Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Form and function - Part 2


I was a quick learner. After the 1948 race it dawned on me that coil-spring suspensions and the ingenious steering and braking mechanisms designed by my father were irrelevant to winning, and might even be detrimental. Wheel lubrication and air resistance: That's what I would concentrate on. So here is my 1949 car. Not the engineering marvel of its predecessor, but sleeker and slimmer. The axles are only as thick as the three-quarter-inch steel they encased in an airfoil.

My father watched all this with approval. He grasped the concept of "simple is better," once he got his gizmo-ization in check. He went out of his way to figure out what might be the very best oil for the wheels.

Looking at this photo now -- which Tom was able to extricate from negatives saved by my aunt -- I see two things I'd change. That rubber rim around the cockpit (a few feet of garden hose slit lengthwise) offered an unnecessary bit of air resistance. And what is that lump on the front tire, apparently a gob of tar? How did I miss that?

Nevertheless, I won my heat, which meant I got to run the hill a second time. To my dad's delight. The skills and concepts I learned from him out there in the family garage have served me well all my life, especially the lesson that the most beautiful contrivances are those that are most perfectly suited to their task

Byrne & Co. Sound Systems was my sponsor both years. What they got was more than a soapbox on wheels, but quaintly simple compared to the gorgeously manufactured and professionally painted cars that win in Akron. I can't remember why I didn't compete again in 1950, probably because I had become more interested in girls than in building racers. Still, I had learned a lot, and no doubt version 3.0 would have been even sleeker -- and buffed to a fare-thee-well.