Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Every year we attend the annual Antique Automobile Club of America's Eastern Division Fall Meet, better known to old car enthusiasts simply as "Hershey."  We go every year, and every year we are saddened by the sight of the beautiful Hershey Stadium.  It's still a beautiful arena but today it no longer has the race track on which the ARDC midgets raced in the late 1960s and on which the ATQMRA raced in the early 1980s.

Today only the straightaways of the track remain, turns one and two having been eliminated in favor of a right-angle walkway, and turns three and four occupied by a large stage for concert performances.

The AACA uses the stadium for the race car demonstration runs that accompany the big gathering of the old-car faithful, but the cars can only tiptoe around the walkway and the stage.

In this photo from the ATQMRA races at Hershey now some 30 years ago, a remarkable seven cars are crammed into a small portion of the otherwise spacious Hershey track.  Click the photo for a larger view, and count cars.  There are eight if you include the tiny tiny piece of one just entering the frame from the right.

Ron Smith is the owner-driver about to test the roll cage on his #48, with two cars trying to occupy the same space beneath his car.  Ron's good friend Bern Bradley is exiting the scene in his own #32.  You guess is as good as mine as to who any of the others are.

Lest you think that no one showed up to watch these races, this photo was taken in turn two, and the seating area along the backstretch was not used for these races -- the fans sat on the frontstretch.  With 15,641 permanent seats in the stadium there was no need to open the bleachers along the backstretch.

Hershey Stadium (now officially called Hersheypark Stadium) is a great stadium that once held a great race track.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Bulldog Racer

Here’s Leigh Earnshaw, Jr., in Rex Green’s “Mack Special” in Atlantic City’s Convention Hall in 1969.  (Click the photo for an enlarged view.)

Earnshaw never made much of a splash in his limited appearances with the ATQMRA, but he most certainly made up for it when racing the ARDC midgets:  He became a four-time ARDC champion, winning the series title in 1973-74-75 and once more in 1980.  Earnshaw remains a highly respected member of the racing community today, some 30+ years after his retirement from competition.

Rex Green was known to everyone as “Doc,” because he was a physician and the company doctor at Mack Truck in Allentown, Pennsylvania – hence the “Mack Special” on his Crosley-powered car.  He was also one of the nicest gentlemen in racing, one of the guys who makes us miss "the good old days."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Antiques? No, Ahead of their Time

A substantial portion of the ATQMRA’s history is associated with the Crosley automobile engine, which was the dominant engine from the club’s founding and which remained in competition into the 1980s.  This, despite the Crosley automobile having last been produced in 1952.  Today the Crosleys are back on the track with the Vintage Club.

The Crosley was a tiny car, built in Indiana, and it sold in relatively small numbers.  Introduced in 1939, Crosley cars built before World War II were powered by two-cylinder Waukesha engines.  When Crosley automobile production resumed following the war, the Waukesha engines were gone, replaced by a remarkable overhead-cam inline four cylinder engine known as the CoBra.

“CoBra” was a contraction of “Copper Brazed,” because the engine block was fabricated from sheet metal!  The engine was developed during the war for military purposes, and served those purposes well, so Crosley adopted it for the cars beginning in 1946.  The block and cylinder head assembly weighed less than 15 pounds, and complete with all accessories (including the flywheel) the engines weighed only 133 pounds.  Displacement was 44 cubic inches (724 cc) and in original form the engines produced 26 hp at 5,200 rpm.  At the time this was the greatest horsepower output per pound of any engine.

In the military applications engine life was monitored by hours and careful maintenance schedules kept the sheet metal engines performing as designed.  But the postwar application in civilian automobiles led to corrosion problems for the engines, which damaged the reputation of Crosley cars.  For the 1949 model year, the engine was redesigned to incorporate a cast iron block assembly, nicknamed CIBA.

The Crosley CIBA Engine

Even with the change to a more traditional cast iron block assembly, the Crosley engine remained powerful for its weight, and soon became a popular choice in 750-cc class sports-car racing even before being adapted to TQ midgets.  Once the ATQMRA was founded, the cast-iron Crosley dominated the competition for 30 years.

If you’ve been following the timeline, your realize that this domination was accomplished by an engine that was in production only for the years 1949 through 1952, in a niche automobile that never sold in large numbers.  The engine’s longevity in racing is a testament to its remarkable design.

So, too, is the engine’s production life after Crosley automobiles were discontinued in 1952.  According to the experts in the Crosley Automobile Club, the rights to the engine changed hands a number of times, with Aerojet-General Tire, Fageol, Crofton, Homelite, and Fisher Pierce all owning the rights to the engine at one some point.  Each produced their own versions of the engine for a variety of uses, such as both inboard and outboard boat engines, refrigeration unit power sources, and for landscaping equipment.  Fisher Pierce, which marketed the engine as the Bearcat 55, discontinued it in 1972, some 20 years after the last Crosley car was built.

While there exist no specific records as to the last Crosley victory in an ATQMRA race, we can recall that the first ATQMRA race with no Crosleys in the field took place at the Freeport Stadium in the 1980s.  The Crosley had been displaced by the high-pitched two-cycle snowmobile engines that themselves dominated ATQMRA racing for 20 years.  The 2-strokes, smaller and lighter than the Crosley, were themselves displaced by the 750-cc motorcycle engines in use today.

1949 Crosley Wagon

1951 Crosley Hotshot

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Memorable Night

In this Dave Innes photo at Pine Brook on July 24, 1970, Phil Davoulas and the Bob Pouleson #7o7 are upside down against the backstretch fence at the far left as Bing Metz (33), Doug Craig (55), Frank Holz (41), and Joe Lacy (18) pass the accident scene.  Paul Weisel is facing the wrong way in Don Crabtree's #71, which had served at the launching pad for Davoulas.  Here’s the story, as told by Paul.  It’s a long story, but it captures the time perfectly.

Bob Wilkey and Larry Rice were graduates of the ATQMRA ranks, both moving on to the United Racing Club sprint cars by the late 1960s. With sprint car experience on their resumes, both also took occasional ARDC midget rides whenever their schedules permitted. Since I spent three seasons stooging for Bob Wilkey’s brother, Tom, on the ATQMRA tour, I was well acquainted with Bob Wilkey, his wife Mary, and their two children. Bob drove Dr. Rex Green’s #31 TQ and I got my first ATQMRA ride in Convention Hall in January of 1969 with Verona, NJ’s Willard McCumsey. Willie apparently bought Doc Green’s first TQ after a party following an Atlantic City indoor event in 1968, although neither Doc nor Willie could recall the details of the transaction. Those of you who attended those parties can understand how the details of minor events, i.e. the sale of a race car, could have been lost in the moment. When morning dawned Willie owned a race car and Doc was pleased his old car found a good home. With help from Karl Kindberg and John Fick, Willie’s #34 was ready for the first indoor race of the 1969 campaign and I was in the seat.

Larry Rice hailed from Little Falls, New Jersey, wore glasses, sported a crew cut, and was married with two children. My only personal experience with Larry came after Bob Wilkey won the July 27, 1968 Saturday afternoon URC event at the Delaware State Fair at Harrington driving for John Wergland. Everyone was heading to Reading for USAC sprint cars on Saturday night and there was no time to spare to make the start of the USAC program. Wergland led the procession towing his sprint car, Wilkey followed in the family sedan, and I brought up the rear in my Chevy. Larry decided he wanted to go along and since all the other vehicles were full, he hopped into the shotgun seat with me. Wergland took off, flying low, with Bob on his bumper. It was all I could do to keep up. Larry’s chatty disposition turned suddenly quiet as we began careening around the corners on US 13, heading north to Pennsylvania. Larry moved toward the passenger door and took a firm grip on the arm rest. He thanked me for the ride when we got to Reading, just as the sprinters were being pushed onto the track for warm-ups. He was never in need of another ride after that!

By 1968 roll cages were accepted on sprint cars running as supermodifieds all across the nation, including the iconic tracks comprising the central PA circuit. However, real sprint cars had roll bars, as did midgets and TQs. It was necessary to be 21 years of age to drive roll bar equipped open wheel race cars, regardless of their size. That’s exactly why I raced stock cars from 1966 to 1968, but I spent every free moment stooging for Tom Wilkey or just hanging around the open wheel pit areas. Open wheel clubs featured owners and drivers with very few men driving their own equipment. Sons of car owners carried on the family tradition and became car owners in their own right. At the end of the night, car owners paid their drivers. A core of veteran drivers served as the backbone of most open wheel clubs and they were quite content with the arrangement. Even after veteran Bert Brooks’ death in an ARDC event at Hershey on September 2, 1968, the ARDC membership voted against the use of roll cages for 1969.

On Thursday night, May 29, 1969, Bob Wilkey had a free night on his schedule and accepted a ride in Leigh Earnshaw, Sr.’s #51 Kurtis-Kraft Offy for the ARDC race at Reading. He was a racer on the rise and being offered the seat in a first-rate Offy midget was one of the perks of his career success to date. Bob started the main event outside the front row and drove hard into turn one, where he hooked a rut and barrel rolled the East End Garage Offy atop the outer concrete wall. Bob suffered a severe cerebral concussion and died of his injuries on June 3rd. From a somber waiting area in the Reading Hospital emergency room, I will always remember seeing a nurse cross the corridor with one of Bob’s boots in each hand. While Bob clung to life in Reading, I was off to run Willie’s TQ at Pine Brook the next night. I wasn’t alone, everyone else was there as well.

On June 15th, ARDC president, Ken Brenn, called for another vote on cages and the membership made cages optional for the remainder of the 1969 season. On July 3rd, during the running of the Bob Wilkey Memorial at Reading, Don Kreitz, Sr., driving a midget equipped with a cage, virtually duplicated the Wilkey crash in turn one and escaped with only a broken arm. Roll cages became mandatory in ARDC in 1970.

Larry Rice was between sprint car rides in 1969 when ARDC owner George Germond called him to drive his Offy midget at Islip, New York, on August 16th. Rice jumped at the offer. On the second lap of the scheduled 35-lap main event he tangled with Dutch Schaefer in Mike Sheehan’s Offy. In the melee, Schaefer’s car apparently struck Rice, rendering him unconscious before he crashed heavily into the outer guard rail. Rice was fatally injured, assistant starter, Dave Dannenberg, was struck and received a broken leg, and Schaefer was hospitalized in critical condition with a broken shoulder and pelvis.

So... kind of a long background to get to the Bob Wilkey / Larry Rice Memorial at Pine Brook in 1970. Although roll cages were mandatory in ARDC for 1970, they were not yet required in ATQMRA in 1970. No one seemed to mind as car counts were strong. Forty plus cars jammed the pits each Friday night at Pine Brook to battle for the sixteen starting spots in the feature. Cars were handicapped into four heats. Heat race qualifiers transferred to two semi-features with qualifiers from the semis going directly to the ‘A’ and non-qualifiers handicapped to the front of the ‘B’ Main. Non-qualifiers from the heats ran a consolation event with the qualifiers tagging the rear of the ‘B’ Main field. Qualifiers from the ‘B’ were added to the back of the ‘A’. It was no small trick to make the ‘A’ Main at Pine Brook in a field peppered with ARDC and URC veterans, plus the best from the Long Island and northern New Jersey stock car ranks.

The 1969 season was enough to retire Willie McCumsey from the owner ranks, but he will always be special in my book as my first open cockpit owner. I bought Ronnie Denman’s Crosley to run indoors in January and February of 1970, but I was always available to drive for someone else, especially someone else with a better race car. That someone in 1970 was Don Crabtree, a radiator shop entrepreneur from Caldwell, NJ. Don’s orange #71 wasn’t going to win any beauty contests, but his car’s Crosley engine was strong. On Friday, July 24th, we qualified in the heat, qualified in the semi, and started outside Bing Metz in the 35-lap ‘A’ Main honoring two guys I liked and respected.

Bing grabbed the lead at the green, but I was able to slip into second. A few laps into the event, Phil Davoulas in the Bob Pouleson Crosley powered roadster #7o7 motored around the outside of the #71 to take second. Veteran Jimmy Maguire had recently vacated Pouleson’s top-shelf ride to concentrate on the ARDC midget schedule for 1970. The roadster provided Jimmy with an opportunity to make an open wheel comeback from the loss of his right arm in a USAC sprint car crash at New Bremen, Ohio, on May 3, 1964. Jimmy regained his pre-injury form and became a contender in ARDC midgets for more than a decade.

As the event unfolded Doug Craig, Frank Holz, and Joe Lacy filed past on the outside, but we clicked off a lot of laps and when Nick Fornoro wiggled five fingers from the starter’s stand to signify five laps to go, we were solidly in sixth place. No one had gone by in quite a few laps and, aside from a few shots in the back bumper from the troops behind, things were looking pretty good. What I didn’t notice was, the guys who passed me earlier were now out of sight. What I couldn’t see was, I had eight cars, four rows two abreast, directly behind me and the leaders were now beginning to lap the tail enders. Pete Sindone, driving his own #40, had spent thirty laps trapped behind the #71, stuck in the lower groove I wasn’t giving up. With five to go, he ran out of patience, drove his bumper into my left rear, and spun the #71 exiting turn two.

I allowed the car to spin 180 degrees before I pulled the brake handle to prevent it from landing sideways in front of traffic. I knew there was a lot of traffic behind or I would have let the car spin to the infield, involving Sindone in his own mess. However, there were too many cars coming for that and Crabtree’s race car would have paid the price, so I decided to return the favor in an event to be determined. Who knows, maybe he had help? Things were going well until Sindone squirted to the inside and whoever was on the outside groove moved around on the high side. The second row also split me and the third row would apparently do the same, but there was a problem with the fourth row.

Phil Davoulas was leading the event and had moved between the final pair of cars in an effort to work his way through lapped traffic. Phil first noticed me when the third row split, but by then it was too late for him to miss the #71. When I saw Davoulas coming, I knew it was time to abandon the hand brake on the left side of the car. While lap belts were mandated, drivers of roll bar race cars never used shoulder harnesses because in a roll over you didn’t want to be held upright. With shoulder harnesses, YOU became the roll bar... not good! The idea was to bend in whatever direction was required and let the roll bar take the impact. We did, however, use Sam Brown belts which came around your waist and over your right shoulder and clipped into a steel chain or ring attached to the roll bar on the left side of the car. This setup was very effective for holding you in the car through left hand turns, but with Davoulas’ roadster bearing down, I needed to move RIGHT, something the Sam Brown belt would not permit.

By the time the #7o7 caromed over the front end of Crabtree’s #71, I had pulled my left hand into my chest and taken my right hand off the steering wheel. I’m told people under great stress see their life flash before their eyes – I saw Bob Pouleson’s roadster flash before me at eye level. Well, I saw at least half of Pouleson’s car before I turned my head to the right. I felt the #71 take slight contact before the #7o7 peeled off to the right in mid-flight like a WWII Corsair.

When all became quiet, Phil and the roadster were upside down against the outside fence, halfway down the Pine Brook backstretch. The left front tire on Crabtree’s car was flat and the hood was scuffed up a bit, but all my pieces were attached and working. As I took my goggles down and moved to the left to unhook my Sam Brown, I noticed a nasty tire mark about shoulder level on the left side of the roll bar on the #71. WOW! Six more inches toward the cockpit and Maguire and I could have been bookends! Twelve inches more toward the cockpit and, well, history would have been changed – for a lot of people!

Emergency crews were attending to Phil by the time Don Crabtree and his crew arrived. I exited the car, showed Don the tire mark on the roll bar, and helped them push the car to the pits. As we exited the track in turn two, Don asked me, “Are you all right?” Why do people ask race drivers if they’re “all right?” Good grief, we weren’t “all right” before we got into the car! I told Don that I was fine. That’s when he mentioned the tire mark on the left side of my helmet. When we got to the pits, I took off my helmet (open face – the only style available), admired Phil’s work, and put it in my helmet bag. Don wasn’t upset about the car, hell, we were running sixth in the main event, so we decided to run Pine Brook again the following Friday night. We continued together for the rest of the 1970 Pine Brook events.

I’m not sure Phil and I ever discussed the incident. We got along fine. It was unfortunate that Phil’s shot at winning the main event was lost, but he was aware I didn’t lose control of the #71, I was punted. He was uninjured. I was uninjured. Neither of the cars was seriously damaged. All in all, great fun!  After all these years, I have only one question about the incident. Phil, perhaps you can clarify? Did you hit me in the helmet with the left front or the left rear? In any case, nice piece of driving... or flying... or whatever combination of the two it was!

Note: If Paul’s face appears rather expressionless in the photo (click the photo for an enlarged view), it’s because he is wearing an unusual one-piece face shield that gave him the appearance of a robot or The Invisible Man.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

On the Gas!

In this photo, Hank Rogers, Jr., leads drew Fornoro in Vintage Club races at Pennsylvania's Evergreen Speedway in 2013.  Yes, these vintage cars are raced.

Rogers went on to win this race and as you can see he is leaning on the car, it’s in a slight drift and he’s got just a little opposite lock dialed in.  Fornoro is hard after him, lifting the inside front just as Tony Romit did all those years ago.  (You don't think guys like Hank and Drew are just going to cruise around, do you?)

This particular race was for the four-cycle cars, and both of these machines are powered by Crosley engines.  A separate race for the two-strokes was captured by Tom Arntz, Jr.