I probably take my hot rod races a tad to seriously. Sunday on Belle Isle my guy, number twelve, Rodger Penske team driver, Will Power won. Sooooo. … I am happy and satisfied that I was eagerly watching the progress of my predicted race winner.
I come by all this quite honestly. When I was a mere homo sapient puppy my father was a racing fan. When the other kids went to the ball games I was hauled off to eight mile road and scheoner road to the Motor City Speedway. Saturday nights I would be present as Wild Bill Nyday, Iggy Katona, Bob Gilliland, Russell Wainscott, Gordon Johncock, and the like sped noisily around a three eighths mile bull ring of a race track locked in near mortal combat using Fords, Pontiacs, Hudsons, and Cadillacs as weapons. Harry “THE HAT” Williams and Freddy Wolfe colorfully described the goings on over the loud speaker system and TV. A good time was had by all. I grew up with and was hooked on racing.
Then once a year the grand daddy of all racing happened on the Detroit River when the APBA hydroplanes competed on the grand waterway between lake St Clare and the Belle Isle bridge. My Sweetie, Miss Pepsi, Such Crust, Skip-a-long, Notre Dame, Slo-Mo-Shun, Gale V and other unlimited class boats put on a noisy, spectacular show. Chuck Thompson, Warner Gardener, Bill Brow, were some of my hero’s. I knew about the 1740 Allison, the 1710 Rolls Merlin, and the 2240 Rolls Griffon engines that powered the boats. I had a pretty good handle on the design and construction of the boats as well.
I don’t remember his name, I think it was Canadian, Bob Haywood, but the first fatality that I witnessed was when the Miss Canada set a 160 MPH speed record and then to make it official was returning to go in the opposite direction when the boat exploded and the driver was killed. I was probably six or seven years old when that happened. I was older when I watched Thompson, Gardener, Brow, and another that I can no longer name die in Race Boat Accidents. Then more drivers died on the Potomac River in Washington. Boat racing was starting to look like a form of insanity.
Still I enjoyed the racing. They did not seem to die in the cars, Well except for Eddie Sachs whom I first knew of as a unlimited class boat racer before he was killed in a horrible accident at Indianapolis motor speedway. At least the Sachs fatality resulted in massive rules changes designed to prevent such messes. The Sachs wreck is why all auto racing formulas restrict the amount of fuel that can be carried and have very specific requirements for driver protection roll cages incorporated in the design of race cars. It’s more fun if you don’t think that death is actually imminent in racing. So I watch the cars these days. They expect to crash and they insist that the driver be properly protected or they don’t race.
So thanks for a good show Friday, Saturday and Sunday on Belle Isle. Glad to see my guy win. Injury and death are still possible in auto racing but also in baseball and football. Not to mention crossing the street. I can enjoy my car races in good conscience. I still have a problem with the boats. Today’s boats with safety capsules protecting the drivers are far better. I just remember far to many times returning home feeling sick and even a little guilt at what I had seen.
I love the sound of the engines and the mechanical scream of the tires. The exhaust smell that means fire and power. I love the excitement of the winners overtaking the losers. And I enjoy the triumph of the winners. For seven years I made critical engine parts for racers. Met a lot of them and was proud when I could say that I made the crankshaft for the Indianapolis Memorial Day Classic winner. I did not usually add that I also made crankshafts, connecting rods, and Pistons for thirty two losers and about forty non-qualifiers.
… originally written by my father as a letter to his friends