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From Our Obscure Information Files…

Despite the presence of other brands and types of racing engines, a pre-WWII creation of high popularity was the 4-cylinder, 4-valve, double overhead cam Offenhauser, a spin-off by Fred Offenhauser of an earlier marine engine created by Harry Miller, a prolific designer of racing cars and engines of the era. While the initial form of this engine dominated Indy 500 racing years before a supercharged iteration evolved in the late 1960s, a smaller displacement version became equally prevalent in sprint and midget cars during the same period.  Prior to this development, such cars were popularly powered by the diminutive Ford V8 60 that eventually bowed to the comparably small but superior Offys.

But as this transition evolved, there was one die-hard engine builder and midget car owner who still believed in the V8 60, as did the drivers he chose to pilot his cars. Notably among them were Roger Ward and Bill Vukovich who later gained prominence by stellar driving in numerous Indy 500 events. So it was not for a lack of driver skills that began the story for this car owner; it was inspired by a lack of on-track power, even though alcohol was in common use.

Fortuitously for this particular owner, he had a chemist friend.  Through a series of discussions about what sort of “additives” might provide the power margins sufficient to compete with the Offys, a decision was made to perform some on-track experiments.   Of course, this particular car owner subscribed to the time-honored racer script of “if they don't specifically say you can’t do it, it’s not considered cheating.” So he proceeded to find ways of modifying the little V8 60’s carburetion to handle fluids other than alcohol racing fuel being used by all his Offy competition.

I recall several conversations with one of the car owner’s employees, many years after the “experiment” was conducted.  He recalled several of the experiences they had in the course of determining not only what type of additives could be used but also if it was possible to make a wholesale substitution of their existing fuel to an alternative, without the competition discovering what was happening.  For example, the car owner and his chemist friend began to investigate materials that would also disguise the odor of the exhaust, hopefully suggesting something other than what was being used would be detected.  For one race, they concocted a blend that caused the exhaust to smell like oranges.  On another occasion, the odor was that of gun powder.  And while all this was transpiring, the little V8 60 was closing the on-track performance gap between it and the Offys.

The premier track hosting midget sprint cars of the time was Gilmore Stadium, located in metropolitan Los Angeles, California.   A win at Gilmore in a midget was akin to winning the 500 at Indy, in terms of prominence in this smaller form of circle track racing.  It was at this facility that the midget sprints ran every Thursday night, during racing season.  This was also a location frequented by the owner and his team, as they experimented with and continued to disguise their new fuel “advantage.”  And, in fact, it was at this track on a particular Thursday that the little V8 60 was pitted against an entire field of Offy-powered midget sprint cars.

With the previously mentioned Roger Ward in as driver and a load of the “funny smelling” fuel in the tank, Roger won his heat race and placed the car on the pole for the main event.  And then the history bell rang.  At the drop of the green, the little V8 60 pulled away from a charging pack of Offys to notch a first-ever win against such a field.  And then, to prove the event was no accident, the car appeared that weekend at a track in San Bernardino, Calif., against the same field of Offys, and repeated the feat.  While the driving skills of Ward and a professionally-prepped race car contributed significantly to both wins, recollections from team members who shared this information pointed directly to the special fuel being used.

More significant was the fact that the “experimental” fuel which the little V8 60 Ford engine was being groomed and for which its exhaust odor was disguised with various non-critical but smell-changing additives was nitromethane, being used for the very first time in a circle track racing engine.  Some have even said in an automotive racing engine of any type, period.  Although this time of hot rodding experimentation took place almost seventy years ago, its future impact and the spirit of innovation continues today in the form of the Edelbrock Corporation.  It turns out the car owner of that diminutive sprinter was Vic Edelbrock, Sr., and residing inside the current Edelbrock headquarters in Torrance, California, is the now-restored little number “27” that provided a significant link to motorsports history.


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