Arizona Open Wheel Racing Museum: Tracking Greatness

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 10/2015
  • posted in: Great Garages

These cars were built for racing, with stars driving them.

The Arizona Open Wheel Racing Museum, 3534 E. Broadway Road, opened in early 2013, and anyone interested in the robust history of one-seater cars built with exposed wheels and tires and without fenders, should plan to stop in soon. The museum is off Interstate 10 at the University Drive exit, a few miles from the airport.

“We feature race cars and memorabilia which pay tribute to the machines and people of auto racing in the American Southwest,” says Mickey Meyer, a museum board member and engineer at Honeywell Aerospace, Phoenix. “These cars are usually associated with the more custom forms of motorsports such as Indy car, F1, sprint cars, midgets, dragsters and offroad vehicles.”

The museum began when Steve Stroud, founder and CEO, started displaying racing photographs and gear in the showroom of one of his Phoenix Hose Advantage stores. These offer top-quality, off-the-rack products and custom fittings for the automotive industry.

Stroud started with four cars, and today the museum displays between 20 to 30 race cars at any time. Guests can also access full libraries of programs and historic pictures from tracks and other venues.

Customers of the Hose Advantage store began asking questions. “They were inspired by his love of racing and conversations he had with key figures in the motorsports world, so he launched the Arizona Open Wheel Racing Museum,” Mickey says. The Broadway Road Hose Advantage store is next door.

Steve’s collection was inspired by three major contributors. Windy McDonald and the Arizona Motorsports Hall of Fame group provided plaques and local racing history. Jim Fargo, a local race photographer, donated his collection of helmets and other memorabilia. And, local race car builder and historian, Rick Stewart, offered many contributions before his death just before the grand opening.

“Although many of the cars have won national accolades, they all have common ties to the Southwest,” Mickey says. “Whether it is through the car owner, driver, mechanic or event, these machines have conquered and brought us memories to share from generation to generation.”

Let’s go offroading for a few minutes with Mickey and Steve:

•1946 Surdo Offy Midget –– Owned by Dick Belveal, this Kurtis Kraft Midget features a 110 Offenhauser engine. Frank Kurtis built nearly 600 serialized racers, with their varied histories documented in books and magazines throughout the U.S. “This combination of car and power plant was almost impossible to beat in post-war racing and dominated for almost 20 years,” Mickey says.

One of the best on the West coast was this famous racing midget driven by Troy Ruttman, Roger Ward, Elmer George and Johnny Woods. Regardless of the hired driver, the “Surdo Special” continuously finished toward the front.

•1952 Blakely Champ Car –– Bob and Karen Fletcher’s Kurtis Kraft 4000 is also Offenhauser powered but with a much larger version at 270 cid. The “Champ” cars were known for the national championship series, and they followed racing on the biggest of stages at state fair mile-long tracks and eventually at the Indianapolis 500.

Originally built for Johnny McDanial and known as the Blakely Oil Special, the car spent most of its later years flying different colors as the “Midwest Manufacturing Racer” after its purchase by Carl Gehlhausin for the 1965 season.

This is the longest-running KK 4000 in AAA-USAC Champ Car history, September 1952 to August 1975, and was driven by Bobby Ball, Jimmy Bryan, Bill Peterbaugh, Tony Bettenhausen, Tom Bigelow and others. It is restored as it was when it won the San Jose mile race Nov. 2, 1952.

•1959 Payola Super Modified –– Mike Fritzinger’s ‘Hank Henry Super Modified’ packs a blown and injected small-block Chevy on an 85-inch wheel base. This car was in a “Run What You Brung” class that ran in the Southwest, 1959−1965. “The near lack of rules gave rise to options such as supercharging,” Mickey says.

The car was originally driven by Hank Arnold, Tri-City and Arizona champion driver in 1961. “He had an amazing knack for fabrication and mechanics that matched his driving skills. He built several famous race cars that raced throughout the Southwest, which all held unique names that reflected their individuality.”

While this ‘Payola,’ was Hank’s most successful racing machine, another one of his well-loved creations is the “Twister.” Both of these cars were featured in magazine articles and event programs nationwide. “He was so well loved and respected in the racing community that memorial races are still held in his tribute throughout the region,” Mickey says.

The car was later purchased and piloted by another two-time championship driver, Frank McDaniel, and lastly by master mechanic Ray Weinzapfel after which it was mostly destroyed before the remnants were later captured for restoration by Fritzinger, a long-time friend to the previous three owners.

•1933 Garnant Miller Big Car –– This 80-plus-year-old classic from the Bill Ewing collection has a Miller/ Offenhauser 247-cid powerplant with a very rare Pirrung intake manifold and two DD Winfield carburetors.

Built in 1933, this car raced for nearly 20 years on the West Coast, winning the 1934 Pacific Coast AAA Championship and finishing fifth in National AAA points, as driven by Harris Insinger. On March 12, 1935, he won Ascot’s Helmet Dash and 100 Lapper. Later that year in September, he was killed in a 100-miler in Oakland driving this car.

“Bill has an unmatched eye for detail and a love for the sport that runs much deeper than the ordinary fanatic,” Mickey says. “A long-time fabricator/machinist who can make art from the rustiest piles of metal furnished, he uses all of his own resources for restoration, with the exception of paint and lettering. He purchased the car and restored it in the late ‘80s. The beauty still shines as if it was completed yesterday.”

•1991 Jeff Gordon Silver Crown –– Fred Ede’s “Beast” has a 355-cid Chevy V-8 outputting 750 horses. The colorful 100-inch wheelbase car was very well known on the challenging mile dirt circuit where the cars reached speeds approaching 140 mph.

The winner of 1991 USAC Silver Crown Championship, this car helped begin Jeff Gordon’s NASCAR racing career. He won at Phoenix International Raceway and the Indiana State Fair Grounds. Another notable driver who enjoyed success in the car was legendary open wheel ace Ron Shuman.

•1979 Larry Howard Midget –– This race car, now owned by Tony Stewart, has opposing 4-cylinder alcohol-injected VW engines. It was campaigned 1979 to 1981. The car is very light at between 800 and 900 pounds and enjoyed a very low center of gravity provided by the air-cooled opposing cylinder engines.

Knicknamed “Fidget” by car builder Gary Stanton, it was a fan favorite. Owned then by legendary car owner Larry Howard and piloted mostly by Ron Shuman, the red 71 won several national acclaimed races including consecutive Turkey Night Grand Prixs at Ascot Park, Gardenia, California. “The list of Larry’s drivers reads like a ‘who’s who’ of racing,” Mickey says.

The Arizona Open Wheel Racing Museum is open Wednesday through Friday, noon to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission is $6 adults and $3 military, seniors and children. For more information, call 602.276.7575 or see azracingmuseum.com.

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