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The Roadster Tracks! Where They Raced

Posted on May 24, 2010 at 6:35 PM

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

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Reply Galen
7:25 AM on July 2, 2010 
When it came to Trenton, I think one of the most significant factors in the roadster success/failure ratio was WHO BROUGHT WHAT. When Bignotti brought Foyt and the roadster, the roadster won. When he brought Foyt and the dirt car, the dirt car won. The most consistent roadster entrant was Watson with Ward, and they would still occasionally show up with a dirt car, but he won most with the roadsters. Parnelli only brought Calhoun once, and it broke, so no telling how he'd of done.
Reply Galen
7:28 AM on July 2, 2010 
Concerning Atlanta, Lloyd Ruby did the tire tests, and he told Denny Moore, Zink's crew chief, that the track was so rough it would tear the RE cars apart, and that the dirt car was a better bet. They took the dirt car for McElreath, and Denny describes it as "the worst mistake I ever made." At least he survived it.
Reply Harry Kantz
5:47 PM on February 1, 2011 
I am suprised that the track at Jungle Park in Indiana wasn't mention but that may have been a pre USAC or AAA track. It is a moblie home park today with some of the track still recognizable.
Reply Galen
9:37 AM on February 3, 2011 
Buddy Cagle loves to tell the story of going to Trenton in 1959, driving the 1957 Watson that Rathmann used to win at Monza. Zink walked Buddy around the track, up to the third turn, and told him "Buddy, you don't have to shut off until you get right here," at a spot past the crossover gate that was WAY down the backstraight toward three. "OK, Boss," was all Buddy could say. He ran a couple of good laps in practice, then carried the car to the point Zink had indicated. Sure enough, it came around and backed itself into the wall. That car sat in the Zink shop for quite a while before it became the only roadster Zink ever sold. Years later he asked Denny Moore why he'd sold it, and for that, there was no answer.
Reply ★ Owner
11:17 AM on February 3, 2011 
Harry Kantz says...
I am suprised that the track at Jungle Park in Indiana wasn't mention but that may have been a pre USAC or AAA track. It is a moblie home park today with some of the track still recognizable.

Harry, Jungle Park is a half mile track that was never used by either AAA or USAC. It was, basically, an "outlaw" track but many of the big name drivers competed there, some under alias names.
As you say, the track still exists and is, currently, being used as a canoe rental for the adjacent
river. There is a great vintage reunion held there every September. It is a very interesting place and the old racing spirits are still very strong there.
Reply forex robots review
1:24 PM on April 10, 2011 
Great post. Can?t wait to read the next ones :)
Reply Mel Anthony
10:30 AM on June 9, 2011 
Your description of the contrast between upright dirt cars and the roadsters was great. I have fond memories of the Milwaukee Mile from the 2003 Miller Meet. Not a race, but a quality track event to warm up and air out these great old cars. I had the privilege to turn several laps in an upright Watson 255 Offy, former Zink champ car. After a 47 year "coffee break" I took five laps to get the feel of the car on the mile.Then in five more laps I forgot how damn old I was !! The car handled on the mile, similar to the Kurtis midgets I formerly raced on the 1/4 and 1/2 mile bullrings. My only drive of a champ car on the pavement, and it was a thrill.
Reply GreenMut
3:25 AM on April 27, 2017 
Reply Sendteakale
6:39 PM on August 1, 2017 
Hello. And Bye.
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