14-15 December: This Weekend In Motor Sport History

Discover the momentous motor sports events that took place this weekend in history …….

~14 December~

1909: The last brick, made of gold was laid at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, giving the track its popular nickname “The Brickyard”. In a span of 63 days, 3.2 million paving bricks, each weighing 9.5 pounds, were laid on top of the original surface of crushed rock and tar to upgrade the Speedway.” The ‘gold brick’, which was actually made from gold plated brass, was the idea was the brain child of Ernest ‘Ernie’ Moross, the first publicity man for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, who formerly promoted for barnstorming racer Berna ‘Barney’ Oldfield. Unfortunately, legend has it that the “gold” brick only spent a couple days in its intended location before it was stolen and never recovered. In October 1961, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway completed a massive asphalt paving project, which paved over the last of the paving bricks on the main straightaway, except for a 3-foot section at the start-finish line, still giving meaning to the ‘brick yard’. The completion of the 1961 project was marked by the ceremonial placement of a ‘gold’ brick in the “yard of bricks,” with a group of witnesses that included 1911 winner Ray Harroun, Speedway President Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr, and Louis Schwitzer, the long-time chairman of the Technical Committee, and winner of the first race held on the Speedway, a five-mile preliminary event held on August 19 1909. Through the years, to avoid a repeat of the theft of the original “gold” brick, the second 39-pound gold brick was kept in a safe in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway office at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street and was only placed in the track for special occasions. The truth is that the 1961 version of the gold brick was really not gold but Dirilyte, a “gold-hued” bronze metal alloy manufactured in Kokomo Indiana. Kissing those bricks after a successful race remains a tradition among Indy drivers.

1924: The Culver City (California) Board Speedway staged its first event, with more than 70,000 visitors in attendance. Board track specialist Bennett Hill won the 250-mile opening race in a supercharged Miller at the phenomenal average speed of 127 mph. The inaugural meet went so smoothly that the Culver City Council adopted a resolution that commended “the officers of the Culver City Police Department for the efficient manner at which crowds at auto races held December 14 were handled.” For the 1925 season, Culver City simply took the place of Beverly Hills on the AAA schedule. The first two-time winner of the Indianapolis “500,” Tommy Milton won the season-opener while the inaugural winner Bennett Hill finished last, out after just three laps with engine failure. There were also a series of non-championship races held at Culver City in April 1925, with Leon Duray and Peter DePaolo winning 25-mile heat races and Harry Hartz winning the 40-lap feature. 35-year old board track veteran Frank Elliott won the AAA season-ending 250-mile race on November 29 1925 by 32 seconds over Harry Hartz. Culver City saw just a single race in 1926, won by Bennett Hill, and in qualifying for the final AAA race held on March 6, 1927, Frank Lockhart set a world speed record of 144 MPH in an intercooled 91 cubic inch Miller. For comparison, the 144 MPH speed barrier was not exceeded at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway until 1956. Maintenance of board tracks was a real problem and while the Culver City board track outlasted the horse-racing track, the track disintegrated while land values skyrocketed. On August 8, 1927, the Culver City Council passed a resolution that platted the Speedway property for housing and reserved a portion bounded by Braddock Street, between Le Bourget and Motor Avenue, as the first public park in Culver City.

1947: The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) was founded at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida. It was the first formal organisation for stock-car racing, a sport said to have begun with souped-up bootlegger hot-rods during Prohibition. Starting in 1953, the major automakers invested heavily in racing teams, producing faster cars than ever before: good results on the stock-car circuit were believed to mean better sales on the showroom floor. In 1957, however, rising costs and tightened NASCAR rules forced the factories out of the sport, and the modern era of NASCAR superspeedway began.

2005: BMW UK Ltd extended its commitment to Formula BMW with the announcement of an exclusive partnership with Formula One legend Nigel Mansell, who joined the Formula BMW UK Championship to help groom future F1 stars, including his two sons Greg (17) and Leo (21).

~15 December~

BRM V-16 – Ken Richardson

1949: Raymond Mays and Ken Richardson test drove the first BRM V-16 race car in its public debut at the Folkingham Airfield, Bourne, England. Work began on the BRM V-16 in 1947. Regulations at the time split Grand Prix into two classes: cars with 4.5-liter naturally aspirated engines, and cars with 1.5-liter supercharged engines. BRM chose the second option, mating a Rolls Royce designed centrifugal blower with two tiny dual overhead cam V-8s joined at the crankshaft. The resulting machine was a little fireball that made 612 horsepower at 12,000 RPM. This astronomical power figure was achieved by the more than 80 pounds of boost coming in from the supercharger. Naturally, an engine of such strange proportions would create a note like no other. In 2004, Pink Floyd drummer, and vintage racing collector Nick Mason wrote a book entitled Into the Red. This book came with an audio CD featuring recordings of 22 of Mason’s race cars, and one chapter is dedicated to the BRM V-16. Unfortunately, the V-16’s racing career didn’t really live up to its stat sheet. In its debut race at Silverstone in 1950, the car broke down on the starting line. The V-16 did later take a win at Goodwood, but blown head gaskets then became a persistent issue, thanks to the insane amount of boost being forced into the engine. Improved cooling would later make the V-16 somewhat reliable, but by 1955, new class regulations meant the engine was obsolete. It was replaced around that time with a much more sensible four-cylinder unit. Even if the engine was not the world-beater that BRM had hoped, it is impressive even by modern standards, and it represents the drive and creativity of its era.

1980: Peter Gregg, winner of the 1979 Daytona 24-hour race, died of a self inflicted gunshot wound. The 40-year-old was discovered at a sand dune south of Jacksonville by a hiker. An hour earlier he had written the suicide note found in his briefcase. Reports at the time suggested that Gregg was suffering from a progressive and incurable nervous system disorder which would have slowly degraded his physical capabilities and would have eventually been fatal and that this, in the context of his perfectionism for which he was known, was what motivated his suicide.At the time of his death Gregg had achieved a reputation as one of America’s greatest and most successful road racers with 152 wins out of 340 races he started. He won the IMSA GTO overall championship in 1971 and 1973, the 1973 24 Hours of Daytona in a Porsche Carrera, co-driven by Hurley Haywood, and the Trans-Am Series in 1973 and 1974 in a Brumos Porsche. Gregg won the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1973 1975, 1976, and 1978. Gregg won IMSA GTO overall championships in 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1978, and 1979, giving him six career titles in the class, and the Trans-Am Series in 1973 and 1974. Gregg was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2000.

2006: Racer Clay Regazzoni (64) was killed in a bizarre road accident crashing head on with a truck in Parma, Italy. He drove for Ferrari from 1970-72 and 1974-76, winning the Italian Grand Prix in 1970 and 1975, the German Grand Prix in 1974, and the United States Grand Prix in 1976. In 1974 he was second to Emerson Fittipaldi in the F1 championship.

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