Do you remember when racing didn’t have “copy cat” cars? Back when car manufactures were proud to tell you how racing improved your car. All that competition help create better brakes, more horsepower, and even better mileage.
Today, it seems more and more racing series feel they have to create an even playing field and keep all the cars as equal as possible. They make car owners use cars built to strict sanctioning body specs. Racing may be more equal but it is boring and there is no innovation. If there is any innovation it is called cheating!
There was a time when it was exciting to see what new ideas came out of a racer’s garage. Some of the greatest cars and advancements came from a mechanic’s challenge to help his driver win. The race fans loved to see the wild new thing.
There is no shortage of examples ranging from winged NASCAR’s Dodge Dayton and Plymouth Superbird, the Smokey Yunick “sidecar” Indy 500 car, the Can AM race car with the big vacuum fan in the rear to create downforce and the first sprint car to put a big reversed airplane wing over the driver. One not so famous example is the 1952 Cummings Diesel Indy 500 race car.
In 1911 Clessie Cummins for Ray Harroun who won the first Indianapolis 500 1911. In 1919, Cummins started the Cummins Engine Company. Over the years Cummins entered several cars in the Indianapolis 500. But, it was in 1952 that made an innovative attempt to win the 500. The rules allowed diesel engines to be 6.6 liters (400 cubic inches) but only 4.5 liters for normally-aspirated engines and even smaller 3.0 liters for supercharged engines. Cummins prepared a 400 cubic inch, 6-cylinder, turbocharged diesel engine that produced 380 horsepower.
Indy race cars of that era were mostly tall and upright. Cu
mmins and Kurtis Kraft came together to produce a new low, sleek design for the 1952 Cummins Diesel Special.
Typical Indy Race Car of 1952.
The engine used an aluminum block and head with a magnesium crankcase. Even more innovation was used to lay the engine over at 5 degrees off flat, lowering the center of gravity and reducing the frontal area for better aerodynamics. By offsetting the engine to the left provided better weight distribution resulted in faster cornering.
One distinct disadvantage due to the bigger engine was the car was substantially heavier than its competition.
After holding back during the month of May and never showing the car’s complete capabilities, the driver, Freddie Agabashian, waited until the last minute to qualify. At 5:45 p.m. on Pole Day and put Cummins Diesel Special on the pole for the Indianapolis 500 with a lap record of 139 mph and a record four-lap average of 138 mph. This qualifying speed was over 1 mph faster than the runner-up car. During Indianapolis’ remaining qualifying days that year, other cars went faster, but the Cummins Diesel was on the pole.
Unfortunately, the race did not go well for Agabashian and the Cummins Diesel Special. The turbocharger inlet was clogged with rubber and other debris. The car had to retire after 70 laps or 180 miles. The car is listed as finishing 27th.
Like what happens too often today as a result of someone appearing to “upset the apple cart” with a new idea, the rules were changed by taking away the possibility of large diesel engines. A diesel engine has never powered a race car in the Indianapolis 500 since. How would the Indy race, Indy race cars, and the future of diesel engines have changed if they had not been outlawed? We will never know. How many innovations and exciting different cars are we currently not developing due to overly limiting regulations? I miss the old days.