Thursday, July 20, 2017

“Fatty’s” custom 1914 Renault type EF
Photo by the author

Comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was one of the biggest stars in the Hollywood during the silent movie era until his disastrous fall from grace in 1921.  Acting as both the director and acting star, “Fatty’s” slapstick comedic short films were hugely successful and he earned over a million dollars a year.  Arbuckle lived a lavish lifestyle which included his ownership of several custom cars including this 1914 Renault, a 1919 Pierce Arrow model 66 and later a 1923 McFarlan originally ordered by fellow actor Wallace Reid.
Photo by the author

The most striking styling detail of the Renault EF on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum is the characteristic sleek sloping nose. The nose slopes dramatically because the car's radiator is positioned behind the 158 cubic inch four-cylinder side-valve engine.

“Fatty” wanted a sportier look than the right-hand drive four-seater torpedo body. To build his vision, Arbuckle went to the firm run by Los Angeles coachbuilder Jacob W Earl Earl Automotive Works located at the corner of Pico Boulevard and Los Angles Street in Los Angeles. 
photograph of a Renault EF four seater
torpedo courtesy of Bohams

Jacob's son Harley J. Earl later become renowned as the head of design at General Motors. Harley graduated from Hollywood High School in 1911 and enrolled in 1912 at the University of Southern California then  transferred to Stanford University in 1914. Harley at 6 feet 6 inches tall, was active in sports and the Phi Delta Theta fraternity  and finally graduated from Stanford University in 1918. Harley joined his father’s firm as a designer to support himself and his bride.    

According to a 1956 New York Times article, while his father on vacation young Harley took over and his first sale was to “Fatty” Arbuckle –  for the work on this car. Upon his return the elder Earl reportedly was furious when he learned about what his son had been doing, but the profit from the build changed his mind.  Soon after the Renault with the sloping windscreen was completed, it appeared in the 1920 short silent picture The Garage with Arbuckle and Joseph “Buster” Keaton.

The Earl Body Works became a division of the Don Lee empire and later built customs for movie stars and industry executives including the cowboy actor Tom Mix and built Arbuckle a second custom, his Pierce Arrow finished in a vivid purple color which was the car ‘Fatty” drove on his fateful trip to San Francisco for Labor Day weekend 1921.  Following the scandalous death of Virginia Rappe, Arbuckle was arrested and arraigned on the charge of manslaughter on September 17, 1921.
After a third trial, he was exonerated, but Arbuckle was financially ruined and due to his inability to find work in Hollywood, Arbuckle lost all the trappings of his success, including the Renault, the Pierce-Arrow and the McFarlan.

The custom Renault is in the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, with the Earl custom bodied Pierce-Arrow displayed several years ago at the Petersen while the magnificent McFarlan is part of the permanent Nethercutt collection in Sylmar California.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Faccinto returns 
and wins a thriller at Petaluma

Twenty-three midget cars drivers and crews were on hand Saturday night July 15 at the 3/8-mile Petaluma Speedway for the Jack London Hall of Fame race co-sanctioned by Bay Cities Racing Association (BCRA) and the United States Auto Club (USAC). In the afternoon before the racing program began, BCRA hosted the annual Jack London Bash Picnic and the 2017 BCRA Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Behrens Park on the Sonoma - Marin Fairgrounds.

Among the race entries were four female drivers- Randi Pankratz, Courtney Crone, 2011 BCRA dirt series champion Shannon McQueen and current BCRA points leader Maria Cofer. Four midget drivers- Ronnie Gardner, Geoff Ensign, Britton Bock and Cory Elliott did “double duty” as they also raced in winged 360 cubic inch sprint cars which were also a part of the evening’s racing program. 
Ronnie Gardner in his #68 Stewart chassis midget powered by an Esslinger engine was the fastest qualifier with a best lap of 14.635 seconds, followed by Michael Faccinto who posted a lap of 14.665 seconds and Geoff Ensign third with a time of 14.679 seconds.

At the start of the first 8-lap heat race, front row starter Danny Carroll took the point and the Australian driver now living in Roseville California held the lead throughout in Sean Dodenhoff’s #9C.   Frankie Guerrini charged up from his fourth starting spot to run second behind Danny with Gardner third. On the last lap, Alex Schutte in #28 tried a ‘slide job’ in turn three to take third from Gardner but settled for fourth place. Young Mason Daniel finished in the important fifth place as the top five heat finishers kept their qualifying times to determine the starting position for the feature race.

In the second heat race, Cory Elliott charged into the lead at the drop of the green from the outside of the front row and held on despite his #11E machine experiencing an electrical issue which periodically caused the Esslinger engine to nearly stop running at times. Courtney Crone and Michael Faccinto battled hard for second place while David Prickett and CJ Sarna dueled for fourth place. Elliott was first under the checkered flag trailed by Crone, Faccinto, Prickett and Sarna as the top five finishers.

The third heat race featured three of the female drivers starting in the first front two rows, and Maria Cofer led the first two circuits before she was passed by Anaheim’s Robert Dalby in his new #4D Esslinger powered Spike midget. Sixth place starter Geoff Ensign aggressively moved through traffic to run in third place then in the closing laps pushed underneath Cofer to finish the heat race in second place. Shannon McQueen capitalized on Cofer’s detour out of the turn three and four racing groove to finish third as Maria recovered to finish in fourth place ahead of Tyler Dolcaki who charged into fifth on the last lap.

Fast qualifier Ronnie Gardner pulled the number “8” pill on the re-draw for the line-up of the 30-lap feature which placed Courtney Crone on the inside of the front row for the start with Guerrini alongside. The feature race action came to a halt quickly after the initial green flag however, as Nate Wait got tangled up in traffic and flipped the #35 midget in turn one of the opening lap which necessitated a complete restart less Wait’s machine.  On the second start, Guerrini blasted into the lead in the F&F Racing #63 trailed by Crone, Ensign, Gardner and Faccinto and the front five cars soon pulled away from the rest of the field by several car lengths.

The night’s first caution flag flew on lap nine for a spin by Sparky Howard in turn two, with his #3 machine soon pushed away to rejoin the field. On the restart, Gardner and Faccinto shot past Ensign as his car had broken a front brake line after contact with another car and Ensign without brakes soon exited to the pit area. On lap ten Daniels pulled his #33M machine into the infield while the racing action continued as Gardner began to press Crone for second place.

On lap 13, Guerrini bobbled in the rough inner section of turns one and two and both Crone and Gardner roared past to drop Frankie to third place. As the leaders entered lapped traffic on the 18th lap, Gardner scooted past Crone and into the lead. On lap 20, young Santa Monica driver Kyle Beilman had a problem with his car’s Mopar engine and coasted through turns three and four and down the front straightaway and off the ramp to the pit area.  Although Beilman’s retirement did not interrupt the action, on the following lap after contact with another car, Prickett’s #22Q midget lost a wheel and rolled to a stop on the inside on turn one to once again slow the field.

Under caution with nine laps to go, the crowd began to buzz with excitement as they realized that Gardner who earlier won the winged 360 sprint feature in dominant fashion had a chance to become only the fourth driver in Petaluma Speedway history to win two features on the same night. On the restart, Faccinto charged past Crone for second place before the caution flag flew for a three-car tangle in run four that involved Dalby, Dolacki and Pankratz. The cars of both Dalby and Dolacki were too damaged to continue but Randi restarted her #8 Fontana-powered Edmunds midget at the tail of the field.

On the restart, Gardner encountered his own trouble on the high side of the rough turns one and two and his bobble allowed Faccinto and Crone to streak past. Gardner charged back and passed Crone in turn three on the next lap, but the pass was nullified when the caution flag flew as Terry Nichols’ #1P came to stop in turn three with an apparent broken rear end.  On the restart, with Faccinto ahead in the lead Crone and Gardner dueled side-by-side for over a lap, and as the pair exited turn two side-by-side the pair made wheel-to-wheel contact. Crone’s car crossed over from the inside and began a series of end-over-end flips down the backstretch along the outer fence. Behind Courtney, Gardner’s car also turned over once and came to rest on its wheels near the inside of the racing surface. 

Ronnie quickly emerged from his #68 car and the track crew pushed his car off the racing surface, while other safety workers rushed to Crone’s #25 Toyota-powered Malloy midget which was resting on its side midway down the back straightaway.  Once the car was righted, Courtney slowly climbed out but she soon laid on the ground behind the machine and was tended to by emergency personnel.
After several anxious minutes, Courtney walked with assistance to the ambulance to cheers from the crowd.  The author visited with Courtney after the race and is glad to report that after she spent part of Saturday night in a local hospital for observation, Courtney was reportedly quite sore from her rough ride and she and her father Jack returned home to Southern California on Sunday. 

The running order for the restart after the red flag was withdrawn with five laps to go was Faccinto, Alex Schutte, Guerrini, Cory Elliott (up from 13th at the start) and Shannon McQueen in fifth. Elliott immediately charged past Frankie to grab third place, then powered into second while Danny Carroll moved past McQueen.  On race’s the last lap, Elliott’s machine suffered an apparent rear end problem and suddenly slowed in turn four, which created a traffic jam as the field packed up behind Elliott while winner Michael Faccinto streaked under the double checkered flags.

Fans will remember that at the last BCRA dirt track race at Placerville Speedway, Faccinto left the track in an ambulance after a scary-looking flip which makes his return to victory lane in the Carrillo Rod sponsored #35F midget a sweet one indeed.  Frankie Guerrini emerged from the last lap scrum to finish second to cap a strong feature performance, with Alex Schutte third and Shannon McQueen in fourth place. Danny Carroll got caught up in the confusion of the final turn to finish in fifth place, while Ronnie Gardner recovered from his earlier flip to finish in sixth place, one position ahead of Cory Elliott who coasted across the line in his wounded machine.

Maria Cofer edged Randi Pankratz for eighth, with the ageless Floyd Alvis in tenth place, CJ Sarna eleventh and JR Williams who solved his nagging fuel line problems of the past few events finished in twelfth position in his Carson City-based #74 midget. The non-finishers from thirteenth on back were Crone, Nichols, Dalby, Dolacki and Prickett with Britton Bock who grandfather Doug was inducted into the BCRA Hall of Fame earlier in the day in eighteenth place. Bielman in his second ever midget race placed nineteenth followed by Howard, Ensign and Daniel as Nate Wait rounded out the 23-car field.

The mighty midgets of the BCRA return to action on July 22 at Marysville Raceway in an exciting twin-bill with the BCRA midget lites division.   The racing program will also feature the track’s wingless sprint car division, economy sprint cars and super stocks on the program with hot laps scheduled to start at 6 PM.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

A collection of Packards
at the Automobile Driving Museum
The Automotive Driving Museum (ADM) located at 610 Lairport Street in El Segundo California near the LAX airport featured a number of Packard collector cars, making this museum a great place to visit.


One of the earliest Packards on display is this 1916 Packard “Twin Six” 12-cylinder 4-passenger convertible. In response to Cadillac’s introduction of a V-8 engine, Packard’s new chief engineer Jesse Vincent designed and developed the “Twin Six” which was introduced to the buying public in 1916. This first production V-12 engine which in its first year did not have detachable cylinder heads produced 88 horsepower from 424 cubic inches.

Next in the chronological history of the ADM’s Packards is this 1929 Packard 633 4-passenger convertible one of four Packard models (629, 633, 640 and 645) offered that year. This particular car sold in Australia this it is equipped with right-hand drive, is also equipped with the extra-cost sold Disteel wheels.
We will close this article with another Packard twelve cylinder, this 1937 V-12 Convertible Sedan. The V-12 powerplant produces 174 horsepower from 473 cubic inches connected to a three-speed manual transmission in a chassis with a 144 inch (12-foot) wheelbase.



All photographs by the  author  

Monday, July 3, 2017


Fourteen “mighty midgets” from the Bay Cities Racing Association (BCRA) invaded “Knoxville on the Hill” Placerville Speedway on Saturday July 1 2017 for a dramatic evening of racing in tandem with the track’s 360 cubic inch winged sprint cars.
There were two interesting entries; new BCRA member Ronnie Gardner, the reigning four-time USAC Western States midget champion was behind the wheel of Ted Finkenbinder’s Esslinger powered #3F midget, and Bakersfield’s Cory Elliott was the only driver to pull “double duty” as he debuted his new winged sprint car.

Elliott’s night started off with a problem as his #11E midget refused to fire off for wheel-packing, but the Elliott crew quickly diagnosed and resolved the mechanical gremlins in time for Cory to join the field for the warm-up sessions. Anaheim’s Robert Dalby was the fastest in hot laps with a best lap of 12.069 seconds with a back-up lap of 12.269 seconds.

Alex Schutte toured the Placerville banked ¼-mile oval in 12.325 seconds followed by Michael Faccinto in Mike Sala’s #19W at 12.378 seconds and Elliott rounded out the top four with a best lap of 12.407 seconds. Randi Pankratz’s car failed to fire for warm-ups with assistance from John Cofer and BCRA officials the #8 Edmunds machine’s fuel delivery problem was quickly rectified.  
The BCRA drivers had earlier drawn for starting positions in  the two seven-car 8-lap preliminary heat races. The first heat race featured the ageless Floyd Alvis on the pole with Terry ‘the Panda’ Nichols alongside.
As the field raced into turn three on the first lap, the cars of Alvis, Schutte and Frankie Guerrini made contact. Schutte and Guerrini were able to continue but Alvis spun to stop and was hit by defending BCRA champion Bobby Wilson’s #87. With the track blocked, Faccinto’ s #19W midget rolled over once and came to rest on all four wheels.

Michael indicated that he was suffering from neck pain and the Placerville Speedway safety crew did a superb job of removing him from the car on a back board. After he was transported to the local hospital, X-rays proved negative and Michael was released, albeit very sore but otherwise OK. All BCRA officials fans and drivers wish Michael a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing him back in action soon. 

When the race restarted with all the cars except Faccinto’s, Terry Nichols took command and used the groove around the inside of the track trailed by Aussie driver Danny Carroll in the Sean Dodenhoff #9C and Wilson. Frankie Guerrini was the only driver to try and use the high groove in the F& F #63 but did not experience any success. Wilson slipped by Carroll to take second place for a few laps, but at the finish Carroll slipped past to finish second behind Nichols with Guerrini fourth, and Schutte who battled brake problems fifth and Alvis sixth.

In the second heat race, Ronnie Gardner in the #3F grabbed the lead at the drop of the green flag as Maria Cofer hung tough in second place and fought off passing attempts first by David Prickett in the #22Q and late in the race from Cory Elliott who moved up from his sixth starting spot. At the drop of the checkered flag the finishing order was Gardner, Cofer, Elliott, Prickett, Pankratz, Dalby and the #74 of JR Williams.

The winner of the first heat race, Terry Nichols drew the ‘10’ pill for the feature re-draw, so Randi Pankratz was scheduled to start on the pole position, but first she and her crew thrashed to change out the birdcage on her Edmunds midget’s rear suspension. Meanwhile, Elliott was doing his ‘double duty’ in the sprint car B main but fell just short of transferring to the feature.

At the drop of the green flag for the 25-lap feature, Randi Pankratz took the race lead and held on as she used the low groove around the inside of the clay oval with Schutte in close pursuit.  Fifth place starter Elliott immediately began to use the top groove and raced up to battle for second place before his car began to experience an apparent fuel delivery problem which got progressively worse. 

The caution flag flew on lap 7 when Wilson hopped over Dalby’s rear wheel as the pair entered turn three which eliminated Wilson for the night, The top five running order under caution was Pankratz, Prickett, Schutte, Cofer and Carroll with Gardner in sixth place. Elliott took his #11E to the work area under the caution, but the Elliott crew was unable to diagnose the problem and he returned at the tail of the field. Meanwhile Guerrini retired with a flat left front tire and JR Williams retired his #74 midget with a fuel leak.

After the restart, Ronnie Gardner used the high groove to move the #3F midget up to battle for third place but he soon retreated back to the sixth. On lap 11, Schutte moved back into second place, and then on lap 21, Alex squeezed underneath Randi as the pair entered turn three side-by-side. The pair bumped and Schutte emerged from the scramble with the lead as Prickett and Carroll took advantage to drop Randi’s #8 midget to fourth place.

The action slowed on lap 23 after Maria Cofer who was battling a rear brake issue collided with Pankratz and both cars came to a stop between turns one and two. Cory Elliott was scored in fourth flag under the caution flag behind Carroll, but when the green flag was displayed, Elliott powered into third place as Carroll also encountered brake problems.

Alex Schutte battled back from problems early in the evening to win the 25-lap feature with David Prickett second while Cory Elliott recovered from his earlier misadventures to finish third in a car that Cory complained was not running right. Terry Nichols finished a strong fourth after he started in tenth place, while Danny Carroll finished fifth ahead of Alvis, Pankratz, Gardner and Cofer, as Williams, Dalby, Guerrini and Wilson failed to finish.

The BCRA midgets return to action on the 1/3-mile Madera Speedway pavement next Saturday July 8 for the 100-lap Gerhardt Classic which will feature the racers taking the green flag in a three-abreast start. It will be an action-packed night of racing with the   BCRA midgets vintage division will also be on the program along with the Western Winged Super Sprint Series, USAC HPD Midgets, NCMA Sprints, CSS/360 Super Modifieds, Legends of Kearney Bowl, Senior Open Vintage Super Modifieds, and the NCPRO 4 Modifieds.

One final note - be sure to get your ticket orders in now for the July 15 Jack London Picnic and BCRA Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Details are available on the BCRA website at

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Two off-beat makes
at the Automobile Driving Museum
In addition examples of such luxurious brands as Packard Stutz and Pierce Arrow the Automobile Driving Museum (ADM) in El Segundo California, the museum has some off-beat makes, such as this first example, a 1914 Saxon 2-passenger convertible roadster one of 4125 built that model year which sold for $395.
The following year, the Saxon Motor Car Company moved up-market as they added a line of six-cylinder powered vehicles. Sales soared to nearly 30,000 units in 1917 but the company ran into financial troubles and returned to four-cylinder powerplants in 1920, but it was not enough as the company ceased business in 1922.
Check out the 85-cubic inch 10-horsepower four-cylinder engine
and the precision steering gear in the foreground.

Another unique make displayed at the ADM is this 1929 Durant 6-cylinder Sport Coupe with a rumble seat. Durant Motors was the comeback of William Durant the founder of General Motors (GM) who had been forced out of GM in 1920 by the two major stockholders.
Durant still had empire building in mind and after founding Durant Motors in 1922 began buying up companies that included the low-cost Star and the high-end Locomobile as part of a plant to offer as many as seven different nameplates under one umbrella.
William Durant’s son Cliff was involved in American Automobile Association (AAA) racing and Cliff's racing entries during the 1922 1923, and 1924 seasons carried the Durant Motors name. Alas, William Durant's second empire was crippled by the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and Durant finally closed in 1933.
The example at ADM is powered by a 65-horsepower
6-cylinder engine and fitted with many optional parts

All photographs by the author

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Arizona invader smokes
the USAC/CRA regulars


The author visited the Perris Auto Speedway (PAS) for the June 24 2017 AMSOIL United States Auto Club (USAC)/CRA (California Racing Association sprint car “Moose Racing Night” program. Upon arrival, it was noted that there were 27 entries, divided among three classes; in addition to the 410 cubic inch USAC/CRA class, the PAS ‘Young Guns’ and the PAS ‘Senior Sprints.’  The USAC/CRA regulars were joined by a number of Arizona racers who made the long trip West on I-10.

The ‘Young Guns’ class is open to drivers from 14-25 years of age with no previous sprint car experience in cars powered by cast iron block 360 cubic inch engines and restricted aluminum 410 cubic inch engines to allow drivers to gain confidence racing against others of the same ability. The ‘Senior’ sprint cars are similarly powered and are open to drivers 45 years of age or older.  

The program opened with single-car two-lap time trials and Jake Swanson driver of the Moose Racing #92 emerged on top with a best lap of 16.478 seconds, far off of Nic Faas’ track record of 15.833 seconds.

The ‘Senior Sprints’ 4-car heat race was next, with the number of starters reduced by two cars, as Eddie Tafoya’s car broke during hot laps and Richard McCormick’s #71 was pushed off several times but refused to fire off. The ageless Rick Hendrix was the 'Senior' sprint heat winner as he led all 8 laps.  Next up was the ‘Young Guns’ 6-lap heat which started just three cars, and Hannah Mayhew won by a straightaway over Blade Henderson who lost the engine in his #5 entry on the final lap.    

Each of the USAC/CRA 10-lap heat races started nine cars with the top four cars automatically advanced into the feature starting field. The first heat race was won by pole-sitter Chris Gansen ahead of Max Adams with Gansen’s teammate Mike Spencer finishing third. Quick qualifier Jake Swanson finished fifth and would have to start the semi-main.

Damion Gardner won the second heat race ahead of AJ Bender with the VanderWeerd twins, Richard and Jace third and fourth. The final heat race was captured by Austin Williams who staged a race-long duel with multi-time USAC Southwest champion RJ Johnson with Brody Roa finishing third ahead Arizona’s Charles Davis Jr.

The ‘Young Guns’ feature was scheduled for 15 laps, and at the drop of the green Hannah Mayhew leapt into the lead and built up a half-lap lead over the second place runner 14-year old Joel Rayburn. Around lap ten the engine in Mayhew’s machine began to labor and by lap twelve, her #43 sprint car was continually smoking.

The crowd held their breath to see if Mayhew’s engine would survive when on lap 14 the engine in Rayburn’s car broke as he exited turn four and his car erupted in flames and came to a stop nosed into the inside retaining wall and Rayburn bailed out uninjured as the red flap was displayed. Later in Victory Lane, Mayhew revealed that her car’s engine had also broken, so all the entries in the ‘Young Guns’ class this night went home with broken engines. The “Senior Sprint Cars” followed with a twenty-lap 3-car feature in which all three cars finished.  

Jake Swanson went wire-to-wire in the semi-main chased across the finish line by Tommy Malcolm and USAC Western States midget champion Ronnie Gardner. The night’s ninth fastest  qualifier RJ Johnson started on the pole for the night’s 30-lap feature and immediately took the lead and held on by using the low line with his #51 car’s left front wheel just grazing the inside beam through the turns.

Johnson was in the lead on lap seven when the red flag was displayed for the tangled cars of Brody Roa and Jake Swanson in turn one. Neither car overturned, but the track had to be blocked in order to allow the safety crew to untangle the mess. Both drivers were okay, with Swanson’s 'Moose Racing' #92 car eliminated but Roa returned after repairs.

On the restart, Damion Gardner who had fallen to fifth, charged forward and grabbed third place on lap 11, but he soon slowed in turn three with an apparent steering or brake problem. As Gardner angled his stricken #4 machine towards the work area under the caution flag, Chris Gansen ran over Gardner’s machine and flipped at the head of the front straightaway which brought out the evening’s third red flag.  Neither driver was injured in the accident or the subsequent scuffle, but both cars were through for the evening.

When action resumed, Johnson continued to run his low line as second place Richard VenderWeerd experimented with various lines through the corners but was unable to get closer than two car lengths to the speeding Johnson and held off the challenges of third place Ronnie Gardner with Austin Williams in fourth. The running order at the front did not change over the last seventeen laps and RJ Johnson sponsored by the Phoenix area Martin Auto Museum took the trophy and big paycheck home to Phoenix after he led all 30 laps and never was seriously challenged.   

Perris Auto Speedway will be back in action on July 1 with the “Night of Destruction IV’ that will feature Demolition Cross, Figure 8's, Figure 8 Trailer Racing, Spectator Racing, Formula-X Autocross & CrossKarts, while the USAC/CRA sprint cars will return to action that same night at Santa Maria Raceway for the Doug Fort Memorial.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Pedal Cars at the
Automobile Driving Museum

During the  author's recent visit the Automotive Driving Museum located at 610 Lairport Street in El Segundo California near the LAX airport had a unique display of pedal cars and children's wagons.


Photographs by the authors