Lap 04 - Midgets, Jaguars, Big Healeys, HRG Buicks
and the Lotus Eleven
Sy's auto racing career began in the 1950's
in Quarter Midgets. The Quarter Midget was a compact machine
which raced clockwise on a circular or oval track. These small
machines were powered by the Offenhauser 4 cylinder engine --
produced by the same manufacturer as the powerplant s found in
Indianapolis race cars of the time !
powered midget required much quicker reaction times from its
According to Sy, a midget required much
quicker reaction times from from its driver than a "traditional"
sports car. The midget was basically driven in a controlled slide
the full way around the track. The constant balancing of steering
and throttle inputs helped Sy to develop his sports car driving
skills. "I was much better when I went back to sports cars"
after having raced a midget. "That is how I really learned
"I was much better
when I went back to sports cars"
Sy began sports car racing in 1953 in a
Jaguar XK 120. Other than the equipment itself, sports car racing
differed from midgets in that sports cars ran counterclockwise
on a road circuit. He usually used racing numbers 71 or 72, though
in later events driving Lotus cars, Sy appears with a 1 appended
to the 72, probably because someone registered with number 72
at those races before Sy did!
Jaguar XK 120
Sy's first sports car
The first sports car race he entered was
the 1953 Bridgehampton Road Race. This turned out to be the last
year of the race through the streets of Bridgehampton--it was
stopped on the 7th lap when Harry Gray flipped his Jaguar C-Type
at the bridge. In his early racing career, Sy raced almost every
weekend, driving either midgets or sport scars. Gradually, it
became obvious to Sy that the sports car racers earning the checkered
flag were often driving Lotus cars.
In the early 1950's Sy also ran an Austin
Healey 3000. On one race weekend, he blew the transmission in
practice but was lucky enough to be able to borrow a spare from
another of the drivers. Sy and his mechanic stayed up all night
installing the new transmission. Come race day, Sy was tired
enough to be catching cat-naps anywhere he could, and when the
officials were ready to start the race, they had to wake him
up first -- he had fallen asleep on the starting grid! He went
on to win the race. Sy frequently did much of the mechanical
work on his own cars as did many drivers in his day. He would
work at air-conditioning during the day, work on the car at night,
drive all night Friday to the race, race on the weekend, back
at work on Monday, etc. etc.
Jaguar XK 120
at 7th lap
burnt piston lap 8
engine blew lap 1
"I loved the thrill and challenge
of racing. But I am very competitive and quickly decided that
I wanted to learn what I had to do in order to win. I was running
a very busy business at the time and only had nights and weekends
to work on the car. I quickly learned that one of the secrets
of winning was finding a good mechanic. My best mechanic was
Floyd Aaskov." [a successful race driver in his own rite:]
Oct 1957 VIR President's Cup #72 Floyd
Aaskov Mercedes 300SL CP
April 29-30 VIR 1961 President's Cup # 30 Aaskov Lotus FJ (20)
April 1962 VIR SCCA National President's Cup Floyd Aaskov Lotus
FJ (20) 3rd
of Sy's early cars (around 1954) was an HRG with a Buick engine
which was an early version of the all aluminum engines. The HRG
was a modern car styled after the classic pre-war sport scars.
He had terrible crash in the HRG at Watertown, N.Y., his apparent
injuries sufficient to prompt the officials to pronounce him
dead at the scene. They even called his father to come and pick
up the body! Needless to say, they were wrong. He had broken
his nose, teeth, shoulder and three ribs, and punctured a lung.
Sy made a quick recovery and was back at work within a week.
This happened early in his racing career and although he had
other crashes, he walked away from all the others.
What's an HRG ?
Note the change of luck in the late 50's
as Sy takes his first victories:
Jaguar XK 140
1958 Aston Martin DB4
Lake Naomi, PA
||3rd in class,
SCCA Div. race
Robin Read recounts a race in his book
"Colin Chapman's Lotus" in which Sy ran his 1958 Aston
Martin DB4 in an indoor arena, as he had the midgets. Apparently
the Sports car Owner and Driver's Association of New Jersey had
an idea to introduce sports cars to the midget racing crowd:
race sports cars at the same venue as midgets. Since several
of the sports car drivers were also midget racers, and familiar
with driving the course counterclockwise, they determined that
in fairness to those racers without midget experience, they would
run the race in a clockwise direction. And better yet, the organizers
thought, since it's a night time event anyway, let's simulate
the well known European endurance racein the dark, with
a Le Mans-style running start to complete the illusion. Apparently,
the organizers learned quickly that it was a terrible idea when
they heard the rending of expensive sheet metal and were somewhat
afraid to restore the lights for fear of what they would see.
Of course with his midget experience, Sy managed to wrestle his
Aston to a first place finish.
Most of the goddam cars were upside down
on the straw bales by this time. I won that race but it cost
me 15,000 bucks to straighten out the Aston afterwards!
[quote from Robin Read's book, Colin Chapman's Lotus]
Asked recently about this event, Sy denied
any recollection. If it actually did happen apparently he chose
to forget the experience!
The Lotus Eleven
by Harlan Hadley courtesy of the VIR
History Web Site
Sy in Lotus Eleven
#241 Leading Robert Weiler into the turn
Virginia International Raceway, August 1957
Sy confers with
next to the
Lotus Eleven in Competition
Lotus Eleven G Sports
Lotus Eleven F Sports