Another spin around the track|
Eagle's still got it, decades after win
By Dave Kallmann of the Journal Sentinel
Dave Kallmann offers news, notes and perspective on the wide world of auto racing
Elkhart Lake, WI - July 19, 2009 - It might seem strange for a grown man to feel sentimental about aluminum and steel and rubber and gasoline, but that's what car guys do. So forgive Tony Adamowicz. He has always been a car guy. And he'll always have a special place in his heart for a slick, white No. 7 Eagle sculpted more than four decades ago in Dan Gurney's All-American Racers shop. Adamowicz raced it to the 1969 Formula 5000 championship, he won with it that July at Road America and he drove it again Sunday in the Kohler International Challenge vintage races on a circuit that has changed little in the 40 years since.
"Back in the day we probably were a little bit closer racing and took a lot more chances . . . and we were a lot younger," the 68-year-old Californian said after finishing second in his class. "There's a . . . value in what we do today, to be able to bring these cars out of yesteryear . . . and showcase them at a beautiful track like Road America. "We try to do some racing within the safety confines of the car. We know that they're all historic, and we really don't want to bring them back rumpled up. We want to bring them back in a whole piece and continue on showing these cars." Nearly 400 high-priced, high-powered toys went on high-speed display during the International Challenge. Only a handful will need another round of restoration before being seen again.
Adamowicz's particular piece of history spent more than 35 years tucked away in storage, unused, unshown and all but forgotten by nearly everyone but its driver. Finally, as preparations were being made for a 40th anniversary of the Formula 5000 class, Adamowicz worked a deal for its purchase by Doug Magnon, president of the Riverside International Automotive Museum in California. They went together to pick it up. "I hadn't seen it since December of 1969, the last race at Sebring," said Adamowicz, who remains the only person to have raced the car. "It was a time warp, going back to see that and to see all the patina that had built up from that race was still there. It was just an amazing time." Although the car was in great shape, overall, time did take a toll.
Adamowicz, Magnon and others spent about a year getting it ready to run again last summer. Suspension components were rebuilt with stronger steel. The wings and engine are new. Sagging springs were replaced, along with a tachometer that no longer worked and the windscreen, which was pitted from a 13-race season. "All these pieces were made in the spirit of the way the car was originally, but they're new, fresh pieces to go racing," said Adamowicz, who oversaw the restoration. "We're actually geared for about 190 mph here, so it's a significant speed for a 40-year-old car, let alone a 40-year-older driver."
Through the years, some of the details of Adamowicz's Road America triumph also have faded, and others have been lost in the jumble of hundreds of races in series at tracks all over the world. He remembers the event involved three 100-mile heats. He remembers seeing Jerry Hansen's car, upside down and dripping gasoline, after a first-lap accident. And he remembers the more significant accomplishment of that day, the first lunar landing. "It certainly overshadows my win at Road America," Adamowicz said, "but we like to say we're partners in honoring them, Buzz Aldrin and the NASA guys, with their Eagle win on the moon." It's an interesting tidbit.
So was the notion that 40 years later, Adamowicz would return to the site of an important victory and race in the very same car. "I'm just honored to be here to show it to people," Adamowicz said. "Some of them even remember the car from '69, so that's even more special for them." And for him.