Phil Friedman

7 years ago · 8 min. reading time · ~100 ·

Phil blog
Life Is Like a Monza Wall

Life Is Like a Monza Wall

X ce al ——





Preface: Some of the autoracing talk in this piece is somewhat technical. It is not, however, simply dumb jargon. I've included it not only for those who are true, dyed-in-the-wool autosports enthusiasts, but for others as well, in order to convey a better sense of the sub-culture and the millieu of the time. 

In my early twenties, when I still lived in Chicago, I raced sportscars. Not professionally, but in what was known in those days as "club racing". 

Club racing enthusiasts were "amateurs". That is, they were unpaid and earned, at most, trophies and kudos for winning. They paid for, owned, transported and, for the most part, maintained and repaired their own cars. Their pit crews were composed of wives (or in some cases, husbands), parents, siblings, friends and others who were dumb enough to want to do a pile of scut work on the off-chance of being treated afterward to a hamburger and a beer.

However, make no mistake. Club racing was serious wheel-to-wheel competition, car against car, not one of the milder forms of autosport that pitted car-against-clock, like hillclimbing or gymkhana racing. And while club racing drivers were technically amateurs, they pushed to their cars and themselves to the limits most of the time — and occasionally beyond.

I held competition tickets (licenses) from both the Midwestern Council of Sportscar Clubs (MCSCC) and Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). And I competed mostly at midwestern tracks, including Wilmot Hills in Wisconsin, Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and Meadowdale International Raceway in Carpentersville, Illinois — all "road courses".



AUGUST 12 and 13. 1967

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Road courses are those with both left-hand and right-hand turns, S-curves, slaloms, 180-degree switchbacks, hills and irregular-length straightaways. This in contrast to oval tracks, where racing is in a counterclockwise direction, with all left-hand turns in a basically flat elevation.

The local "paid professionals" were generally found on oval tracks, in stock cars, dirt track cars,  and midgets. But some pros and semi-pros could be found on road courses in open-wheel "formula" racing — Indy cars, Formula 3, Formula America, and the biggie, Grand Prix Formula 1.


I began my racing sojourn in a Triumph TR-3... 

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The TR-3 was a two-seat, front-engine, rear-wheel drive roadster built in Britain. It had a 2-litre inline-4 engine, and in its factory stock form, employed British variable-venturi S-U carburetors. It was a fun car both to drive and race but had one troubling characteristic. For some unfathomable — unfathomable, at least, to me and my cohorts — the TR-3's front wheel track was a bit more than 1% narrower than its rear wheel track. Pushed too hard and too deep into a sharp turn, it had an admittedly unconfirmed tendency to trip and roll over.

I cannot say with certainty whether the perception among club racing drivers was correct, but on two occasions TR-3s against whom I was racing did roll in similar circumstances. Which convinced me that prudence was the better part of courage and...

... led me to the love of my relatively brief racing life, a diminutive Austin-Healey "Bug-Eye" Sprite... 




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The Bugeye Sprite had a tiny 947cc inline-4 OHV engine. Yep, you read that correctly, less than 1-liter displacement. The engine was so small that when we needed to service or rebuild it, two of us could simply hook a spreader bar and chain to it and manually lift it out of the engine compartment.

Rated bhp was 43 @ 5000 rpm. Which does not seem like much until you consider that the car weighed, in racing trim, less than 1,300 pounds — barely more than many large motorcycles.

Club racing was "class racing". That is, cars raced primarily in designated classes against one another. But because a full field could rarely be made up of a single class, a number of classes usually raced at the same time, with the bigger, faster cars (with better qualifying times) being placed at the head of the starting pack. There would be "overall" winners — first to finish out of all the cars on the track — and "class" winners — first to finish in their respective designated class. 

I raced my Bugeye in G-production class, which allowed me to make certain modifications to the engine, drivetrain, and chassis.  I had the cylinders of my Sprite's engine bored out to their maximum diameter and fitted with oversize pistons and rings. The crankshaft was hardened by shot peening, lightened and balanced, as were the connecting rods. Intake and exhaust manifolds were polished and ported (passages enlarged and polished to reduce turbulence in the flow). Heavy duty hardened valves, pushrods, and extra heavy-duty double valve springs were fitted (to raise the limiting point of "valve float" from the stock 5000 rpm redline to better than 7000 rpm, with an attendant increase in horsepower production). 

Weber carbs were fitted because they had multiple "barrels" for enhanced fuel/air delivery, and "accelerator" pumps that shot a jolt of raw fuel into the carb barrels when you stepped hard on the accelerator. Both air-intake and exhaust systems were "tuned" for maximum efficiency by taking advantage of the back and forth pulsing of gasses intake mixture coming into the engine and exhaust gasses leaving it.

I also fitted the live solid rear axle with a locking, limited-slip differential that overcame any loss of propulsive power due to an inside rear wheel lifting or losing traction in the tight turns. And for short courses, switched to a differential ring gear that yielded a final gear ration of 5.37:1  (as opposed to the standard 4.22:1), whilst for the longer courses, switching to a ring gear that yielded, if memory serves, a 3.85:1 final drive ratio. Higher ratio number for better acceleration on the short courses, lower ratio number for better top speed on the longer courses.

The result was that, at the bottom of "The Chute" at Meadowdale, a long, steep downhill straightaway, my diminutive slightly "improved" G-production Bugeye could, in the right circumstances, clock 130 mph.



The Bugeye was also a roller-skate of a car, with tremendous agility and cornering ability due to an exceptionally low center of gravity and a relatively wide track. And although the Bugeye was not stunning when it came to raw speed, it performed much better than you might expect on a road course. Primarily because you did not have to slow much at all in the turns. And it was not unusual for one to slip past a faster, more powerful car in a tight 90-degree turn.

The maneuver in a Bugeye went like this. You hung about six inches back from the bigger car's rear inside fender coming up to a tight 90-degree or better turn and waited for the driver of the bigger car to pick his line into the turn. You downshifted, followed him on the same line into the turn and waited for the heavier car to slide somewhat toward the outside, pushed by greater mass and centrifugal force. 

As soon as you saw the slide start, you broke off the bigger car's line and aimed the Bugeye. pedal-to-the-metal, straight toward the apex of the turn. If you did it just right — and if you had good tires and your engine was well-tuned and you picked a gear to give you redlined rpm — you'd slide by the bigger, "faster" car with the Bugeye feeling as though it were on rails. 

Man, there was no better feeling in the world !!

Unless it was running — and surviving – the Monza Wall at Meadowdale Raceway...


The "Monza Wall" at Meadowdale International Raceway was a high banked 180-degree switchback turn, named in honor of a similarly banked turn at the world-famous automobile racetrack in Monza, Italy. 

A banked road surface enables fast moving cars to take advantage of centrifugal force to improve, rather than detract from traction when in the turn. Thus, race cars can generally maintain higher speeds in banked turns. They can also use a momentary downward line on the bank to pick up a tiny margin of speed and momentum in the process of trying to blow past another car. All of which makes for excitement among race fans — and, I suppose, drivers as well.

The problem is that, in a 180-degree highly banked turn, when you look forward in the normal fashion,  what you mostly see is road surface. And not too much of it, at that.

In order to see far enough ahead to be aware of developing trouble — a car spinning out or hitting the outer wall or blowing a tire or whatever — you have to look up over your head. But if you look too far up, you can't see what's going on closer in front of you. And that could lead to just as much, if not more trouble. 

The drill was to size up the relative positions of all the cars already on the wall, as well as those running with you, as you headed into the 180-degree turn. Then pick your line, put the accelerator all the way down as you entered the turn, and concentrate on rapidly shifting your gaze back and forth from, more or less, straight ahead to looking "up" for the longer view. It felt like I imagined riding a tiger would. And I was personally happy just to get through the Monza Wall turn without getting into a dust-up with another car or cars on the track, never mind making an advance in race position. 

I ran on the Monza Wall only twice during my sportscar racing years, once in a drivers school session and once in a race. By the end of my first season, a couple of serious race accidents on the Monza Wall led race club officials and raceway management to stop using that part of the track for club races.



For my part, I was happy to have made my bones by running on the wall — which you had to do at or near top speed because it was the centrifugal force generated that held your car up high on the banked surface and not slipping sideways toward the infield. But I was not exactly crushed to hear the Wall would not be used for the future races in which I was going to drive.

Years later, I was writing a piece and scanning through my mental library of metaphors. And wham! There it was right before me: The Monza Wall is a metaphor for Life:  

Keep the pedal-to-the-metal, pick your line, then go like hell. Don't look just at what's directly in front of you, but also don't try to look too much or too far forward into the future. For if you do, you're likely to crash. 

— Phil Friedman

Author's notes:  The Triumph TR-3 and the Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite shown in the images are not actually the cars I owned, although they are dead ringers for them, if not. I suspect that the little red Bugeye with the white stripe in the photo could very well be the very car I owned, raced, and later sold — the color is right and the other details, right down to the distinctive roll bar I designed, built and installed; the front-hinged bonnet with draw-clip hold downs; and the repeatedly bashed and hand-straightened front grille.

My personal photos and records of those days were lost somewhere along the way during a transition I made many years later, from living on land to living aboard an 18-ton motor-sailing yacht I built in my boat shop in Rexdale, Canada. Consequently, I've used library photos to help tell this story. (The tale of my sailing yacht is another story for another time.)

If you found this post interesting and worthwhile and would like to receive notifications of my writings on a regular basis, click the [FOLLOW] button on my beBee profile. Better yet, elect there to follow my blog by email. As a writer-friend of mine says, you can always change your mind later.

Should you be curious about some of my previous Chicago Stories, you're invited to take a look at the following:

"Two Pizzas and a Shovel"

"Wake Up Little Susie"

"Vending Machines Are People Too"

As well, feel free to "like" and "share" this post and my other articles — whether on beBee, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, provided only that you credit me properly as the author, and include a live link to my original post. 

About me, Phil FriedmanWith 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. In a previous life, I was formally trained as an academic philosopher and taught logic and philosophy at university.

Text Copyright © 2016 by Phil Friedman  —  All Rights Reserved

Image Credits: Phil Friedman, Google Images, and Terry Wessel




Wayne Yoshida

7 years ago #26

Sorry. Pushed the send button too quickly. Shall we be co-hive-keepers?

Wayne Yoshida

7 years ago #25

If anyone wondered about the "Monza wall" thing -- watch the 1966 movie "Grand Prix" - it remains one of the truly great auto racing movies of all time.

Wayne Yoshida

7 years ago #24

Yes - that would be good. More specific than others.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #23

Great project, Wayne. Truly, great "real" car. Although I much prefer it in road course configuration and feel any drag racing versions would be a "perversion" of the Shelby marque. How about a hive named "Real Cars, Real Racing" ?

Wayne Yoshida

7 years ago #22

Danica! Yay!

Wayne Yoshida

7 years ago #21

Phil, it is a kit car / replica. Not the real CSX 2300. But pretty darn close. I have a 302 with T5 going in soon. Today I mounted the e-brake onto the trans tunnel, an improvement over the kit location way down at the passenger side floor. One real bonus on building a car like this: Special exemption status for registration with the DMV, even in CA. All that's required is 1965 smog accessories: PCV! Although the new Coyote engine can make some incredible hp, and meets all 50 state emissions requirements. This is what I got: Here's the start of the project: Each year, guys with finished cars put them on display, and they are amazing: Let's do make a "real car" hive!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #20

Thank you, Debasish, for reading and commenting.

Randy Keho

7 years ago #19

I have met Danica Patrick. She's from nearby Roscoe, Illinois. I lived there myself for a short time. She should have stuck to Indy racing, but she went for the fortune and fame that comes with NASCAR, even if all you do is crash and burn. I did travel to Milwaukee a few years back to watch NASCAR's junior circuit, but I can't recall what they call it. They race at the state fairgrounds.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #18

Randy, BTW what is now referred to as "short track racing" is what we used to call "stock car racing", of the type, for example, run during the summers at Soldier's Field on the Chicago Lakefront. Complete with the finale Demolition Derbies. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #17

Randy, have you ever thought that your experience of auto racing might be a good metaphor for some people's lives? Or is that too depressing a thought? :-)

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #16

OMG, Wayne, the Shelby Cobra Coupe (aka the Daytona Coupe) was the car I've wanted all my adult life. Compared to the Daytona Coupe, the current "Shelby Cobra Mustang" is a complete yuppie pussy -- cat, not what our un-esteemed President Elect thinks it is. (See what those tool calendars hung up the garage do to a normally politically correct guy!) Anyway, I wish you luck with the restoration, and I would be fascinated to read about it on beBee. FYI, my 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4x4 sports, guess what, a 4.7 L (289 V-8 with 32 valves and 16 spark plugs (2 per cylinder). It is a great engine, better in my mind than the 5.3 L hemi. And best of all, I bought the Jeep during one of the two years that Chrysler was selling the Jeep with a Non-transferable Mileage-unlimited Lifetime Powertrain Warranty. The SUV is a hot rod, drives designer car drivers nuts off the line. Thanks for reading and commenting. As I said to Harvey Lloyd, I'd love to get a group of real car enthusiasts together in a beBee hive.

Randy Keho

7 years ago #15

Love the analogy, but I never got into racing. Rockford Speedway is home to the Short Track Championships. It's a three-day drunk fest, with fans setting up camp a week in an advance. I used to stop by my buddies "campsite," which consisted of an old couch and lawn chairs set up around a makeshift fire. He slept in a tent. We'd often watch the sun come up the next day. They were great experiences, but I never actually saw a race.

Wayne Yoshida

7 years ago #14

Great story Phil! Living on the edge. . . . I haven't raced, but I have gone to racing school (Bob Bondurant). And I am currently building a car (1965 Daytona Coupe). The advice does apply to lots of other stuff in life.

Harvey Lloyd

7 years ago #13

Yes i would enjoy that hive, but am afraid all the new age fuel injection computers and lingo have changed since my naturally aspirated engine days. Spent weeks of off time getting cams and carburetors in sync always reaching for more HP. Of course on a young man's pay of 8 bucks an hour. Lot of engine rebuilds for friends to keep my running. A side story The last ride in the 68 firebird involved a mustang that thought he had something. Smoked him good and looked in the rear view mirror and my first born was laughing. The second look was from the wife. No we didn't have lasers at the time but i swore i got cut in half. Car went up for sale the next day. A sad day.

Milos Djukic

7 years ago #12

Permanent No-Muzak from a young age :) I am not surprised, that is a consistent self-similarity. Great article Phil Friedman. Thank you.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #11

My pleasure, Harvey. I am always looking for real autosport enthusiasts -- the guys and gals who know the difference between a push-rod OHV arrangement and a OHC set-up, who know what a tappet is, and how hp is a product of torque and rpm -- among other things. If I could find a couple hundred such people, I start a hive to provide engagement based on passion for autosports. Cheers!

Harvey Lloyd

7 years ago #10

I was referring to the 1/4 mile track circles made me dizzy. Pure raw horsepower. Mine was mostly street, hit the 1/4 mile a few times. I really enjoyed the adrenaline rush, as i am sure you did in in the races you participated. I'm a little old now for circle track. My reflexes are not what they used to be. Unless someone knocks over my beer, i can be quick then. The Go-Kart angle sounds interesting. Regardless, those days were awesome. Talking trash and building cars. A whole paycheck on cams and lifters or tires and no gas to get to work. Thanks for the run down memory lane.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #9

Aurorasa, I think his career would have gone the same way, racing accident or not. But you are right that the racing evidenced the ability to nurture passion -- which is key to achievement. As to a photo of me smiling, I tried to smile for the camera a few times, but it always either broke the lenses or gave those who know me cardiac arrhythmia. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #8

Thank you, Michelle, for reading and commenting. I really like your practice of pulling out a quote, for it indicates clearly that you've taken the time to actually read the piece. True, there are other ways to do that, but you've struck on one that is both relatively simple and author-friendly. I am not overly enamored of metaphors, which I find over-used by some writers, especially when it comes to drawing further conclusions from the metaphor (or model) itself. However, in this case, I really think the metaphor brings insight to the issue. Me best to you for the Christmas Holiday and the coming New Year. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #7

Harvey, are you talking about drag-racing or wheel-to-wheel competition? If the latter, I would consider trying out some real go-kart racing to see whether you like it enough to think about auto racing which requires much more of a financial commitment, even at the club racing level.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #6

Pascal, I understand the problem with the time zones. I've been radically trimming down the number of hives to which I belong because the poorly- and non-topic-filtered ones appear to cause all sorts of unwanted (by me) posts to end up in my general feed. Unfortunately, as a result, I have a much smaller chance of seeing the posts of even writers like you whom I follow. So what I have been doing is going onto those writers' Producer profile pages and electing to follow their "blog" by email -- which is supposed to cause me to receive an email notice of a new post by said author. As to running race boats, I don't -- although I have run dozens of very fast boats. I used to test and report on all manner of boats and yachts for Power & Motoryacht magazine and its sister publication Powerboat magazine. And so have driven dozens in that context. My own boating, however, has generally been restricted to cruising on sailing and smaller power yachts. The most relaxing thing I can do is go sailing. Thank you for reading and commenting. Cheers!

Harvey Lloyd

7 years ago #5

I really enjoyed the storyline and it was told well. (Felt like i was in the bank turn). I did the drag racing thing. I would imagine as you have aptly stated at 130 your mind needs to be fairly quick in sizing up situations quickly. I have often thought i would would like another hot rod. Any thoughts on venturing back into the race?

Pascal Derrien

7 years ago #4

being in a different time zone I l almost missed that one, it would have been a pity since I have been motoring internally with enthusiasm since I was imagining you maybe driving race boats too?

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #3

Thank you, Aurorasa, for reading and saying so. I am not so improbable a race driver. In those days, club racers were from the ranks of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, doctors, lawyers, even accountants (no offense intended Jeff Halfen) -- all brought together by a common passion for sportscasts and racing. A fellow Roosevelt Univ undergraduate and friend of mine also raced, for longer and more seriously than I did. He raced a Triumph Spitfire, a cousin to the A-H Sprite and M-G Midget II. Until he was injured and hospitalized by a nasty crash. Then he went on to being a journalist, twice nominated for Pulitzers, and heavy weight enough to have interviewed President Richard Nixon twice, one-on-one. Perhaps, there's a life lesson in that as well. Or not.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #2

Nic, thank you for reading and commenting -- and for the kind words. We like to think that with enough hard work, we can excel at anything, but I think that is false. In auto racing, a lot has to do with reflexes. My best friend in Toronto has a nephew who made a successful, almost instantaneous transition from big time downhill slalom skiing to Formula auto racing because he had super fast reflexes and an incredible innate ability to perceive in minute detail the world around him as it rushed by at 170 to 200 mph. It might be the case that there is something each of us can find to do well (maybe), but not all of us can do well whatever we choose, if we only work hard enough. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #1

This one is for Juan Imaz, who prefers motorcycles, but has to love sportscards as well, and @Jim Murray -- just for fun. Cheers!

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