Being at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend is like stepping back in time. There are more than 700 vintage cars, spanning a century, competing on the reconfigured, 2.43-mile road course. It is one of the largest competitive motorsports events ever held in the United States.
Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes, Formula 1, IndyCar, NASCAR and Le Mans cars are all getting the chance to wind their way through the Indy road course. Some will even get the chance to take laps around the world-famous oval.
To the casual fan, it might seem a little confusing, especially since just two weeks ago, the track was consumed by the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500, which showcases the modern Dallara DW12 chassis. There are more than 10 groups, or classifications, of cars running. Each group contains dozens upon dozens of cars, some classic and some a little more modern. They range from the early 1900s to the early 2000s.
It’s not every day that an Audi R8 Le Mans Prototype can be seen within walking distance of a 1909 Alco-6 Racer (the “Black Beast”). Fans wandering around the paddock and infield can get as close as possible and even interact with the drivers as much as they want. They can take pictures with the cars and pick up historical fact sheets about each one.
Former Indianapolis 500 drivers Bobby Unser, Parnelli Jones, Al Unser Jr., Willy T. Ribbs, Janet Guthrie and Robby Unser were among many Indy legends on hand Friday to give their thoughts on the event.
“I think it is phenomenal and I think it is going to grow into something bigger than it is today,” said Bobby U. (LEFT: second from left). The three-time 500 winner added that he thinks it attracts fans from every spectrum of the fan base, young and old.
“It is all types of cars here,” he noted. “I think it is something that people never get a chance to see, just never do. This is it.”
Friday brought non-stop qualifying as well as the first two races of the weekend.
The first race of the weekend included sports racers such as the Lola T70 MK II of the mid to late 1960s, the 1969 Chevrolet Corvette and the 1963 Shelby 289 Cobra.
A 1972 Porsche 914/6 driven by Frank Beck of was the overall winner in the Hawk Performance Vintage/Classic Enduro. A 1967 Porsche 911/S driven by Nicolas Clemence finished second and a 1998 Ford Mustang Cobra rounded out the podium for the 60-minute race.
The second race featuring the Historic GT/GTP cars lasted 90-minutes. The 2008 silver/red Audi R8 LMP driven by Travis Engen (BELOW) took the top spot on the podium. The white/red 1997 Porsche 911RS driven by Alex Welch finished second and the white 2007 Porsche GT3 Cup also driven by Beck finished third.
Top qualifiers for Saturday’s features included the blue 1970 Chevron B17b driven by Travis Engen, white/maroon 1961 Porsche 356 driven by George C. Balbach, blue 1966 Lola T70 MK II driven by Dan Cowdrey, 1969 red, white and blue Chevrolet Corvette driven by Peter Klutt, silver 1971 Chevrolet Camaro driven by Sean Ryan, red 1968 McLaren M6B driven by Jim Pace, blue/yellow 1970 Datsun 240Z driven by Kirk Blaha, white 2003 Chevrolet Camaro driven by Mike Mulcahy and the silver/red 2005 Audi R8 LMP driven by Travis Engen.
Saturday, fans will get to see high-speed laps on the oval, as well as the feature races for pre-war cars, series-produced sports cars and sedans in production prior to 1979, pre-1973 open-wheel cars, World Championship of Makes sports cars raced after 1970, under-liter sports cars as raced after 1972, Can-Am cars as raced after 1967, center-seat Can Am cars, Sports Car Club of America, ASR, BSR and Sports 2000, front engine “specials” as raced after 1959 and much more. For the full description of groups click here.
Sunday, 1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones will pace the field for the Indy Legends Charity Pro/Am race featuring Lyn St. James, Al Unser Jr., Jaques Lazier, Scott Goodyear, Willy T. Ribbs, Davey Hamilton and Buddy Lazier. Janet Guthrie also will be at the track for the Pro/Am race.
To purchase tickets, click here.
Racing a piece of art
The drivers of these pieces of art, whether the cars are 100 years old or 10 years old, would rather have them dirty, and possibly damaged, after a hard race than shiny and clean in a museum.
“It’s better to not have them in a museum and out on the racetrack where they want to be,” said Jon Jordan (LEFT, author photo), owner of a 1990 Ford Thunderbird, Wood Brothers stock car. “I think they want to be on the track, they want to be seen by the fans.”
Dale Jarrett and Neil Bonnett both drove the No. 21, orange and white CITGO-sponsored car, with Jarrett winning the Michigan 400 in it in 1991. Jordan said in the 1990s, after the car had seen its last lap, it was sitting in a field, forgotten.
“When they are done racing or making money, they just sit in fields, or if they have done something, a museum will get them. But, back in the ’90s, they just sat in fields,” he said, adding that a friend found the car and had it restored.
Paul Stinson, owner of a green and yellow 1963 Lotus Super 7 (RIGHT, author photo), said he also prefers to keep his classic car on the track and not safely tucked away in his garage.
“That is what it is for – we love showcasing it and we get more exposure than at a museum at one of these events, and we get to do it on the track, doing what it is supposed to do,” he said as we watched a young boy climb into the driver’s seat with an ear-to-ear smile. “We really love doing this stuff.”
Marianne “Pinkie” Rollo, one of the first female road racers, once tested in the Lotus Super 7. Stinson said that is probably one of the most interesting facts about the little car. This is the first time Stinson has ever been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It’s marvelous,” he said. “I am still just gob-smacked by the whole place. It’s just amazing.”
Stinson’s favorite moment of the weekend will come Sunday when he gets to run his Lotus on the world famous 2.5-mile oval.
“We are doing the oval on Sunday just to say we have been around the big racetrack. I am going to go home and tell people I did it and they are going to look at me like I’m crazy,” he said.
Next page: The star car/driver of the day
STAR CAR/DRIVER OF THE DAY
1909 Alco-6 Racer
Owner: Howard Kroplick
One would think that a 105-year-old piece of history would be sitting in a museum, under lock and key and behind nice velvet ropes. But, not the Alco-6 Racer (LEFT, author photo), better known as the “Black Beast.”
“It’s one thing to see it,” owner Howard Kroplick said. “It’s another thing to see and hear it, but it is a whole other thing to see it, hear it and watch it run.”
The car is one of few automobiles produced by the American Locomotive Company in Providence, R.I. It competed in 16 races, winning six of them from 1908-’11. Its maximum speed was 121mph and it has 60 horsepower.
The Beast features a 6-cylinder with 680.6 CID, 11.16 liters, “T” head engine with four-speed transmission. It has a maximum of 1,400 RPM, dual ignition and a Newcomb carburetor and Bosch magneto.
It won the 1910 Cobe Trophy Race at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway before running in the inaugural Indianapolis 500 and is the oldest car registered at the Brickyard Invitational by 20 years.
The Beast was running a solid ninth until a bearing failure forced it to retire from the race. It finished 33rd of 40 drivers. The Alco returns to IMS three years after it ran 68mph while being driven by two-time Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi (BELOW, LAT photo).
Roslyn, N.Y. native Kroplick gets the car out any chance he can, and he isn’t afraid to take people for a ride.
As cameras flashed and people stood in awe, Kroplick muscled the 3,306-pound Beast through a three-point turn in the paddock area of IMS on Friday.
“Power steering,” he said sarcastically as he strained to turn the wheel. The aging masterpiece creaked and groaned, but managed the turn and accelerated with force.
“I think I have been on about every camera here today,” he said as we turned around in the paddock area.
Kroplick hit the gas and the car took a noticeable, and surprisingly powerful, leap forward. It’s massive engine roared, almost loud enough to force the driver to wear earplugs.
Despite its age, Kroplick said the car holds up pretty well, but sometimes, the wrinkles begin to show.
“It’s 105 years old – something is constantly breaking down, so we make new pieces,” he said. “The dealership closed down in 1913.”
Soon the wheels will need to be taken off, repaired and possibly replaced. However, he still encourages people to sit in it and take pictures whenever they get a chance.
“Kids especially, so they can get a feel for it,” he said.
The car will get to participate in the oval laps Saturday, but Kroplick isn’t trying to hit 70mph again.
“We are going to do a parade lap. We have a new braking system in there so I don’t want to try and break any speed records,” he said. “I think it could do 100mph if you were crazy enough to do it.”
Kroplick joked that the lack of safety restraints and doors makes him just a bit apprehensive when it comes to speeding up the Beast.
The car is so popular that The History Channel featured it in a mini-series called “The Men Who Built America.” Kroplick, who portrayed Alexander Winton in the 1901 sweepstakes race between Whinton and Henry Ford in the show, says he is going to drive the Alco as long as he can.
“The one thing I like the most is driving it around,” he said as fans couldn’t help but stop and snap a photo with the “Black Beast.”