What Makes Last Week’s Sprint Car Tragedy So Special?

There’s no denying that last week’s tragedy at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York is horrific.  For those of you who don’t know, Tony Stewart, a very good sprint car and NASCAR driver, had an on-track collision with a fellow sprint car driver, Kevin Ward, Jr.  Ward’s car spun out, hit the wall, and suffered a flat tire.  Ward then proceeded to climb out of his car and stride down the track pointing his finger at Stewart.  As Stewart’s car went by, Ward was struck by the rear right wheel of Stewart’s car, sending him flying a good 20 feet down the track.  Health officials said that Ward was killed on impact.  The result?  A massive internet phenomenon where just about every internet user has become an “expert” on sprint cars overnight.  While I’m not a sprint car expert either, I do find them fascinating.  The reason for this post being almost a week behind the tragedy is that I wanted to put some time behind the incident to gather more information and let everybody cool off.

Here’s what happened – Tony Stewart grew up driving sprint cars until his mid-20’s, when he became heavily involved in NASCAR and IndyCar.  He still drove sprint cars for fun.  After he got out of IndyCar around 2005, Stewart went full-time into NASCAR.  He went into NASCAR’s prestigious Sprint Cup Series, where he won three Cups.  He has won many, many races in NASCAR, sprint cars, and IndyCar.  He may have a reputation for having a temper, but he’s calmed down in the last few years.  According to those who know him and have interviewed him, the man has a heart of gold, but can act impulsively.  When Danica Patrick came to Stewart-Haas racing, Tony personally started coaching her.  He’s been a driving force in sprint car safety measures ever since he suffered a severely broken leg last year in a sprint car race in Iowa.  His broken leg was so bad that it forced him to go around in a mobility scooter for a good 4 months.  He had to miss the rest of the NASCAR season, making him ineligible for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

This year, Tony’s been back with an eye on the prize.  He’s already gotten one pole at a race, and started in the Top 5 4 times.  But, the death of Kevin Ward, Jr. last weekend shook him.  He was scheduled to race the next day at Watkins Glen International Raceway for the Cheez-it 355, but decided not to race after the tragedy the night before.  On Thursday, he released a statement saying that he will not be racing at Michigan International Speedway, and that Jeff Burton will continue to drive his No. 14 Chevrolet SS for the indefinite future.

Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle both grew up driving sprint cars on dirt tracks.  Many drivers like Stewart have humble beginnings on short tracks, or start off in go-karts.  Mostly in NASCAR, it’s the former.  For Tony Stewart, driving sprint cars is just a fun hobby that he does for fun occasionally.  However, he does have a couple of drivers driving sprint cars under his direction from Stewart-Haas Racing.  It’s like Ivan “Ironman” Stewart (no relation to Tony Stewart), who is still an off-road motorsports legend.  Ivan grew up riding motorcycles, and he enjoys riding them across the country with friends when he’s not helping Toyota Racing Development (TRD) with new off-road race trucks.  Back to Tony Stewart.  The tragedy obviously shook him to his core, and I think that he just needs to take a break from racing all together for a while to reorient himself.  I don’t think that he will ever recover from accidentally killing a fellow driver, especially a 20-year-old.  I don’t think that anybody can.

In the aftermath of the tragedy at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, NASCAR has released new on-track protocols for drivers following a wreck.  In a nutshell, drivers are not supposed to exit their car after a wreck unless instructed to by a safety official.  Drivers are prohibited from going onto the track or towards other cars under all circumstances unless it is a safety vehicle.  The reason for this is that some NASCAR superspeedways like Daytona, Talladega, Michigan, Charlotte, Texas, and Homestead-Miami are big enough for cars to reach speeds in excess of 200 mph.  When a caution happens in NASCAR, drivers are only supposed to let off the gas and coast until the pace car comes on the track.  If a driver exited their car at Daytona and started striding towards another car, the result could be disastrous.  Drivers are safer inside of their cars.  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars are built to withstand multiple impacts of 200 mph or greater, and still allow the driver to live.  The driver might have an injury like a broken leg or arm, but they will be far better off than dead.  These rules might seem foolish, but they are really only common sense.  There is no logical reason for a driver to approach another car on foot.

Now, let’s talk about sprint cars.  These little things that look like they belong on a WWII fighter plane are tricky and super cool.  Sprint car racing is different than midget car racing.  Midget cars are essentially go-karts with semi-powerful engines (usually a Ford flathead V8 or a GMC “Jimmy” inline-six-cylinder) and dirt or asphalt tires.  They are freakishly fast and unsafe.  Sprint cars are the next step up from that.  These cars define insanity.

There are a couple of different classes of sprint cars:  The craziest class is World of Outlaws, started in 1978.  These cars use a 410 cubic-inch naturally-aspirated V8 (6.7 liters) that can produce anywhere from 900-1,100 horsepower.  These cars do not have a starter, transmission, clutch, or battery.  This means that these cars must get a push from a start truck to get going.  They simply use a driveshaft directly from the engine to the rear axle.  Their left rear tire is 335 millimeters wide (that’s as wide as the rear tires on a SRT Viper!), and their massive right rear tire is 380 millimeters wide.  The class that Tony Stewart races in is called the United Racing Company.  These sprint cars use a 360 cubic-inch V8 (5.9 liters) that is based off of a Dodge/Plymouth design.  That’s where the similarities to the Big 3 end.  These engines are capable of producing anywhere from 700-900 horsepower.  Again, these cars don’t use transmissions, clutches, batteries, or starters.

In recent years, sprint car safety has greatly increased.  Roll cages are now mandatory, as well as fully tubbed chassis’.  Fuel tank bladders prevent fuel leakages, and alcohol-infused fuel is now used.  Six or seven-point safety harnesses are now standard, and drivers are now required to wear a 2-layer fire suit and Nomex gloves.  Full helmets, arm restraint devices, right headrests, and a 1/8 inch-thick rock/debris screen on the front of the roll cage.  Plus, World of Outlaws and United Racing Company require head and neck restraints (HANS devices).

Winged sprint cars are much safer than non-winged sprint cars, due to the fact that the aluminum wings are capable of absorbing a good deal of impact.  When crashes happen, they are often violent, and debilitating injuries in non-winged sprint cars are commonplace.  The safety of winged sprint cars was shown in 2013 when Tony Stewart’s sprint car flipped and hit a safety fence before hitting the ground upside down.  Tony was able to walk away from the crash with only a severely broken leg (okay, maybe hop away).

Any sprint car is capable of reaching speeds of 140 mph or more.  With winged sprint cars, the wings add hundreds of pounds of downforce at speed, making the car easier to control.  Surprisingly, sprint cars are easier to control at higher speeds, thanks to the added downforce.  Sprint cars are mainly steered with the throttle, which is why they are almost always sideways.  They are built to turn left 99% of the time, and side visibility is almost nothing.  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Greg Biffle also grew up driving sprint cars, and he has said multiple times in interviews that sprint cars need to have better side visibility.  The wings on the sides go down to about head level of the driver, and shorter drivers have no problem with visibility.  What needs to happen with sprint cars is simple:

  • Drivers should NOT exit their car unless it’s on fire.  This would alleviate any repeats of the Ward/Stewart tragedy.  When a car spins out or hits the wall, a caution is called.  Drivers let off the gas, but they still are travelling pretty fast.  Tony Stewart was going about 40 mph when he hit Kevin Ward, Jr.  Even if he was in a street car, Ward would still be dead.  Safety officials can be anywhere on a track like Canandaigua in seconds.  Watch the video, and you’ll see that the safety truck was at the site where Ward was killed in under 10 seconds.  The truck was heading out to help Ward’s car get back to the pits when the accident happened.
  • The wings on the side NEED to be raised about 6-10 inches higher for better visibility.  It won’t make the cars more unstable.  Look at Can-Am McLaren’s of the 1960’s and 1970’s – their wings got higher and higher.  It actually HELPED the car’s stability and downforce!  Sprint cars could benefit from that.  Plus, it will make the cars safer, as there will be more space between the wall/catch fence/ground and the driver.
  • Drivers need to wait until after a caution to talk to race officials about who was at fault in the accident.  It was clear in the Ward/Stewart incident the lap before Ward was killed that Ward bumped Stewart’s car and hit the wall as a result.  Ward was clearly at fault in the accident, but Stewart also used his car to shove Ward’s away from his so that both cars didn’t spin.  It’s a simple maneuver, yet it proved to be ultimately fatal.  Race officials know who did what when, and they will assign points and/or penalties accordingly.  I know that drivers become furious when their car is wrecked, but walking towards the car that wrecked yours is simply not a smart or good way to take your anger out.

I think that in the coming months, many sanctioning bodies of various motorsports will enact rules telling drivers to not exit their vehicles until told to do so by safety officials.  Let me be perfectly clear:  Crew chiefs and spotters are NOT safety officials.  They are there to make sure that you stay out of accidents and win a race.  They are not a track safety official telling you to get out of the car.  I know that humans make mistakes, but Kevin Ward, Jr.’s mistake proved fatal.  There’s no taking back what happened that night, but we can prevent it from happening again.  It’s sad, and my thoughts go out to Kevin Ward, Jr.’s family and to Tony Stewart.  I can’t even begin to fathom how sad Tony Stewart must feel about what happened that night.

I have attached the video of Tony Stewart killing Kevin Ward, Jr.  Please do not watch this video if you felt at all uncomfortable reading this post.  I had trouble watching the video, but I feel that it is important for you to see it.  Viewer discretion is advised when watching this video.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5JNNXXdqM4

Amazing Photos From IROC Racing!

“Spanning the globe to bring you a constant variety of sports; the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition … This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”  Legendary ABC Sports broadcaster Jim McKay spoke those words every Saturday afternoon for 37 years, from 1961-1998, when ESPN became the premier sports broadcasting channel.  Those words of Jim McKay were heard in millions of American homes.

ABC Sports was particularly fond of showing motorsports.  Every Saturday afternoon, millions of American children (and adults!) were treated to 90 minutes of non-mainstream motorsports like NASCAR, NHRA, demolition derbies, surfing, and even the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show.  While I’ve never seen the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show, it must have been good enough to be shown on one of the very few TV channels on the air at the time.  This is when IROC racing entered the motorsports scene in the early 1970’s.  It ran for a good 15 years or so, reaching it’s peak around 1980.  There was no other place where you could watch NASCAR legends like Richard Petty and Bobby Allison duke it out with F1 legends like Emerson Fittipaldi and Denis Hulme.  Throw in Mario Andretti, and you were bound to sit back and watch one hell of a ride.

The late Chris Economaki was always commentating on some form of motorsports, and his talent showed during the pre-race commentary of IROC V.  IROC V was the 5th IROC season, and the year was 1978.

While most younger Camaro enthusiasts will think that IROC was simply an option package developed for the Camaro starting in 1985, there’s more to the story.  The story behind IROC goes all the way back to 1973 with Roger Penske, Les Richter, and Mike Phelps (no relation to the swimmer of the same name!) all had the amazing idea to put 12 of the world’s greatest race car drivers in identical cars to compete on road courses and NASCAR superspeedways alike in a four-race series.  Richter was cautious enough to say that the IROC series might not determine who the best driver was, “but we sure go a long way towards that goal.”

The first IROC season was the 1974 season, and it kicked off on October 27, 1973.  It consisted of 4 events with all racing done in identically-prepared Porsche 911 RSR’s.  For the 1975 season, Chevrolet came on board, and the Chevrolet Camaro was the car of choice.

Here are some pictures that have only recently been released to the public.  Enjoy.

The Crash That Changed NASCAR Forever

At Talladega International Superspeedway in 1973, Bobby Isaac heard voices telling him to pull over.  It wasn’t his crew chief, it wasn’t his spotter, but he said that it was a supernatural voice.  Nothing at all was wrong with his car.  But, he got spooked by the voices and quit racing on the spot.  He pulled into pit row, turned the car off, got out, and never set foot in a race car again.

Odd things happen at Talladega all the time.  Fans and drivers joke around casually about the “Talladega Jinx.”  The Jinx itself is standard issue – every track has it in some form or another.  People say that Talladega was once a Native American burial ground and the spirits haunt the track to this day.  As silly as those stories may seem, Talladega has been a haven for mishaps since Day 1.  Larry Smith lost his life there because of a minor-yet-deadly accident.  Davey Allison lost his life there in a helicopter crash.  Side-view mirrors have killed drivers there.  There have been so many infield accidents that I can’t even count how many there are.

But, it was Bobby Allison’s near-fatal crash there in a Grand National-series Buick LeSabre in 1987 that changed NASCAR superspeedway racing forever.  There were no murderous mirrors or supernatural voices.  Instead, a blown tire at 200+ mph sent Allison’s number 22 Buick LeSabre stock car into the air.

The result was sickening.  His car was moving with such momentum that it literally vaporized the catch fence and sprayed the crowd with debris.  Thankfully, two well-placed and tightly-wound cables kept most of the car from landing in the crowd.  The only serious injury was a spectator who lost an eye – sad but not deadly.  Bobby Allison continued to race after the crash at Talladega until the next year, when a career-ending crash at Pocono Speedway in 1988 caused him to hang his helmet up for good.  However, Jinx conspiracy theorists will happily point out to you that his family didn’t escape the Talladega Jinx until 1993, when Bobby’s eldest son, Davey Allison, lost his life in a helicopter crash there, just 11 months after Bobby’s youngest son, Clifford, perished in a massive crash at Michigan International Superspeedway.

In Bobby Allison’s crash, speed was what nearly killed him.  Just a day prior to the race, Junior Johnson, a notoriously reckless driver back in his day, voiced his concerns to NASCAR officials.  They should have listened to him.  Junior Johnson is still one of the most respected figures in NASCAR public circles.  NASCAR executives put on the headphones to ignore the thundering engine of Junior Johnson.  Why?  Because Bill Elliott had just put his car in first place at a screaming 212.8 mph.  Big numbers look good in newspapers.  To put that into perspective, the fastest speed at the Indy 500 the next week was 216.6 mph.  Indy cars are light, small, and maneuverable.  Stock cars are like automotive battleships.  When Bobby Allison hit the fence, NASCAR officials could have faced an accident that could have played out like the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans disaster.  Crazy speeds or not, something had to be done quickly.

To reduce top speeds, the stopgap measure was to implement smaller carburetors.  Teams hated it, not only speed-wise, but because it also hindered the car’s performance in many other ways.  It took a full season to reach an agreement, but when the green flag dropped at the 1988 Daytona 500, each car in the field had a restrictor plate bolted to the intake manifold.  The restrictor plate is still mandatory at superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega, as it greatly restricts the airflow going into the engine.  The result is a significant reduction in top speed.  A restrictor plate is simply a piece of metal with four holes in the center for the air to go through.

Restrictor plates didn’t cure the jinx.  Crowd injuries at Talladega are still far too common.  In that case, why install a restrictor plate at all?  Until his death, NASCAR CEO Bill France, Jr. always said that the restrictor plates were bolted on to improve the show.  To this day, it’s hard to find something more spectacular than NASCAR.  The restrictor plate greatly reduces the airflow going into the engine, so, if there is an accident, the car will not be traveling over 200 mph.  Superspeedways are the only NASCAR tracks that allow the cars to get up to speeds like that.  Plus, there’s no denying the spectator appeal of “The Big One,” the gigantic crashes at restrictor plate events that fans have come to expect and see as for-granted.

Is the Talladega Jinx real?  Um, no.  There’s no supernatural entity plotting over what will happen next at Talladega.  But, the Jinx is well-planted into the minds of drivers and fans.  Either way, restrictor plates are still for this world for a while – superstition or not.

 

 

The Greatest American Turbocharged Cars

Many people think that turbochargers belong in heavily modified import cars.  Well, that’s partially true.  Europe has turned out some impressive turbocharged cars, as well as the US of A.  Here are America’s greatest turbocharged cars.

  • Ford Mustang SVO:  The 2015 Ford Mustang has a 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, just like the SVO Mustangs of the 1980’s.  The first turbocharged Ford Mustang showed up in 1979 with a 135-horsepower, turbocharged, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine.  It was an alternative to the downsized 4.2-liter V8 found in the Mustang GT.  But, it wasn’t until Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO, now known as Special Vehicle Tuning or SVT) got their hands on one that it became anything noteworthy.  It came with a factory-installed Hurst short-throw shifter, revolutionary Koni adjustable shocks, ABS disc brakes at all four corners, a limited-slip differential, and a screaming, turbocharged 205 horsepower.  Drivers even had the cool option of flicking a dash-mounted switch that allowed the car to run on lower-grade fuel for a certain amount of time.  When it ended it’s production run in the late 1980’s, it was something to be feared.  It looked especially menacing in grey.
  • 1965 Chevrolet Corvair:  Believe it or not, the Corvair actually had a go-fast option.  It had two, in fact.  One was the Crown Corvair, which used a mid-mounted 283-cubic-inch Corvette V8, and the other was a turbocharger bolted onto the engine.  From the factory.  It made 150 horsepower initially, but by the time the Corvair died, it made 180 horsepower.  Unlike many other turbocharged cars, the turbocharged Corvair did not use a wastegate, the internal exhaust flap that opens at higher engine speeds to prevent over-spinning the turbine.  Instead, Chevy engineers simply built enough backpressure into the exhaust system to prevent overboost and serious engine damage.  Very few Corvairs with the turbocharged engine were ever made.
  • Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire:  Oldsmobile was one of the early adopters of turbocharging technology.  It released the powerful F85 Jetfire in April of 1962, and the car was something of a small success.  It took the fabled 3.5-liter high-compression “Rocket” V8, cranked up the boost, and let it rev.  It made a screaming 215 horsepower, and it was easily quicker than many naturally aspirated cars of 1962.  Plus, owners got an ashtray-sized boost gauge in front of the shifter.  The engine had problems with detonation, which is the process where the hot air-fuel mixture under pressure spontaneously ignites before the spark plug has a chance to ignite it.  So, the Turbo-Rocket engine was fed a mixture of methanol alcohol and water (the same stuff fed to dragsters).  This allowed the mixture to not ignite as quickly and get a higher octane level.  Today, water/alcohol injection is commonplace in high-performance tuner car applications, but isn’t it cool that F85 Jetfire owners had to periodically fill their “Turbo Rocket Fluid” reservoir?
  • Buick GNX:  If there’s a poster-child for American turbocharged cars, the Buick GNX wins, hands-down.  The all-black, tire-smoking, Ferrari Testarossa-beating, quarter-mile waltzing Buick GNX was and still is a force of nature.  Buick initially started turbocharging it’s anemic 3.8-liter V6 in 1978 for the Regal and the LeSabre, introducing the fast Regal Grand National line in 1982.  It culminated with 1987 with the GNX.  Buick purposefully underrated the crank horsepower at 276 horsepower, but dyno tests showed that the car made at least 315 horsepower at the wheels.  This means that the car made somewhere close to 360-370 horsepower at the crank.  It even beat the twin-turbo Callaway Corvette that I featured on my blog a couple of months ago in the quarter mile.  The GNX would go through the quarter mile in the low 13-second range at around 125-130 mph.  Just 547 GNX’s were built in 1987, each specially massaged by AMC/McLaren.  Today, the turbo Buick’s are something of a legend, and many go for upwards of $30,000.  The car was so successful on the street the Buick entered a naturally-aspirated V8 version of the car in NASCAR’s Grand National series (now known as the Nationwide Series), where it was extremely competitive.
  • 1989 Pontiac 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am:  The all-white Pontiac Trans Am picked to be the pace car for the 73rd annual Indy 500 was completely different than the first turbocharged Trans Am, which was all mustache and no Burt.  This 1989 force-fed pony car was something completely different.  I liken it as the Pontiac storm trooper to the Buick GNX Darth Vader.  Pontiac subcontracted an engineering firm to swap Buick GNX engines (made by Buick for Pontiac) into the Trans Am.  But, the story doesn’t (and shouldn’t) end there.  Anniversary-edition Trans Am’s got better-flowing heads than the GNX, stainless-steel headers, GNX-sized Eaton intercoolers, a cross-drilled Comp Cams crankshaft, and their own engine tuning higher up in the powerband.  The net result was a car that officially produced 250 horsepower at the crank, but made closer to 320 horsepower at the crank.  This marked a return to the horsepower-underrating days of the muscle car, started by, you guessed it, Pontiac.  It was the fastest pace car ever in the history of the Indy 500, which is impressive, given the fact that many fast cars have been chosen since then.
  • Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe:  The Beach Boys made the T-Bird famous with the line, “fun, fun, fun, until her daddy takes it away.”  The T-Bird was fun until Daddy (the EPA) introduced emissions regulations that took the fun out of the T-Bird.  By 1982, the T-Bird was a horrible, anemic shoebox of a car.  Happily, 1983 saw the rising of the phoenix.  It’s beak-like hood had twin nostrils that meant that there was a turbocharged engine underneath that pointy hood.  Other than the amazingly 1980’s-FILA edition, the T-Bird Turbo Coupe was at it’s peak in 1987 and 1988.  That was when stick-shifted version of the Fox-bodied T-Bird came equipped with a whistling 190 horsepower, four-wheel ABS disc brakes, and a limited-slip differential.  Those nostrils on the hood, by the way, are functional, as they feed air directly to the top-mounted intercooler.
  • Shelby GLHS:  It’s hard to find a car that has a shape that’s more square than the Dodge Omni.  The blocky Omni had all of the sporting pretensions of a worn-out water shoe.  Then, you hand the Omni over to Carroll Shelby.  Early Omni GLH (unofficially Goes Like Hell) cars weren’t turbocharged, but by the mid-1980’s, America was becoming obsessed with the turbocharger.  So, by the mid-1980’s, the Omni GLH had enough punch to beat any VW GTI of the era.  For the 1986 model year only, 500 cars were further tweaked by Shelby to become the Omni GLHS (Goes Like Hell S’More), which was a 175-horsepower breadbox with more boost, better suspension, and factory options like a roll cage and heavy-duty oil cooler borrowed from the Ram 250 with the Cummins Diesel.  Quite possibly the best part of the GLHS:  The uprated top speed of the GLHS was too much for the regular 85 mph speedometer of the Omni, so Shelby simply added a sticker to the bottom of the gauge with increments up to 135 mph.
  • Shelby CSX-VNT:  Another Shelby creation was the CSX-VNT, which was based off of the homely Plymouth Sundance and Dodge Shadow.  Initially, the CSX-VNT packed 175 horsepower, and like the earlier GLHS, went like a bat out of hell.  Shelby built a small run of 1,001 cars for the Thrifty rental car company with slightly less power.  In the final year of CSX-VNT production, 1989, the CSX-VNT included some new, unique technology previously only seen on race cars – variable turbine geometry.  Computer-controlled vanes moved to direct the hot exhaust gas stream to improve spool-up time.  While it’s power rating remained the same at 175 horsepower, it had dramatically better response time in the low end, virtually eliminating turbo lag.  The next time this technology would show up in the U.S. market would be in 2011, with the 997-generation Porsche 911 Turbo.  That was more than 15 years later.
  • GMC Syclone:  In 1990, Gale Banks Engineering cracked the 200-mph mark at the Bonneville Salt Flats in a compact GMC pickup truck with no turbocharger or supercharger.  In 1991, the streetable version of that high-powered pickup showed up on dealer lots.  It’s 4.3-liter Vortec V6 engine was turbocharged with the help of Gale Banks himself.  It came standard with ABS and AWD, neither of which were options on the S15 Sonoma.  You couldn’t haul much with the Syclone, unfortunately, as it was only rated to haul 500 pounds.  Too bad, but you could still fill the bed with the egos of every single Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati driver on the road.  This all-black, one-year-only mini-truck was the fastest-accelerating production vehicle in America for a few years, easily getting off of the line, thanks to the torque-rich engine and AWD.  It got to 60 mph somewhere in the low 4-second range.
  • GMC Typhoon:  A spin-off of the one-year-only Syclone, the Jimmy-bodied Typhoon was officially rated at 280 horsepower, though dyno tests showed that it made at least that at the wheels, meaning that it made somewhere around 320 horsepower at the crank.  It could easily beat a Ferrari 348 off of the line and up to about 70 mph, when the 348 really got into the powerband.  Just under 5,000 Typhoons were made between 1992-1993, and unlike the black-only Syclone, could be bought in a variety of colors.  In fact, Clint Eastwood used to drive a Forest Green Typhoon around in his Dirty Harry days, where he would pull up to a stoplight and ask punks if they felt lucky. Most thought they were going to beat some middle-aged guy in his SUV with their Mustang or import car.
  • Dodge Neon SRT4:  In 2003, Chrysler/Dodge’s Street Racing Technology (SRT) team got hold of the friendly-faced Neon subcompact car, and built what is still the car to beat for bang-for-your-buck performance.  A frog-eyed four-door sedan with a functional front-mounted intercooler peeking out of the grille, the tiny Neon made mincemeat out of everything from a Porsche Boxster to a Nissan 350Z.  Dodge claimed 230 horsepower, though dyno testing showed that the car made at least that much, if not more at the wheels.  This means that the engine was making close to 280 horsepower at the crank.  Something else that is cool about the Neon SRT4 is the fact that it doesn’t have a muffler on it.  This allows it to have vastly better turbo flow.  Resonators keep the volume semi-sane, but the Neon really makes a lot of noise when you give it some go-juice.
  • Chevrolet SS Turbocharged:  Initially available only as a supercharged coupe, the Cobalt SS was always OK in performance testing, but it wasn’t going to set any records.  Starting in 2009, the Cobalt SS came as either a sedan or coupe with a turbocharger bolted onto a small four-cylinder engine.  It made 260 horsepower.  Should you want a cool sleeper, if you aren’t afraid of the ignition recall, you can get a Cobalt SS, take the badges off, swap the big chrome rims for something more discreet (like the regular Cobalt rims), and you’d have the makings of a good sleeper.  It had a no-lift-shift system – just keep your right foot floored so that you don’t loose boost – and you’ll see the quarter mile fly by in under 13 seconds, and will keep up with a Porsche 911 on a road course.  Take it out to the twisties out on the road, and you’ll be able to keep up with a motorcycle, thanks to the tiny size of the Cobalt.

1986 Ford Mustang SVO 1986 Shelby Omni GLHS 1988 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe

1989 Shelby CSX-VNT 2004 Dodge Neon SRT4

 

1962 Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Spyder Turbo

1987 Buick GNX

1989 Pontiac Trans Am 20th Anniversary Edition

1991 GMC Syclone 1992 GMC Typhoon

 

Richard Petty to Drive His 1967 Plymouth Belvedere at the Goodwood Festival of Speed

Richard Petty is one of the foremost racing legends ever.  He dominated NASCAR from 1964-1986.  He was a brilliant, uncompromising driver who set so many winning records in NASCAR during his brilliant career that nobody except Dale Earnhardt ever came close to matching him.  When asked of what his most iconic car was, many people will immediately tell you his 1970 Plymouth Superbird or 1967 Plymouth Belvedere are his most iconic car. More people will tell you that his Superbird is the most iconic car to ever race NASCAR.  I’m inclined to agree.  All of Petty’s Plymouth’s were powered by the legendary, versatile 426 Hemi.  What I am here to tell you about is Petty will be driving his 1967 Plymouth Belvedere.

Richard Petty’s big, Petty Blue 1967 Plymouth Belvedere will be an amazing sight to see at the 2014 Goodwood Festival of Speed.  It’s going to be a change from the wailing Le Mans and F1 cars that populate the Festival of Speed.  It was the car that Richard Petty drove in his most dominant season ever, 1967.  Just next month, Petty and his big, blue, burbling Plymouth will reunite.

Petty’s 1967 Belvedere was actually a 1966 model redone as a 1967 model (it can get expensive to supply a brand-new car that hasn’t hit the market yet for one person to race).  Normally, it lives over at the Petty Museum in North Carolina, but it has also been displayed at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  For the 1967 NASCAR season, Richard Petty was a force of nature.  He was simply unstoppable.  He won 27 out of 48 races entered, including a 10-race winning streak.  That is a NASCAR record that stands to this day.  It would be the second of his seven championships.  His first championship was in 1964.  Until 1967, Petty was referred to as “The Randleman Rocket.”  After 1967, his new nickname was “The King.”  I’m trying to resist the urge to make bad Hakuna Matata jokes…

While the full list of the 2014 Goodwood Festival of Speed invitees hasn’t been finalized, we do know that Indy 500 legend Al Unser will be driving his 1978 Lola-Cosworth Team Penske Indy car.  We also know that Formula 1 legends John Surtees and Emerson Fittipaldi will be driving a Ferrari 158 and a McLaren M23, respectively.

Some other highlights of this year’s Festival of Speed:  Sebastian Loeb will be attempting to set a record in his Pikes Peak-winning Peugeot 208 T16, and a timed supercar run of a prototype Acura Honda NSX.

On a sad note, Richard Petty’s longtime wife, Lynda Gayle Owens Petty passed away on March 25, 2014.  She was 72.  It was unclear for a few weeks on whether Richard Petty would come to the Festival of Speed.  A quiet announcement on Petty’s website a few weeks ago said that he will be going to Goodwood.  I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the entire Petty family.

 

The Differences Between Circuit Racing, Drag Racing, and Oval Racing

My mom recently asked me what the differences were between circuit racing, drag racing, and oval racing.  For those of us who aren’t race freaks, this may prove helpful.  I know that it will prove helpful for my mom.

Drag racing is for all essential purposes, putting a big, powerful motor into a lightweight car, and adding other go-fast goodies to it, and then going to the drag strip and winning.  Ok, I wish it was that simple.  Many of the fast drag racing cars that you see going hundreds of mph down a straight 1/4 “drag strip” are purpose built.  The fast, cool cars that everybody loves are the Top Fuel dragsters.  Those are the long, huge-engined cars that blast down the drag strip in just 5 seconds.  But, there are also street-legal drag racers that are almost as quick.  Hot Rod Magazine puts on an event every year called Hot Rod Drag Week.  The fastest cars there in the Unlimited class consistently run low 7-second passes.  It’s truly mind-boggling to watch a steel-bodied 1965 Chevrolet Nova II blast down the drag strip at 6.94 seconds.  I have attached a video explaining the history of street legal drag racing, and I found it informative and fun.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TccUZOHuJuI

Circuit racing can mean two things.  One is oval racing like NASCAR or IndyCar, which is not how I view it.  The other is what they call “road-racing.”  Road racing is essentially a twisty track paved with concrete, not sticky asphalt.  It’s usually very fast, and it requires a lot of effort and concentration to wrangle a car around said track.  Formula 1 runs many road courses every season, and NASCAR runs two road courses (Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen).  But, the most well-recognized road race is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as other endurance races.  Road racing is taxing on the engine, transmission, suspension, and the driver.  Darrell Waltrip (yeah, he’s the guy with the world-famous “Boogity, boogity, boogity) once said of Sonoma Raceway, “Floor the gas, upshift, mat the brakes, downshift, repeat.”  That can be said for many road courses around the world.  It’s not easy.

Oval racing is sometimes called circuit racing.  I don’t know or care why.  I just know that oval racing is NOT circuit racing.  If you find out or know why, tell me.  Anyhow, oval racing is NASCAR and IndyCar.  It’s extremely fast, and it’s taxing on the driver.  With NASCAR, pit stops are often between 8-20 seconds!  Famous oval tracks are Daytona International Speedway, Talladega International Superspeedway, Bristol Raceway, and Darlington Raceway.  Not only are all of those oval circuits fast, but they can have deadly consequences if you can’t get out of the way.  Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s 2001 death at the Daytona 500 was a shock to the racing community, but it only highlighted just how deadly NASCAR is.  Speeds reaching 200+ mph are common on these oval tracks.  Bill Elliott once hit 210 mph at Talladega, which is a record that stands to this day.

Since I’m onto the different kinds of racing, I might as well do other kinds of racing.

Top-speed racing is kind of the thing nowadays.  Standing mile events are common in several states, but the big top-speed races are at the Bonneville Salt Flats and El Mirage (El Mirage is a large dry lakebed in Southern California).  The fastest run at Bonneville was 763 mph back in 1997, with Andy Green driving Thrust SSC.  Not only did that break the sound barrier for the first time in a car, but Green is planning to hit 1,000 mph with Team Bloodhound SSC next year.  Back to top-speed racing.  It’s fast, and can be deadly.  I have attached a Roadkill episode showing Freiburger and Finnegan chasing a top-speed record at Bonneville in a 1981 Chevrolet Camaro.  It’s fast, funny, and surprisingly informative.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEcbwvNaxE8

Drifting is where you take a RWD car, pull the handbrake, and break the rear end loose.  Professional drifters include Vaughan Gittin, Jr., Ken Gushi, Tanner Foust, and Ken Block, just to name a few.  Drifting originated in Japan in the mid-1970s, and it’s become a popular sport ever since.  Typical drifting machines are RWD vehicles with either a GM LS-Series engine, or a turbocharged Toyota engine.  Drifters are people who like to make lots of tire smoke and dial in a lot of opposite lock into the steering.  Drifting a RWD car should be simple:  If it’s a new car, defeat the traction and stability controls.  Then, find a big, open space (without curbs or trees!), floor it, pull up on the handbrake, and the rear end will hopefully break out.  If and when it does, steer INTO the drift!  Steering away from the drift will spin the car and make you look like an idiot.  Steer into the drift, and apply more steering and throttle as needed.  If you feel uncomfortable, tap the brakes enough to get the rear end of the car to step back into line a bit.  Also, make sure that you don’t have expensive tires on.  Drifting eats up the treads surprisingly quickly, and you probably know that Pirelli P Zero Corsas aren’t exactly cheap.  I have attached yet another video done by the Motor Trend Channel talking about turbos vs. V8s and drifting.  It gives a unique perspective into drifting, and it’s got a TON of tire smoke!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3H8ItG5SK9o

Rallying can mean a couple of things.  One is where you are given directions and you drive your car on public roads to a destination.  The kind of rallying that most of us are familiar with is WRC and GRC (World Rally Cross and Global Rally Cross).  Those rally machines look stock, but don’t be fooled!  Ken Block and Tanner Foust are both professional drifters and rally drivers.  They both happen to be very good.  Ken Block’s Ford Fiesta looks like a stock Fiesta with aggressive tires, and a wild paint job, and a loud exhaust note.  It’s got a lowered, heavy-duty suspension, a 650-horsepower twin-turbocharged four-cylinder, and a six-speed manual.  It is FAST!  Ken also is a cool, nice guy who loves dogs.  Especially Alaskan Huskies.  His two Huskies’ names are Yuki and Bentley.

Autocrossing is often sanctioned by the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America), and it involves weaving a car in between traffic cones.  It’s fast, and it’s demanding on the suspension and tires.  Yet, people flock to it year after year.  It also is hard on the driver.  Some cars happen to be extremely good at autocrossing, and the Meyers Manx dune buggy in the late 1960s-1970s was very good.  It was light, fast, and it stuck to pavement like nothing else.  Nowadays, the Mazda Miata is the go-to choice for autocrossers.  I’ve attached the most recent Roadkill episode, where Freiburger and Finnegan attempt to beat a Kia Rio5 with all of their cars that still run.  I won’t spoil which cars win for you.  I’ll let you watch and laugh as they spin and throttle the Crusher Camaro, I’ll even let you watch and grimace as Finnegan blows up the parking assist pin in his wife’s 1969 Chevrolet El Camino, and watch as God-knows-what comes flying out of their 1968 Dodge Charger.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=II3z353OZWA

I think that I’ve covered just about everything here.  If you find anything else that you can think of, let me know in the comments section.  I will do another blog post on the different types of racing.  I would love to, as it would help me immensely.

Ford Wins 12 Hours of Sebring for the First Time Since 1969!

The last time Ford won the 12 Hours of Sebring was back in 1969.  That was when a Ford GT40 MkI beat out a Ferrari 312P.  That was at the tail end of Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari’s decade-long motor sports rivalry.

Now, 45 long years later, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford Daytona Prototype brought the glory back to Dearborn after 12 chaotic and dramatic hours.

The skilled drivers, Marino Franchitti, Scott Pruett, and Memo Rojas, managed to get the Ford Daytona Prototype across the finish line a mere 5 seconds ahead of Ryan Danziel and the Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03B.  They managed to do this after a late restart bunched the field up.

The win makes Chip Ganassi the only team owner ever to have race titles from the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, and the 12 Hours of Sebring.

As for the GT classes, cars from Stuttgart took the win.  Andy Lally, John Potter, and Marco Seefried won GT Daytona in the No. 911 car.  Amazing pit stops helped Jörg Bergmeister, Patrick Long, and Michael Christensen drive the CORE Autosports Porsche 911 RSR to victory in the GTLM class.

With the Prototype Challenge class, former NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Colin Braun helped put the CORE-ORECA Chevrolet FLM09 best reigning class champion Bruno Junquiera.

With the highly anticipated Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, fuel pump issues and 2 spins dropped the leading Vette to 6th, which disappointed driver Oliver Gavin.  Ben Keating and the SRT Viper GT-D retired within the first hour after a truly spectacular fire.

The revolutionary Nissan DeltaWing led its class for several laps, but retired after Lap 104, thanks to a collision on that lap, in addition to a botched pit stop and multiple mechanical issues.

Coverage from the 11th Annual Peggy Sue All-American Cruise!

Every year, the Peggy Sue All-American Cruise and its related events take over sunny Santa Rosa, CA.  Restored cars, hot rods, low riders, raised Jeeps, and antique American cars are all part of the mix.  We have entered our 1950 GMC 100, “Betsy” twice.  It’s always been a lot of fun for me to see all of the classic cars in the parade or the massive parking lot where they are displayed!  This year, one of my good friends joined me in watching the classic American cars cruise around downtown Santa Rosa.  Revving engines?  Check.  Drunk people yelling at drivers to “Step it up, dude!”?  Check.  Squealing tires?  Check?  The smell of burnt brakes?  Check.  Annoyed and overworked event staff?  Right on.  I know that you are getting bored reading my words about what was going on.  I’ll cut to the chase:  It was a LOT of fun, and you should join me next year.  Enjoy the pictures.

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I don’t know what this Chevy Nova had under the hood, but it sounded NASTY!  Many of the cars at the parade were either restored to Concours-levels or were built for the drag strip.  This one was built to rule the streets.   DSCN1921

This 1959 Chevrolet Corvette is a rare “Fuelie.”  Instead of a carburetor, it has a primitive version of fuel injection.  This particular example was restored to a “Level 1.”  Level 1 means that it is virtually perfect.  That it is.

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This 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne is a powerful, efficient, and stylish family sedan from the muscle car era.  It has a 327 cubic-inch V8 engine and a two-speed automatic Powerglide transmission.  It’s lovely.

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I find it nice that the interior of the same Biscayne matches the exterior of the car.  Even the steering wheel has chrome on it!

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Same car.  This is the model designation.  The car is a barn find from somewhere around Redwood City, according to the owner.  He restored it himself, and he did a very good job of it!

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For those of you old enough, you should remember the aero-wars days, when big engines and aerodynamics were all the rage.  The 1971 Plymouth Roadrunners and Superbirds were the car of choice for many famous NASCAR drivers.  Richard Petty left Ford in 1969 to go to Plymouth.   He did so much better in a Plymouth Superbird that Ford built the Torino Talladega as a response.  This particular Roadrunner has the 440 Six Pack (a 440 cubic-inch V8 with THREE two-barrel carburetors!), which was just one step below the mighty 426 Hemi engine.  It is painted in the iconic Lime Green that is popular with automotive restorers.

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This Corvette is one of the nicest Corvettes that I’ve seen in a LONG time!  It is painted Aqua Blue and Snow White, with a matching interior.  It has the 283 cubic-inch V8 and a four-speed manual.  It is a 1956 Corvette.  The only shame?  That it’s far too nice to tour Route 66 in.

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Sorry about the fingertip on the top of the camera view.  The sun was shining and I REALLY wanted to tell you about this truck!  It’s a 1965 Chevy K10 with the optional 327 cubic-inch engine and a three-speed manual.  It is built to tackle any trail, and take anything that you want with it.  It may not be stock, but it looks like it will outrun just about any Jeep from the same era off-road.

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Remember the Chevy Vega?  If you don’t, it’s okay.  The Vega was powered by a 305 cubic-inch V8.  It was relatively powerful and fast, but it was a minor disaster for Chevy.  This Vega is a 1974 model.  It wasn’t the nicest car there, but it was one of the newer cars there.

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The best part about this 1969 Chevrolet C30 is that it is used a lot.  I don’t know how much, but I have seen it at Sonoma Raceway’s Wednesday Night Drags as a tow vehicle.  It’s the perfect tow vehicle.  It’s got a 350 cubic-inch engine that’s all-original.  So is most of the truck.

DSCN1930This rare 1971 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am is one speedy car.  It’s all stock, and plenty fast that way.  It’s got the 350 cubic-inch V8 engine found in many GM vehicles from 1969-1999.  The top speed is 130 mph.  This car means business.  The lucky driver had to keep the car in first gear.  he also kept touching the brakes because the car wants to leap forward.  Lucky him.

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I’m going to apologize in advance for the direction of the photo.  This 1951 Dodge cab-over semi has been so heavily customized that the only thing original about it is the cab.  That’s it.  The rest of it is custom-built.  The truck is a heavy-duty car-hauler with three axles.  The engine is a brand-new 6.7-liter Cummins Diesel engine that has two turbos instead of one.  Wow!

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While motorcycles aren’t as common in the parade as cars, there were still a good three or four.  This 1946 Indian Roadmaster has the iconic “shovelhead” engine that many motorcycle enthusiasts favor.  This Indian Roadmaster is banana yellow with the “caramel cream” seat.  I like old motorcycles like this.  Maybe some readers will buy me one…

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The Indian logo is still in the original chrome, almost 65 years later.  The gas tank can hold 10 gallons.  It says that on the chrome gas cap.

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I like the way that Indian made the front wheel cover so stylish.  I was talking to the owner for a minute, and I found out that he drove it all the way down to Santa Rosa from Healdsburg.  That’s not a lot of fun on an old motorcycle, yet Indian motorcycles are built to cruise.  I’m guessing that it was probably a comfortable ride down to Santa Rosa.

DSCN1937This 1932 Ford Roadster is a sick hot rod.  The lady standing by the car is the owner.  The car has a Ford 351 Windsor V8 engine.  It has a Jaguar rear end, and a five-speed manual.  This car means business.  I don’t know what I like more:  The mechanical parts of the car, or the exterior?  That’s a decision that YOU will let me know in the comments section…

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This Ford Bronco looks like it came out of some post-apocalyptic movie.  It’s got aggressive tires, a six-inch lift kit, and a 302 cubic inch V8.  I don’t know the exact year, but it looks like it’s from around 1967-8.  This is one nice Bronco.

DSCN1940This is one of the coolest, most amazing Jeep CJs that I’ve ever seen.  And that’s saying a lot.  This CJ is stock, and is a 1947 model.  Between the drivers seat and the passengers seat, there is a metal rifle/shotgun holder for two high-powered guns.  Not that it would be used for that!

DSCN1942How often do you see a stock 1932 Ford roadster?  Not at all often!  This is a stock 1932 Ford roadster that could sell for upwards of $150,000 in its current condition.  It even has the rumble seat and the original interior!  It’s beautiful!

That’s all, folks!

If you would like to check out the Peggy Sue’s Cruise website, it is http://www.peggysuescruise.com/home/