SOVREN racers kicking it at Indy

It’s an exciting weekend at Indianapolis for racers from the Pacific Northwest.

Dave Kuniki of Surry, BC is okay after hitting the wall on Saturday,  June 18 at the SVRA Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational.

“I lifted and touched the brakes. The car jumped to the right and slapped the (retaining wall). It was a hard hit. That’s when I realized I had no steering. The car came down into the grass and I tried to ease on the brakes, but the car jumped to the left and started to spin.”

The car then hit something with the left front. The cause of the mishap was a mechanical failure. A nut that holds steering mechanisms together came off. Kuniki had no way to control the car.

“It’s an uneasy feeling. I don’t recommend it,” he said.“But I never felt my life was threatened. I have a container seat, and a strong cage. But they took me to the medical center to get checked out, took my blood pressure, asked me questions.”

Although the damage looked slight, once Kuniki and mechanic Freddie Jonsson got under the car, they found the impact had bent the a shaft holding the lower “A” arm that supports the right front wheel, and the left side tie rod was bent. That was it for the weekend.

“You just don’t know if something is cracked,” he said.

Tom Cantrell had an excellent race on Saturday in his 1998 Ford Penske Taurus stock car, taking first place in the SC3 race group.

“We got way ahead of those guys. I hope I keep my cool and make it happen again,” he said, looking forward to Sunday’s final.

Driving his Can-Am car, Cantrell said he was still getting used to the machine. “It’s really, really fast,” he said. “We’re hitting a buck eighty (180 mph) or more.”

Then he has to slow down and turn 90 degrees left on the Indy track.

Matt Parent came close to giving the Northwest a one-two finish in that group on Saturday, coming in third in his Skoal Bandit stock car.

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Matt Parent’s Skoal Bandit, prepared by Horizon Racing

“We’ve had a really good weekend, so far. We finished third overall (on Saturday) with Cantrell in first. They waved us into victory lane, put us on the podium, had us drink milk (an Indy tradition).

Matt Parent on the podium. Photo provided.

“We’re also doing well in the Corvette in B production. We were third in that group, and Tony and I (Tony Darmey of Horizon Racing and Performance who prepares race cars for Parent and several others in Seattle) ran in the enduro,” said Parent.

Another SOVREN car from the Pacific Northwest, a 1964 Studebaker owned by Jeff and Jerry Taylor, won “Best of Show” at the event, possibly the most significant in the nation.

“They came by and asked us to bring our car down to the area where they were having the concert. There were two other cars there. They gave an award to the best open wheel car, and one to the best prewar car. Then they gave us the award for “Best of Show,” said Jeff Taylor, of Sisters Oregon.

“ ‘Best of show?’ I wanted to ask if those guys had been drinking. I think they’re nuts, with all those incredible cars there,” said Taylor.

The Rex Easley Studebaker race car. File photo by AeroSportPhotography

The Studebaker has always drawn admirers, and the well-constructed history of it’s first owner, Rex Easley, has always brought a smile. Kuniki, with one of the many beautifully prepared cars at the event, was pitted next to the Taylors all weekend.

“There must have been 300 or 400 people who came by. They pretty much didn’t see my car, they were there looking at the Studebaker,” Kuniki said.

Curt Kallberg, another racer from Oregon, had a good race. On Saturday, he started in 16th.

“Most of these guys have never seen a ‘Kallberg start.’ I jumped about five of them by going up near the wall on the start into the first corner. I got to ninth, but gave two spots back, ended up 11th,” he said.

Curt Kallberg, #68, next to Corvette driven by legend Al Unseer Jr.
Car prepared by Jon Bibler. Photo provided by Patti Cordoni

But always for Kallberg, it’s the people and the fun that matter as much as the racing. “This is the maybe the best event we’ve ever been to,” he said, reflecting on the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the quality of the promotion and the cars.

Everything was top drawer, with music provided by Three Dog Night. It was rumored that after hearing Kallberg sing along, which most people in the audience were able to do, he might be asked to tour with the band.

“Nah, that’s not going to happen,” Kalberg said. “I was singing loud, but when they heard me, they left the stage. I was devastated. But I also know ‘Achy Breaky Heart,’ and I’m going to sing that for Billy Ray Cyrus.”

PNW racers doing well at Indy

Racers from the Pacific Northwest are doing well at the 2016 Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational, weathering a storm that threatened to blow them away when they arrived.

As of early Friday, David Kuniki, driving an A-Production Corvette with a 427 cubic inch motor, was running first or second in the event against cars owned by professional race shops.

Curt Kallberg, also driving a 427 Vette, is in the top middle of the pack, according to Kuniki. Jeff Taylor of Sisters Oregon was racing his 1964 Studebaker in A Sedan. Taylor could not be reached. Norm Daniels is driving a Camaro Trans-Am car.

Matt Parent was first in his class in his Cup Car (a stock car), and was doing quite well driving his small block Corvette in B-Production with a 350 cubic inch motor, according to engine builder Craig Blood of Blood Enterprises.

“He’s 4th in B Production and 13th overall,” Blood said.

Jeff Mincheff and Jackie Mincheff, experienced drivers from the Portland area but new to Corvettes, are doing well, according to their mechanic Jon Bibler, who also wrenches for Kallberg and Erik Dolson.

“Jackie is doing pretty good. Jeff’s car ( a recent acquisition) is a neat piece, everything on it is as it was raced in 1972. But there’s some work to do (to make it competitive),” Bibler said.

Kuniki said the track reminded him of Portland International Raceway.

“There are two fast chutes. After one, there is a hard right and left, like the chicane in Portland. The back section is technical, you can overdrive it and lose time.  Curt (Kallberg) and I both think it’s similar to Portland.”

Kuniki qualified 1st on Thursday, “on new tires with a 1:38:8. This morning I qualified second with a 1:39:3. I had the older tires on, maybe I was too nervous. This afternoon I’ll have fresh rubber and put it on ‘kill.’ ”

He added, “Along the straight you are three feet off the wall, and the sound from our big blocks is pretty cool.”

Kuniki is dueling with an “incredibly prepared” Corvette driven by Edward Sevadjian, president of  Duntov Motor Company, and Peter Klutt, owner of Legendary Motorcar Company. 

“They made Klutt put a small block in his car to run A production (small blocks normally run B-production), and he still qualified behind me with a small block on old tires,” Kuniki said. “Curt Kallberg is in the upper middle of the pack, even though he’s running with the wrong gears and the wrong carb setting.”

When the racers set up on Wednesday, a thunderstorm blew through the area that threatened to take them out. Bibler said it was like a tornado almost touched down. Kuniki said that he and mechanic Freddie Jonsson had all they could do to save the tents and awning.

“It came on in about a minute. Freddie and I were both holding on to the awning on the trailer and it was picking us up like Mary Poppins. We managed to save the awning but then had to grab the tent and hold on to it for about an hour.  Nobody could help anybody else, everyone had their own problems.”

Tom Cantrell said the weather was fierce.

“The first day the weather was bad, storms came though and were just ripping us. We got about 5 inches of rain in two hours, canopies were blowing away.”

Since then, though, weather has been good, if a little humid.

“We’re having fun,” Cantrell said. “So far the track has been good. We’re getting to know the Can-Am car, making little changes here and there, but it’s doing really well. The cup car is just excellent. We cut four and a half seconds off the last time we were here. We let Brent Glassetner (a builder of Nascar race cars in North Carolina ) have it in the off season, that was a good decision.

“Norm Daniels is doing good, Kallberg seems pretty problem free. All the guys from the Pacific Northwest are doing well,” said Cantrell.

Spokane II

Spokane is a seven-hour pull from Middleofnowhere, Oregon. My old Ford felt a lot better hauling the trailer after a $3,600 tune up, but distance is time and time is money, as they say.

Sometimes it feels like I’m running out of both.

Which is the main reason I’m not going to Indianapolis with the rest of the Big Bore Bad Boys. Cowboy made it as easy as he could, saying he had an extra room, and that Canuck could probably get  my car there for hundreds instead of thousands of dollars. Cowboy said he could even get me registered, late as it was, and if anybody could do that, it would be Cowboy.

“C’mon. You need to go. There will never be another chance like this,” he said.

He’s right. A chance to race the road course at Indy against some of the best drivers in the world won’t come around again. But then, there’s that time and money thing, and a commitment I’d made to Irish to be someplace else that weekend.

So instead, I headed out across some pretty desolate country to Spokane. I was supposed to pick up my crew chief Jakester at the airport at about 11 p.m. I could have driven over and picked  him up in Portland, but that would have added four hours to the trip.

He’s also 15 and had something to do for school. I try to make sure racing doesn’t interfere with school.

Merlin pulled in to the track at Spokane to help Kiwi set up his operation of four or five cars for clients. Kiwi hadn’t arrived so we were on our way to get dinner when I got a call from the Armadillo, who sells parts and fuel.

His truck  blew a front tire and it took out a bundle of wires. The owner of a tire shop had gotten him off Interstate 90 and replaced the tire, but the shredded wire harness left him stranded.

Armadillo was about 130 miles west, back the way we’d all driven earlier in the day. It wasn’t really our problem, though Armadillo had fuel I needed, and some for Kiwi. Merlin likes a lot of octane for his engines, and you can’t get that many places. Just as important, Armadillo was stranded. Merlin had the knowledge maybe to fix it.

“You know we’re going, right?” Merlin said to me, before we ordered our meal. I was already on the phone to Jakester’s mom, getting it cleared for Merlin’s wife to pick up Jakester at the airport.

I didn’t have much to offer besides a couple of tools and some conversation, but after a quick dinner and a long drive, Merlin rewove the color-coded wire harness. Some of it Viking had already done when he drove by and saw Armadillo stranded. We wrapped it up sometime after midnight, and followed Armadillo to the track in case something came loose. It was about 3 a.m when we finally said good night.

After the practice on Friday, race cars were allowed to caravan into downtown Spokane, a surprisingly lovely little city. We put on our show, had a few meat balls for dinner, and headed back to the paddock for the racing the next day.

photo by Jake Bobst

The track at Spokane is a little hard on the cars. On the back stretch, there’s a series of rolling ups and downs that slower cars feel as small hills. It’s a bit different for us: there’s a picture of Ceegar’s Mustang from two years ago with his tires in the air. When I come down, there’s a shower of sparks when my headers grind against the pavement.

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photo by … unknown

Ceegar wasn’t racing the Mustang this weekend. He was really there to test and tune his new project, a very rare and beautiful Ford Can-Am car with a big, 429 cubic inch motor shoe-horned into the smallest imaginable package, weighing about 1,000 pounds less than my Corvette but packing far more punch.

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photo by AeroSportPhotography

It was from the era when “anything goes” lured manufacturers to create some mind-bending machines.

Ceegar owns the original, but for five years debated what to do with it. He was reluctant to risk a piece of precious Ford history in a race, so the one brought to Spokane was hand-built from scratch by Billy Rhine, using the original as a “pattern” and parts either recently found, newly made or some Ceegar had for years. Rhine was at Spokane to help Ceegar sort it out.

I won my first two races of the weekend, having to work damn hard to stay in front of a Porsche that just ate me up in two hair-pin corners. I was slowing too early, and too much, for the tight corners, tip-toeing around in stead of driving.

In the next race I spun trying to fend off Smallblock, one of Kiwi’s clients, driving his Skoal Bandit Nascar ride. Smallblock has become a really good driver with a lot of seat time and Kiwi’s support.

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photo by AeroSportPhotography

Tight to the corner so he couldn’t dive inside of me, I was carrying too much speed for that sharp a turn. I felt my old tires give it away, then with my nose in the dirt I got to watch cars go by. I hate doing stupid things.

But I made it back up to fourth, so would start right behind the front row, and thought I could take them on the start if I paid attention.

“Drive your own race,” Jakester said after he yanked my harness tight.

I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been racing more years than he’s been alive, and here he was, giving me the exact same advice I’d be giving him if he was sitting in the driver’s seat. I laughed out loud inside my helmet, but he couldn’t hear that.

As I came to each turn, I shouted it out loud, “Drive your own race!” braked late, took my line and pushed my foot to the floor on exit. I was putting them away, and reeled in the Nascar.

Then, two laps before the checkered flag, my Corvette just stopped dead.  It “felt” electrical, maybe as simple as a loose wire that fell off in Spokane’s bumps, or maybe I fried the coil.

That was it for me. It was Sunday, it had been a long weekend, with a long drive in front of me back home. I rebooked Jakester’s flight for early afternoon instead of the evening.

“Hey, what’s with you flying in for the race, and flying home, while I drive seven hours each way?” I asked as I drove him to the airport. He laughed.

“Next year,” he said, when he would be 16 and actually  had a driver’s license.

I can’t go to Indy with the rest of the guys. That’s the way it is. There are other commitments, then a pressure tank and water heater to replace on board Foxy. The parts aren’t too expensive, and I’ll do the work myself. Time and money are a little short, but I’ll get to learn something. There’s also a book draft to get to an editor in L.A. who has probably forgotten I exist, it’s been so long since we talked.

“Drive your own race,” Jakester said. Sheesh. Where’s he get that stuff? But sometimes, even when the tires are worn and there’s a spin, or something breaks and we don’t finish, driving your own race is pretty damn good even when it seems to be never enough.