A Special Afternoon

One of racing’s best kept secrets, until perhaps now, is the Race Chaser Luncheons held in and around Indianapolis. These monthly bench racing sessions were started by co-chairs and open wheel fans Barry Hindman and Jon Noggle. This past Saturday they held the eighteenth “Race Chaser” luncheon, at Grindstone Charley’s on Crawfordsville Road in Speedway, IN. Past Race Chaser luncheons have included a open wheel who’s who. Some speakers have included IndyCar czar, Randy Bernard, drivers Tom Bigelow, Merle Bettenhausen, writer extraordinaire Dave Argabright and Indy Car mechanic / official, Mike Devin to name a few. I had the opportunity to listen and watch my friends, Gene Crucean and John Mahoney’s PowerPoint presentation of their many memorable and historic racing photos that date back close to 50 years. Plus add comments and remembrances Jerry “the Professor” (Weeks) Baker and Hall of Famer Steve “The Bopper” Stapp, you have a special afternoon. As one presenter mentioned to Jon Noggle, “The audience is the show.”

Two hours of images of Foyt and Hurtubise riding the cushion at Terre Haute is impressive, but add candid moments such as Jim Clark at Indianapolis and iconic portraits of Don Branson and Jud Larson and the stories behind the photos made the afternoon memorable. Plus photos of the many post-race beer parties were shown knowing that the statute of limitations had passed according to Mr. Crucean.

Jon Noggle who also e-mails a daily open wheel news digest mentioned that “an even fifty race fans from six states (IN,OH, FL, WI, TX, IL) attended this event, the second largest crowd these luncheons have witnessed, being beaten in attendance only by the Winchester [IN] Speedway drive-around outing and eight-driver round table discussion which saw 51 attend last December 3rd. In addition to our featured guests, among those present for Saturday’s luncheon were former IMS PR John Fugate, former USAC and IndyCar designer, fabricator, and chief mechanic Mike Devin, along with his wife Wanda Unser Devin (the mother of Al Unser, Jr.), former USAC sprint car driver Greg Staab, and former USAC sprint car designer, builder, and chief mechanic, Steve “The Bopper” Stapp, still recovering from his injuries last month in a car-train accident. “The Bopper” was later quoted by his daughter Susannah as saying, “It was the most fun day I’ve had since the wreck.”

Not only was a memorable afternoon to those who attended, but the event also raised $150.00 for the “Rich Vogler Memorial Scholarship Foundation,” a charity unanimously selected by Mahoney, Crucean and Weeks.

After the Race Chaser luncheon, fellow RN columnist, John Atlas and I drove over to the Gasoline Alley industrial park south of the Indianapolis Speedway to visit the boys at HammerArt. Denny Jamison and his fine team perform fabrication and restoration work on a variety of vintage race cars, hot rods and sports cars. HammerArt is one those stops I have to make when I’m in Indianapolis because you never know what unique car they’re working on. This time they had several early Coyote chassis in the shop as well as a Andy Linden roadster and aluminum alloy Jaguar.

After HammerArt it was over to the Crowne Plaza near the airport for Jack Martin’s annual Bench Racing Weekend (BRW). This year featured Hall of Fame driver, Tom Bigelow. A fan-favorite, the Wisconsin-native referenced about racing around the family farm as a youngster near Whitewater. He spoke fondly of his years driving for A.J. Watson and Leader Card Racers as well as Sherman Armstrong. Bigelow raced against and beat some of the best, such as Foyt, Unser and Opperman.

Special thanks to Junior Dreyer who arranges the race garage tour (this year included the new Dallara factory and Don Schumacher Racing) and the vendors which make the pre-dinner bench racing sessions so much fun. Several notable racing personalities were present, including Hall of Fame mechanics, A.J. Watson and Willie Davis, drivers Frank Burany and many more.

Jack Martin with his wife, Nan once again did a splendid job arranging for race fans to enjoy a great speaker, great dinner and good time. May means Indianapolis, but a warm weekend in March makes it easier to wait.

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