Mis-shifting

November 2012

It was in 1956 when early SCCA racer, Milwaukee Regional Executive, successful businessman and good guy Andy Rosenberger suggested that, “As long as we have broken away from our shirt-tail relatives to the south, why don’t we get an identifying club badge of our own?” What he meant by that was up until then SCCA Chicago and Milwaukee Regions had seemingly been operating as one club sharing events and mailing lists.


While independent regions under the SCCA umbrella, activities for both were covered in Chicago’s Piston Patter until Jim Jeffords created the Drifter for Milwaukee, later shortened to the Drift.


After much prodding, soon to become 1957 Regional Executive, Bill Selzer designed an emblem that to this day remains unchanged. That is, unless you consider later plastic versions as different from the hard enameled metal product created by Milwaukee jeweler and Jaguar racer Bob Erffmeyer. Using many American and International badges as references, Selzer settled on a white shield decorated on one side with a beer stein, indicating gemulicht, linking us artistically and ethnically to our great city and state. On the opposite side, he placed SCCA’s wire wheel and the two were separated by a vertical blue stripe up the middle highlighted with narrow vertical red stripes on either side. The resultant finished product was red, white and blue, American racing colors. Unlike later flat badges, Erffmeyer’s original was contoured to fit the classic curved grill of the Jaguar XK120, cars which both he and Selzer owned at the time.

Now, on a sad note, the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel of late September reported the passing of Bob Erffmeyer at age eighty-six. I never met the man, but found within his bio record a forty year military career including time in the reserves. He served during WW II, commanded the 84th Division and attained the rank of Major General. Another of The Greatest Generation. May the Lord bless you, General Bob, and comfort your family.

What do the following sports venues have in common? Chicago’s Soldier Field, home of “da Bears”, Candlestick Park, one time home of the San Francisco baseball Giants and NFL 49ers, long gone Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota, former home of the Vikings and Twinkies, Milwaukee’s Arena and in Chicago, the Armory, International Amphitheater and Coliseum.

At one time or another, they all hosted automobile races. Between 1956 and 1967, Soldier Field hosted stocks, midgets and even sports cars, not on the parking lot but inside where Dick Butkus terrorized our Packers. Candlestick Park and Metropolitan Stadium hosted SCCA events in their parking lots and, as a matter of fact, it was in 1962 at Bloomington where Racer Dick and I first became acquainted with brothers Mike and Vic Frazzell. Mike and I were both cramming in as many regionals as possible to earn our national licenses before Road America in September. In 1964, for whatever reason, AUP raced a Ferrari GTO owned by successful California automobile dealer Bev Spencer at Candlestick Park to benefit the Jaycees. Even he can’t recall what took him there for an SCCA regional race less than a week after returning home from racing at Brands Hatch, but suggests it might have been as a favor to Phil Hill who was a very good friend to Spencer.

And then, there was the Milwaukee Arena. Llittle used today, but in its glory it was home to the Milwaukee Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, Marquette Warriors, Milwaukee Clarks, Milwaukee Admirals, the annual Auto Show, The Milwaukee Sentinel Sports Show, Gypsy Joe, Verne Gagne the Mighty Atlas and da’ Crusher pro-wrestling, Roller Derby, Cream City Bombers, boxing, the Milwaukee Journal Indoor Track Championships, big time wrestling, Indianapolis 500 closed circuit TV and, in December of 1989, midget racing when Racer Dick and I had the pleasure of watching Frank Burany compete. That marked the first time in fifty years and may have been the last.

Die Valkyrie, or in German, Die Walkure (mit einem umlaut uber dem U), was an 1870 opera by Richard Wagner and for whatever reason the name made an impression on wealthy Cleveland real estate developer and later a long time US Senator from Ohio, Howard Metzenbaum. It was he who commissioned renowned Milwaukee industrial designer Brooks Stevens to create what was expected to be a one-off Die Valkyrie or just plain Valkyrie, as I remember it. What the hell is a Valkyrie, I asked and found it to be a small band of junge frauen in die Wagnerian classic who were responsible for collecting bodies of fallen heroes having died in battl, and deliver them to Valhalla - Garden of the Gods. Stick with me and you’ll have a chance to make it big on Jeopardy.

To start with, Stevens selected a 1954 Series 62 Cadillac for its chassis, 125 inch wheel base and 331cc V-8 and, for its builder, the highly respected Spohn Werks of Ravensberg, West Gemany. The replacement all metal body was fashioned as a convertible with both soft and removable hard tops and featured a long rakish hood highlighted up front with huge V-shaped grillwork that morphed into bumpers. Picture a really big rail road snow plow and you’ll have an idea of how some felt Stevens’ design looked.

The car debuted during the 1955 Paris Auto Show, moved on that same year to the New York Auto Show at Madison Square Garden and returned to the Paris show in 1956. Best I can tell, five more were produced with three finding their way to America. Alice Stevens drove one for quite some time before it was retired to her husband’s Automobile Museum, then on north Port Washington Road, just south of Donges Bay Road in Mequon. Of the Valkyrie, Steve Stevens tells of taking his then girlfriend and for lo these many years his lovely wife Sally, to their high school prom in it. Humph, I had a 46 Ford V-8 business coupe and, for the life of me, can’t remember my prom date’s name. Easy Evelyn, Take me I’m yours, Nancy, Last Row in the Uptown Theater Balcony, Murial - something like that.

The last time I saw the Valkyrie was in 2003 at the Milwaukee Art Museum during a showing of the Great Man’s works; however, recent coverage of the 2012 Amelia Island Concours reportedly had one on display.

I don’t know how much fun is had today for those belonging to amateur sports car clubs. Of course, if one has interest in racing or officiating, then membership is the pathway to obtain the required license. Via the Milwaukee Region SCCA on-line Drift publication and occasional conversations with a few current members, it appears to me that camaraderie and true fun is lacking, long a thing of the past. Add to that, the old Groucho Marx axiom, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any organization that would have me as a member” and you just might understand my remarks. Hey, hear me out and yes, I admit to being a curmudgeon!

I receive more enjoyment attending North Lake Drive 100 MPH Club, Historic Race Circuits of Elkhart Lake dinners and occasional out of state events than I could imagine by belonging to a club. To wit, I’ll roll back time, refresh the geezers among us and bring newbies up to date on what we had, as our Dads used to tell us, “Back in my day.”

We had regular membership meetings with programs, socials with professionals teaching us the latest dance steps, wine tasting, Italian food at Mamie’s Grotto, costume parties, one in which Bill and Carol Wuesthoff arrived dressed as tigers (I have pictures – for a price, will go public with them) and more. Sound a little hokey? Well, today it probably would be; but, back then, membership was just short of being family. Three hundred members, more than half heavily involved and usually accompanied by spousal units and/or lady friends. We went en masse to preview the movie Grand Prix, we turned out for annual rally with names like Tour d’ Farce, Cranborally, Impossible Rally, Odds On Rally, Frostbite 500, Poker Rallies and the “On Wisconsin” National Rally, but more about that event in a bit. We had picnics at the Kopmeier Farm, Road America and at Lynndale Farms, Ice Capades at Browns Lake, Fowler Lake in Oconomowoc and Lac du Cours in Mequon, a hill climb in 1960 at the Verona Speed Bowl, field trials at Leonard Brill’s Timberline Farm in Mequon and, before my time, field trials at Bill Selzer’s Happy Valley Farm. And, to top it all off, everybody owned a sports car – I’m not kidding, people actually owned and drove sports cars! How interesting is that?

Backing up a bit to the On Wisconsin National Rally, it was a highly respected event which, immediately after the 1966 running, caused one regular on the national circuit to opine, “That was the best national we have ever been on.” From another, “On Wisconsin checkpoints were among the cleanest operated anytime, anywhere.” Co-Rally Masters that year were Bob Flemming and Bill Frear who did their utmost best to ensure contestants of a challenging course while having a fun time as well. Each check point had a theme; among them were Gary Hawk’s Brandenburg Gate Check Point Charlie, Bill and Gloria Mitchelson’s crew masqueraded as juvenile delinquents for School Daze and featured a big yellow school bus, Ron Hetwer in Dodge County had an oriental theme with a large gong that he would hit at precisely the moment cars passed to record that instant and John Burns’ crew were decked out in medical garb. Over the years, locals pretty much helped with running the On Wisconsin classic but thumbing back through old Drifts revealed Bob and Alice Wirth wound up third in 1966. Can’t forget to credit Milwaukee Region members and National Professional Rally Champions Dick Doyne and Clay Gibbs who in 1959 gave birth to the On Wisconsin and co-chaired it for several years.

Couple last things. It was quite common for folks to attend events in blazers and for socials and annual meeting in suits and ties. The ladies always looked great and where did we stage these events you ask? More often than not at the Red Circle Inn, Fox & Hounds, Aliotas, Lime House, Milwaukee Athletic Club and the old Town Club on Milwaukee’s east side. So, I ask the gray beard elders among us: Don Porter, Bill Rice, Bill Wuesthoff, Augie Pabst, Bill Kimberly, Janie Tufts, Dick Eisenmann, Charlie Mollica, Dick Smith, Bud Wright, Tom Gallagher, the Stevens brothers Dave and Steve, Sue Cooper, Bill Schley, Curt Gonstead, Harold and Val Zimdars, Al and Karen Matacotti, Hamp and Sue Miller, Bob and Flip Flemming, Jim Jeffords, Dick Pliester, Don Walkner and Bill Kuckenbecker, might my assessment be valid?

A little late with this recap, but I’ve been busy. You know, things to do, places to go, people to see, cross word puzzles to solve, books to read, naps to take, grunt and groan exercise workouts, grandchildren to spoil, Brewer, Packer and Badger games to watch and more. I tell ya, this retirement thing is sometimes more than I can handle. Anyway, for the first time since the early years when involved as an exhibitor, judge and committee member of the Masterpiece Style & Speed Show, I was encouraged to attend this past August by a couple of under ten grandsons. Those of you who were in attendance on Sunday got rained upon and I guess that may have influenced a number of registered entrants to stay home, but, there were some magnificent cars on display and of course old friends to chat up. Can’t say I understood some of the classes, but better heads than mine must have had reason to lump a 1962 Ford T-Bird, 1953 Pontiac Station Wagon, 1962 XKE coupe, a 1934 Auburn Cabriolet and a 1958 DeSoto Adventurer together. I’m also told by a few regulars that, after growing nicely the past few years, 2012 not so. Perhaps caused by the rain. Too bad because a good classic auto show is a welcome addition to Milwaukee’s substantial summertime array of go to events.

AARPster friends from the fifties and sixties exhibiting and on hand to chat with included Bill and Carol Wuesthoff with their class winning 1963 Mercedes 300SL roadster, Racer Dick Eisenmann and his ex-Cunningham Cooper 1961 T56 Formula Junior, long time racer John Weinberger exhibited an absolutely magnificent 1953 Ferrari 166 Vignale Spyder and a 1935 Fiat Balilla Spyder, also a class winner,

Presented with Class Awards of Excellence were Racer Dick , Bob Wirth for his 1915 Ford Model T Omnibus and Fred Berndt for his 1956 Jaguar XK 140MC. Bill Rice presented his 1956 HRG and Dave and Tony Stevens a historic 1952 Excalibur J car.

I must admit to not personally knowing Weinberger, but recall his years as a successful SCCA competitor and owner of Continental Motors in suburban Chicago. Ron Dowoskin and Concours Motors had multiple class winning entries, John Seaman, George Stauffer, Tom and Judy Grunnah and John Lewenauer also received Awards of Excellence.

There appeared another old friend at the Masterpiece, not one that I knew well but remember clearly as top shelf all the way, that being the like new, bright red, #98 H-Modified 1962 Martin T6. The sixth of seven built by long time fifties and sixties SCCA racer Martin Tanner, of Saginaw, Michigan, was close to unbeatable with him spinning wrenches and shifting gears. He won countless H-Mod national races and at least one SCCA National title in 1958. Google him for more as he was a fascinating man of many talents.

As an aside, I had one pleasant experience with him, that during a SCCA Regional Race at an airport course near Lawrenceville, Illinois in 1962. It was hotter than Hades in Southern Illinois and while Racer Dick was off assisting Mike and Vic Frazzell with TR3 brake issues, I sought the shade of a nearby tree where Tanner was holding court. The respect of others was evident as he spoke, not of his success, but of car building and racing in general.

The second thing that comes to mind was his establishing the Martin Tanner Award given to SCCA member/workers who display unusual courage while exposed to danger. The reason it sticks with me is because that initial award was presented during the 1964 SCCA annual meeting in Dallas, Texas to Milwaukee’s own Fred Dittmar for his valiant effort to extricate a Corvette racer from a fiery multi-car crash. Talk about having orbs!

The whole thing started near the end of lap two as A and B Production cars exited the Monza Wall onto the main straight when a Corvette driver lost control, hit the pit wall, caromed across the track in front of the grandstand and burst into flames. Before the second hit, Pit Marshall Dittmar grabbed his fire bottle, jumped the rail, dodged the oncoming hoard of Corvettes, Cobras and Stingrays, reached the car, extinguished the fire and pulled the unconscious driver from the wreck. At the time, I was in our pit and, while not witnessing the initial impact, the noise alerted me to what was unfolding and I have to add, with all due respect for Dittmar’s courageous actions, there were several other officials who distinguished themselves that day. First off, a second Pit Marshall was Johnny-On-The-Spot to help and, while not certain, I think it may have been Bill Frear.

  

In addition, with the afore referenced all-hell-breaking-loose, Starter Kim Dyer, with or without Chief Steward Fred Rediske’s command, jumped the pit barrier and began running towards the Monza Wall waving his red flag. If by command of Rediske, then add his name to the list of heroes.

That was a long way to come from the Masterpiece Concours to Fred Dittmar, but one thing leads to another and like Comedian Steve Martin’s old routine, Ramblin’ Man, sometimes I can’t help myself.