autoracing memoirs  
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1939-present

August 2014 Edition
Being a collection point for recall, with continuous editing and some future photos with the help, hopefully, of some viewers.
I believe the first race cars I saw were at a garage on Pleasant Street, Belmont Mass in probably 1939. I rode my one speed bike over the wooden bridge at Clark Street to see midget cars worked on. I believe they raced at Marlboro. When I needed the exhaust pipe put back on my '53 Hillman convertible in 1958 I went back to this garage and had the guy weld it back in place with no baffles. It was the same guy running the garage and I think he remembered me when I stated I used to stand quietly and watch him work. When I visited the Briggs Cunningham Museum in Costa Mesa, California in the mid 1980's I yakked with John Burgess, originally of Waltham, MA, the curator who had raced midgets in Massachusetts and he remembered that garage.
I am guessing my first spectator visit to the Norwood Massachusetts paved oval was 1946 when I was 14. What I can remember most clearly was riding there with Herb Ducey of Farnham Street Belmont, Massachusetts in his '36 Plymouth coupe. He was several years older than me and knew some of the racers so we got around the pits. I recall a '37 Chevie coupe belching flames from it's exhaust when 'backing off' for the tight turns. Whether he ever raced or not I don't recall. I believe it was in about 1950, when I had my own four door '37 Chevie that I first visited the Westwood track. Someone from Belmont warmed up their stocker on Concord Avenue, Belmont when no one was looking and I believe they raced at an the paved oval Everett track.
In 1950 Joan Sandiford of Belmont introduced  Mort Robinson and I to the Ceresole's of Concord, MA. Patty Ceresole was was a fellow student of Joan's at Concord Academy. I recall some get togethers,  formal and informal at the Ceresoles. I was impressed by Mr. Ceresole's car collection, a pre war Bugatti being in the front yard on one occasion when I hid my '37 Chevy behind their house. I can readily recall talking with Mrs. Ceresole about cars in their front yard when I arrived for an afternoon social. I had heard that Paul Ceresole had been a founder of the Sports Car Club of America in Boston in 1944. I knew he raced sports cars but never knew which cars and where until I reviewed some of my magazine collection and noted he ran a Cisitalia in Non-Championship Races in the early '50's.


1953-1955 U.S Army, Georgia and Asmara, Eritrea

In the fall of '53 I was in the US Army at Fort Gordon, Georgia but unfortunately did not get to see the early stockers. The closest I came was to have Smalleys Garage in I believe Aiken, SC replace the Ford generator on my '38 sedan with one for a Mercury.

I watched and took some slides of road racing in Massawa, Eritrea where I was stationed for all of 1954 and 1955.  Asmara Eritrea was an Italian colony so I learned the language. Some locals whom I met at a road race invited me to come over on Sunday afternoon, share some wine, while the owner of a blue Alfa coupe, an early Veloce I think, started it up in his backyard under a portico on blocks. We sat and listened to the engine rev. They call it 'simpatico'.   I would interpret for GI's in Italian garages when they had mechanical problems. Many english terms are used but you have to know syntax so you won't ask for a transmission 'exchange', when you only needed some 'cambio' (gear) linkage adjusted.  One of our Army bus drivers was one of the best local Italian race drivers.

The local races ran a variety of cars on a treacherous run of about 110 kilometres, dropping from Asmara at an altitude of 8000 feet to sea level in Massawa. I have some slides of new Fiat 1100 sedans, Millicentos, racing around a flat road course, demarked by a few hay bales in Massawa. I also recall watching on the mountain road some home built cars, using World War 2 jettisoned or surplus aircraft auxiliary fuel tanks, nicknamed belly tanks since they hung below either the wings or fuselage. They were powered by what sounded like motorcyle engines in the rear and there was no other body work, no fenders, no roll bar. Whether they conformed to Formula Three or not I don't know.

I recall reading Quattroute, the Italian car magazine and became aware via magazines available in Asmara of colorful European racing such as the Targa Florio. I also discovered The Autocar out of the UK.

1956-1963

I was released from the Army 2 months early to return to Harvard for the 1956 spring semester. There were some serious car guys at Harvard then. Skip Barber was in one class with me and I recall his MGA and Rolls Royce around Harvard Square.

There were a couple of student owned John Fitch Corvairs chasing each other between the buildings on the narrow streets, making exhaust musical echoes. After I had the no baffles muffler put back on my '53 Hillman convertible it turned many heads sounding like some potent sports tourer. I recall seeing a London auto show aluminum bodied Aceca coupe in the square. After I went to work for Raytheon in 1958  I heard many more Harvard area tales from Ben Davis and Will Daugherty, Harvard 58.

My ex was a race fan, we went to Thompson with Ben and Pat Davis one time, sat on the grass with a good view of the sports car races. I recall seeing a female driver slowly roll an Arnolt Bristol and as it went over she put her arm out as in 'whoops' but pulled it in and ducked. The roll bar saved her from  injury.

An 'off' at Thompson, by whom in what? Not the Arnolt Bristol

click for more pics of Thompson mostly colored slides I took around 1960.

Ben and I were hooked by the sound described in the following quote I lifted from somewhere;

"The Cobra coughed to life and we listened, in the hush, as it stumble-popped its way across the paddock and onto the track. And for two glorious laps we listened to the greatest Cobra driver ever wring out a "racing snake" with no other sounds intruding. Every blip of the throttle, every quick pause for a gear change, every abrupt pause at a braking point was distinctly heard in the clear country air. A wonderful memory."
I accompanied Willis Daugherty to Thompson for a drivers practice meet. His first track car was a Porsche Speedster running E production. I can recall Charlie Rainville, SCCA Race Director helping new drivers. One memorable scene was his radically changing the tire pressures on a small Italian sports roadster, maybe an Osca and taking it around the track at respectable speeds with no tire squealing. The NYC driver had been having trouble in the corners.
One time after a race day all the ingroup went to a small restaurant in some small town near Thompson and Sam Posey drove up in his Sprite and told all sorts of stories as we sat around. It was so far back in the early days, no one was taking names or photos. The New York crowd must have gathered at a watering hole south out of Thompson.
Some of the drivers and cars I recall were a guy who liked to wear scots plaids and drove a C Jag to the track. Gordon MacKenzie.  A treat was when the track owner or manager, George Weaver would start his C type Maserati. A situp front engine roadster race car. Beautiful sound.
I have always been a fan of oddball, orphan or unheard of cars so I recall clearly walking around an H modified at Thompson and standing in front of it yakking with the owner. He had made it from a Hillman Husky and I had recognized some components since I then owned my second Hillman, a '56 Husky. He had formed a fibreglas body similar to many other specials. There was an Alexander (Ltd) twin carb conversion for that flathead four with its sturdy bottom end. With changed gearing it might have been halfway decent on the track.

My Husky was tuned to the nth by me and the inimitable Curt and Sam, brothers in Framingham up Route 9 from Gaston Andrey. They did a lot of race car work, as well as regular customer stuff.
 

My Husky had mintex linings, three inch aircraft seatbelts and Continental tires from Willis Daugherty's Porsche on the back.  Since I had three kids and our  second car was an equally prepared Morris Minor I had the Husky brake so well we joked that the body slid forward on the chassis with the heavy pedal pressure. My ex and I used to take turns in Sudbury Mass running the Morris around on icy snow packed roads, about a mile square, mostly undeveloped apple orchard and watch each other from the upstairs windows in our little Cape house.  No wonder some neighbors didn't speak. One waved a pitchfork at Willis when he came by in the Spyder with a new stinger single pipe sticking out the back, numbers on doors. 
I also accompanied Willis to Westboro when he tested a VW and Porsche based rail job he was building which was sort of a poor man's spyder. Later he bought a real RS Spyder.


I had heard Skip Barber whom I knew at Harvard ran in the big time races so I copied the following from somewhere. 

"Goodyear brought new, American-made race rubber north to Mosport, and Cevert was especially pleased with the new Akron-produced tires. But it was Siffert and Stewart who were in a world of their own during qualifying, over two seconds faster than the pole time the last time the F1 cars raced at Mosport in ‘‘69. The Tyrrells bracketed Siffert’’s BRM on the front row. Fittipaldi was finally coming to grips with the much-modified Lotus 72D and equaled his British GP season’’s-best qualifying effort, starting fourth beside Amon’’s Matra. A row behind them, American sports car ace Mark Donohue made his F1 debut in the stunning dark-blue Penske Sunoco McLaren with traditional (for Penske) yellow von Dutch pinstriping. BRM set some sort of record for the 3.0-liter Formula and brought five cars to Canada. Only Howden Ganley's P153 didn't start, and BRMs were everywhere on the grid in Ontario, with Canadian department store heir George Eaton bringing up the rear for Bourne on the penultimate row ahead of Skip Barber’’s March and Pete Lovely's Lotus 49!"
Curt and Sam's garage in Framingham prepared some of Chuck Dietrich's cars. One I recall was about a '54 Ford sedan.  Also they had a Tipo 61 Birdcage arrive by truck from NYC, the importer had them dismantle the engine and reverse the domed pistons, which were in wrong so the valves hit the tops of the pistons. A renowned racing machinist named Hitchcock shared the back of their shop. He preferred highly custom, demanding jobs.One of my more famous road runs was chasing Ben Davis and his sporty car friends to Thompson in my '51 Hillman convertible. Ben was driving a '56 Vette and the car ahead of me was a Jag sedan. They were astounded that I caught up with them every time the road got curvy. I can recall some hairy maneuvers, one being a slide turn on some gravel. When we gathered at Thompson the others all elected me best driver. So far I haven't recalled the other sports models involved.It was those late '50's days at Thompson that Formula Three cars first appeared, motorcyle engines on  'belly tank' bodies. Those were the days you would see Saabs, DKW's, racing as well as a wide variety of imports. A GE engineer from Massachusetts, named Plaisted ran his Cadillac powered Allard in the open class. Some midwest drivers were at Thompson while they were at eastern colleges. John Coelho had a site on Thompson Raceway and Lime Rock which resurrected some fond memories of the '50's and '60's.

1963-1987 ANAHEIM CALIFORNIA

Matthews, a neighbor and friend of ours in Anaheim ran at C.J. Hart's Santa Ana Drag Strip in the early '50's. I had never known any of the strip's history till I searched around the net. I only knew it was on the north side of the Orange County Airport where I think the Briggs Cunningham museum was located when my youngest son and I visitd it in the '80's.  I found that it's first commercial event was in the summer of 1950.Don Ewald has the largest drag strip site in the world with over 8000 pictures and many more to be added. He features front engine fuel dragsters from 1950-1972. The site is named for the prevailing motivation of the early drag racing years, We Did It For Love . Before the site changed domains and had to go membership I had spotted on number 48 a pic of the startline at Santa Ana with a Ford woodywagon beside the track.

Over the years my ex and I went to Ascot and watched it's races on TV. I took my sons to the Orange Show Fairgrounds, Pomona and Orange County drags and a girlfriend to 'World of the Outlaws' in Norco.

We visited Orange County International Raceway in 1968-69 both for the Wednesday night 'amateur' runs and the weekend drags about half a dozen times I believe. I also was there when my oldest son had a school project to writeup a local 'notable's' activities from close observation. He and some school chums selected Tom 'The Mongoose' McEwen and visited him at his home and garage in I think either Westminster or Garden Grove. So at OCIR we got very close to Tom's funny car during warmups. It wouldn't run and got parked while some 'heavyweight' sponsor's representative fretted. The Matthews boys from Anaheim who had grown up playing sports with my sons were racing on Wednesdays a cross ram Chevy stuffed into an Austin Healey roadster. I saw it more in my driveway than at the track. They had Pontiac rear ends but the torque constantly twisted them off center. I've never been sure whether I ran my '67 Dodge 318 van in the strictly stock class or not. I think I did since I believe I had a 'time' I could brag about at work, which was North American Aviation in Downey where many racers and race fans 'had day jobs', including the late Gary Gabelich.We are not related to the late Jimmy Nix. Via the diggers site I noted he was from Oklahoma and died in a dragstrip crash in 1994. I have learned that Nix is almost a common name in the southeast and Oklahoma.. We are from Massachusetts with all the details on my genealogy pages.

Around 1966-67 I took my sons to the Pomona drags. About then I also took them out to San Bernadino to watch small sedans race at Orange Show Fairgrounds. And even to an airstrip near Pomona when 'old planes' gathered.

Anne and I used to watch some mini hydroplanes at Irvine Lake. Wood hulls, small outboard motors, usually 'no pit crew', some put the 'boats' on top of their station wagons. I have never found one word on the net about this racing class. I know many made their own hulls.

When the aerospace business had massive layoffs in '69, I had some good job interviews with Dick Rader of 'The Rader Wheel' but as I recall some negative biz news over the end of that year shut down that prospect. I believe they were located in Westminster, CA. I can recall finding their place of business and going out to lunch with Dick and his finance officer.

The first Kart race we ever witnessed was a prelim to the an early Long Beach Gran Prix. Then I found them at a tiny track in Orange near Irvine, near where the bike jump in air types  took over. Then to a race someplace where I met the West Covina people of drag racing, then Laguna Seca for the nationals, then Jim Hall's Kart racing school.

I met Bill Thomas III at a Kart race atI think Riverside. After telling him I knew of the Cheetah he introduced me to his dad. I recall his shop in Anaheim.

I started listening intently, even taping Len Frank, John Retsek's 'Carshow' , KPFK saturdays from LA.

We were at many of the same events but John was the only one I ever spoke with and that I believe at Willow Springs vintage races. Len Frank personified the word freedom.  There is no greater accolade for a great man.  Since his car philosophy so closely mirrored my own, I've quoted his article which  appeared in Playboy's 1990 Poll on car ownership
I have never been to a high school reunion but all of the cars that you have in your list are for an arriviste. I, on the other hand, have made not arriving nearly a religion. The Berkeley importer on the west coast was Olympic International Motors, naturally now defunct, that, in 1960, occupied the same building that Hollywood Sport Cars did later. HSC was the home of the all- conquering Ronnie Bucknam Healey, the Jim Adams MGA/B and Tiger, and sundry others all put together by the legendary Doane Spencer. In those days of short term dead end jobs, family dissolution and eternally broken racing cars, therapy lay in taking the Stude up onto Mulholland Drive and waiting for the first unsuspecting sports car driver (usually in a British roadster). Sometimes it was the nether end of Sunset Blvd through Pacific Palisades and on toward the Pacific, or, now and then through the Sepulveda Pass. Theraputic joy was in seeing a Healey receding in the rearview mirror or watching some Super 90 go suddenly sideways in front of me then pull to the side of the road. I like to think that urban legends grew up around the Stude.
Been there, done that, notably  the Mulholland Drive and HSC 'scenarios', with similar 'occurrences' across the country.

Attending a company conference in Colorado in about 1972 I found time to run a rental Chevy up the 'public road' at Pikes Peak. Even that was a bit scary.

Via some singles/social life, the Harvard Club of Orange County, the Newport Harbor Art Museum and friends in Laguna Beach I met a Mrs. Busby whose son raced sportscars, notably a Mazda team at the time. I recall her son's garage/workshop on Laguna Canyon Road. She drove a RR.

Len Frank raved about the Suzuki Swift GT1 or GTI and I looked at one at a 'sellers' lot in Garden Grove. One son and I were tempted but 'finances' cooled the ardour. Approx 1983??

1986-1988 AUTO JOURNALISM, Collector Car guru, etc

Sometime in the '80's I met Bobbie Dine Rodda and subscribed for about 10 years to her publication. I've forgotten my first contact with Old Cars Weekly but I started doing writeups and sending them in.

I was going to many car events anyway and the writeup sort of 'justified' my time and expense, plus afforded me a press pass. The most thoroughly researched article, photos of an American Bantam meet in Orange County (CA) appeared I think in severely truncated form. I continued with it for awhile and have the notes somewhere but the full story never got published.

I revisited some auto enclaves I had known from the '60's, Aase Brothers Porsche dismantlers in Anaheim, the new Saleen headquarters a few miles away in East Anaheim, a later model Mustang hopup manufacturer/supplier in Downey CA, Porsche Obsolete in Costa Mesa and some I haven't yet recalled.

A big gathering of Auto Journalists took place at the Imperial Palace in Vegas in Decembe 1988 and I befriended Laura Lea Evans, an artist, who was on the founding board for the Long Beach Gran Prix. She moved to Reno to do some work for the former 'Harrah' museum and we corresponded for years. Since she had once worked in Vegas in 'the media' we got to view the Imperial Palace owner's car restoration shops.

One of the mechanics was proud of me for identifying a late '30's top of the line Alfa coupe, pulled from a lake in Italy, reputedly a 'Mussolini car'.
Three of us on the road to and from L.A. were a genuine Shelby Mustang convertible, Phil Skinner's Edsel wagon and my '78 Honda Civic. We 'leapfrogged' each other in the event of a breakdown but didn't need it. All three of us wrote for 'Old Cars Weekly'. We used to say, 'doesn't everyone write for them?'.

The most memorable 'press coverage' I did was of vintage racing at Willow Springs,Rosamond, California in 1988. See my full report. The two events were the Valvoline Machinists American Indy-Car Series, Gold Cup, April 30/May 1, 1988 and the American Indy-Car Series, October 8-9, 1988

 
When I arrived the track proprietor greeted me 'as one of the good ol' boys from 'back when' and I chatted racing with a guy in the press tower named Rodger for two hours before someone introduced him to some 'celebs' and I heard it was Rodger Ward. A guy with a Stanguellini nearly fell over when I walked up and admired it, stating 'ah, a real Stanguellini, love that Fiat 1100.'  A young girl with a bugeye was fascinated with my tales telling her the first one I had seen raced was Sam Posey's at Thompson.

I would always walk around pit areas, starting lines with a clipboard for note taking so at amateur events I was often asked questions more properly directed at 'officials'.  At Willow Springs I coached some young SCCA drivers about 'going into corners'. A young guy and a young gal were backing off far too much with an MGA and a Sprite. I yakked with them first about their cars then 'dropped the hint'. I told the guy that I need not see his brakelights diving into that sharp left after the 'pit straight', which is also an 'uphill left'. I advised him that his MBG engine/gearing  and bank of the curve would slow him adequately to hold his car. He flew through the corner after that withoiut touching his brakes. Later in the 'big race' Buddy Lazier passed an Andretti into that corner on the last lap of a feature raceRodger at that time was runnng SCCA 'solo' racing at Murphy stadium in San Diego. He chewed out Skip Farnsworth there, an Anaheim neighbor who helped me coach soccer team,  one time for something he did running the Alfa coupe Skip had 'bought for his daughter' to drive to the high school adjacent to their home.In about '83  I rented a small motor home and drove with two of my sons to Laguna Seca and camped for a weekend of racing, a Winston West event. Some memories are a Mini Cooper running the track 'like a slot car',  Davey Allison out of control, hitting a barrier and Bill Schmidt showed him you could do a 360 on that turn and get straight and go under the bridge.

A stirring evening or two I went out to a dirt track in Norco to watch such as 'figure 8's' on a dimly lit track. The feature race was a 'World of Outlaws', an absolutely incredible sight and sound on such a small but highly banked oval.

FORMULA ONE & CART

My youngest and oldest sons had a good time at the 2001 CART Long Beach Grand Prix. The younger one emailed that his first race at Long Beach was exactly 20 years ago when he and I sat in the grandstands at the bottom of the hill when they used to come down off Ocean Blvd. after the start. He was about 12 at the time. Riccardo Patrese was on pole that year with Arrows and led for a while but couldn't hold on to the lead. We also had garage passes and we recall being mesmerized at watching the Ferrari mechanics chattering in Italian working on their cars in the Convention Center.

I have Toyota Grand Prix 'Official Programs' for the years 1981, '84, '87-'89 (described on my Literature For Sale page.)
My sons remember the Formula One years from 1979-1983 as the most interesting. It was before teams had hundreds of millions to spend each year. It was also at the end of the era when the drivers were more in control of their cars and most in F1 because of talent and courage.

RACING EXPERIENCE

1988 SHELBY CSX-T's were the cars provided by Thrifty Car Rentals for automotive journalists to run in mirror slaloms at five locations across the country in November 1988. This was the fourth annual Dodge Shelby Slalom Series with the finals on December 6, 1988 at Las Vegas as part of the National Automotive Journalism Association Conference. I came in fifth on the low turnout day of 11-9-88 and won a Shelby Jacket. The interesting aspect is I had never driven a front wheel drive car, the seat did not fit me well, the helmet interfered with my glasses and I missed 2nd gear on my first start. The best part of the story is that I was running against Andy Bornhop of R&T Specials who recalled later at Vegas (where he was third overall in the men's finals) that he noticed I fell behind out of his sight to his left and then at the end of the straight he was amazed to see that I had caught up enough that he saw me on his left before he turned right. I went from first to third and floored it. I had noticed the little cars braked very well so I left that as late as I dared. After that swiveling in the seat caused me to go cautiously in order to finish. I had run those little Malibu Gran Prix autocross cars at the track near Anaheim stadium. That and two Jim Hall Kart classes was my prior experience. Andy said he had been to racing schools for autocross and gymkhana as a test driver for R&T Specials. Looking now at the results for that day, I was the only driver not to hit a cone, jump a red light, miss a gate or DNF. Except for that missed shift my times were consistent.

On the website of Jim Hall II's Kart Racing School you can get a flavor of my first ride in a 'sprint' kart. The first time was about 1984 at Indian Dunes northeast of Los Angeles and the second was at his current track at Oxnard, California. The first time I spun out at about 55 mph and missed some posts going out of the track backwards. The kart was bent a little but I went back out and 'took it easier'. At Oxnard two of my sons were with me and I got the blue flag to let my youngest son pass. His first ever ride in a kart. My oldest son tipped one over on a turn, ending up on his feet. He righted it and continued. Jim felt the name "Nix" was some how 'jinxed'. I went to the Nationals at Laguna Seca one year as a spectator. At the track I had a clipboard to take notes and drivers assumed I was 'an official' so I sorted 'acted like one'. I also 'pitted' for a guy with a road race Kart who had no one with him. I never got my own kart, partially because of being 6'2" and usually over 200 lbs I needed a longer frame, not commonly available in the 'used' market. I learned a lot about Karting and met many of the national principals at the banguet in Monterey.

1991-Present

Moving to Northwest Arkansas in 1991 I visited the dirt oval races in West Siloam Springs, Oklahoma and have a photo of two of the stock cars racing.

Moving to Southwest Missouri later in 1991 I visited this Monett dirt track several times. Kart racing on their infield track lasted about 3 years in the mid '90's.
 


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