Racing dreams can come true

Episode 431

July 23, 2023

Dreams can come true

Many have attended Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the years; however, a very small percentage have had opportunity to race at the iconic track. Frank Walka like many of us dreamed of actually racing at the track.

I can remember listening, yes listening to the Indy 500 on my transistor radio. My dad, a potato farmer, had a flathead Ford in a crate from Sears Roebuck Allstate to put into one of our farm trucks. Yes, an original “crate” engine. Once that engine was installed the core went back into the crate for return.

I am unsure that it ever made it back to Sears, however being a kid with a vivid imagination I dreamed that I could build a chassis and that Ford provide the power to allow me to run the race. Needless to say, that dream was not possible. Side note, I was so naïve that I painted the whole block, inside and out with metallic silver paint to “preserve” it.

I suspect a young Frank Walka living in New Jersey had visions of getting on the track in some way, shape, or form albeit as a builder, driver, or mechanic. That possibility was unmet until June 15-18, 2023.

Earlier that month, Walka was contacted by Ragtime Racers, a group of enthusiasts who formed in 2018 to race 1920 and older race cars to help keep alive the history of early motorsports events. EJ Kowalski asked Frank if he would be willing to be part of the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) Speedtour at the Brickyard June 15-18, 2023. Since SVRA motto is “Some people collect art…We race it”, Walka was interested.

Frank Walka with his pristine 1915 Ford Fairgrounds Racer in the Formula One garage area at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Flying 7 photo)

Twenty cars took part in the class which Walka was a part of. Walka took a car he bought in New York, a 1915 Model T Fairground Racer. “Indy was incredible”, said Walka! “I had been racing my Fairgrounds Racer about 5 years and look at me now, I am racing at Indy. And I could go as fast as I wanted.”

Flying 7 with friends in the Formula 1 garage at Indy. Left to right Donna Ratynski, E.j. Kowalski, Liz Legett, Frank Walka, and Marcia Barker. The Kowalski #20 is on left. (Flying 7 photo)

His Ford, which was produced just before the celebrated 15th-million Model T which rolled off the production line with Henry Ford aboard. The Fairgrounds model was used for racing on the board tracks and the local dirt track which doubled as horse racing tracks.

The Flying 7 at speed on the oval track during the SVRA event. Marcia Barker commented that Frank had it easy as the driver since he had something to hang onto while her ride as racing mechanic was a little more precarious. Note the period correct racing apparel. Frank was able to pass many cars and was as happy as a kid in a candy store. (Liz Legett Photography)

The classic overhead shot that Indy is famous for. After the race Frank said he had to work on the ignition a little but otherwise the Fairgrounds racer ran fine. Note the “high performance” wooden floors and the green colors. Indy racers were rarely green due to some superstition. (Josh Williams photo)

First Indy 500 winner driven by Ray Harroun in 1911. This is not the original rather it is a replica car owned by Corky Coker of Coker Tire fame. The original is owned by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. The race also featured the oldest known Packard Indy race car. (Josh Williams photo)

County racer records her personal fastest speed and ET

On a weekend that was described by Caribou resident Jesse Michaud, things did not go as planned yet some positives came out of the weekend of racing at Winterport Dragway. As Michaud described it, ” This was going to be a relaxing weekend just playing around with the 56 but instead we will just break it all. ”

Weekend recap:
Stacy’s sled, broken, easy fix.
My sled, not working, owner induced and fixed.
56 Chevy, broken, easy fix.
Generator, broken, easy fix.
Cushman, broken, easy fix.
Car trailer, broken, $$$ to fix.
My groin/ lower back, pulled, no idea on a fix but I am guessing I can buy a new trailer cheaper.”
Despite all the misery, the bright notes were that Michaud’s girlfriend/racer Stacy Robey was able to race to a couple personal records. She described the weekend this way, ” Yes, I jumped leaps and bounds this weekend. It all just seemed to happen so fast. I tend to overthink things too much so that is why I never really got on his sled (Jesse’s or their friend Jim Marston). I would talk myself out of it. This weekend I didn’t have a choice if I wanted to race. So, I did it!”

“Jim Marston is a veteran racer that Jesse and I have become very good friends/ team mates you could say. He and his daughter Brittney run sleds and have for quite a few years. He has multiple sleds that he brings to work on to get them to run well. He is like Jesse in the way of having more fun with the build than the racing aspect. He is a very good racer too.”  Stacy (Stacy Robey photo)

Stacy said, “Well what a day. What was going to be a nice laid-back day at the track while Jesse made some runs with the ’56 (Chevy) at Street Night turned into us finding out my sled had a broken bolt that couldn’t be fixed here at the track.”

“Then me getting on Jesse’s turbo sled (2009 Artic Cat Z1 Turbo) to make some passes to be able to race it tomorrow, turned into Jesse’s sled popping, banging, and not being able to make a full pass down the track, which turned into me taking one of Jim’s sleds down the track, then back to Jesse’s sled and finally figuring it out on the last pass of Street Night.”

“All of that was way out of my comfort zone! With that being said I ran the fastest passes I have ever run on sled! My usual passes are low 7’s at 90-ish mph. Today on Jim’s sled (2012 Arctic Cat XF 1100) my ET was way off because of when I left, but I ran 123 mph. Then on Jesse’s sled I ran a 5.99 at 111mph. It was a whirlwind of a day that’s for sure.”

Caribou Cares About Kids Car Show

The car show begins with a parade from the parking area of the Jade Palace at 5:30 pm with pre-registration required. Show participants will park in front of the Caribou Wellness Center on Bennett Drive for displaying their vehicle until 8:30. Fireworks will follow at 9 pm.

A couple of 2022 participants are included in the following photos.

At the 2022 Caribou Cares about Kids Car Show, Joe Lapierre’s custom Silverado with air-ride suspension, 24″ Alcoa semi-truck wheels, 2wd from 4wd conversion, and four inch stretched rear fenders to accommodate the wide rear end and tires. Lapierre a former customs shop owner in Florida has been working on his project truck for four years. He is the owner of Boulevard Graphix in Limestone and Presque Isle, Maine. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Daryl Saunders at the 2022 Caribou Cares About Kids Car Show with his ’79 Chevy pickup converted from 4 wheel-drive to straight axle front end and two wheel-drive. Powered by GM 502 Big Block 450 horsepower crate engine with Turbo 400. Interior by Kendall Sutherland. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Let’s go racing

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)



Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine