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Monday, February 24, 2014

Back to the Future

I've been asked, sometimes in kind of a sideways way, what I think of Norm Roulx' return to the former Nor-Way Pines, now operating as the Legion Speedway.  Let me just state now, for the record . . . I think it's great!  Norm is a walking piece of living history, of Northern New England dirt-track racing in general, and at that facility in particular.

Remember this, Wayne Weeks was the "Way" in Nor-Way Pines.  Guess who was the "Nor"?  Hell, anybody that remembers the place before all the trees got cut down knows that they were all white pines, no Norway pines on the place.  Norman is, after all, Wayne's nephew and the guy who got Mr. Weeks into the whole racing game in the first place.

The way I heard it, Wayne and Louella got home one evening to find an old Ford parked in their yard.  The next day, they found out where it came from; Norman left it there.  It was intended to be their race car, and with Hank Montandon at the wheel they learned their craft.  They went from car owners to part owners of the just-beginning Bear Ridge Speedway, to co-owners of the Nor-Way Pines in (if I remember correctly) 1974.

I am pleased beyond words to see Norm back behind the mic at his old stomping grounds.  He's got the knowledge, the background, and the drive to really make as much of a mark on the new place as he had on the old one.  Shoot, the only guy around who's seen further back in this track's history . . . well, that would be me, I suppose, as Dad has moved past this mortal coil.

Norman and I have worked together on numerous occasions and at a couple different tracks.  To me, anybody that is going to represent my home track - and the Legion Speedway will always be my home track- should have a good grasp of its history.  He definitely fits the bill.  The mic couldn't be in better hands.  I can't wait to buy a ticket and hear what he has to say.  See ya this summer, Norm.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Brief History of Racing in Loudon, NH

Before the New Hampshire Motor/International Speedway, even before Bryar Motorsport Park, there was a racetrack in Loudon.  A lot of people think they know what I'm referring to.  I'll bet they're wrong!

Once upon a time, in a magical land called Laconia, there lived a tire salesman and Baptist minister named Keith Bryar.  Mr. Bryar was the owner of Belknap Tire, which still exists on Union Avenue in the aforementioned magical land.  One of Mr. Bryar's favorite ways of getting his ya-ya's out was to race sled dogs.  He was very good at it; reportedly so good that he would occasionally travel with his dogs up to Alaska, where such things were invented, and whip their frosty little derrieres.  Sarah Palin was just a little tyke, so she probably doesn't remember it.

Anyway, Mr. Bryar kept his dogs kenneled on a piece of property he owned over in the nearby town of Loudon.  Being an enterprising gentleman, he also had a little amusement park on the same property, which included a merry-go-round, a kid's roller coaster, and a go-kart track.  There was also a mobile home there, which served as an office.

In the early 1960's, Mr. Bryar apparently noticed that there were a number of small racetracks dotting the landscape; Claremont Speedway, Thunder Road in Barre, VT, the Waterford VT Speedbowl, the Legion Bowl in Rumney, the recently shuttered Gilford Bowl, and others.  I would guess that Mr. Bryar looked at this burgeoning trend and thought; "Gee, having a race track sounds like fun."

At any rate, around 1962 or 1963 - I'm not sure, but I think it was '62, because I remember it being significant that one of the drivers drove car number 62 (Hey, I was 6/7/8 years old) - he opened the doors, or rather, gates, of the 106 Midway Raceway.  It was named such because it was located on the grounds of his little amusement park.

For the track, he took the front straightaway of the asphalt go-kart track and cut a fifth-mile ring around the rest of the tiny road course.  It looked cool with that little strip of tar running through the infield.  I don't know where he got the clay he used for the rest of the track, but it always seemed to be just as hard as the paved front stretch.  To this, he added a cement retaining wall on the front stretch and what appeared to be a ridiculous amount of bleachers.

Those bleachers quickly filled.  I remember hearing that they usually got around 5000, that's thousand, people to come out on a Saturday night.  There were also a ton of race cars in the pit.  The track was a blazing success from day one.

My parents and my grandmother made up the core of the officials.  Dad, Sonny Clogston, was still serving as the announcer at the Legion Bowl on Sunday afternoons.  Keith asked him to be the pit steward of Loudon, which Dad took to with relish.  He had a unique way of conducting a safety test on a new car.  He always kept a short-handled sledge hammer in our car.  If you were new to the track he would go and get that hammer and climb into your car.  If he could make another way out aside from the way he got in, your car wasn't safe enough.  You could hear his safety inspections for a mile in every direction.

My mother and grandmother, Marge and Pearl Clogston, held jobs that at the time were known as Checkers; now often referred to as Scorers.  There was no one to train them in this important task, so they developed their own method which is still used as most of the tracks in the area.  It's pretty intuitive, so it's probably done that way pretty much everywhere, but it takes practice to do well.  At 7 or 8 I got good enough at it that I would help out sometimes.

The flagman was also a transplant from the Legion Bowl, the great Teddy Winot.  Guy Burnham served as the tech man, and Dad hired a local kid named Donnie . . . shoot, I forgot his last name.  But I still see him around occasionally, and he was the Assistant Pit Steward.

It was the days of one class.  None of the 4/5/7 classes of race cars, you had race cars and road cars, and that's it.  On this tiny track, the most they would ever dare to field for the feature was 24 cars, which made the qualifiers very real indeed.  There would often be between 40 and 60 cars in the pit on any given Saturday night.

The way an evening ran was this; there would be 10-lap qualifying heats of around 10 cars each.  The top four qualified for the feature, and the top 3 went into the semi-feature.  After the semi, there would be consolation races, or consi's, for everyone that didn't qualify, again divided up into ten-car, ten-lap heats.  In these, the top 2 earned a spot in the feature.

It was not unusual for more than half the cars in attendance to spend the feature on their trailers.  This may seem draconian, but the simple fact was the track was so small you simply couldn't put any more cars out there.

One classic story from Loudon that I'll never forget involved Ted Winot.  Ted was quite the showman, and usually started a race by taking the green and red flags and walking down to the inside of the first turn.  As the lined-up cars came out of turn 4 he would leap high in the air waving the green flag.  Then, holding the green flag out, he would run down the infield as the cars rushed toward him.  It was all timed so that he would be directly across from the flag stand just as the last cars were going by.  Then he would rush across the track and leap up onto the flagstand and flag the rest of the race from there.  He did this at the beginning of every race, and also for every restart.

Normally, for the feature, Dad and Guy Burnham would come out into the infield bearing red flags.  They were intended to be extra eyes for Ted because of how crowded the track was, and had the authority to throw the red flag if they saw a problem that Ted missed.

So for one feature Ted, Dad and Guy took their positions.  Ted threw the green and ran toward the start/finish line as the cars rushed past.  But this time, just as he was about to cross the track, the first cars came out of turn 4.  Ted hesitated, and that's all it took.  By then the cars were too close, and he didn't cross.  And he didn't get to, either.

So there he stood, in the infield praying for a break in traffic that was never going to come.  Dad was laughing so hard he sat down on the grass.  After a few laps of Ted standing there looking forlorn, somebody spun out and Dad and Guy waved their red flags.  Ted flagged the rest of the race from the flagstand.  Including restarts.

There were a lot of great and memorable drivers at the old 106 Midway Raceway, and none moreso than Paul Martel.  He drove a blue and white number 444, which went like stink.  He won at least one track championship, and probably two as best as I can recall.  '64 and '65, probably.  At one point it was discovered that, instead of a '34 Ford chassis like he was supposed to have, they'd built the car on an International Scout frame.  Wa-a-a-y illegal.  He was kicked out for two weeks, and when he returned the owner of his car had acquired an old beater of a racer, the 3J, which wasn't much compared to the old 444.  It didn't matter.  Paul kept right on winning.

One of his championship seasons came down to the last race.  Paul was locked in a tight points battle with Buck Moses, father of the late, great Big Bill Moses.  Buck was, in my humble opinion, quite possibly the greatest car builder in the history of short-track racing in Northern New England.  After the qualifiers on that final night of the season, they were neck and neck.  But Paul blew his engine in the heat, and was out of the feature.  All Buck had to do was take the green flag and the championship was his.  Instead, he loaned Paul his car.  Of course, Paul went on to win the title.  Got a lump in your throat?  I do.

Model of Paul Martel's 444, made by Neal Davis

"Smiling" Bill George of Andover, NH was another star of the track.  He won the championship in '63 with his #64 car.  Bill's brother, Carleton, ran a service station in Andover, but Bill farmed.  We often saw him at the fairs where he would compete in the oxen pulls.

Model of Bill George's championship car, made by Neal Davis

The Taylor brothers, Art and Walt, raced there.  One of them owned a gas station and raced as the Flying A, the brand of gas he sold.  There was also the aforementioned #62, driven by Bob "Lollipop" Brown.  He won the nickname by giving my mother an extra-large lollipop, presumably as a joke bribe for the head checker.  She kept that lollipop, wrapped in plastic, for years afterward.

Another of the stars of the track was Si Colby, driver of the 1H.  Si owned a service station in Bristol and he and Dad were old friends.  One time there was a problem with somebody who was running studded snow tires, which was highly illegal.  Try as they might, nobody could figure out who was using them.  They would scour the pits, and no one had them on their car.  Then a qualifier would run and the evidence was obvious.  Studded snows really tore up the track.

One evening Dad was making the rounds of the pits, which were poorly lit.  He made his way over to the back corner where Si happened to always park.  He could see Si putting something in his truck.  Dad offered to help, and when he got out his flashlight he discovered that his old friend was busy hiding the studded snows.  He would slip them on quickly, run his race, and then hustle back to his pit stall and remove them.  It broke Dad's heart to do it, but he kicked Si out for two weeks.  Si understood, though, and they remained friends.

The other popular means of cheating was to put moth balls in your gas.  Supposedly, it gave your car extra horsepower.  You could always tell by the smell if someone was treating their fuel with mothballs.  Those, and the use of a Jeep or Scout frame, were the biggest ways anyone had of getting around the rules.

The rules were simple, but strict.  Everything had to be show stock, and there could be nothing on your car that didn't come with that year's make and model.  Sometimes somebody would pay the $25 tear-down fee and the car, the owner, Dad and Guy would go after the races to Belknap Tire where they would examine the offending part of the car.  If the complaint regarded your rear end and you drove a Ford, they would remove the rear end and every gear had better be stamped FoMoCo, for Ford Motor Company.  You could have the identical gears, made of the identical material with the same number of teeth and everything, but if they didn't say FoMoCo you were illegal and lost your winnings and points.

Keith Bryar was always my favorite track owner for the reason that he knew what he didn't know.  He was not an expert on racing or race cars, so he hired people who did and trusted them.  Anyone who came to the track owner with a complaint would be directed to whichever official was in charge of that area.

The one time I can remember him being tempted to step in involved a popular driver, I forget who, who had been caught adrift of the rules.  Policy was that they would be kicked out for at least two weeks, so it must have been a serious violation.  Keith was on the verge of panic, according to my father, because so many people cheered for this driver.  Dad told him that if he wanted somebody else to be pit steward, Keith was free to do that, but he would only stay if the rules were the rules.  Keith swallowed hard and backed my Dad.

As it turned out, once word got out that this driver was out for two weeks, six new cars showed up along with their fans.  The offending driver came back after his sentence was up, shamefaced and legal as a judge.

Dad, Mom, Gram, Donnie and Ted worked in Loudon on Saturday nights and Rumney Sunday afternoons for a few years.  Finally, the team left Rumney and were invited to officiate for a new track in Groveton, the Riverside Speedway, for Sundays.  Around 1967-68 Keith announced plans to expand the facility.  He wanted to tear down the little amusement park and move his kennel and turn the 106 Midway Raceway into a road course.  He offered Dad the job of being pit steward for the new facility, a job that would require him to quit his regular job and work for Keith full time.  Dad was tempted, but turned him down.

BMP was, of course, another success.  They soon acquired race dates from the SCCA, including its very popular Trans-Am series.  They also became the home of the Laconia Motorcycle races.  He even kept one foot in the local racing scene by having a dirt oval on the property.  We never went, but my brother, Butch used to race there.

If anyone out there has any stories or pictures from the 106 Midway Raceway, or know of anything I got wrong, I'd be more than happy to share them.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Innovation and Engineering

I don't often pontificate about the state of what would be considered Major-League racing; at least, not here.  But recently I was talking with a couple other race fans and wound up going off at length at what I DON'T like about modern racing.

I must confess, I no longer watch NASCAR or Indy car racing.  I do like Formula 1, and I've taken a shine to the Rolex Grand-Am series, especially it's Continental Tire classes.  I grew up in the 1960's and 1970's, which I feel was a particularly fertile time for racing.  Maybe even the peak of it all, with a steady decline since then.

My big complaint is that I think the Powers That Be in big-time racing have forgotten where it all came from.  Racing is now being packaged as a battle of personalities; Earnhardt, Jr. against Johnson against Kowslowski against Busch and so on.  In the name of Fairness and Safety, the cars in both NASCAR and Indy Car are all essentially the same.  Even the engines, which are built to ever-tighter regulations.

Imagine if you will the first time that two cars met up on the same road.  It's been long thought that this was probably the setting of the first car race, and it's probably not too far from the truth.  Was it a battle of personalities?  Most likely not.  That could have been solved by a fist fight, or by having a pretty girl pick the one they liked the best.  No, it was a battle to decide who had the best car.

It's why the 500-mile and 24-hour race soon became the standards to which any great race had to aspire.  In the early days of racing, these were ridiculously long, arduous distances that would prove beyond any doubt who built the better car.  Now, the finish of these races are manipulated artificially so that the winner is decided by a car length or less.  And if, Heaven forbid, the agreed upon distance should transpire during a caution period, it is artificially extended so they can finish with a two-lap Green-White-Checker finish.

The car at the top of the page is the one that came within two laps of winning the 1967 Indianapolis 500.  It was commissioned and owned by Andy Granatelli, who at that time ran the STP oil additive company.  It had four-wheel-drive and was powered by a turbine engine taken from a combat helicopter.  Most of the rest of the field was propelled by either Offenhauser or Ford piston engines.  Andy thought he had a better idea, and almost proved it with a dominant performance by driver Parnelli Jones.  An engine bearing ended his race six miles from the end.

This is the Chaparral 2J, designed and built by Jim Hall.  He's the man, with the earlier Chaparral 2-series, that put spoilers and then wings on race cars.  He also whipped everybody else's, ahem, derriere with them.  So everybody else had to put spoilers and then wings on their race cars to keep up.  His innovative imagination led him to this, which found an active way to do what the wings and spoilers did in a passive way.  He used vacuum power to suck the car to the race track, which meant it had just as much adhesion to the track in slow corners as in fast straightaways.  Alfa Romeo used the same idea on an open-wheeled Formula One car.

And speaking of wings, the first race car in history to log a lap of more than 200 miles per hour was NOT a sports car, NOT an Indy car, NOT a Formula one car . . . it was a stock car!  This stock car, as a matter of fact.  Bobby Isaac's 1970 Dodge Daytona, at Talladega Motor Speedway.  Damn, ain't it pretty!  Yes, there was a time when the fastest race cars in the entire world were NASCAR stockers.

This NASCAR stocker, the Can-Am "sucker car" and the "Whoosh-mobile" Indy car all share one thing; they were all outlawed.  The real reason for this was that they were just too damned fast.  And these cars were hardly the only ones.  Chrysler's Hemi, Mazda's Wankel rotary engine, Williams Renault's active suspension, Mercedes' Streamliner Formula One car, the Tyrrell Ford six-wheeler, and many other innovative ideas came and went, not because they failed, but because they succeeded too well.

And even in failure, they made a serious impact on the cars we drive today.  Anybody seen any of those bumper stickers that say; "Yes, it's a Hemi"?  Ever see an econobox with a wing and an air dam?  Noticed how aerodynamic foolish little things like side mirrors have gotten?  And while there are no turbine cars on the road, there are plenty of turbine-powered trains, helicopters, and Army tanks out there.

For aircraft, war is the great stage for innovation.  You can watch the progression of history in planes from the Sopwith Camel to the F-18 growing through warfare.  The automobile, by contrast, has grown and changed on the race track.  New ideas come about and get tested and adapted first on race cars.  Most of the differences between the Model T Ford and a 2014 Ford Fusion were first tested at Indianapolis or Le Mans or Daytona or . . .  From the engine under the hood to the tires holding it off the ground to the upholstery on the seat.

Time for another gratuitous race car picture.  Pop quiz; if you go into the headquarters of Cummins Diesel, you will see a vehicle that was powered by one of their engines.  If you guessed a John Deere tractor or a Peterbilt truck, you were wrong.  What you'll see is this:

This car won the pole and led more than fifty laps of the 1952 Indianapolis 500 before succumbing to some minor mechanical glitch.  I guess I don't have to tell you what's under the hood.

Now, I would agree that you can't just take the lid off.  With today's technology it would be relatively easy to build a car that would go so fast it would be no fun to watch.  So fast there would be no way to make it safe enough for the driver to survive a crash.  There are good, practical reasons for wanting race cars to be limited in how fast they can go.

The problem is in how this has been done.  It's been done by making it so you can't innovate.  Formula One and drag racing are the last major racing series where you're not forced to race the same car with the same engine as everybody else.  And even they have tightened their rules to ridiculous lengths, on their way to yet more "spec series."  Plus, certain facts of life have, unfortunately, remained in place.  For instance, the cars that win regularly are still the ones with the most money.  Only now, instead of looking for an advantage that helps you complete the distance or win by a long way, it helps you get a 1- or 2% gap over the rest of the field.

A race series like Sprint Cup or the Izod Indycar series has a gap of about two seconds a lap between pole position and dead last.  Two seconds!  And the only way that last car is going to get to the front is with an infusion of millions of dollars.  And the really funny part is that any decent shade-tree mechanic with twenty grand and access to a decent junk yard can build a car that can beat them all.  It won't fit within the rules, but it will be faster.  There's something ridiculous about that.

The man in the picture is Art Arfons, a shade tree mechanic and independent drag racer from Akron, Ohio.  He built this car, known as the Green Monster, in the early 1960's for under a hundred thousand dollars.  The engine is an Army surplus GE jet from an F-4 Phantom fighter plane.  He set the Land Speed record in this car three times, the fastest being 576 mph.  Craig Breedlove, in a similar machine, beat it and raised it to just over 600.  Art got back in, and his airspeed indicator told him he was going about 650 when he blew a tire.  He walked away from the wreck.

I'm not ashamed to say I miss those days.  And I miss seeing some nut-job show up at Indy or Le Mans or Daytona with a Wankel engine, or a turbine, or a new kind of wing, or extra tires.  There are ways to make race cars safer and slower besides stuffing them into ever-smaller boxes.  Plus, I'm not convinced that the cars we drive on the street are perfect.  They should get better gas mileage.  They should be able to run on a variety of fuels, and there should be a greater variety of fuels for them to run on.  They should be safer.  And cheaper.  And last longer, and be more comfortable, and carry more.  And they should continue to improve in all these areas forever.

But racing is no longer allowed to be a crucible where these things can be tested.  Racing has devolved into 200-mph wrestling.  It's one of the reasons I still love local racing at local tracks, because the people that race there still get to innovate, even if it's on a small scale.

Rules makers for race series should look at their current fleet of race cars with this thought in mind; what about this car could be improved?  The tires?  The fuel?  The body, frame, engine, safety equipment?  For those things, the limits should allow for their improvement instead of their homogenization.  Engines too powerful?  Limit their size.  More variety of engines?  Limit the amount of fuel they can use.  Tires stick too well?  Make them narrower.  But don't just make everybody run the same car.

And if somebody comes up with something so good nobody can beat it, just let it run.  Find small ways of limiting it, and wait for nature to take its course.  Before very long, the people coming in second-through-last will get sick of it and figure out a way to beat them.  In the sixties, Chrysler's Hemi engine dominated until NASCAR banned it for the 1965 season.  You want to know who protested the loudest?  Ford, because they'd just come up with their own version of the Hemi.  There is no innovation that can't be improved upon.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Face In The Crowd

Hi.  Y'know, every now and then I'll run into somebody at Wal-Mart or a gas station and we'll get talking racing.  For those of you that haven't heard, yes, I'll be back at the Rumney track this year, and glad for it.  And, I really do plan on writing more for this blog in the future.  I have a lot more memories to share, and I don't plan on shutting up about them any time soon.

The thing I wanted to say today is that I'm so glad that there is so much about small NH (and VT) dirt tracks on the web these days.  Thanks especially to Billy "Gee-tar" Moses for posting all that video.  I used to watch Mary Emery taping all those races all those evenings and wondering, 'what the hell is she ever going to do with those?'  Now, I know.

Just in case there's somebody that doesn't know yet, there's a Facebook page you'll love if you've bothered to read any of this.  It's called Nor-Way Pines Through The Years, and it's awesome.  Billy's posted tons (hours?) of video, and lots of other people have shared photos and stories.  For your information, there are similar pages for Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford, VT and the Canaan Fair Speedway in Canaan, NH.

There are also a number of websites dedicated to memorializing the sport we all love.  I am glad to be a small part of that history with this page, and I hope you enjoy - and will continue to enjoy - it.  I would like to know if there are also any sites or pages regarding some of the tracks that didn't last as long; like the tri-oval in Franklin, NH back in the sixties, or Bob Welch's try for one year in North Woodstock.  And for that matter, anybody that's got anything from the original 106 Midway Raceway in Loudon - later known as Bryar Motorsport Park, and then NH Int'l Speedway - I'd love to see it.

So keep the shiny side up, and don't forget to turn left.  See ya at the Legion Speedway in May.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Another great website

Hi.  I've been trying to let everyone know when I find another website that deals with Northern New England small-track racing, and here's another one.  It's called NH Short Track Heroes, and here's the link:

I'll also put the link on the side of this page.  Enjoy!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ultimate Race Weekend

Well, it's here.  Memorial Day weekend.  First of all, let me express my deep and heartfelt gratitude to those men and women who have served, and are now serving, in the uniform of the various militaries of the United States.  And please, a doff of the cap and a moment of silence for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

I guess the next thing to say is, Drivers, Start Your Engines.  Got a couple races already in the DVR to watch, and as I write this the Grand Prix of Monaco is just finishing.  I've shut the TV off so I can watch the whole thing later on.  Then there's the Indianapolis 500, on its 101st anniversary, along with what we used to call the World 600 from Charlotte.  That's after the Rolex Grand Am series race, which I believe was yesterday at Lime Rock.  Or is it today?  Not sure.  Been busy.

Oddly enough, I won't be watching many of them.  The Grand Am race should be on my DVR, along with Monaco, but I have no plans to watch either Indy or NASCAR today or any time soon.  That's sad, really, but for me not as sad as watching the races.

Have you ever heard the term, "Spec series?"  Spec is short for . . . hmm, what is it short for?  Specific?  Specialized?  Certainly not Special, or Spectacular.  Spec refers to the fact that everybody's race car has to fit specific guidelines and parameters.

Well, now, wait a minute, isn't that just rules?  Every race series has rules, right?  Makes it fair, and makes it safe.  Ah, but there's a difference between simply having rules, and making everybody drive the same, identical car with the same, identical engine.  That's what a spec series is.  Cookie cutter cars.

You've probably gathered by now that I'm not too into that sort of thing.  I understand the whole motivation behind it, of course.  Makes the racing close.  It does make me wonder, though.  If the final lap being a nail-biter down-to-the-wire heart-in-your-throat event, then what's the other 100 or 250 or 500 laps for?  Why not just have the one lap?

I think major league racing the world over has forgotten what the original point was.  The original point was to find out which car was the best.  Not which driver, but which car.  Back in the day, the reason for racing was not so much to impress ticket buyers and television viewers, but to find out something.  The Indianapolis race was 500 miles long because it wasn't known if any of those cars could even go that far.  And because they did, then it became an issue who could do it the fastest, and this led to improvements for everybody's car. 

After all, what does the phrase, "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" mean anyway?  Why does winning on Sunday count?  Because it's solid, documentable proof that your car is better!  That's the biggest difference, looking at it in terms of devices, between cars and airplanes.  Airplanes' biggest proving ground has always been war.  Good fighter planes led directly to better private planes.  Good bombers were the precursors to cargo and passenger planes.

But for automobiles, racing is the crucible in which new ideas are put to the test.  Speed, safety, reliability, all is revealed by setting a long-distance goal and mashing your foot to the floor.  Improvements in every aspect of automobile manufacture, from tires to chassis structure to windshield wipers, can be traced to success on the race track.  It's where countless new technologies have been conceived, tested, and either proven or rejected.  Go look at the car in your driveway.  Even if it's a humble minivan or econobox, there's hardly anything on it that didn't begin its life as a new idea for a race car.

That's all gone now, for the most part.  Oh, yes, there are little things that do get tried on racers that will eventually find their way onto our road cars, but for the most part racing has become, more and more, mere entertainment.  It is all managed in a way that makes the last lap the most exciting one, and everything else is just dramatic embellishment.  It sorts out the larger group into a much smaller group of a few players who will be eligible for that last-second push for the victory.  The only thing that makes it a sport is the fact that, so far as we know anyway, none of the result is decided in advance.

It used to be a lot more wide open, of course.  Even in the world of stock cars, there were huge differences between the cars in any given race.  Did you know that a NASCAR stock car race was once won by a Jaguar?  You could race literally any stock automobile that would pass the safety inspection.  I'm not going to go into the history of NASCAR or any other race series, because anyone reading this is probably already aware of anything I could say about it.

I believe the eventual direction will be for all the cars in a race series to be provided by one garage, in order that they will then all be prepared as identically as physically possible.  That would be the ultimate in "fairness."  It will also emphasize the drivers above all else.  It will be a clash of personalities, disguised as a car race.  They might as well be wrestling, or playing ping pong, but they'll be in high-powered mega-safe practically identical automobiles.

And all this has happened in my lifetime, or at least most of it.  Back in the early 1950's Mercedes-Benz put a body with fenders on their Formula One cars for high-speed circuits like Silverstone and Monza.  The FIA, which then as now was the sanctioning body for F1, mandated that all their race cars should be open-wheeled.  If they had been allowed to continue as logic dictated to their engineers, it would have led to the whole field being closed-wheel, probably at every track, and this surely would have spilled over to Indycars and so on.  And Dan Wheldon would still be alive.  And so it goes.

Or look at what NASCAR did in the '60's with the Chrysler Hemis.  Dodge and Plymouth came out with the hemi in late 1963, making it available on a limited basis on their road cars so that it was legally a stock car.  These cars dominated the 1964 season.  So NASCAR banned the hemispherical head starting in 1965, in spite of the fact that Ford had gone ahead and prepared a hemispherical-head engine of its own.  In response, Chrysler pulled all their factory teams for the '65 season.  Richard Petty went drag racing, Ned Jarrett won the championship by a country mile, and attendance was down by, in some cases, half or more.  So NASCAR gave in and allowed the Hemi, but it was certainly not the last time they banned a new idea because it won too much.

The same thing happened at Indianapolis.  Everything from diesel engines to supercharging to turbines got slapped with restrictions until they were "managed" into uncompetitiveness.  The Indycar series now runs one chassis, made by Dallara in Italy, and there are three engine manufacturers whose engines all have the same number of cylinders, the same displacement, and are allowed the same amount of turbocharger boost.  They might as well be making the same engine, because they essentially are.  Same with the chassis and engine rules in NASCAR.

Even Formula One, which has usually maintained the high ground in race car technology, has gone to mandate things to the Nth degree.  But at least you can still park a Ferrari, a McLaren and a Red Bull side by side with no markings and tell them apart.  If you parked the race cars driven by Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Greg Biffle side by side with no markings, you'd have to pop the hoods and look for the brand on the valve covers to pick the right ones.

Personally, my favorite race series right now are the Grand Am and Continental Tire series.  Which are, surprisingly, both owned and sanctioned by NASCAR.  These are all road course races, which I like anyway.  Each series has several different chassis and engine manufacturers.  Last year's Daytona Prototype champion in Grand Am drove a Riley chassis powered by BMW, and the Riley looked a fair bit different from the Dallara and the Coyote chassis that they beat.  For this year, the rules were tweaked so that they can look, and be, even more different.

I tend to lean the strongest toward the Continental Tire series, which is actual stock cars.  The second-tier Grand Am series is the Grand Touring class, with race chassis but bodies that match the templates of cars like Camaro, Mustang, and Porsche among others.  But in CT, they are actually the cars they look like, as they come from the manufacturer, with roll cages and safety equipment installed.  The races are shown on Speed channel, usually delayed a week or two.  The fields are huge, sometimes having 60 to 70 cars in two classes.  Their Grand Touring class is, again, Mustangs, Camaros, Porsches, BMW 3-series and so forth.  The Street Tuner class is for anything smaller, from Minis to Kias to Mazda Miatas and the like.

So far, it doesn't seem as closely managed as the bigger series.  Yes, if someone begins to dominate, the rules are adjusted somewhat to give everyone a better chance.  But basically there's not enough money or prestige on the line for BMW or Chevy to make huge changes to a whole line of cars.  And as a bonus, they get to find out just how good the cars in their dealers' showrooms hold up over some very tough miles.

So basically, as far as I'm concerned, there is one word that describes the kind of racing that will be held today in Indianapolis and Charlotte; fake.  And I'm sorry, I have no use for fake racing.  They might as well have Milli Vanilli lip-synch the national anthem.  I am convinced that any good shade-tree mechanic with plenty of local racing experience and ten thousand dollars to play with could build a car that would last 500 or 600 miles and beat whoever wins either of those races today.  They just wouldn't be able to do it within those rules.

Then again, I always liked home-made chocolate chip cookies better than Chips Ahoys.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

New Owners in Rumney?

Hi, there.

I know I've been pretty quiet here lately.  And a lot of people have been asking me about the situation at the Rumney track, the former Legion Bowl/Nor-Way Pines/Pines Speedway/Legion Speedway/Rattlesnake Motordrome/Big Daddy's Speedbowl.  The story this list tells is that the track has changed management several times since Wayne Weeks sold his lease and retired.

Some of these new managers have asked me to work for them, and I have.  Some have not, and some have asked and I said no.  Last summer, before any of the brief series of Sprint car shows, I ran into Mike Kondrat at a gas station.  He asked if I was interested in announcing for those shows.  At the time, I said no, because I had been in contact with most or all of the parties involved with the operation, and closing, of Big Daddy's.  It sounded to me like, whoever was brave enough to put a key in the gate's padlock, they were going to have lawyers descending on them like locusts. 

Frankly, I didn't want to be involved with that.  Nothing against the Legion, Mike Rivers, Si Allen, or anyone else involved.  I was just . . . well, covering my own tail.  I am in the happy, and sad, position of being friends with people on all sides.  I listened to each of them say some very nasty things about each other; things that, I hope, they now regret, but that's their business.  I did not want to be seen as taking sides, so I stayed clear.  I didn't even buy a ticket to go watch.

Apprently, as it turns out, everything went smoothly last summer.  And, I've heard that Si is now either leasing, or has bought, the track, with the full blessing of the Legion and Mike Rivers.  That's the prominent rumor, anyway.  I hope that is the case.  All that I'm hearing now is positive, and everybody's looking forward to a summer of racing.  The 51st since the place first opened, as a matter of fact.  When the racing juices start flowing full-strength, I'll probably be putting more of my memories on this page, about this track and the others I've known, and eagerly anticipting the memories yet to be made.

I hope to be able to buy my ticket a few times.  And, if Si or anybody else needs some extra help from an old former announcer, just give me a shout.  I'd love another excuse to go get involved again.  I sincerely hope that all sides have buried the hatchet and taken care of their business.  And if anyone wants to know whose side I'm on, I'm on the side of the racers and the fans.  Long may the flag wave in the infield, no matter who owns the ground under it.  Let's go racing!!

Rick Clogston