The Day the British Invaded Milwaukee

The two-car Colin Chapman Lotus team that arrived at Wisconsin State Fair Park Speedway in mid-August of 1963 was entered in its second Championship car race. Earlier in May, Jim Clark had driven to a second place finish behind Parnelli Jones in the controversial Indy 500 in which ?Old Calhoun? the Watson roadster Parnelli was driving developed an oil leak mid-race. Despite the fact that second place was an incredible feat for a first-year team and driver, many fans of Clark and the Lotus team felt that Jones should had been black-flagged. After the race, the Lotus team returned to Europe to battle the likes of Graham Hill and Jack Brabham. Meanwhile the championship trail returned to its status quo contingent of front engine roadster and upright dirt cars with the likes of Rodger Ward winning at Milwaukee and A.J. Foyt at Langhorne.
Little did the USAC contingent know with the return of the Lotus team in August that this second strike at the roadsters, would not only be a painful, but a lethal blow. It would cement the demise of the tube-frame front engine Indy car.

The rear engine concept was not completely new to the circuit. Jack Brabham brought the first rear-engine car to Indianapolis in October of 1960. Two-time Indy 500 winner Rodger Ward remembers, ?When Jack Brabham came to Indianapolis for the first time it really came at my request. We were at a sports car race and I mentioned to Jack that he should bring his funny looking little car to Indianapolis and see how it will do. They finally organized it so where we got him a practice date at the Speedway. We were running a Formula Libre race at Watkins Glen and they brought the car down and ran a few laps. Then they gave me a ride in it and they were more than satisfied with the way the car performed and so he (Jack Brabham) came with that car as the first real Formula One transition (car). When Jimmy Clark came (Indianapolis) in 1963 with Dan Gurney that just backed up that fact that those were the cars of the future.? Brabham eventually finished ninth at Indy in 1961.

The Lotus Indy car ascendancy began at Indianapolis in October, 1962. The car brought to the Speedway was the car driven at Watkins Glen by Clark. The Scotsman, flat-footed the Speedway in excess of 143 powered by a 91 – 1/2-inch Coventry engine. When the Lotus team returned on March 28th, Dan Gurney was in the car and ran just under Parnelli Jones? track record of 150 mph. This time the Lotus had an aluminum block V-8 based on the 260 inch Fairlane Series. Gurney, the upstart American Formula One driver had made a big slash with the Porsche F-1 effort in 1961. After driving Mickey Thompson?s Buick powered rear engine car at Indy in 1962, Gurney drove a Factory Ford stock car at Daytona earlier that year; it was this relationship along with inviting Colin Chapman to the ?62 500 which sowed the seeds for the 1963 Indianapolis effort. When Chapman and Gurney met Jacque Passino of Ford?s Racing Division, the program was started.
The Milwaukee track had seen a rear-engine car the year before. Keith ?Porky? Rachwitz drove the Buick powered car in the Rex Mays 100 to an unremarkable finish.

Clark and the Lotus team arrived at Milwaukee on Friday, August 16th. The team immediately was fast. In practice the cars were a 1/2-second faster than the track record of 34.086 (105.615) set by Don Branson. It was head mechanic Dave Lazenby and Chapman who made the primary adjustments. With no prior knowledge of the track, the team had a clean sheet and used a basic set-up in relation to what the experienced teams enjoyed. Handling was not a problem, however, one dilemma did develop. Dan Gurney continues, ?We found out that there was only one set of carburetors, I think they were 48mm Weber carburetors. The other set were 54mm Weber carburetors. The 48?s went through the turns fine, the 54?s didn?t. We were in big trouble. They (54mm Webers) actually made a tiny bit more horsepower if you had them on a long enough run but in the end I ended up with the 54?s and I couldn?t get through the corners. Because of the layout of the carburetors in the corners one would bog down, the other would starve. That didn?t happen with the 48?s.?

The Milwaukee track with its flat turns and smaller length in relation to Indianapolis was a sizeable test for the Lotus team. Many drivers had problems at the track because chassis set-up was more important than horsepower. Rodger Ward elaborates, ?Milwaukee was, aside to Indianapolis was my extra favorite racetrack. I loved the racetrack. The thing I liked about it was it was flat which meant the skill of the driver became significantly more important than when you run on racetracks that are fairly high-banked. Also, getting the chassis to do what you need it to do, I believe that the people that were able to win at Milwaukee were the more talented of the race drivers.?

In qualifying Clark easily broke the track record. Clark qualified in the 32-second bracket with a time of 32.930, a speed of 109.323 mph. Gurney was second fastest at 108.781 mph. The stalwart roadster contingent of A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones filled out the second row.

A record crowd of 35,096 was on hand at Wisconsin State Fair Park Speedway on a cool but sunny day on August 18th, 1963. Some on hand speculated that Foyt and Jones who also broke the track record may give Clark a battle. That was not to be as the Scotsman pulled away at the drop of the green flag. A yellow flag came out at lap 27 when Al Miller smacked the south turn wall. ?500? winner, Parnelli Jones developed brake problems early on. The problem became worse in the heavy traffic, causing Jones to drop out on the 42nd lap. By lap fifty Clark led Gurney by twelve seconds. The most captivating part of the race was when Foyt continually attacked Gurney in a battle for second place. Gurney continues, ?I was in trouble with the carburetion problem…the engine wasn?t doing what your foot wanted it to do. With A.J. all over you, you were trying hard not to let that take your concentration away. You?re trying to work through traffic.? Foyt eventually passed Gurney, however by this time Clark was three quarters of a lap ahead. Clark had the ability to carry the car deeper and deeper into the corners without letting up on the throttle. He ran lap after lap in the mid 33 second range. Rodger Ward, who was running a steady race, briefly challenged Gurney, however, Gurney held him off to finish third. Clark caught up to Foyt at the end of the race. Clark could have easily lapped Foyt, however Jimmy slowed slightly when A.J. eased up on the last lap to conserve gas to finish.

In a post-race interview when asked why he did not lap A.J. Foyt, winner, Jimmy Clark said, ?It is one thing to beat a man, it is another to humiliate him.? Clark continued, ?I like Milwaukee, I am well pleased to make such a fine showing including setting a couple of records. I?m sure I could had done better.?

After the race several car-owners asked Chapman regarding buying the quick Lotus chassis. Car builder A.J. Watson echoed the thought, ?The way the cars ran here in practice convinced us. We weren?t quite convinced after Indianapolis, but after they broke all the track records…well.?

Rodger Ward reminisces, ? Well basically what it did…it continued to prove that the small rear engine cars were going to become the dominant cars.?

Many people look back and wonder how could have the Indianapolis scene could not had seen the future sooner? Parnelli Jones had a unique perspective regarding the stagnate progress in Indy Car in the fifties and early sixties, ?One of the reasons we were antiquated for so long…really in racing was partially the fuel cost so much money in Europe and (other) foreign countries in relation to us. When we wanted more power or more luxury (in passenger cars) or what ever we just got a bigger car, put in a bigger engine, more air conditioning, more of this, more of that. We never really had to develop our chassis as a whole…we never had to develop them to be efficient -the Europeans did. They were way ahead of us in chassis design. Because of the cost of fuel (in Europe after World War II) was so much more then. When the rear engine car came over here, it wasn?t just because it was rear engine, it was a lot lighter, more aerodynamic…a lot of other things also. I know after I drove rear-engine cars and so forth, a couple of years ago I got back into my roadster and drove around Indianapolis, not to be real critical of the car, but it was like getting into an old Model ?A? driving around. In relation to what you drive today. Times changes things.?

Dan Gurney remembers the race, ?It would have been more fun if it would had run properly.? The Lotus team finished first and third at Milwaukee. Clark lapped the entire field sans Foyt. After the race, the team went to Trenton for testing. The Lotus team never returned to Milwaukee. It was Foyt in a roadster that won the next race at Milwaukee in June of 1964. In the following race in August, it was Parneli Jones driving the ex-Jim Clark Lotus 34 factory Ford effort who dominated in winning the 1964 Bettenhausen 200. Milwaukee never forgot the day in August of 1963 when ?Big-Car? racing was no longer.

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