Sunday, April 30, 2017

USAC Silver Crown Copper Cup 
race report

On Saturday afternoon, a field of sixteen United States Auto Club (USAC) Silver Crown cars and drivers took the green flag for the “Copper Cup,” the 115th USAC race held at the storied Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale Arizona.

The makeup of the field had changed a bit since Friday afternoon time trials, as the Gene Nolen Racing team had affected repairs to the transmission in Jerry Coons Junior’s #20 car but without posting a qualifying time Coons had to start at the back of the field.  Patrick Lawson stepped out of the seat of his previously qualified Rebel Smokers Beast in favor of Chris Windom, whose Kazmark Racing entry was sidelined after it had been damaged beyond repair in a crash during the second Friday practice session.  With the driver change, Windom started alongside Coons at the tail of the field.  

At the drop of the green flag, pole-sitter Bobby Santos III led the field into the first turn with Kody Swanson, David Byrne, Justin Grant and Aaron Pierce all in close pursuit. By lap 9, Windom had carved his way through the field to run tenth, while Damion Gardner in the Klatt Enterprises Best moved into sixth place on lap 10 as Davey Hamilton Junior coasted into the pit area with fire and smoke trailing from the left side of the Mopar engine in the RPM/Fred Gormly Beast to become the race’s first retiree. 

A disappointed “DJ” reported that he had no warning of trouble before there was a loud bang as the #98 car raced down the Phoenix backstretch followed by fire and smoke.   Shortly thereafter, Tanner Swanson brought the Nolen #201 into the pits with terminal mechanical issues.

On lap 12 Gardner moved into fifth place and then Windom moved into ninth of lap 13 behind the lead pack of Santos, Kody Swanson, Grant, Gardner and Byrne. On lap 16, Joe Axsom made the first of several extended pits stops with Nolen Racing #120, and as the leaders closed on backmarker Toni Breidinger, Byrne slipped past Santos to take the lead on lap 22. 

Shortly thereafter, Grant began to pressure Kody Swanson for third place, but his challenge ended with the #91 Hemmelgarn-Carli Racing #91 against the wall in turn four. Grant emerged unhurt and immediately departed the track to race a USAC Southwest Series sprint car later that evening at Arizona Speedway.

Under the five-lap caution period, the running order was Byrne, Santos, Kody Swanson, Gardner and Davey Hamilton Senior with Aaron Pierce in sixth position.   When the green flag re-emerged, Santos challenged for the lead and the lead pair ran nearly half a lap around the Phoenix one-mile oval side-by-side before Santos led laps 31 and 32. 

Byrne reasserted himself at the head of the field on lap 33 and he quickly built up a ten-car length lead over Santos, Windom’s quest for a fourth straight USAC Silver Crown victory ended on lap 40 as the Rebel Smokers #2 coasted silently down pit lane.
As the race entered its middle stage on lap 42 the running order was Byrne, Santos, Kody Swanson, Hamilton, Pierce, Coons and Gardner. 

On lap 43 Swanson ran a 26.695 second lap to close on Santos, but Santos responded a few laps later with a 26.519 second lap. At the halfway point of the race, Byrne passed Shane Butler a second lap down in the #15 as Butler still struggled with apparent engine difficulties, which left eight cars on the leader’s lap.

The yellow flag flew for the third time of the day on lap 59, as Damion Gardner slid to a stop in the fourth turn after the right front wheel had broken off the Klatt Enterprises Beast. Gardner did a skillful job to bring the crippled machine to a halt without significant wall contact.  Under what proved to be an extended ten-lap caution period as track personnel put down “speedi-dry” to clean up oil on pit lane. 

The green flag flew again on lap 69 but that restart was called back. On the second restart, once again Santos challenged Byrne for the lead as the pair ran over a half a lap side by side before Byrne pulled ahead. By lap 73, Aaron Pierce had moved his Sam Pierce Chevrolet Beast into fourth place ahead of Hamilton and over the next few laps both Kody Swanson and Hamilton ran laps in the 26.5 second range as their cars’ fuel load began to burn off.

After a quick yellow flag in for a stalled car on the backstretch on lap 79, Jerry Coons’ #20 Nolen Racing Beast began to fall off the pace, as Coons later reported that the car’s handling went to “dead loose” but he maintained his fifth place position. Attrition continued to mount with eight cars still running on lap 85 as the pack of the top five cars tightened up as Swanson, Pierce, and Hamilton all ran their best laps of the race but with the running order unchanged.

On lap 92, the cars of Byrne and Santos crossed the start-finish line side-by-side, and Santos then moved into the lead on lap 93, as Swanson began to pressure Byrne for second place. On lap 94, Pierce’s care coasted to a stop on pit lane the victim of ignition failure. 

Bobby Santos III 2017 Copper Cup winner

On lap 98, Kody Swanson moved alongside Byrne on the front straightaway and the 2014 and 2015 USAC Silver Crown champion made the pass stick to claim second place behind Santos at the checkered flag, trailed by Byrne, Hamilton Senior, Coons and Shane Butler. Aaron Pierce finished seventh ahead of Toni Breidinger USAC’s winningest female driver who turned in a determined performance in her first Silver Crown start and first start on a track larger than 3/8 of a mile.

In addition to the unique trophy, Santos banked $10,000 for his Copper Classic win, with the KSE Hard Charger contingency award going to Jerry Coons for his charge from fifteenth stating position to finish fifth. Chris Windom undoubtedly the weekend’s hard luck driver received the Wildwood Brakes award for his 13th place finish. The USAC Silver Crown series made a triumphant return to Phoenix Raceway after an absence of over seven years and put on a terrific race; hopefully the “Copper Cup” on the superfast one mile oval will become an annual event.  

Kody Swanson moved into the lead for the chase for the 2017 USAC Silver Crown championship presented by Traxxas trailed by Coons and Windom.  The next race on the schedule is the historic Hoosier Hundred which will be held on May 25 on the one-mile Indiana State Fairgrounds dirt mile. 

As a postscript, in other USAC action in Arizona on Saturday, the author, Patrick Sullivan and Dick Jordan traveled east to attend the USAC Southwest sprint car action presented by Sands Chevrolet at Arizona Speedway. RJ Johnson won the first heat race, Nick Aluto won the second heat race and Stevie Sussex won the third heat race. 

RJ Johnson dominated the 30-lap feature race followed across the finish line by Sussex, Charles Davis Junior and Shon Deskins.  Justin Grant who had competed in the Silver Crown race in the afternoon dropped out late in the feature while he was running in third place. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

More Silver Crown photos from Phoenix International Raceway 

As we await today's Silver Crown race at Phoenix, scheduled for 3 PM local time, we share more photos from Friday

Today's trophy

The machine of David Byrne

A view of the the three car Nolen racing team. Joe Axsom's car in the foreground Jerry Coons Juniors's black #20 and Tanner Swanson's car in the background. Yes, it's hard to tell Joe and Tanner's cars apart on track.

Kody Swanson's #63

Bob East chief mechanic on Terry Klatt's Ford powered #6 driven by Damion Gardner

Justin Grant pilots the Hemmelgarn #91

The Hoosier left rear tire

all photos by the author

Friday, April 28, 2017

A dramatic day for the USAC Silver Crown cars at Phoenix International Raceway

The single-car qualifying session held in the heat of the day at the Phoenix International Raceway capped off a dramatic day of action for the United States Auto Club (USAC) Silver Crown series which returned to the one-mile oval for the first time since 2009.

Chris Windom the winner of the last three Silver Crown races and the defending series champion set the early pace in the Kazmark racing #92 in the first practice session with a best lap of 26.243 seconds, as seven cars in the seventeen car field broke through the 27 second barrier.  

Before and after shots of Chris Windom's #93 shows the significant damage

Kody Swanson in the #63 Radio Hospital Special set the day's fastest lap in the second practice session at 25.450 seconds. During the second practice session, Windom's car appeared off the pace then he crashed in turn three. USAC competition director Levi Jones said the group suspected could not confirm that a right front tire failure caused the Windom crash. Windom was uninjured but the car was heavily damaged and was finished for the weekend. 

left to right Kody Swanson, fast qualifier Bobby Santos III and Davey Hamilton 

USAC sent the field of cars out for single car qualifying in reverse order with the fastest cars on the track at the end of qualifying, so the speed of the cars steadily increased as the session continued. Bobby Santos III topped the field with his second lap of 25.362 seconds, just .045 seconds off the track record set by the David Steele in 2004, though it should be considered that the track configuration has changed since 2004. Second place in time trials fell to two-time USAC Silver Crown titlist in 2014 and 2015 Kody Swanson while 54 year old Davey Hamilton claimed the third starting position for tomorrow's 100-lap "Phoenix Copper Cup."  

Santos said later that he felt he "got a pretty good lap," as the car was tight on the first lap and then the handling came in better than he expected for the second faster lap. Hamilton remarked that it was an exciting opportunity to race with his son this weekend, as he recalled racing in past Copper Classic supermodified events at Phoenix with his father Ken Hamilton.  

Hamilton shared that the layout of the Phoenix track is a lot different since the last time he drove a Silver Crown car there as only the front straight is the same. On a very windy day, the top three qualifiers said that the wind did not upset their cars at all, and Davey Hamilton brought laughter the press conference when he compared the aerodynamics of a Silver Crown car to a brick. 

When asked about the Silver Crown series returning the Phoenix, Kody Swanson stated that this is an example of how the series is building momentum and that it was personally exciting for him to race at Phoenix. Kody noted that the importance of the "Phoenix Copper Classic" was demonstrated by the fact that his younger brother Tanner who is not a series regular went out an found a ride with the Nolen team.  

Thinking about tire wear for tomorrow's 100-lap race which will be held in the heat of the day, Bobby Santos remarked that he felt like Hoosier brought a "pretty hard tire," but that drivers have to be careful not to overheat the tires and make them "greasy." The veteran Hamilton noted that the tires he qualified on had twenty laps on them, and that it will be challenge and that "tire management will be key for the 100 laps."

Davey Hamilton Junior had a eventful day and revealed that his car lost its brakes midway through the first practice session and were not repaired in time for him to turn any hard laps in the second session.. "DJ" reported that he did not any brakes on his first timed lap which was an off the pace at 27.072 seconds, but the brakes returned for the second lap and "DJ" will start tenth tomorrow after he posted a 26.656 second lap. 

Nolen Racing teammates from left Joe Axsom (back to camera), Tanner Swanson
 and Jerry Coons Junior compared notes between the two practice sessions 

Tucson Arizona's Jerry Coons Junior was unable to qualify as the transmission input shaft broke, but the Nolen crew was optimistic it could be fixed in time, provided that they could locate the needed parts to affect repairs. USAC's all-time winningest female driver Toni Breidinger will start fourteenth, but she showed steady progress throughout the day in her first appearance in a Silver Crown car and her first appearance on a race track longer than 1/3 of mile. 

Photos by the author 

Pre-practice photos of USAC Silver Crown cars at Phoenix

Warming up Toni Briedinger's car 

Putting the numbers on the nose of Henry Clarke's Bill Rose owned entry

Davey Hamilton leans on his RPM entry and chats with fans, 
his son DJ is his teammate this weekend

A close look at AJ Russell's Ted Finkenbinder machine

Chris Windom check his phone while his crew works on his #92 car

Aaron Pierce's car is powered by a 770 horsepower Chevy engine

All photos by the author

Photographs of the Classic Vintage Times racers at the Phoenix GP

photos by the author

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Silver Crown cars
return to Phoenix this weekend

After an absence of over seven years (2,725 days to be precise) the United States Auto Club (USAC) Silver Crown Series returns to action for 100 laps on the one-mile pavement of the new Phoenix Raceway on Saturday April 29 2017.

The last USAC Silver Crown race at Phoenix held on November 12 2009 was won by Cole Whitt driving for legendary car owner Johnny Vance with second place falling to Kody Swanson. Whitt has since moved on to the race in the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) top-tier Monster Energy series, while Swanson claimed the USAC Silver Crown Rookie of the year title in 2009 then claimed the Silver Crown championship in 2014 and 2015.   

The 18-car preliminary entry list for the 2017 Phoenix Copper Cup includes just two drivers that competed in the race at Phoenix in 2009 – Jerry Coons Junior of Tucson Arizona in one of three potent Gene Nolen Racing entries and Bobby Santos III in the DJ Racing #22 racer. Coons will be joined on the Nolen team by Joe Axsom and Kody Swanson’s younger brother Tanner.

Father and son, Davey Hamilton Junior and Senior are entered as teammates with the RPM/Fred Gormly pair of cars. Another notable entry is Toni Breidinger, USAC’s winningest female driver with eleven feature victories who will make her Silver Crown debut in the Breidinger family-owned #80 machine.     

Muncie Indiana speed merchant Aaron Pierce, who holds the record for the fastest Silver Crown lap at Homestead Speedway of 175 miles per hour (MPH), and the fastest race win at 159 MPH at Kansas Speedway, will be looking to eclipse the fastest Silver Crown Phoenix lap of 140.966 MPH set in 2009 by the late Jason Leffler in a Bob East entry.  Bob East will be on hand Saturday tuning Terry Klatt’s entry for five-time USAC/CRA champion Damion Gardner.  

The balance of the eighteen USAC Silver Crown entries include the defending Silver Crown series champion Chris Windom from Canton, Illinois, Patrick Lawson of Edwardsville, Illinois, A.J. Russell from Clovis, California, Shane Butler from Bushnell, Florida, David Byrne of Shullsburg, Wisconsin, Justin Grant of Ione, California and Bill Rose from Plainfield, Indiana with his teammate Henry Adams of Villa Park, California.

The USAC Silver Crown cars will practice and qualify on Friday April 28 with the 100-lap Phoenix Copper Cup scheduled to go green on Saturday at 3 PM local time.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bay Cities Racing Association
vintage "super midgets" stickers for sale

Recently the author uncovered a box of vintage Bay Cities Racing Association (BCRA) vintage "super midget' stickers which are now listed for sale on the EBay internet auction site with all the sale proceeds going to BCRA. 

Check out the selection and buy now! 

Copy and paste this address into your browser:

Monday, April 10, 2017

1940 LaSalle 1940 5027 2-door coupe

As early as 1923 General Motors (GM) President Alfred P. Sloan developed the concept of the GM Companion Make Program to fill gaps he perceived in the General Motors product portfolio. General Motors sales executives referred to what Sloan created as “The Ladder of Success.” As a man (or woman) became more financially successful, they would work their way up the ladder to the pinnacle for GM, the purchase of a Cadillac.

In general, the “companion make” was built and marketed alongside the parent brand but was priced lower than the parent automobiles (except in one case). Chevrolet was designated as the entry level product line for GM, followed in ascending order followed by the new-for-1926 companion make, Pontiac, then its parent brand, Oakland which had been part of General Motors since 1909.   

Next on the GM hierarchal parade came Oldsmobile then its higher priced companion Viking  which was officially sold for two model years 1929 and 1930, although 353 1931 Vikings were built with leftover 1930 parts. The next step up for the GM buyer was the revived Marquette nameplate (dead since 1912) which sold from 1929-1931 as the lower cost companion to Buick. Above the Buick was the Cadillac “companion make” LaSalle which was sold from 1927 to 1940, and ultimately, the Cadillac. Topping the General Motors universe of makes was

LaSalle took its name from the French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle who explored from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico beginning in 1673 and claimed the entire Mississippi River basin as “Louisiana” for the King of France before his men mutinied and killed him in 1687.
The 1927 LaSalle Pacemaker is shown in this photo
from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
in the Center for Digital Studies in the IUPUI University Library

LaSalle was selected to provide the “Pacemaker” for Indianapolis 500-mile race on three occasions. In 1927 the LaSalle V-8 Series 303 roadster was driven by former race car driver Willard “Big Boy” Rader who had appeared in two of the first four Indianapolis 500-mile races as a relief driver.  

Willard "Big Boy" Rader seated in the Lasalle Official Pacemaker 
courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway  
 A month after the ‘500,’ Rader drove a similar stripped-down LaSalle 303 roadster on a timed test at the nearly 4-mile concrete oval at the GM Milford test track. The car fitted with an optional high-compression cylinder head was completely stock stripped of its headlights, running boards, windshield and fenders covered 952 miles in ten hours before a broken oil line stopped the run. 
The 1934 LaSalle Pacemaker is shown in this photo
from the Indianapolis  Motor Speedway Collection
in the Center for Digital Studies in the IUPUI University Library
Ralph DePalma is shown in the 1934 LaSalle Pacemaker in this photo
from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
in the Center for Digital Studies in the IUPUI University Library

In 1934 the new LaSalle straight eight-powered Model 350 convertible styled by Harley Earl and driven by Rader (who had driven the 1931 Cadillac Pacemaker) was the Official Pacemaker for the Indianapolis 500-mile race.  In 1937 a LaSalle Series 37-50 convertible coupe served as the Official Pacemaker piloted by the recently retired Raffaele “Ralph” DePalma the 1915 Indianapolis 500 mile race winner.

Over time the General Motors companion make strategy was abandoned mainly due to the automotive sales slump created by the Great Depression. As mentioned above, the Viking and Marquette makes were short-lived and the Oakland nameplate was killed in 1931 but its companion make Pontiac lived on until 2010.

LaSalle built some outstanding automobiles, but sales were never brisk. After a peak number of 22,691 cars were sold during the 1929 sales year, three years later sales dropped to a low of 3,290 cars. The strikingly restyled 1937 LaSalle broke all previous sales records with 32,000 units sold through the model year.  Following a dip in 1938 model year sales to just 15,501 units, the LaSalle was restyled again for 1939 and sales rebounded to 23,032. 

For 1940, the LaSalle was redesigned for the second year in a row, this time by William Mitchell head of the Cadillac Studio. LaSalle sold two distinct models in 1940 - the series 50 and the series 52, which was referred to in Cadillac sales literature as “the Special.”  Both the series 50 and 52 LaSalle rode on a 123-inch wheelbase chassis with a 59-inch track and 7 x 16-inch wheels  powered by an L-head, cast iron block V-8 engine that displaced 322 cubic inches and fitted with twin Carter carburetors developed 130 horsepower.
The 50 series featured an Art Deco hood ornament, streamlined headlamps integrated into the fenders, three side hood louvers and a split front windshield.   The Series 52 had a wider, 45-degree sloping windshield, a larger curved rear window, no belt-line molding, a rounder, smoother line down the rear of body and was 3-3/4 inches longer overall.  To show how automotive design was changing during this period, running boards were a offered as a “no cost” option. A 1940 LaSalle came standard equipped with three chromes strips at the bottom of the body which added to the sleeker lower look.

For the 1940 model year Cadillac and LaSalle offered seven models with a total of 51 distinctly different cars with pricing that began at $1000 and topped out with the magnificent Cadillac Sixteen of which only fifty were built at a price of over $6000.  LaSalles came standard with “Hi-Test Safety Plate Glass” advertised as providing a clearer view than laminated glass and Cadillac “Controlled Action Ride” with improved knee-action suspension which when combined with thick foam rubber padded cushions on the seats made them “America’s finest riding cars.”  

All 1940 LaSalle bodies featured a one-piece solid steel “turret top” reinforced with steel roof bows and roof rails welded to the inner steel body framework. LaSalle advertised that the fully-welded bodies were “insulated at every point for quietness and comfort;” the top, door panels and floor were insulated with thick asphalt impregnated felt while the dash and cowling area was covered with heavy jute matting and Celotex ™ board (asbestos impregnated fiberboard). 

Heavy rubber pads surrounded the body bolts to “eliminate body rumbling inherent with cars with single unit frames” and were effectively weather sealed to “prevent the entry of dust water and drafts.” Steel drip moldings, a long-lost feature on modern cars, were furnished to “prevent annoying water from dripping on passengers entering or leaving the car.”

This car, a model 5027 2-4 Coupe owned by Marshall Krause was on display at the 2017 Sacramento Autorama. With an original list price of $1180 there were 1,525 LaSalle 5027 2-4 coupes sold during the 1940 model year. This car which has been completely restored is powered by a non-original engine which was bored out to a displacement of 346 cubic inches using period-correct Cadillac rebuild specifications by Top of The Hill Performance Center in Livermore, California.

The car as shown is equipped with optional amber lenses fog lights  which sold for $14.50 in 1940 for the pair installed, a rear view mirror ($4.50 installed), a grille guard ($10.00 installed) and chrome wheel  trim rings which sold for $1.50 each installed. This example recently was offered for sale at the end of January 2017 on the internet auction site but was a no-sale as the highest offer of $35,000 did not meet the seller’s reserve. Perhaps serious LaSalle enthusiasts held back on bidding since the car is finished in a PPG Paints Tan, a color which was not offered on the standard 17-color LaSalle palette for 1940.

1940 Series 50 model year sales ended with 10,382 cars sold and with Series 52 production factored in, LaSalle was 15th overall in US auto sales with a total of 24,133 cars sold for 1940.  Although 1940 was Lassalle’s second highest sales year ever, it wasn’t enough as the marque was killed by General Motors in the summer of 1940 although there were three possible new 1941 designs in the midst of development.

The LaSalle nameplate was briefly resurrected in 1955 for the General Motors Motorama shows with two LaSalle II concept cars. Both used fiberglass bodies; the first design was a small four-door hardtop sedan while the other was a truncated two-seat convertible roadster. Both cars which were non-running examples with V-6 aluminum engines castings under their hoods, shared the same vertical grille opening design reminiscent of the 1940 LaSalle.

Color photos by the author.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Keep your car's floor mats from sliding
One of the most bothersome and overlooked problems car owners have are out of place floor mats. Not only do floor mats that move around in the front and back not protect the floor from dirt and make the car look messy, they can be a safety hazard.  Unsecured drivers-side mats can jam pedals, and have prompted major safety recalls by Audi, Mercedes Benz, Toyota and Maserati. 

Some cars have nothing to hold the mats down, while others have difficult to install, hooks, clamps or Velcro pads, which often fall apart or break off. Regardless of the type of retainer, many car owners agree that they don’t work well. It’s not only about how fasteners connect to the floor mat; it is also about how securely they stay in the car floor under the mat.

If you have a mat problem in your car take a look at Eagle Klaw, the new, patented, American made, world’s only multi-point tension fastener.  Very easy to install (just step on it!), and minimally intrusive, Eagle Klaw anchors penetrate the carpet at 5 points and grip the car floor with the strength of an eagle’s claw.

Visit the website NOW for the current sale!  Get a free cutter tool and use code EGL20 during checkout for 20% OFF!

information provided by AAPEX which represents the $356 billion global automotive aftermarket industry, and is co-owned by the Auto Care Association and the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA), the light vehicle aftermarket division of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA).

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Great custom paint at
the Sacramento Autorama
There were two cars shown at the Sacramento Autorama that brought to mind the late great Long Beach custom painter Larry Watson.
The first was this  1950 Studebaker Starlight convertible with 'seaweed' style flames which won the award for the best use of flames.
The rear end of Gary Pettigrew's Studebaker features some attractive pin striping.
Outside the CalExpo building, the author spied this 1960 Ford Thunderbird that was painted following Larry Watson's "panel painting" style.
The five-spoke mag wheels with narrow whitewalls completed the period look of this beautiful lowered "Squarebird."
All photos by the author