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 40 years. My home base now is Daytona Beach, Florida, down the road from the House that Bill France Built. My current list of writing clients, besides Hemmings, includes Speed Sport, PRI Magazine and Crankshaft, where I serve as senior editor. 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.
It’s not uncommon for a son to follow his father into the family business, but what is unusual is when the business is recording the history of automobile racing on film. John Lane Jr., better known as Ace Jr., is the son of a legendary short-track photographer from New Jersey, Ace Lane Sr., who photographed short-track action from its earliest days with Ace Jr. by his side, gradually learning what a camera was and how to work one. The father passed on in 1973, but Ace Jr. has been a fixture on the Northeast racing scene since then, and is being honored by induction into the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame in Weedsport, New York, the first photographer ever to achieve that distinction. His enshrinement will take place July 20 at the hall, which is located on the grounds of Weedsport Speedway in central New York.
Ace Lane Jr. came to be a lead photographer for Area Auto Racing News, the track photographer for fabled Flemington Fair Speedway, and shot races for a gaggle of publications at tracks throughout the eastern United States. Ace Jr. follows his late father, who won the Leonard J. Sammons Jr. Award for Outstanding Contributions to Auto Racing in 1995, into the hall. Ace Jr. is a living link to the region’s racing past, having witnessed early action at Hinchliffe Stadium, the Polo Grounds and at the Teaneck Armory, in addition to supplying deadline photography to New Jersey newspapers along with the racing publications he served. Fittingly, the Eastern Motorsport Press Association’s highest award for photography is now named in Ace Jr.’s honor after having been originally named for his father. Ace Jr.’s son J.J., who passed away at age 38 in 2020, won the award in 2018, making three generations of acclaimed photographers in the family. Ace Jr. has also been highly active in kart and R/C racing over the years. I am proud to call this guy a longtime friend and colleague, and salute him at his latest honor.
Just in time for the Fourth of July, when recognizing the efforts of America’s men and women in uniform is a very appropriate thing to do, Jeep has unveiled a new Freedom Edition package that’s an optional extra on 2023 models of the Wrangler and Gladiator. What’s that? Check the box, and you get a regimental-uniform paint scheme plus an Oscar Mike badge – for all us civilians out there, that stands for “On Mission” – along with, natch, an American flag decal. The Freedom Edition rigs will also be sold with steel rock rails and a winch-capable front bumper to further toughen things up.
Military-themed interior design cues are also part of the Freedom Edition package. Order a Wrangler or Gladiator so optioned, and Jeep will donate $250 per sale to charities assisting military families, which we like. For off-road capability, all Freedom Edition Jeeps will further receive LED headlamps and fog lamps for added illumination.
This is a company you may be getting to know sooner rather than later. Electrify America, the largest network of fast-charging stations for EVs in North America, has received an investment influx of $450 million from Siemens, the European electronics giant, bringing Electrify America up to more than $2.45 billion in total market capitalization. As a result, Siemens will now occupy a seat on Electrify America’s board of directors. Electrify America plans to be operating a network of 1,800 charging sites and 10,000 ultra-fast charging systems by 2026.
In addition to the Siemens move, Volkswagen Group is boosting its capitalization of Electrify American beyond its initial investment of $2 billion. The end goal here is to significantly broaden the open availability of ultra-fast recharging points for the nation’s growing EV fleet, while reducing the driving public’s carbon footprint.
One of the better things about this business is that every so often, you get to report on something that’s really good. Here’s proof: The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Challenge made its annual stop at historic Watkins Glen, New York, last weekend and while the six-hour race for prototypes was the main attraction, it was a support division that ended up garnering most of the media attention. That’s because Robert Wickens – he’s the guy in the wheelchair – and Mark Wilkins scored the victory in the Michelin Pilot Challenge round at the Glen, sponsored by the nearby Tioga Downs casino and standardbred track.
Driving for Brian Herta Autosport, Wickens and Wilkins brought their production-based Hyundai Elantra N TCR home first in the two-hour timed race. Why was this victory so special? Because it was Wickens first trip to a podium since 2017, and his first win of any kind since suffering paralyzing spinal cord injuries in a 2018 IndyCar accident at Pocono. Wickens drives the Elantra using hand controls, and raced his way to his first win of 2022 in the Michelin Pilot Challenge that was dominated from the start by race-modified Elantra sedans.
Every so often, you run into a book that captures its subject matter with uncommon focus and tribal knowledge. A special measure of enthusiasm is essential when you’re dealing with a subject like the rise of the Funny Car, an upheaval that rocked drag racing to its very roots in the 1960s and still reverberates today, with Funny Car arguably the most consistently popular of the National Hot Rod Association’s professional categories. The story of the Funny Car has been told piecemeal in the past but now, a dedicated volume, just released by CarTech, tells the tale of the Funnies’ crucial first decade with a mixture of detail and delight.
Early Funny Cars 1964-1975 lives up to the promise of its tagline, standing as a technical study on the evolution of drag racing’s most popular class from its earliest days as a thoroughly tricked-up outgrowth of Super Stock. The story is told by drag historian Lou Hart, who lived this entire era from childhood, leaving him uniquely qualified to tell its story in these solidly illustrated pages. What comes across here most forcefully is how much fun, and how wildly individualist, the world of Funny Cars was in the early days – rear-engine cars, wheelstanding Jeeps, topless Chevy IIs, and a very strong helping of floppers that imitated American Motors products, including the old Ramber Rebel. There’s enough knowledge and entertainment contained herein to keep you glued to the pages for hours. A great accomplishment at an entirely reasonable price of $42.95.
Porsche plans a return to its long-unassailable place atop the international sports car wars by doing extensive testing on the just-unveiled Porsche 963 hypercar, which will join the wars in the LMPh class beginning with a full-time 2023 campaign in both the World Endurance Championship and stateside, in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. In both cases, Porsche is partnering with Team Penske for its factory assault, and if you’re old enough to remember the original Can-Am series from back in the 1970s, you’re fully aware of how Penske and Porsche have flattened the competition when they’ve teamed up in the past. Think D-O-M-I-N-A-T-I-O-N.
Clad in the official Porsche works livery of red, black and white – think of the Porsche Salzburg 917s back in the glory years around 1970 – the 963 and its hybrid powertrain have already completed some 4,900 test miles already this year. The development work has been headquartered at Team Penske’s sprawling U.S. base in Mooresville, North Carolina, and for the WEC entries, at a satellite Team Penske facility in Mannheim, Germany, which used to a Porsche Centre operated by Penske Automotive Group, the transportation giant’s global auto-retailing arm. A quartet of 963s are planned for the 2023 effort, two each for WEC and IMSA. Porsche Penske Motorsport, as it’s officially called, will give the 963 its first non-competitive track shakedown at the final 2022 WEC round in November, which takes place in Bahrain.
There’s an old saying that kind of goes like this: Any vehicle is only as good on the road as the four tiny contact patches were its tires meet the ground. That’s the spot where everything about vehicle dynamics and tire engineering coalesces all at once. The technology that’s driven tire development over the past century looks to be advanced considerably as new, premium EVs, with unique needs for minimized rolling resistance and other tire characteristics, come into the market in greater numbers. One of those vehicles is the electric Hyundia IONIQ 5, which has prompted Hyundai to enter a three-year joint effort with Michelin to develop a new generation of efficient tires for EVs.
Executives from both transportation giants have signed a pact that will lead to creation of a specific new Michelin tire for the IONIQ 5, with real-time monitoring capability and the extensive use of environmentally friendly manufacturing materials. Advancing tire technology is critical to meet the durability requirements of tires, as well as driving performance and electric efficiency under high load as the driving range of EVs continues to increase in the coming years.
If you’re shopping for exclusivity, Bentley ought to be on anybody’s primo list. That’s especially true now that Bentley is completing its post-centennial realignment of its model range, which will be topped by the quickest such car yet to come out of Crewe. The Bentley Continental GT Mulliner incorporates the power and handling attributes of the previous GT Speed. Bentley is saying flatly that this new GT mega-car is the swiftest-accelerating, most dynamic and most luxurious offering in the Continental range to date.
The Continental GT Mulliner sits atop the S, Azure and Speed ranges at Bentley. With a handcrafted-in-Crewe 6.0-liter TFSI W-12 engine – that’s three banks of four cylinders apiece – the Continental GT Mulliner is reported to deliver a blast to 60 MPH in just 3.5 seconds, amazing given the bulk of the car. Top speed is rated at 208 MPH. Standard technology incorporates active torque vectoring and all-wheel steering. Personalization is everything inside, with buyers offered a choice of up to eight three-tone interior leather treatments with a selection palette of 88 different wood veneers. That’s luxury.
The Ford Motor Company marked 119 years of building vehicles this week, and decided to celebrate the occasion with all of us. To mark the anniversary, Dearborn is making more than 5,000 historic images of vehicles from Ford, Lincoln and Mercury available for the public to view, in many cases for the first time ever. The Ford Heritage Vault gathers historic images spanning the century from Ford’s founding in 1903 to the company’s memorable 2003 centennial.
Anybody remember this accessory package, which Ford evaluated as an option for the 1959 Ford Country Squire station wagon? The collection of curated photographs and company brochures that can be accessed through the vault include a lot of tasty memory-teasers such as this one. The vault’s curation process has encompassed two years; Ford plans to continue growing the archive going forward. The project was a joint effort between Ford’s corporate staff and graduate students at Wayne State University outside Detroit. It incorporates assistive tools to help the visually impaired access the collections.
Mecum Auctions came off its recent sale in Tulsa in fine, flush fashion, hammering a total of 643 historic vehicles in its just-concluded sale that took place in the SageNet Center at Expo Square, with total sales coming in at $17 million. If you follow the company, you already know that Mecum’s reputation for expertise is based in large part on its ability to sell muscle cars. To that end, the biggest money at Tulsa was captured by a 1965 Shelby Cobra CSX4000 Series Roadster that found a new home at $409,750. What caught our eye was the second-place seller, which underscores the variety you can find at these happenings.
Mecum’s second-ranking seller was a delicious piece of history, which came out of the Tommy Cronk Collection of vintage American performance cars that was consigned at Tulsa. This 1965 Mercury Comet A/FX, from the lightweight stocker exhibition class in drag racing that eventually morphed into today’s Funny Cars, is one of eight built to Lincoln-Mercury specifications in the Long Beach, California, shop of famed Bill Stroppe, who once built racing Lincolns for the Carrera Panamericana. Powered by a NASCAR-style 427-cu.in. side-oiler V-8, the flaming Comet rang the bell at Tulsa for $313,500, an impressive number for a car that’s not feasibly streetable.