Carroll Shelby’s Allard to the Elkhart Lake Vintage Festival

-Augie Grasis

Allard and Elkhart Lake. Carroll Shelby and Elkhart Lake.  Carroll Shelby and the Allard. All linked together in sort of a “six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon” way.  Allards have been inextricably linked with Elkhart Lake as they dominated the front of the field in the early ‘50s when the races were held on the roads and streets surrounding Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.  Burt Levy immortalized the Allard in his story The Last Open Road, which culminates at Elkhart Lake and features fictional ex-RAF-fighter-pilot-turned-racer Tommy Edwards wrestling his Allard in famous tracks across the country.  Real life drivers such as Fred Wacker truly did race Allards on the open roads surrounding Elkhart Lake.

Carroll Shelby started his career in an Allard.  As a matter of fact, he drove MY Cadillac powered Allard J2X (#3146) in 10 races in 1953 and won 9 of them.  In January 1954, Shelby raced the car #11 the 1000KM in Buenos Aires Argentina.  His 10th place performance (with co-driver Dale Duncan) landed him a ride with Aston Martin and the rest, including a LeMans win, is history.  And Shelby is a legend at Elkhart Lake too where he won the Road America 500 in 1957 in a Maserati and later dominated with his Shelby Cobras.

Needless to say, when George, Mike and I learned that Allard would be the featured marque at Road America for the Elkhart Lake Vintage Festival we were excited beyond words.  We wanted to make a good showing among our Allard brethren.  We were excited to show the racing world the coolness of one of the most successful combinations of sports car and hot rod.  And mostly we were excited to run the Carroll Shelby J2X at Road America—a true horsepower track.  We raced there in July 2014 at the Hawk and it was awesome—heart-stopping acceleration, diabolical Allard swing axle handling punctuated by non-stopping brakes!  A true 50’s hot rod sports car experience.

We put our learnings to work in our preparation.  A taller rear end would get us to our 5500 red-line at the end of the straight. Racing brake linings would stop us better for turn 5.  No need to work on the motor—sounded strong to us!

Besides the mechanical work to prepare for the race, we began corresponding with Andy Picariello, the Allard Reunion organizer and were surprised and disappointed that, though there were 18+ Allards entered for the weekend, we were the only ones thus far who planned to race.   Then, at the 11th hour, enter Vince Vento with his J2X.  Vince is a new owner of a beautiful black Cadillac powered J2X, and one of only two with a hydromatic transmission.

Vince’s car had been used as a prototype by Zora Duntov in designing the 1955 Corvette.  
Vince and his girlfriend Estelle, are brave, optimistic people.  Vince decided just 10 days before the event that he was going to race.  While running his business and traveling for other events Vince arranged new tires, new brakes and shipping from Florida to Wisconsin for a car he had never raced, over his cell phone.  Though I have often heard in my business life that “hope is not a strategy,” Vince’s optimism and hope were clearly the core of his plan!

Our caravan, including Dan & Brenda’s motor home, rolled into Road America Thursday night. After setting up camp for Team Allard and going through tech we headed for Siebkens for a couple of pre-race beers and the world’s #1 race bar.  Surprisingly we arrived at the track Friday on time and ready for the first of our two practice sessions.  Vince and Estelle found us, but couldn’t find their car, which was supposed to be shipped to a tire dealer to get racing tires mounted.  After several phone calls to the driver and tire guy and many rental car miles, the tires were finally mounted and Vince and his black beauty arrived at the track for the afternoon practice session.  The shakedown sessions for both J2X were successful but not without some challenges.  The hydromatic transmission on Vince’s car was slipping out of gear and not shifting properly.  While the #11 Shelby Allard set the fastest time for the group, we experienced a late session spin which we later learned was from a differential oil leak spraying oil on the right rear tire.

Friday night Road America hosted a dinner at the track for the competitors Friday with all 18 Allards on display.  Despite the cool temperature, the threat of rain, and the free beer inside, many of the racers from other classes spent an inordinate amount of time drooling over the fabulous gathering of Allards.  Just as the party wrapped up it started to rain; and rain it did, all night until morning.

Qualifying for our group was scheduled to be first on the track on Saturday morning.  While it had quit raining an hour before our group went out, the track was slick as snot and the group 1 drivers tiptoed around the turns.  In the meantime, Vince decided that, given the transmission issues, he would forego any preliminary sessions and save the car for the Allard/Jaguar feature race on Sunday.  In the end, the #11 had qualified second behind a well driven MG for the afternoon’s Sprint Race.

Saturday’s Sprint race turned out to be a real barn burner.  Our #11 Allard took the lead from the start followed closely by the 1933 Ford Indy car of Rex Barrett.  The two cars were never more than a couple of car lengths apart the entire race, but the Allard ultimately prevailed by a mere .5 seconds at the checkered flag.

There was no time to celebrate as the Elkhart Lake Road Course reenactment was immediately following our race.  The parade of 15+ Allards, many Jaguars and an assortment of other racing sports cars toured the 1951-52 road course around picturesque Elkhart Lake to the waves and applause of fans and locals on lawn chairs in the countryside.  The track finally weaves its way on to Main Street where hundreds of race fans are gathered to see, hear and smell the fabulous cars of the past.

I am sure the reenactment was a fun experience for most drivers, (it started that way for my bride Pami and me) but soon became stressful and worrisome as the temperature gauge pegged out as we approached Main Street.  A blown head gasket proved to be the end of our race weekend as we finished our “tour” with Pami at the wheel being pushed down Main Street by the crew and myself.

Undaunted, we found our place in the Gather on the Green Concours at the Osthoff Resort facing Elkhart Lake, with a stunning display of 18 Allards of all types.  After our long push down Main Street we decided to leave the #11 in “as raced” condition, adorned with the oil, radiator overflow and grime of the track.  We were placed next to Andy Picarillo and his famous J2.  Our cars had met before—at a West Texas Air station SCCA race!  Andy brought a photo (below) from 1953 of our cars on the front row, his driven by Dale Duncan and the #11 by Carroll Shelby.  The weather was fabulous, the company was interesting, and the cocktails were flowing—life was good, despite our broken car! 

 Dale Duncan in #54 and Carroll Shelby in #11

Dale Duncan in #54 and Carroll Shelby in #11

 Dana Mecum’s J2.  Carroll Shelby drove a couple of races in this car in 1951.

Dana Mecum’s J2.  Carroll Shelby drove a couple of races in this car in 1951.

 Andy Picariello and his two brides!

Andy Picariello and his two brides!

Sunday dawned a fabulous day and it was all hands on deck in the Allard pit, to help Vince make a good showing in the Allard-Jaguar Feature Race.  The grid truly looked like a blast from the 1950’s as Vince was lined up next to the ex-Briggs Cunningham Lister Jaguar from the Collier Collection.  Vince drove an inspired race as he lowered his time on every lap. Estelle and I watched from turn 5 and were sure we could see Vince grinning through his full face helmet every time he hammered the big Cadillac motor up the hill!  As the checkered flag fell on this beautiful black J2X, it was mission accomplished and a strategy well played! 

 Vince Vento in his gorgeous J2X

Vince Vento in his gorgeous J2X

As we packed up for Kansas City and bid farewell to our old friends and our new friends, I noted a little smile on George and Mike’s faces.  Was it the satisfaction of a good race weekend?  A successful gathering of so many cool cars? 

Or maybe it was the anticipation of tearing into that Cadillac motor when we arrived home! Until next year

 The #11 Crew—Brenda & Dan Rapp, Mike Caraway, George Hull and Pami Grasis

The #11 Crew—Brenda & Dan Rapp, Mike Caraway, George Hull and Pami Grasis