Monday, May 20, 2013
Just in case my post about the Sport of Death made it seem like driving a race car is no more dangerous than your morning commute, here's a video tribute to Eddie Sachs who lost his life during the 1964 race. As I said, Death hovers and waits.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
I’m a fan of old fashioned watches and that fascination drew me to the ad for this double-faced design by Gruen. The ad mentioned Wilbur Shaw received a similar watch as part of the winner’s purse for his first 500 win in 1937. Shaw went on to win three times in four years. Got to love it when a local boy makes good!
Saturday, May 18, 2013
|Auto Racing - the Sport of Death?|
Life Magazine took a harsh line when reporting on the 1939 Indy 500, kicking their article off with the headline “145,000 Patrons Watch the Sport of Death at Indianapolis Speedway”. After reading that, one could be forgiven for thinking the Speedway hosted gladiatorial matches culminating with a Ben Hur style chariot race after the morning's bouts and executions had warmed the crowd up. Nobody can deny that racing is a dangerous business. In the history of the Indy 500 fifty five drivers, mechanics, and track personnel who have died during the race or practice. Death never has been satisfied to focus on participants, though. Ten spectators have been killed while watching the race and possibly the most tragic case is that of Wilbur Brink, a 12 year old boy who died instantly when the wheel of Billy Arnold's car bounded over the fence, crossed the street, and struck the youth while he played in the yard of his house.
|Newsreel Stills of Floyd Roberts' Wreck|
The 1939 race saw the death of veteran racer Floyd Roberts in the 106th lap, a death captured by newsreel cameras. It might be the humanization of death that spurred Life to make the assertion “With automobile testing moved to the safer proving grounds of the manufacturers, even hard-boiled sports writers now protest racing’s needless risks.” Of course Life's theory has a couple problems. Firstly, after making a statement that implies a broad consensus of the sport-writing community, they cite only one columnist (Hearst’s Bill Corum). Also they make the bogus assumption the purpose of the sport of racing is the testing of automotive product. I wonder if they'd also claim the purpose of baseball is the testing of clubs, football the testing of helmets, and soccer the testing of nets?
Still, it would be ignorant to pretend that racing didn't involve real danger. It’s easy to see the drivers as part of the machines they drive, at least until someone perishes. Every death brings calls for safety improvements, and even the geometry of the track itself has been modified since 1939 to help prevent fatalities. Nothing can make any race absolutely safe, though, and when the engines roar on Memorial Day weekend take a moment to think of the men and women who drive the oval. Remember, the specter of death always hovers over the Speedway among the cheers and gasoline fumes, waiting for the next tragedy.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Just a quick note before heading out this morning, this week I caught the year's first glimpse of the Goodyear Blimp. I haven't seen it doing one of its nighttime advertising passes, but that will come eventually. Here's a nice historic photo of the blimp from 1931. This particular shot was taken over the now defunct Ford Airport in Michigan, but it went well with the era of 500 history I've been touching on lately.
Got any Indy 500 blimp memories? I'd like to hear them.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
|Schneider and Miller and the 1931 Indy 500 Starting Lineup|
This image of Schneider ran in the February 1932 issue of Popular Mechanics and, having combed the archives for a while, I noticed something interesting. All of the Popular Mechanics issues have been mercilessly marked up with copious hand-written notes on almost every article. The notes deal with the specifics of each article - things like names, statistics, dates, and the like. My junior detective work leads me to think that the archive must have gotten their supply of old Popular Mechanics from an editor or a hopless obsessive compulsive. Whatever the case, the article about Schneider had an associated address that just screamed for a little Googling. Apparently it had some connection with car designer Harry Miller in the 1930s.
So I fired up Google and did a little checking, as of the writing of this blog post the mysterious address belongs to a faceless distribution center that squats in a neighborhood that could play backdrop to a zombie apocolyps flick. A quick check of Miller’s biography on Wikipedia didn’t turn up a connection with LA. I’ll have to do a deeper excavation someday.
|Modern Long Beach Ave.|
Monday, May 13, 2013
1926 issue of Popular Mechanics featured an article on race car builder Harry Miller. Reading this piece brought back memories of my grandfather telling stories of how drivers and their crews would stay with families in Speedway so that they would be close to the track. Simpler times, now there isn’t a driver or owner who isn’t a millionaire several times over.
I found the picture of cars lining up for the start of the race interesting. My grandfather lived about five blocks from where this photo was taken and for a while my aunt lived about a block away from the start line. The line of trees and buildings behind the grandstand marks Georgetown Road, the long-time scene of pre-race debauchery and source of lurid pubescent fantasies. The field beyond is the Coca-Cola field where fans camp, grill, and generally make a mess of things before the gates open on race day. The structure in the infield is the Pagoda, which used to house the flagmen and time-keepers.