Junk Formula 1926-1938 (cont.-7) THE 1931-1935 AAA RULE SPECIFICATIONS AND GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS. PART III. During the years 1931 to 1935 inclusive all AAA National Championship events required two-man vehicles; and accompaning riding mechanics were mandatory in all Championship level contests, with no exceptions. Engines were limited to 366 cubic inches and suoercharging was totally banned on all four cycle motors. This formula had been introduced at Indianapolis in 1930 but only three other 1930 Championship races used it that year in this strict form, i.e. Detroit and the two events held at Altoona. Four valves per cylinder but no more, and one carburetor for every two cylinders were allowed again, beginning in 1931. Fuel restriction limits were used at Indianapolis in 1934, for the first time ever, and the competitors were limited to 45 gallons for the full 500 mile distance. In 1935 the fuel limit was cut to 42 1/2 gallons. The oil limit for both 1934 and 1935 was 6 1/2 gallons and no oil could be added, after the race had started.
Straight 8 type Miller motors continued to dominant the AAA National Championship circuit during the 1930-1933 seasons. They won 16 of the 22 Championship races staged from 1930 to 1933.The six exceptions were (1-2.) A Miller "marine" 151 four, used by Shaw at Detroit (June 9, 1930) and at Bridgeville (July 4, 1930); (3.) a Miller "marine" 183 cubic inch 4 used by Cantlon at Akron (June 22, 1930); (4.) a straight 8 Duesenberg at Syracuse (Sept. 6, 1930); (5.) a straight 8, 243 cubic inch, Duesenberg at Altoona in a 25 miler (Sept. 7, 1931); and (6.) a 220 cubic inch Miller 4 at Roby (June 19, 1932). It is worth pointing out here that Wilbur Shaw won the Syracuse 100 of August 31, 1929 using a 151 cubic inch Miller "marine" 4. The Miller marine 151 four was originally designed in 1926 for use in powerboat racing. Canton's motor at Akron was a 151 model also, but it had been enlarged to 183 cubic inches.
The Great Depression was now, i.e. 1931-33, having a large negative effect on AAA Championship racing, as money became harder and harder to come by. For 1934 and 1935 all seven AAA Championship contest held were won by four cylinder engines. A four cylinder motor was cheaper to manufacture and build, was easier to work on and assemble, and even to mend and repair. The reason was simple, it had less moving parts. In late 1930/early 1931 Leo Goossen designed a 200 cubic inch Miller 4 for automobile racing proper, using what had been learned from the Miller marine fours used by Wilbur Shaw/and mechanic Floyd Smith in 1929; and Shorty Cantlon/and his car owner Bill White in 1930. This 200 cubic inch Miller was very quickly upped to 220, and in early 1933 again to 255 cubic inches. The Miller 255 was the direct and immediate link to the Offenhauser 255. Louie Meyer always said, and maintained ever after, that the early AAA Championship Offenhauser fours of 1935 and 1936 were actually and really, just Millers.
All the winners at Indianapolis and of the AAA National Championship Title during 1930 to 1933 used Miller straight 8's. At Indianapolis it was Billy Arnold (1930), Lou Schneider (1931), Fred Frame (1932) and Louie Meyer (1933). The AAA National Championship Driving Crown was taken by Arnold (1930), Schneider (1931), Bob Carey (1932), and L. Meyer (1933) using straighr 8 Millers, but everything quickly changed in 1934 and 1935. The Miller and Offenhauser 4's really took over after 1933. Bill Cummings and Kelly Petillo, in the same year, won both the Indy 500 and the AAA National Driving Title, using 4 cylinder engines. Cummings did this trick with a 220 Miller in 1934, and Petillo achieved the same in 1935 with a 262.4 cubic inch Offenhauser. Kelly's motor was a slighty enlarged Offenhauser 255.
During 1931-1935 most of the new cars aimed at simplicity and low cost, in harmony with the times. U.S. racing engineering and technology remained conservative and stagnate. For instance, chassis development was totally nil, during this era. A front wheel drive vehicle however won Indy in 1930, for the first time ever, and front drive cars won again in 1932 and 1934. Front drive had been introduced to the Speedway by Harry Miller in 1925.
Actually Rickenbacker's junk formula of 1930-1935 was, in reference to the stock block powered vehicles, a failure. The stock block cars couldn't really compete at all effectively with all the pure bred, light weight, and more powerful thoroughbred racing equipment, which was still allowed to run unrestricted. The best placement for a stock block car at Indianapolis during 1930-1935, was a 3rd in 1932, i.e. a factory backed Studebaker driven by Cliff Bergere. Likewise on the AAA Championship trail itself only one win was recorded. A modified Duesenberg straight 8 Model A passenger car engine won a 25 miler at Altoona on Sept. 7, 1931, but that was all.
It was during 1931-35 that the only genuine factory team from the U.S. auto industry proper made its appearance. This was the Studebaker team of 1932 and 1933 at Indianapolis. In 1932 their highest placement was 3rd with Bergere. In 1933 their highest finish was 7th for the factory team but Studebaker powered machinery filled up the 6th through 12th finishing placements. The Studebaker factory team also entered the AAA non-Championship 203 mile road race held Elgin on August 26, 1933. This Elgin event was won by Phil Shafer (1891-1971), in his stock block engined Buick/Rigling, at 88.34 mph. The best placement for a factory Studebaker at Elgin was 6th, as piloted by Dave Evans (1898-1974), among the 14 starters.
In 1935 there was a quasi-official Ford entry which was financed by interested owners of Ford auto dealerships. Preston Tucker had talked Edsel Ford into this venture. An hitherto idle (i.e. mid-1933-1934) Harry A. Miller was enlisted to design these cars, which were built in Detroit. Ten Miller-Fords were quickly put together and constructed, four qualified at Indianapolis, and none finished. These Miller Fords showed real promise and some novel ideas but needed much more testing, before being put into actual competition. Many years later Art Sparks said, "You just can't design and build a race car overnight. The independent suspension, the streamlined enclosure for the springs, and the chassis, were advanced ideas. Harry Miller deserved better than a failure for the project." (Source: SPEEDWAY: HALF A CENTURY OF RACING WITH ART SPARKS by Gene Banning, (1983), page 143.)
In 1984 I was talking to Lloyd "Shorty" Barnes. Barnes had worked for Harry Miller, was a good friend of Wilbur Shaw, was a mechanic on Howdy Wilcox II's 1932 Indianapolis entry (it placed 2nd), worked for Sparks at Thorne Engineering, and on the Gulf Miller cars. Mr. Barnes starting telling me about 1936 AAA Championship racing season. "In 1936 I was the mechanic on Billy Winn's car when he won two races, one at Springfield and one at Syracuse." I knew he was actually talking about the year 1935 but I said nothing because I wanted to hear what Barnes had to say. He continued, "Harry Miller was broke and down and out, but he had in his possession a 255 Miller four racing engine. Billy Winn had a Duesenberg racing chassis, but no motor. So the two pooled their resources and installed the Miller 255 in Winn's Duesenberg chassis and we won at Springfield and Syracuse!"
I talked at length to Mark Dees both before and after he published his MILLER DYNASTY (1981) book, but I never told Dees this story. I thought I would keep it for myself and use it when convenient. I got mentioned twice in the 2nd edition of Dees' (1994) classic Miller book on pages 13 and 559. How luckly can one get! For some reason Dees always called me "Jack" instead of "John", maybe an unconscious remembrace of Jack Prince, the board track builder.
Fred Duesenberg had retired from the sport in 1931 but his brother August or "Augie", struggled on until he too quit, in 1934. August's last appearance at Indianapolis, as an actual participant, was 1934 with driver Joe Russo. Russo died, less than two weeks later, on June 10 from injuries sustained in a Langhorne 50 miler run the previous day. On this occasion Russo was piloting a car owned by Lou Moore. This was the end of the Duesenbergs in AAA Championship racing. Harry Miller's fortunes fell also. He was the largest and almost the only race car builder in America but he went bankrupt in July 1933. In 1934, various individuals who now needed new motors, i.e. Frank Brisko, Louie Meyer, and Art Sparks, had to built their own replica Miller 4's, as nothing now could be obtained from Miller himself.
The engine part of Mr. Miller's business was taken over in late 1933, in lieu of back wages owed, by his former and longtime shop foreman, Fred Offenhauser. However, Fred did not apparently construct any motors for the AAA Championship division in 1934. In 1935 Fred started building four cylinder 255 cubic inch engines of the Miller type design and construction. In 1937 this basic and tested design was upped to 270 cubic inches to become the famous and venerable "270" Offenhauser 4. Although in the early 1930's Miller built 8's and 4's, and their close copies or replicas, dominated AAA Championship racing, Mr. Miller himself was largely out of the picture after his business failure of July 1933.
Offenhauser made engines only and so others were enlisted to construct the chassis. The leading names in this area were Myron Stevens (an ex-chassis man for Miller 1922-1927); Herman Rigling (ex-chassis man for the Duesenbergs); Clyde Adams, Phil Summers, Ernest "Ernie" Weil, and Louis "Curly" Wetteroth. Stevens had quit Harry Miller in 1927 to go to work on Frank Lockhart's ill fated Land Speed Record car. Thus began the still existing dichotomy between the motor designer/developer/manufacture and the body/chassis/suspension maker. The year 1930 is the real year of demarcation here, for before 1930, the engine/chassis maker was nominally and usually the same. And in addition Harry Miller too, never made any chassis either, for his 200, 220, and 255 four cylinder motors, produced during 1931 to early 1933. These engines were all sold as separate items.
After the sudden demise of the board ovals (1927-1931) what had the AAA to fall back on? Not much except for some one mile flat dirt tracks built mostly for horse racing originally and located at annual State Fair sites. Such dirt ovals existed at Detroit, Milwaukee, Springfield, and Syracuse. Already by 1928 the AAA had started holding Championship events again on the dirt tracks because of the scarcity of board ovals and that year, two Championship 100 mile dirt races were staged: one at Detroit (June 10) and the other at Syracuse (Sept. 1). It was true that there did exist a few large dirt speedways in the 1930's built exclusively for automobile and motorcycle racing, but these ovals were very few and far between. Roby near the Chicago area (built 1920), Langhorne (built 1926), Oakland (built 1931), and Altoona-Tyrone (1 1/4 mile dirt track, built 1935) seems to exhaust the list. The Roby, Oakland, and Altoona-Tyrone dirt ovals staged only one genuine AAA Championship contest each, in their entire existence, i.e. Roby on June 19,1932; Oakland on November 13, 1932; and Altoona-Tyrone on September 7, 1935. Langhorne ran just two AAA Championship races during the junk era proper (i.e. 1930-1937), i.e. on May 3, 1930 and October 13, 1935. Both of these 1930 and 1935 Langhorne AAA Championship event were promoted by Ralph A. Hankinson.
After 1929, most AAA Championship contests tended to be 100 milers run on flat one mile dirt ovals, right up to the expiration of the Contest Board in racing, in late 1955. Dirt track racing is rough, tough, dirty, dangerous, and relatively slow moving in terms of mph. It took real men to wrestle and guide these big dirt track machines around the rugged, dusty, gutted, and dirty one mile non-paved ovals at average speeds of 70 to 84 mph, over the 100 mile distance. The best of the "dirt" AAA Championship pilots during 1931-1935 were Bill Cummings, Mauri Rose, Wilbur Shaw, Lou Schneider, and Billy Winn. But whatever it is, dirt track racing is hardly a very refined or a great aesthetic experience. It may be very gutsy (it is) and it may also have a small group of rabid followers, but it can never be made glamorous to the public at large.
A stock block powered "Junk Formula" car never won an AAA Championship race. Russell Snowberger, with his Studebakers, came the closest with 2nd position finishes at the Detroit 100 (June 9, 1930), the Akron 100 (June 22, 1930), the Bridgeville 100 (July 4, 1930), and at the Springfield 100 (August 8, 1934).
In sum, the Depression did dire damage to the sport in the U.S. and real recovery would not take place until the early 1960's, when the rear engine car revolution took place. In 1932 the AAA Contest Board put together a semblance of a new National Championship dirt track circuit to replace the old board track schedule, and to accompany and compliment the Indianapolis 500 mile race, but even this proved too much for the following time period of 1934-1941.
Edited by john glenn printz, 01 December 2010 - 16:00.