Race Weekend Central

Potts’s Shots: Remembering Smokey’s Sidecar Experiment

No questions this week, so we’re going to drive back to the past again. Sorta.

I found myself mildly amused when they were showing the new refueling cans at Daytona last week and ol’ DW chimed in about the dry break system they’re using. He said you had to get the nozzle seated in there “perfectly” before it would work right.

This is a leap forward in technology, of course, with the return tube being on the can, but what’s new about having to hit that spot perfectly? I did some refueling of stock cars in my younger days. These guys don’t have to hit that spot any more perfectly than we did before the dry break system came along.

We had roughly the same size can, with the funnel-shaped top and a rubber hose mounted to the top of it. The spot you had to hit was an ordinary fuel tank filler neck with a twist-on top, similar to a radiator cap, and the hose was just big enough to fit over that filler neck.

First you had to twist the cap off, then raise the can up, tilt it nearly upside down and shove it down on that filler neck. Perfectly. DW said if you don’t hit it perfectly with these new cans, you can’t get the fuel to flow properly into the cell.

Hey, back in the day, if you didn’t hit it right, you didn’t get ANY fuel in the tank, and to make matters worse you got it all over you, the ground and anybody standing around. Like the left-rear tire changer. Those guys could be VERY unhappy with you if that happened.

It was easy to hit it just right if you took your time, but we all know that’s not exactly the procedure during a pit stop.

Be happy you’ve got what you got nowadays, guys.

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On one of the sites I frequent each day, somebody posted a photo of Smokey Yunick’s “sidecar” that he showed up with at Indianapolis in the ’60s. Smokey, of course, was one of the greatest innovators in racing and that applied to Indianapolis as well as stock cars. I like to think of him as being a lot like Mickey Thompson, who said in his book, Challenger, that for him, the normal way of doing things could be no more than a jumping off place.

Smokey once built an Indy roadster with a frame that had a slight “S” shape to it. He said it “…sort of had a left-hand turn built in.”

The sidecar, which is shown in the accompanying photo, was about as far out as he got at Indy. This was when the roadsters were in the process of being replaced by the rear engine cars.

For you stock car fans, the first roadsters came along in the early ’50s. The first successful one was Bill Vukovich’s Fuel Injection Special. He won with it in 1953 and 1954.

The idea was to offset the engine and driveline to the left, with the driver sitting alongside the driveshaft, thus lowering the silhouette in addition to offsetting the weight and lowering the center of gravity. In 1957, George Salih showed up with the first “laydown” roadster, which had the four-cylinder Offenhauser about 18 degrees off horizontal, further lowering things. That car won the 500 in ’57 with Sam Hanks and ’58 with Jimmy Bryan.

Smokey decided to build a car without a driver’s compartment at all, putting the wheelman in a sidecar off to the left. When he wheeled it out for inspection, somebody voiced the opinion that it looked dangerous.

Smokey replied that racing was a dangerous game, adding, “If you want to be completely safe, stay in the garage. But you could drop a hammer off your foot back there.”

One of my favorites of the ’50s and ’60s, Duane Carter Sr. (Pancho’s dad) tried it and didn’t care for it. I was there on one of the qualifying days when Bobby Johns, a stock car driver of some repute, took it out to try to make the race and spun it coming out of the first turn, making contact with the wall.

That pretty well ended Smokey’s experiment.

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Stepping back into the present, let me say I was really happy for Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers on Sunday. I’m sure everyone who is familiar with their history in NASCAR is also very happy.

For some edification on their coming back to prominence, I would invite everyone to read a column by Ed Hinton on ESPN.com.

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About those questions.

They don’t necessarily have to be NASCAR-related. I’m interested in just about all kinds of racing and I’ll do my best to answer anything. Send questions to indybigjohn@frontstretch.com

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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