March 12, 2017
One of My All-Time Favorite Racing Biographies
At the 24 Hours of Daytona this year my press room desk was located next to Jonathan Ingram, the person who, along with Bob Riley put together this 192 page hard covered book. Jonathan offered to sell me the book at Daytona, however, I delayed. I could have had a copy autographed by both Riley and Ingram.
When I arrived home I contacted my friends at Coastal 181, Newburyport, Massachusetts and ordered a copy for my library. You can find them at www.Coastal181.com. They have a slew of books about regional drivers and tracks that will surprise many. I am currently reading “Wicked Fast, Racing Through Life With Bentley Warren” by Bones Bourcier. I will review that book in a future episode.
Why did I enjoy the Bob Riley story? Probably because I can relate to much of the history portrayed in this well written story. I first heard about Riley in magazines which described him as a quiet genius who knows how to build race cars.
My First Visit To Riley and Scott at Indy
When the National FFA began hosting the annual FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky in 1999 I thought why not contact race shops in the Indianapolis area, fly into Indy (it was less expensive than Louisville), spend a couple of days at the beginning of the week at Indianapolis then drive to Louisville for the later part of the week in Kentucky.
As near as I can figure my first year of the “Gearhead Tours” began in 2000. My students and I dropped in on several area race shops after setting up tours with Kelley Racing and Beast Chassis. While driving to Gasoline Alley in Speedway, I noticed a sign on the door of an ancient building on Main Street.
The sign said Riley and Scott. The name rang a bell which led me to do some research into who I might contact to get a tour there in 2001. The search was a success. My students and I got a tour the next year by Vice President of Riley & Scott, Ron McMahon. Ron introduced us to Bob Riley, his son Bill was not in that day. Bob spoke at length to my students about the importance of getting a good education and following their dream.
We got to see some of the most famous race cars in the world of sports car racing including the Danka MKIII which was in the shop being restored, the carbon fiber Hunter street car, and the back room full of Team Racing Auto Circuit (TRAC) race car components and three prototypes (Viper, Mustang and Corvette) built for the series. The TRAC series went belly up before production began at Riley & Scott. It was a true inside look at that project.
A group of students including my son Mike, Malcolm St. Peter, Cole Disy and Tim St. Peter toured in 2002 and met both Bob and Bill Riley. Both took the time to address my students and I. Every visit found us in some part of the iconic building where a secret or proprietary project was going on. Thus no cameras allowed.
We did see some of the preliminary work on the new Grand -Am Daytona Prototypes series with their tube frame chassis and carbon fiber construction. The first cars were built during late 2003 and made their debut at Daytona 24 Hours with a car for Ganassi Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing.
We also got to visit the composites room and received a box full of carbon fiber samples as well as design manual from Ron McMahon who was our tour guide for each of the four visits we would eventually make.
The building on 1200 North Main Street, Speedway, Indiana is bathed in history and currently stands empty with some plans to restore it as a museum. Once when we were there the roof leaked so bad one room in the back looked like a water falls.
The building, built in 1915 by James Allison, later became Allison Engineering in 1921. It’s purpose was to be a precision machine shop to improve race cars. WWI saw many parts for Liberty aircraft engines produced.
In 1929 General Motors bought Allison Engineering and concentrated on aircraft engine manufacturing. In WW II over 70,000 liquid cooled V1710 engines were built for fighter aircraft. Jet engines and transmissions were later produced at this site.
Allison Transmissions are currently produced at the end of the street where this building is located. Their facility covers many blocks.
The shop which housed Riley and Scott and later Riley Technologies is now surrounded by AJ Foyt Racing on the south side with Sarah Fisher’s Speedway Indoor Karting facility across the street as well as Dallara USA headquarters, Ed Carpenter Racing and Juncos Racing.
Later visits included one where several Maine agriculture instructors happened to be in Indy shortly after either the 24 Hours of Daytona 2005 or 2006. One of Riley’s DP cars had dropped out of the race just before the end due to a driveshaft problem. We were at their race shop looking at the failed part. I have kicked myself for not asking for the broken part which they probably threw away.
We also got to see the ill-fated USAC Silver Crown car change undertaken with NASCAR’s Bill France. They wanted to change the look of the traditional Silver Crown car which would make it more aerodynamic and safe to run on super speedways that NASCAR utilized. Very few people had anything positive to say about the car and when car numbers shrank to only a dozen or so they went back to the current “old-style” look
Riley Technologies Latest Project
The book ends after the building of the SRT Motorsports Vipers. The team currently is working with Mercedes AMG campaigning their GTD car as well as building a DPi Prototype in conjunction with Multimatic of Canada.
When I asked Bill Riley about his 86-year-old dad’s health he replied, “Dad goes to the shop every day and checks to see what is happening and is in remarkable good shape. He still helps with running the shop.”
Doug Fehan of Chevrolet said this about Bob Riley when they were involved with the Intrepid GTP project in 1991, “The man thinks in bare-bones terms, the keep-it-simple principle, that’s for sure.”
“By the time he built the Intrepid GTP, Bob initially wouldn’t let us even paint it. He said painting all that nice carbon fiber wasn’t necessary and would add maybe 20 useless pounds. For Bob, it was like, ‘This is a tool. Would you paint a set of wrenches?'” This quote is from Car & Driver magazine March 1997 page 145.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book about Bob Riley starting with his first car “The Contraption”, Ford MK II, Indy cars for Foyt, Trans Am cars, NASCAR and a host of other projects. I wanted to not get the book read so I could savor each chapter and contemplate some of the machines and their successes as well as failures.
I went back in my clippings archives and read everything I could about this man as well as the machines he had a hand in. This enriched the experience. To cap off the book the authors included a chapter at the end of the book entitled “My Philosophy of Design” which provided the period at the end of a good sentence.
My rating as you might have guessed is 5 of 5 which may be due to the intertwining of my experiences with those of Riley. I would suggest you also read “James Allison: A Biography of the Engine Manufacturer and Indianapolis 500 Cofounder” by Sigur E. Whitaker the great-great- niece of James Allison.
Please excuse my error. In a previous episode I said that Katherine Legge drove the AMG #33. Actually she drove the twenty-ninth place #93 Acura NSX GT3 with Andy Lally, Mark Wilkins, and Graham Rahal.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway Cut to One Monster Cup Race in 2018
One has to wonder what the back room negotiations were leading up to the decision to have only one Monster Cup race at the New Hampshire track in 2018, the summer race. I am disappointed that this decision was made especially about the summer date.
I have attended both summer and fall races and by far enjoyed the cooler fall date. It was hot at both races yet the fall race was more tolerable. The summer race will be hot and those aluminum bleachers will be hot as well.
I wonder if the track has zoning restrictions about night racing? A Saturday night race would be well attended following some local racing such as the ACT and Whelen Modifieds. Friday could be a qualifying day and maybe include ARCA or Truck race.
Speaking of Austin…
All you loyal Austin Theriault fans know that he brought out the Cross Insurance/Daigle Oil Super Late Model Saturday when he raced at Concord Speedway in North Carolina in the CARS Super Late Model Circle track Warehouse 200.
Theriault was ninth fastest in the last practice, .308 seconds out of first. He finished the race in 11th position one lap down. The race was won by Harrison Burton.
Theriault’s next ARCA race is April 8, 2017 at the .596 paved oval Fairgrounds Speedway, Nashville, Tennessee. The race will be broadcast on MAVTV.
Continue to Pray For “The Flying Frenchman”
St. David native Erny “The Flying Frenchman” Levesque is still not doing well. His cancer is spreading and he is in a sedated condition to relieve the pain. He spoke with me Sunday and said hello and had a solid grip on my hand. I am sure glad he did not arm wrestle me because he probably would have won. Please continue to lift him and his family up in prayer.
The Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame induction ceremony is April 15, 2017 at the Augusta Civic Center. Google their website and go to the Hall of Fame form. It is due April 1, 2017. If you would like to sit with the Levesque family specify that on the form. Others getting inducted are Bill Bailey, Butch Craig, Tom Curley, Mike Maietta, and Dave Wilcox. Cost is $45 per person.
Who Says Rambler Never Built A Stock Car?
Let’s go racing,
Soli Deo Gloria