Bench Racing Weekend – 2013

Bench Racing Weekend (BRW) is what you could consider the first spring flower of the Midwest racing season. It’s a nice way to indicate the Midwest racing is on the way. Last year was a great example as temperatures were in the 70’s and 80’s, this year? Not so much.

What is BRW? It dates back to the 1970’s when former driver and USAC official Emil Andres and his wife started a gathering for members of the Indy 500 Old Timers Club and hard-core racing fans who would gather in Chicago. Duke Nalon, Cowboy O’Rourke and Carl and Tom Marchese were just a small example of notable racing luminaries that would attend. Jack Martin of Indianapolis filled in the void left my Emil and moved the event to Indianapolis and this year marked the 18th gathering.

Friday evening started with snacks and adult beverages in a BRW meeting room where the serious bench racing began. Photo albums and scrapbooks were passed around as anecdotes, stories and exaggerations carried until after midnight.

Bill Blaylock of Dallas attended the Race Shop Tour and lunch and filed this report.

We began with the shop tours, which this year involved a tour of Ganassi Racing and the Dallara factory.

Again, we encountered security, which is entirely understandable at Ganassi. No pictures were allowed except in the lobby and area where the transporters are maintained (which also had 15 or so TCG CART and IRL cars from the past stacked on shelving on the walls, like library books). We toured the assembly areas where they were setting up two cars apiece for Dario and Dixon, a machine shop, paint shop, design/art shop, suspension/brake shop, engineering workstations, workout room, etc. The operation has 100 employees, 40 of whom will go to an Indy race to run two cars. And mind you, none of these resources has anything to do with an engine. The shop can only install and remove the Honda engines. They are by contract prohibited from even starting an engine unless a Honda technician is present to observe and verify compliance with the startup procedure.

Next, we moved on to the new Dallara shop in Speedway, where we heard some interesting tidbits. First, Dallara does not maintain any assembled car in inventory in anticipation of a panic “we need a car right now” call. It takes about a week to put a car kit together and they are delivered to the customer in kit form for $385K, including the transaxle but without an engine. We were told that, when the new car first arrived, Dallara contacted every team and offered to send two technicians to their shops to show the teams how to assemble the cars. There were no takers. Each team said they would assemble the cars their own way.

Next was lunch, and it could not have been better. I had the fortune of sitting next to Sonny Meyer (as in Meyer-Drake Offenhauser) and Bob McKee (former Indy/CanAm mechanic and crew chief to the likes of Ed Elisian, Dick & Jim Rathmann, etc.). They were both very generous with stories and racing history. Bob was on active duty in the military in Europe (he had been drafted) and took leave to crew for Jim Rathmann at Monza. He said the track and in particular, the banking was so rough that none of the cars would have finished except for the fact they ran in heats and had time for repairs, including welding. Sonny verified something I had always wondered about running a champ car Offy – some of the crews would configure the stroke/bore/rods to individual tracks, for example run a 4 3/8 crankshaft at Indy but might run a more torquey 4 1/2 crank on a one mile track. – Bill Blaylock

Three gorgeous vintage race cars were on display. Bob McConnell brought the famous Red Lion Special Miller-powered sprint car and the Smith Offy-powered midget. The Jimmy Knight driven “lightweight” midget on display is owned by Jim Orszulak from Granger, Indiana.

John Darlington and Brad Edwards of First Turn Productions attracted a crowd with their vintage auto racing DVDs. Rick Whitt & L. Spencer Riggs of Pit Stop Books were on hand selling their vast array of motorsports based books.

Attendees included National Sprint Car Hall of Fame members, A.J. Watson and Willie Davis. Famed builder and restorer Junior Dreyer was on hand as was Denny Jamieson of HammerArt Restorations. Chris & Debbie Paulsen of C&R Racing along with Carolyn Hartley-Johns and husband Fred Johns (widow of Gene Hartley) and Gene Hartley’s grandson Chris Hartley were seen mixing in the crowd. A big thank you to Doak Ewing of Rare Sports Films for showing his 16mm movies on the projector until late into the night. A warmhearted thank you to Jack and Nan Martin for putting together another great event.

Fellow attendee Kevin Triplett summed it up best, “As always the Bench Racing Weekend was well-organized and informative. Attending at least one BRW should be on every racing history buff’s “bucket list.” The informal bench racing sessions outside of the scheduled events with old and new friends always generate thought-provoking discussions.”

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