One of the free Wednesday Community Day activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was viewing thirty-four Indycar Legends, up close and personal. The fans could check out the cars, take unlimited photos, even under the car, talk with the owner, and in some cases pose for photos in the car as well as out.
One ‘fan’ was Rookie JOSEF NEWGARDEN/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, with two of his crew members. Newgarden admitted he wasn’t a buff. “I know very little about these cars, but I need to learn more.” He had a lengthy hands-on tutorial from car owner HOWARD KROPLICK regarding Kroplick’s 1909 Alco-6 Racer Black Beast, originally raced by HARRY GRANT.
Newgarden was invited to sit in the car, and was shown chapter and verse how it worked, including the pump by the driver’s left hand. Newgarden joked that the steering wheel was too small.
Newgarden may be a Rookie, but he is no slouch. He was the fastest Rookie of eight such categorized drivers, and the only Honda driver in the top ten starting lineup. His speed at IMS this month was such that he was fastest overall on two separate days. The youngest driver in the field, Newgarden is a product of the Road to Indy program, handily winning the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights Championship and the 2011 Lights race at IMS.
Newgarden was quite taken with the car and seemed like a kid in the proverbial candy store.
Kroplick turned on the engine and let her rip. What a deep, throaty sound it had.
Grant was the only driver of the car, which raced 1909-1911. In 1911 the car was gifted to Grant.
Since then, the car has had multiple owners – various collectors, the Harrah’s Automobile Collection, a private museum in England. The first restoration was 1968-1975, and then again 1994-2008.Kroplic purchased the car in 2008 from a Belgian vintage car dealer, and reconditioned the car.
One of the ‘fans’ hanging out with Kroplick was MARK DILL, Vice President of Marketing for the Speedway. He was quite knowledgable about not only the Black Beast, but most any other car. Seriously knowledgable. While Dill’s has only worked for IMSH for the past two years, his first Indy 500 was in 1966. Dill told me that Newgarden was the third Indy 500 driver to sit in the car. The first was Grant, the second was EMERSON FITTIPALDI for the IMS Centennial, and now Rookie Newgarden.
Among other tidbits from Dill were that ARIE LUYENDYK holds both the official and unofficial lap records at The Brickyard. In 1996 qualifying, Luyendyk qualified on pole with a four-lap average of 236.986 mph/381.392 km/h, but he ran one lap at 237.498 mph/382.216 km/h.
RYAN BRISCOE’S 2012 pole lap was 226.484 mph (four-lap average.)
Dill thought eventually the speeds would continue to increase into the thirties. He recounted memories of the days when teams were allowed to do things for a good qualifying run. Back in the day, one way was to add nitro to the fuel. It was good for a front row starting position, but the engine blew up after qualifying.
Kroplick is an author, specializing in Vanderbilt Cup Races as a subject.