"Transmittal" Note for Thesis
Amateur Road Racing in Michigan was written to fulfill the requirement for a thesis in the Masters Degree program at the University of Michigan in the American Studies Department. I had set out to write "The Career of Empiricism in American Political Thought", which elicited a big yawn from my advisors. Dr. Robert Houbeck, director of the library at U of M Flint invited a very dynamic speaker to address the group of us electing to do a thesis. Dr. Gleaves Whitney was and is the Director of Grand Valley State University's Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies and was the State Historian during the John Engler administration. He spoke to each of us individually and after listening to my proposal, he commented that all my research was going to address was a shelf of books. He asked me what I cared about.
I hope it shows in Amateur Road Racing what I care about a lot. The Webmaster offered me the opportunity to edit it, to rewrite some sentences that seem clumsy and tedious to me now, but I've decided to leave it as is. The University's requirements were that I demonstrated the ability to show reasonably professional research and writing ability and that I addressed topics my advisors thought appropriate to the field of America Studies. Why certain events and people were "featured", and others not, served that end. WHRRI by itself deserves a book and it would take a book to address the cultural richness of the Club. The Rackham School of Graduate Studies gave me an 'A' and the degree.
There is a great deal I would change in style, sentence and paragraph structure, but there are now better things to do; the facts and my sentiments are unchanged and are stronger today than ever. One of the hopes of the founders of the Oakland County Sportsman's Club was that it be an institution for conservation of dearly held American values and virtues. Road racing was pretty obviously not what they had in mind at first; but taking into account the changes in American society after the founding, through the Fifties and Sixties and then since, OCSC and WHRRI have succeeded in fulfilling that hope.
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This thesis discusses certain topics in the subject of amateur road racing in Michigan. This project was substituted by the author for a more traditional academic topic after a chance discussion with a speaker in a research class that was part of the Masters in Liberal Studies in American Culture program. This project is in part historical but it attempts to be a history that connects developments in the sport to broader themes in the study of American culture.
This thesis focuses primarily on three institutions. Waterford Hills Road Racing is a club, founded in nineteen fifty eight near Clarkston Michigan in the shadow of the capitol of the American automobile industry. Waterford dates back almost to the beginning of the modern sport and in its history has reflected developments in the sport. Grattan Raceway in Belding Michigan is a family business. The founder and owner, who as of this writing, still lives on the grounds, operates the track, renting it out to many clubs and other groups. He and his family help stage events. Grattan also dates to early times in the sport. Gingerman Raceway in South Haven Michigan is comparatively new. Gingerman is owned by an individual who is an enthusiast, but Gingerman is first and foremost a business. The development, promotion and operation of the track are very different in many ways than either Waterford or Grattan, and more deliberately parallels modern corporate practices. Together these three offer an interesting study of certain elements of American culture.
These three are most significant in one important respect. They are the only "landed" road racing institutions surviving in the State - that is, institutions that own a track. They have required the investment of lives and resources. They are each different in how that has been done. In addition, the stories of their foundations and development are unique. They still exist and are thriving in what remains a niche sport, in a day when American racing is dominated by NASCAR. Their stories touch on just about every significant development in the sport. Some activities illustrate fault lines in American culture. For example money dominates vintage car racing, lately strong growth element in the sport, while club racing focuses on participation at whatever level one can attain. Money and amateurism have been issues in the history of races sponsored by the Sports Car Club of America, whose Detroit chapter holds its races at Grattan and Gingerman on the west side of the state, but not at Waterford, the club.
The sport itself has a unique and colorful history, populated with unique and colorful people. This thesis expects to be in part the story of several remarkable and interesting people.
It begins with a history of racing in the United States. This section sets the context for the development of amateur road racing. Road racing, as it emerged in the late nineteen forties was in many ways a deliberate repudiation of popular American racing practices. For many years about the only things road racing and the rest of American racing had in common were four wheels and a steering wheel. Only in recent years have the sports converged in important ways.
The presentation digresses to an extent with a discussion of the nineteen fifty two sports car races at Janesville Airport in Wisconsin. The program for that event is reproduced as an appendix. While not a Michigan event, this program illustrates all of the elements surrounding road racing events generally. The organizational structure has carried over to modern practice and anyone interested will see substantially the same elements at a race meeting today. The style of presentation of the Janesville races, the period advertising convey a deep sense of the times and the culture in the early days of the sport. This thesis must ultimately concern itself with the emergence of themes in American culture; besides providing sharply focused context for later developments, the section on Janesville Airport provides the interested reader the opportunity to vicariously visit the early days of the sport.
The thesis then turns to the history of the three institutions in Michigan discussed above and considers whether their stories inform us about American culture at large.
None of the institutions considered here would exist as they do today, nor would they have developed as they have, if the sport contested were not road racing. "Road racing" became, through the process discussed below, a culture, and a specific definable approach to motor sports and to the culture of the auto industry. But first it was simply an alternative form of the sport. Road racing was, in the beginning, quite literally that: races that were held on public roads both here and in Europe. As the sport developed and cars became faster and more powerful, the roads were blocked off from public access for the race. Local officials most often acquiesced with these arrangements in return for the publicity and business generated by the races. Crowd control and safety issues, as well as in convenience, made closed course racing more desirable. In addition, closed courses offered business opportunities that Americans were quick to realize and so most of American racing quickly turned to closed race courses. Albert R. Bochroch writing in his American Automobile Racing says there were few, although interesting, American road races after nineteen seventeen, and the last reference was to the activities of ARCA, the Automobile Racing Club of America.1 During the period ending about nineteen thirty four in the United States, commercial interests and safety issues confined American racing to closed, purpose built tracks.
Road racing was and is conducted in all weather, on all manner of road conditions - paved or not, concrete, brick; and races were conducted at night, the courses illuminated by the headlights of the cars. Road racing began as a test for cars designed to be driven on the road in the conditions encountered by ordinary drivers. As the sport developed, mainly in Europe, the cars became more specialized in the ways necessary to enhance performance. But the all weather, all road conditions requirement remained. Public road courses remained popular in Europe; as late as the nineteen nineties the famous races at LeMans, in France and Spa Francorchamps in Belgium were held on public roads blocked off for these famous races. And the Grand Prix of Monaco on the French Riviera is still held today, on the streets of Monte Carlo. The glamour and sophistication of these European events played no small part in the post World War II renaissance of road racing in the United States. In American Road Racing John C. Rueter, a member and competitor in ARCA in the nineteen thirties and forties, says the group openly copied European practices.2
As we will see, road racing emerged in this form briefly after World War II. The same concerns that arose in the early days of racing eventually led to the construction of purpose built road racing courses. These courses mimicked road conditions, with turns of various shapes and the best courses incorporated hills and other natural features.
The subject of amateurism has been as an important topic in sports for a very long time. This thesis does not attempt to engage that discussion. With minor exceptions in track rentals, the institutions discussed here were created to serve amateur automobile racers, people who are not paid to compete, who compete for the love of the sport. The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) went to great lengths, sometimes thought absurd, to exclude paid professionals from the sport. The SCCA eventually founded a separate professional series to accommodate those who demanded paid participation. The people whose stories are presented here are people who compete for the love of the sport and the sense of fulfillment resulting from competition. The achievements of some of them are all the more impressive in consequence.
There is a cliché in the sport that racing started when the second car was built. Racing, both in Europe and the United States dates back to the earliest days of the industry. A popular trivia question is: Who won the first automobile race held in Michigan? The answer is Henry Ford, in 1901, on the Detroit Driving Club's track in Grosse Point Michigan.3 The National Automotive History Library, a department of the Detroit Public Library, has original photographs from the event.
Current American racing lore has it that road racing developed in the late nineteen forties and took a firm place in American sports history from there. That view is wrong in a couple of important respects. But the reincarnation of the sport in the eastern United States is the heritage that predates the events in Michigan that are our main subject and the entire sport as it is conducted today.
There were road racing events in American history before World War Two but changes in American culture, discussed below, resulting in part from the war, helped define what road racing became. American racing before and after the war was and is dominated by oval track racing.
The Indianapolis 500, first run on August 19, 19094, epitomizes American oval track racing in every important respect and has since its beginning. The track is roughly rectangular with four well rounded, regularly shaped corners. It is in an enclosed facility so access can be is carefully controlled. Admissions could be charged and were from the earliest days. The closed facility also makes emergency services easily and quickly available and facilitates communications on race conditions.
Spectators could see most of the course from the grandstands, at least in the early days. Concessions were added over the years, providing additional attraction for the spectators and additional income for the owners. Garage facilities for the racers were installed and eventually became elaborate. Sophisticated "pits" were developed where cars could come off the track during events for service and reenter the race. Spectators were afforded limited access to these areas, at an extra cost. Over the years guard rails and other barriers to protect spectators were developed.
The cars started the race in formation, rolling at a speed below racing speed until the green flag was thrown to start the race. The cars went around the track in a counter clockwise direction. The races are not held in inclement weather and the Indianapolis 500 has been halted for rain several times, to be refinished on a later day. Racing is not conducted in the dark; in later years lights were installed to light the entire track for night racing. All of this describes in the essentials the way most American racing is conducted today.
Oval track racing was a big business from the early days of the sport. Americans were well accustomed to sporting events in closed venues. Baseball and football, as well as boxing and even bicycle racing were popular going into the early days of auto racing. Closed venues allowed for efficient crowd control, but primarily facilitated charging admission fees and, as developed notably in baseball, for the development of concessions as additional sources of revenue. Barney Oldfield, later a famous auto racing driver, was a successful bicycle racer early in his career.5 The fabulous, but dangerous, wood board tracks popular after World War I showed the direct influence of bicycle racing on auto racing.6
As the automobile spread, so did racing and countless cities, small towns and villages across the country. Auto races were first held on horse racing tracks and it is said the use of these tracks set many of the features auto racing, including the American habit of running races in a counter clockwise direction. Some tracks became elaborate small scale versions of Indianapolis; many more remained multi use county fair type facilities. Many tracks were and are privately owned and developed.
At many levels of the sport, from the earliest days, drivers were paid professionals. Smaller venues, down to the crudest local "bull ring" often paid prize money. Amateurism was a hot topic in some American sports around the turn of the century, but did not become much of an issue in auto racing until the founding of the Sports Car Club of America in the 1940s.
Almost from the beginning American racing became and remained for many years the province of purpose built race cars. As in Europe, the major manufacturers built race cars, often using components from production cars. Ford, Buick and others entered racing. The primary motivation was promotion and sales. "Looking back on his racing experience, Henry Ford said "Winning a race or making a record was then the best kind of advertising".7 The major auto companies participated through the 1920s, but with cars very different from those they sold to every day motorists.
Racing cars became single seat vehicles after increases in reliability eliminated the need for riding mechanics. Engines and transmissions became more specialized but therefore less flexible and less suited to every day driving. As the cars started the race rolling at speed, self starters were eliminated and the cars were hand cranked, pushed to start or started with plug in machines. At most important levels and venues, purpose built race cars designed and built by specialty producers came to dominate racing. There is little doubt that production based "jalopies" were raced in small venues around the country. But the spread of Midgets, literally miniature versions of big league race cars, and Super Modifieds, single seat cars with custom fabricated chassis powered by highly modified production engines, provide support for the view that "real" race cars were specialized vehicles. At least, they were until the advent of stock car racing.
Stock car racing is conducted at the national level by the National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) and by numerous local sanctioning bodies and tracks around the country. It is the largest, richest and most popular form of racing in the United States today. The singular difference between stock car racing and the other major forms of racing in the United States is that the cars look like the cars motorists drive on the streets. One of the oldest maxims in the automobile business is "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday". Stock car racing has taken maximum advantage of the race cars' similarity to cars sold to consumers. The modern sport grew out of the moonshine running days of prohibition. Purpose built race cars would be immediately suspect (and eventually illegal) on public roads. Every day cars were heavily modified to carry the loads and to provide additional performance to be able to outrun the police. Fords were the favored cars before World War II, much to the consternation of prohibitionist Henry Ford.8 Prohibition ended, but the production and distribution of moonshine remained popular in the southern United States and the popularity of racing coupled with the mechanical and driving skills developed set the stage for the creation of NASCAR and stock car racing. This period is well documented in Deal with the Devil by Neal Thompson.9
Two important facts pertinent to our topic come out of his development. The first is that stock car racing was born and became popular among working class Americans. NASCAR and other promoters have made every effort to maintain that association even though the teams, owners and drivers have become very wealthy. The second is that the cars were never "stock", meaning left just the way they came from the factory. From the beginning, they were heavily modified to enhance performance. Thompson remarks: "From the beginning, of course, racing purely stock cars had proved impossible, with wheels falling off, radiators exploding, and engines seizing. Race promoters and sanctioning bodies made allowances for such non-stock alterations as larger radiators and stronger lug nuts to keep the right side wheels from tearing off. Without such allowances, they'd never have had enough cars for a good race."10 As we will see, this was a marked difference from the imported "sports cars" involved in post war road racing. The "stock cars" of today are purpose built race cars that bear only passing resemblance to the cars people drive on the streets.
The ascendance of stock car racing highlighted an important distinction in racing, that between cars with fenders ( or "closed wheel" cars), and therefore ostensibly, close to passenger cars in important respects, and "single seater" or "open wheel" race cars, purpose built race cars. Despite every real and cosmetic dilution of technical and performance differences, the belief persisted for a long time that "real men" drove open wheel race cars and that legend permeates every brand, level and version of American racing today.
Stock car racing was for most of its existence has been conducted on oval tracks in exactly the same way as open wheel racing. Beginning in nineteen fifty nine with NASCAR founder Bill France's Daytona International Speedway, the premier level of the sport has been conducted on "super speedways" with banked turns that accommodated speeds of over two hundred miles per hour before financial and safety concerns led to restrictions. Only after road racing had been reestablished as a vital part of American racing did NASCAR and American stock cars return to road courses, now among its most popular venues. Interestingly, that return to road racing came at Watkins Glenn, the birthplace of post war American road racing.
Finally, stock car racing involved strictly American cars until two years ago, 2006. The step into NASCAR by Toyota was contemplated with the usual Japanese caution and study.
The putative birth of road racing in the United States occurred at the upstate New York town of Watkins Glenn on October 2, 1948.11 The race was officially staged by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), but in fact was largely the promotion of an individual member, Cameron Argetsinger.12 He was assisted by small group of opportunistic, non SCCA member racers. Some of these were members of ARCA, the pre war road racing club.13 And he had the enthusiastic support of an opportunistic community, which saw a way to bolster tourism. These same kinds of forces led in a few years to the establishment of road races in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Bridgehampton, Connecticut and several locations in California, always a hot bed of racing developments.
The elements that inform our study of the sport in Michigan are these: National events led fairly quickly to the establishment of purpose built race courses that replicated open road conditions to the greatest extent feasible. The races at Watkins Glenn, Bridgehampton and Elkhart Lake all produced crowd control and safety issues that race promoters were, in the end, unable to overcome, just as earlier officials failed in the early 1900s. The death of a child spectator at Watkins Glenn in 1952 and injuries to spectators at Bridgehampton drove the sport towards closed courses.14 Public officials became increasingly reluctant to accept the possible financial liability and the certain political liability for mishaps.
Strong individuals led the effort to develop purpose built race courses. Cameron Argetsinger at Watkins Glenn and Cliff Tuft at Elkhart Lake15 have become legends of the re-born sport for their efforts. Limerock Park in Connecticut was born largely under the direction of now legendary race driver John Fitch, a star of all of the early days of post war road racing.
A most important bridge from the revived public road days to the era of purpose built road racing courses was provided by the United States Air Force. General Curtis Le May had taken a keen interest in "sports car" racing, as it was known, and also had a strong desire to promote and support interaction with civilian communities. With the blessing of the Eisenhower administration, General Le May saw to it that Air Force bases around the country were made available to be converted to temporary race tracks.16 They were, of course, flat and, by sophisticated racers' standards somewhat boring, but they provided a safe, controlled and politically safe way to hold the races (a program from the Janesville Wisconsin Airport races is included and discussed in this paper). Closer to the military connection, races were staged on the National Guard airfield in Grayling Michigan for many years and races were held at the Grand Rapids airport after operations were moved to the Gerald R. Ford airport serving the city today. The conversion of the old Grand Rapids Airport to an industrial park played a role in the founding of Grattan Raceway, one of the main subjects discussed below.17
Although it occurred after the events at Watkins Glenn and Bridgehampton, and after the move to airport courses, the crash into the grandstands of a Mercedes Benz sports racing car at LeMans in nineteen fifty five, which killed eighty eight spectators and injured many more, cemented the move to carefully controlled facilities and changed the face of the sport, even in the United States.18 The Automobile Club of America, founded in 189919 took the occasion to withdraw from its long time role as the lead sanctioning body of American racing. It was succeeded in stock car racing by the already ascendant NASCAR and in open wheel racing by USAC, the United States Autoracing Club.
Nostalgia for the "Golden Days" of American Road Racing has led in recent years to a surge in historical activity and writing. "Vintage" car racing has become a big business. Vintage cars are race cars at least twenty years old. Many are "restored" to better than new condition and are rolling museum pieces. At the top of the sport, money seems the primary moving force. Cars are routinely auctioned for amounts in excess of one million dollars. There is keen racing of cars in all vintages under this upper crust and both Gingerman and Grattan are the sites of popular vintage events each year. Although Waterford Hills has not tried to make a business of vintage racing for many years the track was the site of popular vintage races associated with the world famous Meadowbrook Concours D'Elegance.20
This brief history brings us most of the way to the point when we can turn to events in Michigan. Before doing so, we shall take some time to consider the literatures of the early days and also afford ourselves a carefully focused look into an event outside of Michigan that epitomizes the early days of reincarnated road racing. This last event, the races at Janesville Airport, Wisconsin, bring into sharp focus all of the specific and pertinent elements of the post war road racing experience.
Although the Janesville Airport races of nineteen fifty two fall later in the history of road racing than the public road events, the program for these races illustrates most of the defining elements of post war amateur road racing. In this event we see the organizational infrastructure that is still employed today.
The races were sponsored by the Janesville Junior Chamber of Commerce, which was responsible for securing the dates and the facility, raising money, organizing and scheduling the events, providing for promotion and helping arrange volunteer services.
Advertising was sold, some to businesses with a direct interest in cars and racing, like Harder's21 and some who would benefit directly from the event, such as the Hotel Monterey22. More advertising was sold to prominent local businesses which would want to be seen supporting this community event. The naming of the races23 is entirely typical. The biggest donor/ buyer had to be the Parker Pen Company, whose presence and history in Janesville was and is a source of community pride. The list of entrants on page seven lists the most powerful and glamorous cars in the program and two of the drivers, Kimberly and Wacker were national figures in the sport. The Parker Pen Trophy Race would have been regarded by the racing crowd as the feature event of the weekend.
The weekend included a "Concours D'Elegance" event, a show for carefully restored cars which ordinarily would be judged by a panel of experts. The essay on the Concours includes a discussion of coach builders, businesses that would put a custom body on a chassis, a very different approach to manufacturing cars than the production efforts of the day. Kimberly's entry of one of his racing cars would not happen today.24 Neither would the inclusion of No. 210, a 1952 Jaguar with a Cadillac V-8 engine.25 Hybrids or "specials", as will be discussed below, would not be allowed. Cars that actually race would not meet the standards of perfection judges at today's events would require. Car shows, however, as opposed to pristine concours events, are a regular feature of road racing weekends even today. Waterford Hills has several groups per year showing off different brands of cars for spectators. The owners get to drive the cars around the race track during lunch and worker breaks.
The Program shows that even in this early day enthusiasts were interested in "vintage car" racing, cars that were too old to be competitive or too scarce to be risked in regular races or both.26 Even in nineteen fifty two, pre-war Bugattis, Mercedes Benz and Dusenbergs would have been too valuable to risk in the rough and tumble of a normal race.
Pages five through seven also show how the cars were divided up into classes, both as to size and type of car and the status of the driver. Most clubs and other racing bodies have followed SCCA classifications over the years. That way drivers could compete in local events but know they would qualify for SCCA events when they wished.
Page nine shows an aerial view of the airport with the track of the race superimposed. The layout provides for six corners, some sharper, and therefore slower, than others. Some come at the end of long, high speed straight-aways and others after shorter distances. The program also includes an essay by Jim Kimberly on airport racing. Kimberly addresses the safety issues and discusses the distinction between American and foreign attitudes.27 Within the limitations of using airport runways and taxiways, every effort was made to tax the acceleration and braking abilities of the cars and drivers as well as their cornering ability. The races would have been held in whatever weather conditions existed at race time, on the premise that if conditions were wet and dark those are the conditions in which road cars are driven. This is the essence of road racing in the post war period. Cars should be driven in the conditions they would encounter on public roads in every day driving and drivers should have the skills to match.
Purpose built racecourses would add many more turns of greater variety and would incorporate elevation changes, which is to say, hills, whenever possible. One of the most famous turns on a road racing track is the "corkscrew" at Laguna Seca Raceway in California, which turns 90 degrees left and then 90 degrees right, going sharply downhill the whole way. One might have to drive in San Francisco to experience this in "real life", but its contrast with four flat identical corners at Indianapolis will be appreciated.
Returning to Janesville, it can be seen in this picture how airport races were an improvement over public road races in terms of crowd control and safety. An airport is a controlled facility to begin with: there are fences and gates. And the well defined, clearly visible corners are easily observed. Race control could probably see the entire track from the start - finish line. It would take a very sophisticated design approach after many years of racing experience to duplicate these features at such tracks as Gingerman Raceway.
Road racing was often in the early days referred to as sports car racing, and for a long time afterward. The Janesville Airport program provides us with a crystal clear picture of what was meant by a "sports car" and the distinction from other, mostly American cars.
After the War, Americans went for power, comfort and convenience in cars as in many things. Power output increased dramatically, as did gasoline consumption. But gasoline was cheap and plentiful, unlike the conditions in Europe. The automatic transmission became widely available, as did power brakes and steering. The cars became large, with large cargo compartments (the "trunk") and plush interiors. Suspensions, the infrastructure that connects the wheels to the rest of the car, were engineered so as to provide the smoothest, most comfortable ride. In response, many public roads were engineered to accommodate leisurely steering and braking. The results of all this were cars that were not suited to performance driving, as noted by Phil Stiles in What is a Sports Car?28
Some cars manufactured in the period between the two world wars were respected by "sports car" people. Griffith Borgeson in The Golden age of the American Racing Car presents a wonderful history of what he and many regard as the golden days of American Racing cars. Out of this heritage came many of the early SCCA members and the members of ARCA. But in the post war era, that all changed. Featured early in the Janesville Program, the essay "What is a Sports Car?" drips with the disdain early road racing aficionados had for the typical American automobile.29
Between sarcastic references to American cars, the author gives a fairly realistic account of the difference between the average American car and the sports car, read "imported European "car. For those who don't quite get it, the author lays out the differences between road racing and oval track racing under the heading "There's a Difference".30 This is the most bombastic section of the essay; actually many oval track racers drove road races and were wonderfully competitive. Many more have done so since. The great A. J. Foyt won the LeMans twenty four hour race partnered with the sports car racer Dan Gurney. And Gurney competed successfully at Indianapolis as a driver, a car designer and a car owner. Indianapolis drivers and NASCAR drivers have proven on many occasions that a good race driver is a good race driver, period. But in 1952, the differences were perceived as large.
It should not go unsaid that the author's final point was true then, all the time since and true now. Sports cars were and are more fun to drive. "Sports cars" were European cars smaller, more maneuverable and, with some eccentricities, better performers in steering, braking and road holding. They were also tougher in the sense of handling hard driving better, although not necessarily as reliable as American cars. Burt Levy's fictional hero Buddy Palumbo breaks into sports car racing fixing Jaguars and MGs that are more temperamental than the average American car. But when they ran, they delivered a kind of performance American cars could not match.
The later essay in the program, "Why Drive a Sports Car?" elaborates on the case begun in "What is a Sports Car?"31 It was true that the cars could be safely driven at one hundred miles per hour and as noted above, that some competitors drove their cars to the tracks, emptied their personal property and raced the cars. That is occasionally still done. Note also the comparison to European racing, regarded as more sophisticated and glamorous than the average dusty local American circle.
The reference to the No. 1, Kip Stevens Excalibur, and the No. 210 Jaguar-Cadillac noted above highlight an important facet of road racing: the building of "specials". Specials were purpose built race cars designed, engineered and built by owners. Some were relatively simple applications of technology from one car to another. The Jaguar Cadillac is a good example. This hybrid capitalized on the Jaguar's superior road holding and the Cadillac's greater power. Others may have used some production car components, but would have been very substantially custom crafted.
Specials have a long tradition in road racing. John C. Rueter, author of American Road Racing, built "The J. Rueter Ford Special was designed and built by Lemuel Ladd of Boston's Oak Hill Garage, and myself. It was made up of parts from nineteen different makes of cars"32 Specials had their heyday in the late 1950s and early 1960s in SCCA racing. This tradition reached its ultimate form in the AC Cobras constructed of Ford V-8s and British AC Ace chassis and the Scarabs of Lance Reventlow and the Chaparrals of Jim Hall. The Cobras, developed by legendary road racer Carroll Shelby, eventually went into limited production and so crossed out of the Special category. Reventlow's Scarabs and Hall's Chaparrals were custom fabricated by these wealthy individuals and took on the elite of top line foreign competition. All three cars moved into the professional world, although Cobras were sold to amateurs who raced them in SCCA races. But back in the early days many were produced from limited resources by amateurs hoping to improve their chances in competition.33Burt Levy's book The Fabulous Trashwagon is an entertaining look at this phenomenon in the early days of the renaissance.34
The short section on the SCCA only hints at several important elements of the renaissance period.35The first sentence uses the word "amateur" and blood battles were fought in the SCCA over its idea of amateurism and its sole status as arbiter of that question.
The reference to ARCA borders on hypocrisy. The SCCA did benefit from some ARCA members, but the SCCA's roots were more in the Concours set. Notice that the words "driving" and motoring were used more often than "racing" in this piece. Racing was approved only when the ruling class in the SCCA was overrun and then they made every effort to exert complete control. The SCCA actively worked to undermine the efforts of many early race developers and promoters where it could not get control. The participation of SCCA members is "intelligent and disciplined" and attracts the attention of "responsible civic and automotive engineering bodies". The SCCA's "unremitting efforts" have raised the status of the automobile from that comparable to "an ice box...or some other routine accessory whose prime purpose is...utility".
The upper class tone is no accident and is not imagined. As noted elsewhere, the SCCA's roots are with the collector class. Prior to Cameron Argetsinger's promotion of racing at Watkins Glenn, SCCA events consisted of taking trips in their cars and showing them off. Among its many painful early episodes, the Club waged a long struggle against the participation of Erwin Goldschmidt, the son of a wealthy Jewish banking family that fled Nazi Germany just before the war.36 Goldschmidt, by Michael Argetsinger's account was a "confident and forceful" competitor who could afford the best cars. His brashness made him an easy target. Although highly educated, he was denied membership in the SCCA and was allowed into the 1950 race only because it had been granted international status by the FIA, the international sponsor of races in Europe and elsewhere. That status was resisted by the SCCA for fear of contamination by professionalism and for fear of the SCCA's loss of control. Goldschmidt was allowed in because of an affiliation with another FIA recognized group. The SCCA, the official manager of the race, made Goldschmidt's life miserable. The final indignity was being made to start last, behind many slower cars. Argetsinger says he passed twenty cars on the first lap and eventually won the race.
Goldschmidt may have been the model for Big Ed Baumstein, the cigar chomping, womanizing Jewish junkyard owner who is the main patron of Buddy Palumbo's participation in sports car racing in the series of books beginning with The Last Open Road.37 Author Levy effectively lampoons the behavior of early SCCA snobs as they deal with Baumstein's repeated attempts to join in the events. Argetsinger says "The SCCA was not anti-Semitic by policy or design. The anti-Jewish feeling among some members was more a reflection of the general prejudices shared by many people at the time."38
Argetsinger's commentary, Levy's well informed fictional account and other sources indicate that when the SCCA "sponsored" an event, it was to by run their way without much regard for the wishes of the local promoters. The Janesville Jaycees, promoting an event to benefit their community, would have received very careful, detailed and definite instruction on the conduct of the event.
A final notable element of the road racing experience on display at the Janesville Airport races was the service of many volunteers on the track. Road racing depended on volunteers for safety and communication services and does so to this day. On track communication, safety services and timing and scoring at the recent professional races on Belle Isle in Detroit were staffed almost entirely by volunteers recruited from Michigan Turn Marshalls, a cadre of workers, many of whom are from Waterford Hills and the Detroit Region of the SCCA.
The use of flags is discussed on page twenty three, as is the role of the starters and the flag marshals stationed at every corner on the track. This flag system is almost exactly what is employed today at all SCCA events, most international events and at most club tracks around the country. Flaggers, as we are most commonly known (the author participates at this level), are part of the racing and are often at as much or more risk than the drivers. Waterford Hills has suffered only two fatalities in fifty years of racing, a driver who may have had a heart attack and crashed as a result, and a flagger who was struck by a car gone out of control. Page twenty two discusses the services of a shortwave radio club that provided on course communication for the Janesville races. Although probably not a major problem at Janesville, at most road courses the race control group cannot see the entire course. Appropriate flag conditions, the dispatch of emergency vehicles and other control issues must be communicated from the corners. In the early days this was a serious problem that multiplied the risks for all participants. Today the corner workers have radios or dedicated land line systems that bring instant information to race management. In nineteen fifty two, at Janesville Airport, Lowell Wilson supplied that need out of the trunk of his new Studebaker.39
As seen throughout the program, the races were sponsored by the Janesville Junior Chamber of Commerce, which was responsible for securing the dates and the facility, raising money, organizing and scheduling the events, providing for promotion and helping arrange volunteer services. This kind of local civic "boosterism" was critical to the development and survival of the sport in the early years, and some think to the general well being of the country. The history of service organizations like this is surely worthy of study in and of itself. The Janesville Jaycees still exists, but does nothing on the scale of producing these races and it is probable few such organizations do anything like this today. The social and cultural forces that made the Jaycees what they were are gone, probably victims of television, big scale commercialism and the cynical "sophistication" that came in the 1960s. Corporate sponsorship in the amateur sport today is confined by rule to equipment for individual cars and is tightly regulated. It is unknown whether any major businesses would support an amateur event today. It is clear that many local businesses took great pride in supporting that event back in nineteen fifty two.
What may be read as the cheerful goodwill, sunny optimism and even the brash but good natured certainty of the special value of sports car road racing still exists in some small spots today here in Michigan. All of the elements we saw in our general history of the renaissance of the sport and at Janesville Airport came into play as the sport developed here and we will now turn to that story.
Most knowledgeable fans will say that road racing was born in the late nineteen forties and grew with the American prosperity throughout the nineteen fifties and into the nineteen sixties. Many consider those the golden years of the sport. Numerous histories and Burt Levy's well received novels celebrate that time. It was a time of social and sports clubs and service clubs and community booster-ism, as we saw at Janesville Airport. And a time of great expansion in participation in sports by the American middle class. As predicted by Billy Durant in his last wave of entrepreneurial insight bowling became a popular family sport and it did so40, a fact of some minor coincidence in the story of Grattan. It was a time of nuclear families, a renewed celebration of male family and cultural leadership and an explosion in small business. If you have the good fortune to know the Faasen family, a trip to Grattan Raceway, especially to attend a vintage race meet is as close to being in that golden time as one can imagine. (Illustration 1)
A ride on two lane country roads brings you to Grattan Raceway. The rolling countryside is dotted with lakes and camps, with a few new upscale housing projects but also small, old cottages. Much of the land in the area is farmed and it is easy to imagine you are in upstate New York, on your way to Watkins Glenn.
The track is located in rural Grattan Township, twenty five miles north-east of Grand Rapids and occupies a picturesque site. It is surrounded with old growth forest and two lakes and contains some evergreens left over from the Christmas tree farm that occupied the property before the track. The Faasen family that owns and operates the track has fished and hunted on the property since the earliest days. The ponds inside the track are stocked with fish. Many race events are family affairs and children may be seen fishing between and after races. (Illustration 2)
The track itself is reached by a narrow country road, an uphill right turn just before you enter the hamlet known locally as Grattan. "Grattan" is properly the Township, but most people who patronize the track mean the hamlet and the track when they say the name. The hamlet consists of a few houses, a party store and the Grattan Tavern where on race weekend nights the crowds gather to eat bar food, drink beer and tell racing stories. Grattan takes one back to the early days of road racing in every way imaginable, back to the nineteen fifties. Driving in, one would not be surprised to see old MGs and Jaguars and on vintage racing weekends you do.
Edward Jack "E. J." Faasen is a businessman in the best sense and tradition of American small business and has been all of his life. At the center of the story of Grattan Raceway is the story of a small business coming out of the nineteen fifties and nineteen sixties in the United States, the story of a family business. E. J. and Mary Faasen's home, atop the main building at Grattan Raceway and his office are decorated with pictures of family, family outings and family events. Grattan Raceway is first and foremost a family business and E. J. Faasen is the patriarch.
E.J. Faasen is seventy seven years old now - his age is mentioned twice in the small collection of newspaper clippings he has saved - and details of some events change with second and third telling. But the essentials of the founding and early days of the track are consistent between the newspaper clippings and the telling.
E.J. started as a masonry contractor. He did a lot of commercial work in Michigan and in Florida, where he built housing on Patrick Air Force Base near Cape Canaveral. He made many acquaintances in business and became something of a notable sportsman himself. He built several bowling alleys in the Grand Rapids area, got hooked by the sport and became Grand Rapids City champion. The first of several newspaper appearances records this early sporting career. (Illustration 3)
E.J. Faasen did not set out to be in the racing business. Eugene Christenson was a used car salesman and a partner with E. J. in some business projects. Christenson was interested in sports car racing and once took Faasen to the sports car races at the Air National Guard airfield in Grayling, Michigan. Bill Tuttle, another mutual friend, owned a property, a tree and flower farm known as the Lessiter Farm on what later became known as Lessiter Road in Grattan Township. A group of sports car people urged the construction of a racetrack on the property and agreed to contribute funds. Tuttle would contribute the property. When the time came to ante up, Faasen had cash and construction experience and Tuttle had the property. The others had only their enthusiasm so Faasen and Tuttle became partners.
The track opened as a business in nineteen sixty two.41 An article from the Grand Rapids Press dated May 13, 1962 reports that "International Acres Raceway" in Grattan Township was nearly complete with a three thousand foot drag strip.42 The article notes that a road course was either in place or contemplated and the hope was to have the road course paved by July of that year. The May 1962 article said the facility occupied one hundred and forty acres and that E.J. Faasen was President and Bill Tuttle, Vice President. E.J. Faasen is quoted as saying there was an option to purchase eighty acres adjacent to the site.
Faasen says he and his wife mortgaged their house to get the money to pave the drag strip. At some point early in the business years Faasen bought out the interest of Tuttle and became sole owner. Faasen has said that having money in the project, he had to take an ever greater role to just to preserve his investment. It became a life- long occupation and the center of family life.
E.J. and Mary Faasen had nine children, which was at not unusual for families in the nineteen fifties. All of the children worked at the track at some time. Faasen's mother worked in the concession stand in the early days of the track and grandchildren have worked there in recent years. Mary worked in the concession stand in the early days and in later years became the business's bookkeeper. E.J. remembers son Kurt at twelve years old being the announcer for the drag races. Thus the family ran the drag strip on Saturday and did maintenance the rest of the week. They published a newsletter with an old hand cranked mimeograph machine. To make ends meet E. J. worked part time jobs, teaching architectural drafting at a local trade school.
Drag racing was still being conducted at Grattan as late as 197343, but probably not long after that. Drag racing outgrew Grattan. The cars became so fast that the track did not have a long enough "run off" area where the cars could slow down and they had no room to expand it. (Today top cars reach speeds of over 300 miles per hour in their one quarter mile acceleration.) E.J. says the National Hot Rod Association, the professional sanctioning body of the sport, decided not to come back after a car was unable to stop, ran off the property and ended up in a corn field across Lessiter Road.44
Almost from the beginning E.J. was expanding the business horizons of the Raceway. The track has been rented to professional driving schools and police departments began using the track as early as nineteen seventy eight45 for high performance drivers training and still do. The straight away was used as a runway by a skydiving club until the plane crashed just off the Faasen property, tragically killing all on board.46 The track has been used for bicycle racing and has been rented to professional racing teams practicing for events as varied as the Detroit Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500.47 In the late nineteen sixties, as the new sport of snowmobiling was beginning, E.J. proposed a snowmobile park to capitalize on the track's setting and produce some extra income. He was primarily a racing promoter, but sports writer Alex Laggis characterized him as "…a man who would rather switch than starve…"48 But road racing, in various forms, quickly became the mainstay.
Some people remember the road course as a gravel track that left one end of the drag strip and rejoined at the other end.49 Faasen has said more than once the layout of the road course involved a jeep, a few drinks and a desire to make maximum use of the property. He also told me he took a big vodka and orange juice, got in the jeep, turned right off the end of the drag strip and made a turn wherever there was a tree too big to run over with the jeep.50 Other stories indicate it was a couple of people and a few beers. Memories seem equally hazy on exactly when it was paved.
However the layout was achieved, it is very different from tracks built in recent years. This track is long as road racing tracks go today, twisting up and down hills in what appears a random fashion and features a "ski jump" where some cars leave the ground altogether. There is little of the steel Armco barrier that completely surrounds "modern" tracks. New tracks are almost invariably "technical" tracks, with turns of carefully designed radius engineered to provide a test of chassis design and tuning. Turns follow one another on a carefully designed agenda so as to reward precise placement of the car at various points in a lap. Technical analysis and the related style of track management produce wins at many tracks. Grattan is a track that rewards brave, imaginative drivers and powerful cars. The inclusion of the former drag strip gives Grattan one of the longest straight-aways of active tracks. At a recent SCCA event one of the faster cars was clocked at nearly one hundred ninety miles per hour on the straight-away. That flat, smooth straight-away ends, however, with a sharp right hand turn onto asphalt followed by another sharp right hand turn followed by a sharp left hand "negative camber" turn. That is, the track goes sharply downhill just as it turns and the outside of the turn is also the downhill side. Drivers must fight to keep the car from sliding off the track and down the grassy hillside into one of the ponds. Subsequent corners go up and down hill and there is almost no straight track until the car comes back to the front straight-away. Whether the design is serendipitous or crafty, it is a layout that calls for skill, courage and offers drivers many options in strategy for managing their race. Grattan offers more speed than either Gingerman or Waterford and that alone would make it a favorite with most drivers. (Illustration 4)
The 2009 season schedule is a roster of most of the clientele that has been important over the years to Grattan and fairly outlines the many forms road racing has assumed here and throughout the United States. Gingerman pursues the same clientele, but with more focus on testing and development rentals. At Grattan there are twenty four motorcycle events scheduled between March 29 and October 19, nine car club events, four sports car racing events, two scheduled "car track" days and two open dates. All of the sports car events and many of the motorcycle events will be multiple day events, usually Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The car clubs remind one of the sport's foreign roots. All but one are clubs for owners of foreign cars and the one is a Corvette club. The Corvette was General Motors answer to the foreign sports car invasion in 1953 and it is still in production. The foreign cars represented include most of the royalty in foreign cars. Audi is a German manufacturer whose predecessor was the pre-war racing powerhouse, Auto Union. The Company's logo, four interlocking rings, symbolized the union of the four companies that joined to create Auto Union. Alfa Romeo is a great old Italian name. The company was the training ground in design, production and racing for Enzo Ferrari who became famous producing and racing the cars bearing his name. Porsche is another famous German name, whose original design was a variation on the Volkswagen, a car engineered and designed by Dr. Porsche at Adolph Hitler's direction in pre war Germany. Although Volkswagen, as it is spelled today, is not usually considered a sports car, the brand has many driving enthusiasts and that club will be at Grattan in April. BMW, formerly Bayerische Moter Werks, another German name, is thought of as primarily a post war company. It is mostly known for high performance sedans, although it has started building two seat sports cars in recent years. Lotus was a truly elite British manufacturer of racing cars that eventually entered limited production of sports cars for the road as a means of providing resources to support racing operations. In this it resembled Ferrari, the great Italian manufacturer and Lotus' primary competitor in the highest level of the sport, Formula One. Lotus effectively died with its genius founder, Colin Chapman. The name has been revived in recent years, but by Indian and Japanese interests. Ferrari and Mercedes Benz are the only great foreign names not to have a day at Grattan.
The clubs generally have carefully organized practice sessions and then competitive time trials where cars circulate one at a time as fast as they dare. Club days, as well as car test days provide the opportunity to test the limits of insurance coverage. There are stories of damages not claimed on insurance and repaired out of pocket and one story of a man who totaled his wife's Porsche, who did not know he had taken it to club day. Trophies are awarded at the end of the day and, if desired, the day ends with a dinner catered by the Faasen's.
Motorcycles have figured prominently in Grattan's success from the earliest days and E. J. Faasen says he could lose all of the other events and still make a little money if he kept the motorcycles. There are forty three days of motorcycle events, split between two very different approaches to the motorcycle sport.
District 14 of the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) sponsors the motocross events held at Grattan.51 The District's website says motocross is the most popular form of amateur motorcycle racing and describes motocross as "…races…run over closed courses utilizing natural terrain and some man- made obstacles to test rider's skills and speed". The courses are unpaved, usually becoming rutted, are usually short and feature hills that launch motorcycle and rider high into the air. The motorcycles used in motocross are of simple rugged construction and are engineered for durability in extreme use. The"moto" track occupies hilly ground across the service road from the road racing course, the additional property acquired after the drag strip opened. It has proved to be a valuable addition to the racing plant at Grattan. It's separation from the main track makes it possible for the Faasen's to host two events on the same day or days.
Western Eastern Racing Association (WERA) is a non- profit organization formed in 1973 for the sole purpose of sponsoring and promoting motorcycle road racing.52 WERA is a nation- wide organization today, operating independently of the AMA and other organizations. WERA sets rules and designates classes and sanctions and operates events. Like the SCCA in automobile road racing, WERA's sanction assures entrants of uniform rules and fair competition.
As with automobiles, Grattan hosts once a year a vintage event for motorcycles. The American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) holds a two day event, usual y mid-year.53 The American Historic Motorcycle Association, Ltd. is a not -for-profit organization dedicated to restoring and competing on classic motorcycles." Formed in nineteen eighty nine, AHRMA grew out of a loose association of regional groups. In addition to races, the events typically include a concours event where owners show off classic motorcycles that have been restored to at least new condition, if not better than new.
There are three entities holding motorcycle events at Grattan which appear to be for profit ventures. The schedule lists several S.B.T.T. Open Track Days. The Sport Bike Track Time organization organizes and operates days where nearly anyone owning a motorcycle can register, show up at the track and drive his motorcycle around the track at speeds not possible - not legal - on public highways.54 These are not racing events; there are rules regarding passing, separation on the track and other restrictions designed to promote a modicum of safety.
Apex 2 Apex is owned by two WERA professional motorcycle racers and organizes open track days similar to those conducted by SBBT.55 The Apex 2 Apex website notes there events feature "a less crowded track" and more track time. The Team Chicago Motorcycle School is put on by a Chicago based motorcycle entrepreneur who owns a cable television show in the Chicago market devoted to motorcycle activities.56
There is one go kart event listed for two thousand nine. Go karts used to be tiny, open four wheel vehicles often powered by a small lawn mower type engine. The sport has become so popular in recent years that there are indoor facilities located in major metropolitan areas. The group racing at Grattan is an "enduro" (short for endurance) series, holding races that are long in time and distance compared to other races. These groups race vehicles that are tiny, but are often powered by more sophisticated engines and have transmissions. These karts will reach speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour and often race at large tracks like Grattan.
Sports car races are of two types. Three are SCCA races, sponsored by various SCCA regions and one is the Vintage Sports Car Drivers Association "Sprint Races"."Vintage Racing" - racing cars older than twenty years - seems lately to rival racing current sports cars in the number of cars participating and in events held. Several organizations devoted to sanctioning and staging races have sprung up. The Vintage Sports Car Drivers Association (VSCDA) is a non- profit organization with about eight hundred members. 57 This segment of the sport is chronicled by several magazines and is featured in broadcasts on television.
As it has with other racing venues and personalities, the SCCA has had a long but occasionally tempestuous relationship with Grattan Raceway and E. J. Faasen. A newspaper story dated in 1970 discusses an SCCA national that race was closed to spectators after a dispute over who would pay for insurance against claims by injured spectators. Faasen said it would cost about $4,400, money he could not afford to pay.58 Another early newspaper clipping recounts a dispute over money in which the SCCA official involved is quoted as saying that Western Division members worked on the facilities with the understanding that they were paying in advance some of the cost of using the facility in the future. Charges and countercharges flew, but eventually, the SCCA came back to Grattan.59 On another occasion a prominent SCCA member gassed up his car and started to drive away. When he was stopped by one of the sons, he asserted that the SCCA didn't pay for gasoline, that gasoline was always part of the package. When told about that, E.J. parked a large construction truck across the track, locked it and told the SCCA officials when they were willing to pay for gasoline they could hold a racing event. The SCCA started paying for gasoline.60
E.J. Faasen has exercised his right of eminent domain for the benefit of others on occasion. This past year, a vintage racer died at Grattan. His car simply went off the end of the straightaway without any sign of an attempt to slow or stop. The driver, a man in his sixties, had been only recently been cleared after heart surgery to return to racing. He was dead when the corner workers reached the car and it was later determined he had suffered a heart attack. The man's family was with him - his son, driving in the same race, saw him go off the track. When the local press arrived with a camera truck E.J. blocked the entrance to the track until the family was ready to leave. The car had been moved and there was nothing to see by the time the press was admitted. Dignified reports appeared later in the newspapers.61
Grattan is still a family business. Son Kurt lives on the grounds, upstairs from the registration building at the entrance to the property and son Sam lives just down Lessiter road. Sam schedules events. Kurt runs the food service. Grattan is famous among Midwestern road racing people for the Saturday night "pig roasts", where the food is plentiful and a keg of beer is always on tap. Commentary on Grattan on the Western Michigan SCCA website enthuses "At every SCCA race there is a dinner provided free to all workers, competitors and crew. It is one of the best in CenDiv (the central division of the SCCA). No half cooked brats or warm beer. It usually consists of chicken, beef, and pork, sauerkraut with sausage, meatballs, fresh rolls, baked potatoes, potato salad, macaroni salad, Cole slaw, corn, beer, pop and wine coolers. If you leave hungry, it's your own fault. AND IT'S FREE!!!!" 62 Actually, it is priced into the weekend. Daughter Terri runs the food concession during events where breakfast and lunch is available for moderate prices. Sons Max and Donald have worked at the track part time during events and Mary still helps with the business affairs and everyone helps with maintenance as needed. Grand children help in the concessions when visiting during an event. E.J. often cuts grass on the property during the week and the Western Michigan website says the property is sometimes mistaken for a golf course. (Illustration 5)
One of the most remarkable features of a road racing event is the establishment of what can only be described as a small city on race weekends. Thursday night the property is empty. By race day the city has been erected and populated, brought in on and in motor homes, trailers, semi tractor trailer combinations and campers. There are centers of commerce. Vendors set up selling tires, tools, spare parts, books and memorabilia, photographic services and art works. There are mobile machine shops and welders.
The "government" of the racing activity has its locations. Timing and scoring (those who keep track of the results), fire, medical and emergency services and race control all occupy their own places. Race control occupies the top of the tower, the city's skyscraper and it is the nerve center of activity during the races. From here on race day the gypsy band of corner works disperses to all of the corners of the track, to be first responders to cars in trouble and to report conditions to race control over the communications system.
There are neighborhoods in the city. The Formula 500 drivers "pit" together, as do the Mazda Miata drivers and the other classes of cars. Tools and advice are shared; sometimes engines and tires. Wives and children have become friends and in time weddings and funerals and graduations are attended away from race weekends. The competition on the track is real; so is the camaraderie off the track real and at Grattan the Faasen family pig roast is a warm highlight of the weekend.
But this city only exists for two or three days and by Sunday night the property is empty again. Grattan Raceway returns to its bucolic state. The Faasen family contemplates the work to be done in the coming week and retires to their home. (Illustration 5) Speaking to the writer about all those who come, live out the dramas of racing and then go, E.J. Faasen stands on the deck looking over his estate, as close to wistful, one thinks, as he gets and says "I enjoy them while they're here. I miss them some when they're gone." (Illustration 6)Then his face cleared and he shook my hand and guided me to the door. Grattan's story had been shared, on E.J. Faasen's terms, but now, like all the others, it was time for me to go.
Entrusting me with the small envelope of clippings that is all the official, public history of Grattan, E.J. said he would be at the track until January first and then will be in Florida until the end of March. Family members will join him and Mary in Florida at different times for fishing on the family's boat and relaxing away from winter.
E.J. Faasen honored the author and his wife to a brief visit to his home to show us his proudest achievement: a picture over the mantel of the fireplace of himself, Mary, his eight children and numerous grandchildren. Driving out of the property the thought occurred that the family will probably gather for Christmas in this beautiful place. Looking back, all that was evident on a cold winter day was the cluster of workmanlike buildings in the middle of the track, a self contained racing "plant" like, say, Daytona International Raceway. Then another realization followed: there is nobody's home in the middle of Daytona.
Illustration 1 This undated picture has to be from the earliest days of road racing at the track, probably about 1962 or 1963. Note the lack of barriers of any kind. Note also how close the corner workers are to the edge of the track and the lack of any kind of protective structure for them. Grattan has added small strips of steel "Armco" railings mounted on wood posts at the corners, but at Grattan, with speeds approaching 200 miles per hour at some events, close attention, good reactions and fast feet are still the corner workers' best safety equipment.
The picture shows how road racing circuits did indeed provide the experience of driving fast cars on country roads. The cars pictured here would all race as vintage cars today.
Illustration 2 Grattan Raceway from the Air
Lessiter Road and the entrance to the track are at the top right of the picture. Except for the asphalt surface in the pits, the dark patches are ponds inside the track and a lake in the upper left. E.J. and Mary Faasen's house is at the right end of the asphalt pit surface, looking out over a pond with an island in the middle where cars are pitted during really busy race events. The motorcycle "moto" facility is across the track from the asphalt pit area. At the left end of the long main straightaway is a semi- circular turn around area used to stage cars when the track was used as a drag strip. Upon close inspection white "dots" may be seen near each corner. These are small structures that "shelter" corner workers during races.
Like most racing facilities today, Grattan is subject to sound restrictions despite its rural location. Race officials are designated to monitor the loudness of the racecars. Grattan has had good relations with the Township government and most of the area residents. The Faasen's have often held Halloween parties for area residents. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, an agency that did not exist when Grattan was founded, has never had a complaint with any of the activities at Grattan.
Promotional Brochure, Grattan Raceway, un-attributed photograph.
Illustration 4 Layout of Grattan Raceway
Lessiter Road is just off to the right. The building indicated as "Registration" is the entrance to the property. Kurt Faasen lives upstairs over the registration area. Grattan features a nice swimming pool for the use of groups renting the track and it is located just behind Registration. The building also contains showers and bathrooms for campers.
E.J. and Mary Faasen live over the building designated "Tech Garage". This building also contains bath rooms and showers for those camping in the paddock and the food concession and offices. Road races are run clockwise, so turn 1 is the sharp right hand turn just below the Registration building in the illustration. Turn 3, a sharp left turn is the downhill "reverse camber" turn. Turn eight, at the top left of the picture is a "blind apex" corner; the track is bowl shaped through the turn and a driver must steer sharply to the right, committing the car at high speed to a certain line without being able to see the spot he is aiming at on the other side of the corner.
The tower is built on top of the right end of the building marked "Garages". The garages are available for rental on race weekends for those who want to be sure to be out of the elements while working on their cars.
Illustration 2 E.J. Faasen in 2002
E.J. Faasen in 2005, on the deck outside the residence. Part of the long straightaway is near the top of the picture and the Registration building is at the very top of the picture.
The GingerMan Tavern in Chicago is about a block north of Chicago landmark Wrigley Field, in what is known locally as Wrigleyville. But the GingerMan is most emphatically not a sports bar; there is one television and it is usually tuned in to local news. Jazz and blues usually comes from the bartender operated music system, played at a level that permits easy conversation. The GingerMan is located next to The Metro, a legendary institution in popular music in Chicago where many nationally known musical groups began their careers. The Metro, which occupies a four story building, was designed to attract a bohemian, arts oriented crowd and that clientele patronizes the GingerMan. Large numbers of baseball fans do patronize the bar also, but groups of drunk, rowdy baseball fans are greeted with loud classical music on the sound system, which usually solves the loud, drunken baseball fan problem. (Illustration1)
The bar is surrounded by specialty restaurants of every description and menu and does not serve food itself. Regulars know they can bring in food purchased at any of several local specialty restaurants. The emphasis is on an extensive collection of specialty and micro-brew beers, a menu in which the GingerMan was a Chicago pioneer. The space is triangular and is bisected by the bar; the building fits the sharp angled intersection of blank and blank. There are pool tables in the back half which are free on Sundays. The service is excellent, the bartenders knowledgeable and competent and the staff is neat, personable and well trained. The business concept is well defined, well executed and the owner's expectations are high.63
Dan Schnitta, a Chicago business man with other interests founded the GingerMan in 1977. The namesake of the bar is the main character in the J. P. Donleavy novel about "…An American hitchhiker in Europe with a taste for liquor, women and roguish behavior" 64
The novel reminded Dan of his own youthful travels in Europe. But he became involved in road racing back in Chicago in the company of business associates who introduced him to a local Porsche club. He first attended sports car events, then bought a sports car himself and finally started participating, eventually racing throughout the Midwest. Driven by the same ambition reflected in the bar, Dan purchased a small track in Michigan, to have a place to race the way amateur racing should be done. Before long Dan's concept of what a track should be was forming, but the township where the first track was located would not cooperate with his plans for improvement and expansion. Passionately devoted to sports cars and racing, with a solid business method and success behind him, Dan looked for a new location.65
Gingerman Raceway opened in nineteen ninety six, located five miles east of South Haven, Michigan. A prime prerequisite for the site, in a rural, sparsely populated spot, was that the township had no zoning restrictions. The gently rolling terrain permits subtle elevation changes, prized by road racing drivers. The land, three hundred and sixty acres, proved to have substantial deposits of sand, crucial to a properly constructed track and provided room to design a track. Grattan Raceway, discussed above and Waterford Hills, discussed below were both "designed" to use as much available land as there was at those sites; that is, they were drawn to fit what there was available. The site for Gingerman was chosen to make available as much land as Dan Schnitta's exacting expectations would require.
Schnitta hired an internationally known designer, Alan Wilson, to design the track. Wilson had been a racer and had managed some famous racetracks in England before moving to the United States to start his design firm. He has gone on to design numerous new race tracks and has redesigned or modified several well known American tracks. The design provided for future expansion. Schnitta hired an engineering firm to supervise construction, but dismissed it when he decided he and Wilson could act as general contractors, using local firms to do the work. Dan has hired local firms to do the work at Gingerman ever since.
In the press release announcing the first full season, the designer commented on the owner's insistence on safety. Dan Schnitta's attitude was and is that the track design should mitigate the dangers of motor racing to the greatest extent possible. Amateur racers want the thrill of speed and the intensity of competition; but racing is 'Not All But Their Lives', to paraphrase Stirling Moss' title for his biography.66 Schnitta feels that a demonstrably safer track opens the sport up to people who would not participate otherwise and he takes great pride in the assertion that no car driver has ever spent a night in the hospital as a result of competing at Gingerman.
As may be seen in Illustration 2, each corner features a gravel trap, similar to the sand traps found on golf courses at the outside of each corner. A car out of control comes off the corner and if not corrected quickly enters the trap where the fine gravel slows or stops the car before it can hit anything solid. There are no trees on the track and the only steel Armco barrier separates the pit entry lane from the front straight away. The verge of the track, the edge where the racing surface ends and the grass begins has been carefully contoured so that there are no edges to exacerbate loss of control and no abrupt transitions to cause a car to roll over or launch into the air. Care was taken to see that there are no decreasing radius turns on the track, a geometrical feature of the design that might facilitate a car's spinning in a circle and even coming back to the track facing the wrong way. (Illustration 3) Everywhere on the track the experience of the racers who designed it is evident. Cars are expensive and lives and health are precious and the track makes every possible effort to mitigate the dangers of racing.
In a way Gingerman reaches back to Janesville Airport. The open layout allows for greater safety, visibility for drivers, workers and racers and yet the subtle elevation changes and careful layout provide a racing experience far beyond a flat, sharp angled airport. The shape of the property allows a spectator area on top of a modest hill where spectators can follow an exciting duel between competing cars all the way around the track. Modern bathrooms with showers, a small convenience store, meeting room and picnic and camping grounds are all presented on a well manicured, landscaped park like setting and together offer all the amenities week end racers and spectators desire.
The GingerMan Tavern has Wrigley Field and The Metro. Gingerman Raceway has South Haven Michigan six miles to the west on Phoenix Road. South Haven is a beautiful resort town located on Lake Michigan. Typical of Lake Michigan resort towns it has a resident working population and a resort population that swells in spring, summer and early fall. The City features many restaurants, bed and breakfast resorts, a harbor busy with yachts in season and a lively social scene. Between the track and the town, along Interstate 196 there are chain restaurants and motels for those who only want to sample the resort ambience. Nearby are the twin cities of Saugatuk - Douglas, an area described as the Midwest's Cape Cod. Inland lies the Fenn Valley vineyard, one of several of southwest Michigan's wine country establishments. Chicago is less than three hours away, Detroit less than two. One suspects there was more to the site selection process than the lack of zoning restrictions, although that expectation was met as well.
Unlike the owners at Grattan, Dan Schnitta is deeply involved in cars and racing himself. He currently maintains a collection of about a dozen sports and racing cars. He owns two vintage British cars, an MGA and a Jaguar XKE and a Porsche 911 Targa among the street driven cars. Race cars include a Porsche 911 painted "French Pink" and a Corvette, both of which qualify as vintage cars. He races the Porsche in vintage events. He also owns and races a Formula Mazda, a sophisticated open wheel race car that uses a Japanese Mazda rotary engine. Most of these cars are stored in a plain garage near a house he maintains on the race track property, all immaculate and in good running order. The Formula car, however, remains in a shop devoted to race car preparation and maintenance, which occupies a row of garages on the west side of the property. The shop is rented to the proprietor of the racecar preparation business and the remaining garages are rented from time to time. Dan Schnitta is devoted to racing and to racers, but he has insisted since the beginning that Gingerman Raceway pay its own way in addition to meeting his other expectations. Dan's initial investment built and opened the track. The amenities were added as cash flow permitted. And the Gingerman Raceway project is not finished.
If Grattan is the past and the present of the sport in Michigan, Gingerman Raceway is also the present and aims to be the future. Two important initiatives are underway. On the southwest corner of the property map is an area marked "Endless Summer". (Illustration 2) That portion of the property will be subdivided around access roads to both the track and the road to South Haven. Negotiations are underway with a company building quality prefabricated semi-custom buildings to build combination garage - apartments. Owners will keep their racecars and boats on the site for easy access to the track and Lake Michigan. The apartments will provide weekend and vacation retreats for racers and their families. A small club house is planned for social events. Everything will be built to quality but affordable specifications. Dan mentions dismissively a similar project in Illinois where "memberships" approach one million dollars. Endless Summer will be high quality, realistically priced and will not break ground until a suitable number of participants have committed. Endless Summer will be expected to pay its own way. The sales brochure is reproduced below. (Illustrations 4 and 5)
The second project aiming for the future is the effort to attract racing teams and others to use the track. But Dan is particularly interested in the high tech firms that, while involved in racing, are pushing the frontiers of automotive engineering. Michigan engineered race cars burning non petroleum fuels have competed nationally. Other innovations in light weight construction and high power production from small engines have come out of small Michigan shops. All three of the tracks discussed in this paper welcome this business, but Gingerman, characteristically, is pursuing it at a different level from the others. With sufficient interest from parties who test at their, the track is under modification as of this writing. Turn ten (illustration 2) is being moved east to provide for a much longer straightaway along Phoenix Road. This modification of the track will not only permit higher speeds but will permit more time at high speed to measure chassis and engine modifications. It will, incidentally - or not - make Gingerman more competitive in sheer speed with Grattan.
Characteristically, Dan Schnitta is insisting on a high standard in making this change. There was a mound in what would have been the middle of the loop extending the track. If a car went off track with the mound in place it could deflect the car back onto the track, out of control, or alternatively launched in the air. So the expense of removing the mound had to become a part of the project. That created a drainage issue. Gingerman is designed with a drainage system so that water never flows across the track. Water erodes surfaces over time and when it freezes it destroys the surface, which must be patched. (SCCA workers at Grattan had patching on the track come up stuck to their shoes.)
The mound at Gingerman has been removed. Shallow drainage ditches have been installed which will lead water under the track and, not coincidentally, point out of control race cars parallel to the track instead of across it. The verges will be smoothed to provide safe transitions. The new surface will be the same polymer impregnated asphalt that has kept the rest of the track in good condition through fifteen Michigan winters. Racers will appreciate the change and those renting the track for testing will be satisfied. This modification of Gingerman will pay its own way. And Dan Schnitta's expectations will have been met.
Illustration 1 The GingerMan is the brick building on the corner at the right of the picture. The Metro may be seen just behind the triangular shaped GingerMan and Wrigley Field may be seen down the street on the left.
Illustration 2 this illustration shows the entire GingerMan layout. The brown patches near the corners are the gravel traps to slow cars out of control. The yellow patch in the enclosed near turns 4, 5, 6 and 7 is the highest part of the property and is set aside as a spectator area where the entire track can be seen. Turn 10 is being moved 1,000 feet towards 60th Street to lengthen the straightaway labeled Phoenix Flat. A contoured sixteen feet high earth berm has been installed diagonally from the wooded are at the top right towards the intersection of Phoenix Road and 60th Street. This berm shelters a nearby hamlet from noise and will also serve as a safety stop for cars. Note how the pit road loops behind the gravel trap at turn 11. Schnitta maintains a small but elegant house looking out over the pond. The site of endless summer is on the southwest corner of the property. Westbound Phoenix Road ends at the Lake Michigan harbor in South Haven.
Illustration 3 this is a rather extreme example of a decreasing radius turn. The picture comes from a website warning and instructing motorcycle riders about such turns. As may be seen the turn becomes sharper the farther around the turn one goes. An inattentive or inexperienced driver will come in at a higher speed because of the relatively easy curvature of the first part of the curve. By the time the driver realizes how much tighter the curve becomes the momentum of the car will be focusing increasingly towards the inner part of the corner and without barriers a car going out of control can come back across the track back into traffic. With an increasing radius turn, the curvature would become more gradual again as a car exits the turn and a car out of control would go off the track to the outside and, on a track as well designed as GingerMan, into a gravel trap. Source: http:/www.timberwoof.com/motorcycle/faq/decreasing-radius-turn.html
Source: GingerMan Raceway
Source: GingerMan Raceway
Waterford Hills Road Racing Inc. (Waterford) is a subsidiary club of a larger older club, the Oakland County Sportsman's Club (OCSC). For many years Waterford was the only racetrack in the United States owned and operated by a club. Thunderhill Raceway in Willow California was created by the San Francisco region of the SCCA, designed by the same designer as Gingerman.67
OCSC is a conglomerate of clubs. In addition to WHRRI there are the Quarter Midget68, Archery, Muzzleloaders, Shotgun, D. R. Wilson Rifle and Pistol Club and the Women's Auxiliary. The Club was founded in nineteen forty three by a small group of Pontiac Michigan businessmen. The very first newsletter spelled out the philosophy of the founders: "Out of such an association must come a unified effort to protect and promote conservation for the healthful, recreational benefit of all…when they doff the helmets and boots of war to don fishing and hunting paraphernalia for a lazy day of communing with nature"69 The founders plainly did not envision automobile racing on the Club's grounds.
In May of nineteen forty four David R. Wilson of Wilson Foundry put up $6,450.00 to fund the purchase of eighty six acres of land north of Pontiac. The land was about one half of a mile off US 10, known in Michigan as "Dixie Highway". Dixie Highway was main artery leading from Detroit to the northern part of the state until the founding of the interstate highway system. It was an almost endless strip of smaller cities and commercial establishments. An early OCSC advertiser, The Old Mill Tavern, noted that its location was on Dixie Highway "Michigan's Main Street". 70 The Dixie Highway location guaranteed easy access from the greater Detroit area while the site itself offered buffers from much of Oakland County's later rapid residential expansion. OCSC and WHRRI would later encounter some political difficulties from the subdivision already in place along the eastern edge of the property and from changes in state environmental laws, problems Grattan and Gingerman have not had.
On May 21, 1944 first the Club held its first "workbee", with members volunteering time to clear the land and begin getting it ready for activities.71 ("Workbee" is a term that appears to be unique to the Club. Its origin is unknown.) The Club had begun a log sale to raise money to build the clubhouse almost as soon as it was founded and a book memorializing log "owners" is on prominent display in the clubhouse today. In nineteen forty eight Pioneer Log of Roscommon Michigan built the clubhouse.72 In nineteen fifty one the Club purchased eighty acres east of the original property and in nineteen sixty five added additional thirty four acres north of Waterford Road.73 These three land purchases comprise the property occupied by the Club today. The property borders a small lake, Townsend Lake and includes some ponds and wetlands.
The Club grew in size and influence in the outdoor sports world. It has published a monthly magazine or newsletter since its founding and has been a prominent force in many conservation and outdoor sports activities ever since. In nineteen fifty four the national skeet shooting championships were held at the club and a long row of skeet launching towers was built on the eastern eighty acres purchased in nineteen fifty one. 74 This part of the property is occupied by the race track today and the skeet houses were left in place for a few years with the track winding through them. (Illustration 1)
Sports car events were introduced at the Club in nineteen fifty eight. OCSC's Fiftieth Anniversary book notes that not every member approved and several left the Club in protest over the introduction of motor sports on the Club property. 75 Both the president and immediately past president were strong supporters of sports car activities and the Club secretary, Robert Gubbins was an auto industry executive and sports car fan. Gubbins was a member of Michigan Sports Car Club (MSCC) and Gubbins, along with OCSC vice president Harry Barnes and MSCC events chair Ed Lawrence approached the board about the one time use of the eighty six acres occupied by the skeet ranges.76 The first event consisted of time trials held on a one lane dirt track laid out by Lawrence and graded with equipment donated by Barnes. This event took place in May of nineteen fifty eight.77 Joan Lawrence Voltmer, and Emily Bowyer Walsh, wives of founding members, have preserved many papers, pictures, and newsletters from the founding days. Among them is the original pencil drawing on vellum paper of the second of three layouts. (Illustration 2)
Early entry lists are dominated by foreign sports cars and by number the entrants in events foreign cars dominated for many years. It is not until the energy crisis days of the nineteen seventies that American manufactured cars appear in any significant numbers. But in nineteen fifty eight, it was significant that Corvette Club, less than a month after the first event asked to hold time trials on the site. This event took place on June 8, 1958 and drew forty three cars. Bob Clift, an OCSC member and Corvette Club member won first place in the modified class, a group of cars that had been changed from the manufacturer's original specifications to enhance performance. Barnes graded a revised, expanded course of one and a quarter miles, which is seen on the cover of the Pioneer Time Trials program.78(Illustration 1)
After the Corvette Club event, the nascent sports car group at OCSC schedule events promoted to the public, the Pioneer Time Trials. The program for these events shows the track in its second, one and a quarter mile configuration, skirting the large swamp in the middle of the property that later became a prominent feature of the track. (Illustration 1) In the illustration attached the long row of skeet houses built by OCSC for the national skeet championships may be seen as a diagonal of dots crossing the track at the middle of the picture. Though these skeet houses are long gone, the nearby turn is still known as Skeet House Turn by those who adhere to the old road racing custom of naming prominent corners. (Illustration 3) Attempting to answer complaints about the dust raised by the cars, corners were shored up with clay and the whole track was coated with calcium chloride. These efforts proved futile and the October event was cancelled.
The obvious solution to the dust problem was to pave the track. Up to this point the track had been created and events had been staged and managed on an all volunteer basis, a characteristic that has dominated the operating philosophy of the Club for all of its existence. But paving the track was a project that required money. So in August nineteen fifty eight a corporation was formed by activist members to facilitate fund raising. Detroit attorney Anthony Peters, Gubbins and Barnes met twice and at the second meeting incorporation papers drawn up by Peters were adopted. Peters was named treasurer, Gubbins first vice president, Barnes president and another party, Dick Norton secretary. Incorporation relieved OCSC of any legal liability for racing activities and facilitated fund raising. Into the fall notes were issued to members to raise money to pave a one lane track, which was done in November of nineteen fifty eight. The possibility was left open that the contributing members might get their money back if the track could pay for itself.79
The paved track solved the dust problem and made competitive events possible. The Club conducted more time trials and added "Australian Pursuits". In an Australian pursuit cars would be started separately at equal intervals and a car caught from behind by another had to leave the track. The popularity of the sports car activities grew, but what people wanted was racing. And the activist members who created the corporation, Oakland County Sportsman's Road Racing Corporation, believed that if they could stage races the track would pay for itself with entry fees and admissions.80 Although Les Smith, writing in the October nineteen sixty OCSC Sportsman cited just above characterizes the initial issuance as notes, with the possible return of the money invested, the same piece characterizes the organization as a corporation and there is in the Voltmer-Walsh papers a blank stock certificate for the Oakland County Sportsmen's Road Racing Corporation. An anonymous pledge of securities to secure a bank loan of $17,000.00 put the project over the top and the track was paved in October nineteen fifty nine, just in time for the first races.
By this time the road racing group had become a formidable force in OCSC affairs. Matters eventually reached a point where the president of OCSC felt it necessary to write a terse three paragraph statement in the Sportsman to inform OCSC members that no OCSC money was being spent on the road racing club. He informed the membership that the road racing group leased the track from OCSC, that the property and all improvements reverted to OCSC upon termination of the lease and that the road racing group contracted OCSC as the sole vendor for food and drink concessions at the track.81 These arrangements remain in place today. The August nineteen fifty eight OCSC Sportsman featured a new full page column called Wheelspin written by sports car participant Bob Moody and the column continued well into at least the nineteen seventies.82 In the nineteen fifty eight column Moody notes that a sports car committee was being formed within the OCSC structure. A later column notes that Bob Clift was named chair of the committee. The same column outlines a detailed and extensive organizational structure that survives mostly intact today. (Illustration 4) Safe, efficiently conducted road races require an extensive and detailed organizational structure and it has been a strength of the Waterford Club over all of its years that it has been able to attract and retain a core of volunteers who produce truly professional events. There seems little doubt that the national racing experience of Clift and others who came into OCSC from MSCC installed this level of professionalism in the Club.
The new sports car group held social events and became involved in many other activities. Among these was the first International Auto Show at the State fair Coliseum in Detroit. Ed Lawrence, who came in with the MSCC members, was the chair of the event, sponsored by OCSCRRC. Ed and his wife Joan were tireless and popular contributors to the Club and its activities. It came as a great shock and loss to the Club that Ed was killed in an accident while practicing for the Twelve Our International race at Sebring in Florida just before the auto show he organized. Waterford's ticket sales were designated as a fund raiser for the Lawrence family and the inaugural races in October included the first annual Ed Lawrence Memorial Race, a tradition that continues to this day. Ed's wife Joan (now always referred to at the Club as Joan Lawrence Voltmer) remained an active participant in the club for many years and was named an honorary non-voting member of the board of OCSCRRC. Last year, two thousand eight, Joan continued a Lawrence family tradition by climbing the starter's tower and showing the green flag for the fiftieth Ed Lawrence Memorial. The Ed Lawrence Memorial, always the feature race for the fastest cars, is one of the most prestigious of several permanent trophies awarded each year by the Club. The International Auto Show went on to become the North American International Auto Show held in Detroit each year.
The first of several Detroit Region SCCA race events was held on June 24, 1960.83 The Detroit Region and Waterford had, at times, a tempestuous relationship over the years. Issues usually revolved around control. The SCCA was and is justifiably proud of the quality of its events and no doubt a desire to maintain that quality motivated many requests that seemed demanding and controlling. At the same time, Waterford had developed an organization and an experience that is second to none. Waterford crews, drivers and cars have competed nationally and have included SCCA national champions. The Waterford Flagging and Communications group provides services at amateur and professional events all over the country. The flagging and emergency services groups of the SCCA and Detroit Region and Waterford have conducted numerous joint training programs and have combined to staff the corners at the last two Detroit "Grands Prixs" held on Belle Isle in the Detroit River. These professional races included Indy Racing League road races for Indianapolis cars, the American LeMans series for an international field of sports car drivers and an SCCA Professional Series race. Leaders of all three series were highly complementary of the services provided by the Waterford and Detroit Region personnel. After years of experimenting with race car classifications, Waterford adopted SCCA classifications in nineteen sixty three so racers could compete in events sponsored by each, an arrangement that remains in place today.84 Waterford racing licenses are accepted at SCCA events.
Over the years volunteering and donations have been hallmarks of the Club's growth and development. As noted elsewhere, founder Harry Barnes donated grading services. Barnes also built and installed the first structure at the track an observation tower.85 A new paddock building began construction in August 1964, adding restroom facilities, a snack bar, storage for track equipment and the base for a tower for race control and observation. This facility was burned by vandals in nineteen eighty one and in the best tradition of Waterford volunteering, a veteran and popular member, Don Burry took the lead in designing and overseeing the construction of the tower building that exists today.86 It was later named the Don Burry Tower. Over the years worker stations have been built and steadily upgraded by volunteers. As noted above in the section on Grattan, protection for workers, who are inside the track barriers with the cars are sometimes perfunctory; at Waterford they are first rate and the author can testify from personal experience that workers are well protected inside the worker stations at Waterford. Over the years safety provisions have been upgraded, mostly by volunteer effort and donated professional services. There are now gravel traps at almost every corner. A larger run off area, where a car out of control is given room to get under control without hitting anything, was recently constructed at turn one. This involved moving and reinstalling fences and guardrails and smoothing the ground off the end of the turn. A member of the club, a contractor, sent crews with grading equipment to do the contouring and volunteers moved and rebuilt the barriers. The contact list for the club today lists twenty nine chairs responsible for staging races and on a typical weekend there are approximately sixty five other people involved in the various groups led by those people. All are volunteers.
Waterford's racers and workers participated in events in every element of the mid century American road racing experience, from street races to airport races. In nineteen sixty three an Ohio SCCA official revived, for a year, races at Put-in -Bay. Races were held in the streets of the beautiful island resort and the experience of taking the ferry to the island, staying in quaint hotels and Inns and racing on blocked off streets took the participants back to the most romantic of the early mid century days. When he had secured permission to stage the event, the official, the former starter at Waterford Hills, knew there was only one group experienced and organized well enough to stage the event, Waterford Hills Road Racing.87 Put-in-Bay was characterized as the "America's Last Race" by noted racing historian Carl Goodwin in an excellent article in Vintage Motor Sport.88 Goodwin himself is a former Waterford Hills racer.
Waterford has always featured a contingent of Canadian participants and workers and in the nineteen sixties Waterford participants and workers often travelled to Harewood Acres, a converted airport. Waterford people once helped stage a two and one half hour night race at Harewood. 89 In nineteen seventy the Club staged a night race at Michigan International Speedway. And in nineteen seventy four the City of Pontiac asked Waterford Hills to stage races on the streets of the City as a promotional event. Waterford stalwart Don Burry chaired the event, which was considered such a success that it was renewed in nineteen seventy five. Unfortunately, the nineteen seventy four winner was killed in a spectacular accident in the nineteen seventy five race and like other municipal sponsors Pontiac decided to avoid any further risk of negative publicity.90
Waterford provided the venue for vintage races on many occasions and from nineteen eighty five until two thousand six staged vintage races in conjunction with the prestigious Meadowbrook Concours held at Meadowbrook Hall on the grounds of Oakland University. In some years there were featured makes of cars ("Marques", as the concours crowd would say) and Waterford's grounds have been graced with displays of historic Ferraris, Porsches, Mercedes Benz, Jaguars and Corvettes while the track was graced with large numbers of historic race cars. The races lost their sponsorship after the 2006 event. Waterford staged its own vintage races in 2008 eight in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary.
Writing as an insider, it is almost impossible to convey the richness of the social life at Waterford. From the earliest days social events such as dances and dinners, trips taken together and many other activities created a reinforced a tightly knit community. Dances and similar social events are fewer today, as seems to be true of most of American society, but social activities remain an important aspect of the Club. There is a campground nicknamed "Camp Cabo" just off the end of the back straight of the track. Corner workers sleep in the back of their van parked next to the elaborate motor home of a millionaire owner - driver and just behind a couple who work timing and scoring, sleeping in their small tent with their baby. There are campfires and cookouts and several times a year everyone at the races is invited to outdoor parties. Today there are groups with closely shared interests that fit within the whole of the Club. The corner workers reassemble as a group at lunch and worker breaks. As discussed in the section on Grattan, the paddock - the area where the cars are parked and serviced between races - has neighborhoods. Most of the Corvette drivers pit near each other; most of the Miata drivers do as well and nearly all of the Formula 500 drivers do so. Anyone suffering damage or a breakdown in a race will usually find all the help he needs from his fellow competitors. At the end of the weekend of racing most drivers and workers assemble in the lodge for the awards ceremonies. The corner workers sit together and drink beer paid for and delivered by the drivers. The drivers sit in front of the small stage and the stewards that attend usually sit in the back, scrutinizing the rest as they have all day. A weekend at Waterford confirms the impression gained at Grattan: a small city rises up on Friday and lasts for the weekend. To the casual observer, the city disappears on Sunday night.
But the community persists through the weeks between races in the meetings, in the shared time spent working on cars and the track and in the ongoing dialogue on the Club's website.91 As an example Vern Roberts, a popular longtime member and competitor owns a business specializing in American muscle cars and hot rods, inadvertently initiated a several month long saga on the Club's website. In celebrating the grand opening of his new store, Vern had a life size cardboard reproduction of himself in his racing suit made. "Flat Vern", as the reproduction became known, was kidnapped from the grand opening and a ransom demand was posted on the Waterford website. Over ensuing months there were pages of hilarious negotiations, demands, threats and pictures of Flat Vern everywhere. He was spotted at restaurants, bars, in police cars, under race cars, once in a Hooters restaurant surrounded by adoring "Hooters Girls" and several times being menaced by terrorists. Flat Vern was reunited with "Round Vern", as Roberts became known, at the end of the season. Other times there are entries that begin "Sad News"; and most often there are questions, advice, suggestions and discussion of important Club issues.
For the researcher, Waterford presents an interesting case and a puzzle. The founding of the Club and the early days are well documented in the OCSC Sportsman. Besides pictures and schedules, the Sportsman featured the Wheelspin column for many years and for a time included a companion column discussing social events and developments, personality profiles and good natured gossip about members and participants. But the columns disappeared in the early nineteen seventies and since that time references to the road racing group have been few and mostly confined to business matters. A separate publication, The Waterford Digest, devoted exclusively to the racing Club was published during the summer from nineteen sixty two until nineteen eighty nine. The economic dislocations of the nineteen seventies and nineteen eighties probably had something to do with demise of OCSC's coverage. The Sportsman was reduced from a magazine of twenty five or more pages to a two or three page newsletter at one point and the Fiftieth Anniversary book92 does attribute that to economic conditions. Another factor probably springs from the fact that the production of these publications was the work of volunteers who eventually run out of energy or move away.
Since the inception of the internet and websites, almost all of the dialogue of the community has taken place there. The website is maintained and operated by volunteers, and little of what was discussed, shown, debated and decided on the website has been saved. There was no publication celebrating the fiftieth anniversary last year but there was a compilation of most of the Waterford Digests, the Silver Anniversary booklet and pictures from over the years on compact disc. So unlike many institutions with a long and rich history, there is a reasonable amount of material available on the early days but for the most part only oral tradition to document the most recent years. There was a failed attempt to write a history last year; the story of the first two decades, those documented in the Sportsman and Digest were written up and that commentary is available on the website. The rest of the years are blank. There is a large amount of archival material in the hands of members. Joan Lawrence Voltmer and Emily Bowyer Walsh, who provided this author with a collection of early documents, have expressed a desire to see an archive created. That project, discussed and supported by many, will await a volunteer.
Ironies abound at Waterford. The parent club was devoted to sports among the oldest practiced by human beings but it became the home of one of the most successful places for one of the few modern sports. A Club devoted to conservation hosts a sport celebrating the automobile, currently regarded by many as the most troublesome threat to the physical environment. For those who became seduced by the romance of the mid century sports car movement, it seems the club was built on the foundation of the sport of the early nineteen fifties, on those funny foreign cars. But it has not really been the foreign car culture that energized or sustained the Club and the earliest history and recent history support that statement.
Looking at the pictures and the entry lists from the early days, foreign cars certainly seem to dominate. Looking at the pictures in the Digest year by year, it is not until the nineteen seventies that a significant number of American cars are seen. Although Waterford was founded and prospered on the home ground of the American automobile industry neither General Motors nor Ford nor Chrysler (the Big Three) ever played any significant direct role in the Club. But the car culture of southeastern Michigan provided the energy that created and sustained it and in important respects sustains it today.
Robert "Bob" Clift's name and picture are everywhere in the records of the early days. He was an experienced racer already when the club was founded and was the first chair of the Sports car Committee, the first incarnation of the club. Clift was a member of the Corvette club and it will be recalled that the Corvette Club held the second event held at Waterford in June of nineteen fifty eight and fielded forty eight cars. Bob Clift worked for General Motors (GM) at the GM Proving Grounds, the private network of streets, roads and high speed tracks where General Motors tested its cars. Clift was the Public Relations Officer, but did double duty as a driver and raced a 1954 Corvette. The nineteen fifty three - fifty four Corvette was a styling success built over ordinary GM parts and was widely dismissed by sports car people. But Clift's Corvette was different. It is widely known today that GM officially abandoned racing in those years, but that several people in the Company ran a clandestine racing support program that eventually helped produce some of the most successful race cars in the country. It was during this time that Zora Arkus Duntov, a European engineer with deep racing experience came to the Chevrolet division of GM and began the campaign to make Corvette a legitimate world class sports car. Bob Clift eventually became a development driver in the Corvette program for Duntov. Bob Clift's nineteen fifty four car always ran in modified classes, classes for cars that had been changed from factory specifications and it ran much better than any other nineteen fifty four Corvette. Paul Van Valkenburgh says, in his book Chevrolet - Racing?93 Clift contributed pages of competition specifications and preparation checklists that benefitted Corvette development and future Corvette racers. It appears Waterford Hills may have played a significant role in the development of the Corvette. (Illustration 5)
There is no discussion in the documents available today of the jobs held by Waterford members over the years. There are anecdotal reports that numerous Big Three designers, engineers and business officials have been members and competed at Waterford. Deep connections are there to be discovered.
One of the enduring neighborhoods in the pits at Waterford is the encampment of Green Dot Racing. Cars, coolers, barbecue grills, chairs and tools are sheltered under canopies to keep the sun and rain away. (Illustration 6) Bruce Wentzel, the owner and proprietor of Green Dot Racing has been competing at Waterford since nineteen eighty nine. Bruce builds, repairs, rents and races cars based on the rotary engine94 powered Mazda sports cars popular from nineteen seventy eight through nineteen ninety five.95 On any given race day there are four to six Mazdas in the Green Dot pit and several others scattered around the pits that Bruce maintains for others in the club. Bruce has raced his own cars in SCCA regional and national events. By all appearances he is a promoter of the foreign cars most reviled in Detroit at one time, the Japanese car. At one level that is true. But Bruce Wentzel is a retired GM engineer, educated at General Motors Institute, who was assigned to the proving grounds in the late part of his career where he met people who introduced him to Waterford. His first sports car was a Corvette and he joined the Corvette Club. Before the proving ground assignment Wentzel was assigned for two and a half years to GM's rotary engine project at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren Michigan. Mazda had considerable success with the rotary engine which was smaller, lighter and more powerful than a comparable displacement piston engine. Mazda had developed considerable expertise with the engine and General Motors bought hundreds for study at the test center. GM's program eventually folded because GM was never able to match Mazda's technological expertise and neither company was able to meet the pollution control standards later imposed by the United States Government. But Wentzel never forgot the excellence of Mazda's rotary engine. He and several other engineers once took a car to a remote site at the Tech Center, left it behind a large embankment and began running the engine as fast as possible as long as possible to see when and how it would fail. It did not fail. So when the cars began to age and people began to convert them to race cars, Wentzel became interested. The cars were and are relatively cheap, powerful, reliable and rugged and, when properly prepared, fast. Wentzel's business repairing, maintaining and renting Mazda cars just about breaks even financially. But it does help support his other automotive avocation: three other weekends a month, away from Waterford races, Wentzel and his wife autocross96 their late model Corvette.97 Like Bob Clift, Bruce Wentzel is a "Corvette guy".
In pursuing the theme of this foreign born sport being nurtured by insiders in the American automobile industry, another emerges, the conservation and development of technological talent and capacity. One of the most visible teams at Waterford races is the Corvette racing team sponsored by Cauley Chevrolet based in suburban Detroit. The cars are impeccably maintained and are usually the fastest in their class. The team has raced all over the United States and has participated in the biggest sports car events in the country. The team has raced in internationally famous races such as the twenty four hour race in Daytona and the twelve hour race in Sebring Florida that dates back to the early nineteen fifties. One of the team's top drivers and by all appearances team manager is Danny Kellermeyer.
Kellermeyer is also an alumnus of General Motors Institute who fell in love with cars and racing early in life while growing up on a farm, where he learned to work hard. After an apprenticeship in GM, he landed a "car guy's" dream job. He became a field liaison between GM's Flint engine plant and the Corvette program. His job involved traveling, investigating problems and needs involving the cars and assisting in engineering solutions. On a trip to Texas a friend took him on a weekend junket to the famous Riverside Raceway in California where he cured an issue with a wealthy Texan's race car that others had not been able to solve. The Texan was delighted with the result and pointing to Kellermeyer told his team manager that Kellermeyer would be working for him from then on. Kellermeyer left GM in 1991 and has been involved in racing at top levels ever since.
Kellermeyer builds Corvette race cars and buys what are known as kit cars from the Corvette factory. He works out of a shop located on the farm he shares with his wife. The property includes a big old fashioned red barn which is full of Corvettes of many past models. Kellermeyer says he is not a collector and is not emotionally attached to the cars. He is just too busy and too committed to new projects to dispose of them. His shop is behind the barn. What is delivered to Danny Kellermeyer is a bare metal tub, vaguely recognizable as a part of a car. If there are any assembled parts on the "tub" they are disassembled and inspected. The entire car is then assembled with painstaking attention to every detail. For example, small bushings in the suspension of the car located near the brakes are wrapped in little "jackets" of heat resistant material before being reassembled. All the systems and components of a complex race car are assembled with the same care. What emerges from this process is a dazzling, powerful and efficient race car. (Illustration 7)
Engines, transmissions, suspensions - all assembled by Kellermeyer, usually working alone, are improved and upgraded whenever he spots the need and opportunity and the changes reported back to suppliers and vendors. A vendor recently delivered a composite material98 "spring" that mounts in the front of the Corvette. Kellermeyer specified the strength of the spring he wanted. He installed it in a car, drove the car and contacted the factory to say it did not meet his specifications. The factory sent him another. Kellermeyer installed it in the car, test drove it and reported to the factory that the new one also failed to meet specifications. When the factory balked at Kellermeyer's rejection, he turned to his shop and invented and built a testing device and successfully tested the springs, neither of which met the factory's promised performance. Properly chastened and instructed, the factory eventually delivered what Kellermeyer had specified. Kellermeyer's shop is filled with machine tools and testing devices he invented and built in pursuit of building fine race cars. The level of engineering prowess and technological capacity is astonishing.
Danny Kellermeyer started racing at Waterford in 1989; his license number is near Bruce Wentzel's. Like Wentzel he built several cars that race at Waterford besides his own Cauley sponsored cars and like Wenzel he is usually in the pits on race days at Waterford dispensing advice, offering assistance and driving fast, entertaining races. Kellermeyer, like Wentzel, is a tireless promoter of the track and the Club. Both men have served as officers and participated in innumerable workbees, fundraisers and meetings. With countless experiences at the highest level of the sport behind him, Kellermeyer says flatly that there is no other place like Waterford Hills.99
The culture of innovation at Waterford provides another tie to one of the oldest traditions in American road racing, the building of road racing "specials". The Club has been the home of builders of road racing "specials", discussed above, for many years. The author remembers a car in the nineteen sixties powered by a motorcycle engine. The builder employed the motorcycle transmission, normally activated by the rider's foot. The builder of that car arranged a system of cables and levers so that the driver could shift the transmission using the levers, located on the steering wheel. Following the technology of Formula One, the highest level of road racing, "paddle shifters" on steering wheels have become the "latest" innovation on expensive cars in 2008. The fastest car and driver on the track at Waterford in the past few seasons comes from that tradition of road racing specials.
Jon Staudacher came to speed sports through his family. His father built unlimited hydroplanes in the nineteen fifties100 and Jon built his first championship winning boat at age fifteen. He has been in the motor racing business one way or another ever since. The unlimited hydroplanes originally used surplus World War II aircraft engines and many aircraft building and engineering techniques were adopted in the design and construction process. The fundamental engineering problem was strength to manage the stresses of all the power applied and lightness with the purpose of delivering the greatest possible performance.
At some point Jon became interested in aerobatic aircraft, airplanes that permitted the performance of spectacular maneuvers in the air. Staudacher Aircraft was formed and over a number of years a number of aircraft were built, each one unique. These aircraft are considered among the best and change hands seldom and then for significant amounts of money.101 Staudacher boats and aircraft have set the highest standards in their fields. Jon does a good business today building and repairing boats in the tiny village of Kawkawlin Michigan and he still flies, testing planes for customers. All of the design, engineering and construction methods employed were learned by experience, in his shop and in competing in sports.
Jon competed in aerobatics and a day came when he realized that eight of his best friends were dead from accidents in the sport and that he personally knew about fifty people who had been killed in aerobatic planes. Jon had been interested in automobile racing and had originally attended drivers school at Waterford in nineteen sixty eight. He built his own Formula Vee102 race car but military service interrupted his racing plans. When he became disillusioned with aerobatic competition, he returned to auto racing and went through drivers' school again about eight years ago. He initially raced a Formula Continental, an open wheel race car built by a firm specializing in race cars. Jon eventually redesigned and rebuilt the continental to his standards. He determined to design and build his own race car and settled on D Sports Racing cars. D Sports Racers are a development class, a class where there are few basic rules and a maximum degree of innovation is permitted. Staudacher has called on called on his success and expertise in the boat and airplane businesses. He learned building light strong structures out of wood, using a sophisticated system of epoxy bonding in lieu of mechanical fasteners. He designs and engineers the cars, building bodies and chassis himself and reengineers and adapts mechanical systems from other cars as needed. In addition to his cars Jon has built several very carefully designed enclosed trailers to haul the car, spare parts and tools, using wood, composite materials and epoxy. The trailers are built to the same standards of fitness and beauty as his race cars. The latest carries all of his tools and the car and includes a bunk for camping at far away tracks. It weighs only six hundred and fifty pounds and is finished like furniture. Race car and trailer are easily towed behind his compact four cylinder Mazda car at speeds as high as ninety miles per hour. He was chagrinned to find at a recent SCCA regional event that most of the people stopping by his pit wanted to speak to him about the trailer.
The SCCA has strict rules and procedures for admitting new cars in its events. It can sometimes present a dilemma for new builders and Jon was considered a new builder by the SCCA. The cars had to be proven before being admitted to races, but needed to be raced to be developed and proven. Waterford Hills depends on its own "Tech" officials to inspect and approve cars and Waterford welcomed Jon and his new cars. After being proven at Waterford, they were accepted by the SCCA.
Jon's race cars weigh about seven hundred and fifty pounds. (There are two that appear identical to a casual observer) They are powered by one thousand cubic centimeter Suzuki motorcycle engines, about sixty five cubic inches, less than twenty percent the capacity of one of Danny Kellermeyer's Corvettes. The bodies weigh about thirty six pounds and are considered works of art by knowledgeable racing fans. This light car powered by a small motorcycle engine has a top speed approaching one hundred and fifty miles per hour and holds the class track record at Waterford, Gingerman, Grattan and Mid Ohio raceways. Until September 28, 2008 Staudacher held the outright lap record at Waterford Hills at 1:02.818 (minutes, seconds and thousands of a second). It was beaten by a car with an engine twice as large and costing about ten times as much as Staudacher's car; the record was lowered to1:02. (Illustration 8) In discussing that race Staudacher was dismissive of the track record, the cost of the cars or the relative sizes of the engines, although not of the amount of his time and work involved in his cars. He was preoccupied with subtle changes in the aerodynamics of the two cars, one being "set up", as racers say, for Waterford, where the highest facility in cornering is critical and the other for Mid Ohio where top speed is paramount. Solutions to problems and the translation to performance on the track matter most to him.
Staudacher had nearly a lifetime of experiences in different sports before returning to road racing. He too says there is no place else like Waterford Hills. The track is better located for him, is more accommodating in practice and testing arrangements and is cheaper than the others. He marvels at the Club's ability to turn out professional quality workers who stand out in the sun and wind and rain to work corners, man emergency services and provide all the other services necessary to staging a quality racing experience. Having the fastest car on the track in a race with several different classes of cars presents its own unique problems. Only at Waterford Hills does he compete in a group where he feels all the drivers are safe, predictable and trustworthy and where the races are well managed by his standards. But more important to him is the fact that Waterford Hills is the only place he competes where he can strike up conversations and expect the same level of technological competence he has achieved. He says he must be careful how he speaks at events at other tracks, not out of any political or social concern, but for fear of talking above the level of his competitors, most of whom simply write checks and buy cars and services. This sophisticated innovator of modest demeanor finds equals, and a sense of being at home in his sport at Waterford. It seems Waterford Hills has been fulfilling this role for countless people in the sport and in the automotive industry for over fifty years.
Illustration 1 shows the original dirt track
Illustration 2: This hand drawn track layout was probably done by Ed Lawrence. This configuration was used for the one lane dirt track used in the nineteen fifty eight Pioneer Time Trials. As may be seen, the drawing anticipates the later extension of the track around the swamp and the completion of the layout substantially as it is today. The current turn 6 is at the top right corner of the drawing; the original track turned in short of the large tree that still stands by turn 6.
Illustration 3 this map of the track served as the homepage illustration on the track's website for many years. The drawing shows the naming of corners, a tradition that reaches back to nineteen fifties sports car racing. Skeethouse Turn is the part of the track formerly crossed by the row of towers left over from OCSC's national skeet shooting tournament. Archer's Corner is near the original location of OCSC's archery range, which is now the sight of the campground, "Camp Cabo". Gulch Turn, the turn one-turn two complex circles a deep gulch into which many errant cars disappeared before Armco barriers were installed a few years ago. The track rises sharply uphill from turn three to turn four and then falls sharply downhill from turn four through Pelton Bend. The worker's station at Hilltop is located where the flag marked "4" is seen; cars setting up to drift over Hilltop are often pointed right at the workers before centrifugal force carries them out and over the hill. The cars pass within ten feet of the workers at speed, which makes for an exciting day for the workers! Swamp Turn, circling what remains of what was a much larger swamp, provides for some interesting "surface" calls from the workers stationed there. Workers display a flag with red and yellow stripes to warn drivers of something unexpected on the racing surface and call Race Control in the Tower to describe the hazard. Hazards are often geese, frogs or turtles at Swamp Turn. Deer and foxes have been called in from other corners. Every possible effort is made to spare the wild life at Waterford; high speed contact can be as much of a personal hazard to the drivers as to the animals.
Illustration 4: The structure outlined by Bob Clift in 1958 remains substantially that of the road racing club today. It would have been adapted from SCCA experience and mirrors the organization of events at Janesville Airport.
Source: Oakland County Sportsman, The Oakland County Sportsman's Association, October, 1958, 11
Illustration 5 Bob Clift's heavily modified 1954 Corvette. The two seat car was a styling coup for General Motors, but was ridiculed by nineteen fifties sports car aficionados. Clift's years of possibly clandestine testing at Waterford Hills for the Corvette program, later under Zora Arkus-Duntov, may have paved the way for Danny Kellermeyer's sensational sports cars.
Illustration 6 the Wentzel "Neiborhood"
Illustration 7 Top: the silver structure connecting the engine and wheels in this car show display is the "tub" Danny Kellermeyer begins with. Bottom: Kellermeyer's latest race winning creation.
Illustration 8 Top: A close up of Jon Staudacher's beautiful self-designed, engineered and built D Sports Racing car at Waterford. Bottom: Staudacher near the start of a race next to the much costlier, more powerful professionally built Formula Atlantic that erased Staudacher's lap record by a fraction. In the background may be seen part of the twelve foot high wood sound barrier erected by Waterford members that seems to have ended years of hard feelings and occasional litigation with the neighboring subdivision over noise and visual "pollution". No racing engines can be started before 10:00 AM on race days and they must be turned off by 6:00 PM. The neighbors did call the police to complain about the loudness of the national anthem played before racing began one Sunday last year.
This is a view into Jon Staudacher's latest trailer that attracted so much attention a recent SCCA national event. Except for the hitch, wheels and axel, the structure is entirely wood and epoxy composite. The metal plates are decorative; Jon says they lend an "Art Deco" look he likes.
This thesis was really undertaken to fulfill a personal interest - a study of road racing in Michigan - and to answer presumed skeptics that the investigation would engage interesting and important topics in the study of American culture. The study became limited to the three race tracks presented for two reasons. First racing, like many sports, requires a place, but the scale of the activity and safety and environmental issues make special demands. Racing requires a place in this narrow sense of a physical facility suited specifically to its requirements, which in turn requires investment. Only three sites in the State meet that criterion. Second, there was the hope that these would prove to be "places" in a richer sense of the word, that they are vehicles for interesting, substantial and important stories. The expectation was that the insight into topics in American culture that emerged would be greater in scope for the inclusion of all three. That expectation has been met.
Grattan Raceway evokes nostalgia for the nineteen fifties in both the sport and in American culture; the institution itself almost incidentally involves road racing. The Faasen family was quite literally a large nineteen fifties family. In her book The Way We Never Were, widely employed in American Culture programs, Stephanie Coontz "debunks" the images of family seen on television in the nineteen fifties. She argues that the idea of the nuclear family popular then was wrongheaded and harmful and says that activist government was most responsible for the prosperity of the nineteen fifties.103 Near the conclusion of her chapter "We Always Stood on Our Own Two feet she says "…leading European thinkers insisted that the sun and all the planets revolved around the earth, much as Americans insist that our society revolves around family self-reliance."104 Plainly, Coontz never visited Grattan Raceway or at least took the trouble to get to know anyone like the Faasens. One is reminded of the story of Abraham in Genesis questioning God about God's decision to destroy Gomorrah. By persistent questioning Abraham elicits the response from God that the existence of just ten good men in the city would prove the case for human goodness and that God would spare the City on the account of the ten.105 The author will assert without offering further proof that such families as Coontz "debunks" have existed, do exist and that there are likely many more than ten.
Gingerman Raceway is a business that does not incidentally involve road racing, but it is primarily a business. Dan Schnitta races elsewhere. He has said he likes going to Grattan and is as moved by the evocation of the old days as anyone. But he insists it cannot be the future of the sport and that only a considered, business- like approach will secure a place for the sport in the future. He thinks the technology involved in the sport is a valuable part of Michigan business that is being neglected by State economic development programs that subsidize windmills and movies studios.106 While his primary expectation is that Gingerman Raceway pays its own way, an important corollary is that Gingerman will prove to be an important testing and development tool for innovators in automotive technology. Danny Kellermeyer, who has done testing and development work all over the country, says that Gingerman is the best of the three facilities in the state for that purpose. 107
Gingerman does reach back to the early days of the sport, in at least one important respect. In terms of safety and event management, Gingerman resembles the old airport courses, like Janesville Airport. It has taken a patient and intelligent method to construct a track that delivers on safety and yet also delivers on a more interesting road racing experience.
Schnitta is widely hailed in the sport and in the community at South Haven as an entrepreneur. But the story of Gingerman bears out the thesis of Scott A. Shane in The Illusions of Entrepreneurship.108 Contrary to innumerable books, magazine articles, television programs and seminars, most start up businesses are not successful, certainly not overnight. They are started usually by middle aged white men who are not inventing something entirely new. They are financed out of the owner's savings and assets, not a leveraged initial stock offering sold on Wall Street. They do not have exponential growth, but are built over time with painstaking attention to detail. They are not amplified by dramatic acquisitions, but growth by studied, deliberate additions to the basic business.109 All of these observations and more are proved at Gingerman Raceway. The creation and development of the track would make for a great business school case study.
Waterford Hills started as a club and remains a club. In a culture obsessing in recent years with the idea of "community", Waterford provides a perfect case study. Drawn together by a love for a sport many consider cruel and mechanical, working on a strictly volunteer basis otherwise unrelated people stage complex, potentially dangerous sporting events involving some of the most talented athletes and sophisticated engineers in the nation. In the process many form strong personal attachments to each other and to the place. Waterford's strengths come from this true sense of community forged by the individuals involved based on their personal values and directed only by the necessities of the undertaking itself. It is a study in communal activity but it is born of personal interest and plainly and frankly depends on individual achievement. It is a place where millionaires and near paupers participate and socialize. It is a place where people work frantically at times to help each other with repairs in the pits so they can beat each other on the track and then share a meal after the racing.
It will have been evident that the author maintains a special attachment to Waterford. I have been going there since nineteen sixty five and I have been a participant for the past five years. Yet I have no hesitation, no conflict of interest in saying Waterford is special in a most important way. Grattan and Gingerman are places for hire. People and events come and go and most of the history and culture goes with them. Waterford is a place where the history and culture reside and that gives Waterford a special power.
There is a lesson to be learned at Waterford in this presumed day of the "service economy" and "knowledge workers". There is a scene in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged where a nationally renowned physicist is asked by a railroad executive to study the remains of a revolutionary motor found abandoned in an abandoned factory. The physicist cannot solve the problem of the motor, but asks to see the remains. This professor, a theoretical genius, says of the inventor "A man with the genius to be a great scientist , who chose to become a commercial inventor?...He wanted a motor, and he quietly performed a major revolution in science, just as a means to an end…Why did he want to waste his mind on practical appliances?"110
People like Bruce Wentzel, Danny Kellermeyer and Jon Staudacher, and too many other participants at Waterford to discuss here, quietly perform feats of engineering, design and production, truly innovative feats, for the purpose of solving real world problems; that is, to facilitate confident, productive action. This attitude and this capability seem lacking in much of American culture today. With its resources, Waterford has played a key role in sustaining and nurturing this important human characteristic, allows for its practice and its conservation and in that perhaps, in that way, meets the spirit of the intentions of the founders of the Oakland County Sportsman's Club.
Later in the same scene in Atlas Shrugged, looking at the remains of the motor the renowned physicist says it is important to see a great new achievement that is not his; that there is a certain loneliness, a certain need for "…a mind to respect and an achievement to admire."111 Sports exist in part to provide us with achievements to admire. Road racing at Waterford Hills provides us with both minds and achievements to admire.
1 Bochroch, Albert R., American Automobile Racing: An Illustrated History. New York: The Viking Press, 1974, 119
2 Rueter, 16
3 Bochroch, 23
4 Bochroch, 59
5 Bochroch, 45
6 Bochroch, 88
7 Bochroch, 23
8 Thompson, Neal, Driving with the Devil. New York, Three Rivers Press, 2006, 32
10 Thompson, 227-228
11 Argetsinger, Michael, Walt Hansgen: His Life and the History of Post-War American Road Racing. Phoenix, 2006, 29
12 Argetsinger, 28
13 Argetsinger, 29
14 Argetsinger, 52
15 Schultz, Tom, Road America: Five Decades of Racing at Elkhart Lake. Indianapolis: Beeman Jorgensen Incorporated, 1999, 1
16 Argetsinger, 130
17 The Grand rapids Press, May 13, 1962, New Raceway Nearly Ready
18 Argetsinger, 68
19 Bochroch, 45
20 Waterford reentered vintage racing after the first writing of this thesis.
21 Program, Janesville Airport Races, Janesville Jaycees, 1952, pg 2
22 Ibid, 4
23 Ibid, 1
24 Ibid, 4
25 Ibid, 14
26 Ibid, 6
27 Ibid, 25
28 Ibid, 10
29 Ibid, 10
30 Ibid, 10
31 Ibid, 27
32 Rueter, John C., American Road Racing, The Automobile Racing Club of America in the 1930's. New York, A.S. Barnes and Company, Inc. 1963. 46
33 Vintage Motor Sports, Road Racing Specials. 2003
34 Levy, Burt S., The Fabulous Trashwagon. Oak Park Ill, Think Fast Inc. LLC. 2002
35 Program, Janesville Airport Races, 19
36 Argetsinger, Michael Walt Hansgen. Phoenix AZ, David Bull Publishing. 2006
37 Levy, Burt S. The Last Open Road, FINISH
38 Argetsinger, 30
39 Program, Janesville Airport Races, 22
40 Weisberger, Bernard A., The Dream Maker. Boston - Toronto; Little, Brown and Company. 1979; 352. This is by far the best biography of General Motors founder Billy Durant. Durant was the first true entrepreneur of the industrial age.
41 The Grand rapids Press, May 13, 1962, New Raceway Nearly Ready
42 Drag racing is a match race where two cars start side by side, accelerating in a straight line a dead stop for one quarter of a mile. It is a quintessential American sport, being a contest of brute force.
43 The Grand Rapids Press, August 9, 1973, The 'Old Man' of the Strip
44 E. J. Faasen, interview with the author, November 5, 2008
45 The Grand Rapids Press, October 19, 1978
46 Two undated newspaper clippings, E.J. Faasen collection
47 Various undated newspaper clippings, E.J. Faasen collection
48 The Grand Rapids Press, December 4, 1966
49 Ann Roeske, interview with the author, August 6, 2007
50 E. J. Faasen, interview with the author, November 5, 2008
58 The Grand Rapids Press, July 30, 1970, A Public Deprived
59 The Grand Rapids Press, August 6, 1979, SCCA Grattan Feud May Result in Suspension
60 E.J. Faasen, interview with the author, November 5, 2008
61 E.J. Faasen, interview with the author, November 5, 2008
65 Interview, Daniel Schnitta, Gingerman Raceway, November 3, 2008
66 Moss, All But My Life
67 Lyons, Pete "Wildflowers", Autoweek, January 20, 1997. Although Thunderhill is technically a club owned track, it is staffed by full time paid professional employees who promote and manage the track.
68 Quarter Midgets are tiny race cars powered by lawnmower type motors raced by children on a small circle track.
69 OCSC Information, Oakland County Sportsman's Association, Vol.1, No. 1, April 1943
70 Oakland County Sportsman, Oakland County Sportsman's Association, May 1945, 14
71 Oakland County Sportsman's Association Fiftieth Anniversary, Oakland County Sportsman's Club, 1993, 10
72 Ibid, 11
73 Ibid, 12
74 Ibid, 17
75 Ibid, 12
76 Oakland County Sportsman, October 1960, 11
77 Oakland County Sportsman, June 1958, 15
78 Oakland County Sportsman, October 1960, 11
79 Ibid, 11
80 Ibid, 11
81 Oakland County Sportsman, May, 1960, 7
82 Oakland County Sportsman, August 1958, 27
83 Oakland County Sportsman, June 1960, cover
84 Oakland County Sportsman, April 1963, 14
85 Oakland County Sportsman, February 1959, 16
86 Waterford Hills Road Racing Silver Anniversary Waterford Digest, Waterford Hills Road Racing Inc., 1983, 36
87 Ibid, 28
88 Carl Goodwin, The Last American Road Race, Vintage Motor Sport, 2003, No. 2
89 Waterford Hills Road Racing Silver Anniversary Waterford Digest, 30
90 Ibid, 32
92 Oakland County Sportsman's Fiftieth Anniversary, 17
93 http://books.google.com/books?id=7mZ8cTC74n8C&printsec=frontcover#PPP1,m1. Google Books is a new service in which books are available over the internet from Google under arrangement with the authors. The book cited here is out of print.
94 Conventional engines used in cars typically have four to eight pistons that travel up and down circular cylinders and are connected by connecting rods to a crankshaft that rotates and transfers power out of the engine. In a rotary engine three combustion chambers are separated by a roughly triangular rotor with the "crankshaft" passing through the middle. Successive explosions of fuel in the combustion chamber cause the rotor to rotate around the shaft which transfers power out of the engine. The rotary engine has many fewer moving parts than a piston engine and is lighter and smaller than a piston engine of comparable power.
96 Autocross is an event where a tight "race course" is laid out on a large parking lot using traffic control cones. Cars go one at a time around the course and are timed and the fastest car in each class wins. This event was called gymkhana in the early days of sports car culture and is no called Solo. By number of competitors Solo is the largest activity conducted by the SCCA.
97 Bruce Wenzel, interview with the author, Milford, Michigan, May 27, 2009.
98 A composite component is one, such as a spring, which was formerly made out of one material (in this case steel) that is now composed of carbon fiber epoxy and other exotic materials. The result is a component of superior performance that is also lighter and stronger than the old component.
99 Danny Kellermeyer, interview with the author, Ortonville, Michigan, May 28, 2009.
102 A Formula Vee is an open wheel race car built using Volkswagen air cooled engines and suspension components and raced in an SCCA class.
103 Coontz, Stephanie, The Way We Never Were. New York, 2000, Basic Books, 68
104 Ibid, 91
105 18 Genesis 22-33 (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)
106 Daniel Schnitta, interview with the author
107 Danny Kellermeyer, interview with the author
108 Shane, Scott A., The Illusions of Entrepreneurship. New Haven & London; Yale University Press, 2008
109 Ibid, Introduction
110 Rand, Ayn, Atlas Shrugged, 35th Anniversary Addition. New York; Dutton; 1992, 356