Accent on Living

ANYONE wishing to catch a glimpse of American individualism at its headiest can do so by looking in on the annual Hot Rod Show in Indianapolis. The show is neither large nor pretentious, but the zeal of the exhibitors in behalf of their vehicles and the ingenuity of their designs are arresting, to say the least. Nothing really stands still in the hot-rod world, so that the preoccupations disclosed by the exhibitors change considerably from year to year, and one never knows quite what to expect.

This year, for instance, while the hot rods seemed much as heretofore, the developments in karts and dragsters were downright showy. Karts and karting look like the underpinnings of a sizable enlargement of the automotive industry. “Get in on karting, the family sport now sweeping the nation,” exhorts a manufacturer advertising in the magazine Hot Rod. “Have kart—it will travel,” declares another. One kart is called the Futura Fireball; there are also the Cyclone, the Hurricane, the Trackmaster, and the Thunderbug karts. (Among these lighthearted entrepreneurs, Fairbanks Morse, big and respectable, stuffily insists on spelling it “cart.”) Already the Go Kart Club of America has come into being, while at Nassau the Grand Prix de Karts has materialized as a competitive fixture.

A kart is in no sense a road vehicle, but solely for racing, and its small dimensions and low clearance enable it to get around nimbly on extremely small tracks. Dragster competition is usually on airfield straightaways or the Bonneville flats. A medical friend of mine in the outskirts of Indianapolis scraped out a small kart track (trak?) for himself and his children in his spacious lawn. The neighbors’ children joined in, but my friend found complications at this point in a possible liability for injury to them, and I believe the track had to go back to his family drivers and no others. A grown man at the helm of a kart, incidentally, is a man with his knees up under his chin. Forty-five mph in a kart is said to seem much faster. In some parts of this country, karting goes on in the empty parking lots of supermarkets while the markets are closed.

A kart is little more than four wheels supporting a squarish frame, one or two engines, and a seat for the driver. The engines are usually of the type found in power mowers and chain saws, mounted at the rear with a chain-and-sprocket drive to the rear axle, or to each rear wheel when two engines are used. Tires are “racing flats,” small tires with a wide, entirely flat tread to afford the maximum adhesive surface. Some karts use large motorcycle engines, mounted in front or at the rear, and the fancier types can do as much as 80 mph, with correspondingly quick acceleration for a vehicle weighing in the neighborhood of 200 pounds or less. There can be no doubt that the kart-buying public will soon be rodding up its karts, for, as I say, nothing is allowed to stagnate in the world of the hop-ups. We await the advent of the karter who hunches his knees in front of a 300 Chrysler engine or some comparably highpowered conversion.

Conversions come into their own on the dragsters. There were three at the hot-rod show of which we took special note. The first was the handiwork of Ralph Dees, a blond young man who drives a truck for Indianapolis Motor Freight and spends his off hours in finding out how quickly he can travel the quarter mile from a standing start.

It should be explained, at this point, that a dragster is designed for the quarter and little else. Its front wheels, usually motorcycle wire wheels, and suspension are minimal; it usually has no body or even a housing over its engine. The engine is mounted well toward the rear, and the driver sits in a kind of pulpit, between roll bars, as far back as two or three feet abaft the rear axle, all these quirks being intended to place, for purposes of traction, as much weight as possible on the rear wheels. The latter are shod with huge racing slicks; the width of the flat tread on the Dees car was nine inches.

The Dees dragster has no radiator, water pump, or fan; ignition is by magneto, thus eliminating a battery. We inquired about a tiny red tank, neatly mounted above the six carburetors of the 1957 Chevrolet engine. “I fill the water jackets of the engine through it,” the owner explained, “and leave the tank part empty for expansion when the water heats up. I usually take off when the temperature gets up to 140 degrees.” The fuel tank, further forward, held just one gallon. At the extreme rear, behind the driver, is a stout vertical “push bar” for starting with the aid of a more normal car behind. Dees uses a 1939 Ford transmission with two forward speeds.

When one considers that around sixteen seconds is fairly fast time for many a sports car over the standing quarter mile, the time of the Dees machine is interesting: 11.96 seconds, with a speed of 119.4 mph attained by the finish line.

Just next to Dees in the show was a slightly hotter quarter-miler, this one with a 1957 Oldsmobile power plant supercharged by a converted blower taken from a GMC diesel truck. The elapsed time for this conversion’s quarter was 10.78, in which interval it accelerated to 133 mph. The owners gave its weight as 1350 pounds and estimated its brake horsepower as 550 at 5500 rpm. They were still seeking improvement, they said, and hoped by next year to be attaining 165 mph in a shade over nine seconds. The transmission in this case held a single speed forward, with a rear axle ratio of 3.78 to one — standard for high gear on many ordinary cars. We asked the owners if an additional gear might get it off the mark more quickly. '’Yes, it would,” they replied, “but you’d be wasting too much time in shifting.” The third dragster that we admired was unattended, but it was surrounded, like the others, by dozens of competition trophies, and a card identified the owner as Slim Flick, of Kokomo, Indiana. It seemed to us a euphonious name for the driver of an 11.56 ET machine with a terminal figure of 123.77.

There was a prodigiously bedizened motorcycle near the entrance to the show; a card announced that Bob Fulder of Parkersburg, West Virginia, had put in three years’ work on it and would sell it for $2800. The all-white pickup truck nearby came from Teufel’s Garage, Springfield, Illinois; it was powered by a “full race Edmunds setup” on a Canadian Ford truck engine driving a 1948 Lincoln transmission. It was upholstered in white and carpeted throughout in white velours. “Yeah,” said the owner. “I use it every once in a while.”