Posted 11 October 2012 - 17:32
John, I hope you don't mind me posting this article here that I wrote a few years back, as a sort of exercise for a website project (that still hasn't seen the light of day... :sigh:). It is relevant to your last post, and to this thread.
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New York State Fair
September 10 (Sat)
New York State Fairgrounds, Syracuse (NY)
161 km (100 laps of 1.6 km dirt oval)
Parsons comes through, but controversy rules
Johnnie Parsons moved one step closer to the Championship by winning at Syracuse, but even though he was absent, Bill Holland got most of the headlines, if for all the wrong reasons! The return of the prestigious State Fair race was welcomed by all concerned, but controversy ruled long before the day of the event, and in the midst of it all none other than the Indy 500 winner, whose earlier antics at Phoenix and Arlington hadn't exactly endeared him to the race promoters and fans, but the stunt he was now about to pull off on Syracuse race director Ira Vail was completely out of the ordinary, and would have repercussions far beyond the interests of those two people alone. Later, it would transpire that the seeds for the conflict had already been sown earlier in the year, when Sam Nunis Speedways had lost out on a deal to run the race at Syracuse, and the State Fair board had appointed Ira Vail again as its director of racing, continuing the successful arrangement of the prewar years. Incensed by the decision of the fair board, Nunis was intent on retaliation, and soon found an ally in Holland, whom he signed for a lucrative appearance deal at his Sprint Car show at the Juniata County Fair in Port Royal (PA), the same day as the Syracuse race!
What made the situation even more delicate was the fact that the race at Port Royal was supposed to be a points paying round for the URC "Class B" cars and drivers, something which both Nunis and Holland chose to ignore in their selfish actions. Naturally, the club members were incensed by the politically induced move, as it promised to keep the bulk of the purse from within their reach, and especially since it came only five days after a similar plot played out by the Nunis/Holland combo at Rochester in New York - only this time Holland didn't break down in time trials, and duly won by a country mile, depriving the URC members not only of first place money, but also receiving a bucketful of cash from the appearance deal! Meanwhile, accusations and telegrams flew back and forth, with Vail trying to hold Holland to his signed entry form, and the driver expressing anger at the promoter's refusal to pay him more than the statutory $500 for his appearance at Syracuse. Coming hot on the heels of Holland's recent run-ins with offialdom during the summer, Vail was sure to have the backing of the AAA in threatening Holland with a year's suspension, but a breakdown in communications, apparently induced by the appearance of several Contest Board luminaries, including secretary Jim Lamb, at speed record attempts in Utah, while chairman Art Herrington confered with Holland from New York City, meant that the whole episode finally hinged on a formality, and the driver once again escaped a fine. Holland's car owner, Milt Marion, however, was not inclined to miss his homestate event, and so Emil Andres got another chance to sub for the Indy winner.
Several other entry changes were in evidence, the most important of which coming about by the decision of Meyer-Drake Engineering to park their car until a buyer was found, so that Tony Bettenhausen, the most recent winner on the championship trail, was forced to go shopping for a new ride which, initially at least, he found with the Pete Wales outfit and their "three-quarter" car. Somehow or other, however, he ended up taking the seat of Sam Hanks in the Lencki/Offenhauser, the same car he had finished second with in the last race at Syracuse back in 1941, and which had won the race three years earlier with the late Jimmy Snyder handling the driving chores. This, in turn, opened the door for his former team mate Duane Carter to drive the oversized Sprint Car, as the Belanger team opted to give the race a miss, leaving Ralph Pratt out in the cold. Rex Mays was back in the Wolfe entry, and Hank Rogers was once again handling the Scopa/Offenhauser, but Phil Catalina's return to the Clancy four-wheeler was nullified by the team's decision to give the young Californian Sprint Car and Midget chauffeur Jimmy Davies a chance - an inspired choice, as it would soon turn out! Davies's former ride, the Van Emerick/Offenhauser, was to appear once more and to be driven by rookie Bill Boyd from Michigan, while another addition from the Sprint Car ranks, Emmett Shelley and his new Offy, was originally assigned to the promising young Pennsylvanian Bill Gouse, but eventually driven by the more experienced Ottis Stine, and Mark Light was a late replacement for Eddie Zalucki in the Johnston/Offenhauser.
On a much sadder note, the week leading up to the New York event also saw another seat up for grabs, as Mel Hansen had crashed a Midget at Detroit's Motor City Speedway on Thursday night, suffering terrible injuries which would not only end his brilliant driving career, but also confine him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Fellow Californian Spider Webb was ready to step into the potent Bowes/Offenhauser, and take up where Hansen had left off with his recent performances, a fact he was to demonstrate only too amply by putting the car on pole position during time trials, and with a new track record at that - only minutes earlier, Rex Mays (back again in the Wolfe entry) had eclipsed his own 1937 mark of 39.00" by more than a full second, only to find Webb upstage him by another one hundredth of a second! Paul Russo was next, but now driving the Tuffanelli team's 1948 Kurtis, with team mate Walt Brown in his regular mount on the outside of row 2, beating Lee Wallard for top homestater. Next were championship contender Myron Fohr and Johnny Mantz in the Agajanian Kurtis, back again after giving the Du Quoin race a miss, followed by four more Californians (Connor, Davies, Parsons and Carter) and two buddies from Illinois (Bettenhausen and Andres), before a quartet of stragglers completed the field at seventeen. No fewer than six drivers failed to qualify, five of which already broke down in practice, including road racer George Weaver and his Maserati V8RI, who would have the consolation of winning the Seneca Cup at Watkins Glen a week later.
Starting Grid Spider Webb
37.87" (152 kph) Rex Mays
38.06" Walt Brown
38.33" Myron Fohr
38.51" George Connor
38.64" Johnnie Parsons
39.01" Tony Bettenhausen
39.29" Hank Rogers
40.09" Milt Fankhauser
Did not start Mark Light Sparks-Weirick/Offenhauser mechanical (time trials)
Charley van Acker Lyons/Offenhauser mechanical (practice)
Ottis Stine Shelley/Offenhauser mechanical (practice)
Duke Dinsmore Ralph Miller mechanical (practice)
George Weaver Maserati mechanical (practice)
Bill Boyd Van Emerick/Offenhauser mechanical (practice)
Did not appear:
* Bill Holland (Kurtis/Offenhauser) driver elsewhere
*# (Tony Bettenhausen) (Kurtis/Offenhauser) ?
# (Duane Carter) Sparks-Weirick/Offenhauser did not arrive
George Lynch Boyle-Miller/Offenhauser did not arrive
* Eddie Zalucki (Sparks-Thorne/Offenhauser) ?
* Bill Gouse (Shelley/Offenhauser) ?
* Sam Hanks (Lencki/Offenhauser) ?
* Mel Hansen (Bowes/Offenhauser) driver injured
* Phil Catalina (Clancy/Offenhauser) ?
* alternative driver # alternative car
With ten of the seventeen starters inside the old track record in time trials, a fast race was in prospect, but before the engines could be fired for the 100 mile race, there was another commotion: drivers (Webb, Russo, Bettenhausen, Andres, plus Nalon, Marion and Agajanian?) strike, start delayed 35' spectators: Litz, Nalon, Milton, Shaw, Hulman weather: clear & cool, light wind
Narrowly pipped for his fifth pole position in the last six races at Syracuse, Mays was still intent on extending his winning streak at the track which went back to the beginning of the decade, hoping to become the first three-time winner of the event since Ralph de Palma (1920, '25 & '26), and took an immediate lead once the cars were released from starter Duke Dawson/Billy van de Water's orders. Russo soon disposed of Webb, but had a hard time following the flying yellow Kurtis/Offenhauser of Mays, who mowed down track records for five (3'16.71") and ten laps (6'32.97") with ease. Meanwhile, Wallard drew cheers from the crowd by first moving past Brown and then, around lap 15, by taking third place from the erstwhile pole sitter. At this, the race began to settle down somewhat, with Mays still leading rather comfortably, and though his average speed began to drop ever so slightly (16'34.18" at 25 laps), it was still almost twenty seconds under the existing track record. Russo, however, began to speed up noticeably, and in no time at all was up with the former champion, and by lap 36 past into the lead. Not only that, but he continued to go great guns, and by half distance (32'55.37") had upped the average again, about 50 seconds under the former record!
By now, Parsons had charged up the field and into fifth position, disposing of Brown, and already setting his sights on Webb. Over the next ten laps, he not only passed the new Bowes driver, but Wallard also, and with Mays beginning to fade because of tyre trouble, the race was coming alive again. In addition to the forward thrust of the championship leader, the track itself now became a centre of attention, as it began to break up rather badly, and consequently slowed down the cars as their tyres were desperately clawing for traction. The rough and dusty track took its toll on the drivers as well, and Emil Andres was into the pits, asking for relief, at which Tommy Hinnershitz, enjoying a weekend free of Sprint Car activity, stepped in to save the day for the only homestate team. Meanwhile, Parsons was continuing his climb, and by lap 65 was up into second, and closing in on the leader! Wallard delighted the crowd no end by relegating Mays to fourth place, but sadly, his engine gave out only a couple of laps later, although for Mays this proved the be only a short respite, as he was soon being passed by Webb, and out of the race altogether on lap 74.
About seven seconds adrift of the leader, Parsons now really had the bit between his teeth, but Russo was not about to give up easily, and for the next dozen laps or so, his advantage dwindled slowly, but surely, until the red Kurtis house car moved into the lead on lap 87, and that was that. Russo was in no position to retaliate, and Parsons ran out the laps very easily to a clear-cut victory. The diminutive Russo was a distant (and disappointed!) second, for the third time in less than two years, but Spider Webb was delighted with third place, his first top finish in a Champ Car. Walt Brown drove a consistent race in finishing fourth, a lap down, and was followed by George Connor and Myron Fohr, the latter keeping his championship hopes alive, if only by the slimmest of margins! There wasn't much time for celebration, nor for counting one's share of the $12,974 purse, as next on the menue was a 500-mile trip... not on a brick speedway, but on narrow two-lane highways heading west! The Michigan State Fairgrounds were back on the schedule, after an even longer break than Syracuse, but - unfortunately - for the very next day!
L5: 1 Mays 3'16.71" ®, 2 Russo, 3 Webb, 4 Wallard L10: 1 Mays 6'32.97" ®, 2 Russo, 3 Webb, 4 Wallard, 5 Brown L15: 1 Mays, 2 Russo, 3 Wallard, 4 Webb L20: 1 Mays, 2 Russo, 3 Wallard, 4 Webb, 5 Brown L25: 1 Mays 16'34.18" (R/was 16'51.90"), 2 Russo, 3 Wallard, 4 Webb, 5 Brown L35/41?: 1 Russo, 2 Mays L40: 1 Russo, 2 Mays, 3 Wallard, 4 Webb, 5 Parsons L43/59?: Hinnershitz for Andres L50: 1 Russo 32'55.37" (R/was 33'45.20/21"), 2 Mays, 3 Wallard, 4 Webb, 5 Parsons L60: 1 Russo, 2 Mays, 3 Parsons, 4 Wallard L65: 1 Russo, 2 Parsons, 3 Wallard, 4 Mays L70: 1 Russo, 2 Parsons (- 7"), 3 Webb, 4 Mays L75: 1 Russo, 2 Parsons, 3 Webb L85/87?: 1 Parsons
Final Results 1 Johnnie Parsons Kurtis/Offenhauser 1:09'36.52" (138 kph)
2 Paul Russo Kurtis/Offenhauser finished
3 Spider Webb Bowes/Offenhauser finished
4 Walt Brown Tuffanelli/Offenhauser 99 laps, flagged
5 George Connor Bromme/Offenhauser 99 laps, flagged
6 Myron Fohr Marchese/Offenhauser 98 laps, flagged
7 Duane Carter Kurtis/Offenhauser 97 laps, flagged
8 Jimmy Davies Clancy/Offenhauser 97 laps, flagged
9 Ottis Stine (Tony Bettenhausen) Lencki/Offenhauser 93 laps, flagged
10 Tommy Hinnershitz (Emil Andres) Kurtis/Offenhauser 93 laps, flagged
11 Johnny Mantz Kurtis/Offenhauser 92 laps, flagged
12 Hank Rogers Scopa/Offenhauser 91 laps, flagged
13 Buster Warke Walsh/Offenhauser 88 laps, flagged
Milt Fankhauser Hall/Offenhauser 82 laps
Rex Mays Kurtis/Offenhauser 73 laps, puncture
Lee Wallard Iddings/Offenhauser 67 laps, engine
George Fonder Sparks-Thorne/Offenhauser 44 laps
* starting driver # relief driver