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Info on driver Cal Niday and his Lotus 11


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#1 Mike Summers

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Posted 08 July 2008 - 05:27

I am assisting a friend and hoping that TNF can provide some much needed information and or pics. My friend Bob, age 81, has a special Lotus 11 once owned by Cal Niday. This is the info that I gathered today from Bob. Cal Niday had lost a leg in a motorcycle accident sometime after high school. He began racing cars and ended up racing at Indy where he had a serious crash in 1955. After recovering, he moved to Hawaii where he opened a race shop. He aquired a Lotus 11, with no motor, from Lotus. They installed a aluminun Olds V8 and a powerglide trans (remember only one leg). Bob believes that he drove the Lotus in Hawaii and later on the mainland. Niday was believed to have died some years later in a sprint car crash. Can anyone out there provide information and or pictures of the Lotus. Bobs record keeping took a hit when hd had to move out of his home of 50 years recently......Bob has chassis numbers but hopes to verify them via entry forms, if they can be found. Any help would be appreciated...

Mike Summers
Sacramento
Currently in Seattle for the historics

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#2 Rick Prather

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Posted 19 July 2008 - 16:17

Mike,

I worked for Cal at his shop "Speed 'N Sport" in Hawaii in '64-'65.

I don't remember anything about a Lotus 11 but I do remember a 23B

At that time he was a Lotus dealer and had picked up the 23B for a customer named Jack Bishop to replace the TR-4 he had been racing (which I bought from him as my first race car).

When Jack couldn't come up with all the money right away Cal decided to modify it and run it himself.

We didn't change the engine or transmission but the terrific fabricator we had - Gordie (?) also a successful midget driver, fabricated a clutch pedal/lever arrangement which allowed Cal to disengage the clutch but with about a 12" throw.

After it was done we took it out to Hawaii Raceway Park for a test day. Cal got in it and took a few fairly quick laps. Then Gordie took it out and impressed me with his smoothness, quickness and ability in a road race car.

Then Cal let Jack take it out and he promptly stuffed it! No, serious mechanical damage but fibreglass everywhere!

After it was fixed, I think Cal raced it at least once and then Jack got it.

Since this is all from memory from 44 years ago my facts may be a little off.

Good to hear about Cal after all these years. He was a very interesting guy and the prototype of a competitor.

Years later when I was working in the Mid-West I ran across a guy that had been active in midgets when Cal was King and he used to tell me about what a maniac he could be. Was never hard for me to believe!

Even in retirement as a driver, in Hawaii - playing around with Sports Cars it was obvious in our heavily mixed class races that Cal only new one thing. If someone - don't car what he is driving - is in front of you he needs to be passed!

#3 Flat Black

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Posted 20 July 2008 - 13:51

FWIW, Wiki claims that Cal died of a heart attack after being thrown from a car during a vintage race car show at a track in California. Is this correct?

#4 Rick Prather

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Posted 20 July 2008 - 16:42

When I read the story in Speed Sport News at the time it seems to me it just said he died as a result of injuries suffered from the accident.

It was during a vintage midget event.

Exactly what those injuries were and if he died from a resulting heart didn't come up at that time, as I remember.

In a way Cal got a 30+ year grace period..

In '55 when he had his big crash at Indy the doctors basically gave up on him and suggested that his wife, Elsie, go home since he wasn't going to make it. But, they didn't know Cal!

#5 Jim Thurman

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Posted 20 July 2008 - 17:52

He was running on the dirt oval at Willow Springs Raceway when the accident happened and he reportedly was thrown out of the car, reportedly suffering minor injuries. But, as he was being transported by ambulance to Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, he reportedly suffered a series of heart attacks and passed away from them.

It was hardly a show, some of the vintage guys run those cars pretty hard :up:

I believe the initial reports, in their zeal to have "old guy killed racing" got carried away.

Too bad - and unsurprising - there is so ridiculously little on him at Wikipedia, he had a fascinating story and is much more than "an old guy killed at a vintage race."

#6 Rick Prather

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Posted 20 July 2008 - 21:00

At the risk of further hi-jacking this thread, years after I worked for Cal I found out that he was the first driver to wear a Bell helmet in the Indy 500. And, it no doubt saved his life in that crash.

Although it didn't eliminate head injuries since he lost vision in his upper field. Sort of like holding you hand horizontally across your eyes. For that reason USAC refused to clear him for Indy again, a major blow to a driver from his background. Sort of like telling a successful ball player that they can never play in the Majors again.

On his trophy wall in the shop he had that helmet and a picture of being pulled out of the crashed car. If you didn't know the driver in that picture was alive you probably wouldn't be able to look at it!

I will always remember, like a movie, finding out what he was made of at a race at Hawaii Raceway Park. The track was fun, fast and extremely dangerous by modern standards. Coming off the back straight (the return for the Dragstrip) there was a nasty, nearly flat out left/right with a bump in the middle. Scared me every time I drove it. The outside was dirt and gravel and there was a telephone pole about 20 yards out.

Cal came in there to fast ran off the outside when he hit the bump. I thought we were going to see a very bad wreck. But, after he got in the dirt/gravel he barely lifted and slid around the outside of the pole, throwing rocks and dirt everywhere and blasted back on the track down stream losing hardly any time!

#7 Mike Summers

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Posted 21 July 2008 - 01:34

Rick, thanks for your reply. The car that I saw was definitely a Lotus 11 fitted with a Olds V8 and a Powerglide trans. Any chance there may be pictures floating around??

Mike Summers

#8 Rick Prather

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Posted 21 July 2008 - 01:45

No pictures that I can remember of the Lotus 23b. The Lotus 11 would have had to been done later, sometime after '67.

Somewhere, way back in my memory, I seem to recall a mention of a Lotus with Olds power but can't put a finger on it right now.

I am still trying to get my head around the idea of stuffing an Olds V8 into that spindly tube frame of a Lotus 11.

Anyway, sorry I wound up going off in other directions but whenever I think of Cal I remember lots of good stories. He was quite a character.

If I can put my finger on anything about the 11 I'll let you know.

Rick

#9 Bob Bentler

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Posted 26 August 2008 - 19:23

Hi everyone! I am Bob Bentler, the current owner of Cal Niday's Lotus 11. Thanks for all the information you can give me concerning this car. I am hoping that someone has detailed information about Cal Niday racing this car in Hawaii.

My only contact with Cal Niday was by phone after he had returned to California. He sent me pictures and detailed information but this material appears to be lost after folks helped me move out of my house of 50 years to make room for a road right-of-way.

I have a dash plaque that Cal Niday won in Hawaii and sent to me but do not know if he received it while racing the Lotus 11. The inscription on the dash plaque says "ASSCH, Sportscar Race, Hawaii Raceway Park, Oct. 18, 1964, 1st Overall Main, CAL NIDAY."

These things I know concerning this Lotus 11 with the V8 engine. The car went to Hawaii originally from the NW. After the engine was destroyed in Hawaii it ended up with Cal Niday and modifications were made. These modifications included the Olds V8 engine, Powerglide transmission, a much stronger rear end (possibly a Triumph), wide aluminum wheels, and flared body work very neatly done.

The car was found in Hawaii by a couple of G.I. servicemen who purchased and brought it back to Sacramento where one of my racing friends saw it an thus I purchased it and brought it to the Seattle area.

I will have limited access to a computer until the end of second week of Sept. so if you do reply I may not respond back right away.

Thanks for any help you can give me.
Bob Bentler

#10 Lotus11Register

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Posted 27 August 2008 - 06:09

Bob Bentler already knows more about Lotus Elevens than just about anyone else in the American NorthWest, so it is ironic that his own car is such a mystery. This is a Series-2 Eleven, but not the "Fifer-Mobile" or any re-do of the Lotus Valiant, which were both modified S-2s also.

Niday may not have left much of a trail with this car but perhaps someone knows were he acquired it. It may have been well-known before this.