Friday, May 25, 2018

At Indy, Imitation Is The Best Form of Flattery

By Doug Vehle
For The Daily Bosco

If you've been wondering what Indycar racing has in common with the Chinese aviation industry, maybe you should consider stagnation. Unlike Brazil, whose thriving aviation industry is built with imported parts, China has demanded that the aerospace industry sell them technology they can take over as their own. These means the aviation leaders refuse to do business with China and building planes has been an exercise in futility. Much like trying to create excitement over Indycar racing.

I remember how excited I used to be waiting the final days before the Indy 500. I hate to say it was always about the exciting new cars, often I was more interested in the people who were struggling. J.C. Agajanian didn't want to pack it in when his onetime top team was struggling, he kept finding ways to update his out of date design and kept his team near the front. I remember the old picture of an Indycar on a consumer car trailer towed by an old station wagon. The caption said it was taken in a cheap motel parking lot in Milwaukee in 1968. From the number I figured out it was the car of Lloyd Ruby, who won both Milwaukee races that year. Such was the state of finances for the Gene White team.

So much of that excitement left when Indy became a 'Spec' series. Everyone races the same car. There was a bid put out to see who would build all the current generation Indycars, the same manufacturer already building the cars won. When the new design was ready, the old design was removed from racing. The unusual design of the Deltawing entry would turn up at Le Mans and create more interest than people have held in the Greatest Spectacle in racing for many years. Indianapolis desperately needs to see something different.

In 1963 Jimmy Clark was in the process of winning his first Grand Prix championship when he chased Parnelli Jones to the finish at the Indy 500. Noteworthy about that was that he was driving a rear engine Lotus. Two years later the order would be reversed, Clark's was the first win for a rear engine car but already the front engine had faded to only 6 of the 33 qualifiers. A.J. Foyt, the defending winner, had switched to a Lotus, though he called it a 'Coyote.' Foyt would begin to build his own rear engine cars, though at first they would be largely copies of the Lotus. Foyt won in 1967 in a Coyote quasi Lotus. Well, since all anyone in Indycar racing had known was front engine cars, you have to expect they'd be hard pressed to come up with something so good as the Lotus they feared. Everyone was looking around for something to---Imitate.

So it's no surprise that the 1961 Cooper that started the rear engine craze was copied by Vollstedt, which was then copied for the Watson. Parnelli Jones built copies of his Lola and called them Colts, Al Unser won Indy in a Colt followed by Mark Donohue in a Lola as was copied.

The most popular car to be a knockoff had to be the Brabham BT12. Extraordinary considering the lackluster career of the one example built. Jack Brabham qualified the car 25th at the Indy 500 and only lasted a few laps in 1964, then the car was sold and raced four times before it was seriously wrecked. This led to Clint Brawner collecting the wreckage in hopes of learning about rear engine cars and replicating it as the Brawner Hawk. Mario Andretti spent five years racing Hawks; in addition to 3 championships he would twice enter the last race still competing for the title but finishing second. All this was capped with an Indy 500 win.

But there's more. At the time Brawner started building Hawks for Andretti he built an extra for the owner of the destroyed Brabham with which Jim McElreath won four races and even finished 2nd to Andretti in the Championship. Buoyed by this success, Dave Laycock licensed the Brabham to built his own replicas with the name Mongoose, which won its' first race and 5 total for Lloyd Ruby. Mechanic George Morris replicated Parnelli Jones' Mongoose for him, then built more called Morris, one of which was replicated as a Cecil. Howard Gilbert built 2 Brabham based Gilberts which ran a total of 40 races and managed a win with George Follmer. James Hayhoe reproduced the BT12 from Brabham's own plans twice as Hayhoe's, which followed three lackluster seasons with a year of Billy Vukovich Jr. placing 3rd in the championship without a win.

Are you dizzy yet? Through that there were still some original designs, such as Dan Gurney's first Eagles, Yet those too were often copied, and some claimed a new name for a modified Eagle.

Then there's the Grant King cars, not so much famous as infamous. King was a builder of the Midget, Sprint and Silver crown dirt track racers so many Indycar drivers progressed through to build their careers.  Often referred to as dinosaur cars, one wasn't so different than another, all followed much the same design at the time and had for decades. A habit King brought to building Indycars.

There's an unanswered question of whether King actually licensed the BT12 design. Others bought plans from Brabham, King is considered to have imitated the Mongoose. In the 1970-71 season his two Kingfish cars were also rans in a total of 21 races. When STP lost 2 of the promising but difficult McNamara cars, the builder of which had disappeared after the mysterious death of his wife, they turned to a partnership with King to place two of their drivers for the rest of the season. This would bring Steve Krisiloff into the fold. 1971 was the year that the radical McLaren M16 sent the more well financed teams scurrying after better aerodynamics, time had run out for the BT12 knockoffs. In 1972, King had a new Kingfish which greatly resembled the McLaren, at least while in the garage. On the track the car struggled to keep pace.

King's greatest success came with the cars he began building in 1973. As popular as the Dan Gurney Eagle had become, it was easy to think King had become a customer of the All American Racers. In fact King had done it again. While last years' car hadn't lived up to the source, the new Kingfish would qualify 7th and finish 6th at Indy in the hands of Steve Krisiloff, one of his 5 top 10 finishes for the year. The Kingfish had arrived. There were suspicions of who might have allowed King access to their Eagle, which would seem to have made the difference as compared to their uncompetitive knockoff of the McLaren. The design so followed the original that the low budget teams began buying parts from King.

Which is what finally irked Dan Gurney. Bad enough someone who'd never buy a car from him steal his design, but to steal his customers too? King pleaded poverty none too convincingly, racing being expensive. Gurney retorted as not being born with a silver spoon in his mouth either.

By 1976 King's cars had run fairly well but he still hadn't become a front runner. He formed an alliance with J.C. Agajanian, owner of 500 winners with Troy Ruttman and Parnelli Jones but no longer able to repeat the success. This time King's target would be the modern Coyote's of A.J. Foyt, who would win the 500 and the Championship with that model just a year after King stole it.Steve Krisiloff was still aboard, having driven all 4 of King's cars.

So I have mixed feelings about the old days vs. the new days. When someone built a knockoff before, it wasn't really the identical car. Brawners' Hawks were considered an innovation. Donohue would comment on the superiority of the variant Colt over his OEM Lola. It used to be you could look at the cars approaching the green flag and see an ocean of variation. All those knockoffs of the Brabham BT12 looked dramatically different from one another. Longtime front engine builder Eddie Kuzma made his venture into rear engines by modifying the Lotus for customers, I've found no reference to Kuzma's own rear engine builds were based on the work of others. Today not even the paint jobs are enough to tell the cars apart.

When Indycar and Championship Racing remerged in 2008, the existing Indycar teams gave their older Dallara cars to the Champcar owners. Rather than complain that the cars were used, They brought up the sheer number of seemingly new, unused parts. It seems the OEM parts, such as front suspension wishbones, were replaced with a teams' proprietary designs for improved aerodynamics or other reasons. To give the car away, the OEM parts were reinstalled. Thus the Champcar owners felt they were given inferior cars, which were the Dallara as built. Those owners still had their 17 Panoz they had raced in the final season of Champcar. The thought of those being brought to Indy. . . .

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Not So Rockwellesque Holiday Season

By Doug Vehle
For The Daily Bosco

Hey, I just made it through another Happy Thanksgiving time. At least it was if you have something to be happy about on Thanksgiving. So I saw the wife of a guy who used to live and work here in town. He got another job and they bought a house a ways away, but she still works here, even on Thanksgiving. He asks "You still don't have a wife. . . " No. ". . . .Or a husband." Excuse me?

So at what point do you not have anything to be thankful for? Or is it okay to be thankful to at least be away from the Thanksgiving of your childhood? Thanksgiving around my family. Think of the alcohol consumed. Think of the pills swallowed. Think of the kid that started somewhere around age 10-12 to say "I think you've had enough. . . ." For all the good it did. Not much of a Thanksgiving.

 Ah but that's nothing. I saw a guy who used to live a few blocks from the gas station he was sitting in his truck at. Before he went nuts. Things had been happening to him. Like the divorce, though he kept the house. Then he was in the front yard and went around back with the door still open. When he went back inside he found. . .Call him Grandpa. Then came the return of Grandma, who brought help. And our hero noticed there were things missing. When they saw the door open and him not handy, they decided to see what they could take.

I barely knew him, but I was aware of some of what went on as he lost his job in the bad economy and simply went off the deep end as more things happened. The sheer pressure of it broke him. He seems to be doing better now, but trying to rent rooms out to people who did things once they were in his home played a part in him losing it, both mentally AND the house.

It wasn't just the old neighborhood he was coming to from his sister's house in another town. Inside at the gas station was the Granddaughter of Grandma and Grandpa. She comes from a long line of it, I'll tell you. An aunt didn't know what to do after her husband went off to prison and she tried to hold up a convenience store by hitting the cashier over the head to knock him out but couldn't seem to hit him hard enough. When he fled to the back she and her partner tried to open the register. When that didn't work they did what they always do on 'America's Dumbest Criminals' and carried it out, where the police were waiting. I should be glad that, outside of my Mother and several brothers and sisters, my relatives on both sides are good people. Though in another state, darn it.

So I've known this girl, the granddaughter, who was growing up sharing my same motive, to just not be like the rest of our families. When they came to arrest her mother a few years back they didn't take her too because she was working downtown and no stranger to people, the police knew better. Oh, by the way, Mr. Crazy was framed at one point, the police figured the matter out but not before he got put through more on his way downhill. Through it all he was trying to look out for the granddaughter of these people who'd burglarized his house, half jokingly calling her his 'Daughter' when he was sticking up for her at times.

Which became uncomfortable for her at times but then he was also someone she really could talk to while she was growing up and she admits he made a difference. But once he was flipping out you have to remember, he wasn't REALLY family. Even though he's been doing better she hasn't been so accepting. One sided relationships can take many forms.

So I mentioned to her that he was outside, she did that thing where she sighed and said 'I know.' He never had kids of her own, she never had a real father figure beyond him. Most people don't understand so many of the ways the holidays can be hard on people.

When I was leaving I told him that she seemed like she'd talk to him if he went in. He said he had to get going. Sure, he's going to his sisters' and he won't be alone on Thanksgiving. Not really, eh?

I should still think of his Thanksgiving as being better than mine, I suppose. He probably will at least be doing better once he's back to his sister's family. I assume her family is okay but I've never met any of them. These things I'd planned to get done today, I didn't get to many of them. Where did the day go? I walked around a little, saw the little minicastle house a few blocks away that I'd thought of moving to a few years ago, seems they had quite an event going. I'd meant to stay home but I wound up at a restaurant downtown. Just in time for them to run out of the Turkey dinners. Kind of my life, eh?

But it's a long, long way from being the worst Thanksgiving I've known. If I think about old girlfriends, I wonder how many of them are drunk and fighting with someone. The fact that it's probably all of them is why I feel glad I'm not having a good old fashioned Thanksgiving.I'd like to think the worst of those are behind me. Even if I don't think a particularly good one is coming in the future. And for those of us who have a hard time finding something to be seriously thankful for, we can remember it's only one day. Oops, that means we've began what they call 'The HOLIDAYS. . . .'

Friday, October 6, 2017

Uncomfortably Numb

By Rick Miranda
For The Daily Bosco

I was on Facebook yesterday running across so many of the posts regarding the massacre in Las Vegas. Trying to mentally sort out news, opinions, politics and emotion into the appropriate categories and offering my two-bit responses along the way. Being mostly an observer by nature I’m fairly reticent and usually prefer to collect a substantial amount of information before letting my passion fly. But I came to a post by an individual, I guess a friend of a friend, which made me stop and take account of things in a way I hadn’t considered up to that point. He posted, “Wondering how many people are truly shocked and horrified vs how many desensitized.” 

It struck me as a poignant statement. It forced me to stop and take account of my own reaction. Those first words which we almost expect to hear from every news anchor, politician and clergyman have become a knee-jerk response and are so often used these days that their meaning and sincerity have been diluted to the point of becoming vapid fillers to get your word count to an acceptable level. I had to stop and take notice at the words and their meaning – truly shocked and horrified – is that the response I had? Is that the response that anyone had? I am sure there are those who have the empathy and emotions in their reserve to garner that response. The appropriate one I should add. An act this heinous should startle us. It should prove so askew of our normal existence that no one could imagine that anyone could imagine such an act and carry it out.

This is the mayhem and violence of a bad grindhouse, Tarantino or Roger Corman film that no one would admit to watching. We should be shocked and horrified, oddly ashamed to have even witnessed such an act. Even vicariously through the news. It carries an obscenity and evil with it that isn’t even worthy of quantifying. It doesn’t tip the scales; its very weight knocks the whole damn thing off the table. There should be no reality where a man can commit so many murders with no apparent motive so effectively in such a short period of time. Its bizarre nature and the randomness of such an act should have us all pulling at our teeth in shock and horror.

And yet here we are. Or should I say here I am. I won’t speak for anyone else but I am inclined to think I’m not alone in this. I had to stop and take stock. Was I truly shocked and horrified? I must admit, to my personal shame, the answer was no. Saddened and disgusted by this terrible thing, yes. But having seen so much evil and so many horrific acts prior to this I have come to the point of not so much expecting the next awful thing to occur but seeing them as a series or progression of events. Here and throughout the world.

I will not enumerate them as they should be self-apparent. Murder, mayhem, genocide are newsworthy and have always been with us. Perhaps it’s the twenty-four hour news cycle that has made it all the more commonplace. Perhaps it’s the fact that as a result of technology we are all now amateur photographers. We (I should say I) see all the troubles in the world rather than read about them. Are they escalating? I would think yes. But I also think we desensitize at an even faster rate.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe it keeps us functional rather than losing the ability to cope with the violence. But I’m speaking to the danger posed with any pain killer. Too little sensitivity and I worry we won’t feel enough to heed the warnings presented to us. Sherman once said that war is cruelty and that the crueler it is the sooner it would be over. As a corollary to that I fear that the more tolerant by exposure we become to this sort of thing the more it may likely be to occur.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Simply on a personal level I want to resist the tendency to not be shocked by this sort of thing. I don’t want to become so callous as to lose my disdain for the evil perpetrated here that it becomes another story from which I can turn the page or change the channel. I don’t know how one retains that sort of sensitivity but I will continue to strive for it. In the mean time I’ll keep gazing in the mirror and reminding myself that there’s still a world of good out there. This is not every day and it will not stand as routine. Respects to Roger Waters but in the meantime I will fight my being uncomfortably numb.