Note: This begins a series of blogs about important figures in Indianapolis 500 history by veteran motorsports writer Bruce Martin.
The Wood Brothers revolutionized pit stops at Indianapolis with their work on Jim Clark's winning car in 1965.
When Jim Clark drove the Lotus Powered by Ford to victory in the 1965 Indianapolis 500, it ushered in an era of innovation that continues to this day as Colin Chapman’s cigar-shaped creation as the first rear-engine car to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” While that car was innovation on the racetrack, there was also innovation on pit road from the most famous pit crew in NASCAR at that time – the famed Wood Brothers.
Four brothers – Glen, Leonard, Delano and Ray Lee – along with fellow crew members Kenny Martin and Jim Reed were responsible for the pit stops that day for not only the race winning car driven by Clark but also Lotus teammate Bobby Johns. Chapman and Clark had been serious contenders to win at Indianapolis in 1963 and 1964 but lost both years. They determined one way to get an advantage in 1965 was with superior pit stops, and that is when John Cowley of the Ford Motor Company contacted Glen Wood to bring the famed Wood Brothers of Stuart, Va., to Indianapolis.
Despite being from NASCAR, the Woods made the most of their trip to the 500 Mile Race.
“I’m thinking here we are going into a foreign team, and how are they going to accept us?” said 76-year-old Leonard Wood. “After they welcomed us being there, it worked fine. Then we took over the pit stops. They gave us a free hand to do what we needed to do on that end of it. We had already won the Daytona 500 in 1963, so what you do then is get your mind set on preparing the car for a pit stop. Indianapolis was a big event with 300,000 people and all the people crowded around you, but we concentrated on doing our thing.”
The Wood Brothers were the first in NASCAR to determine that races could be won and lost in the pits. At that time, pit stops could last 45 seconds to one minute while fuel was emptied into the race car and giant hammers were used to get the dial-pin off the old “knock-off’ wheels. But the Woods developed a way to get an advantage with the gravity-flow refueling system.
What’s your favorite car in Indy 500 history? Here’s a start — a top 10 list of my favorite entries on purely aesthetic grounds. Not necessarily the best, but the most striking to the eyes:
1911 Marmon Wasp
Imagine bouncing around on bricks in this horseless carriage for 500 miles. Still, 100 years after it won the first 500, the Wasp looks as menacing as it did in those warped photos from back in the day. It looks like a race car.
1923 Mercedes Benz
From its bug-eyed windscreen to its tapered nose, this beast was decades ahead of its time. Even with the skinny tires, it’s still a beautiful fright 87 years after the fact.
1952 Cummins Diesel Special
A cigar with four wheels, this car was a radical departure from the typical designs of the day. Remarkably low and aerodynamic. A minimalistic work of art. Drivers joked that they didn’t know whether to race it or take a bath in it.
Cummins Diesel Special
1955 Kurtis Kraft/Offenhauser
Kurtis Kraft and Watson dominated the designs from the classic roadster era of the 1950s and early ‘60s, but this model – driven to victory by Bob Sweikert – had an unmatched elegance. The glory days of pretty cars.
1955 Kurtis Kraft/Offenhauser
All of the Watson roadsters from the ‘50s and ‘60s are worthy of recognition for their looks and performance, but the one A.J. Foyt drove to victory in ’64 was the genre at its peak. Snarling and low-slung, it flexed its muscles while sitting still.
One of the all-time best. Sleek, elegant lines. A simple beauty until you get to the ferocious headers, and you realize this car is a flying mullet. Business in the front, party in the back. There were several adaptations of this model, but the unadorned version Jim Clark drove to victory in 1965 is the best.
If not for a bad bearing, Parnelli Jones would have won the ’67 race in this radical, all-wheel-drive Andy Granatelli monster powered by a jet turbine engine. Perhaps the most innovative single step in 500 history, and one of the sexiest.
1967 Silent Sam Turbine
1971 McLaren M16
A strange but fierce design that featured an unusually low, flat front nose, open engine cowl and flat, broad rear wing. The only elements higher than the tires were the roll cage and a tripod-mounted rearview mirror. Mean yet stylish.
1971 McLaren M16
1980 Chaparral 2K
All of Jim Hall’s creations are revolutionary beauties, but Johnny Rutherford’s winner in 1980 truly changed things. The first ground effects car at the Speedway, the Yellow Submarine was an odd but exquisite bird.
1980 Chaparral 2k
1984 Penske March
All four of Rick Mears’ winners are gorgeous, but this one has a certain unmatched grace. Sleek, streamlined and low, with no wasted space. It was as beautiful as it was effective. Looks like it’s moving when it’s standing still.
1984 Penske March
Obviously this is a short list that left out countless creations. Help us out. What are your favorites? Add to the list by commenting below which Indy 500 cars knocked you out with their looks.
Jimmie Johnson put himself in the same room as NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt — both seven-time Cup champions — by winning his fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup on Sunday by finishing second to Carl Edwards in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson rallied from a 15-point deficit to pass Denny Hamlin for another championship. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus endured a tumultuous Chase, during which Johnson’s crew was benched, to continue their reign over the sport.
Say it five times fast: This guy is a legend.
And the great debate begins: Is Johnson’s dominance good for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and help it gain more attention as it attempts to rebound in 2011 from a season of decreased attendance and TV ratings? Or will it hurt, as fans are getting sick and tired of seeing Johnson and Knaus hoisting the big silver trophy every year at Homestead?
SBNation’s Jeff Gluck, an avid Tweeter, posted this interesting smorgasbord of Twitter reaction from fans after the race Sunday. Many fans complained about Johnson’s victory. And those fans are wrong.
What Johnson is doing here, folks, is beyond special because it’s almost beyond comprehension. NASCAR rule makers toil long and hard to build equality into the sport. The COT has homogenized the machinery. The point system rewards consistency more than winning. The Chase system was created to prevent a runaway champion late in the season, erasing any early-season dominance. Four of the 10 Chase races are on 1.5-mile ovals, with no road courses and only one short track.
This is racing’s version of the salary cap and free agency, two components that have killed dynasties in the NFL, NBA and NHL. Yet Johnson, Knaus and Hendrick Motorsports continue to just deliver under pressure, year after year. Think about it: The last time Jimmie Johnson failed to win the Sprint Cup, only Alaskans had ever heard of Sarah Palin. Justin Bieber was a kid dreaming of stardom in his bedroom in Canada. Joey Logano was 15 years old.
Why is this criticized? Why is this seen as boring? I agree with Peter DeLorenzo at Autoextremist: It’s not like Johnson and Knaus are crushing the competition due to superior equipment, an argument that could be made about the Ferrari that Michael Schumacher drove to five consecutive Formula One World Championships last decade.
Have you ever played poker and held a hand you know can’t be topped? Just sat there quietly while everyone else showed their cards and then blew them away with your straight flush or four of a kind?
That’s how I felt while reviewing the Interwebs today before writing this edition of Splash And Go. I knew it would be highly unlikely that I’d find anything in NASCAR, MotoGP, Formula One or anywhere else in racing that would top the seismic impact of THE news of the day in worldwide motorsport on a date that will be circled in red for a long, long time in INDYCAR annals: Chevrolet is returning to the IZOD IndyCar Series as an engine manufacturer starting in 2012.
The Bowtie is back, baby!
The Bowtie is back. Roll that off your tongue as many times as you’d like, open-wheel racing fans. Manufacturer competition is back in IndyCar, and Chevy’s return to take on Honda hopefully will tip another fence-sitter or two among car manufacturers into the IZOD IndyCar Series as an engine builder.
It’s impossible to overestimate how huge this announcement is for the IZOD IndyCar Series. Competition. An iconic American manufacturer with deep, successful roots in IndyCar racing. Penske Racing as Chevy’s first customer. And most importantly, a validation from the colossus known as General Motors that the technical package created for 2012 by the ICONIC committee is attractive to auto manufacturers.
This wasn’t just a home run or a knockout. This was Reggie Jackson taking Dock Ellis more than 500 feet deep and out of Tiger Stadium in the 1971 All-Star Game. This was Manny Pacquiao transporting Ricky Hatton into la-la land with one left hook in the second round.
This was big. But the announcement was important for more than just engine competition. Chevy officials also indicated they are interested in building an aero package, a significant development.
If Chevy builds aero kits for the new Dallara Safety Cell, can Honda be far behind? After all, if Chevy builds a very efficient aero kit, will Honda want cars powered by its engine to wear Chevy clothing? I think not. Lotus has expressed interest in building an aero kit, and you have to figure Dallara will offer one, too.
So we have at least two engines and at least three body kits — with Honda as a probable fourth — for 2012. The series still has plenty of hurdles to jump, but rays from that proverbial light toward the back of the tunnel are burning more brightly today.
Full compliments to INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard, who listens and then gets things done. Full compliments to Roger Penske, whose influence, wisdom and business and racing wizardry got the IndyCar door re-opened with Chevy. Full compliments to the ICONIC committee, which was validated big-time today. Full compliments to Honda, which requested competition and welcomes it. And full compliments to Chevrolet and GM, which showed great vision to see IndyCar racing as a place for growth, relevant technological development and strong marketing of its passenger vehicles.
NASCAR has the controversy it wanted for the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup: The Curious Case of Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer was penalized 150 points, and his crew chief, Shane Wilson, was suspended for six weeks due to Bowyer’s car not meeting specifications after it won the Chase-opening Sylvania 300 on Sept. 19 at New Hampshire. Team owner Richard Childress appealed the penalties because he said either taps from drivers congratulating Bowyer on his victory lap or the wrecker that pushed his car into Victory Lane knocked the back end 60-thousandths of an inch out of whack. RC said he’ll take the case all the way to the NASCAR commissioner, whomever that is.
That all came down Wednesday. Fast-forward two days, and this soap opera is getting sudsier by the hour.
Drivers met the press today at Dover, site this Sunday of the second race of the Chase. (Loudon, N.H., and Dover, Del. — two chic media capitals to start a big-time postseason, eh? But that’s the topic for another blog entry.) Bowyer lobbed the opening grenade by making an impassioned defense of himself and his team. Here’s the full transcript.
Safe to say, Clint is pissed. He thinks NASCAR put his entire team into the hardware department — it’s getting screwed.
Hamlin: You're so full of crap, Clint, that your eyes are turning brown.
Ah, this is getting juicy. But remember, there is a race this Sunday at the Monster Mile. What’s that? Oh, yeah, the race! All Left Turns handicaps the AAA 400, making a good point that Johnson is on thin ice after just one race in the Chase as he attempts to complete his drive for five.
The build-up to the IZOD IndyCar Series finale Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami continues, without the melodrama of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft at More Front Wing take an interesting point-counterpoint approach to the Clash of the Titans for the title between points leader Will Power and Dario Franchitti.
I have two wishes for the race at Homestead: One, Will and Dario battle for the title down to the last lap, just like Scott Dixon and Franchitti did in 2007 and 2009, with Dario becoming champion both years. Two, KV Racing Technology puts all of its chassis back on the truck in one piece.
It’s been a rough season for KV, which must have platinum card status with Dallara. You also hope the team has accident forgiveness insurance with Allstate. Some cruel or clever dude — take your pick — has put together this compilation of the team’s troubles this year on YouTube:
Ouch. You really have to feel for team owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser and for drivers Takuma Sato, E.J. Viso and Mario Moraes. And for sections of concrete wall all over North America.
While there’s still a superb current championship race in the IZOD IndyCar Series, there’s also a lot of attention on the future in that series. The new schedule for 2011, the new chassis and engine package in 2012 and future sources of talent behind the wheel.
Robin Miller of SPEED writes that USAC drivers, who got a foot back into the Indy door during the early years of the IRL, might have a smoother path back to the Brickyard in an open-wheel car if series boss Randy Bernard has his way. One of those potential USAC drivers to jump into the Road to Indy system could be Shannon McIntosh, who continues her driver diary at Pop Off Valve.
But the always interesting Tony Johns at Pop Off Valve insists that everyone in IndyCar needs to let go of the past if the series is to progress. No, he’s not talking about the ebbing acrimony of The Split. He’s talking about everyone’s insistence that it’s vital that progeny of the great names of the past are in cars and the persistent belief that IndyCar keeps a firm grasp on its past glory days.
MotoGP is off this weekend, but its feuds are brewing almost like those in NASCAR Sprint Cup. There’s already a cold front coming through the Repsol Honda organization, whipping up a storm between those who support incumbent Dani Pedrosa and those who back the incoming Casey Stoner. Hate to say I told you so, but I predicted this coming snit fit a week ago. Dani and Casey certainly aren’t the Captain & Tennille or Peaches and Herb.
With new 1000cc bikes coming to MotoGP in 2012, many suspected that Aprilia was using its Superbike World Championship program as a warm-up act for a return to the premier class of worldwide motorcycle racing. Balderdash, says Aprilia.
It’s not like the Italian marque set the world on fire when it was in MotoGP in 2003. Oh, wait, it did: Just ask American Colin Edwards. His Aprilia mysteriously burst into flame while he was riding it at 125 mph at the German Grand Prix in one of the indelible images of the 2003 season.
That was Colin’s first MotoGP season. It’s amazing he even wanted to return in 2004 after riding that flaming piece of turd.
Formula One is taking its nightclub on wheels under the lights this weekend at Singapore, where the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber ruled the first practice. Like IndyCar, F1 is another series that doesn’t need a postseason to create a good title race. Just 24 points separate leader Webber from fifth-place Vettel, with Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button forming a triple burger with cheese between them.
Hmm. Anyone ever wonder that maybe the points system in NASCAR is broken and needs fixing? Just sayin’, as people in the Midwest are wont to say.
The controversy over which team will use the famed Lotus name next season is over: Lotus will remain Lotus. God, I feel better now. Don’t you? As I said before, it’s a moot point. The current F1 car is not a Lotus. This is a real Lotus.
Everyone has their favorite iconic Indianapolis 500 car. For some, it might be Ray Harroun’s Marmon “Wasp” or the STP turbines. For others, it might be a Novi-powered roadster of Duke Nalon or Johnny Rutherford’s famous “Yellow Submarine” 1980 Pennzoil Chaparral.
Jim Clark in the Type 38 Lotus at Indy
For me, the list starts and ends with the Type 38 Lotus that Jim Clark drove to Victory Lane in 1965 at Indy. It’s a gorgeous race car, so elegant in its simplicity. Lithe, no wings, rear engine, British Racing Green paint with the yellow stripe and a beautiful labyrinth of yellow exhaust pipes snaking from the rear of the Ford V8. Perfection.
That car begged to be restored and run, and 45 years after Clark’s victory, Lotus completed that magic task this year so Sir Jackie Stewart – a Scottish racing legend like the late, great Clark – could drive the car up the hill in July at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England.
Another Scottish racing great, reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti, fulfilled a dream this week by driving the Type 38 Lotus around the IMS oval for a feature story and pictorial to be published in a Road & Track magazine series focusing on the 100th anniversary of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” next year.
To say that Dario is fond of Clark is a gross understatement. He reveres Gentleman Jimmy and is an avid collector of Clark memorabilia, so you can only imagine the thrill Dario felt at speed in the cockpit of one of the greatest racing cars ever wheeled by that one of the greatest racing drivers of all time.
Goosebumps, indeed. You might feel the same way after watching the video above. I know I did.