Lap 35

 

During the winter of 1974-75, I decided to sanction a racing event of my own. I called it the "24 Hours of Bensenville" and planned to hold it in my garage. Well, actually it was going to be a board game based on the game "Speed Circuit" which was produced by Avalon and which Liz had given to me. The game board had the outlines of two racetracks. Monte Carlo on was on one side and Le Mans on the other. The circuits were divided into 4 lanes and each lane was divided into spaces formed by rectangles.

It was in the corners that the game got interesting. If you went around the corner on the inside lane there were fewer spaces, so you got through more quickly than the outer lanes. The farther out the lane, the more spaces it took to go around the corner. Each space in the corners had a posted speed limit. The inside lanes had lower speed limits than the outside lanes. The speed limits were adjusted so that it took the same amount of time to go around the shorter inside lane as it did the longer outside lane. To gain the advantage of the shorter route, you had to exceed the posted speed limit. The catch was that you had to pay a penalty to exceed the posted speed limit.

Before the race began, each contestant would have to "design" their car. They could specify the top speed of the car, how fast it could accelerate to that speed and how quickly it could slow down. For acceleration, the "designer" would indicate in increments of 10 mph how many spaces it would take to get to top speed. For example, a car with an acceleration factor of 40 mph per space could reach 200 mph in 5 spaces. If the car also had a braking factor of 40 mph per space, it could slow down from 200 mph to 80 in three spaces.

Based on the design of your car, you were awarded so many "wear units" per lap. The higher the top speed and the greater the acceleration and braking, the fewer wear units the car was awarded. For every 10 mph you exceeded the posted speed limit in a space, you were penalized one wear unit. If you were penalized more that the allotted wear units on a lap, you were out of the race just as if you had a real mechanical failure. Each time you completed a lap, you were awarded a new set of wear units.

Before each corner, each contestant would write down the speed they wanted to move on that corner. You could move one space for every 10 mph, so if you designed a car with a top speed of 180 mph, you could move 18 spaces once you had accelerated to top speed. You had to plan ahead for the corners to be sure you could slow down to the speed you wanted to use for the line you wanted to use, knowing you had to conserve enough wear units in the corners to be able to complete the lap. Of course, there was always a chance that another car would be blocking your preferred line, which would cause you to change your line. If you altered your line to the outside, it would take more spaces to get through the corner, but fewer wear units. If you were forced inside of the corner, you would lose more wear units than you had planned for that corner.

The game would be played for a set number of laps, and whoever completed the laps first won the game. It was really a simple game, but it had caught on with some of my friends in the Chicagoland Sports Car Club, like Jerry and Judy. We would invite them over for dinner and afterwards, we would play Speed Circuit for a couple of hours.

While I enjoyed the game, I felt that I could improve on it. First, I decided it would be more fun to play it on circuits we were familiar with, such as Road America and Blackhawk. Denny, the GT-6 driver who had given me my shower during the flood in corner five, also enjoyed the game, and when I suggest we make up our own tracks, he said he would take care of it. Denny was an architect by profession, and in no time at all, he had both Road America and Blackhawk laid out on sheets of acetate. This greatly improved our enjoyment of the game.

I also had Denny include pit lanes on the circuits he drew up, and introduced pit stops to the game. If you exceeded your allotted wear units on a lap, you could limp back to the pit lane at a reduced speed and stop in the pits for one turn. This allowed you to repair your car and receive a full set of wear units so that you could rejoin the race instead of being out of the game.

To hold my "24 Hours of Bensenville," I needed something bigger than the sheets of acetate we laid down on the dining room table to play the game. Denny again came through by drawing a layout of Road America on two 4 X 8 foot sheets of dry wall. These we supported on a couple sheets of plywood and some sawhorses in the middle of my garage. Denny really outdid himself with this layout by painting in trees and many of the buildings that actually were located on the track, like the pagoda, the timing and scoring building and even some of the concession stands.

In one of the vendorís booths at Road America, I found a bunch of small formula cars the size of Hot Wheels cars. I bought a bunch of these to use for the 24 hours. I even purchased some Hot Wheels emergency vehicles, including an ambulance, a fire truck and a wrecker, which I parked on the board near the start finish line. I also put some rubber tips on a couple of three-foot long wooden dowels. These made it easier to move the cars in the middle of the board.

Since the game would take so long, I decided to add a couple more factors to the game, including fuel consumption and weather. Entrants would be assigned a fuel consumption factor based on the acceleration and top speeds they chose to design their car. The faster the car, the more fuel it burned, and the more frequently it would have to stop in the pit lane to refuel.

For the weather, I had 48 sealed envelopes. Every half hour during the race, I would open an envelope and read the current weather conditions. I modified the rules so that if it was raining, all the carsí performance factors would be greatly reduced. Teams could improve their performance in the rain by stopping in the pit lane and changing to rain tires. Of course, when the rain stopped, they would not be able to achieve the full performance they had designed into their cars unless they again changed tires back to slicks.

I sent out entry forms to my racing friends. I did charge a nominal entry fee to cover the cost of the trophies, but that did not deter my friends, and entries came rolling in. Vicís entry for the Turkey Racing Team even said he planned to use a car with a "revolutionary wooden engine". Since the race would last a whole 24 hours, all the entries were teams with three to five co-drivers per car. I assigned numbers to each entrantís car and some of the teams took their car and gave it a custom paint job. Ray teamed up with Pat (they were married now) and Jerry and Judy, and did an especially nice job painting their entry. All in all, we had about a dozen cars entered.

Liz surveys the track layout before the start

My garage had a nice furnace in it, which turned out to be a good thing too because the race was held on the coldest weekend of the year. The garage floor was concrete, and to help keep competitorsí feet warm, I laid sheets of cardboard down for insulation. Those who were not actually driving their car could also go into our house to stay warm, and even sleep on a couch or floor if they wished. We had all kinds of snacks for everyone, and I posted the phone numbers of the local pizza place as well as the local massage parlor. I also had a couple of crock-pots of chili going all the time. Besides that, almost everyone brought food to share as well.

Just before noon on Saturday, we put the cars on the starting grid. Grid positions were determined by lottery. I opened the first weather envelope and read the current weather conditions to the competitors. They then had to declare what kind of tires they had on. As the weather conditions said the sky was overcast but not raining, everyone declared they were on slicks. At the stroke of noon, I waved a green flag and the race was on. We used poker chips as wear units and I had a big wooden bowl in the middle of the board for drivers to toss used ones into. As each car completed a lap, I would enter them on a big lap chart I had taped to the wall.

I was the chief steward, timing and scoring, weatherman etc. Heck, I did everything since Liz was co-driving on the No Club team with Jack and Margie and Charlie and Cora. As the race went into the wee hours, I was still up, running the race. Everyone else got to go into the house to get some sleep or went home to sleep for a while. Not me - I was up for the whole thing.

The race is on and Judy makes a move

Finally, shortly after noon on Sunday, the car belonging to Ray, Pat, Jerry and Judy crossed the finish line and I waved the checkered flag. Once all the cars had finished, we had a brief trophy presentation. The top three finishers all got a nice, engraved pewter mug. After the trophies were presented, I headed into the house and went to bed. The rest of them partied a little bit more, but everyone was pretty well spent and soon went home. The race had been a success, and a lot of fun, but I was sure I would not ever do it again.

We did have a few other races similar to the 24 Hours of Bensenville, but they were shorter, usually lasting 4 to 6 hours. We had a whole championship series run on different tracks (all drawn up by Denny). This lasted throughout the summer, but we eventually grew tired of it, so the series died. I have not played Speed Circuit in over 20 years. I still have the old Road America board up in the rafters my garage. I know I will never use it again, but it is a sentimental thing.

At the first Midwestern Council race that summer, I was the corner captain in corner one at Blackhawk farms. As he completed his first practice lap, Denny, in his DP GT-6, came screaming into corner one. Just before he got to the apex of the corner, a Frisbee came flying out of the passenger-side window. I started laughing and one of my workers said, "What the heck was that?" I replied, "My guess is that would be one wear unit." The worker just gave me a blank stare. Obviously, he was not a Speed Circuit player. Sure enough, when we retrieved the Frisbee, Denny had written "One wear unit" on it.


In the spring of 1975, Liz and I were hosting a Chicagoland board meeting at our house when the phone rang. Liz excused herself and went to answer the phone. A short time later, she called me out of the meeting. We went into another room and there Liz told me it had been her doctor who had called to tell her we were going to have a baby around the end of October.

After giving Liz a big hug and kiss at this great bit of news, we went back into the board meeting and told them they were going to have to find a new Race Registrar for the Loooong race that October. Liz had volunteered to take on that important job, but now would be over eight months pregnant at the time of the race. After everyone congratulated us, Vic, who was always ready with a quick solution, said it would not be a problem. Liz could still do it. They would just install a set of stirrups on one end of the registration table, just in case.

Just as the arrival of our new baby ended plans for Liz to be the Loooong Race registrar, it also was the end of Old Yeller. Liz informed me, in no uncertain terms, that there was room for only one baby in the family and it was not going to be the one in the garage. Sadly, I had to agree with her and sold Old Yeller. I continued to maintain my license for a couple of years by co-driving other friendís cars, like Dennyís GT-6. That was until I overcooked one coming into corner four at Blackhawk. I spun out and missed hitting the wall by inches. This was before we had put in the tire walls.

I sat in the car and breathed a sigh of relief that I had not smacked the wall. I decided right there that this was the end of my driving for a while. If, a few years down the road I wanted to race again, I would just go through driverís school again. I could ill afford to pay to repair someone elseís damaged racecar at that time, and besides, I was not really having any fun. Running one race a year was not enough. Driving a racecar takes skill and, like any skill, if you do not use it, you lose it. By the time I had knocked off enough rust to start feeling comfortable and going faster, the race would be over.


That yearís June Sprints were held in sweltering heat. This did not dampen the enthusiasm of the fans who knew enough to bring plenty of cold beer. Nothing makes a cold beer taste better than a steamy, hot day. Along with plenty of cold beer, there were plenty of cars to watch on the track with 515 cars registered. The Sprints were easily SCCAís largest and most prestigious National event.

As a result of the large entry, some of the races had huge fields. FV had 59 cars take the green flag. It turned into one heck of a race, with the leaders running nose to tail, and a lead change nearly every lap. It was FV racing at its finest and was won by John Hogdal, who just managed to nip Terry Satchell at the line.

Formula Ford had an even larger field with 73 cars going to the grid. It, too, was a heck of a race, won by Dave Wietzenhof. The big production race was another Jerry Hanson show, who led all the way with his Corvette. Sunday was another Hanson exhibition as he packed up his Vette and unloaded his FA and ASR. There were 46 cars in the four class formula group but, as usual, Hanson was the class of the field, disappearing away in the distance in his Lola T-330.

After driving a Lola BSR the last two years, Hanson decided he liked 8 cylinders better than 6, so he bought back his old Lola T-220. He drove away in this race to a 40 second win over Orly Thornsjo and the venerable Jack Hinkle.

The July Trans Am & F5000 weekend also was blessed with good weather and was even a little cooler than the Sprints weekend. Realizing that the Trans Am series was in trouble, SCCA decided the fix was to stop competing with Camel GT and change the formula to strictly A, B, and C production cars as well as A Sedans. As a result, the race was really run by club racers getting a chance to run for money for a change. This did not matter much as 32 cars entered and 28 took the green flag.

John Greenwood had won three of the seven races held so far that season and was the pointís leader. However, he had some sort of run-in with race officials and withdrew from the race in protest. This pretty much left the door open for Jerry Hanson, who led every lap. Tim Startup was second in his Corvette. Bob Sharp and Walt Mass were third and fourth. This was a surprising result, but one I liked as Sharp and Mass were driving CP Datsun 280 Zs. That they could compete and beat all the other big block cars was a testament to the preparation of the cars and skill of the drivers.

F5000 was now the undisputed king of SCCA pro racing and the July event at RA drew 31 entries. Most of the front half of the field was equipped with year old Lola T-332ís. Lolaís new car, the T-400, had quickly proven to be slower than the T-332ís. Even Carl Haas, the American importer for Lola, had gone back to the T-332 with his Haas/Hall team and had Brian Redman back at the wheel. Velís-Parnelli had expanded their team to two cars with Al Unser joining Mario Andretti.

David Hobbs, Elliot Forbes-Robinson, and Graham McRae were all in T-332s. Patrick racing was there with another one for Gordon Johncock. With all these big names in T-332s, it was another entry by Bay Racing for B. J. Swanson that really stood out. Swanson had seemed to come out of nowhere and was qualifying well and running up front in all the races, despite driving for a small under-funded team. He had even finished third at Watkins Glen a couple of weeks before. I took an immediate liking to him and tabbed him as someone to watch.

With the demise of the Can Am, the Shadow team turned to F5000 and built the Shadow DN-6 for Jackie Oliver. Warwick Brown and John Woodner were both in Talons, and ex-drag racer Danny Ongais was entered in a Lola T-400. Eppie Wietzes was also in a T-400, but he had highly modified his in an attempt to make it handle as well as the T-332s

We took our usual place on the hill in Canada corner. We had no sooner settled in when Tomís wife, Cathy, pulled out a book and began reading. This was what she did at every race Ė just sit there and read her book all day long. Once I asked her why she bothered to come to the race if she did not want to watch it. "I am watching it," she said. "OK, who is in the lead?" I asked her. She told me and then rattled off the names of the next four places in order. I was impressed, and left her alone with her book after that.

One thing Cathy hated, for some unknown reason, was the Corvette parade they held every race day at lunch time. All the Corvette owners would park in the Corvette Coral south of corner three, and were allowed to drive their cars around the track at lunch time. The amazing thing about it was the sheer number of them. There seemed to be no end to them as they just kept on coming past. Cathy would boo and hiss at them. She called them the "Pigs of Plastic"

Most of the gang and Cathy behind the tree with her book on the hillside in Canada Corner

The rest of us were very much amused at this, and as soon as the first Corvette appeared, we would shout, "Look, Cathy!! Itís your favorite - the Corvette Parade!" At this announcement, she would stick her tongue out at us. I must admit it was pretty boring, but the Corvette parade was a fixture of every race. They were not allowed to pass, but every now and then one would hang back and then stomp on it as they came through the corner - like they could impress us. One time, however, we were impressed as the guy over-cooked it and spun out in front of us. Cathy was not the only one jeering them that time. Thankfully, they no longer do the Corvette parade at every race.

Another thing Cathy hates is second-hand smoke, especially from a cigar. We were in the crowded grandstands for the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis one year when Cathy stood up and loudly announced, "I have to move. There is some one here with a big cigar and a small penis!" I am not sure what the connection is between the two, but you can always count on Cathy to speak her mind.

Cathy with her book clowns with Bunky who is "resting"

The F5000 race was run in the same format as the previous years with two 60-mile qualifying heats and a 100 mile final. In qualifying for the heats, Andretti had the best time, followed by Redman. A surprising third fastest was B. J. Swanson. Andretti and Swanson were in the same heat and ran first and second for quite a while. Swanson slipped back in the pack after he began to lose his brakes, and Andretti won easily.

In the second heat, Oliver led the first five laps before Redman passed him for the lead. He was stretching out that lead for what appeared would be another easy win for him when he failed to come by. He had a broken rear hub carrier and had to drop out. Oliver took over the lead and won the heat.

The 100-lap final was all Andretti as he led from flag to flag and finished a half a lap ahead of second place finisher, Oliver. Wietzes had all he could do to hold off a last lap charge by Swanson and barely beat him to the line for third. Still, it was another impressive finish for newcomer Swanson.

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen

 

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