Andy Granatelli 3/18/1923 – 12/29/2013

The world of motorsports lost a true icon on December 29, 2013, when Andy Granatelli passed away at age 90. Best known as the CEO of STP and an Indianapolis 500 car owner for nearly three decades from the 1940s into the 1970s, (earning him the nickname Mr. 500) Andy was involved in all forms of motorsports from dirt tracks to land speed records, to NASCAR and F1. It was Granatelli who brought his sponsorship to Richard Petty creating the most iconic paint scheme in NASCAR history, combining “Petty Blue” with STP dayglo red. Andy reportedly offered Petty an additional $50,000 to paint his car solid day-glo red like his Indy cars, but Petty refused and the classic two-tone paint scheme was born. STP would continue it’s association with Petty long after Granatelli was no longer involved with STP or NASCAR.

Next to Lotus founder Colin Chapman, Andy may have been the greatest innovator in motorsports, and in the mid 60s Granatelli and Chapman combined their talents with STP Sponsored Lotuses at Indy, driven by Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Mario Andretti and Jochen Rindt to name a few. It was Granatelli and Champman who made primary sponsorship an integral part of motorsport everywhere.

It was Andy who – although not the first – put four-wheel drive and a turbine engine in a car and nearly won the Indianapolis 500 two years in a row. The first year in a car designed by his own Paxton Corporation with Parnelli Jones at the wheel and in 1968, with a Lotus 56 and Joe Leonard at the wheel. In both cases the turbines had healthy leads in the last 10 laps only to suffer mechanical failures under caution.

After 23 years, Andy scored his first Indy 500 win as a car owner in 1969 with Mario Andretti in a backup car after Andretti crashed and destroyed his brand new Lotus 64 in practice. After the tragic events of the 1973 Indianapolis 500 – which Andy’s car also won – Andy withdrew from car ownership but never strayed from the sport. He was still a regular visitor at Indianapolis every year, and still a very vocal critic of all that is wrong with motorsports everywhere.

We don’t know what the sport might look like today if he had been put in a position of governance in the sport…. but it would certainly be more interesting.

Thank you Andy, and rest in peace.

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1968 MPC Olsonite Eagle – fixing the rear track

One of the best early plastic Indy car models was the MPC Olsonite Eagle kit, replicating the Weslake powered car driven by Dan Gurney or the Ford DOHC powered car driven by team mate Dennis Hulme. This kit featured a level of detail and accuracy that would not be seen until the late 80s when the AMT Lola’s and Penske kits came out. While not a great kit by today’s standards, a little bit of time, patience and some updated decals can produce a really nice build. The biggest flaw of the kit, however, is that the rear wheels sit way too far apart. I’m going to show you how to easily narrow the rear track of the car to make it look better.


First remove the ‘hooks’ on the end of the lower wishbones. These hold the rear uprights. We are going to bring the rear uprights inward so they sit on top of the wishbone.


Next, remove the bottom of the uprights – make the cut right at the top of the pins that stick out on either side. Picture shows before and after cutting.


Since we are bringing the uprights in about 1/8 of a inch (3.2mm), we need to remove 1/8″ from the upper wishbone. I found it was pretty easy to just trim it out with an Xacto knife and just glue it back together. You will also need to remove the pins at the front of the wishbone as the mounting point on the tub is going to move slightly forward.


Next, remove the end off the driveshaft. It’s easiest to cut where I have the dotted line. At this time, drill out the inside of the uprights to accommodate the driveshaft – you don’t need to go much bigger than what’s already there, just find a drill bit that is the same diameter as the driveshaft.

Once you have made these mods you are ready to start assembly of the rear suspension. It goes together the same as it did before mods, except as noted where the uprights sit on the end of the lower wishbones. You will also need to trim off the bottom end of the rear shocks. You may find that the rear wheels rub against the bottom of the shock, so you may need to trim it a bit. The rear swaybar parts do not need to be adjusted as thier mounting points do not change. Here is the finished results:


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Ebbro Team Lotus type 72C (1970)

There’s a new player in the 1/20 F1 Plastic Model field. It’s name is Ebbro and it will be a force to be reckoned with!

Ebbro was founded by a former Tamiya engineer who helped develop many of Tamiya’s legendary F1 kits. The Tamiya attention to detail and quality is every bit apparent in this first of many new kits. While some may be put off by the price tag ($60 at my local hobby shop), this kit (and future offerings from Ebbro) are must-haves.

The first offering from Ebbro is the Lotus 72C driven by Jochen Rindt to the 1970 World Championship. Sadly, this is also the car Rindt was reluctantly driving when he was killed at Monza when his brakes failed entering the Parabolica corner. With an insurmountable points lead, Rindt became the first – and only – posthumous world champion.

This car was significant in that it was so revolutionary in it’s design that moved the radiators from the nose of the car to ‘sidepods’ dictated the design of cars throughout the 1970s and to an extent, even through today as the same basic layout is still in use.

It is clear that Ebbro wants to make accurate kits and the kit comes with several ‘double’ parts. Two different cowlings to accommodate the two different style of mirror mounts, two sets of side pods and radiators (visually identical, but one set slightly wider than the other – for use in a future kit), two air boxes (again, one for a future kit), and two sets of front wings (depending on which race version you build).

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this kit is that there is now another company producing a Cosworth engine, which opens up a whole realm of possibilities for future kits of cars from the late 60s through the early 80s. Ebbro joins Tamiya, Fujimi and Hasegawa in the 1/20 scale Cosworth realm.

The Tamiya Cosworth was never the easiest engine to assemble and Mr. Ebbro addressed some of the issues by reducing the number of parts required to put the block together. Likewise the exhaust pipes on the Tamiya could be a nightmare and Ebbro has reduced each bank of pipes to two pieces! (vs seven for Tamiya). These pipes are a dream to work with and shaped correctly.

And the completed engine:

There seems to be a trend in 1/20 F1 kits to make the kit go together as much like the real car as possible, and include detail that was frequently omitted in kits from the 70s and 80s, such as complete plumbing, shift linkages, etc. Ebbro’s kit is very strong in all these areas. In fact, my only detail complaint is the absence of spark plug wires and fuel lines, which are pictured on the box, and I added myself on the images above.

A great example of mimicking how the car goes together is the front suspension, pictured below. This is nicely detailed and is a nice piece as a standalone unit.

The tub goes together nicely and the inside of the cockpit is it’s own separate piece, which allows for easy painting. On this build I opted to decal the white areas, using my own decals.

The front suspension slides nicely into the tub assembly:

Another revolutionary feature of this kit is that the cowling is molded in clear – just mask off the windshield area and paint the body color! (or use the red cockpit decal included in the kit). There’s no worrying about messing up when you glue the windscreen to the tub, nor is there a seam. When I painted my cockpit I wanted to insure that the red was consistent with the rest of the body that was painted over white primer, but I wanted the red to show through on the inside of the cockpit. I painted the cockpit TS8 Italian red, then applied white primer, then another coat of TS8. This prevented the exterior red from being translucent as well as keeping it consistent with the rest of the car, and the inside is still red. Supposedly the actual car also had a clear cockpit surround that was painted just as in this kit, but I have not been able to confirm this. If so, there’s another example of the kit emulating the real car.

The tires in this kit are magnificent! Beautiful treaded tires, pre-printed with gold rings and Firestone logos.

I found no real difficulties with this kit. For the gold I used a mix of decals (my own) and paint (Tamiya Gold) for the front wings. Although I didn’t use them, the kit decals are great – although missing the tobacco markings. Fortunately Indycals has those ‘missing markings’ and they are available for $3.00 a set. The kit decals give you the option to paint or decal the white and the gold, as well as the red cockpit surround. The attention to detail in this kit is everything you would expect from a former Tamiya engineer – Ebbro appears to be primed to take over the mantle of 1/20 F1 model king, especially now that Tamiya hasn’t released anything since they rushed the Lotus 79 into production to head off Hasegawa who also hasn’t released anything since their Lotus 79. It looks like it’s going to be Ebbro and Fujimi producing 1/20 F1 kits for the foreseeable future.

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2012 Indy 500 pt 1 – a champion missed.

It is impossible to talk about this year’s race without thinking about last year’s winner Dan Wheldon. In the twenty-seven Indianapolis 500′s I have attended, Dan was the best champion. His enthusiasm for Indy and his love for life was infectious. He was one of those rare people that you simple could not dislike. His thrillingly unexpected win last year was one of the greatest stories in the history of the 500, and a win that was most worthy to bear the banner of the 100th anniversary running of the 500. In winning the 100th anniversary race it seemed appropriate that Dan broke a record that had stood for 99 years – least laps led by a winning driver. The previous record was 2, by Joe Dawson in 1912. Dan led one. His record will never be broken.

As much as I love and live for the 500, I returned to Indy on May 17 with as much trepidation as excitement. The last time a defending champion did not live long enough to defend his title was back in 1946. Dan’s passing really took the wind out of my sails, and is why I never finished my blog on the 2011 race (part three is still in draft mode, unfinished). Even though I’ve been following auto racing long enough to know that our hero’s die, during my life the sport went from a time where we almost expected them to die, to a time where we expect them to retire relatively unscathed. The Indianapolis 500 lost it’s greatest ambassador when Dan was killed on October 16, 2011. We will remember Dan during the ceremonies leading up to and including the 500, but there will definitely be something very special missing this year.

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Dan Wheldon 1978-2011

“YES! YES! YES! INDY I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!!!!”

It was less than five months ago that Dan Wheldon yelled that in his radio after taking a last lap win in the 2011 Indianapolis 500 for his second Indy 500 victory. In all my years of attending the Indianapolis 500, twenty-seven to be exact, I have never seen such an exuberant winner. He genuinely loved Indy and the fans. His personality was infectious. It was the most thrilling and joyful race I have ever attended, and I could not have asked for a more deserving winner for the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500. For the last 99 years, Indy 500 fans have talked about Joe Dawson’s win in the 1912 Indianapolis 500 – a race where Dawson only lead the last two laps after leader Ralph DePalma broke down after leading 196 laps. Until this year that was the least amount of laps lead by the winner. Dan broke that record this year by leading only the last lap. Dan’s record will never be broken, and I guarantee you, when the masses assemble for the 200th anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500, they will still be talking about Dan Wheldon’s last lap win. When I photographed him the next day at the winner’s photo shoot, never in my wildest imagination did I suspect that it would be the last time I saw him alive.

This wasn’t the first driver fatality I’ve witnessed. I’ve seen too many drivers die in their prime, including my first racing hero Swede Savage who died in the first Indy 500 I remember watching back in 1973. In 1982 it was Gilles Villeneuve. I watched two of the best drivers ever die on live TV – Ayrton Senna and Dale Earnhardt in 1994 and 2001 respectively. But this one hit closer to home. Although I didn’t personally know Dan, he is someone that I’ve spent around with and interacted with over the years. I even managed to get into one of the official Indy 500 winner photos that are taken the day after this year’s Indianapolis 500.

I wish I had something deep or inspirational to say. I don’t, I’m simply too numb to put together thoughts in a cohesive way. But I will say that every man and woman that straps into one of these cars for my entertainment has my utmost respect and admiration. It is impossible to be so involved with the sport and not feel such tragedy on a personal level.

Daniel Clive Wheldon leaves behind a wife and two sons, who sadly, are too young to remember him. Rest in peace Dan. You will be forever missed.

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Monogram Kurtis Roadster update kit

The Monogram Kurtis 500 Roadster is one of the first plastic Indy car kits produced. Despite it’s age, it regularly gets re-issued, including most recently in 2010. It can still be readily found in hobby shops. For those of you who have built this kit, you know it leaves a lot to be desired. The wheels aren’t quite right, there are vents on the side of the car that shouldn’t be there, and the right side of the cockpit does not come up high enough. The seat also leaves a lot to be desired. But with some tender loving care and some Indycals decals, this car can be turned into a gem. Thanks to Tim Jones, this is now even easier.

Tim has produced an update kit to make the job a little easier for you. The kit comes in two separate parts – wheels and tires, and body modifications. All parts are resin except where otherwise noted. The body modification kit comes with a firewall/gearbox, metal gear shift lever, new seat, steering wheel in white metal, instrument panel, body fill-in for cockpit side, body scoops, and new body side panels to replace the side panels with the large scoops that should not be present.

The tire kit comes with tires mounted on wheels, pressure plates and brake disks. Typical Indy wheels in the 1950s were solid magnesium and were a smooth, concave surface on one side, and a ribbed, 8 spoke pattern on the other. Depending on the car, either side of the wheel could be the outward facing side. The tires had two treads that were always on the right side of the tire when mounted. Tim’s wheels take these facts into account and you can use either side of the wheel as the outside facing side and still keep the treads on the right side of the wheel simply by placing the wheels in their correct positions for the side of the wheel you want to be on the outside. In other words, instead of giving you two identical front wheels and two identical rear wheels, he gives you four completely different wheels, which is exactly as it should be.

Tim does not use a vacuum pump when casting his resin, thus the parts are prone to air bubbles which you would have to clean up with some putty and sanding. I received a prototype set from Tim and honestly, the first set of wheels I got we’re not that good, but he was graciously open to criticism and suggestion and the second set I received was greatly improved. Despite any needed cleanup, these conversion sets will make your job easier and allow you to produce a nice, more accurate Kurtis 500 roadster than just building the Monogram kit straight out of the box.

Tim charges $15 for a set of wheels, and $15 for a body modification kit. Tim can be reached at TDJ1951@aol.com.  Indycals offers many decal sets to work with the Monogram Kurtis Roadster: John Zink #6 (1955 winner), John Zink #53 (1955 winner as driven in 1956 by Troy Ruttman), 1955 Belanger Special (Art Cross), 1956 Filter Queen Special (Rodger Ward) and the 1954 and 1955 Hinkle Special (Jack McGrath) and we will probably add more with time.


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1973 Indianapolis 500

This is what everyone has feared! This is why there’s been such a terrible atmosphere of fear here all weekend long! – Jim McKay, calling the Salt Walther crash on Monday, May 28, 1973

Despite the nature of the accident he had described above, little did Jim McKay realize just how deep that statement would ring true for the 1973 Indianapolis 500.

Pretty much every Indianapolis 500 aficionado whose memory goes back to the 1970s knows that the 1973 Indy 500 is generally regarded as the worst 500 ever; claiming three lives, taking three days to run, a dozen or so spectators injured, a driver disfigured, and the race never going the full 500 mile distance. So it came as a great surprise when ESPN Classic re-aired the 1973 race on August 12, 2011.

In recent years ESPN has been extremely stingy with Indy 500 broadcasts – prior to this year the only race from the 70s that saw rebroadcast was the 1971 race. ESPN tended to focus on a very select few from the 80s, and the 90s and 2000s.  But for the 100th anniversary  running this year they brought out a slew of telecasts that many of us original broadcast collectors thought might never see the light of day: 1967, 1969, 1970, 1974, 1975, 1977 (last half), 1978, 1979 (partial), 1980 and 1983 amongst others. It was a 500 fans delight!  We pretty much figured there was no chance in hell of 73 being shown.

By 1973 speeds had gone up about 30mph in just four years and in qualifying they were flirting with 200mph, with Johnny Rutherford coming up a hair short in his qualifying run that landed him on the pole. But drastic speed increases with minimal improvements in safety would take their toll. Popular veteran Art Pollard was killed on the first day of qualifying, setting the tone for the month of May, 1973.

The race – and the broadcast – were originally scheduled for Memorial Day, Monday, May 28th (The 500 up to that time had never run on Sunday – 1974 would see the first Sunday running of the 500). But the red flag due to rain after the aborted first start meant that there would be no race, and no broadcast on Monday. The race was rescheduled for Tuesday the 29th at 9:00 am, but ABC had no plans to televise the race that night. But Tuesday only saw them get as far as the pace lap before rain again washed things out. The race would be moved to Wednesday the 30th and ABC would pre-empt their Wednesday night lineup to broadcast the race. The story of the race would focus around the Patrick Racing Team: Drivers Gordon Johncock and Swede Savage, sponsor Andy Granatelli and his brother Vince, and chief mechanic George Bignotti.

Swede Savage, taken during the driver introductions.

From a personal perspective, 1973 was the first Indianapolis 500 I remember watching, although I was very aware of the 500, and had seen the speedway in person the previous year. Watching the broadcast, my imagination was quickly captured by a cool looking driver with a cool name and a cool looking car – I immediately picked Swede Savage as the driver I wanted to win the race.

The broadcast starts off with the parade lap from Monday and the aborted start which saw Salt Walther crash into the catch fence on the front straight and sent his car pinwheeling down the front straight upside down spewing fuel.  Walther lost most of the fingers on his left hand, and spent two-and-a-half months in a burn ward. When he impacted the catch fence, burning fuel sprayed into the crowd standing several deep along the fence, injuring approximately a dozen spectators. ABC showed emergency crews tending to the spectators, as well as Salt Walther. Dave Diles interviewed Jerry Grant, whom was directly involved as Walther’s car passed directly over him as it plowed into the fence. Jim McKay reported that two teenage girls were in serious conditions with burns from the fuel that sprayed into the crowd. The doom and gloom of the month was already weighing heavily on the participants, but the worst was yet to come.

Steve Krisiloff - blue car - forces his way up to the second row on the pace lap. Peter Revson, in the yellow/orange car at the top right, can also been seen having made his way up to the third row from row four.

The broadcast then touches on Tuesday’s rainout and McKay and Jackie Stewart spend a few minutes on the ragged start from Monday, which saw third row driver Steve Krisiloff move up to the second row, and Peter Revson and AJ Foyt who were in line behind Krisiloff also moved up a row. The footage clearly shows a second row with four cars approaching the start! Dave Diles reports on a meeting that had just taken place with drivers and USAC officials. He reports that one driver stood up and said: “Look, if you don’t shape up the start of this race, you’re going to get us all killed out there.” He goes on to say there were obscenities and name calling in the meeting.  The outcome of the meeting was that the restart would take place at no less than 100mph, vs the supposed 80mph on Monday (drivers stated there was no way they were going as fast as 80mph.)

The broadcast finally moves to Wednesday’s race. This part of the broadcast started sunny and with a more optimistic Jim McKay. Jackie Stewart had to leave for Monaco, and thus Chris Economaki took his place in the booth with McKay.  Despite the fact that several cars were involved in the Salt Walther wreck on Monday, all but Walther’s car were repaired and made the start on Wednesday.

1973 Indy 500 start

The field gets off cleanly on Wednesdays restart of the 500.

Chris Schenkel from ABC Sports reported on the parade and pace laps from inside the pace car with Jim Rathmann, astronaut Al Worden, and Dolly Cole (wife of GM CEO Ed Cole and the first female honorary referee at Indy since Amelia Earhardt), and the sparse-but-still impressive crowd sounds enthusiastic. The start was smooth and uneventful but on the second lap, as Bobby Allison’s engine blew, Jim McKay exclaims that there’s an accident on front straight, then quickly corrects himself with the addendum “we’ve been getting conditioned to that, I apologize.”

Bobby Unser lead early and Mark Donohue was a surprisingly strong second, keeping close pace with Unser. Over the course of the first 50 laps the lead was held by Bobby Unser, Gordon Johncock, and Swede Savage. During the first 50 lap segment, the broadcast was punctuated with side stories about pit stops (using Gary Bettenhausen as an example), speed increases, and drafting.

When they return from the drafting story, Savage and Al Unser are putting on a battle for the lead with Al eventually taking the lead from Savage at 55 laps. The broadcast misses Savage’s pit stop on lap 57 and this was a key omission, as Savage crashed on his out-lap with his car full of fuel, thus his crash comes as somewhat as a surprise as I was expecting to see his pitstop first.

Swede Savage accident

The track is blocked by the wreckage from Swede Savage's accident.

No matter how many times you’ve seen the footage of his crash, it doesn’t prepare you for the sudden, violent impact as you watch it play out as if it were happening live. Bobby Unser – much like in 1964 with the Sachs/MacDonald accident – barely gets through, while the car behind him (Jerry Grant?) comes to a complete stop because the track is so blocked by debris (bringing out the red flag again). McKay exclaims that it was “the worst thing I’ve seen anywhere”.  In the view from the turn four camera you can somewhat see Swede moving around in the debris on the left side of the track, and that there is a small fire. A pool of fuel starts to spread out from the car and a fireman comes across the track with a fire extinguisher. As the fireman sprays the extinguisher at the pool of fuel, the fuel erupts in a massive inferno that travels from the spot of extinguisher contact, back to the car where Savage is trying to get out. McKay notes that Swede had switched to a new firesuit before the race that fills with foam and that hopefully it will be offering him some better protection than a standard suit.

As the camera switches to a closeup of the fire (you can no longer see Savage), you can hear the crowd gasp in horror as Patrick Racing crewmember Armondo Teran is struck and killed by a firetruck going the wrong way down the pit road. McKay: “OH! Somebody’s been hit in the pits! A firetruck, a firetruck racing to the scene has hit a mechanic or somebody in the pits, was going the wrong way through the pits… the man was thrown in the air, hit by a firetruck.”

Jerry Grant

An unnerved Jerry Grant describes his view of the Swede Savage accident.

As they replay the accident, both Economaki and McKay incorrectly surmise that the rear wing came off of Savage’s car, causing him to veer into the inside of the track. A crewmember is shown consoling Vince Granatelli. Dave Diles again interviews Jerry Grant, who is noticeably more terse than he was in his interview on Monday. Grant surmises that the accident was caused due to the oily nature of the track, stating how they are having to change the line they are driving to minimize running through oil. When Diles asks him if he’s saying that he’s been driving on an unsafe track, Grant avoids saying that directly, but replies “Well, it’s making an old man out of me.” Dave Diles is then seen at the front of Joe Leonard’s car and literally wipes oil off the nose of the car – clearly visible on Diles’ hand – and states that oil is most definitely a factor. They cut to another pre-filmed segment with Jackie Stewart about safety measures at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Moments later Bobby Unser is interviewed and asked about the track and he contradicts Grant. In fact he states flatly “No, it’s not unsafe, in fact for the most part they’re turning pretty fast speeds out there, running… some of them 185mph out there, that’s not too bad… I don’t think the track is unsafe at all”. He goes on to say that he’s never seen the track stay good for the entire race and it was pretty much what he expected.

Johncock leads 1973 500

Gordon Johncock leads the second half of the race.

When they finally resume racing, Al Unser leads easily in his cumbersome Viceroy sponsored Parnelli until his engine burns a piston, handing the lead over to Gordon Johncock, who leads the rest of the way. At one point Bobby Unser unlaps himself from Johncock, but by now the racing is over, with the eleven remaining cars just going through the motions until the rain comes at lap 129 and the race is finally red flagged at 133 laps. Given how late it was – 5:38pm with no time left to dry the track, and the light so low that the cameras are barely working – it’s surprising that they didn’t throw the checkered flag.

Gordon Johncock, 1973 Indy 500 winner

Gordon Johncock being interviewed as winner of the 1973 Indy 500

Dave Diles had the task to interview Andy Granatelli and he tried to spin the day as a good one for Andy – Andy clearly wanted nothing to do with ‘enjoying’ the win, somberly saying ‘It’s a good day, and it’s a bad day, you win some, you lose some.” Diles asks if this overcomes the frustration he’s experienced over the years? Andy politely replies “Well you know we had some problems with some of our people in the accident so I really don’t feel very happy today, but I am happy to win the race, and thank you very much.”  Diles then interview’s Johncock who is happy in the moment, stating that it’s the happiest day of his life, but he hates to win a rain shortened race. While being interviewed the announcement comes over the PA system that the race is officially over and Johncock is the winner. There are cheers and the crew celebrates, and crew chief George Bignotti is happy in victory lane, but expresses sadness for Swede Savage. There is no mention of Armando Teran, and McKay points out that Granatelli and Bignotti “may well not know the worst news as of yet.”

The broadcast signs off with host Chris Schenkel who describes it as “the longest month of May” and states that “it will be better next year”.

It was a feat in itself for ABC to get the broadcast on that night; back then, apart from the start and finish, McKay did his play-by-play in post production. By the time the day’s events had ended, it was at least 6pm local time – only one hour before the broadcast aired in the eastern time zones.

After watching this broadcast with 38 years of hindsight, it would be easy to scorn any cheering or celebration that took place. But don’t forget, the participants, fans and crew didn’t have the replays and newspaper articles thrown in their face for review and reflection while the race was going on. Many did not know that a crewman was killed, and Swede Savage’s injuries were not life threatening; the news of his passing would not come for another 33 days.  Sometimes the nature of how bad or good something really was doesn’t hit immediately. I think that as fans and participants had time to reflect on the events, read the newspapers, and watch the replays, is when it really sank in just how much the 1973 Indianapolis 500 sucked.  For Johncock, it may have even been that night. He ‘celebrated’ by visiting Swede in the hospital and having dinner at Burger King with his wife.

Some have questioned the necessity to air this race. But the fact is, all the accidents – particularly the Walther and Savage accidents – have been replayed ad-infinitum over the years. The point isn’t to see the accidents, but to see how it was handled by ABC, to get a feel for what it was like for the participants, and to see the rest of the race that was overlooked by history. Nobody in their right mind would derive ‘enjoyment’ from the 1973 Indianapolis 500 any more than anyone would derive enjoyment from the death and destruction of WWII, but yet people study that to no end, and likewise, those of us who study the history of Indianapolis need to include 1973 in our studies. It was still an Indy 500, and to try to pretend it never happened would be an insult to those who died and their families.

Follow up: Gordon Johncock eventually won what this blogger considers the best Indianapolis 500 ever in 1982. He retired in 1985 and made a couple comebacks in the following years, finally retiring in 1992 at age 55. He doesn’t particularly care to talk about 1973, but did take part in a special replay of his 1982 victory on ESPN Classic. He has since distanced himself from the sport and was not in attendance for the Indianapolis 500 100th anniversary celebrations in 2011. After sitting in storage for many years his 1973 winning car was restored to running condition in 2010.

Jim McKay, Dave Diles and Chris Schenkel all passed away within the last few years. The events of 1973 affected McKay deeply, resulting in him ‘sitting out’ the 1975 race. McKay would return in 1976 to call the next ten Indianapolis 500s. Jackie Stewart and Chris Economaki are still involved in motor racing. Andy Granatelli got out of racing shortly after 1973, but still goes to the 500 every year. George Bignotti would go on to win one more Indy 500 as a crew chief with Tom Sneva in 1983, bringing his total to seven Indianapolis 500 wins as crew chief. Jerry Grant raced a few more years before retiring. He still comes to the 500 from time to time. Pace car passenger Dolly Cole still attends the Indianapolis 500 every year.  Al and Bobby Unser would go on to each win two more Indianapolis 500s and both are still close to the sport.

For David “Salt” Walther, the ramifications of that race continue to this day. While he returned to racing, his life was ruined by pain killer addiction from the treatment of his burns and today he is serving time in an Ohio prison.

David Earl “Swede” Savage was conscious and actually joking with safety workers after his accident and was expected to recover. His injuries were two broken legs and some serious burns. While in the hospital recovering he received a blood transfusion tainted with Hepatitis C resulting in his passing on July 2nd 1973 at age 26. For more information on Swede Savage, visit the Swede Savage tribute site.

All images are copyright ABC/ESPN and are presented here for editorial purposes only.

Postscript, July 2013:
Jerry Grant passed away August 12, 2012 at age 77

Chris Economacki passed away September 28, 2012, just short of his 92nd birthday.

Salt Walther’s suffering finally ended December 27, 2012, age 65.

After passing on the 100th anniversary celebrations in 2011, Gordon Johncock made an appearance at the 2012 Indianapolis 500. in 2013, the 40th anniversary of Johncock’s ill-fated win, his winning car was one of three former winners to take to track on race day morning for a lap of honor. Rumor had it that Johncock would drive it, but it was 1999 winner Kenny Brack who got behind the wheel.

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IPMS 2011 Report

This year, at the invitation of my friend Steve Mohlenkamp, I attended my first International Plastic Modeler’s Society Nationals meet in Omaha Nebraska. For those who’ve never been, it’s a combination of model/diorama contests and vendors selling kits/books/tools/finishing products. I have to say as a car builder, I found the show to be pretty disappointing – not much in the car categories entered in the contests, and not much in the way of car kits/accessories in the vendor areas. There were some things, and I did come home with four kits and some tools, but the show was definitely more weighted to military builders.

That said, first and foremost I’m a model builder and I can appreciate great builds from any genre, and in that respect, I was totally blown away with all the builds that were entered, regardless of category. Some were incredibly detailed, incredibly realistic, or incredibly creative. From a model of Alan Sheppard golfing on the moon, to a display of every ship named “Enterprise”, both real and imagined, all in scale to each other, the variety was endless. So with that, I’ll let the photos do the talking. If any of these builds belong to you, please post a message telling us more about it and I will make sure your comments get posted!

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100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 Part 2

Usually when qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 ends, things calm down for the ensuing week. But not this year. Ryan Hunter-Reay and his new primary sponsors SunDrop and DHL found themselves on the outside of the Indianapolis 500 looking in… that is until a deal was struck to sell Bruno Junqueira’s qualified car to Andretti Autosport. This was the second time in three years that Bruno had safely qualified for the 500 only to lose his ride to another driver who didn’t make the race but had sponsors he needed to keep happy. This was not a popular decision, but racing is a business and Foyt was funding Bruno’s car out of pocket. The real tragedy, in my opinion, was that Bruno and Ryan had two of the sharpest looking cars at the track, but the resulting combination of paint schemes amounted to a train wreck! Ryan was fast on Carb day on Friday, May 27th – fifth overall. Unfortunately that would not translate to his race performance, which I will touch on in part 3.

This car....

plus this car...

equals this car

My race-weekend plans involve arriving into town on Wednesday night, May 25th, and spending Thursday in the garage area and hitting the museum, watching carb day practice and the Freedom 100 Indy lights race on Friday, and for Saturday I was scheduled to work the memorabilia show that for the first time was held right at the Speedway.

Bobby Unser's 1975 winning Jorgensen Eagle

To help celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the first Indianapolis 500, all living drivers who ever competed in the 500 were invited to the Speedway, culminating in a huge autograph session the day before the 500. More than 140 drivers showed up! The museum was also honoring the 100th anniversary in it’s own way by displaying only cars that had won the 500. Of the 91 winning cars, 67 were in the museum, which is significant since the Speedway only has 31 of them to begin with. Some of the notable cars that were brought in for the occasion were Jim Clark’s 1965 winning car, on loan – in running condition – from the Henry Ford Museum, Rodger Ward’s 1959 Leader Card Special, Bobby Unser’s 1975 Jorgensen Eagle, and all of Roger Penske’s winning cars on loan from his museum in Phoenix, Arizona (except the 72 winner which is part of the IMS collection). See my comprehensive photo gallery of IMS museum cars compiled over the last 8 years.

 

Roger Penske's winning cars dominate the museum.

Since Thursday was mostly rainy, I spent several hours in the museum. There I ran into my friend Chuck Sprague, who happened to be Danny Sullivan’s crew chief when he won the 500 in 1985 (which also happened to be the first year I attended the 500). Chuck spent about an hour with me giving me some of the back-stories on the Penske cars that were on loan to the museum for the Centennial celebrations (such as how they tested both a Lola and March for the 1985 season and how much easier the Lola was to work with, only to decide to go with the March chassis). I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a rain-delay at Indy – thank you Chuck!

 

Dick Harroun - son of 1911 Indianapolis 500 winner Ray Harroun

Perusing the garage area on Thursday and Friday, it was like a who’s who of Indy 500′s past. Many of the former drivers who were in town for Saturday’s autograph session could be seen milling about as fans themselves. Some of the notable drivers I ran into included 1983 Pole winner Teo Fabi, who came all the way from Italy, 1999 winner Kenny Brack, Wally Dallenbach, Eldon Rasmussen, Howdy Holmes, Eliseo Salazar, Tom Bigelow, and Jerry Sneva. I even ran into drag racing legends Don Prudholme and John Force. But the highlight for me was meeting Dick Harroun, who’s father Ray won the very first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Needless to say, Dick wasn’t around then, but today he is 95 years old and made the trip with his family to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his father’s win. I asked him to sign my ticket, and he obliged, carefully writing out “R. Harroun”.

 

Indycar legend Joe Leonard

On Saturday, for the first time ever, the Speedway hosted it’s own memorabilia show in the pavilion area behind the pagoda. I had a table where I was selling decals and photographs. Right next door was the autograph session of former drivers. Needless to say the crowd was huge! Some of the drivers came over to the memorabilia show during breaks from the Autograph session. Buzz Calkins and Didier Theys were two of the drivers who stopped by my table. Hard luck driver Jigger Sirois – famous for having never qualified for the 500 – was there manning his own booth at the collectors show. I have to say that Jigger is as friendly and outgoing as any individual you could ever hope to meet – it was a great pleasure to finally meet him. I was really hoping to hit the autograph session but the massive lines made it nearly impossible to leave my table for so long. However, late in the day I was escorted in to photograph a friend who was having his hand built Novi model car signed by it’s driver Art Malone. Since I was there, I took the opportunity to meet some of the drivers such as NASCAR legends Donnie Allison and Bobby Johns as well as a personal favorite of mine, Joe Leonard who I got to meet for the first time. Joe was looking great and seemed to be having a great time. Joe, you may recall, put the Lotus turbine on the pole in 1968 and was leading comfortably with 9 laps to go when the car broke down. I made sure to personally thank every driver I met for coming to the Speedway for this historic running.

 

Buddy Lazier shows off the cars he drove in 1995 as he poses with Eric (who built the cars) and Eric's son Zach.

Over the course of the weekend, my friend Eric was trying to meet up with Buddy Lazier to get him to sign some cars that Eric had built. Eric is friends with Buddy, and while we ran into Buddy’s wife Kara, Buddy was more elusive. After the show, as I was heading back to the motorhome I stay in, I ran into Buddy and Kara. I asked him if he had hooked up with Eric and he said no. He asked if Eric would be at the race the next day and I informed him that Eric was going home that night and would not be at the race. Buddy asked me for Eric’s phone number which I gave him. A couple minutes later I called Eric – who happened to be parked next to the motorhome I was headed to – and he informed me that Buddy was on his way over to meet him in the parking lot. Traffic was terrible and as I was on foot, I got to the motorhome at least 20 minutes before Buddy could get there, but he showed up with Kara and their kids and spent about 20 minutes with us.

To see more of my photos leading up to the and including 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500, check out my photo gallery. In addition to practice, qualifying, and race day shots, there are photos of many of the ‘old timer’ drivers that were in attendance.

Up next: Race day

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100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 – Pt 1

The 100th Anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500 was billed as “the most important race in history.” Even the bronze badges sold by the speedway as garage passes were embossed with this saying. That’s a lot of pressure for a race to live up to, but in the end we were witness to a race that was worthy to hold the moniker of the 100th Anniversary running.

Alex Tagliani during practice for the 2011 Indianapolis 500

The month started off with Alex Tagliani setting the pace during practice. Tagliani’s team FASZT Racing was purchased in the off season by Sam Schmidt Motorsports. SSM also entered a car for Townsend Bell and was affiliated with the #44 of Buddy Rice and the #98 of Dan Wheldon – the latter a one off effort for Bryan Herta Motorsports who was entered in only it’s second ever Indycar race. All four drivers were fast during practice and on pole day, all four drivers made the top nine shootout for the pole position.

Bryan Herta - owner of Bryan Herta Autosports, entrant for the number 98 driven by Dan Wheldon

Target Chip Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti looked to be threats for the pole, but a miscalculation on fuel caused Franchitti’s car to run dry on it’s last lap, relegating the defending champion to 9th on the grid. Scott Dixon went out and secured what looked to be a potential pole run, although he too started running out of fuel at the end of his run. Finally it was Tag’s turn and as the last qualifier of the shootout he stole the pole position from Dixon! It was the first pole in 5 races not won by Penske driver Will Power, who incidentally was the only Penske driver in the top nine.

Simona DeSilvestro shows off her new 'mittens' courtesy of her fiery crash on May 19th.

Practice and qualifying was ripe with drama. On Thursday May 19th, popular driver Simona DeSilvestro had a scary looking crash in the north end of the track. The car caught fire and Simona suffered burns to her hands. On pole day, May 21st Simona returned to the car to the wild cheering of the fans. In what was a wild pole day, Simona would use all three qualifying attempts allotted to her for that day. Of the four ladies entered into the race, only Simona – burned hands and all – would qualify on the first day.

Helio Castroneves during practice for the 2011 Indianapolis 500

With pole day allowing only twenty-four cars to qualify, competition was heavy for those first-day positions. Penske driver Ryan Briscoe crashed in morning practice and did not make the cut, while team mate Helio Castroneves seemed to be out to lunch qualifying a very un-Penske like 16th! Only Will Power seemed to have anything for the competition, safely landing in the top six.

John Andretti practices for the 2011 Indianapolis 500

Andretti Autosports drivers Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway all struggled. Of the Andretti Autosport drivers, only one-off driver John Andretti made the top 24 leaving Marco, Danica, Ryan and Mike to have to try for four of the remaining nine spots the next day. Other drivers who would have to try the next day included Paul Tracy, Ana Beatriz and rookie Pipa Mann.

Bruno Junquiera qualified solidly for the 2011 Indianapolis 500.

Good showings were put in by AJ Foyt drivers Vitor Meira and Bruno Junquiera – both exhibiting retro-Foyt paint schemes on their cars, Rahal Letterman driver Bertrand Baguette, and Takuma Sato who was fastest of the KV Racing Lotus drivers. One of the nicest performances of the day was Ed Carpenter who was driving for the now-retired Sarah Fisher. He easily made the top nine shootout and would start the race a career best 8th on the grid.

Oriol Servia during practice for the 2011 Indianapolis 500

Rain showers ended qualifying top-24 qualifying early, with Helio Castroneves waiting in line for a chance to improve his time to break into the top nine. The rain also affected the top nine shootout – which was scheduled for 90 minutes with drivers allowed multiple attempts to try for the pole. The top nine would now start an hour late and each driver would get one attempt for the pole. Buddy Rice went out first qualifying at over 225mph, but it was Newman-Haas driver Oriol Servia who laid down the gauntlet with a speed of 227.168mph. Dario Franchitti went out and had a run that would have landed him on the front row, but his Ganassi Team miscalculated on fuel and as he want past me on the backstretch on his last lap I could hear the car sputter and slow. My first thought was that I’d miscounted his laps and that he was on his cool down lap, and even the track announcer took a long time to realize what was happening, but Dario was out of fuel and would not finish his run – he would start 9th.

Scott Dixon went out next and took the pole from Servia with a speed of 227.340, despite also running out of fuel on his last lap. Finally it was down to Alex Tagliani, driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, who blistered the track with an average speed of 227.472mph en route to winning the pole position for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Townsend Bell, also driving for SSM, qualified a solid fourth. It was a hugely popular victory for the team, and little did we know at the time, the Ganassi fuel issues in top 9 qualifying was to be a foreshadowing of their race day.

Danica Patrick struggles in practice and qualifying for the Indy 500.

But qualifying was not over. There was still one more day and nine more positions available. Four of the five Andretti Autosport cars still needed to qualify, including media darling Danica Patrick. “Bump Day” as it is known was interrupted twice by rain. The second bout of rain came as Paul Tracy was on his qualifying run – he would set the fast time of the day, and in doing so would bump his way into the now full field. Waiting in line to qualify next as the rain fell was Danica Patrick. If they could not dry the track to resume qualifying before 6pm, Danica would be on the outside looking in, failing to qualify for the 500. Fortunately for Danica, what would have been the biggest story of qualifying did not materialize. The track was dried and Danica safely qualified with the fastest time of the day.

Ryan Hunter-Reay - one of two Andretti Autosport drivers that failed to qualify for the Indy 500.

But the drama was not over for Andretti Autosport. Mike Conway used all three of his attempts, all of them too slow to make the field. In the closing minutes Marco Andretti was on the bubble, with team mate Ryan Hunter-Reay next slowest. Marco’s father Michael Andretti urged Marco to pull his car and requalify before getting bumped, but Marco did not agree to that strategy. As it was, Marco was bumped by Dale Coyne driver Alex Lloyd in the last five minutes. Marco was able to get out on the track one last time as the gun sounded ended qualifying – since he was on the track, he would get one attempt; either Marco or Ryan Hunter-Reay would join team mate Mike Conway on the sidelines. Marco put together four solid laps at 224.628 and bumped his team mate Hunter-Reay. Andretti Autosport had qualified only three of it’s five cars, and only two if it’s four full-time drivers made the field. Their best starting position would be 17th, with John Andretti – the lone part-time driver on the team.

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