As you recall, in the last installment , of The Perils of Parnelli, or the Offenhausers at Bay, Parnelli Jones had just won the Indianapolis "500" and first prize of $150,000 with his faithful old Offenhauser roadster; the British Lotus cars powered by American Ford V-8s had gloriously and provocatively finished second and seventh; Driver Eddie Sachs had been knocked down by Jones for suggesting that Parnelli had been wicked to spill oil on the track; and a wild and wordy debate had begun over whether Jones should have been disqualified for his famous oil leak.
Last Sunday most of the cars and characters that had kept Indianapolis jumping reassembled in full battle dress for a 200-mile race at Milwaukee before 35,096 people, believed to be the largest crowd ever to watch a race on a U.S. one-mile track. Result: the most remarkable auto race Beertown has seen since Barney Oldfield, behind the wheel of his Golden Submarine, beat Ralph DePalma's Simplex Special on the same track in 1917. Scotland's chipper little Jimmy Clark in a Lotus-Ford whipped the Offies so handily that it can now be said that a new era in U.S. racing is inevitable.
"The rains came today," said Al Dean, chief of the Dean Van Lines, who owns four Offenhausers. "I am going to dump my junk. The Lotus-Fords have made my cars obsolete."
A. J. Foyt, the rugged and determined Texan who presently ranks first in the American drivers' championship, came in almost a lap behind in an Offy and, as it developed, just in time. He ran out of fuel on his first cool-off lap. Behind him was Dan Gurney, Clark's teammate in the only other Lotus-Ford entered in the race.
August 25, 1963
The new excitement over the Lotus-Fords started brewing a month ago when Colin Chapman, builder of the car's chassis, ran preliminary tests on the paved oval at the Wisconsin State Fair-grounds. The test runs were sensational.
In the cars at Milwaukee were Clark, 27, who had led Indy for a time and lost by only 34 seconds to Jones, and Gurney, the 32-year-old Californian who first had the idea of building the Lotus-Fords. He finished seventh in this year's "500." Both lowered the Offenhauser track record of 34.09 seconds for a mile lap (held by Don Branson) to roughly 32.6 seconds. In miles per hour that meant a sharp jump from 105 to 110. The Offymen, who had been profoundly shocked by the Lotuses at Indianapolis, were shaken again.
Rodger Ward, perhaps foreseeing his fourth-place finish Sunday, told roadster builder A. J. Watson that he wanted, by George, a rear-engined chassis for 1964. Twice winner of the "500" and so far this year the second-ranking U.S. driver (Jones is third), Ward, in fact, was already prophesying the doom of the big, beefy cars that for a decade had enjoyed an Indy monopoly with their four-cylinder, alcohol-burning Offenhauser engines mounted in the front. The Lotus-Ford chassis is superlight and frameless; its engine, in the rear, burns ordinary gas and, in contrast to the roadster's beam axles, has all-independent suspension.
Others beside Ward were equally gloomy over the Offies' future unless big chunks of weight were taken off or the cars were reengineered to corner more quickly, or something. To be sure, the Lotuses had not been quite as fast as the top Offies at Indianapolis. They did well there largely because they required only one pit stop rather than the Offies' normal three. But, it seemed, all they needed was a little more horsepower to win. Ford promised plump new horses for next year.
What made the Lotuses' first Milwaukee visit all the more ominous was the fact that they were powered by the same type of engine they had used in the "500." Moreover, smaller carburetors were fitted to Clark's engine to improve its performance in the turns. Actually, the alteration produced less horsepower—about 20-30 hp less than the 360 for Indy, Chapman said—but the car handled better. The Offies, still marvelous racing machines, continued to thump out 400 hp and a little more.
Racing is not only cars, however. The Americans at Milwaukee had Clark himself to contend with, and Clark is a special quantity even among top drivers. He captured four straight Grand Prix races abroad this spring and summer and is rapidly proving himself one of the finest drivers in history. Driving a Chapman-built, Climax-engined racer, he has virtually clinched the world championship for 1963. Gurney, one of the few road-racing drivers in Clark's league, struggled week after week with a Brabham car which was clearly outclassed. The Indy men, of course, are superb, too. They have been buzzing away in their own American championship series, which this year includes a dozen races (besides the "500") on dirt and paved tracks across the country. When the season ends in Phoenix on November 17, the Americans will have driven before a quarter of a million people and split up some $600,000 in purses.
Chapman, (lark and Gurney returned to Milwaukee last Friday morning and again shattered Offy marks in prerace trials, although this time they were a bit slower. Said Clark: "The track was slower than before." Said Chapman: "Track conditions vary so much that it is difficult to draw any conclusion. We changed gear ratios to go faster; instead, we are going slower."
It was exactly like the days before the "500." Nobody really knew how the Lotuses would do, but everybody wanted to see. Parnelli Jones himself witnessed the Friday trials, just checking up. A master driver at whatever he attempts, he had won a big 150-mile stock-car race at Milwaukee the previous Sunday and another, at 200 miles, on Thursday. He drove Mercury stockers, built by a division of Ford Motor Co., but this did not mean that he had gotten soft on the Fords. He is still an Offy man through and through. He already had tried to analyze the probabilities.
"I feel," he said, "that the Lotus-Fords have a better chassis than ours for this track. Our roadsters are designed for Indy, and they're not just right for Milwaukee, probably not much better than the old dirt-track cars.
"I think the Lotuses may be fastest in practice and in the race for a little while, but I feel that after a few laps we'll get ahead of them. They have been practicing. We haven't. It will take us time to get warmed up.
"If the Lotuses can do laps in the low 33s and high 32s, then I would say they can run away from us. But if they are in the high 33s and the low 34s, I think it will be a good race."
While Jones analyzed, Clark, finished with his practice laps, looked at caged circus tigers sitting in the racetrack infield. "Does a lot of walking, this bloke," he said. "Hello, puttycat." "G-R-R-R," said one tiger, a large and restless animal who showed fine strong teeth from behind the bars of his cage. "Oh, oh, he's getting upset," said Clark, walking away.
And so were the Offenhauser men. Parnelli Jones's pre race prophecy proved to be 50% correct. In trials Clark won the pole with a lap time of 32.930 seconds, and Gurney won the spot next to him at the head of the starting lineup with 33.094. Only two Offenhausers—Foyt's and Jones's—broke 34 seconds. In the race, unfortunately, Parnelli never got going. He had faulty brakes from the start and finally sputtered into the pits at about the one-quarter mark.
Clark was not even remotely threatened and looked as cool as a man in church. But Gurney had to work. First Foyt struggled past him after an unnerving duel in which they once scraped wheels while racing side by side. And, toward the end, Ward charged hard at Gurney but failed to take third place from him. After Clark finished at a record average speed of 104.48 mph, Colin Chapman cast a thoughtful look at Foyt's coasting, fuelless car. "One more lap and we'd have had first and second," he said. "Oh well, we mustn't be greedy."