8-9 February: This Weekend in Motor Sporting History

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

~8 February~

1939: Bill Cummins (34), winner of the 1934 Indianapolis 500 and holder of the land speed record for diesel-powered cars, died. Cummings died driving a passenger automobile on State Road 29 in Indianapolis, when he hit a guard rail and plunged 50 feet (15 m) into Lick Creek. He was pulled from the water by passers-by while still alive, but died in the hospital two days later

1975: Sleepy Tripp, in the Doug Caruthers # 2, won the USAC Midget feature at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum, Indianapolis, Indiana, US.

1989: Dean Billings won the All American Midget Series race at the Volusia County Speedway, Barberville, Florida (US). Ed Loomis was second followed by Kevin Olson, Jack Hewitt and Bill Ripp.

2002: A coroner investigating the death of marshal Graham Beveridge at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix found that the accident could have been avoided. Beveridge died in hospital after being hit by a wheel from the wreckage of Jacques Villeneuve’s BAR, which had tangled with Ralf Schumacher heading into turn three. The tyre flew through a gap in the catch fencing that the coroner said need not have existed. Despite the findings the FIA confirmed the 2002 event would go ahead as planned.

2006: The Belgian Grand Prix was dropped from 2006 calendar after organisers revealed improvements to the circuit would not be ready in time for the event. It was the second time that decade that the popular Spa Francorchamps circuit was withdrawn from the calendar, after Belgium’s tobacco sponsorship legislation prevented a race in 2003.

~9 February~

1909: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation was incorporated with Carl G. Fisher as president. The speedway was Fisher’s brainchild and he would see his project through its inauspicious beginnings to its ultimate glorious end. The first race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway took place on August 19, 1909, only a few months after the formation of the corporation. Fisher and his partners had scrambled to get their track together before the race, and their lack of preparation showed. Not only were lives lost on account of the track, but the surface itself was left in shambles. Instead of cutting losses on his investment in the Speedway, Fisher dug in and upped the stakes. He built a brand new track of brick, which was the cheapest and most durable appropriate surface available to him. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway would later be affectionately called “the Brickyard.” Fisher’s track filled a void in the international racing world, as there were almost no private closed courses in Europe capable of handling the speeds of the cars that were being developed there. Open course racing had lost momentum in Europe due to the growing number of fatal accidents. Recognizing the supremacy of European car technology, but preserving the American tradition of oval track racing, Fisher melded the two hemispheres of car racing into one extravagant event, a five-hundred mile race to be held annually. To guarantee the attendance of the European racers, Fisher arranged to offer the largest single prize in the sport. By 1912, the total prize money available at the grueling Indy 500 was $50,000, making the race the highest paying sporting event in the world. However, the Brickyard almost became a scrap yard after World War II, as it was in deplorable condition after four years of disuse. The track’s owner, Eddie Rickenbacher, even considered tearing it down and selling the land. Fortunately, in 1945, Tony Hulman purchased the track for $750,000. Hulman and Wilbur Shaw hastily renovated the track for racing in the next year, and launched a long-term campaign to replace the wooden grandstand with structures of steel and concrete. In May of 1946, the American Automobile Association ran its first postwar Indy 500, preserving an American tradition. Today, the Indy 500 is the largest single day sporting event in the world.

1911: Mercer recorded its first major racing victory as Charles Bigelow in a Type 35R raceabout won the Panama Pacici Light Car Race in San Francisco, California.

1947: The Swedish Winter Grand Prix was held on a circuit surrounding a Swedish Air Force site at Rommehed. Only three cars, all visiting British ERAs, finished after the ship carrying the bulk of the grid was not able to make its destination. The race was won by Reg Parnell driving an ERA A-Type.

1952: A two-way radio was first used in NASCAR competition. Al Stevens, who operated a radio dispatch service in Maryland, drove in the 100-mile Modified and Sportsman race at Daytona while talking to pit boss Cotton Bennett. Stevens finished 27th in the 118-car field and third in the Sportsman class. Tim Flock was flagged the winner, but was disqualified when NASCAR technical inspectors find “improper” roll bars in his 1939 Ford. Jack Smith was declared the ­official winner.

1958: Jimmy Bryant, driving a Mercury, won the USAC stock car race on the dirt track at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona, US.

1958: S G Allen won the Baskerville Grand Prix held in Hobart, Australia, driving a Fiat Special. Baskerville Raceway, the oldest continuously operating circuit in Australia, is set in a natural amphitheatre with spectators able to sit in their cars and view the entire circuit. The track is a tight and demanding 1.25 miles in length that includes a fast straight, off camber corner and a relatively blind corner at the top of a steep hill.

1962: Rod Perry won the Modified Stock Car race over Bobby Allison and Jackie Evans at the Palmetto Speedway in Miami, Florida, US.

1964: Two time World Champion Jack Brabham drove his Brabham BT7A-Climax to victory in the Australian Grand Prix on the 1.9 mile Sandown Park circuit. The race was round 5 of the inaugural Tasman Cup series. It was Brabham’s 2nd straight Australian GP win and 3rd overall.

1969: Jochen Rindt splashed to his second win of the ’69 Tasman Series season when he won a rainy 45 lap, 101.5 mile round 6 on the 2.25 mile Warwick Farm circuit, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. The race also decided the Tasman championship as Chris Amon clinched the title when he and his lone challenger Piers Courage were eliminated in a first lap incident. Rindt continued to impress, winning his 5th pole in the 6 rounds, all on tracks he’d never seen before. Amon got the jump on the start, but Rindt moved past on the long Hume Straight to take the lead and a half lap into the race Rindt’s Lotus-Ford was 3 seconds ahead. Courage was pressing Amon hard as they came off the Causeway and moved past on the short straight leading to Polo Corner. However, Courage took Polo too quick and spun on the exit to the corner directly in front of Amon. Amon tried to avoid, but hit Courage’s spinning Frank Williams Brabham. Courage limped to the pits with a bent wishbone and Amon parked the Ferrari on the grass with a broken hub carrier. An angry Amon stomped back through the mud, but Courage’s retirement had clinched the title for Amon. Pressing on, Rindt was 15 seconds ahead of his Lotus teammate Graham Hill by lap 3. With Rindt well out front, attention turned to a battle for 2nd between Hill and Amon’s teammate Derek Bell. On lap 8, Bell pulled wide down the Hume Straight and pulled his Ferrari Dino inside of Hill as they braked for the hairpin. Hill had the power to hold him off and the battle continued another lap. This time, Bell took the Ferrari further outside of Hill under braking and Hill sportingly conceded the line. By this time, Rindt’s lead was 23 seconds, the Austrian driving brilliantly in the worst racing conditions seen at Warwick Farm and the first Tasman race run in the wet on the circuit. Hill pitted on lap 13, losing 10 laps with a wet ignition, but later returned to set fastest race lap. Positions remained unchanged over the final 28 laps and Rindt crossed the finish line 44.9 seconds ahead of Bell with Frank Gardner’s Mildren-Alfa finishing a lap down in 3rd.

Hans Stuck

1978: Racer Hans Stuck (77) died in Gronau, West Germany. Stuck’s experience with car racing started in 1922 with early morning runs bringing milk from his farm to Munich, shortly after his first marriage. This eventually led to his taking up hill-climbing; he won his first race, at Baden-Baden, in 1923. A few years later, after a year as a privateer for Austro-Daimler, he became a works driver for them in 1927, doing well in hill climbs, and making his first appearance in a circuit race (the German Grand Prix) that year as well. In 1931, Austro-Daimler left racing, and Stuck eventually wound up driving a Mercedes-Benz SSKL in sports car racing, where he continued to excel. In 1933, his acquaintance with Adolf Hitler (whom he had met by chance on a hunting trip in 1925) led to his involvement with Ferdinand Porsche and Auto Union in Hitler’s plans for German auto racing. With his experience from racing up mountain passes in the Alps in the 1920s, he was virtually unbeatable when he got the new Auto Union car, which was designed by Porsche. Its rear mounted engine provided superior traction compared to conventional front engine designs, so that its (eventually) 500+ horse-power could be transformed into speed even on non-paved roads. In circuit racing, the new car was very hard to master, though, due to the swing axle rear suspension design initially adopted by Porsche (relatively advanced for its day, it is now utterly obsolete because of its many problems). His career with Auto Union was quite successful. In 1934, he won the German, Swiss and Czechoslovakian Grand Prix races (as well as finishing second in the Italian Grand Prix and Eifelrennen). There was no European Championship for the circuit races that year, or he would have won it. Wins in a number of hill-climb races brought him European Mountain Champion, the first of three he would eventually collect. In 1935, he won the Italian Grand Prix (along with second at the German Grand Prix; he also won his usual collection of hill-climb wins, again taking the European Mountain Championship. 1936 was leaner; he placed second in the Tripoli and German Grands Prix, finishing second in the competition for the European Championship. After Stuck missed a number of hill-climbs because of injuries suffered in accidents, that year the European Mountain Championship fell to his famous team-mate, Bernd Rosemeyer. 1937 was equally lean, bringing only second places in the Rio de Janeiro and Belgian Grands Prix. 1938 opened poorly; Stuck was either fired from, or quit, the Auto Union team (accounts from the two sides differ). After a series of injuries to other team drivers, as well as pressure from the German government (again, accounts differ as to what combination of factors was the cause), he was re-hired, and proved himself by winning a third European Mountain Championship, his last major pre-war success.

2000: Sylvester Stallone disappointed F1 fans when he revealed that his highly anticipated motor racing film, Driven, would in fact be based on the American CART Champ Car series. He had spent more than two years visiting grand prix for research but said F1 was too closed and Bernie Ecclestone too powerful for such a project to work. “I apologise to fans of Formula 1, but there is a certain individual there who runs the sport that has his own agenda,” he said. “F1 is very formal, and it’s very hard to get to know people. Here in CART it is much more open and that will be reflected in the film. It is extremely important to me that we create a film that accurately depicts the true sense of CART – the emotion, excitement, speed, technology and glamour that is Champ Car racing.” The movie was released in 2001 but flopped and was nominated for seven ‘Razzie awards’, given to the worst movies of the year.

2006: Ex-Formula One driver Gerhard Berger bought a 50% stake in Toro Rosso. The deal saw Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz purchase 50% of Berger’s shipping company in return. The team improved under Berger’s part ownership and surprised the F1 establishment by winning the 2008 Italian Grand Prix. However, just a few months later Berger sold his share back to Mateschitz.

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