True Racer- McLaren Movie Review

Just one more lap before lunch. Bruce McLaren, always looking for more from himself and his car, wanted to try a different downforce level.. He left the pits but didn’t return that day in June 1970, ending a meteoric rise from champion driver to successful car builder. A view of the accident scene comes at the end of the documentary, McLaren, a film making sporadic appearances in the United States. I had the good fortune to see it Thursday night.

The film chronicles McLaren’s life in chronological order from his humble beginnings in New Zealand. Bruce knew he wanted to be a race car driver by the time he was 5 years old. When he was nine, he developed Perthes disease, a disease that causes the head of the femur to lose blood flow and die. As a result his left leg was shorter than his right one. McLaren was bedridden for nearly 2 years as doctors tried to strengthen the hip and lengthen his left  leg.  While the hip got stronger, his leg did not get longer. Mclaren walked with a permanent limp.

He went to Europe to drive F2 in 1958 and won his first Formula 1 race the following year, the U.S. GP at Sebring. At the time McLaren was the youngest F1 winner in history, a distinction he held for 44 years. He drove as a teammate to Jack Brabham for Cooper.  Brabham won the World Championship the following year and McLaren finished second.   Both drivers  left Cooper and eventually each built their own Formula 1 cars.

McLaren’s greatest success came in the Can Am series.  In 1969, McLaren-built cars won every race on the Can Am schedule. The three McLaren  cars swept the podium twice that year.  Dennnis Hulme and Mark Donohue were McLaren’s teammates that year.

The movie contains interviews with many racing greats including Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, and Chris Amon. McLaren’s family also appears, lending a personal view of the man. We also hear from several engineers and mechanics, mainly Robin Heard, who came to work for McLaren after helping design the Concorde supersonic airplane.  Many of the airplane’s aerodynamic principles, and some of the same materials, were applied to the cars.

My favorite segments were the vintage racing footage. The race films contain shots of Graham Hill, James Hunt, Jack Brabham, and many other drivers of that era.  We see Le Mans in 1966, Monaco in 1958, Sebring in 1959, and Spa in 1968.  Several things in the films stood out. Grand prix races used to start 3 wide and both F1 and F2  raced at the same time just as sports cars race today. It was great to see the traditional Le Mans start again, with drivers sprinting across the track to their cars. How would that work today?

Several McLaren home movies brought a personal touch to McLaren’s life. He would send film of his European races home and the family and their friends gathered to watch. I also enjoyed the movies of Bruce with his wife and young daughter.

McLaren is one of the best documentaries I have seen on any subject. It is a new, important contribution to preserving racing history. I’m hoping the movie returns in general release. Had there been a second showing last night, I might have stayed for it.  Look for its return, and go see it.

Iowa Preview- Penske or Carpenter?

0710161242Editor’s note: This post is my 100th on this site. Thanks to all of you who have read. It’s a lot of fun.


If the Iowa Speedway were a candy bar, it would be called Fun-size. It’s the smallest track on the schedule at 7/8 of a mile. It is also the most fun race of the year.  Lightning quick laps create a bullring atmosphere for Indycars.  There are virtually no straights. The cars are turning constantly.

My favorite year at Iowa was 2012 when the USAC Midgets ran as part of the program.  It was a great show as the fun size cars zipped around the fun size track. I’d like to see them back here someday.

The Iowa Corn Producers use the race to promote ethanol. They are a dedicated state wide group justly proud of the success this race has. They have exclusive t-shirts proclaiming “This is Our Race”. I know they’re exclusive because I asked someone where I  could buy one.

The only thing that could make this event better would be returning it to a night race. The racing was better and the crowd was better. Attendance has been hurt by the late Sunday afternoon start. Surely the track could work something out with Knoxville Speedway for one Saturday a year and change the date by a week to avoid conflicting with the night race Nascar has this weekend.

The strangest thing about this track is that a Penske car has never won here.  Ed Carpenter Racing meanwhile has last year’s dominating win by Josef Newgarden which was the team’s third consecutive podium at Iowa. Andretti Autosport has won seven of the ten races here, with Ryan Hunter-Reay winning three times. Look for a Penske or a Carpenter car to win Sunday.  Chevy should have a big advantage on this track, which is not good news for  Andretti drivers.

Any aero advantage of course can be negated by how cautions fall. The race has been decided more than once by untimely yellows. That may not be enough to help Hunter-Reay, whose luck this year has been awful. Potential good finishes have disappeared for him several times this year.

I think the race comes down to one of the Penske drivers, likely Newgarden, or Carpenter’s lead driver, J. R. Hildebrand.  Newgarden has three straight podiums in a Carpenter car here. Hildebrand is now driving that car. Is ECR the new Andretti at Iowa? I’m looking for Hildebrand to get his first win Sunday.  A Penske car will probably be on the pole. No driver has won this race from the number 1 staring spot. Newgarden started second last year, but took the lead on the backstretch of the first lap and cruised to victory.

Going Home-A Small Step Back to Racing’s Roots

I was heading home after a long time away. The first race I ever saw was a dirt track race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The short tracks hooked me on racing. I had focused so much on attending Indycar races lately that there was little time for other racing.  Thursday night, I at last had the opportunity to finally go to a short track for the Rich Vogler Classic, a USAC Silver Crown race, at Lucas Oil Raceway.

The program had constant on-track action.  The Silver crown cars practiced,  the thunder roadsters had qualifying heats, then ARCA had a brief practice for their Friday race. Silver Crown qualifying followed, then the thunder roadster race. After that race, vintage sprint cars took laps. The prelude to the feature race concluded with the USAC Hall of Fame induction.  While Tony Stewart was the most prominent inductee, Pat O’Connor, Tommy Hinnerschitz, and Dick King also were a part of this year’s class.

Thunder roadsters are old 60s era Indy roadsters with modified bodywork.  They somewhat resemble sports cars. The back end of one had the appearance of a Corvette. Some were still open wheel, while most had full fenders. It is an interesting concept.

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Three of the thunder roadsters in line for qualifying. The number 18 won the race.

The Silver Crown race, 100 laps around the 5/8 mile oval, included NASCAR driver Ryan Newman in the 19 car field.I have heard of the other drivers in the field. I saw some of them race at Iowa Speedway when Indycar had a program with them in 2012. I wish they would come back there. It would be better than the current preliminary at Iowa.  These guys love to race. They race several times a week. for little reward. Many know this is as high as they’re going. in their careers. They do it because they love what they do.

Kody Swanson led all the way and edged his brother Tanner at the finish in a two lap shootout after a late caution. While Swanson led by large margins throughout the race, there was plenty of action deep in the field. I learned after the race that it was the first time Kody had beaten his brother in a  Silver Crown race.

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Kody Swanson (left) talks to the crowd after winning the Rich Vogler Classic Thursday night.

I really enjoyed the evening’s program. There was minimal down time. Hearing some of the great names from the past called out during the Hall of Fame induction brought back some great memories. I need to become more familiar with the drivers in this series so that I can have an easier time tacking who is in which car.

This evening whetted my appetite for more short tracks. I hope to get to one next month.  The last time I saw a race on dirt was probably the 1969 Hoosier 100. It’s been awhile, but I’m coming back to where I started.