Now, you remember when I was talking about racing jeeps on Okinawa and I said that thereís no way to separate stock cars and cheating? Well, honestly, I hadnít forgotten that lesson. I knew Iíd managed to drive the dragon back into his cave at Bradford Speedway for a while, but it was still a dragon, and it was still in its cave. Unless something were done, it was bound to come out again sooner or later.
This was one of those places where it was nice that I was also an auto shop teacher, because I heard things that I might not have heard otherwise, things that Smoky might not hear, especially where it involved the Junior Stock class.
I think I knew that the dragon was poking its nose out of the cave one day along in the winter when Phil Sharp came up to me while I was a lunchroom monitor. "Mr. Austin," he said, "Iíve got a question for you."
"Fine, maybe I can help you," I told him. "Whatís your question?"
"Well, Iím thinking about getting into the Junior Stock class next year," he said. "Whatís the fastest legal car out there? I mean, thereís no point in having to start with something that wonít get out of its own way."
"No question about it," I told him. "Find yourself a Hudson Hornet. It at least needs to have the Twin H-Power carbs on it. I seem to recall that í53 is the first year they had the 7X tuning package available, so itíd be legal if you could find one, which I doubt."
"Youíre kidding!" he said. "A fat old Hudson?"
"A fat old Hudson," I nodded. "You remember last season when the Mansfield kid got caught with that Stovebolt Six his dad had bored out to 308 cubic inches for him?"
"Yeah, I remember," he replied with what can only be described as a big old shit-eating grin.
"A 308 is what the Hornet came with stock. A flathead, but if you know me you know I have a soft spot for flatheads. It wouldnít be any trick to get it to 200 horsepower and still be legal, and maybe even more if you find that 7X tuning package. Plus the Hornet was lighter and handled better than anything else in its time, except maybe for a Nash."
"A Nash?" he said. "Mr. Austin, youíre pulling my leg."
"No, Iím not," I grinned. "You knew I drove in the race on the beach at Daytona one time, didnít you?"
"Yeah, I guess I knew it."
"That was a í51 Nash," I told him. "The guy who won the race was driving a Hudson Hornet. The point is, those big sixes were whipping on the heavy V8s of the day pretty solidly. If you wind up with a Nash, get a Statesman, rather than the Ambassador, itís smaller and lighter, but has the same engine. Get one with the twin carb package. It probably isnít as easy to hop up legally as the Hornet but itíll do pretty well."
"All right," he said. "I guess Iíll have to visit some junk yards."
"If you wind up getting one, let me know and Iíll tell you what you can do to it legally."
I really didnít worry much about the conversation at the time, but I sure thought about it a lot afterward. Once I thought it all out, it became clear that we were going to have a tech war heating up in the Junior Stock class.
Iím told that once upon a time there used to be a sign on the wall of a speed shop that read, "Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go?" Right next to it was another sign, "The only way to beat cubic inches is with rectangular money." The Junior Stock class was supposed to be a cheap class, but there was a lot of wiggle room in those lax rules.
If youíre not technically minded, just go ahead and skip ahead a few paragraphs, but hang with me if you can. To get right down to the basics, for the most part the power an engine puts out depends on how much air you can get through the engine. A bigger engine with more displacement will move more air and fuel mixture through it, which means more power. Itís as simple as that, but in the simplicity are a great many complexities. If thereís some reason you canít have more displacement, like a size limit, then the next thing you can do to move more air through an engine is to turn it faster. An engine moves more air/fuel mixture through it the faster it turns. However when you turn an engine tighter it starts to put more stress on various components, and sooner or later things start to break. Thatís just as true with the little six cylinder engines we used to have in the Junior Stocks as it is for the fastest NASCAR Chevy on the track today. The only difference is that the NASCAR Chevy has higher quality Ė meaning more expensive Ė components that will stand up to hours of high RPM quite a bit better than the factory stock stuff that youíd find in your early-fifties Stovebolt Six intended for a car that was basically a grocery-getter.
When Glenn Mansfield Ė I doubted that Bert had the technical knowledge or resources to do it Ė bored out that Stovebolt 261 and stuck a stroker crank into it, he was taking the easy route to higher horsepower. Unfortunately for him, it was also the easiest cheat to detect so long as I had a father-in-law with easy access to a P&G meter. But there are plenty of other less detectable things you can to do to hop up an engine, and many of them are even legal, like getting a car that came stock with a big engine in the first place Ė like a Hudson Hornet.
One of them is to just "blueprint" the engine. Iíd done that with the 66ís engine back over ten years before when I put in the maximum legal oversized pistons, along with a few other things that can be done by a good machinist. You can mill down the head to increase the compression ratio like Carnie did to that Jeep back on Okinawa. Even with the head off to be measured itís not the easiest thing to detect, and within reason itís going to be quasi-legal anyway.
A hotter cam, like Iíd added to the 66ís engine in later years isnít exactly legal. A good tech inspector back in those days could tell by the way the engine ran that it had a cam with nonstandard lift and timing, but proving it could be another story unless it was way beyond stock. That cam makes the valves open farther and stay open longer, which allows more air-fuel mix to move through the combustion chamber, which is what youíre trying to accomplish.
Now all this stuff can be done, and in fact is commonly done, perhaps more commonly done in those days than it is today because the engines today are more complicated and harder to work on. But it isnít cheap Ė it takes a reasonably equipped automotive machine shop, along with a machinist who knows what heís doing. Junior Stock was supposed to be a simple beginnerís racing class that was cheap and easy to get into and run, but it looked to me like it wasnít going to stay that way. Thinking back again, this was the same kind of thing that happened among midgets when the Kurtis Kraft Offys came out, and was what drove Frank and Spud into starting the MMSA in the first place.
In any case, to get back to the story, what Phil had told me was that people were working on their engines and didnít plan to be caught by Tom and his P&G meter. While it was legal and in one way commendable Ė and what racers do, anyway Ė it sort of violated the spirit of the Junior Stock class. Whatís more, there wasnít much I could do about it, at least not without having Tom and Willy at the track every week.
Now that Phil had inadvertently given me the alert, I did a little quiet asking around, and two or three other kids at Bradford High had cars in the Junior Stock division. Don Boies came right out and told me that heíd heard that there was a lot of engine work going on; he had his Plymouth for sale on the strength of winning the second season championship, and was gutting a Hornet for the next season. From what he picked up through the grapevine, he wasnít the only one, either.
After several days of poking around on it, I decided that the time had come for some decisions to be made. As far as I could see, there was only one way to keep some sort of control on the engines in the class Ė and that was to reach deep into Spud McElroyís bag of tricks.
One Saturday a couple weeks after Phil had come to me, I made it over to Kayís Restaurant for breakfast one Saturday morning. I laid the whole problem out in front of Smoky, some of the things that Iíd learned. "If it gets out of hand, I canít control it, and itís going to ruin the class," I summarized.
"Yeah," Smoky said. "I donít hear stuff from the same circles that you do, but I hear stuff anyway. It all leads to the same conclusion. A little bird told me that Glenn has a 235 Chevy six sitting up in a speed shop in Detroit getting all sorts of cute little things done to it. It wonít really be legal, but it wonít be easy to detect, either. It wonít be cheap, either. My little bird tells me he has a couple big ones into the mill already and he ainít done yet."
"Good God," I shook my head. "Will you or someone please tell me what he intends to accomplish by putting that much cash into a Junior Stock car? Hell, Bert could win every heat and every race of the season and Glenn wonít get a tenth of the money back in payouts."
"Beats the hell out of me," Smoky shook his head. "About all I can tell you is that Glenn likes to win, and he doesnít like to lose. In fact, heíll go damn far out of his way and spend lots of money to keep from losing."
"Has to be something like that," I agreed. "It couldnít be anything rational. Maybe he thinks heís accomplishing something, but all heís teaching his kid is that if you have drag and money to cheat enough, you can win."
"Might be some truth to that," Smoky nodded. "You know what happened with Bertís older brother John and the football coach. In fact you probably know more about it than I do. You want my guess, this is the same thing."
"Youíre probably right," I agreed. "I know that Glenn was about ready to kill Ed Snyder because of it."
"Oh, yeah," he smiled. "Glenn was a mite worked up about that. But thatís beside the point. What are we going to do to keep things from getting out of hand?"
"I have an idea," I told him. "Itís not quite as clean and assured as a good tech inspection, but at least it will equalize competition, and that includes the kids driving Hornets with the 7X engine packages as well as people like Glenn."
"Iím just about sold already, if itíll work," Smoky smiled. "What do you have in mind?"
"What if I donít tell you?" I grinned. "The way to keep a secret is to not tell anyone. Itíll work a lot better if we spring it on people, rather than let them know itís coming. We might even want to run a race or two before we institute it, just so we can see if our fears are justified."
"Now youíve really got me curious," he grinned. "What do I have to do?"
"You havenít published rule sheets for next year, have you?" I laughed and pulled a piece of paper from my pocket. "All you have to do is to include this in the Junior Stock rules."
Smoky glanced at the paper, then replied, "This doesnít tell me anything. ĎThe management reserves the right to equalize output by the use of issued control devices.í Whatís that supposed to mean?"
"Everything and nothing, which is exactly what itís supposed to mean," I told him. "What it really means is that we can make a key rule change on a momentís notice if weíre prepared for it. Could be that we never have to do it, but itís there to allow it. And I wouldnít bet on not having to do it with Glenn Mansfieldís kid racing."
"Yeah, but what are issued control devices?" he asked. "Worse, how much are they going to cost?"
"There are ways," I said obliquely. "The cost will be nothing if I can borrow a few parts from time to time to get some measurements."
"I sure wish the hell I knew what youíre up to," he smiled. "But it looks interesting. I was going to work on the rule sheets in the next couple weeks anyway, so I guess I can add that."
As I recall, that was along about November and racing didnít start up again until the second half of May. That gave me all winter to do what I needed to do, although I could have done it in an afternoon if Iíd had to.
By now youíve probably figured out that what I was going to pull out of Spudís bag of tricks were restrictor plates like we used to use in the MMSA. Spud really had it easier, since he only had to have plates for one kind of carburetor, a Stromberg 97. It was pretty clear I was going to have to have ones for half a dozen different carbs, but at least I only had to have two hole sizes, one for the single carb engines, and the other for the dual carb jobs. Like I said, they were a pretty good solution for the Junior Stocks, but not a perfect one, because some engines were going to react better or worse to the restrictor plates than others. But they got right back to what I was talking about a little while ago Ė they limited the amount of air going through an engine. One of those 308-inch jobs, even Mansfieldís cheater Stovebolt, could only pass about the same amount of air as the smallest engine in the field, which I seem to recall was a 196. In fact, the 196 might even run better than the 308 since it wasnít being so strangled. It also didnít give the kid with the two thousand-dollar engine any real advantage over a grocery-getter engine that had been in the junkyard two nights ago and had only had fresh plugs and points installed.
Restrictor plates have come and gone over the years. They were supposed to have been invented by some English guy in the mid-sixties, but Spud and Frank had been using them on MMSA Midgets fifteen years before, so I know thereís no truth to that. They were used at Indianapolis for a while back when you had a mix of supercharged and unsupercharged engines, along with the odd gas turbine to keep life interesting. Theyíre a little notorious in NASCAR today, where theyíre only used at two tracks, Daytona and Talladega, to keep speeds down to something less than a fighter plane on a good day. The common wisdom is that drivers hate them, because they equalize engine performance and tend to keep cars bunched up. But Iíll tell you what Ė that produces some of the most exciting racing youíll ever see in NASCAR. I donít know why they have seats at those tracks because the fans are standing up and yelling all the time. I didnít have the benefit of that hindsight at the time because this was before those things happened, but Iíd only run one race in my life without a restrictor plate on my engine, and that was on Okinawa. That told me enough to know that they tended to bring driver skills out and minimize engine differences.
Like I told Smoky, building them was no trick Ė all it took was some flat plate, a grinder, and a drill press with a fly cutter, along with some time. In those days it wasnít real warm working in my shop in the winter, but on nice afternoons when I wasnít doing anything else I sometimes went out to the shop, built a big fire in the wood stove, and went to work on my little gadgets, using carburetor gaskets Iíd borrowed from Smoky for templates. Like Spud, I put a serial number on each one with a die, just so I could keep track of who had what. I also added another little trick beyond what Spud did, which was to paint each of the plates with high temperature paint. This wasnít for appearance, but so you could see if someone had been filing on the hole to increase its size a little.
May and the season opener eventually rolled around. Like Iíd told Smoky back in November, I thought it was a good idea to not tip our hand at the first race, just so weíd have a chance to see what we were dealing with. I figured that everyone pretty well had the message, but just to keep life interesting I managed to talk Tom and Willy to coming over from Schererville to help me with teching, and to bring the P&G meter, just in case.
I was just surprised as hell to see nearly fifty Junior Stock cars show up! And if you think I was surprised, you should have seen Smoky Ė it was the largest class entry heíd had in years. He was just about fluttering to see that many cars out there. Many of the cars were familiar, the old Chevys and Dodges and stuff weíd seen the year before, but there were no less than eight Hudson Hornets, four Nash Statesmen and a couple oddities like a Kaiser-Frazer Henry J. That last kid could have had a huge cheater under the hood, but neither Tom, Willy, or I knew enough about Kaiser-Frazers to tell whether anything was stock or not. It had six cylinders, and that was about the limit of our collective knowledge. It was just as well that Iíd decided to not use the restrictor plates this week, because I sure hadnít built one for that car.
In any case, the three of us went through the cars pretty good. Some, maybe even the majority, looked to be just about as stock as rocks, but there were a lot of cars that had obvious engine work done on them Ė still stock, but a little more equal than the others, so to speak. Oh, we handed out a few warnings about things that had to be fixed by next week, but we didnít downcheck a single car since we couldnít find anything big enough wrong to deserve a downcheck, including on Bert Mansfieldís í51 Chevy that, while it looked good, didnít appear to be the fastest car in the field, although I would have bet good money that it was the most expensive.
Smoky was just about beside himself. Up until that night, the Junior Stocks had been just a small class to be gotten out of the way for the real racing afterward. Typically thereíd be three heats of anywhere from six to ten cars a heat, and then a feature that put every car into the field. At the last minute he had to do some major fiddling. It finally fell out that he had to run no less than five heats of nine or ten cars. The three fastest cars in the heat went into an A-Main, the next three into a B-Main and the balance into a C-Main. The kids in the B- and C-Mains had a second chance to get into the A-Main; the top two cars from the C-Main bumped up into the B-Main, and the top two cars in the B Main field made the Finale. There were only about twenty Sportsmen and five or six Mods, and for once they seemed like an afterthought.
I want to tell you, there was some racing out there that evening! God, it was good to see that! It looked to me like all the work from last season had paid off. For the most part, it was typical Junior Stock racing Ė nobody had lots and lots of skills, although some of the kids had more than others, especially some of the kids Arlene and I had worked with before the season, kids like Don Boies and Phil Sharp. Typically, you had three or four cars that were the cream of the crop, and while they were mostly Hudsons and Nashes there were a few others. Fortunately the kid with the Kaiser-Frazer wasnít one of the top runners, so Tom, Willy, and I didnít have to worry that weíd let a cheater through tech.
Iím not going to get into all the racing that night, except for one thing that turned out to be pivotal. Pretty much like I expected, Bert Mansfield didnít have the fastest car in the field, in spite of all that engine work. He was easily the fastest of the Chevys, which put him in the range to make the A-Main in whatever heat it was that he was in. I guess Iíd known that he and Phil Sharp didnít have a lot of use for each other. I donít know if it was just plain personalities or something that had happened at school or what, but if the two of them got face to face there was trouble brewing, no matter where or what it was about. Anyway, it got down to maybe three or four laps to go of whatever heat it was, and Phil was running third with Bert in fourth. Now, I guess that pissed Bert off, not so much because of the fact that Phil was riding on the transfer spot to the A-Main, but because it was Phil who was in front of him. So, when Bert got a chance to lay a fender on him, he did, spinning Phil down into the infield. Of course, that brought out a yellow flag, along with a black flag for Bert for rough driving, sending him to the back of the field.
Standing at my usual spot on the pit wall, I could hear Bertís father cussing from half the pits away. According to him, the Sharp kid had spun out by himself without Bert having anything to do with it, so why were they penalizing Bert? Of course, that didnít take into account the paint marks on the various fenders involved, so Arleneís decision stood. You could just about see the steam blowing out of Glennís ears.
With only like three or four laps left, Bert was at the end of the field, but as soon as the green dropped he was going like a house afire Ė I donít think with the idea of trying to get into the A-Main, but so that he could even things up with Sharp. However, he never caught him, but did run fast enough to get into the B-Main. However, it didnít take me much to see that trouble was going to be brewing as soon as the cars got into the pits. I knew that Dick Sharp, Philís dad, was hanging around, but I happened to see one of the town cops, Mutt Lawrence, hanging around and suggested to him that it might not be a bad idea to be over in that general direction. By that time, I was sending the next heat out onto the track, so I didnít get involved more than that.
Since I was monitoring the next heat I didnít see what happened, but I guess it was getting all set to be a pretty good riot. I was told later that not only did Bert and Phil square off, Glenn and Dick did too. Some of their friends, both adult and teen got involved as well. Mutt was the cooler head that finally prevailed and settled things down, but there were some tempers that were still running pretty hot.
It strikes me that there were a couple Junior Stock heats left to run, then a couple Sportsman heats and the Mod heat before intermission. It was only then that I found out what had happened. There wasnít much that I could do about it, whatever happened.
The days around Bradford get pretty long toward the middle of May, and the sun was just setting when we lined cars up for the Junior Stock B-Main. That was mostly newer drivers or the more stock cars, or both, and it came off without any real incident. Bert was lined up in like the third to the last row, but he just about set the place on fire for the twenty laps of the race. I donít want to say it was great driving, because it wasnít. He was rough as hell, and you could see that he was mad. He wanted to win, or at least come in second, so he could get back to dealing with the Sharp kid in the final, and he took some crazy chances to get there. I thought he was going to wreck at least a half dozen times, but somehow he managed to hold onto the car and keep moving ahead. Iíll be honest, he could have benefited from a few laps with Arlene or me, and if heíd asked I would have been glad to do it. On the other hand, I wasnít going to offer it to him, either.
In any case, Bert managed to somehow nose his way into the second spot in the last turn, which got him a transfer to the A-Main. That meant that there was trouble brewing, and I knew it.