I’m Jim Donnelly, and thanks for stopping by my new website, Jim Donnelly On Wheels. Some of you already know who I am. I was previously the senior editor of Hemmings Motor News in Bennington, Vermont, and before that, I held a bunch of positions at a daily newspaper in the Philadelphia area, including automotive and motorsport writer. I hold more than 50 journalism awards and have been in this life for more than 35 years. I’ve written books about my friend Don Miller, the former president of Penske Racing and a mega car guy; and one on the history of automotive advertising. What I hope to accomplish here is to share some of the stuff that I consider so worthy, inspiring and, really, life-changing. The automobile unhitched us all from the pieces of dirt we once called home. Going fast brought us thrills. Watching others compete in cars made us marvel at people with such limitless skills, determination and fortitude. Cars upended our whole existence totally and irreversibly, the same way that computers are doing today, so it’s entirely appropriate to marry the two of them here. What you’re going to find here is fresh info on what’s going on in the world of cars, what’s innovative, history that’s worth remembering, roads worth driving, races worth attending, books worth reading, cars worth buying, and maybe even some places to dine that are worth a stop when you’re out on the highways. No politics. I’ll leave that sordid topic to those who claim to know it. Let’s get rolling, because this is going to be a hell of a ride we’re going on together.
One of the good things about following the world of cars, and motorsport, is that you get the privilege of meeting truly unique individuals who have their feet firmly planted in both those orbits, the kind of person that Bill Warner embodies. You’ve met my fellow Floridian in this space before. He is the founder of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, which traditionally kicks off the U.S. season of really high-end car events each spring from its location at the Ritz-Carlton in that northeast Florida oasis. Amelia Island has been taking place there since 1996, except for the pandemic interruption of 2020. I personally rank it alongside Pebble Beach and the Goodwood Festival of Speed as gatherings of historic automobiles that every enthusiast ought to visit, or try to, at least once.
As I type this, Bill is just back from receiving a very special honor, a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2021 Historic Motoring Awards in London. In presenting the recognition, James Elliott, editor-in-chief of Octane magazine, said, “It was a privilege to give it to such a wonderful gent who has done so much for our hobby.” No argument here. Besides handling the million last-minute things that come up at a weekend of Amelia Island’s magnitude, Bill does a lot of what the photo depicts, leading an auction during the concours weekend to raise a lot of money for regional charities, getting bids on cool stuff like the painting of Hans Stuck Jr. seen here. Bill was a greatly noted motorsport photojournalist, published everywhere from Autoweek to the Atlantic Monthly, and an SCCA Nationals-level road racer before he conceptualized the concours. Bill now holds the Amelia Island title of Chairman Emeritus, the concours having been acquired by Hagerty earlier this year. The automotive world is full of good people like this and it’s cool to see one of the best recognized so prominently,
Non-wing Sprint car racing is treated the same way in Indiana as high school basketball, as a nearly religious experience. That’s why any serious race fan with a week or so to kill needs to seriously consider the experience of Indiana Sprint Week, in which the United States Auto Club‘s best hammer at a different Indiana speedway each night, flinging clods like bullets into the summer evening sky. The points-paying week-long ISW championship has traditionally encompassed eight tracks, but that’s about to change as ISW books in an eight-stop showdown next year.
Ty Garl’s photo for USAC makes clear just what ISW delivers every night. The 2022 run is set for July 22nd through 30th. The new stop on the tour is the new Circle City Raceway, located at the Marion County Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, which opened to rave reviews last year and is operated by Indianapolis Speedrome promoter Kevin Garrigus. The all-dirt ISW includes stops at Gas City I-69 Speedway, Bloomington Speedway, Kokomo Speedway, Lawrenceburg Speedway, Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt and Indiana’s only half-mile dirt track, the historic Action Track at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Terre Haute.
If you like cars from the past, and you’re willing to spend some money for quality examples of them, you’d do well to acquaint yourself with Mecum Auctions of Walworth, Wisconsin, for which I’ve occasionally I’ve done some writing. If you need to establish Mecum’s bona fides, all you’ve got to do is consider the fact that founder Dana Mecum is now the leading force behind the club dedicated to the racing cars created by the brilliant Harry Armenius Miller that utterly dominated American motorsport 100 years ago. Anyone who respected Harry Miller’s got serious cred by our definition. Mecum sells a lot of quality cars of all stripes, and is about to do it again by hosting its 28th annual auction at the Kansas City Convention Center, which is set for December 2nd through 4th.
A significant part of the Kansas City sale will be a private offering known as the From the Stampede Collection, which, as you might guess, consists of Ford products, specifically 16 tuner-modified or otherwise unusual Mustangs. Here’s an example of an obscure but undeniably rare specialty Ford. The lot is a fifth-generation 2008 Mustang GT/CS, the revived California Special option package that recalled the 1968 original GT/CS via its faux side scoops and partially blacked-out trim. This is said to be one of 253 such GT/CS examples finished by the factory in Grabber Orange, and further distinguished by a black and tan interior combination. It’s upgraded with a Roush hood scoop, BBK tubular headers and exhaust, the same Brembo brakes used on the Shelby GT500 and a full K&N induction package. To paraphrase the song, you gotta get there.
It’s really gratifying that this ongoing discussion about the world of cars has gained some readers of late, and I thank my pal Brian Caruso, who generously shared the story of his family’s museum of American motorsport in Las Vegas, with us recently. Welcome, everyone. This is a quick-hit narrative of noteworthy things going on where cars, and the life that revolves around them, are concerned. Jim Donnelly On Wheels is generally updated a couple of times a week or on an as-needed basis as breaking automotive news dictates. You never know what you’re going to find in this dialogue because, honestly, I usually don’t know myself until I get behind the keyboard. From that point, anything goes. The conversation often, but not always, involves new products. Here’s an example, with a unique twist once you consider the source. Lincoln, an acclaimed brand with some undeniable identity issues, is resurrecting a magical name from its storied past. What’s unexpected is that the new Lincoln Zephyr was introduced in China, and is aimed exclusively at that staggeringly huge automotive market.
The Zephyr is Lincoln’s first locally produced automobile intended exclusively – word chosen deliberately – for the Chinese market. And it’s not a hybrid or EVs, but instead a passenger car that’s precisely tuned to buyer tastes in the sprawling Chinese market. Over there, large luxury sedans are very much a buyer favorite, as evidenced by Buick’s longstanding success in China, along with Rolls-Royce and Bentley; just saying. This is a full-size car, larger than any sedan Lincoln has recently offered in the United States, such as the Hermosillo-built MXZ, which went out of production last year. The Zephyr will ride on a modified version of the Ford global C2 platform, which will underpin the fifth-generation Mondeo sedan and stateside, the likes of the four-door Ford Bronco Sport. Introduced at the Auto Guangzhou show, the Zephyr will be powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter gasoline engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. A 27-inch touchscreen – no misprint – that takes up the entire dashboard will be standard. Will the Zephyr come here? Given Lincoln’s current all-SUV domestic lineup, probably not, at least in this form.
Finding yourself in central Florida, loving the sunshine but bored stiff by the Mouse? Here’s the solution, especially if you’re into All Things Subaru. A yawning regional show and strut, Subiefest Florida, will be cranking it loud this weekend in Lakeland, southwest of Orlando. Subiefest has a firmly established reputation for doing cutting-edge fun, with Subaru Technica International putting the all-new 2022 WRX GT and BRZ on display for would-be shoppers.
Subaru cars, sand, sun and supporters of the cause in great numbers. Sounds like a winning plan to us. Among the good stuff planned are an all-Subaru car show and a gear store – plastic only accepted – where you can load up on Subie swag. The date is this Saturday, and basic admission will be $20 at the gate. The location is the SUN ‘n FUN Expo in Lakeland.
A recent assigment from Speed Sport was to complete a soon-to-be-published retrospective of Phil Walters, an exceptionally talented postwar American racer who started out on Northeast bullrings under the pseudonym Ted Tappett, and who walked away from the sport for good following the 1955 spectator bloodbath at Le Mans. Walters made his rep in Midgets when they were the dominant craze in American motorsports, running seven times a week, or more, just after the war. A big part of Walters’ stardom was linked to his time driving the gorgeously turned-out Midgets of the Caruso family, originally from Long Island but now based in Las Vegas, where Brian operates a machine shop, and invites visitors to tour the family’s racing heirlooms that are gathered upstairs.
Here’s what you’ll find upstairs. On the left is the legendary Caruso Kurtis-Offenhauser Midget, here lettered as it was raced by “Iron Mike” Nazaruk, the combat-decorated ex-Marine who was fatally injured in a Sprint car at Langhorne Speedway. Tappett also drove the car, as did one of Midget racing’s true immortals, “Bronco Bill” Schindler, the one-legged star from Long Island who also met his end in a Sprint car. Arrayed to the right are a collection of smaller-bore Quarter Midgets.
In this alcove are several Midget engines, including a couple of Offys and a downsized Ford V8-60 flathead, One of the crankshafts on the table has a special history: The family patriarch, Mike Caruso Sr., lightened it by slicing away some of its counterweights before Schindler hustled the Kurtis to quick time while qualifying for a race inside the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1946. Schindler won 53 major Midget meets aboard the Caruso car in 1947, then backed it up with another 53 wins the following year. Counting in his prewar victories, the legendary Schindler ultimately owned an estimated 200 Midget triumphs with the Caruso family, an astonishing record.
Here’s what we really like. The big car on top of the display case is a quarter-scale model of Jim Rathmann’s winning Offy-powered Watson roadster from the 1960 Indianapolis 500, the model formed from a mold created by racer and artist Bob McCoy. The 1960 race, marked by a titanic battle for the win between Rathmann and Rodger Ward, is considered one of Indy’s greatest. If you’re just as amped by this stuff at us, and planning to hit Sin City, give Brian a call at 702-871-4300 to arrange a tour. In the meantime, check out the family’s full history in motorsports by clicking here. You can also go here to learn about the specialty fabricating services they provide.
It wasn’t enough that Bob Bondurant was a tremendously good racer with both two wheels and four. He taught a lot of other people, ranging from outright wankers to Hollywood glitterati, how to drive quickly and safely. By his own estimation, about half a million of them. The founder of the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, who hustled everything from flat track motorcycles to a brief stint for Ferrari in Formula 1, Bondurant died this week at age 88 outside his adopted home of Paradise Valley, Arizona. Besides being the United States’ most prolific instructor on high-speed driving techniques, Bondurant was part of the pantheon of truly great American road racers as professionalism was propelling that once-dilettante activity, demonstrating his chops in the hot seat of both competition Corvettes and Shelby Cobras.
Aside from his other accomplishments, Bondurant achieved racing immorality by being the first and only American driver to bring home an FIA world championship by winning seven out of 10 international races aboard the legendary, Peter Brock-designed Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe in 1965. The previous year, he’d shared a Cobra with Dan Gurney that won GT class honors at the 24 hours of Le Mans. Still earlier, he copped 30 out of the 32 races he entered in Corvettes between 1961 and 1963. Bondurant’s instructional career got underway in 1966, when film director John Frankenheimer hired him to teach basic racing skills to star James Garner as Grand Prix was being filmed. A near-fatal crash in a Can-Am race at Watkins Glen led him to establish the Bondurant school full time, which counted everyone from weekend hobbyists to corporate security specialists to Hollywood’s best among its clients. Bondurant, we assume you realize, is the guy on the right in the school photo. You could probably fill an NFL stadium with the number of drivers whose lives his training likely saved.
Have you spent a lot of time thinking about Acura lately? No? You’re not alone, and Honda intends to do something to improve the profile of its halo brand, which some people may have believed has vanished entirely. The revival of the NSX supercar essentially came and went. You gotta do something, and Acura’s response has been to plan the reinterpretation of a magical nameplate. Acura is indeed planning to reboot the Integra compact, which first debuted in 1986 to accolades that frequently termed it the world’s most capable, albeit somewhat pricey, Honda Civic.
Like its famous Reagan-era namesake, the 2023 is indeed another hot hatch, with a total of five doors and the first factory-turbocharged engine in Integra history, namely an overhead-cam 1.5-liter unit with Honda’s VTEC variable valve timing. Something that’s becoming a definitely departure in today’s automotive world, a six-speed manual transaxle, will be one of the revived Integra’s offerings. The paint color, Yellow Pearl, is a holdover from the NSX to keep things noticeable. When it debuts next year, the 2023 Integra is expected to begin at around $30,000, continuing its status as Civic derivative with elevated performance cred and accommodations.
Brian Redman is a Continental road-circuit icon, his long resume topped by four victories in the 1,000km of Spa, a pair of outright wins at Sebring and a historic run to triumph on the back roads of Sicily in one of the Targa Florio’s final runnings. He’s also a Florida resident and one of vintage racing’s strongest supporters, evidenced by his annual Targa Sixty Six gathering. The latest edition is set for February 11th through 13th at Palm Beach International Raceway in southern Florida, with the social aspect of the gathering set nearby amidst the specialty shops and eateries of Palm Beach Gardens. Each running of the Targa Sixty Six encompasses three supervised track days plus a tony awards dinner at the host hotel.
A whole host of racing icons from the past have served as guest speakers and instructors during the Targa Sixty Six. Vintage race cars, which can be anything from veteran Formula 1 equipment, as above, to an Austin-Healey Sprite with a roll bar and taped-over bugeye headlamps, are loosely grouped by performance and the capabilities of their drivers. Other than that, there are really no limits on speed or passing on the track. Check out the website to get your old crock registered and book lodging from the block of hotel rooms that are already reserved.
The award is called an ISHY, and in the world of preserving sports artifacts for future generations, winning it carries considerable weight. The ISHY Award is bestowed by the International Sports Heritage Association, and it’s been presented to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, located at Daytona International Speedway. The award salutes excellence in presentation on the part of sports museums, collection and halls of fame, regardless of size or attendance. The MSHFA was specifically recognized for the display cases prepared to honor each of the hall’s 2020 inductees, whose enshrinement was delayed by the pandemic. One of the honorees is MSHFA staff photographer Thomas R. Miller, who photographed the cases so the ISHA could evaluate the materials.
This particular case recounts the career of team owner Rick Hendrick, one of the 2020 inductees, who just won the NASCAR Cup championship thanks to the historic performance of Kyle Larson. Similar displays honored the Class of 2020’s other members, including pioneering NASCAR champion Red Byron, flat-track motorcycle star Chris Carr, early motorsport publisher Floyd Clymer, IndyCar star and official Wally Dallenbach Sr., 1963 Daytona 500 winner Tiny Lund, six-time 24 Hours of Le Mans champion Jacky Ickx, off-road titan Ivan “Ironman” Stewart and the legend of 1960s Gasser drag racing, “Ohio George” Montgomery. Full disclosure, I proudly serve as an elector to the MSHFA, which is open daily and located in the speedway’s Tickets and Tours Building.