It isn’t unusual in racing to find interconnecting stories and so it is with the Peugeot and Indy racers that came after it. As it is told, four Peugeots came to the U.S. just prior to the outbreak of World War I. When one of the cars was damaged and the Peugeot factory was unable to make repairs, the car went to the shop of Harry Miller. He, along with Draftsman Leo Goossen and foreman Fred Offenhauser, learned a number of things rebuilding the Peugeot which eventually served as some of the design tenants for the quintessential Indy racing engine, the “Offy”.
Continuing through history, the Collection’s 1946 Kurtis Novi sets an imposing presence on the museum floor with its long rakish lines. The Novi is one of those pieces of oft-told Indy 500 racing lore, a tale of having much but producing little. Its reputation was built on huge horsepower coming from a supercharged, DOHC 4V V8. But somehow that power could never be put down to the racing surface effectively or with the required reliability. Its design was by Bud Winfield and Leo Goossen, with construction by Lew Welch in the Novi, Michigan shop from which the car got its name. Appearing first in 1941 in a Miller-Ford chassis, the engines were raced through 1963 in RWD, FWD and 4WD configurations trying to tame its power. It never quite achieved that goal despite herculean efforts on the parts of several drivers. While a Novi would set the fastest lap twice in qualifying for the Indy 500, they never finished 500 miles. Throughout their run at Indy, Novi powered racers remained fan favorites based on their distinctive sound and awe-inspiring speeds, but never delivered on that promise.
Sometimes a car is a story unto itself. That is definitely the case with the 1963 “Sheraton Thompson Special” Meskowski Dirt Champ Car and famous racer AJ Foyt. The Milwaukee race has traditionally followed Indy by a week and so it was in 1965. AJ Foyt arrived at Milwaukee, but his rear-engine Lotus-Ford did not. That left him with his dirt car as his only mount. AJ’s reaction to this development isn’t recorded, but likely wasn’t positive! His mechanic, Steve Stapp, changed tires from dirt to pavement and talked AJ into at least giving qualifying a try. To the shock of everyone, AJ put the upright dirt car on the pole! So off he went, a towering front-engine car in a field of mostly lower and sleeker rear-engine cars. He led the field for a lot of the race until a late fuel and tire stop dropped him to second behind eventual winner Parnelli Jones in his Agajanian/Hurst Lotus-Ford. AJ would later say that his finish that day was “one of the highlights of my career”, high praise indeed for a man whose competition history included victories on all manner of races including a Le Mans victory in a Ford Mk IV with Dan Gurney in 1967.