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The Roadster Tracks! Where They Raced

Posted on May 24, 2010 at 6:35 PM Comments comments (11)

The Roadster Tracks! Where They Raced!

The roadsters were built for Indy, but they also raced at other paved race tracks on the Championship Trail.  Reviewing the AAA and USAC Championship races throughout the roadster era (1952 through 1966) revealed some surprising facts and a few things that had slipped my memory over the years.

The Classic Roadster Tracks

* The Indianapolis Motor Speedway

   2.5 miles paved rectangle -- 9 degree turn banking. 1952 thru 1966. 1 race per year, The Indianapolis 500 Mile Sweepstakes.

The roadsters were specifically built for Indy. The first roadster appeared at Indy in 1952 and, by 1956, all cars in the starting lineup were roadsters. Roadsters won all Indy 500 races between 1953 and 1964. The final appearance of a conventional roadster, at Indy, was in 1966.

  15 races were run at Indy during the roadster era. Roadsters won 12 of the 15.

* The Miwaukee (WI) Mile

    1 mile paved oval - flat turn banking. 1954 thru 1966. 2 races per year. 100M.150M & 200M events.

    The Milwaukee state fairgrounds mile dirt track was paved over in 1954 and the roasters raced into the starting lineup dominated by the upright “dirt” champ cars.

   It was 1959 before roadsters were able to take over the starting grids from the upright “dirt” cars.

  By the end of 1963, the rear engine cars began taking starting spots from the roadsters. The last standard roadster to make the starting lineup at Milwaukee was 1966.

    There were 31 championship races run at Milwaukee during the 1952 thru 1966 roadster era. Roadsters won 16 of them, all between1955 and 1964.

   The roadsters were always seriously challenged, at Milwaukee, by the upright “dirt” cars and were, finally, outrun by the rear engine cars.

* Trenton (NJ) Speedway

   1 mile paved oval –turn banking, 10 degrees, turn 1&2 15degrees, turn 3&4 1957 thru 1966. 2 to 3 races per year. 100M. 150M & 200M events.

    The newly paved Trenton N.J. Mile joined the championship trail in 1957. The first roadster win came in 1958, but the next time a roadster was in victory lane was 1962.

   There were 23 races run at Trenton between 1957 and 1966, but the roadsters only won six of them.

   The last roadster win was in 1964 and the last standard roadster to make the starting lineup was 1966.

    The roadsters seldom made up 50% of the starting lineup and were regularly out qualified and outrun by the upright “dirt” cars.

    The rear engine cars showed up in 1964 and dominated the rest of the roadster era.  

  A couple of tracks, that joined the Championship Trail late in the “roadster era”, were the mile tracks at Phoenix and Langhorne.

* Phoenix (AZ) Speedway

   1 mile paved oval – flat turn banking. 1964 thru 1966. 2 races per year. 100M, 150M & 200M events.

  When Phoenix joined the Championship Trail in 1964, the rear engine take over was underway.

   The desert track was, also, well suited to the upright dirt cars, so the roadsters faced major challenges.

     There were six races held at Phoenix during the final years of the roadster era. The roadsters won two of them.

    The very last ever roadster win came at Phoenix in 1965, when Don Branson won the spring race in a Watson chassis. The last classic roadster to make the starting grid at Phoenix was in 1967.

* Langhorne (PA) Speedway

  1 mile paved circular – flat turn banking. 1965 thru 1966. 2 races per year. 100M, 125M and 150M events.

   The Langhorne dirt mile was paved over in 1965.

   The roadsters and the upright “dirt” cars showed up to race but the rear engine cars dominated the last years of the roadster era.

     The roadsters never won at Langhorne and the last roadster to race there was 1966.

A couple of final thoughts about the “classic roadster tracks”

* The roadsters totally took over the Indianapols Speedway within a couple of years, but they never achieved total domination of the flat “miles”. They were always battling and, often, being beaten by the upright “dirt” cars and, finally, by the rear engine cars.

Oddly enough, the upright “dirt” cars continued to race against the rear engine cars, for several years, after the roadsters disappeared.

  The late roadster years, ’64 through ’66, had the most interesting and diverse variety of cars, of any time in Indy car history, particularly on the mile tracks.

* Even though the classic roadsters virtually disappeared after the ’66 season, a bit of a phenomenon took place in ‘68/’69 when a couple of “one off” non standard roadsters showed up at a few of the “post roadster era” races.

  The Mallard made the starting lineup at Indy in ‘68.

  The,Chevy powered, Chenowth roadster ran at Michigan, Milwaukee, Trenton and Dover, De, scoring a couple of, very commendable, top ten finishes.

  The, Epperly built, Maxon roadster ran at Milwaukee and Phoenix with one top ten finish.

  Records, also, show that a Watson roadster and a Ewing roadster also made a couple of west coast starts at Hanford, Ca. and Phoenix.

The Super Tracks

In the Late 50s, the Indy roadsters went to the high bank super speedways at Monza, Italy and Daytona Fla.

* Monza Italy

   2.641 mile concrete & asphalt oval -- 30 degrees turn banking. 1957 and 1958. 1 event per year. Three 166.32 mile races totaling 499 miles.

   Billed as the “Race of Two Worlds”, the Indy roadsters were to run head to head with the Euro Grand Prix openwheelers. Firestone had developed a new Euro looking tire, strong enough to cope with the high centrifugal forces, high vertical loading and very bumpy concrete surface of the high bank turns.

     For the 1957 event, nine roadsters made the starting grid for the first of the three races, but only three D Jaguar sports cars took the challenge. Though the Jags ran surprisingly well, they were easily beaten by the roadsters, but the roadsters were beaten by the tough track. By the end of the third race, only three roadsters were still on the track, with high mechanical attrition and structural failures taking out the rest.

     For 1958, 19 cars started the first of the three races, including 12 roadsters and 7 Euro entries from Ferrari, Maserati and Jaguar. Again the roadsters dominated the event but, also again, attrition was high and only 4 roadsters were still running at the end of the third race.


Final comments on Monza

   *With speeds over 170 MPH, on a very bumpy and tough track, against some unfamiliar competition, there were no serious accidents or injuries in, either,1957 or 1958.

   * The all time lap speed record for the Monza oval was run in 1957 by Tony Bettenhausen in the NOVI at 176.8 MPH.

    * This race was a non championship event and awarded no points towards the USAC championship.

Daytona (Fla) International Speedway

  2.5 mile ashphalt tri-oval –31 degrees turn banking. 1959. 1 event. 100 miles and 50 miles.

   In early 1959, the Indy roadsters raced at the brand new, super smooth Daytona Speedway high banks.

They were scheduled to run two 100 mile races.

   16 roadsters and 4 upright “dirt” cars started the first 100 mile race.

    A fatal accident, late in the race delayed the start of the second race so it was shortened to 50 miles with only 12 roadsters and 2 “dirt” cars on the starting grid. 8 roadsters were still running at the end of the second race.

 Final comments on Daytona

    * Speeds were similar to Monza, in excess of 170 MPH.

    * Firestone used a version of the “Monza” tire at Daytona with no apparent problems. 

    * The stigma associated with this race is two fatal accidents, George Amick during the event and Marshall Teague, testing the full bodied Sumar streamliner roadster, several months before the race.

   * The only other appearance of an Indy roadster at Daytona was the, much modified, Kurtis SPL3 “Mad Dog 4” for a record 181.5 lap in 1961. 


The Southern Tracks 

During the ’52 through ’66 era the roadsters made appearances at a few of the classic southern stock car tracks.

 Raleigh NC 

    1 mile paved oval – 16 degrees turn banking

     In 1952, AAA sanctioned a 200 mile championship race at Raleigh. Two of the new Kurtis 500A roadsters made the starting lineup with a 7th and 24th place finish, outrun by the much better developed upright “dirt” cars.


 Darlington SC

    1.375 mile paved “egg shaped” oval -- turn banking, 25 degrees turn1&2, 23 degrees turn 3&4

   Darlington Speedway hosted two champ car races during the roadster era, a AAA sanctioned, 100 lap race in 1954, with 2 roadsters in the starting lineup and a USAC sanctioned 200 miler in 1956, with 3 roadsters in the race.

     The roadsters were outnumbered and outrun by the upright “dirt” cars in both races but managed a third place finish in 1956.

  Atlanta GA 

1.5 mile paved tri-oval – 24 degrees turn banking

    At the end of the roadster era, USAC scheduled two races at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, a 250 miler in 1965 and a 300 miler in 1966. 

     The 1965 race must have been a truly great event with one of the most diverse group of Championship Cars ever assembled. 15 of the 29 car starting grid were roadsters, including the Chenowth Chevy and a very rare appearance of the NOVIs!  The other half of the starting field was a mix of the the new, OFFY and four cam Ford powered, rear engine cars and the upright “dirt” cars. A rear engine, Ford powered, car won, but the roadsters took 5 of the top ten finishing spots, including 2nd and a great 4th place finish for a NOVI.

    By the 1966 race, the rear engine cars had taken over the starting grid, with only four roadsters making the race. Two of the four roadsters finished in the top ten.

The Road Racing Tracks

      In 1965, USAC held a 150 mile Championship race at the 1.875 mile Indianapolis Raceway Park road course. 6 roadsters ran the race with 2 top10 finishes. The IRP race was held again in 1966 with only 2 roadsters in the starting lineup.

     Also, in 1966, a USAC road race was held at Mt.Fuji, Japan including 3 roadsters on the starting grid with 1 top ten finish.

The Dirt Tracks

     Throughout the 1952 through 1966 roadster era, the upright “dirt” cars raced successfully on all of the one mile championship tracks, both dirt and pavement….. but, when the roadsters tried to turn the tables and race against the “uprights” on their one mile dirt tracks, the results were less than stellar.

    From 1952 through 1955, a couple of Kurtis 500A roadsters entered dirt track events at Milwaukee, Williams Grove, Springfield , Detroit, DuQuoin, and Syrascuse. Kurtis roadsters accounted for 23 entries at 17 events. The results were 0-wins … 16-Did Not Qualify … 3-Top 10 finishes … 4-Top 20 finishes.

    From 1956 through 1959 roadsters entered dirt races at Springfield, DuQuoin, Syracuse, Indy(Hoosier Hundred), Sacramento, Phoenix, Detroit, Atlanta and Langhorne. Entries included roadsters from Watson, Kurtis, Kuzma, Curtis Dunn, Epperly and Watts The roadsters had 42 entries in 24 dirt track events. The results were 0-wins … 18-Did Not Qualify … 13 Top 10 finishes … 11 Top 20 finishes.

    While the roadsters were not very successful as dirt track cars, there was one car that scored some consistently good finishes over a couple of seasons. The 1956 “Bowes Seal Fast” Kurtis 500G, driven by Johnny Boyd, entered 13 dirt track races in ’56, ‘57 and ’58. It qualified for all 13 events with 10-Top 10 finishes and 3-Top 15 finishes. It raced at Springfield, DuQuoin, Syracuse, Indy(Hoosier Hundred), Sacramento and Phoenix.

    The most popular dirt track for roadsters was the Indiana State Fair track for the “Hoosier Hundred” race. In seven Hoosier Hundreds between 1953 and 1959, the roadsters had 19 entries with a poor result of 14-“Did Not Qualify”, 2-Top 10 finishes and 3-Top 20 finishes.

    The most successful roadster chassis, on dirt, was the Kurtis 500G. Mostly the “Bowes Seal Fast” car, but, also the “Seal Line” 500G had a few good finishes.

     The last roadsters to run on dirt were at Sacramento at the end of 1959.

The Last Roadster Tracks

Sadly, the last tracks that the roadsters raced on were the 5/8 mile, flat Oswego NY speedway and the 1/2 mile, flat Sandusky OH speedway …. home tracks of the supermodifieds.

    In the mid 60s, when the rear engine cars took over the Indy 500, many of the roadsters were stripped of their Offenhauser engines and sold off to supermodified racers.  Their frames and bodywork were butchered and mutilated with rollcages, bumpers, nerf bars, wings, overweight engines and steamroller wheels & tires. The resulting monstrosities were raced into the 70s, to their ultimate destruction.

     Fortunately, in the mid 70s, the remains of most of these cars were discovered, rescued and restored to their original design.

   Website member, Steve Miller from NY, has been responsible for the recovery and restoration of many of these cars for roadster collector, Bob McConnell.

      Thank you, Steve!!!!!

Final Thought

    While reviewing the race results for this blog, it was amazing how successful the upright “dirt” cars were against the roadsters and, even, the early rear engine cars, on the mile paved tracks, throughout the “52-”66 roadster era.

     I believe the reason for this was their higher CG(center of gravity) and their higher “roll center”. On the super speedways, with long straights and big radius turns, streamlining, left side weight bias and low CG were the most important factors, but on the flat short ovals the ability to transfer vertical load onto the tires was of overriding importance.

    On the tight radius turns and short straights, while the roadsters, with their low CG, put more lateral loading on the right side tires, the upright cars, with their higher CG, were able to quickly transfer vertical load on the right rear for better cornering traction and quicker “front to rear” weight transfer for better acceleration traction off of the turns.

    The short tracks also required braking. Again the upright cars could, more effectively, transfer “rear to front” vertical load on the front tires for better braking.

      On the short tracks, where faster and more radical weight transfers were required, the upright “dirt” cars just did it better than the roadsters.

I will set up an album in the Photo Gallery and post as many pix as I can find of the roadster tracks.

mac miller in INDY

Tom McGriff Resume

Posted on January 27, 2010 at 1:23 PM Comments comments (0)

Tom McGriff

P.O.Box 22444

Indianapolis, IN



e-mail [email protected]

Career profile for Tom McGriff

45+ years experience at top level of professional racing including:

*USAC Sprint cars and Championship cars



*SCCA & CASC Formula Atlantic cars

*vintage CAN-AM, F1,INDY, LE mans prototypes


Technical experience includes:

*design, construction and development of sports racing, formula, Indy and sprint cars including chassis,     suspension, components, systems and bodywork.

*assembly and modification of racing transmissions and transaxles.

*design and technical services of racing tires.

*design and manufacture of racing wheels.

*design and construction of patterns, molds and tooling for composite bodywork.

*design and fabrication of fiberglass and carbon fiber components and bodywork.

*design and construction of human powered vehicles.

*CAD designing of racing chassis, suspension and bodywork.

*aerodynamics and mechanical vehicle dynamics.

*metal machining and fabricating.

*materials application including steel, titanium, aluminum, magnesium, fiberglass and carbon fiber. *application of proprietary components and systems such as brakes ,steering, driveline, etc.


Current owner: Tom McGriff Design

*consultant, designer and constructor of specialized vehicles, chassis, suspension, bodywork, components &     systems.

*designs include sprint cars, formula cars and sports cars.

*deign and manufacturing of components and bodywork for the restoration of vintage formula, sports, sprint and INDY cars including F1, CAN-AM, LeMans prototypes.

Current owner: Mac Miller’s Garage

*consultant, designer and constructor of vintage style American racing cars including:

20s &30s style speedway cars

50s & 60s style sprint cars

50s &60s style Indy roadsters


career chronology:

1963 through 1968- mechanic- USAC sprint car series

1970- metal fabricator- Vanguard Race Cars

1971- mechanic- BFGoodrich Firebird, SCCA TransAm series

1972- tire technician- BFGoodrich Corvette, FIA GT series

1972 through 1976- owner- M&J Race Tires, contracted to Goodyear Racing Div.

1974 through 2010- owner- MotoPro Wheels, designer and builder of alum, modular racing wheels

1975- chief mechanic- Chip Mead Racing, CASC Formula Atlantic series

1976 through 1977- team manager- Bernstein Racing, SCCA Formula Atlantic series

1978 through 1980- mechanic- Armstrong Mould Racing including:

          USAC Indycar series gearbox technician & chief mechanic

          USAC sprint car series race tire technician.

1981- mechanic- Tim Richmond Racing - USAC & CART Indycar series.

1982- general manager- M&J Race Tires, contracted to Goodyear Racing Div.

1983- transport manager- Wysard Racing, CART Indycar Series

1984 through 2010- owner HuDyn Vehicles- design and construction of human powered vehicles

1984- partner- Autosport Eng- constuctors of fiberglass, kevlar and carbon fiber/honeycomb racecar bodywork. 1985- author & publisher- HuDyn Vehicles, design and construction of human powered vehicles

1986 through 1987- mechanic- Hotchkis Racing- IMSA GTP series mechanic, tire technician & fiberglass          fabrication.

1988- fabricator- EG Composites- fiberglass, carbon fiber constructors

1989- composite shop mgr- Peerless Racing, IMSA GTP series

1990 through 2010- owner- Tom McGriff Design- consultant, designer & constructor:

          fiberglass & carbon bodywork

          specialized vehicles

          vehicle components & systems

          vintage & classic vehicle restoration & reproduction.

1990 through 2010- owner- Mac Miller’s Garage- consultant, designer and constructor of vintage style                          American racing cars including:

        20s &30s style speedway cars,

        50s & 60s style sprint cars

        50s &60s style Indy roadsters


notable technical achievements 

1974 design and construction of innovative two piece, modular racing wheels.

1978 design and development of the first tire pressure control valves to be used in racing.

1984 design, construction and development of innovative human powered vehicles for competition and handicap use.

1985 design of specialized human powered vehicle tires.

1985 author and publisher of a series of books concerning the design and construction of human powered vehicles.


Current contact information for Tom McGriff

Tom McGriff

P.O.Box 22444

Indianapolis IN


tel: 317-738-6405

e-mail: [email protected]

The Halibrand Magnesium Roadster Wheel

Posted on January 23, 2010 at 7:21 AM Comments comments (637)

The Halibrand Roadster Wheel

     Throughout the 50s and into the 60s, Halibrand Engineering was the top supplier of components for the Indy roadsters. Halibrand supplied drivelines, quick change rear axles, front hubs, steering gears, and disc brakes. Most of these parts were buried inside the car and unseen by the fans.

    One part, that Halibrand created, was right out there for everyone to see and epitomized the Indy roadster and the roadster era as much as the OFFY engine. The Halibrand Magnesium Roadster Wheel!

    Halibrand started working on his magnesium wheels in the late 40s as a stronger, lighter replacement for the wire laced wheels used since the early 20s. Early development problems and resistance, from the racers, to the harsh ride characteristics of the rigid new wheels slowed their acceptance. (read my tech article, about wire lace wheels, on the “blog” page of my website.)


These “first design” Halibrand mags were available in two styles.

  The first style was made, as a direct replacement to the wire wheels, to fit the existing Rudge-Whitworth splined hubs, which almost all of the existing cars had used for many years. The wing nut tapered seat was machined directly into the wheel.

Halibrand Rudge-Whitworth spline drive wheel“front”

Halibrand Rudge-Whitworth spline drive wheel “backside”


Tech specs of Rudge-Whitworth spline drive wheels were:

      diam         width                    back spacing

        16”             5”                               2”

        18”             6"                               2”


The second style was designed to fit Halibrand’s own new style hub using a six pin drive. These wheels were machined flat on both sides of the center mounting surface so that they could be mounted to the hub from either side of the wheel. This made for different wheel offsets, depending on which direction the wheel was mounted. These wheels used a separate “pressure plate”, with the wing nut tapered seat, to clamp the wheel to the axle or spindle hub.

Halibrand 6 pin drive wheel mounted “front side” out. Note separate gray pressure plate.

Halibrand 6 pin drive wheel mounted “back side” out. Threaded studs, sticking out around the wheel, were for attaching balancing weights as shown.

Technical specs of the reversible, six pin drive wheels were:

         diam                   width                 front(smooth)offset             back(rib)offset

          16”                        5”                                 3”                                       2”

          16”                        6”                                3.5”                                    2.5”

          18”                        6”                                 4”                                        2”


   In 1950, a third of the Indy 500 starters were using the new Halibrand “mags”. New chassis setups were needed with the new lightweight, rigid wheels….Most likely, softer spring rates and, maybe even, lower tire pressures.

   The advantages of the new lighter, stiffer wheels were better steering, braking and acceleration response.    Some guys were “fishing” for the new “setup” and ended up with a mix of “wires” and “mags” on the same car! The first mag wheel equipped car finished 5th.

    In 1951, half of the “500” starters were equipped with the Halibrand mags, including the winning Balanger Spl. using the Rudge-Whitworth spline drive version.

    As the “roadster era” began in 1952, almost three quarters of the starters were using the mag wheels, including the new Vukovich Kurtis roadster, equipped with the pin drive, reversible version.

The first 8 finishers were on “mags”

      In 1953, only three cars used wire wheels. There were six Kurtis roadsters in the race, all equipped with Halibrand pin drive mags. The roadsters finished 4 of the 6 in the top ten, including the Vukovich winning car. Only one car continued to use the Rudge-Whitworth mag wheels.

The 1954 Indy 500 had 13 Kurtis roadsters in the starting lineup and only two cars still using the Rudge Whitworth splined hubs. The Vukovich roadster won again with only 5 of the 13 roadsters in the top 10 finishers.

The 1955 Indy 500 had 19 roadsters but only one “upright” car with wire wheels, on the rear…. Oddly enough this upright car, through some sort of weather anomaly, started from pole position. The winning car and six other roadsters finished in the top ten.


Also in 1955, Halibrand introduced two “second design” magnesium roadster wheels.

    These new six pin drive wheels featured a much more sculptured shape with 5 oval shaped holes through the wheel face. This sculpted center shape maintained good wheel stiffness with thinner, lighter castings.

The holes created air flow to cool the brakes. These wheels were one inch wider, front and rear, to optimize the new wider Firestones. The new wheels were not reversible, with the wing nut seat cast into the front side of the wheel and there were no optional offsets or backspacing.

Technical specs for the “second design” Halibrand roadster wheels are:

         diam.            width                   back spacing

           16”                  6”                            3.75”

           18”                  7”                            4.75” 



“second design” Halibrand 16”x 6” pin drive front wheel

“second design” Halibrand 18”x 7” pin drive rear wheel

The 1956 Indy 500 was a year of ”firsts” and a year of “lasts”.

It was the last year that wire wheels and Rudge-Whitworth splined hubs ran in the race. It was the last year that an “upright” chassis car ran in the race.                                                                                                                                   It was the first year of the Watson roadster.

  Other guys into the roadster building business were Jud Phillips, Ed Kuzma, and Lugie Lesovsky.

  It was, also, the return of the NOVI in a new Kurtis rear drive chassis.

While the next six years(1957 through 1962), at Indy, saw great technical battles among the Epperly & Lesovsky “horizontal engines”, the Watson “vertical engines” and the NOVIs, the 16” and 18” Halibrand mags and Firestone tires continued to perform reliably and, virtually, unchanged throughout the greatest years of the roadster era.

A few additional comments about the 16” and 18” Halibrand magnesium roadster wheels:

     • Even after the “second design” was introduced, the “first design” six pin drive wheels continued be used, for offset and track width variation, on into the 60s until the 15” wheels took over.

    * There was a 20” version of the “second design” Halibrand wheel. I have never seen these wheels used on any roadsters other than the NOVIs.


    •Although not done on the roadsters, several of the “upright” cars from 1952 through 1955 ran the race with a combination of “wires” and “mags” on the same car. Considering the much different dynamics of the two types of wheels, I won’t even speculate on what brought them to that setup but it would be similar to mixing radials and bias ply tires on the same car.


Roadster Wheels 1963 through 1966.

   The great revolution in roadster wheels came in 1963 when the rear engine Lotus cars showed up with specially built, low profile, wider tread Firestone tires, mounted on 15” diam, wheels.

   Top roadster drivers, Parnelli Jones and A.J. Foyt, who arrived at the track with the standard 16 and 18 inch wheels, "protested" the fact that Lotus had access to Firestone tires that they didn't have. Firestone said that they had built the tires to Lotus specs and Lotus had paid for the development of the tires. After more "discussion", Firestone agreed that they could produce more tires for the roadsters that wanted them

   .... But, that wasn't the main problem.

  There were no 15" wheels that would fit on roadsters.

  Halibrand went into action and scrambled up some 15" wheels that he was building for Shelby Cobras and other sports cars, that he was able modify to fit on the roadster hubs.

  Other problems included brake clearance problems, ride height problems and torsion bar lever & radius rod clearance and geometry problems.

    Apparently, the advantages of the 15" tires were greater than the problems they created because Parnelli was able to win the '63 "500" with the new wheel & tire setup along with the top four finishing roadsters. About half of the roadsters in the '63 field were, eventually, able to get the new "15s" with no apparent tire related problems in the race.

The specs for the wheels on Parnelli’s winning ’63 car are:

                   diam            width                       back spacing

   front          15”                6”                                   3"

   rear           15”                8”                                   3”

15”X 6” front wheel from ’63 winning car

15”x 8” rear wheel from ’63 winning car


    By '64, the 16 & 18 inch wheels had disappeared and Goodyear came sniffing around the Speedway.

 tires became lower and wider.

    For the ’64 Indy 500, Halibrand was able to design and build new 15” roadster wheels for the new wider tread Firestone tires and the, soon to arrive, Goodyears.

     A.J.Foyt drove to the last roadster win in 1964 equipped with the new wide Halibrand 15” wheels and Firestone tires.

The specs for the new Halibrand wheels on A.J.’s ’64 winning car were:

                     diam             width                         backspacing

        front       15                 7.5                                   3.5     

         rear       15                   9                                    3.5

All 15” Halibrands had an integral wing nut seat cast into the front side of the wheel so they were not reversible. I do not know if there were optional offsets.

15”x 7.5” front wheel from the ’64 winning car

15”x 9” rear wheel from ’64 winning car

Also available, in 1964, were similar wide 16” diam Halibrands in the following sizes:

                   diam.                 width                  backspacing

     front        16                      7.5                           3.75    

      rear        16                      9.5                           4.5

The main users of these 16” wheels were the NOVI roadsters.


  While the roadster’s last Indy win was the 1964 race, they continued to race on into 1965 with 6 roadsters making the starting lineup. By '65, Goodyear came in full force and the tire war was on.

  Our story ends In 1966, when the last standard front engine roadster started the Indy 500, ironically, on Goodyear tires. but the tire wars raged on into the 70s.

  A remarkable fact is that, between 1952 and 1966, every roadster, that raced at Indy, used Halibrand magnesium wheels.


Halibrand continued to produce magnesium Indy car wheels on into the rear engine era.

Any comments, questions and corrections are always welcome!

mac miller in INDY

Laydown Engine vs Upright Engine - a technical comparison

Posted on January 2, 2010 at 10:01 PM Comments comments (278)

Laydown Engine vs Upright Engine

Watson/Kurtis vs Sahih/Epperly/Lugie

By 1957, of the ’52 through ‘66 roadster era, the “template” for the Indy roadster had been established.

It included:

• Tubular space frame

• front straight axle

• Offenhauser engine, mounted vertically, approx. 7 inches to the left of center

• driver seat mounted beside the driveshaft, to the right of center

• front and rear cross torsion bar suspension

• 70+ gallon, rear mounted fuel tank

• standard Halibrand steering gear, Model A style transmission, torque tube driveline, Halibrand offset live rear straight axle and Halibrand disc brakes

• Halibrand 18” and 16” mag wheels and spec. Firestone race tires


  For 1957, the top builders were ready to square off with their newest cars, Frank Kurtis with his KK500G chassis and A.J.Watson with his new lightweight Watson chassis.

  But, something, unexpected, happened that threatened to obsolete the top cars.

  A new, Belond sponsored, car, built in a small garage, on a shoestring budget, by George Salih and Quinn Epperly, won the Indy 500, right out from under the big teams.

  This car was a “template“ car, with one exception. Salih rotated the engine, top to the right, on its bellhousing until the engine was just 18 degrees from laying on its side. This lowered the CG significantly and also lowered the nose and hood profile for better aerodynamics.

  This new “set up” was thought to be such a “sure thing” that several of the top builders made plans for their own “laydown” engine cars. Frank Kurtis bailed out on the KK500G, for the “laydown” design and, even, some of the existing 500Gs were converted to “laydowns. Epperly planned his own “improved” version of the Salih car. Even A.J. Watson, who, ultimately, stayed wlth the vertical engine installation, admitted that he had made up drawings for a new “laydown” car.

  Following the ’57 500 win, the Belond/Salih “laydown” disappeared into its garage for the rest of the season.       The next appearance of the “Belond” was in the 1958 Indy 500, where it won again and led three of the new Epperly “laydowns” to 4 of the first 5 finishing positions. Things were looking grim, indeed, for the “upright” engine cars, especially at Indy.

  The “Belond” made one other appearance, during ’58, at the “Monza 500”, where it placed second to the Zink/Leader Card Watson “upright” engine car.

    The continued success of the “Belond” and the new Epperlys encouraged more builders to switch to the “laydown” engine configuration, including “Lugie” Lesovsky and Ed Kuzma. Lugie’s new pink #3 car featured a left side driver seat and the engine mounted on the right side, laid over, top to the left.

      Qualifying for the 1959 Indy 500 saw the new ”Lugie” and the new Kuzma laydowns taking the top two starting spots, with a total of fourteen “laydown” engine cars making the starting lineup.

     With the past performances and the obvious future development potential, this race had all of the possibilities of a “laydown” engine rout, finally putting the vertical engine cars in the museum for good.


  In the race, the “laydown” magic mysteriously disappeared, with the two time Indy winning, Belond Spl. finishing dead last and the “upright” Watson cars taking first and second place. Laydowns finished seven of the top ten spots.

  As suddenly as the “mojo” disappeared at Indy, it reappeared, the following week, at Milwaukee, with the Lugie “laydown” taking the #1 starting spot and leading a “laydown” sweep of the top four finishing positions.

         Following the Indy “blip”, the Milwaukee results refired the “laydown” enthusiasm. More new “laydowns” were built for 1960, including the new Salih/Metal Cal Spl, with the left side driver/right side engine, like the “Lugie” car, two new Trevis/Jim Robbins Spls and a new version of the Epperly, with right side driver/left side engine laid over top to the left, outside the frame, like a supermodified.

     At Indy, the anticipated “comeback” of the “laydowns” never materialized, with upright Watsons taking the pole position and, again, taking the top two finishing spots. The lay downs placed four cars in the top ten finishers.    

       The last three new laydown cars were built for the 1961 Indy 500, including “supermodified” style cars from Epperly and Kuzma and a “Lugie” style car from Herb Porter/Rocky Phillip.

  The 1961 Indy 500 saw the “upright” cars scoring the win for the third year in a row and the top five finishing spots. The “laydowns” had three in the top ten.

  A.J. Watson never fell for the “laydown” fad and “laydown” builders, Kuzma, “Lugie” and Trevis returned to building “upright” cars.

     The “laydowns” continued to run well and score good finishes in “62 and into ’63, but they never fulfilled their destiny, of the late 50s, to obsolete all of the upright engine roadsters.  The last “laydown”, to race at Indy, finished midpack in 1964.

   The “upright” cars, particularly the Watsons, survived the “laydown” threat of the late 50s and raced on through the mid 60s until the last roadster ran at Indy in 1966.

    During the years of the “laydown” challenge. ‘57 through ’64, the Watson chassis won 6 of the 8 Indy races.


After writing the “Laydown Engine Roadster” blog, I decided to do a closer comparison of the upright engine roadsters vs the laydown engine roadsters, using four basic physics principals that most effect vehicle dynamics. I compared various aspects of the five main “players”, the Salih/Belond laydown, the Epperly laydown, the “Lugie” laydown, the Kurtis 500G upright and the Watson upright, by the “numbers”, by staring at design drawings and by learned opinion.

For our purposes, we will use the following definitions:

Frontal Area - The area, in square feet, of the vehicle's maximum cross section, as viewed directly from the front. The square feet of surface that directly faces the oncoming airflow. The size of the hole required for this car to pass through the oncoming air.

Coefficient of Drag (CD) - The ratio of the drag on a vehicle moving through air to the combination of the velocity and the frontal area of the vehicle. The efficiency with which the “leading edge” of the vehicle splits the oncoming airflow and rejoins the airflow at the “trailing edge”.

Center of Gravity (CG) - An intangible point representing the weight center of a vehicle. The point about which the vehicle balances in all axis. On racing cars, CG usually refers to the location of vertical weight mass of the car.

Weight Distribution(bias) - The longitudinal and/or lateral dimensional location of the Center of Gravity. On racing cars, usually referred in percentage of front/rear and RS/LS weight or pounds of RF/LF/RR/LR corner weight distribution. The amount of weight supported by each of the four tires.


   Frontal Area – The frontal area of these cars include the maximum cross section of the chassis/body, any part of the cowling/windscreen that protrudes beyond the maximum chassis/body cross section and the forward facing cross section of the tires

  The maximum cross section of the chassis/body of these cars, both laydown and upright, is the plane located at the front edge of the tail, directly behind the driver’s seat. The maximum chassis/body cross section of both the “laydown” and the “upright” are almost identical at 5.6 sq ft. for the upright Watson roadster and 5.3 sq.ft. for the “laydown”.

They all use the same tires, whose cross section is 2 sq ft.  

The windscreens are variable shapes according to the driver preference, but I doubt that there is much variation in actual frontal area. Actually, the cowl and windscreen are a little bigger for the laydown cars.

  Bottom line is that there is no significant advantage in frontal area for the laydown engine configuration…… certainly not as much as most people would think.


   Coefficient of Drag (CD) – This is the most difficult comparison to make because to get an accurate analysis requires having access to a Watson roadster, the Salih/Belond laydown and a wind tunnel. Lacking those three ingredients, I will have to make a few comments from experience and logic. Certainly, any of you, with more knowledge and better articulation of this subject than I, are welcome to add comments and corrections.

        Drag is the result of turbulence, which develops in low pressure areas on the “backside” of any part of the car that faces the oncoming air stream.

   On the Indy roadster, the greatest generator of “drag” is the open wheels & tires. The fact that they are spinning, greatly increases the amount of turbulence. Since all of the roadsters used the same wheels & tires, this is not a factor in comparison.

  The next high drag area would be the cowl/windscreen area with the large driver cockpit opening on the backside. While there is some variation in windscreen size and shape, usually depending on driver preference, I doubt that there is much difference between upright and laydown cars.

  Other somewhat less significant “high drag” bits and pieces, that add up, include the front and rear axles, shocks, suspension linkage, steering linkage, roll bar, bumpers etc. Collectively, they account for a fair amount of the total drag of the vehicle. Again, these are all common components to both the “upright” and the “laydown”, so there is no comparison.

   Viewing the side profiles of both the Salih/Belond and the Watson would lead one to believe that the lower nose & hood of the laydown would be more efficient at splitting the oncoming air ……. On the other hand, the Watson nose & hood, even though higher profile, has good streamlining……… There is probably not as big an difference in CD, as it would appears.

      One of the things, that I see as a, possibly, more significant aero advantage for the “laydown”, is the hood & nose have a relatively flat top surface that angles downward from the cowl to the nose. This is a high pressure surface that puts more downforce on the front tires for better “turn in” to the corners. I have been told, by a couple of drivers, that the Watson steering got very light by the end of the straight away, from air pushing up under the nose, requiring a tap of the brakes to settle the front tires back down to the track, before turning into the corners.

    The tails of, both, the “upright” and the “laydown” are of similar size and shape. They, probably, both do a good and equal job of rejoining the trailing airflow without contributing much to the overall drag.

     As I said, to do this comparison accurately would require a wind tunnel and I doubt that will ever happen. I will try to talk to some smarter guys than me, for their opinions.

    The bottom line is that I might give the “laydown” a slight edge in airflow but not nearly as much as many people think.


Center of Gravity (CG) & Weight Distribution(bias) -- Now, back to something that is a little easier to evaluate.        There is one absolute advantage that the “laydowns” have over the “uprights”. Laying the engine over on its side, significantly, lowers the vertical Center of Gravity……….but there is another factor to consider. By distributing the weight of the engine across the entire width of the chassis, the car loses a significant percentage of its left side weight bias, thus, reducing some of its CG advantage.

   Weight distribution comparison of the Watson “upright” roadster and the Belond/Epperly style “laydown”(RS driver, LS engine, laid over top to the right) is as follows:

The standard Watson roadster (with driver, 5 gal. fuel) has the following weight bias:

Front-43% Rear-57%      LS-56% RS-44% 

The Belond/Epperly style “laydown”(with driver, 5 gal. fuel) has the following weight bias:

Front-46% Rear-54%      LS-50% RS-50

 Difference in “front to rear” weight bias is due to the laydown engine being located approx 6” further forward in the chassis than the upright engine

Difference in the LS/RS weight bias is, of course, due to the weight of the laydown engine being distributed across the entire width of the chassis.

The “Lugie” style “laydown” uses the LS driver, RS engine, laid over “top to the left”. but the mass of the engine is still distributed over the entire width of the chassis. The “swapping sides” of the driver and the driveline would not be a significant change of weight distribution.


The cars that should have had it all, were the final two “laydowns”, built by Epperly for 1961. He used the same layout as his earlier cars, with the RS driver/LS engine, but, on these two cars, instead of laying the engine “top to the right”, he laid the engine over “top to the left”, with the cylinder block(& head) sticking outside the left frame, like a supermodified. He, also, moved the engine approx. 6” further back in the chassis. similar to the upright Watson.

  This car had the lowest possible CG, the maximum left side weight bias and equal engine setback to the Watson. On paper, these cars were the final and ultimate development of the “laydown” design. While they were very competitive and scored several top 5 finishes, they never were able to fulfill the expectations of winning.


Other Factors!

  At first look, it would appear that the low profile aero of the nose and hood were what the “laydown” cars were all about, but the real “game” was CG and weight bias. Some of these weight bias factors are adjustable and can be manipulated through corner weight jacking, spring rates, etc. but some weight masses “are what they are”.

  Certainly, the greatest weight bias, effecting roadster handling was the weight mass of the full fuel load. This weight mass was cantilevered behind the rear axle, which added to its effect and was constantly changing from approx. 450lbs.(full) to approx 30lbs between pit stops…. Wow! What a setup problem. This was the greatest flaw of the roadster design.

  Both the “upright” and the “laydown” had the cantilevered, rear mounted fuel tank so, for our comparison, there was no advantage for either setup.

Another developement by A.J. Watson in the early 60s was “chassis offset”. With some basic suspension linkage modifications. A.J. was able to offset the entire chassis(including the fuel load and engine weight) approx 1.5 inches to the left of the wheel track centerline. This resulted in a very useful addition to left side bias percentage.

  "Other Factors" must also include differences in suspension geometry. While all of the roadsters, "laydown" or "upright". had, basically, the same type of suspension, small differences in "track bar" and "radius rod" lengths, angles and mounting points can cause big differences in handling characteristics.

    Such dynamic characteristics as rear roll steer and front castor change can be minimized with proper suspension linkage design.

     I do not have accurate drawings and dimensions for the various cars, so I am unable to do a proper analysis of their relative suspension geometry.

      It would be very interesting and informative to put these cars on one of the current "seven post" chassis test rigs to compare dynamic suspension characteristics.

  Suspension geometry can mean the difference between a car that is predictable and easy to drive and one that is a "handful" and tiring to the driver.




In Conclusion

The laydown roadsters may have been the greatest enigma in Indy history, always creating more questions than answers.

* Why was the very first “laydown” engine car, the most successful one??

* Why wasn’t there ever a consensus among the builders as to the definitive layout of driver, engine, layover direction??

* Why didn’t the ultimate Epperly “laydown” version, with maximum left side weight bias, lowest possible CG and lowest possible hood & nose profile, perform any better than any of the earlier “laydown” versions??? Could this layout have ultimately succeeded if the rear engine cars hadn’t appeared when they did???

Bottom Line

* The perceived aero advantage of the low hood and nose was vastly overrated, because the actual frontal area was very similar for both “upright” and “laydown” engine cars.

* The real lower CG advantage of the “laydowns” was neutralized by spreading the engine weight across the entire width of the car. This eliminated much of their left side weight bias, which was, at least, as important as the lower CG.

* While all of the “laydown” builders were scrambling and searching for the ultimate layout, A.J.Watson remained focused and developed his original ’56 design. A.J. understood his car and how it worked. He was always able to come up with a new “tweak” or idea to stay one step ahead of the competition.

At the end of the day, as good as they looked on paper, the “laydowns” were, technically and practically,  just not that much better than the “uprights”.

mac miller in INDY

A Fish Story

Posted on November 21, 2009 at 10:59 AM Comments comments (2)

FINAL UPDATE 1 Dec 09  11:45 AM

  Tom Malloy is the winning bidder for the NOVI parts. This is a good news!  Tom is major collector in Cal. and he owns one of the few complete NOVI cars, in running condition, the original 1941 Winfield/ Miller chassis  Tom also owns Ed Pink Engines so he has the capability to do something useful with these parts.


UPDATE: 30 Nov 09    11:30 AM

   The NOVI auction has just finished with the winning bid of $68,800.  I don't know who it is, due to the coded bids, but I will keep my ears and eyes open for info. It will come out sooner or later.


On Nov 20 2009, Item #120495759944 was posted on ebay. If not a “holy grail” level discovery, it is, at least, a very significant cache of valuable historic parts……

  I became aware of these parts on August 20 2009 and made a play for them at that time. I almost got them.    

    Now that these parts are out of the closet, I can tell the story of how a little guy came close to winning one…

  It looks like the results will be purty much as I predicted in my story.

I believe that these parts came as part of a deal, made by the NOVI museum, to acquire the FWD Ferguson NOVI car from Andy Granatelli, sometime in the early 70s. The museum was, mainly, interested in the car, for their display, and, probably, had no room to store the parts. The parts got stashed in the city garage and became part of the “woodwork”. I doubt that there is anyone at the museum or the city garage who was around when the original deal came about, so we my never know the whole story.

The Ultimate “Fish” Story    by mac miller

All my life, I have listened to anglers tell their stories about the big one that got away. Today, I have a story as unbelievable as any of them. The big difference is that I have the pictures and documents.

My story starts last Thursday(20Aug09) when I received an anonymous e-mail from a guy, telling me of his employer selling some old race engine parts. The e-mailer also got my telephone number from my website and left a message, to call him if I was interested. I was finally able to contact him on Monday(23Aug09), and the guy told me that he works for the Michigan Dept. of Public Works and that they were clearing some space in one of their truck service garages and were putting a large amount, probably a semi load, of old race engine parts on the government surplus equipment auction website. He said that the stuff had been stored and ignored in the building for over thirty years.

     He directed me to a very obscure website called the Michigan Inter-governmental Trade Network. Basically, an online auction site where all municipal and state agencies list their surplus items for public “on line” auction. This site contains hundreds of listings, including many cars and trucks, office equipment, machinery, highway barriers etc.

    Buried in the middle of these listings was an item called “1964/65 NOVI SPECIAL ENGINE PARTS”. I clicked on this item and was amazed by three pages of inventory lists and four unbelievable pictures. This was certainly the most incredible cache of historically significant parts, I had ever seen.

    I, immediately, registered on the site, as a bidder, and made copies of the inventory sheets and the photos.

   I took all this information to a trusted friend, who has insight and experience in “high end” vintage cars and parts, for his analysis of what I had found. A raised eyebrow on his part indicated, to me, that I might be onto something.

    After studying the info and pix, my friend offered to get involved and made it possible to enter a bid. Also, it was his opinion that these were unknown and undiscovered parts because, in his 30 plus years of involvement, he had never heard any top level discussion or rumors of the existence of such a large quantity of NOVI parts.

   Time was short, as the auction was scheduled to end at 11:15AM on Wed. 26Aug09. At the time we placed our bid, on Mon 23Aug, there was only one other bidder, whose bid was just above minimum. Our bid was the new top bid plus a substantial reserve to counter any challenge. We were in the game, the time clock was ticking and the anticipation was starting to build.

   The rules of the auction stated that the winner had 7 days to pick up the “stuff” in person and must move the load without assistance from any state employees or equipment, so Tues 24Aug was spent arranging transport and local storage, in the event that we prevailed in the auction. The location of the pickup from Indy is a long one day round trip so that is not a serious problem. The shear size and weight of the numerous crates and pallets was going to present a more serious challenge, It would require a semi size truck with lift gate capabilities or multiple trips with a smaller truck and trailer. Loading was going to require some sort of forklift or pallet lift.

Throughout the day, I continued to monitor the auction and our original bid continued to be the high bid. Anticipation continued to build…… Was the other bidder capable of upping his bid??? Were there other potential bidders lurking, waiting until a final bidding flurry, close to the auction deadline??? Were our reserve funds enough to counter any last minute challengers???

Unfortunately, we will never know….

    As I attempted to check the auction status at 5:00PM on Tues. 24Aug, my screen came up blank. Everything I tried resulted in a blank screen for that auction. I made a call to the auction information line and was told that the NOVI auction had been canceled without further information. As soon as I hung up I received an official e-mail informing me that the auction had been pulled.

     This auction was, obviously, initiated by the people in the truck garage, who were trying to clear some more floor space. These guys had no knowledge of the significance or value of these old parts nor did they care. All they knew was that this “stuff” was taking up a lot of needed floor space and had no obvious use in the operation of their truck garage.  They contacted the appropriate, and equally unknowledgable, government bureaucrats, assigned to the disposition of such unneeded property, who placed it as an obscure listing on their auction list.

  This perfect set of circumstances created a very rare opportunity for, even, a “regular guy”, with a little luck, to score a big deal.

  Further inquiry revealed that the auction was canceled at the suggestion of a former city official, with some knowledge of the significance of these parts. He, somehow, found out about this auction and had it pulled for “reevaluation” He was within a few hours of being too late.

   Of course , we all know what “reevaluation” means. If these parts ever show up, again, as an auction, it will be well publicized throughout the collector car world and the reserve prices and starting bids will be beyond the reach of all but a few of the titans of the business.

  The other possible result of the “reevaluation” could be a private “under the table” transaction to one of the said titans, who would then be lauded for his great discovery.

     Did we have a realistic shot at these parts??       Our opinion is “yes”.

As stated earlier, in 30+ years, there has absolutely never been any “buzz” or speculation, whatsoever, at any level of the collector car biz concerning the existence of these parts. They were listed on a very obscure government website as a line item in a very mundane auction. It is our opinion that this auction went unnoticed and these parts were unknown to the high level collectors. Obviously that will no longer be the case.

Make no mistake about the significance of this discovery. This could be one of the biggest automotive archaelogical finds of the last 30 or 40 years. It will be most interesting to see how, when, where and with whom these parts eventually surface,

In retrospect, losing the auction to another bidder is an acceptable conclusion, but to have the seller “chicken out” towards the end leaves kind of a bitter attitude. Even though this deal came to a very unsatisfactory conclusion and certainly not in our favor, I wouldn’t trade a minute of the excitement, anticipation and drama of the last few days, for anything. This little adventure had it all …… anonymous information, hidden treasure, secrecy, drama and a surprise ending.

Had we pulled off this deal, we would not only have had the satisfaction and value of acquiring these parts, but, there is also a certain notoriety, celebrity and credibility that everyone likes to have among their peers.

At the end of the day, about all that is left to say is “The little guys came very close to winning one!”

mac miller in INDY


Quantity Description
















































































SPARK PLUGS- 1 NT116-174 BOXES OF 10 1 NT115-85 BOXES OF 10 1 NR 153-21 BOXES OF 10 4 NT 326-59 BOXES OF 10 36 NR 170 BOXES OF 10 4 NR 154 BOXES OF 10 1 NR 164 BOXES OF 10 2 NRP 155 BOXES OF 10 3 N55T BOXES OF 10 1 N-18 BOX OF 10 2 N-T326X42 BOXES OF 10 3 L-T336 BOXES OF 10 3 N-T326-51 BOXES OF 10 2 N-R 166 BOXES OF 10 2 N-12-P150 BOXES OF 10 4 AG203 BOXES OF 10 129 W440T17



The Firestone Roadster Tires

Posted on October 17, 2009 at 7:28 PM Comments comments (6)

The Firestone Roadster Tires

As I was writing the previous blog about the Firestone test cars, I got off on a tangent, and found myself gathering some information about the Firestone tires, used throughout the roadster era. I decided that there was enough interesting stuff to write a separate blog about these tires.

 I still have some unanswered questions, but the guys I talked to, who were there, including A.J. Watson, Bob Clidinst and Bill Spoerle gave me a lot of information that told most of the story.

I will keep digging for the few missing bits of info. If any of you guys have anything to add, please do!


Some comments about the Firestone racing tires "of the day".

During the prime years of the roadster era, from 1952 through 1962, Firestone was the exclusive tire supplier for the Indy car series.

The sizes available were 760X16 on the front and 800X18 on the rear.

The front tires measured approx, 29" diameter, 6.5" wide and 4" tread width.

The front wheels were Halibrand magnesium measuring 16" diam. X 6" wide.

The rear tires measured approx. 31.5" diameter, 7.75" wide and 5.25" tread width.

The rear wheels were Halibrand magnesium measuring 18" diam. X 7" wide.

The tires were bias ply construction and recommended pressures were 35 PSI.

During the roadster era, Firestone designed and built two distinct types of pavement tires.

The "Indy" tire

The "Indy" tire tread surface was smooth on the left half with circumferential grooves on the right half, two grooves on the front tires and three grooves on the rears. These grooves provided some cooling effect and, also, were used to measure tread wear. The tires were always mounted so that the grooves were on the right side. These tires also had "notches" across the corners of the tread, angled across the right corner and straight across the left corner. These "notches" provided some heat dissipation.

   The "Indy" tire was used at Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Trenton. Unlike today, with different rubber compounds and sidewall constructions for each track, the roadsters ran the same tire everywhere. Of all of the original roadster tires, I have never seen any, obvious molded in numbers or letters, indicating that any of the tires were for different tracks. I have talked to some of the guys who worked on the roadsters and none of them knew of any differences.

   They, also, used the same tire on the right and left side of the car.... no right and left compounds and no "stagger".

   I'm sure that Firestone did a lot of development and made many improvements to their "Indy" tires between '52 and '62, but, sizes, profiles and overall appearance did not change very much during the era from 1952 to 1961.

  A couple interesting comments by the drivers "of the day".

    First was about driving until the "white" started to show on the tires. The"white" was, actually, the light colored nylon structural fabric of the tire. When the driver saw the "white", he had about 2 or 3 laps, to pit for new rubber, before the "blowout".

    Another great comment was about the "Voice of Firestone". The "Voice of Firestone" was a musical variety TV show sponsored by Firestone in the 50s... but the Indy roadster drivers adopted the term, "Voice of Firestone", to describe the squealing and screeching the tires made when they were spinning, skidding and sliding down the track during a crash. Hearing the "Voice of Firestone" was not a good thing.

Things began to change, in late '61 and '62, when Firestone used some slightly different tread patterns and different compounds at Trenton and Milwaukee. I have even seen some 1962 photos from Trenton showing some version of the "Monza" tire, being used.

   Some guys were, even, attempting to create a little "stagger" by overinflating their new "right rears" and leaving them in the hot sun to "stretch" out a little. Firestone was also allowing the cars to run lower "left rear"tire pressures to reduce circumference.

The "Monza" tire

   The roadsters, in the 50s, ran on, relatively, flat speedways at Indy, Milwaukee and Trenton, but in 1957, a race was scheduled at the incredible Monza, Italy high bank, 2.64 mile oval.

   It was necessary for Firestone to design and build a totally different tire to cope with, not only the increased vertical and centrifugal loading, but also the bumpy concrete surface of the banking.

   Firestone came up with a tire, featuring stiffer sidewalls and a symmetrical, intricate tread pattern.

  This tire was successfully tested at Monza, in excess of 170MPH, prior to the 1957 race, using the KK500C-Chrysler test car, and, also, successfully raced there in 1957 and 1958.

     The next "high bank" race for the roadsters was scheduled for April, 1959 at the new 2.5 mile Daytona International Speedway.  Compared to Monza, Daytona was brand new, super smooth ashphalt, but exerted the same kind of vertical and centrifugal forces on the tires,

    The "Monza" tire was successfully tested at Daytona, using the Kurtis SPL-3 - Pontiac roadster, and used in the race with no problems.

   Unfortunately, the Daytona race and associated events turned into a disaster with one driver killed during testing and another killed in the race.

  Following the Daytona race, the roadsters were deemed unsuitable for high bank racing and never again returned to race at either Monza or Daytona.

     The "Monza" tire was, also, used at Daytona, in 1961, by the Mad Dog IV on its record 180+ MPH lap.

The Indy Roadsters -1963 to 1966

    In 1963, everything changed when Lotus showed up at the Indianapolis Speedway with their specially built low profile, wide tread Firestones, mounted on 15" diam. wheels.

   Top roadster drivers, Parnelli Jones and A.J. Foyt, who had showed up at the track with the standard 16 and 18 inch wheels, "protested" the fact that Lotus had access to Firestone tires that they didn't have. Firestone said that they had built the tires to Lotus specs and Lotus had paid for the development of the tires.

    After more "discussion", Firestone agreed that they could produce more tires for the roadsters that wanted them....

      But, that wasn't the main problem.

  There were no 15" wheels that would fit on roadsters. Roadster wheel supplier, Halibrand, scrambled up some existing 15" wheels that he was building for Shelby Cobras and other sports cars, that he was able modify to fit on the roadster hubs.

   Other problems included brake clearance problems, ride height problems and torsion bar lever & radius rod geometry problems.  

    Apparently, the advantages of the 15" tires were greater than the problems they created because Parnelli was able to win the '63 "500" with the new wheel & tire setup along with the top four finishing roadsters. About half of the roadsters in the '63 field were, eventually, able to get the new "15s" with no apparent tire related problems in the race.

    The tire sizes on Parnelli's '63 winner were 7.40 X 15 fronts and 8.00 X 8.20 X 15 rears

      They measured:

Fronts- 27"diam. X 7.5"wide X 6"tread mounted on 6" wide wheels

Rears- 29"diam. X 9"wide X 7.5" tread mounted on 8" wide wheels

By '64, the "16s" & "18s" had disappeared and Goodyear came sniffing around the Speedway. Tires became lower and wider.

By '65, Goodyear came in full force and the tire war was on

. In '66. the last standard front engine roadster started the Indy 500, ironically, on Goodyear tires.

I have posted pix of the roadster tires in an album titled "Firestone Roadster Tires" in the "Photo Gallery"..

Have a look at:

mac miller in Indy

The Firestone Test Cars....The fastest roadsters, never raced

Posted on October 17, 2009 at 2:01 PM Comments comments (4)

This blog was much harder to research than I expected. There are "bits and pieces" of information from many different sources... much of it conflicting.

  From studying history books, media articles "from the day", old photos and talking to a few remaining guys, who were actually there, I think I, now, have it correctly sorted out .

  Another problem is that there are not many good pix of these cars. I have posted what photos, I have, in an album, titled "Firestone Test Cars" in the Photo Gallery.

  One good thing about an internet blog is that I can revise and add information as I discover it . I am also looking for more pictures of these cars for the photo album. If any of you have any further info, corrections, comments or photos, please, let me know.


  In the summer of 1952, the AAA Contest Board came up with a new engine rule that allowed stock block engines to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with 335 C.I. The "race" engine displacement was set at 274 C.I. The OFFY engine was actually 270 C.I.

Test car one-- Kurtis KK500A #355-52 - Chrysler

Chrysler installed one of their 331 C.I. "LeMans proven" Hemi engines in Roger Wolcott's new Kurtis 500A roadster chassis and Firestone sponsored a track test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Oct. of 1952. This car ran almost 1500 miles, including a simulated 500 mile race at speed almost 4 MPH faster than the official 500 mile record. After panic from the OFFY engine owners, AAA lowered the C.I. for the Chrysler engine to the same 274 C.I. limit as the OFFY, for the 1953 race. Wolcott decided to install the smaller Hemi and give it a try, but the Chrysler engine advantage was neutralized by the smaller displacement limit.

A couple of more comments on the Wolcott roadster:

* Even though this car was not a Firestone owned car or an official test car, it did set the precedent for the Firestone test cars that followed.

* Even though the Wolcott KK500A was a roadster chassis, the V8 could not be offset to the left, consequently, the driveshaft ran between the drivers legs forcing the driver to sit higher than normal. .

* With the big, heavy V8 and no left side weight distribution, I have to wonder just how valid the tire testing info was to Firestone. .... On the other hand, at the time these first tests were run, Firestone thought that this new car/engine combination was going to be the winning setup for Indy... at least, until the AAA contest board shot it down.

* This car currently belongs to Joe Freeman and is restored to its 1953 Indy livery, light blue #25. It appears at some of the larger vintage meets around the country,

Test car two-- Kurtis KK500C #379-54 - Chrysler

Firestone really liked the idea of testing at speeds beyond normal, to build additional safety margin into their tires. Since Wolcott's car, now with the smaller engine, was no longer capable of the higher speeds, Firestone bought their own test car, equipped with the outlawed 331 Hemi engine.

  Their new car was the KK500C model. It used a modified tubular space frame so that the V8 and driveline could be offset to the left of the driver in true roadster fashion. It also used the more streamlined 500C bodywork.

  The car was operated by Firestone's own test team, headed by Ray Nichels. One of its first outings, in June 1954, was at Chrysler's new Chelsea Proving Grounds where it set a new closed course record by lapping the high bank test track at over 182 MPH.

  It ran thousands of miles at Indy and, also, did tire testing duty at Monza, Italy in preparation for the 1957 "Race of Two Worlds", with speeds in excess of 168 MPH.

 This car is, currently, sitting, unrestored, in the basement of the Indianapolis Speedway Museum.

Test car three-- Kurtis SPL 3-58 - Pontiac

  For 1958, Firestone bought another new test car. This car was not a modified OFFY chassis but a specially built Kurtis roadster, just for Firestone. It was equipped with a, Ray Nichels built, 485 HP Pontiac V8.

  This car was used to test tires at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Monza, Italy and the new Daytona International Speedway, at over 170 MPH, in preparation for the 1959 Daytona Indy car race.

  Some of the drivers who did thousands of miles of tire test duty in this car were Pat O'Conner, Paul Goldsmith, Jim Rathmann and Roger Ward. 

But wait!........there's more!

    This car had a second life. In 1961, Bill France posted a 10,000 dollar prize for the first 180 MPH lap at his new Daytona International Speedway.

   The Firestone car, minus the Pontiac engine, had been acquired by, nascar mechanic, Bob Osiecki. He decided to go for France's money by installing a 460 C.I, supercharged version of the Chrysler "413" wedge engine.

   Remembering the 1959 fatal crash of Marshall Teague in the Sumar Streamliner, Osiecki, also, installed large inverted airfoils on either side of the cockpit to keep the thing on the ground. He finished it off with a large tail fin and called it the "Mad Dog IV".

    After a wild summer of record attempts, finally, on August 28, 1961, driver Art Malone and the "Mad Dog IV", picked Bill France's pocket of the 10 thousand dollars with a lap of 181.5.

    Some of the other drivers who drove this car for Osiecki included NASCAR stars, Buck Baker, Curtis Turner and Larry Frank.

This car is currently owned by Don Garlits, for display in the Garlits Museum, in Florida.

  I have placed what pix, I have, of these cars in a new album titled "Firestone Test Cars" in the "Photo Gallery"

  Check it out at:http:

             mac miller in INDY

The Kurtis 500G roadster vs. The Watson roadster

Posted on September 20, 2009 at 9:18 PM Comments comments (1228)

When I think of an Indy roadster, the image that comes to my mind is the Kurtis 500G and the Watson roadster.    These cars were the most produced cars of the roadster era with Kurtis building 16 of the 500G and G2 models in 1956 and 1957 and Watson building 23 of his roadsters between 1956 and 1963. Both cars were designed and built by the top pro builders and mechanics of the day.

  These cars had almost identical layouts with the driver offset to the right and the vertically mounted OFFENHAUSER engine offset to the left and large rear mounted fuel tanks . They used the same standard Halibrand driveline, running gear and suspension components, brakes, steering gear, four bar cross torsion suspension, all mounted on a steel tubular space frame. They had almost identical length, width, wheelbase and track dimensions and beautifully graceful bodywork.

BUT, there was a difference in design philosophy between these two cars that, ultimately, led to great success for one and mediocrity for the other.


 The Frank Kurtis KK500G roadster

  Frank Kurtis had built approx. 30 roadsters between 1952 and 1955. For 1956, he brought out the low and sleek 500G model.

  It featured stout structural design and construction with beautiful "all business" aluminum bodywork.    Variations of the 500G included, three of the sixteen being built as "left side driver / right side engine" cars.  The 500G raced, at Indy, from 1956 to 1962, scoring one pole position and no wins. It was not much more successful anywhere else.

 Top teams using the Kurtis 500G were Bowes Seal Fast, Sumar and Bardahl.


 The A.J. Watson roadster

  A.J. Watson won Indy in 1955, as chief mechanic on the John Zink Kurtis 500D. He had bought that car as a kit and assembled it with his own ideas.

  For '56, A.J. took his experience with the 500D and built his own Indy roadster. Based on the 500D style space frame, A.J. built a lightweight chassis, eliminating some of, what he considered, needless bracketry & structure and he simplified & lightened the steering system. He also used a lot of magnesium for body panels and bulkheads. A.J. finished his new car off with stylish, Larry Shinoda designed, bodywork.

  A.J. continued to build and develope this same car until 1963. He was one of the first to use light weight fiberglass tails and noses.

  The only noticeable change in these cars was, following the 1958 season, when they came up with the famous "shark nose".

  In addition to the 23 roadsters that Watson built, there were, probably, another 6 or 8 Watson clones built by other builders of the day, including Ewing and Trevis. In fact , the 1961 winning car was a Trevis built Watson clone.

  The Watson roadsters raced at Indy from 1956 through1966, scoring six poles and seven wins. They also had great success at other events on the champ car trail.

  Top teams using Watson roadsters included Leader Cards, John Zink, Sheraton-Thompson, Dean Van Lines and Agajanian.




   Both the Watson and the Kurtis 500G were defeated at indy in '57 and '58 by the clever Salih-Belond "laydown" roadster.

  For 1958, Kurtis abandoned the 500G and his next two cars used "laydown" engines. Also several of the original 500G cars were converted to "laydown" engine configuration.

  Watson didn't fall for the "laydown" engine fad. He stayed true to the upright engine layout and was rewarded with five "500" wins from '59 through '64, plus the 1961 "500" win by a Trevis built Watson clone.

 Watson never built a "laydown" car and none of his roadsters were ever modified to use a "laydown" engine.


Comparing the spectacular success of the Watson roadsters and the relative failure of the Kurtis 500G roadsters comes down to a few simple things..

weight & complexity- The Kurtis 500G was a very stout car with too heavy brackets, too heavy braces and too heavy parts. A.J. reduced everything, he could, down to its simplest possible form and used the lightest possible materials. This resulted in a weight advantage of around 250 lbs. This made for better acceleration, better braking, less tire wear and less driver wear.

  A 250 lb weight difference was just too much for the 500G to overcome.

suspension geometry- Site member, Steve Miller, pointed out, in his "comment", that Watson had a "track bar" setup that created superior left rear tire "bite".  Another guy pointed out to me that the radius rod angles on the 500G caused a rear roll steer condition.  A driver, who drove both cars, said that the 500G was a "handful" and very tiring to drive, compared to the Watson.

   Either by design or by happenstance, the Watson had better suspension geometry.


horsepower & setup- While both, Frank Kurtis and A.J. Watson, were great designer/builders, A.J. was also a chief mechanic and engine builder. His "in the pits", hands on experience with setups, as well as his ability as an engine builder and innovator, were major factors in the success of his cars.

  Bottom line is "power to weight" ratio......  Advantage to Watson.


  My personal favorite????

 I like the Kurtis 500G... particularly, the Bardahl "left hander".

mac miller in INDY

the NOVI roadsters

Posted on August 22, 2009 at 12:08 AM Comments comments (29)

the NOVI V8 roadsters

By the mid 50s, the late 40s era Kurtis front drive NOVI chassis were getting well beyond their useful competitive life. Top car builder of the day, Frank Kurtis, had been hounding NOVI owner, Lew Welch to buy some new rear wheel drive roadster chassis to run the NOVI engine. Welch finally made the move for the 1956 Indy 500 by ordering two new, specially built, Kurtis roadsters.

   The Kurtis 500F NOVI was handsome, wide and stout featuring a very sporty tail fin. Between 1956 and 1960, these two cars raced with little success but great excitement.

500F #389-56 made the Indy field in 1956(Russo), 1957(Russo) and 1958(Russo) but failed to qualify in 1959 and 1960.

500F #390-56 made the Indy field in 1957(Bettenhausen) and 1958(Cheesbourg) but failed to qualify in 1956, 1959 and 1960.

500F #390 was used in the special Monza, Italy race in 1957(Bettenhausen). This car holds the all qualifying record at the Monza high banks of 176.8 MPH.

In 1960, with his businesses failing, Lew Welch sold the NOVI engines and cars to Andy Granatelli for what was reported to be $10,000. The sale included three NOVI engines, the two 500F chassis and an inventory of spare parts.

 500F #389-56 failed to qualify at Indy in 1961 and 1962 but made one final appearance in the 1963 "500"(Malone), sporting the biggest tail fin ever to appear at Indy. This car is currently on display in the Talledega museum

 500F #390-56 was never used by Granatelli and seemed to disappear from the face of the earth after 1960.

Before the 1962 "500", Granatelli commissioned two new roadsters from Kurtis.

 The Kurtis 500K NOVI, based on the OFFY powered 500J, was a big brute of a car with great "lines". The 500K engines were set 7" further back and with more left side offset than the 500F for better traction and tire wear.  

  The NOVIs sounded better than ever, were being driven by the bravest drivers at the track, B. Unser & J. Hurtubise, had moments of blinding speed and generated more hype than ever before, but between 1962 and 1965, the two 500Ks scored only one top 20 finish.

 Chassis #500K-124-62 failed to qualify in 1962 but made the 500 field in '63(Hurtubise), '64(Malone) and '65(Hutubise).  This car is currently in the IMS museum basement.

 Chassis #500K-125-62 also failed to qualify in '62 but made the race in '63(B.Unser) and '64(McElreath).

This car is currently located at the Unser Museum in New Mexico .

  These cars, also, made a rare appearance, away from the Indianapolis Speedway, at Atlanta in 1965, driven by Hurtubise and Tinglestad

In 1964, Granatelli turned his attention and focus on a new chassis for the NOVI engine.

  I'm not sure if this car can be called a "roadster" because it had four wheel drive and independent suspension, but it was front engine and had an offset driver so I'm gonna include it as a NOVI roadster.

Granatelli commissioned the British Ferguson Co. to design and build the new chassis with a four wheel drive system and four wheel independent suspension called the Ferguson P104. It was to be driven by Bob Unser.

    The car was much heavier than anticipated but Unser qualified it for the '64 race. Unfortunately, the car was knocked out in the second lap crash.

 For the 1965 race, the Granatellis built a car, similar to the Ferguson, in their own California shop. This car was considerably lighter weight and faster than the "Fergie".

 Again, unfortunately, the new car was damaged in a practice crash and the '64 Ferguson had to be brought back for qualifications. Unser qualified the "Fergie" for the '65 race but retired early with mechanical failure.

     The "lightweight" Granatelli built car was repaired and brought back for the 1966 "500", as a single car entry, to be driven by Greg Weld.

  Greg crashed the car during practice on the final day of qualifying and the long NOVI history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came to a final grinding halt against the North shute concrete.

   The Ferguson built car is on display at the Novi, Mich. museum, but the Granatelli built car has disappeared.

The NOVIs were a glorious technical disappointment but for 25 years these big, loud, exciting beasts brought legions of fans to the Indy 500 just to see and hear them run, so how can anyone call them a failure.

I thank my lucky stars that I had the thrill of seeing them and, especially, hearing them.

Hear the sound of the NOVI at the following quick link:

See pix of the cars discussed in this blog at the following quick link:

mac miller in INDY

the Streamliners

Posted on August 17, 2009 at 12:26 PM Comments comments (6)

1954 was the year when three of the top owners of the day decided to build streamline cars for the 1955 INDY 500. Many of you have taken a look at my "streamliners" photo album on the "Photo Gallery" page, so I decided do a blog with a little history on each of these very interesting roadsters.


The #33 Belond Miracle Power Streamliner

This car was based on Kurtis 500B chassis that was raced at Indy in 1953 and 1954. After the '54 500, Quinn Epperly used this frame to build the 1955 Belond streamliner for muffler king, Sandy Belond.

Unlike the other two streamliners, this car used streamline fairings rather than fully enclosed "fenders".

The car, with a 270 OFFY and driven by Jim Rathmann, finished 14th, but failed to qualify in 1956.

I do not know current ownership or location of this car or if it even still exists...

Anybody have any current info on this car????

The #48 Sumar Streamliner

This car was commissioned by Terre Haute Indiana businessman, Chapman S. Root .

The car was built in the Frank Kurtis race shop and was based on a brand new Kurtis 500D chassis and 270 OFFY engine,

 Driver Daywalt, immediately, complained of claustrophobia under the canopy and complained about not being able to see the front wheels.

The stunning car was stripped of its canopy and much of the wheel enclosing bodywork. It went from being one of the most beautiful Indy cars ever to one of the ugliest.

Daywalt drove the car to a respectable 9th place finish, but only after destroying the original spirit and intent of the car.

  Had I been the owner, after spending a lot of money, time, and effort to create this car, I might have tried another driver who was more receptive, adaptable and experienced with the original concept of this car.. Maybe a top sports car or LeMans racer.

 The car failed to qualify in 1956.

  The car was reassembled and tested at the new Daytona Speedway in 1959. After setting a new closed course speed record of over 171 MPH, driver Teague lost control and died in the crash.

The car has been restored and is still owned by the Root family. It is on display in the Root family museum in Daytona Fla.

The #4 Keck Streamliner

Howard Keck, owner of the 1953 and 1954 Indy winning Kurtis 500A roadsters, envisioned the most advanced Indy car ever built for the 1955 race. The car was to have fully enclosed streamlined bodywork and a supercharged V8 engine.

The car was designed and built by the top technoids of the day including Norman Timbs, Quinn Epperly and "whiz kids", Jim Travers & Frank Coon.

  It was the only "clean sheet of paper" design rather than a "rebody" of an existing chassis.   Eng. Timbs actually built models of the car for testing at the Cal Tech wind tunnel. The car was equipped with a full width aero tuning plane on its trailing edge.

  The engine that Keck wanted to use was the NOVI, but that plan failed to happen when NOVI owner, Lew Welch, refused to sell Keck an engine. Plan B was to commission OFFY designer, Leo Goosen, to design a new, NOVI like, supercharged V8.

In early 1955, it became obvious that neither the car or the engine would be ready in time for Indy, so Keck released his driver, Vukovich, to drive for Lindsey Hopkins.

While leading the race in the Hopkins Kurtis 500C, Vukovich got involved in someone else's crash on the back straight and was fatally injured.

  With Vukovich gone, the eccentric Keck lost interest in the race team. Travers and Coon finished the streamliner, but the Goosen V8 engine project was abandoned and a standard OFFY 270 was installed.

  Shortly after, Keck closed down the shop and quit racing. The streamliner sat, untouched and unseen, until 1985 when Keck sold it to an unidentified Memphis businessman. Its last known location was "on display" at the Kruse collection in Auburn Ind.

It may still be there.


Looking back, These guys, including the standard roadster builders, appeared to have a purty good eye for pure streamlining but much less knowledge of the other aero forces, such as lift, downforce, turbulence and high pressure air build up inside the bodywork, under the nose and wheel wells, as understood today.

The Belond, with its open top "fenders" was, certainly, less effected by "spinning wheel" turbulance and pressure than the full bodied cars.

  At Indy, due to driver comfort issues, Sumar bailed out on their streamliner body before they gained any meaningful aero knowledge and experience.

I have never read or heard of the Sumar using any wind tunnel data or any other scientific testing when developing their car.

Unfortunately, when they reassembled the aero bodywork for the Daytona runs, it resulted in Teague's fatal crash. Running at speeds 30 MPH faster than Indy, they were certainly dabbling with aero unknowns.. Aero forces such as lift and instability could have been the main factors in the crash.

  Maybe Daywalt was right in rejecting the fully enclosed bodywork, even though it was for different reasons. Had he proceeded with the original bodywork, he may have encountered some of the same unknown aero effects, as Teague, on the back straight at Indy.

Although the other streamliners may have had some formal aero evaluation and information, the Keck was the only car with documented aero testing, so, the "whiz kids" may have had some or all of the aero answers. We'll never know since it never ran. The Keck remains an enigma

One thing that all of the Indy streamliners had in common was that they were all beautifully built, they were all working with relatively "on the edge" aero science and they were popular among the fans, even to this very day.

Photos of these great cars can be seen at the following quick link:

mac miller in INDY