football group quickly accepted our traditional meal of brats cooked in beer and onions, and corn on the cob. They just expected Jerry and me to do all the cooking, but at least they would buy their own brats and corn and give them to us to cook. At first, we willing did this, because it was no big deal to throw a few more brats or ears of corn on the grills. I would cook and grill the brats and Jerry would do the corn. We still used old refrigerator shelves as grates, but by now I was hauling four or five of them to the track to give us enough room to cook all the corn.

As usual, when I took the brats off the grill, I would put them back into the pot of beer and onions to keep warm. The gang would then fish them out with tongs to make their own sandwiches. Jerry would throw finished ears of corn into an old Styrofoam cooler to keep them warm, and the gang would help themselves as we cooked more.

One year I counted, and we cooked for 40 people, many of whom Jerry and I did not even know. I had cooked all the brats and went to get a beer for Jerry and me. Jerry threw the last of the corn in the cooler and came over to get a brat. He fished around in the pot for a while and said, "Terry, where are all the cooked brats?" "They are all in the pot," I replied, as I handed him a cold beer. "Well, they are all gone then," he said. "They canít be," I exclaimed, as I began a search of the pot myself. "I just threw the last six in there." Jerry was right - there were no brats left, and neither of us had eaten as much as one. We were too busy cooking.

"Well," Jerry said, "I guess we will have to settle for just corn." But when we got to the Styrofoam cooler, it too was empty. We had cooked food for forty people but fed only 38! That was the last straw. We told the core group of our gang that we were not cooking brats and corn again next year.

The next year at the June Sprints, a bunch of Ericís football buddies showed up and tried to give us corn and packages of brats to cook for them. I politely refused and told them they would have to cook them themselves since Jerry and I were grilling steaks and would not cook for anyone other than our families. They were appalled, "But what about the tradition?" they exclaimed. I could not believe my ears. Most of these folks had been coming to the Sprints for less than three years, and they were complaining to me about breaking tradition! I told them, "Tradition left us hungry last year, and it is not going to happen again. Besides, you can carry on the tradition by cooking for yourselves."

Of course, they had no grill, no charcoal, no pot, no knife, no tongs, no onions, no salt, no butter, etc. We offered to let them use our grill when we were finished cooking our steaks, but they did not take us up on it. Grumbling, they got in their cars, and went out to find a restaurant. It is not surprising, I guess, that most of those folks did not come back to the track the next year. It was fine if all they had to do was eat, drink and party at our campfire, but when they had to fend for themselves, they decided it was not as much fun.

I will admit that cleaning the greasy, dirty brat pot the next day took character and some intestinal fortitude, especially if you had the usual hangover. It would not have been nearly as bad if I had done something with it after we were done eating and it was still warm but, inevitably, it was left till the next morning and was a nasty job. The switch to steaks had eliminated that unpleasant task at least. Funny thing is, once the football crowd stopped coming, Jerry and I went back to cooking brats and corn for the usual gang. I mean steaks were fine, but tradition is tradition!


The 1974 June Sprints were one of the soggiest in memory. It rained all day Saturday and most of Sunday. A record number of 518 cars were entered in the nine races, but many teams left their cars on the trailer rather than battle the wet conditions. Harvey Templeton, now 64 years old, repeated his FV win from last year in his Shadowfax. He did make it dramatic, however, by not taking the lead until the next-to-last lap.

Despite the rain, there was a huge field of 71 Formula Fords that came out to do battle. I had never seen so many cars on the track at one time. It seemed like the pace lap would never end, and cars just kept on streaming by. Steve Lathrop won the race in a Zink.

The last two races were won by Jerry Hanson. He won the big formula race in an ex-Haas/Hall Lola T-330 that Brian Redman had campaigned the year before in the F5000 series. He won the big sports racer event with his BSR Lola mainly because the wet track did away with the power advantage of the ASR cars. Jack Hinkle, Hansonís main competitor, decided not to race his 700 hp Lola T-165 in the rain and packed up early, so it was an easy win for Hanson.

The weather was much better when we returned in mid-July for the Trans Am and F5000 weekend. Unfortunately, the Trans Am racing series was not better. It had become a shadow of its former self. SCCA had changed the rules to make them virtually the same as those of IMSA Camel GT series. Most drivers preferred to race in IMSA because it was better promoted and paid higher purses. The fact that the IMSA series was now sponsored by Camel did not hurt either. To illustrate how bad things were in the once mighty Trans Am, the RA weekend was the third and last race of the season for them.

There were a few top drivers there, but only a few. Al Holbert and Peter Gregg were there, along with Hurley Haywood and Ludwig Heimrath. They were all running the Porsche Carrera RSR, which was the car to have in both IMSA and Trans Am. Competition for the Porsche contingent was provided by John Greenwood in his Corvette and Warren Agorís Camaro. The bulk of the 37-car field was basically SCCA club racers.

The race itself turned out to be pretty good. It was dominated in the early stages by the V8 power of the Chevyís. Greenwood led from the start, but Agor took his Camaro into the lead after the first pit stop. The strategy of the Porsche drivers soon became apparent. It was clear that the thirsty Chevyís would have to stop twice for fuel, while the Porscheís could make the 200-mile distance on one tank.

Greenwoods engine went sour on him and he dropped back. Agor had the pedal to the metal as he tried to open up enough ground to not lose a place when he made his second pit stop. This did not work. When he resumed after taking on oil as well as fuel, Gregg was 20 seconds ahead of him. Agor cut into his lead since Gregg had to be conservative to make his fuel last. When they came through Canada Corner on the next to last lap, Agor was close behind Gregg. When they came past us on the last lap, Agor was right up on Greggís bumper. As they disappeared up Thunder Valley, all bets were on Agor. We were sure the power of the V8 would prevail in the drag race up the hill to the finish.

However, Gregg managed to slip past a couple of back markers going into corner fourteen while Agor had to wait until he exited fourteen to pass them. This allowed Gregg to hold him off and win by less than a second.

When you looked around the Canada Corner hillside on a typical day, you would see a wide variety of headgear. The most popular was the ubiquitous baseball cap, but these were all different, too. There were cowboy hats, straw hats, wide brimmed hats, Australian-style bush hats - you name it, someone would be wearing it on Canada Corner sooner or later.

On Sunday, I saw a guy with a coonskin hat, tail and all that I thought looked pretty cool. I went and asked him if I could wear his hat and have my picture taken. He said sure and handed me the hat. Jimmy had left his camera unattended again, so Mike picked it up and took my picture. I returned the hat to the guy and thanked him. Bunky said, "Hey, Ace! That guy down there has a pretty cool hat. You should have your picture taken with that one, too." That seemed like a good idea, so I went and asked this guy if I could wear his hat while I had my picture taken. Soon I had my picture taken with every hat around us, including the Kiwanis Peanut Guyís straw hat.

Whenever any of the guys spotted a new hat coming down the fence trail, they would point it out to me and off I went to have my picture taken in it. I was only refused permission to wear a guyís hat once. Bunky spotted a Sheboygan County Police Officer coming down the hill and said, "Oh, Ace, you have to get your picture with that hat." Well, I figured the worst the guy could do was refuse, and of course he did. People around him booed and yelled out to him, "Come on, let him try your hat on." No matter, he steadfastly turned down my pleas, even when I resorted to begging. I never got to have my picture taken in the police officerís hat, but Mike said he got a couple shots of me begging him, so at least folks would know I tried. You know, I never ever saw any of those pictures. Maybe Jimmy didnít have any film in that camera after all.

The F5000 series was still in pretty good shape, and in an attempt to broaden its appeal, it was jointly sanctioned by SCCA and USAC. This was to allow USAC Indy cars to run in the F5000 events and the F5000 cars to run in USAC events. USAC was in trouble at the time and willing to try anything to revitalize its series. There were rumblings of the possibility of some team owners splitting from USAC and forming their own series.

The crossover idea did not catch on very well, and RA was one of the few F5000 races that were entered by Indy cars. Only at the last race of the season in Phoenix did any F5000 cars enter a USAC event. Dick Simon was at RA with his 73 Eagle turbo Ford, as was Tom Sneva in Grant Kingís Kingfish-turbo Drake. A third Indy car was entered by John Martin. It was nice to see the cars run, but they were not very competitive. Simon just packed up and went home early. Sneva dropped out on the first lap and Martin only lasted 9 laps. His early retirement probably had something to do with all those right hand corners.

While there were only three USAC cars entered, there were 31 F5000s to make it a very full field. Haas/Hall was there with a Lola T-332 for Brian Redman, and Carl Hogan had another one for David Hobbs. Velís-Parnelli Jones racing had entered the series and was there with Mario Andretti in the driver's seat. Dan Gurney was back with two new Eagles for Brett Lunger and Elliot Forbes-Robinson.

There was a new car in the series this year as well. Jack McCormack had teamed up with Graham McRaeís shop in England and built a new chassis. The car was originally called the McRae GM-2. However, the partnership fell apart and McCormack had the cars finished in his shop in California, where he renamed them as Talons. Some think the name was a shot at the Gurney Eagles. To drive them, he had Sam Posey and Jon Woodner.

The format was the same as the year before with the field split in half for each of the two 48-mile qualifying heats. The top ten from each heat, plus four promoterís options, would meet in the 100-mile feature. Andretti easily won the first heat and Brian Redman held off Brett Lunger to win the second.

When the feature, started Andretti came through Canada Corner in the lead followed by Wietzes and Redman. By half distance, Redman had taken second from Wietzes. In the closing laps, we could hear Andrettiís engine missing when he came past us, a result of fuel pickup problems. Redman now smelled blood and was right on his heels. Andretti was nearly out of fuel, which was causing the fuel pickup problem, but kept his foot in it determined to win or not finish. On the last lap, Redman was right there as they raced past us and up Thunder Valley. It was a drag race up the hill on the front straight. Andretti managed to hold him off and won the race by a whisker. Then, to Redmanís chagrin, Andretti coasted to a stop in corner one, out of fuel. Wietzes took third and Hobbs was fourth.

Once again, the SCCA shot itself in the foot by meddling with the Can Am rules. Where once there were hardly any rules, now the SCCA applied more and more restrictions. This year, the SCCA imposed a fuel economy standard requiring cars to attain a minimum fuel economy of three miles per gallon. The intent of this was to open up competition and bring in new teams. In fact, the opposite happened. The large turbo-charged Porsches had no hope of achieving this fuel economy. As a result, Porsche released Penske from the last year of his contract and withdrew from Can Am racing. No one else was building new cars for sale, and the UOP Shadow team had the only new cars that year. They had two new Shadow DN-4s for Jackie Oliver and George Follmer.

The Shadow was a very nice looking car, and could probably have held its own with the turbos. The car was light and had a huge 494 aluminum Chevy engine and a very sleek body. Oliver had driven his car to victory in all four of the races prior to the RA event.

That weekend, sitting around the campfire on Saturday night, Tom shared a little of the wine he had brought with him. It was awful and I told him so. Others tried it and agreed with me. We all laughed about Tom and his poor taste in wine. One thing led to another and the next thing you know, we had come up with the "Bad Wine" contest. We each would bring a bottle of really bad wine to each race, and see who could bring the worst stuff.

It was amazing how much bad wine you can find. Some entries were so sweet they would put a diabetic into a coma. Others were so dry that one sip would suck all the moisture out of your body. The contest only took place during a couple of race weekends before Tom was declared the permanent winner.

Tom went into a big liquor store in Milwaukee and asked the manager for the worst wine he had. The manager thought this was a rather unusual request, since most of the time customers asked him to recommend a good wine. However, he apparently knew his stock and recommended a vintage called Cola Smash that I believe was made from fermented cocoa beans. Tom liked the sound of this, and felt it might have possibilities as a contender in our contest. He was right.

This "wine" was so vile I couldnít swallow it. The brave few of us who did taste it quickly spat it out. Others, seeing our reaction, declined to even try it. It was so bad even Tom wouldnít drink it and that is saying something as Tom would usually drink anything that had alcohol in it and would run downhill. It took several beers before I finally got the awful taste out of my mouth.

Tom in Old Man Millerís field

We decided that no one could ever come up with anything to rival this foul stuff, so we declared Tom the permanent winner and disbanded the contest. Amazingly, Tom later found some girls sitting around a campfire who loved it. They drank the whole bottle and thought it was marvelous! Sometimes there is just no accounting for taste.

This was the year of the world-wide fuel shortage with long lines at the gas stations. In reaction to this, most motor racing events were cut by 10%. This may have been another reason for the SCCA imposed fuel restrictions. The Can Am followed suit and the race was cut from 200 miles to 180. The 180 miles were to be made up of a 68-lap qualifying sprint, followed by a 112-mile feature. Naturally, the two Shadows were on the front row and ran away into the lead and an easy 1-2 finish in the qualifier.

We fully expected to see a repeat in the feature and, to be sure, the Shadows ran off into the lead again. Then, while Oliver was leading, Follmer dropped out with a broken drive shaft. On Lap 23 of 28, Oliverís engine blew up and he was out. Scooter Patrick inherited the lead in his McLaren M20 and went on to the win.

As we headed back for Chicago that day, we did not realize that we had seen the very last Can Am. The promoters cancelled the Riverside event a few days later and the season was over. SCCA meddled again with the rules, imposing a limit of five-liter engines for 1975. This did not sit well with the promoters, and they did not buy it. The Can Am, as we knew and loved it, was dead. A few years later, SCCA tried to bring back at least the name, but with single seat cars with full body work. These were really nothing more than formula cars with fenders and were never very popular with the fans.

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen

 

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