Sunday, August 23, 2020

23 Days in August: No. 23, Mel Kenyon, 1972 Gilmore Racing Coyote/Ford

If you joined us for 30 Days in May earlier this year, you’ll see some familiar faces from that countdown. We’ve also added some new entries for 23 Days in August. So let’s celebrate some notable drivers and cars from the glorious past of the Indianapolis 500!

 

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo
Mel Kenyon's 1972 Gilmore Racing Special is another example of hard-working
mechanics adding wings to an older car to try to keep up with the state-of-the-art
Eagles and McLarens.

23 Days in August: No. 23, Mel Kenyon, 1972 Gilmore Racing Coyote/Ford. Considered one of the true gentlemen in the sport, Mel Kenyon had several top finishes at Indianapolis and is considered the best USAC Midget driver in history. His longevity is particularly amazing. Some 30 years after his last start in the 500, Kenyon was still racing at age 70! Even more incredible, Kenyon was severely burned in a crash in 1965 and raced with a special glove with a device that fit in the steering wheel – incredible determination and will.

For 1972, Kenyon drove one of the Gilmore Racing entries, with Wally Dallenbach in the other Gilmore car. While Kenyon qualified safely in 12th, Dallenbach was bumped.

Dallenbach did, however, get to start the race as he replaced Art Pollard, who broke a leg in practice after qualifying the No. 40 STP Oil Treatment Lola/Foyt. Race Day was rather difficult for Dallenbach as his car caught fire several times during pit stops. He pressed on, finishing 15th, 18 laps down to winner Mark Donohue.

For his determination, Dallenbach won the “Extra Mile” award from the St. Piux X Council of Knights of Columbus. (I haven’t been able to watch the Victory Banquet for many years; does this award still exist?)

Kenyon’s race was far less eventful. He ended up 18th, going out after 126 laps with fuel injection woes. Later that season, Kenyon almost won at Michigan. He ran out of fuel while leading with just two laps to go.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

23 Days in August: No. 22, Tony Stewart, 1999 The Home Depot Dallara/Oldsmobile

If you joined us for 30 Days in May earlier this year, you’ll see some familiar faces from that countdown. We’ve also added some new entries for 23 Days in August. So let’s celebrate some notable drivers and cars from the glorious past of the Indianapolis 500!

 

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo
Tony Stewart was a busy man in May 1999, splitting his time between Indianapolis
Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. After qualifying for the
Indianapolis 500, he had to quickly fly to North Carolina for his NASCAR
commitments. He presumably had to return later for his official qualifying photo,
which was taken at the end of pit lane.

23 Days in August: No. 22, Tony Stewart, 1999 The Home Depot Dallara/Oldsmobile. Tony Stewart was the first homegrown star of the Indy Racing League. His pedigree was perfect: An Indiana native who won USAC national titles in Midgets, Sprints and Silver Crown cars (all in the same season!) who proved immediately adept at driving Indy cars, too, winning races and a championship in those as well.

After running in the IRL from 1996 to 1998, Stewart became a full-time NASCAR driver, appearing in the 500 just two more times (1999 and 2001). Stewart was fast right off the bat in stock cars, too, and finished his NASCAR career with three Cup titles and two wins in the Brickyard 400.

In the 1999 Indianapolis 500, Stewart finished ninth, four laps down to winner Kenny Brack. But Stewart’s workday was just beginning, because he flew from Indianapolis to Charlotte, North Carolina, to compete in the 600-mile NASCAR race that night and finished an impressive fourth.

 


Friday, August 21, 2020

23 Days in August: No. 21, Al Unser, 1977 American Racing Parnelli/Cosworth

If you joined us for 30 Days in May earlier this year, you’ll see some familiar faces from that countdown. We’ve also added some new entries for 23 Days in August. So let’s celebrate some notable drivers and cars from the glorious past of the Indianapolis 500!

 

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo
In 1977 Al Unser started third, earning his first front-row starting spot since winning
the pole in 1970.

23 Days in August: No. 21, Al Unser, 1977 American Racing Parnelli/Cosworth. 1977 was Al Unser’s last year with the Vel’s Parnelli Jones team, an association that dated back to 1969. (Unser missed Indianapolis that year after breaking a leg in a motorcycle mishap in the Speedway infield, then returned to win the next two 500s.)

As the 1970s wore on, the team wasn’t as dominant as it was at the outset but began a bit of a renaissance as its work and development on the then-new Cosworth engine started to pay off.

Unser and teammate Mario Andretti practiced in a new Parnelli chassis built for the Cosworth in 1975 before opting for the proven Eagle/Offy combination. In 1976, Unser, put the first Cosworth in the 500 field, starting fourth and ending up seventh in the rain-shortened race.

In 1977, Unser did a little better, starting third and finishing third. For many drivers, such a result would be a career highlight, but for Unser at Indianapolis, it was just another day at the track. In addition to his record-tying four victories, Unser had an additional SEVEN top-three finishes in 27 Indianapolis 500 starts!

Unser is the all-time lap leader in the 500 at 644, a record that is likely to stand for at least another year. The closest active driver, Scott Dixon, would need to lead almost every lap on Sunday to overtake him. (Dixon is ninth with 452 laps led.)

Thursday, August 20, 2020

23 Days in August: No. 20, Gordon Johncock, 1975 Sinmast Wildcat/DGS

If you joined us for 30 Days in May earlier this year, you’ll see some familiar faces from that countdown. We’ve also added some new entries for 23 Days in August. So let’s celebrate some notable drivers and cars from the glorious past of the Indianapolis 500!

 

Gordon Johncock came close to capturing the pole for the 1975 Indianapolis 500,
but had to settle for the second starting position after A.J. Foyt made a late run
 in qualifying to knock Johncock from the top spot. 

23 Days in August: No. 20, Gordon Johncock, 1975 Sinmast Wildcat/DGS. Starting in 1973 and over the next 10-plus years, Gordon Johncock was synonymous with the number 20 and Patrick Racing. For 1975, he had a new sponsor, a new chassis and a new engine. It all added up to a fast combination, as Johncock was among the leaders every day in practice and held the pole for a while before A.J. Foyt nudged him aside with a run late in the day.

Johncock jumped to the lead at the start of the race but fell out after just 11 laps and finished 31st. DGS stood for Drake, Goosen and Sparks, the last names of engine pioneers Dale Drake, Leo Goosen and Art Sparks. The name was something of a tribute by chief mechanic George Bignotti, who helped modify an Offy engine to create the DGS.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

23 Days in August: No. 19, Spike Gehlhausen, 1976 Spirit of Indiana McLaren/Offy

If you joined us for 30 Days in May earlier this year, you’ll see some familiar faces from that countdown. We’ve also added some new entries for 23 Days in August. So let’s celebrate some notable drivers and cars from the glorious past of the Indianapolis 500!

 

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo
Spike Gehlhausen drove the Spirit of Indiana during the bicentennial year of 1976.

23 Days in August: No. 19, Spike Gehlhausen, 1976 Spirit of Indiana McLaren/Offy. The Spirit of Indiana entries appeared in the Indianapolis 500 in 1975 and 1976, each with a rookie driver from Indiana and each with No. 19, acknowledging Indiana as the 19th state.

In 1975, short-track star Sheldon Kinser (Bloomington) finished 12th. For 1976, Spike Gehlhausen (Jasper) got the assignment. Spike’s dad, Carl Gehlhausen, was a longtime owner in USAC in the Midget, Spring, Championship Dirt and Championship divisions. In 1973, an up-and-coming Tom Sneva won several features in the family’s soon-to-be-banned rear-engine sprint car.

Race Day was a tough one as the Offy lost oil pressure before the green flag. Spike (real first name Daniel) competed in four more Indianapolis 500s, with a best finish of 10th in 1979.

We actually featured this car last week as it is the same McLaren that Peter Revson qualified on the front row in 1972.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

23 Days in August: No. 18, Mike Mosley, 1983 Kraco March/Cosworth

If you joined us for 30 Days in May earlier this year, you’ll see some familiar faces from that countdown. We’ve also added some new entries for 23 Days in August. So let’s celebrate some notable drivers and cars from the glorious past of the Indianapolis 500!

 

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo
Mike Mosley seemed to have the pole locked up until an unknown rookie named
Teo Fabi stunningly broke the track record. 

23 Days in August: No. 18, Mike Mosley, 1983 Kraco March/Cosworth. Along with Bobby Unser and Johnny Rutherford, Mike Mosely was one of my favorite drivers as a young boy. Unlike Unser and Rutherford, Mosley never found the right combination to vault him to Indy glory. It wasn’t due to lack of determination (twice he was badly injured at Indianapolis from crashes caused by mechanical failure) or certainly driving talent.

Twice, Mosley started last in IndyCar races and won, both at Phoenix and Milwaukee, considered “driver’s tracks.” In 1983, Mosley was consistently among the fastest in practice and appeared to have the pole locked up until an unknown rookie named Teo Fabi stunningly broke the track record. In what was his last 500, Mosley wound up an appropriate 13th after a spin and contact in Turn 1.

Monday, August 17, 2020

23 Days in August: No. 17, Denny Zimmerman, 1972 Bryant Heating and Cooling McLaren/Offy

If you joined us for 30 Days in May earlier this year, you’ll see some familiar faces from that countdown. We’ve also added some new entries for 23 Days in August. So let’s celebrate some notable drivers and cars from the glorious past of the Indianapolis 500!

 

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo
Denny Zimmerman drove an updated McLaren in the 1972 Indianapolis 500.

23 Days in August: No. 17, Denny Zimmerman, 1972 Bryant Heating and Cooling McLaren/Offy. Denny Zimmerman was the 1971 Rookie of the Year and returned in 1972 with a new team, driving the Bryant Heating and Cooling Special for Rolla Vollstedt.

During this period, development was proceeding rapidly as the new Eagles and McLarens incorporated even lager wings to enable incredible cornering speeds. Smaller teams, like the Vollstedt operation, added wings to their older cars in an effort to keep up.

Zimmerman’s car is an older model McLaren, dating to 1970, and originally had no wings.

Given this rather steep uphill climb, the team did a fine job just getting the car in the race. Zimmerman started 28th and finished 19th, dropping out after 116 laps with a bad distributor.

Vollstedt and Bryant stayed together for several more years, using numbers 17 and 27 for the most part, with an occasional entry of No. 37 sprinkled in from time to time.

Zimmerman couldn’t find a ride for the 1973 500, but was back in 1974 driving the M.V.S. Special, so named for the last names of the three partners – Stan Malless, Bob Voigt and Dick Sommers. (I miss entries like that.)

Zimmerman was bumped out at the last minute by Jan Opperman.

That was Zimmerman’s last appearance at Indianapolis, but another career really took off. He became a successful and respected commercial pilot for several carriers, flying the Boeing 747, among other big jets.