An Indy legend of your very own

Emptying out the toy box can be traumatic, unless your business includes restoring historic racing cars and finding new owners who will appreciate and nurture them. That’s the backstory of Ray Evernham, the New Jersey-bred NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief and team owner, who is also an induction designee for the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America here in Daytona Beach. Ray’s shop, Big Iron Garage, in Mooresville, North Carolina, has been turning out significant cars for a long time now, partly through Ray’s status as host of the Americarna TV series. Like many people with very big collections, Ray has picked Mecum Auctions to help him sell it, which will happen at Mecum’s sprawling Indianapolis auction, which runs from May 13th through the 21st at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Ray has consigned some 30 cars to Mecum, most of them highly historic and desirable, but we’re going to focus on just one of them.

The 1965 Brawner Hawk was driven by Mario Andretti as he emerged atop the 1965 Indianapolis 500 rookie class, and was the same car Andretti drove to USAC national titles in 1965 and 1966, his great leap to true national stardom. When Ray found the car, it was a chassis that Ray authenticated through noted Indy car restorer Bob McConnell and legendary crew chief Jim McGee, who both documented that it was indeed the real deal. “It was inj good shape, but really just a rusted chassis with a bunch of parts hanging on it,” Ray recalled. Later, it was stuffed with a big-block Chevrolet and raced by Fred Graves at Oswego Speedway as a Supermodified. Amazingly, the Hawk wasn’t cut, and a replica of the Andretti car that Ray also secured had all the right parts, making this a complete car in nearly as-raced condition, the parts authenticated by McGee. Ray has a lot of stunningly historic pieces looking for new buyers at Mecum, including the Don Maxwell-built Sprint car that Eddie Leavitt used to win the 1976 Knoxville Nationals, a landmark dirt Modified designed and built by Kenny Weld in 1975, the upright dirt car in which Jud Larson won a 1958 USAC race on the Phoenix dirt mile, and what we believe is the first car that America’s winningest stock car driver, Dick Trickle, campaigned in the 1975 Daytona 500. Still another car is the restored, authenticated Dodge Daytona in which Buddy Baker turned the first documented 200 MPH lap in NASCAR history. Step up and start bidding.

One Lap, one tricked-out Acura

Right now, as you read this, a troupe of truly dedicated car freaks is in the opening stages of the 2022 Tire Rack One Lap of America, a wild 3,200-mile road rally that’s the direct descendant of the legendary Cannonball outlaw road race pioneered a half-century ago by the estimable journalist, Brock Yates. The successor event is captained by the founder’s son, my pal Brock Yates Jr., and is no longer an exercise in public illegality. As its sponsorship indicates, One Lap is also significant business for its participants. This year, two Honda engineers from its Ohio-based North American Development Center are among the entrants, sharing a 2022 Acura TLX Type S sedan as they contest the grind.

Again, the One Lap differs from its spiritual antecedent by being a conventional rally rather than an all-out, coast-to-coast race on public highways. The course begins and ends at Tire Rack’s corporate headquarters in South Bend, Indiana, and the really fast driving is confined to track days at road circuits along the route, including Skip Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama and Heartland Motorsports Park in Kansas, among others. Competing in One Lap’s Luxury Stock Touring class, the TLX Type S brings a turbocharged, 355 horsepower V-6 and all-wheel drive with torque vectoring to the event. While largely stock, the Acura is augmented by the same type of HRE alloy wheels used by Acura’s entry in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb; its antilock disc brakes retrofitted with Carbotech brake pads.

A landmark stock car history, reissued after 40 years

In 1982, the journalist Sylvia Wilkinson, a longtime motorsport correspondent for Autoweek, released a highly unusual book for its time, both in terms of format and subject matter. The author, who largely wrote about sports cars and road racing, decided instead to discuss the very early years of organized stock car racing, mostly in the South. And she decided to present it in the direct words of the people who lived those wild early days, turning their pastime from a largely outlaw activity into part of American motorsport’s foundation. Dirt Tracks to Glory has long been out of print, with used copies bringing huge prices. With NASCAR undergoing a fundamental transition into an entertainment powerhouse, there was clearly a historic place for the re-publication of this book. Forty years later, it’s finally happened.

Unlike the original edition, the Racemaker Press reissuing of Wilkinson’s book is in very large format, totaling 210 page, and fabulously illustrated with historic images. It’s highly anecdotal, each chapter being the memories of a stock car pioneer who participating in the wild early years, starting with the founder, Bill France Sr., and also recalling the experiences of the likes of Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Ralph Moody and the late driver and carbuilder Banjo Matthews, a current NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee. More reminiscing comes from master promoter Humpy Wheeler, whose photo collection helps to illustrate the book. The book’s appreciations also come from my pal Don Miller, the former president of Team Penske, and FOX analyst Mike Joy. The book is priced at $60.00, less than copies of the original were commanding last time I checked. You can also order it from Coastal 181, which offers a galaxy of books on stock car and short track history. Racemaker deserves a lot of credit for returning this very important oral history to print.

Inflation? Ukraine? SEMA members say, let’s go fast

Sure, there’s plenty on the news 24/7 to give most folks pause, but in the world of cars, life goes on, usually happily. That’s been affirmed by new market research released this week by SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association, which represents the North American automotive aftermarket industry, which totals close to $48 billion annually. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a regular author at PRI Magazine, which covers the motorsport element of SEMA, dealing with hardcore parts for racers. According to SEMA’s Spring 2022 assessment of the industry, driven in part by members’ expectations, 75 percent of aftermarket manufacturers, 68 percent of parts distributors and 53 percent of retailers at the boots-on-the-ground level say that their business prospects have improved markedly since the pandemic. SEMA tracks this kind of stuff very closely and its numbers are reliable.

All that said, SEMA members still pointed to ongoing concerns over lingering pandemic-related supply shortages, continuing inflation, economic uncertainty and the war in Ukraine as issues going forward. The 70-page report, issued by SEMA’s internal researchers, still noted that members forecast continued sales growth at the retail level, consumer plans to continue spending and traveling on automotive-related events, and – no surprise here – an ongoing challenge filling vacant positions at their firms with qualified candidates. Regarding supplies, which have been especially critical for manufacturers of racing and specialty tires, most of the retailers surveyed believe the shortfalls won’t completely go away until sometime in 2023.

AMG wallop gets packaged into a bite-size C-Class Benz sedan

There’s high technology, advanced automotive thinking, and then there’s the stuff that emanates from the fertile minds at Mercedes-Benz. After introducing its hand-built – that’s no lie, the engines are assembled by individual tech teams just like Pontiac once specially built the Super Duty monsters – M139l performance engine in an SL-Class roadster, Mercedes-Benz and its tuning gurus at AMG have transplanted this innovative powertrain into a proper sedan to create the Mercedes-AMG C 43, as its officially called, a compactly sized way to create all the mayhem you can handle.

If you’ve got a real hankering to go out in traffic and play Lewis Hamilton, the C 43 may be just your ideal prescription. It uses induction technology lifted directly from Mercedes-Benz’s powertrains in Formula 1, under which the turbocharger is driven directly by the same 48-volt electrically supply that belt-feeds the starter motor and alternator. The electric motor boosts, pardon the pun, the turbocharger under maximum load, boosting the engine’s normal output of 402 horsepower by another 13. This is a very serious sedan, outfitted with standard rear-wheel steering, 4MATIC all-wheel drive with rear-oriented torque distribution and a nine-speed automatic transmission. The M139l, the last “I” indicating its longitudinal layout, is the world’s first series-production automotive engine fitted with an electric-gas turbo drive. Checks a lot of boxes for us, and maybe for you.

A new kind of urban fleet vehicle from Kia for South Korea

They’re small, they ride on miniaturized platforms, and they called PBVs, which is shorthand for Purpose Built Vehicle. It’s an idea that’s been gestating as both manufacturers and end users are gradually redefining what constitutes a ethically sound fleet vehicle for use in urban areas where, in some cases, people are trying to dissuade vehicle use entirely. If you can imagine the Taxi and Limousine Commission in New York City trying to figure out what a yellow cab’s going to look like now that the Ford Crown Victoria is no more, you’re getting the idea. Kia’s entry in this new school of fleet thought exists in the form of the little Niro Plus, which is about to make a significant dent in South Korea’s urban vehicle population.

See what we mean about the PBV being a really diminutive vehicle? A Niro Plus could assign Chevrolet Silverado proportions to a Honda Fit, comparatively speaking. Kia plans to build battery electric vehicle (BEV, for short), plug-in hybrid and full hybrid versions of the Niro Plus, some destined for pure taxi use in Seoul and elsewhere, before Kia released its first purpose-built PBV to the global marketplace in 2025. The PBV is a space- and emissions-reducing solution to things like zero-pollution ride hailing on city streets. So someday, when you call for an Uber or Lyft pickup on your smartphone, a Niro Plus could very well be the vehicle that shows up.

BrightDrop, FedEx team to set mark with EV delivery van

If the name BrightDrop is new to you, learn to recognize it, because it’s the newest automotive division of General Motors, tasked with reimagining, its word, the world of local logistics and delivery networks, and especially how vehicles serve them. Originally developing zero-emissions delivery vehicles under its own name, BrightDrop vehicles now go by the Zevo brand. One such rig, a Zevo 600 step van being operated by FedEx, made the Guinness Book of World Records just in time for Earth Day by setting an EV distance mark.

The Zevo 600 set a recognized record for EVs of its vehicle class by completing a 260-mile round trip from New York City to Washington, D.C., and back on a single charge. No word on whether any FedEx packages were in back, but what’s perhaps more relevant is the fact that the Zevo 600 was brought to market more quickly than any vehicle in GM history, electric or otherwise, going from a blank screen to production in just 20 months.

A pair of Cobra luminaries will grace Philadelphia Concours

Especially if you follow the Blue Oval – and to a slightly lesser extent, the pentastar of Chrysler – the name and image of Shelby stiffen the spine like few others. The sports cars, pony cars and other cars that bore Carroll Shelby’s brand are some of the famed, and prized, in motoring history. Even the continuation Cobras built in the years since Shelby passed away are still rightfully looked upon with awe. Not many of the people who originally worked with Shelby after he quit driving race cars and founded his car company are still with us, but two of those who are, and own yawning chunks of the Shelby legend, will salute the marque in June at the Philadelphia Concours d’Elegance.

One of them is the guy in this shot by my friend Dave Friedman, the original company photographer at Shelby-American, where the guy in the photo, Peter Brock, was the firm’s first paid employee. Peter has also been an immensely helpful source for us over the years, just as he was for ol’ Shel himself. Besides helping develop the original Cobra, he also created the company’s original brand and then designed the car you see here, the fabled Cobra Daytona, which capture the FIA World GT Championship. The concours weekend is June 24th and 25th, and will also be graced by the presence of Chuck Cantwell, the man who brought Ford and Shelby together to produce the company’s long line of performance Mustangs. The weekend’s concours will take place at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia, which is a must-visit anytime you’re in town.

Lexus goes EV with new RZ

The packaging format is an AWD crossover that emits no carbons, and Lexus is putting its own shine on this emerging, popular EV format by announcing the RZ series, the first line of battery EVs Lexus has unveiled. If you’ve forgotten, Lexus is the premium halo brand of Toyota, which has emerged as a world leader of electrification technology since the days of the original Prius, much of it lately in partnership with General Motors. So the least you need to know is that the RZ 450e, as the new model will officially be known, comes from really good bloodlines.

Riding on a 112.2-inch wheelbase, the RZ 450e will make use of BEV-specific drive technology at all four wheels, including what Lexus calls the first use of silicon carbide power semiconductor elements in the power inverter as per emerging Toyota and Lexus practice. Estimated range is 225 miles when shod with 18-inch tires. DIRECT4 axle tech provides all-wheel drive, and steer-by-wire will be available. The RZ 450e is slated to reach Lexus showrooms late this year.

Subaru BRZ pricing revealed

Think about Subaru and you automatically, and rightly, also think of all-wheel drive. This model, the 2023 Subaru BRZ sports coupe, is the sole exception to that amply proven formula for success. Built on a front-drive platform shared with Toyota, and fitted snugly with Subaru’s horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, the BRZ offers no AWD capability. It’s been a reliable boy toy with consistent sales, and the new-generation 2023 BRZ has 228 standard horsepower from its 2.4-liter engine.

With a standard six-speed manual transaxle, the base BRZ Premium has a base MSRP of $28,595 with the six-speed automatic version weighing in at $30,095. A better-equipped Limited version is also offered with both powertrains starting at $31,095. The STARLINK infotainment system is standard across the BRZ board and EyeSight Driver Assist Technology is standard with the automatic, optional otherwise.