Groundhog Day

Headin' on Out

By Dave Burton

The Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational was organized by SVRA and held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway only ten days after the Indy 500.  As the name implies, Ol’ #20 was invited to participate and I tagged along (she’s not gonna drive herself ya know!).  Also invited were #70 with Vic and 356 Enterprises also managed to get a couple of Aussies included, Ron Goodman with his new #23 Roadster and David Withers in Vic’s rental Coupe #32.

Holy Smokes, this is an amazing place, very well done with bright facilities and attention to detail—even gardens around some of the buildings.  Unlike most tracks, IMS is right in the middle of town and there’s no missing it as you approach—think the Coliseum in Rome.  Load-in was on Tuesday (we had a driver’s meeting that evening) and although the staff was plentiful and organized, they had their hands full.  The 500 has only 33 racecars, SVRA invited 700 (there were 200 more on the waitlist).

Tom Downey came down to pitch in and crew for the team and kindly invited me to crash with him in his motorhome.  Nice digs, quiet setting away from the paddocks, A/C and a shower, you couldn’t ask for more.  Ron and David had arrived from Australia along with Ron’s videographer, Rob Scheeren.  We got the rig set up and the circus canopy erected, the four racecars are deployed and we’re ready to rock.

We’re due out on the track at 8:20 am Wednesday morning and it’s raining.  We go out on rain tires and learn where this track turns right and left.  The configuration they’re using differs slightly from the one used for Formula One and features a very tight 90º right at the end of the long Front Straight (likely to provide LOTS of excitement this weekend) and a linked pair of hairpins coming down off of the oval and leading back to the Front Straight.  Hmm, it seems they might be trying to restrict terminal velocities.  But the rest of the track is good with nice rhythm and flow.

Our second test session is scheduled for 10:50 and it’s raining so hard I swear I saw an ark move through the infield—3” in an hour—why bother.  The afternoon starts to clear and Burt Levy arrives to take Ol’ #20 out for a session to reacquaint himself in case we make it off the waitlist and get entry to the Enduro.  The track is still damp but he has no problems and joins the ranks of racers that have driven at Indy.  Pretty neat.

Our last test session is 4:10 and it’s clear and dry.  Now to find out where speed can be had and what gears will work where and what are the braking points and all the stuff I need to figure out before we go hot tomorrow morning.  Towards the end of the 15-minute session, something’s amiss—I can’t upshift from second gear at high rpm.  I nurse her home and explain the problem to Vic.  Verdict?  Deliver the baby (pull the gear cluster out of the transaxle).  Tom pitches in and Ol’ #20 goes up in the air and out comes her engine.  Then the transaxle is dropped and Vic pulls the cluster.  Wow, I’m now in a very select fraternity, I’ve broken a shift fork.  Vic says the only other broken fork he’s encountered in all his years of racing is Schrecker’s.  Vic does his magic with the cluster while I’m tasked with flushing all the metal debris out of the case, then reassembly begins (easy, right?  Just reverse the procedure).  About the time we finish, Burt stops by to chat and spots me—“It looks like you’ve been bobbing for apples in gear lube!”  Ha ha, but we’re ready for the morning.

At the end of the practice session Thursday morning, #20 is running strong but David Withers is having problems with second gear.  Well we should be pretty fast at this job since we practiced last night.  This time the gear cluster is missing most of the teeth for second gear.  Lots more shrapnel to flush out of the case but otherwise, it’s Groundhog Day again.  It all goes back together and we all make the grid for the first qualifying session at the five-minute signal.  Must be the choreography!


During the second qualifying session Friday morning, Ron Goodman and I are having a spirited time slicing through traffic, passing and re-passing each other.  On one lap, Ron thinks he’s got me boxed in behind slower traffic (a Daimler SP250) and figured he could run away but I short-circuit the chicane curbs and come out ahead.  He’s laughing so hard that my rear camera video shows him clapping for me as we race down the Hulman Straight.

Friday afternoon is our Enduro and Ol’ #20 strikes out, still on the waitlist so Burt and I are out of luck.  Oh well.  Then Ron asks if I can spell him in his car if he gets tired (he has been fighting a flu all week).  Let’s see…  well, SURE!

Ron starts the race and he is amazing, only a couple seconds behind Mark Eskuche in George Balbach’s #34 Roadster.  Halfway through, Ron comes in and turns over his car to me.  We’re second in class behind #34 and off I go.  His Roadster is different than my Coupe, they don’t turn in the same and the sound levels are different, I can’t drive by ear.  I settle in and the laps wind down.  Late in the race, I see Vic coming up in my mirrors but I’ve got nothing for him and he passes me easily.  At the Checker, we’re fourth behind Vic and the two Balbachs.  Tom and Vic think that #23 has an exhaust leak; we’ll check it back at the rig.  Vic pulls the 3-4 valve cover and finds that the rocker stand nuts are backing off and both exhaust valves are barely functioning.  That explains the end of the race and I stop feeling that I’d let Ron down.  Simple fix and again, we’re ready for the morning.

On Saturday they reconfigured the track, closing down the 2.43 mile road course (run clockwise) and opening up the 2½ mile oval (run counter-clockwise) so that the vintage groups could run demonstration laps on the famous oval.  The Hoosiers of Indiana are a warm, friendly people and they are very efficient in operations at this storied venue.  We were worried that the protocols would require single-file parade laps but the driver’s meeting that morning made clear that the organizers and officials understood the speed disparities and varied driver’s interests and that in the interest of safety, there would be three “lanes,” slow down on the inside, medium in the middle and faster traffic up by the wall.  With this established, Vic, Ron and I were more comfortable running with our group (3&4) and agreed to participate.

We agreed on a “hard” rpm limit of 7,200 to keep from stressing the cars and formed up together on the false grid.

I must admit, it was pretty special proceeding through Gasoline Alley and the pits and turning left on to the Front Straight and starting to gather speed.  The first lap was run under yellow to get everyone situated and then, as I came around Turn 4, the green lights came on and the Starter threw the green flag.  We started to build speed and the three lanes sorted themselves out with everyone behaving themselves.  As we went round and round, it became obvious that we didn’t need to lift in the corners (we were travelling just about exactly half the speed of the field of this year’s 500) and we didn’t even need to use the “groove” through the turns and chutes.  We’re running together with Ron in front, Vic next and Ol’ #20 bringing up the rear.

Coming down the Back Straight and looking into Turn 3, we see that we are overtaking a small open wheel car down low on the track.  We continue closing on it as we exit onto the Short Chute and it moves to the middle “lane.”  Ron is in the outer lane up by the wall entering Turn 4 when the open-wheeler suddenly moves up the track and directly in front of Ron.   Ron’s #23 climbs the right rear tire of the formula car and vaults into the air and against the wall.  Vic and I are by them quickly, slowing and heading for pit lane, not knowing if Ron or the other driver is injured or worse.  The scariest moment I’ve ever had on a racetrack.  The session is red-flagged, closing it down and we report to the Track Steward to report what happened.  Shortly, the officials tell us that the drivers are OK and we head back to the paddock and to track down Ron and his car.

Ron has already been discharged from the medical facility and is in the Steward’s office with Vic, explaining what happened.  I mention that the incident happened right in front of my car and is captured on my video.   We return to our paddock to review the footage and receive Ron’s racecar.


Delivered by flat-bed wrecker, #23 is pretty trashed with the front wheels disagreeing on direction and the entire right side looking like it had been planed at 45º, chamfered from front to rear by the wall.  Brake lines are torn free and a tie rod has a pronounced “S” bend, but the left front corner tells the story, blackened and torn below the headlight by the formula car tire.  It turns out that the open-wheel car was a Formula Junior from Group 2 and didn’t belong out on the track with us.  We all reflect that everyone was fortunate and that the Good Lord watches over fools and racers (is that redundant?).

That night, Tony Parella and SVRA pull out all the stops and throw a grand party for about 2,500 folks and fit for the event.  Dinner is good barbeque, pulled pork and chicken with all the fixin’s.  Grand Funk Railroad is playing in the bandstand (I was 15 when I bought their album—perfect for a vintage gang) and I know just about every song.  Then the fireworks go off with a show fit for a major city.  Spectacular!

Sunday afternoon is our Feature Race and the schedule is running an hour late.  David Withers has to skip the race due to tight airline connections and Vic brokers a deal whereby Burt Levy buys out the rental from David and takes over #32.  Burt has them grid him at the rear, but with the split start due to the huge field, he doesn’t appreciate just how far back that is.  Because of the size of the field, two pace laps are run with the pace car peeling off at the end of the 2nd lap, leaving George Balbach Senior to lead the field through Indy Turn One (backwards!) and on down the straight to the Starter.  There’s a Spec Racer Ford on the outside of George, a 914/4 behind him, another Spec Racer alongside then Ol’ #20 in fifth with George Junior beside me.  Behind me is an Alfa Spider with Vic alongside and Schrecker following.

It’s a nice tight field coming down to the Starter and the speed creeps up a little then… Green Flag!  It’s a drag race down to Turn One with the 914 arriving first but carrying too much speed to turn in.  I’m right on his tail with both Spec Racers alongside and I turn right at the curbing with a whole lot of cars sliding well wide and long.  I exit Turn One in first place and lead the field away from the parking lot.  Following is the Alfa, then a Volvo P1800S, then our pole sitter George Senior and then John Schrecker filling out the top five.

I spend the rest of Lap One and Two through Four dropping the field and extending my lead, the race is mine.  At least it is until I come upon a yellow flag at Turn 7 and a slow-moving ’59 Kellison lumbering along.  I can’t pass under the yellow (which continues to Turn 12) and the field is upon us.  When the Kellison finally exits via Pit Lane, they’re well positioned and the Volvo gets a run on me, taking over the lead just past the bricks.  The Alfa is trying me every way but Sunday and we battle ‘round the course again until we come upon a slow-moving Corvette in the yellow zone again.

When we finally see the Green Flag on the Front Straight, the Alfa and Vic slip by with one of the Spec Racer Fords nipping me by Turn One.  The red mist descends and I try to battle my way forward again.  I’m all over the Alfa but he repeatedly slams the door on me, running me out of track again and again until I’m boiling.  Not good.  I finally get around him and set my sights on the Spec Racer.  I pass him on the Hulman Straight but can’t make it stick—we run side by side through the esses and split around a backmarker Alfa Coupe but it’s too much and I slide wide onto the lawn at Turn 10 and go agricultural (as fast as I can keep her pointed mostly forward) as the Alfa Spider, Schrecker, and George Senior slip by.  It’s a free-for-all from there to the Checker but to no avail—I’ve managed to work my way from first place to seventh—not my best work.  But at least I can say that I led four laps at Indy.


Top Right The Also-Rans George, John & Dave. Vic (top left) took second overall between the Volvo and the Spec Racer and the three of them looked great on the Podium with the hats, medals and a glass bottle of milk each—way cool! 

Dave Burton


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