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The 79th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1995 saw Jacques Villeneuve take his first win in what was Champ Car’s final visit; from then on Indy Racing League would claim the famed Brickyard race. However, the race will be forever remembered not for the fiery Canadian’s achievement, but as the one where Stan Fox had that crash.
Going into turn one, lap one, Fox’s racecar cut loose and slid up the track, collecting the #14 racecar of Eddie Cheever before slamming hard into the wall. The impact shattered much of the racecar, including everything in front of Fox, and caused it to spin and launch skyward. As the racecar flew backwards Fox’s legs dangled, completely exposed, although amazing they suffered little damage, just bruising where his heel hit Cheever’s rear wing. The violent force of the crash, however, left him with serious head injuries which placed him in a coma for five days. Fox would recover, although he never raced again.
Had Fox not collided with Cheever’s racecar first the impact with the wall would surely have been fatal. Cheever said of it later, “If my job was to help make Stan’s impact a little softer then I was glad to be there.”
Considered by many as one of the worst crashes in the history of the Brickyard, it is almost impossible to believe that Fox survived. Tragically he died aged 48, killed in a road traffic accident in New Zealand in 2000.
My thanks to champcar4ever for posting this amazing footage on YouTube.7 comments
Gasoline has not been used in American’s premiere open wheel racecars for over forty years. Instead, the fastest racing on the planet has been powered by methanol, a fuel made from natural gas. One benefit of methanol over gasoline is that it is more environmentally friendly, but this has little to do with the initial decision to switch. It is also less volatile than gasoline, and therefore potentially safer in the event of an accident, and that was the key in the wake of 1964’s Indianapolis 500.
On lap two of the prestigious (then USAC sanctioned) 500-mile race, rookie driver Dave McDonald crashed his Ford Thompson into the wall, causing the fuel tank to rupture and the gasoline to ignite. With the race less than 5 miles in, McDonald had a nearly full tank, meaning approximately 70 gallons would feed the inferno.
McDonald’s flaming racecar then collected the racecar of the affable Eddie Sachs, a firm favorite with the crowd. Before the smoke cleared, a further five racecars would be involved, and Eddie Sachs would lose his life. McDonald would die later that same day in hospital from the injuries he received.
USAC ordered the switch to methanol, a decision that carried over to Champ Car when it was formed in the late 1970s, and subsequently the Indy Racing League (IRL) upon its inception in 1996.
While methanol fueled engines have driven America’s open wheel racecars and enjoyed support from Ford, Chevrolet, Honda, Toyota and others along the way, it is not seen as the future of motoring. Methanol is both a natural resource and expensive to produce, which doesn’t make it viable as a domestic replacement to gasoline. This issue is one being tackled by the IRL.
In 2006 the IRL used a fuel mixture of 90% methanol and 10% ethanol. Ethanol is a green fuel that is made from grain, and is thus a renewable fuel source. In 2007 the IRL will switch to 100% ethanol, and May’s Memorial Day weekend will see the first Indy 500 run entirely on a renewable and sustainable fuel.
Critics of ethanol say it isn’t the future of domestic motoring as its implementation is financially infeasible, while supporters claim their figures do add up, the cost of producing grain for fuel being far less than that of grain for foodstuffs. And while a standard car engine cannot run on ethanol, manufacturers like Fiat and Renault have developed engines that can use either fuel.
One factor that cannot be argued is production. Within the next two years the USA should be producing around 9 billion gallons of ethanol per year, while the annual requirement for gasoline is 150 billion gallons. More and more cars will be produced that run on ethanol, or can run on both fuels, and ethanol is likely to claim a share of the gasoline market, but the day it may become the fuel of choice is far from dawning.
1964’s fateful Indianapolis 500: http://indymotorspeedway.com/500d-64.htm
Ethanol Promotion and Information Council: http://www.drivingethanol.org
IndyCar Series Ethanol Page: http://www.indycar.com/tech/ethanol.php
Renault Clio Hi-Flex: http://www.renault.co.uk/NMNewsItemDisplay.aspx?nid=138&nc=10
YouTube Clip of 1964’s Indianapolis 500390 comments
In 2001 the newly opened Rockingham Motor Speedway, the UK’s first (and only) oval racing facility, was to host round 17 of Champ Car’s schedule. Nigel Mansell promoted the track on TV, the tickets sold well (although not well enough, according to Champ Car) and UK racing fans braced themselves for the arrival of the fastest racing on earth.
Prior to the UK the teams were in German for round 16 at the Lausitzring on 15 September. Four days earlier the towers had fallen, and while the UK was in a state of shock and solemnity, it could only be guessed how little Champ Car’s Americans and adopted Americans wanted to be overseas at that time.
The race at the Lausitzring only added to the general mood when Alex Zanardi suffered a horrific accident. While he would ultimately lose his legs, Zanardi was still in a coma when the teams arrived in the UK, and his chances of survival were unclear.
At the race, prayers were said for the victims of 9/11, while the racecars displayed support for both the victims of terrorism and the stricken Zanardi.
The black clouds that loomed were not just metaphorical. Rain had washed out qualifying, and even though the rain had stopped the race was in doubt. A design fault with the track meant that rain from the sodden foundations came up through its surface. The crowd soon learned what a seeper was, and also what a fleet of jet dryers sound like.
Yet the race went ahead. The teams had run a few practice laps, their first ever laps at the circuit. (The square design is unlike any circuit that Champ Cars run, so initial settings and gearing was a calculated guess.) The jets had cleared the standing water, and the green flag was finally in the air.
Despite the gloom, and under a grey sky, Rockingham was finally hosting the UK’s first ever Champ Car race. It was watched with heavy hearts, but it may have been a welcome diversion for some. And the ending? Up there with the best the UK has ever seen.11 comments
On 28 October 2000 at the sunbaked California Speedway, Penske Racing’s Gil de Ferran was looking to clinch the championship in the last race of the season. He needed a good qualifying lap in his Marlboro sponsored Honda for next day’s Marlboro 500.
It was better than good. It was smoking.
de Ferran’s first timed lap around the circuit posted an average speed of 241.428 MPH, claiming pole and the closed course world record. Clearly there was no need to run the second lap. He went on to finish third, half a second behind leader Christian Fittipaldi, and that was good enough for the crown.
After decades of pushing the limits, Champ Car, Indy Car, F1 and NASCAR have all taken measures to slow the machines down in the interests of safety. Watching de Ferran driving at over 4 miles per minute the concern for safety is clear. It also means that this record is unlikely to ever be contested.
de Ferran retired from racing at the end of 2003. Considered by many as the greatest champion F1 never had, the likeable Brazilian has among other things, 2 Champ Car titles to his name and a win at the illustrious Indy 500.
He is also the fastest racing driver you will ever see.13 comments
Richard Petty’s crash in the 1988 Daytona 500 is one of the most famous in the history of the sport. After flipping, rolling and spinning, parts from the famous #43 car are strewn all along the front stretch. Petty was uninjured for the most part, although he did suffer temporary loss of sight due to the number of extreme forces exerted on him.
The incident was recreated almost faithfully for Pixar’s 2006 movie Cars, when racecar The King (voiced by Richard Petty) crashes out. Note that the YouTube clip has no sound.
In 1979 American TV network ABC became the first to show a NASCAR race in its entirity with the season opening Daytona 500. Donnie Allison (brother of Bobby) and Cale Yarborough made sure it would long remain in the memory of those who tuned in, first by their tough fight for the lead, and second by starting a fight after wrecking. Keeping it in the family, Donnie enjoyed a helping hand as Bobby joined in the brawl. While NASCAR obviously doesn’t condone this kind of behaviour, it sure didn’t hurt the viewing figures.177 comments
When Bill France gave stock car racing the 2.5 mile Daytona International Speedway in 1959, the corners were banked at 31 degrees to create the fastest racing ever seen. The cars were genuine stock cars, straight off the dealers’ forcecourts, and Bob Welborn claimed the first ever Daytona 500 pole with a lap at 140.1 MPH.
Bill France’s second superspeedway, the Alabama International Speedway, opened ten years later, measuring 2.66 miles and with banking between 32 and 33 degrees in the corners.
The layout led to the highest speeds ever seen in NASCAR, and the pole was claimed by Charlie Glotzbach at 199.5 MPH. Tyre comapnies were afraid that their rubber wouldn’t hold up, and some drivers (including the King, Richard Petty) boycotted the race on the grounds it wasn’t safe.
Alabama International Speedway remained (it would be renamed Talladega Speedway in 1989), and in 1982 Benny Parsons became the first person ever to qualify a stock car at over 200 MPH (200.175).
Year on year the speeds increased, and in 1987 Bill Elliot claimed pole at nearly 213 MPH (212.809). It remains the official fastest ever qualifying or race lap in a stock car, and is a record unlikely to be beaten due to another event that same weekend.
During the race Bobby Allison suffered a puncture, and his Buick LeSabre was hurled into the safety fence at over 200 MPH. The fence did its job and nobody was injured, but the fence sustained heavy damage, and it seemed clear that if these speeds persisted, sooner or later a racecar would go through (or over) the fence with tragic consequences.
NASCAR introduced restrictor plates for use only at Daytona and Talladega. They reduce the BHP of the racecars considerably. The fastest qualifying speed for the last Talladega race in 2006 was 191.712, while the cars can clip 200 MPH during the race by drafting.
Opinion on restrictor plate racing, and whether the superspeedways should remove some of their banking is divided. What isn’t uncertain is that Daytona will remain.
YouTube clip of Bobby Allison’s crash in 1987 that forever changed the face of superspeedway racing.137 comments