Posted by: Jerry Garrett | February 26, 2021

EL RANCHO: The Surprising Origins Of Desert Rose Dinnerware

Hand Painted El Rancho Desert Rose

GLENDALE, California

The Desert Rose pattern, the best-selling American dinnerware pattern in history, was designed by a Warner Brothers cartoonist.

Most folks associate Desert Rose with Franciscan Ware, which dates back to 1941. But the story began even earlier than that. Exactly how early is hard to tell, and when the cartoonist entered the picture is even harder to determine.

Before “Franciscan Ware” Desert Rose pattern dishes, there was El Rancho Desert Rose (or Wild Rose) dinnerware. These dishes, with the “Hand Painted El Rancho” stamp on each piece were manufactured from 1931 (when a patent was applied for) to 1938, possibly earlier according to some reports. A few one-of-a-kind plates exist which look like the artist’s early prototypes.

Annette Honeywell Desert Rose prototype?

Every piece in every set, though, is unique and slightly different; they’re each little works of art, from a time when craftsmanship meant more than it does today. Though people often refer to the El Rancho line as “Made in Japan” it was not; it is merely a Japanese-style pattern, or a pattern inspired by Japanese paintings and drawings.

Some say El Rancho Desert Rose tableware may have been manufactured by United China and Glass Company (UCAGCO), an American company (not Japanese, even though their logo included the word “Japan”). That’s harder to pin down.

Desert Rose is very typical of Oriental-influenced Southern California art and home décor of the early 20th Century. The artist responsible for the Desert Rose pattern was noted contract designer Annette Honeywell (1902-1959) of Los Angeles. It is known Ms. Honeywell sold Desert Rose designs to Gladden, McBean & Co., in 1940 that were used to produce the Franciscan Ware versions.

It is not known if Ms. Honeywell, who also worked as a cartoonist in the animation studios famed for its Looney Toons and Merrie Melodies characters, was the source of the El Rancho Desert Rose patterns, or whether the designs she sold to Gladding, McBean were merely inspired by El Rancho’s line. But her known works with the pattern seem to be evolutionary, from understated and minimalist, to the bolder Franciscan Ware version – largely similar to the delicate but rococo El Rancho pieces – which featured stronger coloring.

Franciscan Ware Desert Rose

The delicate El Rancho patterns, with pink roses, yellow buds, green leaves and brown branches were very popular; pieces and sets seem to have been sold worldwide. Collectors in Europe, Africa, North America and Australia claim to have large holdings of the El Rancho sets.

If the line truly went out of production around 1938, the reasons why are not clear.

After Gladding, McBean, which became one of America’s big five ceramics manufacturers after a series of Depression-era acquisitions of competitors’ lines, purchased Ms. Honeywell’s patterns in 1940, within a year they began producing Desert Rose dish sets from those patterns, in the Franciscan Ware genre at its factory in Glendale, California. Many imitators and innovators have done subsequent versions.

Early logo

Desert Rose would become one of the best known, most iconic, most copied tableware patterns in history. But it all started with the El Rancho line

Jerry Garrett

February 27, 2021

P.S. Whatever happened to Franciscan Ware? It’s still being made. But the quality of today’s dinnerware differs greatly from its origins. See photo:

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | February 18, 2021

Why The Daytona 500’s TV Ratings Suck

Six hours of this? Count this television viewer out. (CBS)

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida

One thing racers, racing fans and national television audiences can agree on: They hate when races are rain-delayed or rained out. They tune out en masse.

The latest case in point for this? Ladies and gentlemen, we present the 2021 Daytona 500. It was a real barn-burner of a race – those NASCAR guys really know how to put on a show – from beginning to end. It’s just that, in the middle, there were six hours of delays for rain, pitchfork lightning and golf ball-sized hail. Dead air time, essentially.

The TV ratings for the Fox Sports broadcast of the race, not surprisingly, were the worst in recorded history. (Recorded history dates back 42 years, by the way.)

The sad thing about this unfortunate situation? It was TOTALLY AVOIDABLE, as well as completely predictable.

Blame television.

The traditional start time for the Daytona 500 used to be around 12 noon ET. Back in the day, the people at NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway (essentially the France family) lived in Daytona Beach, and they knew that late afternoon and early evening thundershowers are almost a given this time of year. So they knew if they started the 500 around noon, it would likely be over by about 3:30 p.m. That was usually early enough to conclude the racing before the 4 p.m. lightning-and-thunder show rolled in. Even if the race was still going at that time, it was at least past halfway, which is the point at which any NASCAR race is considered “official”; it can be prematurely ended after halfway and count as a “complete” race. No sitting out the rain storm, or watching Air Titans try to dry the track for hours on end.

Television executives (who don’t live in Daytona) became impressed with the large crowds and good racing going on at Daytona (and other stops on the circuit) and decided to start televising them. A deal was worked out, and the initial ratings were very good indeed. But the television execs perceived two problems: 1. The ratings could be even higher, if the races were run later, right? Typically prime time ratings are higher than midday audience numbers. 2. The 500 started at 9 a.m. on the West Coast. Surely that must be hurting ratings? People Out West are barely awake then, yes?

So the TV execs used their considerable clout to force the race’s start time to be moved back more than three hours. So, the race was supposed to finish about 7 p.m. ET. The ratings would soar, yes? Actually, no. They plummeted. Why?

Here are some possible answers: Rain, lightning, hail.

Since Daytona has started later, that usually puts the race square in the crosshairs of whatever storm system moves into central Florida any given afternoon. I can’t remember when the last time the Daytona 500 ran without rain delays. Oh, the TV people say it was 2019. Ratings weren’t bad that year; the whole telecast averaged 9.17 million. But in 2014, there was another 6:22 rain delay. The all-time record was set in 2012, when the race took 37+ hours to complete, and wasn’t over until 1:00 a.m. TUESDAY!

But compare the last decade’s worth of ratings to 2006: the broadcast on NBC “attracted 37 million total, un-duplicated viewers and drew a record 11.3 household rating and 23 share – the highest NASCAR rating in history and the most-viewed Daytona 500 ever,” according to Nielsen Media Research.

So you get an idea about how the corrosive effects of rain delays, rain-outs and TV audience turn-offs are contributing to NASCAR’s struggling TV ratings. Of course, there are other factors, such as a lousy economy and a pandemic. But if people are trapped at home during a pandemic, one might wonder: Shouldn’t the ratings be going up, not down? I digress.

In 2021, the average viewership for the Daytona 500 was a disastrous 4.83 million! Maybe disastrous isn’t a strong enough word. Ratings like that are driving sponsors away, turning off fans (who wants to spend six hours shivering under metal bleachers during a lightning storm?), and turning off more and more television sets the longer this is allowed to go on.

In 2020, the 500 averaged 7.33 million viewers for the whole telecast. But that was nothing to get excited about either; remember, the 2020 race was completely rained out on Sunday and had to be carried over to Monday.

TV execs might try to rationalize 2021’s dismal numbers by pointing out that the telecast was averaging over 8 million viewers for the first 45 minutes of the race, before the rains came. But races that end in the wee hours of Monday morning, or are completely pushed over to a Monday rain date are going to end up with appalling ratings. That’s not hard to figure out.

Here’s an interesting factoid: If the 2021 Daytona 500 had started at the traditional noonish start time, the race would have been OVER by the time the rains came at 3:40 p.m.!

But what about ratings Out West? Well, if you have ever lived Out West, you would know that live sports on the weekend just start early (see: NFL); it’s a fact of life, and you just plan your day around it. In fact, many West Coasters are just fine with a sporting event ending at 1 p.m. because they have the rest of their Sunday free for golf, surfing, motorcycle riding or just working on a tan.

If a race starts at noon or 1 p.m. on Sunday for a West Coaster, that means a perfectly good weekend day is completely blocked out That’s unacceptable.

And that is yet another reason why, instead of ratings going up with a later start time, they are going down.

This faulty thinking on the part of TV execs who should know better is also hammering IndyCar racing, especially the Indianapolis 500. It used to start at 10 a.m. (or 11) so it would have a better chance of being finished before Indiana’s completely predictable afternoon thunderstorms arrived (Indianapolis has a higher average annual rainfall than Seattle).

The 2020 Indianapolis 500 averaged only 3.43 million viewers – like Daytona, the worst EVER. (Yes, there were some possible mitigating factors, like NBC insisting the race be run on a random August Sunday afternoon.)

The bottom line here is that moving the start times around for racing’s traditional crown jewel events, to satisfy the curiosity of clueless television executives, is having ruinous consequences that won’t be easy to arrest, much less reverse. It’s called “demand destruction.”

Run the races at start times that make sense, or move them to different times of year when rain is not inevitable.

Jerry Garrett

February 18, 2021

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | February 17, 2021

Michael McDowell, 2021 Daytona 500 Winner, Never Led A Single Lap

2021 Daytona 500 Winner Michael McDowell (USA Today)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.Michael McDowell, a 36-year-old journeyman driver from Glendale, Ariz., has been racing in NASCAR for 14 years, with precious little to show for it. When he started Sunday’s Daytona 500, it was his 358th career start. Up to that point, he’d never won a race, but Sunday that all changed. He finally broke through, and scored his first victory, in NASCAR’s premier race. He says it is too early to tell how his life, and his racing fortunes might change, now that he’s a Daytona 500 champion. But he says, “I will never be a Dark Horse again.”

Our post-race chat had a surprise ending:

It’s the last lap of the Daytona 500. You have two guys between you and the checkered flag and they are crashing in front of you. What do you do?

It was Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and I going to the checker. We had such a good run going, I felt like we were in control of the race. I knew Brad was going to make a move, so Brad and I got together. We had a big run coming to Joey. Brad made his move and Joey blocked it and, you know, they got together.  One went left, one went right and I just drove right through the middle.

What were your chances if you all stay in a pack all the way around the track to the finish line, without crashing? Were you feeling like you had a chance in that scenario?

You’re coming to the end of the Daytona 500. Nobody’s going to stay in line. I knew that Brad wasn’t content to finish second and let Joey win the race. And I knew that Joey wasn’t content to let Brad win. So I felt like I was in a great spot, no matter what, even if there wasn’t the crash. I knew that Brad was going to make a move on Joey and my plan was to come off turn four when he made that move and stay glued to that car. When he made that move, I was going hopefully to be able to make my own race-winning pass and snooker both of them.

When people are crashing around you in such an important moment, do you have to constantly remind yourself not to back off the throttle, which might be your first instinct in a dangerous situation, but keep your foot flat on the accelerator pedal?

Right you can’t lift. You don’t have time to recharge that momentum. Because you are coming to the line, you know once you let off at all, you’re done. Once you make that run, you know you have to stay committed to it.

You ran a long time with the likes of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Logano and Keselowski – these are NASCAR’s tough guys. They have a real “checkers or wreckers” mind-set. You must have thought “I’m swimming with the sharks here.”

Exactly right. I knew I was swimming in shark-infested waters. I’m swimming with the sharks here all the time. So you knew that you were in those waters and something was going to happen. So you know you have to position yourself to win the race when it inevitably does. But I don’t think that you do anything differently in how you approach it. I just knew this was the Daytona 500 and the intensity was going to be ratcheted way up there.

People who might not follow NASCAR regularly might think, “Wow some Dark Horse just won the Daytona 500. What a fluky deal.” Do you feel it was? Or do you feel you paid your dues, you executed the perfect race strategy, and you earned your chance to win?

Yeah absolutely. You know it’s not a quirk thing. Daytona is a place where I’ve had some success. Obviously I hadn’t won. But I have a couple top fives and a handful of top 10 at the track. So when I go there I feel like, you know, we have an opportunity to be in the conversation and potentially win the race. But I do understand, I mean for the millions of fans that might not regularly watch NASCAR, this is my first win and we’re typically not the favorite to win that race, obviously. It’s not offensive to me. I feel like time and time again we have put ourselves in a good position to win, but we haven’t won. I believed I could. But when I come back here next year, I won’t be looked at as the Dark Horse anymore. I’ll like that.

What part in this did Ford’s strategy play? Was there a specific strategy or laid out before the race that “we’re going to run all together like this; we’re going to pit together; we’re going to get back out on the track together”?

We do have a strategy with the manufacturer. Ford is a huge part of that. Getting the drivers on their various teams to work together at Talladega and Daytona. Because we know that there’s strength in numbers. We know that you have to have a good pusher in the draft. Strategy is important. Like when you come down pit road together. I think that was the key to us winning that race. That last stop near end – when the Fords came down together – we executed those stops really well. We came out together and we were able to pin the Toyotas and Chevys behind us, and keep them there coming to the white flag.

You’re backing off, running at less than 100 percent in a scenario like that, just to stay together, are you?

No, we’re racing our guts out. They don’t want us to not race our guts out. They just want to make sure that we’re all giving ourselves the best chance to put a bullet up front, to get us to Victory Lane. I feel like from that standpoint we did that super well. We were in that spot and we had a lot of Fords up there, like you said, at the right time. Once we got 3/4s of the way into the race, we really had control of the race at that point.

Who did you feel had the strongest car? Denny Hamlin’s Toyota?

What he’s been able to do with only a handful of teammates is very impressive. He’s done such a great job preparing for this race. He’s very strong and the other Toyotas were working together and they were making big moves at the end.

But he was running 12th or something there at the end and that is just too far back to have a chance.

Right. If you are back much further than 6th or 7th, that’s really too far back too be able to make a big move to the front.

How did you rate your car against the others you were racing with? Were you just along for the ride? Or on a pretty equal footing, all things considered?

I thought I had a strong car all week.

You actually got through the big crash at the start of the race, not just the big fiery pileup at the end. Your car got some damage in that one, didn’t it? How did it drive after that? Any after-effects?

We did have some light contact. I just brushed the wall. I hit it very square. It wasn’t something that hurt our performance. But we definitely had to execute the repairs well. My team did an excellent job. We are on the clock so to speak, when you’re involved in an accident. You only have six minutes to make the repairs on pit road before you’re disqualified from the race. So we were tasked with doing that well. But we got the repairs done. We didn’t lose a lap and obviously you know we got the car extremely quick. My guys had a plan.

I suppose, before this race, if anybody asked what Michael McDowell is most famous for, it would likely be from the millions of YouTube views of you trying to knock the wall down at Texas Motor Speedway some years ago. Have you given people something new to remember you by?

I hope so, but we all know that crash footage is going to live on forever. You know whether I win the Daytona 500 or crash, it’s just part of the history in the sport. (The Texas crash) was obviously very significant and unfortunately it’s part of my history. But I’ve been in this world long enough now and had to persevere and grind it. I have respect for my competitors and I feel they have respect for me. I feel really good about where I’m at. I didn’t have any doubts about my ability to do the job before this week, and I mean the win just solidifies my belief that we’re heading in a good direction.

You talk about earning the respect of your competitors. It seems like most of them like you. I don’t know that you have any real enemy in that garage area. Even Logano said afterwards, “If I couldn’t win I would prefer Michael would.” Does it help not have enemies out there on the final lap, or is it better to have friends at a time like that?

You always want to have friends. But being realistic here, you know those guys you’re racing with would have done whatever they had to do to win the race. That’s just what we do as competitors. Like I said, Joey is going to do anything he can to win that race. I wouldn’t expect anything different. But to have their respect off the track I think means a lot. It’s nice to hear those comments from Joey and some others. You know I think one of the most rewarding parts of this sport, it’s just knowing that you not only made an impact on the race track but off the racetrack as well. I feel real relationships, among other things, last forever.

The history books will show that you only led the final lap in this Daytona 500. But, really, you never did lead a full lap, at any point, did you? And you only led a tiny portion of the last lap. The race was over before you even got to the checkered flag. Does that bother you at all?

I don’t believe so. I think that any other way that they categorize that is he was a leading that lap coming across the start-finish line. So yes we did technically not lead a lap. In fact, we were only in the lead for about three or four seconds and then the race was over. That’s amazing to me. And mind-boggling!

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | November 22, 2020

How To Improve Our Next RV Trip? Leave The RV Home

Toyota Tundra TRD and Airstream Basecamp 20X (Jerry Garrett Photos)

BUTTE, Montana

A chatty couple approached us at the KOA campground. The conversation soon turned to the coronavirus, which for months, we had been trying our damnedest to avoid.

“Oh, we got it!” said the woman.

When?

“We still have it!” she answered. “Yeah, we’ve been stuck here in our RV, throwing up, having diarrhea for almost a month now. Sick as dogs. We have no idea where we got it – maybe at the gas station, maybe another camper.” She looked around, warily.

Horrified, we politely excused ourselves, while the maskless couple moved on to chat up a neighboring group of RVers. We overheard them trying to organize a caravan of fellow travelers to the big motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D. – destined to be a “super-spreader event” that would be blamed for sickening at least 70,000 and lead to 700-plus deaths, as of this writing.

Home!

Scenic Wonders!

At this point, our fanciful plan to take a 1,700-mile RV trip through Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Bryce, Zion and other national parks, monuments and forests, was over. We had blocked out two weeks on our calendars, but a week proved more than enough.

We thought traveling with an RV would be our literal escape vehicle, to leave civilization behind, experience the wild, be a part of the environment, and revel in nature.

We thought we had planned this trip out pretty well. Turns out we didn’t. We didn’t foresee the myriad problems that would force daily improvisations needed to keep moving down the road, the unexpected costs of meals and motels, and stops at seemingly every gas station – much less surprise exposures to the virus we were trying so hard to avoid.

Airstream Basecamp 20X

We had arranged to tow a new $48,900 Airstream Basecamp 20X, which is a version with off-roading capabilities facilitated by beefier tires and suspension, higher ground clearance, skid plates (which unfortunately leave the underbody PVC plumbing too exposed), and stone guard protection for the aluminum panel exterior.

To best leverage the 20X’s enhanced abilities, we paired it with a stout four-wheel-drive Toyota Tundra pickup, which also retails for close to $50,000. So, our rolling revue represented an investment of close to $100,000 – before we even left our driveway; not exactly an escape for the everyman.

Rear view of the Basecamp

In combined city/highway driving, the Tundra TRD can be expected to average about 14 miles per gallon, according to FuelEconomy.gov; towing the 20-foot RV knocked that down to near 10 m.p.g. Ouch.

We had three adults and some little Pomeranians that are generally wonderful to travel with. The Tundra was more than roomy enough for all of us and our gear. (“Remind me again: Why are we towing this thing?”)

intrepid travelers

The Basecamp features expanded water tanks that handle the flushing toilet, shower and kitchen sink. A stove, fridge and heater are propane-powered, but the twin tanks lack fill-level meters.

There are also seats, benches and tables that can be reconfigured into Spartan beds for up to three adults.

When we picked up the RV, we learned that optional solar panels were not available. Neither was a side tent that could nearly double floor space.

Basecamp 20X interior

Other features such as the air conditioning don’t run without a 30-amp power source. That means either purchasing a substantial generator, which would take up a lot of room in such a relatively small RV, or finding a campground or RV park with an upgraded electric hook-up (standard hookups are usually 20 amps).

The internet router required purchase of a pricey, duplicative data plan from AT&T; it also wouldn’t work out of cell phone range. If you have cell phone receptivity, why not just use that?

Dry camping with a Basecamp 20X

So, setting up a real off-the-grid “basecamp” with the Basecamp can be problematic.

The first leg of our trip was supposed run about 400 miles from scenic Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks in southern Utah to Evanston, Wyoming.

Big Horn Sheep in Zion

There were no campground spots available in Bryce or Zion, or upon our arrival in windy, cold Evanston. The state had closed all the rest areas along the highway. So we ended up driving 60 more miles to the nearest affordable hotel (that also welcomed pets) in Little America. This is an overgrown truck stop in the middle of nowhere; no sit-down restaurants were open, no grocery stores, no RV hookups. That night, we dined on the few leftover snacks we had brought to munch on in the truck.

Little America, Wyoming

This ended up being a recurring theme; we would have been better off reserving a hotel room and driving there in the truck – without the RV.

The RV required at least two spots in any parking lot, and an easy way to get and out (without backing up – our most dreaded chore). We avoided drive-thru fast food lanes, low overhangs and awnings at motels, and crowded parking lots at malls and grocery stores. This quickly got tiring.

The next day, without breakfast, we hit the road for Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It was a wonderfully scenic drive. But a lot of attractions were closed along the way: restaurants, tourist camps, stores, even motels.

When we arrived in Jackson, however, despite the raging pandemic, the place was teeming with tourists. We couldn’t find a place to park downtown. So we kept on going toward the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.

On to the Grand Tetons!

Our plan to wait at Grand Teton and nearby campgrounds for a site to open up had some flaws. Many campers have figured how to game the system, in which stays are supposed to be limited. In actual practice, there are devious ways to keep rolling over your departure day; in some instances, aggressive campers manage to stay in one place all summer season. A small number of spots theoretically open up each day – they usually don’t – but competition for the few that do is intense (and often cutthroat).

We ended up staying in the Signal Mountain Lodge, which was memorable but expensive. Staying in the lodge would have been much cheaper if we had reserved ahead (but why would we, if we had an RV?). Sadly, many of the features of the lodge, including the highly desirable restaurants, were closed due to the virus. So, again, we were reduced to eating snacks.

Signal Mountain Lodge area, campgrounds at left

We unsuccessfully tried daily for three days to snag a camping spot. Without a camp site, we had to keep moving the RV around inconveniently distant parking lots to store it; we weren’t allowed to park it near our cabin. Which also meant we couldn’t use it.

We could have ventured off road, and tried dry camping. But it seemed there were too many unknowns around how long our propane or water supplies could serve our needs, and if we had enough power to keep us warm and safe.

The unexpected cost of renting a cabin totaled almost $1,000 – about ten times what we had budgeted for a campground. That, added to the Little America stay, and the cost of eating junk food from truck stops and sandwich stops – rather than preparing meals in the RV – was starting to add up into the thousands.

The drive through Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks was magical – especially for the passengers. For the driver, it was a fulltime nerve-wracking job keeping the RV from wandering off the edge of narrow roads.

Grand Teton National Park

About six hours of driving per day was the absolute maximum that this driver could handle before fatigue set in. Roadside parking was severely limited for trucks towing an RV. And most sites were restricted for pets.

Not surprisingly, to me, I came home with only five photos on my camera.

From Yellowstone, we headed north into Montana, through the Gallatin River canyon – “A River Runs Through It” country. Again, we didn’t – and couldn’t – stop for long anywhere. After coming out into the Bitterroot Valley and a pleasant sightseeing loop through old mining camps and ghost towns, we were thankful to find a spot at the Butte KOA.

But after our eye-rolling encounter there with virus-carriers, we made a bee-line home. We did stop to overnight in an RV lot in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, but it proved too crowded, with zero health and safety considerations. A second choice was much more agreeable – a quiet creekside park along the historic Oregon Trail – but it lacked wastewater dumping facilities, showers, toilets or a store like the first one had. We ended up using the facilities at a nearby truck stop.

Roughing it

After one night of this, we were more determined than ever to get home.

When we arrived, I was surprised how dirty the RV had gotten, despite using it very little. It took almost a full day to clean it.

One the one hand, RV life and living or working off the grid has never been easier or more convenient – and it is getting more so all the time. But significant challenges remain for intrepid RVers, around such issues as finding reliable sources of water, power and food; sanitation and hygiene needs; daily scheduling; budgeting; dealing with feelings of disconnect and isolation. And perhaps most important of all location, location, location: Where will you go, where will you stay, how long will you remain there?

Essentially these are the same challenges faced by city dwellers, but RV living requires overcoming them with new, unconventional solutions.

My solution so far is to leave the RV parked in the driveway. In the two months that have passed since this trip, I have never had occasion to wish we could hitch the RV back up and take it on another trip.

Jerry Garrett

November 22, 2020

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | August 25, 2020

Ten Reasons Why The 104th Indianapolis 500 Finished Under Yellow

Screen Shot 2020-08-25 at 2.26.54 PM

Quick: Decide how the 104th Indy 500 will end (NBC)

INDIANAPOLIS

The 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 was within three minutes of an incredible finish when a horrible crash happened. The track was littered with debris. A driver was injured.

Officials had to make literally a split-second decision how to end the race. The options:

1. Display a yellow flag to slow the race for its remaining distance.

2. Display a red flag and stop the race, and let safety and cleanup crews, and medical personnel take whatever time needed to clean up the mess; then, restart the race and run it at speed until the prescribed distance of 500 miles was completed.

The pressure was on; the decision would go into the history books. What did they decide, and why?

Here’s the scene: A wonderful duel had been developing the last quarter of the race between Scott Dixon, who had led the most laps (111 of 200), and Takuma Sato, who had taken the lead from him after a final round of pit stops, just a few laps before. Dixon believed he had the faster car, plenty of fuel for maximum power, and a strategy that would net him his second victory in the IndyCar classic. Sato conceded his fuel situation was “tight” and that his car tended to go its fastest right after a pit stop; Dixon was reeling him in. Sato led by one second.

Well behind them, 15th place runner (out of 33 starters) Spencer Pigot decided to let it all hang out, with five laps left and pass Will Power for another position. It was a bad idea; too much risk, for too little reward. He lost control entering the front straightaway and crashed spectacularly. His car bounced off the outside wall and careened toward a tire barrier, called an attenuator, that separated the track from the entrance to the pits. He t-boned the attenuator, demolished it, and threw literally tons of debris everywhere, before his car slid to a stop. Pigot appeared to be injured – perhaps seriously; safety crews rushed to aid him. The track and pit entrances were all but blocked.

Meanwhile, Sato and Dixon and the rest of the field came hurtling around the fourth turn, bearing down on the accident site, at 200 m.p.h.

A system of yellow safety lights suddenly blinked on, around the track. Cars were obligated to slow immediately to highway speeds – about 70 m.p.h. – and stay single file. No passing was permitted under the yellow.

Dixon radioed in to his crew, offering his unsurprising opinion that the race should be stopped via the red flag. “They are going to throw the red, aren’t they?” he asked, almost incredulous when advised they might not. Dixon had been victimized by two previous 500s that finished under yellow, while he was running second, denying him an opportunity to go for the win. He didn’t want this to happen to him a third time.

No red. The yellow stayed out. Why?

The ruling:

  1. “There were not enough laps left to gather the field behind the pace car, issue a red flag, then restart for a green flag finish”, officials decided.
  2. IndyCar has no provision in its rulebook to extend a race with caution laps until a green-white-checkered flag can be achieved, like NASCAR racing does.
  3. The Indianapolis 500 is 500 miles. Period. (Although the race is considered “official” after it reaches half-distance, and it can be ended early anytime after that for rain or other unsafe conditions that might prevent it from going the full distance.)
  4. There was no precedent for stopping a race with only four laps – two percent of the distance – to go. The closest precedent: the 2014 race was red-flagged with seven laps to go to clean up a wreck. (Even that 2014 stoppage is considered a borderline call by purists; a different race director,  no longer with the series, decided that.)
  5. During a red flag, teams are not allowed to work on their cars. Several cars had taken evasive action to avoid Pigot’s wreck; others had driven through the debris. If they had suffered damage, that damage might not manifest itself until the race restarted. A punctured tire or damaged part on one of those cars, with a return to racing speeds, might have had disastrous consequences.
  6. Pigot was laying on the ground next to his wreck. Safety crews had pulled him from his demolished car, and propped him up on the ground to examine him. He was in and out of consciousness, and it was inadvisable to move him at that time. An ambulance, tow trucks, track cleaners and a large number of safety personnel were also on the track.
  7. A safety feature of the track – the tire attenuator – was destroyed; the race could not resume with a safety feature disabled. Also, piles of tires fastened together, a component of the attenuator, had been pushed out onto the race track itself.
  8. Repairs to the attenuator might have taken an hour or longer. The attenuator is a complicated structure, comprised of a system of belts, tires and foam, with a covering over it.
  9. Because the race had not started until 2:30 p.m. (latest ever) due to conflicts involving other programming being shown by broadcaster NBC, a lengthy delay might push the finish of the race closer to sunset at 8:30 p.m. The track has no lighting.
  10. It was already coming up on 6 p.m. Eastern time, and NBC had optimistically scheduled its Indianapolis 500 coverage to go off the air by that time, so it could then switch to a hockey playoff game (or local news on the West Coast). A red flag would cause chaos for its Sunday night primetime lineup. (Note to IndyCar: Next year, maybe tell NBC to come up with a more flexible plan.)

Any one of these reasons could have been enough to call it; but ten? Case closed. So, Takuma Sato goes into the record books as the winner. Dixon was a dissatisfied second. Sato’s teammate Graham Rahal was third. That’s the way it is.

It is easy to see how things might have been decided differently had the race been run May 24 (instead of August 23, without fans, due to the pandemic) as originally scheduled.

In May, the race would have started at a more traditional time, like 1 p.m., instead of 2:30. NBC programming executive Jon Miller said the network required the late start because the Democratic National Convention had just ended and the Republican National Convention was about to start, so its Meet The Press and Today show news programs dealing with those events had to be aired before NBC would green-light its Indianapolis 500 telecast. With an earlier, more traditional start time, approaching darkness might have been less of a consideration.

Election coverage conflicts, of course, did not exist in May.

Also in May, NBC would have had fewer scheduling issues with other sports properties. In addition to hockey, NBC was also trying to broadcast a NASCAR race on Sunday on NBCSN. In May, the NASCAR TV contract is still with Fox.

More importantly, perhaps, in May in excess of 300,000 fans would have been in the stands, screaming for a crowd-pleasing finish, NBC be damned. The final seven laps of the 2014 race produced an epic razor-close finish between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves that fans are still rhapsodizing about.

(Editor’s Note: How did the fans like NBC’s broadcast of the 500? They apparently hated it. The ratings for the 2020 Indy 500 on NBC were the lowest in recorded history.)

Jerry Garrett

August 25, 2020

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 31, 2020

NASCAR Mid-Week Races: Here To Stay?

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Brad Keselowski wins the 2020 Coca Cola 600 (NASCAR)

NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski was asked last year, while watching another sport compete on live television during the week, how he might like NASCAR to schedule mid-week prime-time televised events, answered, “I’m ready, let’s go!”

While that may have seemed like an impossible dream a year ago, it’s now very much a reality as NASCAR is actually experimenting with some mid-week races. This an integral part of NASCAR’s “back to racing” effort to make up for events cancelled during March and April due to the coronavirus pandemic .

“I like this format a lot,” he said after a Thursday night 300-miler at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I think it makes sense. I think it makes sense to have long races on weekends and kind of shorter races, disregarding the weather, during the week.”

Keselowski was the winner of the grueling 600-mile Charlotte event that had been run the previous Sunday. Running a shorter race, at the same track a few days later, was surprisingly easy, he noted.

“It feels like I just played one half of a game, rather than a full game. It’s a lot easier, for sure,” the 36-year-old Michigan native said after finishing seventh Thursday.

NASCAR has no official comment on whether the mid-week races might become a fixture on future schedules for its cup series. Officially, the concept is “under study,” but it has yielded some attention-getting television ratings. All the races have been on Fox so far.

“I really like the format NASCAR has here,” he continued. “It’s a good give-and-take. It doesn’t just completely destroy your body, so I think NASCAR has really hit something here.”

Asked if he thought NASCAR might schedule more non-traditional mid-week races, Keselowski answered, “Oh yeah, I think absolutely. NASCAR, in my opinion, has hit gold with this format.”

It would be hard to hear a discouraging word among fellow drivers, even though racers are given no chance for traditional pre-race practice, qualifying or testing.

They show up, race and head on to the next track. An added twist is that half the field is inverted, from one start to the next, to liven the running order up a bit. For example, the winner of one race, would start 20th in the next; the 20th place finisher in one event would start on the pole for the next.

“Inversion from the week before is really good because it mixes the field up and creates some good storylines there,” Keselowski said. “I think it’s fair. It’s compelling.”

He said mid-week, live, televised racing also helps NASCAR stand out in the sports world, during the pandemic shutdown, because “everybody is hungry for content.”

He added, “I think they’ve got gold here. [Coronavirus] or not, I hope we keep this for years to come. I think this is a great little format that’s good for the sport and good for the fans and good for everybody all around. So kudos to them.”

Jerry Garrett

May 31, 2020

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Sean Connery and James Bond’s 1965 Aston Martin DB5 (NYT)

(A version of this story appeared in The New York Times, May 25, 2020)

Public interest in the 1965 Aston Martin DB5 always seems to peak whenever a new James Bond movie appears, since the latest Bond, Daniel Craig, drives one. And a new installment in the long-running movie franchise, “No Time To Die,” is due later in 2020, when 007 will ride again in a classic DB5.

As a tribute to that iconic model, Aston Martin is resurrecting the DB5, which was introduced in the 1964 movie, “Goldfinger,” starring Sean Connery.

A special production run of 25 of what are being called “Goldfinger Continuation” DB5s is being hand-crafted at the same Newport Pagnell facility, where all 898 of the originals were built between 1963 and 1965. These cars are all finished in the same Silver Birch paint scheme, the interior leather is identical color and texture, and the dashboard and gauges are as true to their original appearance as is possible. Aston Martin even called upon the special effects wizard from the Bond films, Chris Corbould, to supervise the re-creation of the Bond movie car’s fantastical gadgets.

“Aston Martin is fastidious about authenticity,” said Paul Spires, head of Aston Martin Works in an interview. “And we have gone to very considerable lengths to ensure the equipment in the Continuation cars is as faithful to that seen in the film as possible.”

He added, “Aston Martin has sourced the cockpit instrumentation from the modern successor to the same supplier who made the original instruments in the 1960s. They appear, essentially, identical.”

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In Goldfinger, the Bond DB5 was equipped with a lethal array of non-standard gadgets, to aid 007 in his crime-fighting efforts. These included oil slick sprayers, smoke screen foggers, a retractable bullet-resistant shield, a passenger ejection seat, nail-spreader, hide-away machine guns in the fenders, and telescoping battering rams.

“The main challenge has been to recreate the gadgets from the film world and transfer them into a consumer product,” explained Mr. Corbould. “We have licence in the film world to ‘cheat’ different aspects under controlled conditions. For instance, we might have four different cars to accommodate four different gadgets. We obviously don’t have that luxury on these DB5’s as all the gadgets have to work in the same car all the time.”

Work underway at Newport Pagnell

There are also concessions to the real rather than “reel” world. The ejection seat will be omitted from the Continuation cars, as no “practical” use could be identified for it. Same with the nail dumper. The oil and smoke sprayers will emit simulated substances. And the machine guns will fire something other than actual slugs.

“That would not be compliant with a very great number of laws and/or safety regulations!” Mr. Spires said. “However, the guns do appear to ‘work’ and have light bursts to indicate them ‘firing’ along with authentic gunshot sound effects amplified through speakers – for a very impressive effect.”

Most other gadgets will be updated behind their dials and exteriors, to function in the modern world.

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Everything is intended to be period-correct (AM)

“The ‘radar’ screen uses modern day satellite navigation mapping to show, as a blinking point of light in the centre of the screen, the position of the car at any given time,” Mr. Spires continued. The original just had a non-moving map of seven southern England counties affixed to it. “It mimics the functionality of the car’s screen in the film. Work is still ongoing on the phone functionality, and we will provide more detail to owners in due course.”

Although the corded handset in the movie car appeared ground-breaking, the carphone was invented in 1946, and unlike the DB5’s phone, actual car phones back then could make actual calls. Bond’s phone had no dial!

The most noticeable difference between the Continuation cars and the originals is the price. A base model 1965 DB5 cost a then-pricey $12,850. The Continuation cars were offered for $3.5 million each. Despite that rather daunting price, and some tough sledding in the luxury car market of late, Aston Martin reports all 25 were pre-sold. All are in the process of being built at this writing, a company spokesman said, and they are expected to be delivered to their owners in the coming months.

In either case, the Continuation cars are a veritable bargain compared to the actual Bond DB5, which sold at an RM Sotheby’s Monterey, Calif., auction last August for $6,385,000.

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007’s DB5 patrolling the Scottish Highlands

Aston Martin’s continuation cars may be the most ambitious of several such projects to have been undertaken by auto manufacturers to date. Four years ago, Land Rover embarked upon a project to refurbish a handful of their original Series I sports utility vehicles, which first appeared in 1948. Jaguar has also built XJSS, E-Type Lightweight and D-Type continuations, hand-crafted – like the Aston Martins – from original blueprints. Ford has licensed third parties who offer complete 1965-66 Mustangs, as well as 1930s Model As and other models.

Bentley is also planning a production run of a dozen 1929 “Blower Bentley” continuation models – which has elicited letters of protest from the owners of the four originals still extant (including fashion designer Ralph Lauren). They complain the value of their ownership will be diluted by replicas – even if they are authentic Bentley reproductions.

Controversy aside, the continuation models, like the DB5s, are not actually even road legal; technically, they must be labelled current-year models – the DB5s are 2020s – and as such they fail to meet modern-day safety and emissions regulations.

So, what buyers of these continuation cars will do with them remains an open question. They’re almost too valuable to drive.

Aston Martin, at least, also offers a possible garaging solution:

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Aston Martin Residences in Miami

Jerry Garrett

May 25, 2020

 

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McQueen, McGraw finally make their getaway

 

HOLLYWOOD

At the end of the 1972 movie, “The Getaway“, the lead character Doc McCoy, played by Steve McQueen, and his wife Carol, played by Ali McGraw, drive off down a lonely road in Juarez, Mexico, headed for Chihuahua.

They’ve made it; they pulled off a lucrative bank heist, hijacked an old pickup truck, crossed the border with it from El Paso into Mexico. And the implication is Doc and his wife will go down that road and never be seen again.

Who knew that eight years later, the real-life Steve McQueen would really disappear – literally – down that same road?

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Original lobby poster for “The Getaway”

When he made that hit film, with legendary director Sam Peckinpah, McQueen was – at 42 – the biggest star in Hollywood. He would marry his sultry co-star McGraw the next year. And he could pick and choose what films he wanted to make. His horizon seemed as limitless as the Juarez skyline.

Mostly, McQueen chose to do nothing; he turned down the part that went to Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, the role that went to Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now”, the lead in “Dirty Harry” – the Clint Eastwood classic, Gene Hackman’s character in “The French Connection”, and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. He turned down a personal appeal from Steven Spielberg for that one.

Aside from the obvious career blunders, McQueen’s life fell apart in other areas. He and McGraw quarreled and split up within a few years. He mostly stayed away from the movie world; he became reclusive overall. He mostly wanted to race cars and motorcycles. Once a health and fitness nut, he then drank and used drugs heavily, according to published reports. And his health started to crumble.

As McQueen came to learn later, he had come down with a rare kind of lung cancer – mesothelioma – believed to be caused by asbestos exposure. The only places in his life where he could recall being around asbestos was on ships during his stint in the U.S. Navy, movie sets, and in processing fire retardant coatings for his racing uniforms.

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McQueen at the end

No matter, mesothelioma was – and is – a death sentence. It has no known cure – although McQueen resolved to try to find one. One of the avenues down which he searched was in Mexico, where controversial doctors promised “unconventional” new miracle treatments. The treatments were costly – and they failed.

That brings us again to Juarez, in late October 1980, where McQueen – his body covered with cancerous tumors – made one final trip down that lonesome highway. This time for a desperate, dangerous, last-ditch surgical procedure.

His personal “Getaway” got no farther than Juarez. He was never seen alive again. His death certificate said “heart failure”. His body was cremated; his ashes scattered at sea.

Re-watching “The Getaway” since then has put a whole new meaning on that last scene.

Screen Shot 2020-05-08 at 6.01.50 PM(Editor’s Note: Watch the final three minutes here.)

Jerry Garrett

May 8, 2020

 

 

 

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Danny Thompson (photo credit) & crew, 448.75 m.p.h., August 2018

 

WENDOVER, Utah

Once upon a time, in the annals of automotive history, the men – and some women – who raced for land speed records were considered gods.

Anymore, however, I wonder who gives a damn?

Oldfield, Lockhart, Cobb, Campbell, Segrave, Eyston, Jenkins, Arfons, Breedlove, Gabelich? How many people today even know who they are?

I do. I grew up on a diet of horsepower. I had a checkered flag in my crib. The first smell I remembered was racing fuel. My first road trip was to the Bonneville Salt Flats. In a stroller.

So it was with a large measure of sadness that I watched the Challenger 2 land speed record streamliner being auctioned off earlier this year at a Mecum event in Florida. Danny Thompson had established the wheel-driven, piston-engine land speed record of 448.75 m.p.h. with that blue beauty at the Bonneville Salt Flats in August 2018.

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Danny Thompson

There is actually quite a back story here. I don’t know if I can do it justice. But I want to try. My apologies to longtime friend Danny Thompson in advance for what I get wrong.

Danny’s father, the so-called “Speed King”, Mickey Thompson, achieved international fame in 1960, when he became the first American to break the 400-m.p.h. barrier; he drove the same car, called Challenger 1 back then and propelled by four blown Pontiac V8s, to a one-way top speed of 406.60 m.p.h. at Bonneville. That surpassed “The Fastest Man Alive” John Cobb’s one-way mark of 402 m.p.h., set at the salt flats in 1947.

Thompson was the first American driver to break 400. But it was not officially recognized in the record books, because a back-up run at similar speeds in the opposite direction required to set a record, was aborted by mechanical difficulties. He had plans to do return and finish the job, especially when Craig Breedlove went faster three years later.

It wasn’t until 1968, however, that Mickey made it back to Bonneville in 1968 with a new twin-engine Challenger II, but rain kept him from running. A loss of sponsorship canceled any 1969 return to the salt.

“In 1968, my dad, the mad scientists at Kar Kraft and an elite group of Southern California gearheads created a vehicle that they believed had the potential to become the world’s fastest hot rod,” Danny recalled, of the demoralizing wash-out.

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A dejected Mickey Thompson at rainy Bonneville, 1968

But Mickey got busy with other things, like racing at the Indianapolis 500, the Baja 1000, drag racing, and a variety of other projects. When he was murdered in 1988, Danny inherited his father’s myriad unfinished businesses and projects.

The one project that maintained his interest, down through the years, was resurrecting the Challenger. He replaced the Challenger’s Ford 427 engines with a pair of Dodge Hemi V8 powerplants, and started the laborious and costly eight-year effort to put all the rest of the 50-year-old components together for an unlikely record run. He hoped for a sponsor to help defray the mounting costs, but when none materialized, Danny, who turned 69 in 2018, pressed on – borrowing money, and living off his monthly Social Security checks.

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Up early to run in optimal conditions

But on a perfect day in the summer of 2018, it all came together for Thompson at Bonneville. Despite some hair-raising fishtailing crossing the 430 m.p.h. barrier, Danny sped through the “flying mile” speed traps at a record clip. The next day, he backed it up.

“It took five decades, a lot of elbow grease, and a few modifications, but I feel like I’ve finally been able to fulfill their dream, as well as my own,” Danny added with a nod to his persistent crew, after his record run.

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“We did it”

“We did it!” he wrote on the team’s website. “On Sunday morning, eight years of hard work culminated in a 450.909 m.p.h. return run. Averaged with yesterday’s speed of 446.605 mph, we achieved a new two-way AA/FS record of 448.757 m.p.h., enough to make us the world’s fastest piston-powered car.”

The story should wrap up there, with a happy ending for realizing a life-long dream.

But it didn’t.

What did Danny Thompson’s achievement net him? Fame? Fortune? A sponsor?

“A hat,” he wisecracked. He also received two cash register receipt-sized pieces of paper with the official printout of his record runs. And that was about it.A0D66471-31DE-4A4B-8986-E1D97F670FE1

“I made the biggest mistake you can make in motorsports,” he continued. “I borrowed money to go racing.”

Then, to pay his creditors, he had to sell the car. It was offered up at the Mecum auction, in early January. He hoped it would fetch up to $1.5 million.

It didn’t. It fell far short of even the reserve price of $900,000 that Danny had calculated as the minimum he would take. He had a tough decision to make when bidding stalled out at barely a half million. A prospective bidder wondered whether Thompson would throw in the Challenger’s trailer, and even the pickup used to pull it.

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Challenger 2 on the Mecum auction block

When Thompson reluctantly agreed, the sale was completed at a hammer price of $510,000, less the buyer-paid sales commission. He professed relief.

“I’ve got debts to pay off,” he sighed. “We’ve been living on Social Security; my wife hasn’t had a reliable car to drive, and we just need to close the books on it.”

Danny Thompson deserved more. Much more. It was the feat of a lifetime for Danny, who often struggled under his flamboyant father’s fame for the recognition he deserved as an accomplished racer in his own right.

But the feat not only didn’t last for a lifetime. It lasted barely a month; Team Vesco’s Turbinator II streamliner turned in a record run at 483 m.p.h. In October of that year, the Turbinator ran an astonishing 503 m.p.h. – although it couldn’t complete a return run to establish the record. (Another attempt in 2019 was rained out; the 2020 season is threatened by a worldwide pandemic.)

The Vesco family, like the Thompson family, had been working up to the record for decades. They were out here in the days I would stand in the seat of my dad’s ’32 Ford “highboy roadster” waiting our turn in the timing lights.

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Danny Thompson at speed

The crowds are small, the sun, wind and rain beat down on you, The expenses mount up, and you begin to wonder, “Does anyone but us still care?”

Yes, for us die-hards. It does matter. When it all comes together, it’s worth every bit of it.

It’s magic.

Jerry Garrett

April 6, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 10, 2020

Bullitt Mustang Auctioned Off For Record $3.74 Million

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“Hammer price” of $3.4 million came to $3.74 million with fees

KISSIMMEE, Florida

The “Mona Lisa of Mustangs,” the Highland Green 1968 GT fastback driven by Steve McQueen in the legendary chase scene in the movie “Bullitt,” sold Friday for a record $3.74 million at a Mecum auction event here.

“It’s a record auction price for any Mustang ever sold,” said Dana Mecum, the auction house’s principal. “It is the Mona Lisa of Mustangs.” He added the final transaction price was about 25 percent higher than his pre-sale estimate had been.

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Massive, SRO crowd at Osceola Heritage Park (David Newhardt)

“Holy smokes!” said seller Sean Kiernan, a Kentucky horse farmer, whose family bought the car in 1974, in response to a classified ad in Road & Track magazine. “This has been in my family for 45 years. It’s only been sold twice before – for $3,500 each time it sold. That’s what my dad bought it for, so that’s what we started the auction off at. And it went from there.”

Kiernan was offering the all original, rusty, banged-up “pony car” for sale with no reserve.

If it seemed like a gamble to offer it on that basis, the concerns were soon dispelled, as bidding quickly climbed to $2.5 million, then slowly after that to its final “hammer” price, before sales commission and other fees were added. Three bidders who telephoned in their bids slugged it out for the right to own arguably the most iconic Mustang of all time.

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Who bought it? Who knows.

The identity of the winning bidder was not immediately disclosed. Mecum said he had no idea what the new owner intended to do with the car. “It’s possible that it may never been seen in public again,” Mecum said.

Kiernan, who said his decision to sell was at least partially motivated by concerns over his family’s medical bills, noted that he was unconcerned what happens next to his family’s beloved grocery-getter.

“I feel really good,” Kiernan said. “It topped every expectation I had for it. That will be a number that will be in the record books for a long time.”

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Seller Sean Kiernan gets congratulations (Matt Avery)

More than 10 million Mustangs have been produced since the model’s introduction in 1964. By the way, the average value for a ’68 Mustang – in good condition – is about $40,000, according to the Hagerty Price Guide.

But in this case, the value was turbocharged by McQueen himself, who along with three other professional stuntmen, piloted the car in the 10-minute chase sequence through the hilly streets of San Francisco. McQueen crunched the left front fender when he plowed, unscripted, into a parked car during filming. The fender still bears the scars. (The shot stayed in the movie, along with another gaffe, when he missed a turn and had to back up.)

Kiernan’s father happily bought the car with all the dings and dents that were left unrepaired after the movie wrapped. “He just wanted a ’68 fastback,” Sean Kiernan explained.

It also still sported a spate of performance modifications that McQueen had commissioned, to help its 390-cubic inch V8 keep up with a more powerful 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440 that it dueled with in the chase.Screen Shot 2020-01-09 at 3.33.30 PM

McQueen, who died of cancer in 1980, tried to re-acquire the car; in 1977, he tracked the Bob Kiernan down and wrote him a plaintive personal letter, pleading to buy it back. But the family retained it and used it as an errand-runner until its clutch gave out a few years later. It had mostly been in storage, and out of public view, since then.

Its recent “discovery” had initiated a groundswell of interest in the collecting car world. Ford Motor Company had proudly put the car on display the past year or so, alongside modern “Bullitt Mustang” homage models it had produced, that were inspired by the original.

An example of the “McQueen factor” in pushing the battered half-century-old Mustang’s sales price to record levels came a few lots after the Bullitt “hero car”was sold: That’s when the actual 1957 Plymouth Fury from the movie “Christine” was rolled onto the auction stage. This is a bonafide star car, in its own right. But bidding only made it to $250,000 for the immaculate red convertible, before the owner gave up and decided to cancel the sale.

Jerry Garrett

January 10, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McQueen himself, along with three other professional stuntmen, had piloted the car in the 10-minute chase sequence through the hilly streets of San Francisco. McQueen crunched the left front fender when he plowed, unscripted, into a parked car during filming. The fender still bears the scars.

 

Kiernan’s father happily bought the car with all the dings and dents that were left unrepaired after the movie wrapped. “He just wanted a ’68 fastback,” Sean Kiernan explained.

 

It still featured a spate of performance modifications that McQueen commissioned, to help its 390-cubic inch V8 keep up with a more powerful 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440 that it dueled with in the chase.

 

McQueen, who died of cancer in 1980, tried to re-acquire the car in 1977, when he tracked the Bob Kiernan down. Despite a personal letter from McQueen, pleading for Kiernan to sell it, the family retained it and used it as an errand-runner until its clutch gave out a few years later. It had mostly been in storage, and out of public view, since then.

 

Its recent “discovery” had initiated a groundswell of interest in the collecting car world. Ford Motor Company had proudly put the car on display the past year or so, alongside modern “Bullitt Mustang” homage models it had produced, that were inspired by the original.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 9, 2020

Were There THREE Bullitt Mustangs? THREE Dodge Chargers?

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Together Forever (Warner Bros.)

HOLLYWOOD

In the celebrated 10-minute car chase in the 1968 movie, “Bullitt”, it has been generally accepted that two Ford Mustang fastbacks and two Dodge Charger R/Ts were used – and used up – in the filming.Screen Shot 2020-01-09 at 3.33.30 PM

In the 50 years since, car collectors and the legions of fans of the cult-fave movie, and its star Steve McQueen, have been trying to figure out what happened to those cars. Even McQueen himself tried to track down one of the Mustangs, in the years prior to his death from mesothelioma-caused lung cancer in 1980.

Initially, it seemed as though the cars were junked. But information has come out in recent years that at least a couple may still be around. And it has also come out that more of them once existed than previously known.

In fact, a stuntman who worked on the movie, Loren Janes, said in a 2011 interview that there were originally three Mustangs and three Chargers purchased for the filming of the legendary chase.

“We had three identical green 1968 Ford Mustang fastbacks and three black Dodge Chargers in the movie,” Janes told Marc Myers, a Wall Street Journal reporter. “Many writers have said two, but there were three of each. We needed the extra cars in case one was damaged. The movie’s shooting schedule can’t be slowed for dents and things like that.”

Janes, the last living Bullitt stuntman, died in 2017 at age 85. He told Myers that he, McQueen and Bud Ekins, who died in 2007, took turns driving the Mustangs (Ekins also had duty crashing a motorcycle in the sequence); Bill Hickman, who passed in 1986, drove the Chargers.

“Fortunately we only had to use a second Mustang once when the first Mustang had to go in to be fixed up,” Janes recalled.

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Loren Janes at the wheel of Bullitt No. 2

So, that means there was a third Mustang that was never used?

Janes said that was his understanding. “Ford Motor Company had supplied them,” he said. “There were three of them. The second one didn’t get wrecked, so the third one didn’t have to be used.”

McQueen’s company, Solar Productions, sold two of the Mustangs, according to recollections of others and paperwork that has survived. But there is no other information on a third Mustang.

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Ekins slides motorcycle past Hickman (Charger) & Janes

A heavily damaged Mustang turned up, incredibly, in a Mexican junkyard a few years ago. It was verified by its serial number on Solar paperwork. Someone acquired it who promised to restore it.

The best-known vehicle in the chase sequence was the so-called “hero car” driven by McQueen. It had largely disappeared until recently, when a Kentucky horse farmer revealed he had it – having inherited it from his father, who had acquired it (via a Road & Track magazine classified ad) in 1974.

That’s the Bullitt Mustang auctioned by Mecum on Jan. 10.

What about the Chargers? Janes believed two of the Chargers were junked; there’s no doubt at least one of them was: It was intentionally blown up in a gas station at the end of the chase sequence.

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Here’s hoping they took the CDW option.

In 2013, a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440, purported to be one of those used in the movie, turned up on the Bring-A-Trailer online auction site (asking price: $1 million). The seller, Arnold Welch, claimed he found it in rough condition in Arizona about a decade ago. It was partially authenticated by production photos that showed cameras had been mounted in spots that this Charger had holes, or repaired holes, under the carpets, in door panels, and in the trunk.

It is harder to determine the provenance of the Chargers, because it doesn’t seem like anyone kept track of their vehicle identification numbers (VINs), as had been done with two of the Mustangs.

Anecdotally, the real Bullitt Chargers all may have been purchased by Hickman from a Dodge dealer in Glendale, California. One was blue (blown up in the gas station), another was yellow; both were re-painted black. Was the mysterious third one black already? Not sure.

The yellow Charger apparently was repainted yellow; it reportedly ended up going back to the dealership it originally came from, and was sold to an unsuspecting customer. That’s the car – painted a third time in gold – that supposedly ended up in Arizona.

The unrestored Mustang hero car and the restored Arizona Charger were invited to appear together at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2018, which turned out to be a rather cool photo op, even if the cars were never driven as fast as they had been in the film.

So, that leaves the car collecting community to wonder: Is there another “Bullitt” Mustang somewhere out there? If there is, it might be difficult to prove its authenticity; no one seems to have a record of its serial number.

Jerry Garrett

January 9, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | December 1, 2019

Indianapolis Motor Speedway: A Question of Stewardship

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway: 660+ acres

INDIANAPOLIS

So the family business that owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is selling it, at this time, over its stated concern about “stewardship”. The dictionary definition of that term is “overseeing and protecting something considered worth caring for and preserving.” The speedway certainly fits that description.

But what has the concept of “stewardship” looked like, over the 110 years the speedway has been in existence? The burden of running the place has previously been borne on the shoulders of young, ambitious men.

To wit:

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Carl Fisher

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Eddie Rickenbacker

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Tony Hulman

Carl Fisher was 35 when he opened the speedway, He owned it 18 years, until he was 53.

Eddie Rickenbacker was 37 when he bought the property from Fisher. Rickenbacker kept it for 19 years, until he was 56.

In 1945, when he was 44, Tony Hulman bought it. He kept it going until his death in 1977, at age 76, at which time it passed to his heirs. All told, the Hulman George family held on to the speedway for 75 years.

Enter Roger Penske, who is 82.

In passing the torch of leadership to a new owner, Tony George, head of the Hulman George ownership group, says the question of “stewardship” going forward is now settled.

Really?

For how long? Something to think about.

Jerry Garrett

December 1, 2019

 

 

 

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