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.
About a year ago, I was assigned to create a history of a murderously unforgiving race track from the long-ago past, Langhorne Speedway, for a new quarterly publication on automotive history, Crankshaft. The assignment was important to me, given that Langhorne is the first place I personally watched a racing vehicle driven in anger, and I approached it with determination. Last week, that story, “Left Turn to Destiny,” was awarded first place in Feature writing by the Eastern Motorsport Press Association.
Like the cover blurb suggests, ask the man – or woman – who reads Crankshaft. It’s a premium-quality, high-page-count, quarterly journal that examines the history of both road and competition cars in unparalleled depth. This is a publication on automotive heritage that assigns racing cars equal weight. You’ll find detailed analyses of cars in its pages that most other magazines tend to miss. Issue number three, now shipping to readers, looks at diversity from an O.S.C.A. to a 1977 Citroen, with an early Peugeot, one of motoring history’s most technologically influential cars, also on the list. We’re serious about what we do. Visit the Crankshaft website and learn for yourself.
By every measure, Mecum had a record-shattering experience at its just-concluded winter auction blowout down the road in Kissimmee, Florida. The 11-day sale broke dollar records each day it was conducted, and when the final hammer dropped, Mecum had rung up $217 million in total sales, a world record for a single auction event involving historic vehicles, representing a sell-through rate of a stunning 90 percent, another Mecum record. Full disclosure, I’ve been known to write for Mecum every so often. Yet another Mecum record was the 2,974 vehicles that crossed the block in Florida – plus another $2.66 million worth of road art.
The biggest sale was the Shelby G.T.350R prototype once personally driven by the great Ken Miles of Ford v Ferrari fame, which commanded $3.75 million. This, however, was our fave: The most acclaimed fully customized car ever created. The Hirohata Mercury, as it’s been forever known, was a new 1951 model when the Barris brothers, George and Sam, wielded their torches and lead paddles to craft the chopped, pillarless hardtop that you see here. This landmark element of automotive styling history rang up a total of $2.15 million.
General Motors may not be the world’s biggest automaker anymore but it still commands a footprint that casts a long shadow over the worlds of business and transportation. Today, GM is planning on adapting hydrogen fuel-cell technology to everything from heavy highway trucks to railroad locomotives, plus, obviously, passenger vehicles. The gradual pivot toward electric propulsion is going to create a whole universe of new infrastructure opportunities, and GM is poised to get a significant piece of this market, as well.
Appropriately decorated in enviro-happy shades of green, this is one of GM’s coming electric solutions. This is one of GM’s planned portable generators that it plans to create using its Generation 2 HYDROTEC fuel cell power cubes. This trailer could be towed just about anywhere to act as a portable charging station for EVs in remote areas where a network of soon-to-be-conventional EV charging stations doesn’t yet exist. One obvious potential customer for these Mobile Power Generators, or simply MPGs, is the U.S. military for both stateside and overseas operations. Another is any number of fuel stations or convenience stores looking for a stopgap way to reload EVs until they have a permanent charging infrastructure in place. All such MPGs will have fast-charging capability and could help replace some of the millions of conventional stationary generators now in existence, fueled by gasoline or diesel.
A photograph by Jack Kromer means two things: There’s somehow a connection to Sprint car racing, and regardless of the image, it’s going to erupt off the printed page or computer screen and send you sprawling. That’s the power of the images Jack shoots, the end result of a journey that started with him taking snaps from the stands at his hometown Nazareth Raceway in Pennsylvania, involved life-threatening injuries while shooting a race at Flemington Fair Speedway in New Jersey, and countless riveting images that have adorned magazine covers for decades. In keeping with full disclosure, Jack and I worked extensively as a team for Open Wheel magazine, going back to the 1980s. His photography illuminated my stories well beyond what I’d originally written. Jack’s body of work is magnificent, befitting last week’s announcement that’s he’s being enshrined in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa.
Sprint cars are all about vicious, gut-wrenching action, and years of capturing the wild weekly flip sequences from Flemington left Jack ideally position to freeze stuff like this with perfect detail and clarity, The images shows Logan Wagner hanging on to the Zemco 1 while undergoing some unscheduled flight training at Port Royal Speedway, one of the holy places of Sprint cars in central Pennsylvania. He can perfectly interpret motion, as the succeeding image of Sye Lynch, also at Port Royal, makes clear.
Plenty of photographers capture on-track action. What makes Jack unique are his candid images, usually captured in pit areas, which tell stories magnificently. Look at how Kasey Kahne is framed by a track light at Williams Grove Speedway in Pennsylvania.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t include this image of the Outlaw king, Steve Kinser, a guy you obviously don’t want to become annoyed with you.
Besides Jack, and the aforementioned Tony Stewart, Knoxville’s Class of 2022 includes multiple Little 500 winners Bob Frey and Eric Gordon, pioneering ASCS champion Terry Gray, Knoxville Raceway and Skagit Dirt Cup champ Tim Green, legendary Pennsylvania mechanic Ralph Heintzelman Sr., NARC car owner Walter Ross, World of Outlaws team owner and Knoxville Nationals winner Dennis Roth, veteran WoO official John Gibson, pre-World War II car builder Melvin “Slim” Rutherford and the soul of modern American motorsport journalism, the late Robin Miller.
Tony Stewart made his reputation in open-wheel race cars, cemented it in the tin-top world of NASCAR, and is now enshrined in two major motorsport halls of fame as a result. Smoke, however, is a busy guy, juggling race teams, a race track and a Sprint car series among his portfolio properties. Due in part to his recent nuptials with Leah Pruett, Stewart is going drag racing beginning this year in the most noisy and fiery way possible. Dodge/SRT and Mopar have shared the news that they’ll be backing Stewart – who, we should note, runs Fords in the NASCAR Cup Series – for Tony Stewart Racing’s maiden season in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.
You can see the lead sponsorship signage on the NHRA Funny Car to driven by Matt Hagan, standing at the left, and the canopied Top Fuel dragster to be shoe by the newly minted Mrs. Stewart on the right. Hagan is a three-time Funny Car season champion, whose relationship with Mopar dates to 2009. Pruett owns nine NHRA national event wins in Top Fuel, and likewise has a longstanding deal with these onetime Chrysler brands. The sponsorships are the latest developments of the Dodge Never Lift campaign, a 24-month countdown to Dodge’s future path in EV production.
If you venerate automotive history, and you’re unfamiliar with the work of the American Hot Rod Foundation, you really ought to change things. The AHRF dates to 2001, when founders and Connecticut natives Steve and Carol Memishian took it upon themselves to begin documenting the history of hot rodding, in significant part by recording extended, in-depth interviews with the pioneers who actually experienced the birth of this hugely important era. Their work has led to priceless photo, video and audio archives running from A (Nick Arias, Joaquin Arnett) to X (Alex Xydias) among the greats who saw rodding through its challenging birth and gestation. It’s absolutely essential oral history.
Under the guidance of current AHRF director David Steele, who lives in Los Angeles, the organization also has its engineer boots planted firmly in rodding’s present, as well. Annually, the AHRF recognizes the American Hot Rod of the Year, drawn from monthly winners disseminated through its website and regular email blasts. The 2021 honor goes to the traditional but spotless 1934 Ford coupe of Scott Wren. The body’s all Henry, with a 4.75-inch chop and leaned-back A-pillars, riding on P&J Chassis rails with a Ford Model A crossmember. Power comes from a 401-cu.in. Nailhead V-8 from a 1961 Buick, bored .060 over, fed by a Barry Grant carburetor atop an Offenhauser intake manifold, everything mated to a BorgWarner T-5 five-speed manual transmission. You can see the underpinnings are equally traditional, with painted black steelies and a drilled, dropped I-beam front axle.
The first major new product announcement from Honda for 2022 involves its historic origins with a pair of wheels, rather than a quartet. First out of the box is the famed motorcycle that Honda simply calls the Africa Twin, its entry in the world of big-bore adventure tourers, which was reintroduced in 2016 following a production hiatus. The biggest technological update is that both versions of the Africa Twin will now share their rear carrier with an even more serious bike the distance-oriented Adventure Sports ES.
Officially known in the Honda catalog as the CRF1100L, the Africa Twin, again, is a serious bike for experienced riders. The action photo exhibits its robust protective skidplate and high-expansion exhaust. Power comes from a 1,084cc SOHC parallel twin – the cylinders are placed side by side – with four valves per cylinder. The Africa Twin will be offered with either a conventional six-speed manual gearbox or Honda’s dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission. Regardless of powertrain, the Africa Twin is compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Officially, the once-independent specialty automaker Maserati pulled out of global motorsports at least as far as a works team went, after the spectator tragedy at the Mille Miglia in 1957 that also spelled death for the iconic open-road race around Italy. As the Maserati photo shows, 1957 was nonetheless one of the Trident’s greatest years in racing, as the immortal Juan Manuel Fangio captured the last of his five Formula 1 championships aboard a Maserati 250F monoposto, also scoring the last of his 24 wins at the sport’s pinnacle that same season. Maserati S.p.A. has undergone periods of ownership by the Orsi family, Citroen, de Tomaso and Fiat before becoming part of an operating unit, with Alfa Romeo, that’s owned by today’s Chrysler-encompassing conglomerate, Stellantis. It’s this new generation of ownership that plans an atypical Maserati return to racing.
Only this time, the racing won’t involve the shriek of a multi-cam V-8. Maserati will instead revive its competitive spirit by entering the 2023 edition of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, contested among open-wheel EVs. So yes, it’s a global competition among whirring, emissions-free racing cars. Not everybody considers it to be a traditional or, dare we repeat it, a legitimate form of automobile racing. To the doubters, we say this: Formula E has a full international schedule that includes street races through both London and Manhattan. The lineup of teams includes entries from Dragon/Penske and Andretti Autosport – with Andretti IndyCar prospect Oliver Askew as one of its drivers – plus factory teams from major producers including Mercedes-Benz, Porsche/TAGHeuer, Mahindra, Volkswagen and Jaguar. So don’t laugh, and recognize the fact that at least in this branch of racing, teams are jumping in, not scaling back.
Yeah, Toyota may have unhorsed General Motors as the world’s biggest automaker, a development that likely surprised no one last week, but the House that Durant and Sloan Built isn’t buried yet by any measure. Here’s some tangible proof: Chevrolet, still the only automaker that really matters for millions of people, says it will introduce a new, highly affordable all-electric SUV in the fall of 2023. GM is predicting that the 2024 Chevrolet Equinox EV will have an opening MSRP somewhere around $30,000, significantly less money than just about every other kilowatt-fueled vehicle that’s out there right now.
GM chairwoman and CEO Mary Barra announced plans to build the Equinox EV at the ongoing CES extravaganza in Las Vegas, which has become a markedly important jumping-off point for automotive technology advances, especially involving in-cabin infotainment. The Equinox EV will be introduced in both fleet and retail versions, in both LT and RS trim levels, making use of GM’s Ultium dedicated EV platform. The Equinox EV announcement follows disclosed plans for an EV version of the Chevrolet Blazer and the green-lighting of an all-electric Silverado pickup, the latter also due for the 2024 model year.
The changing of the guard in northeast Florida became a reality this week as Hagerty, the insurance and marketing powerhouse out of Traverse City, Michigan, took over as owners and operators of the Amelia Island concours. In a long-expected announcement of the ownership change, this terrific annual gathering of historic automobiles has be rebranded simply as The Amelia, with the 27th edition of the elegant show set for March 3rd through 6th at the Ritz-Carlton on the coast of Nassau County, Florida.
The image makes clean that even in the necessarily COVID-limited event of 2021, stunning delights abound on the show field at the Ritz-Carlton, whose beachfront hotel you can observe in the background. The Amelia is unique among the world’s great automotive concours in that it assigns equal significance to competition and road vehicles. To that end, the 2022 edition of The Amelia will mark historic anniversaries for both the 24 hours of Daytona (60 years) and the 12 Hours of Sebring (70), plus the 75th anniversary of Ferrari, the centennial of Lincoln and the 90th anniversary of the car that launched a million hot rods, the 1932 Ford. Other judged categories will evaluate Indy roadsters, the quirky little microcars of Davis, aluminum-bodied Porsche racing cars and automobiles with Waterhouse custom coachwork. We feel confident that besides its ownership change and renaming, The Amelia will still represent the very finest in cars. And what would you rather do, sitting freezing somewhere in March or come to the beach in Florida to examine glorious automobiles?