Bruce Revennaugh attended his first Indianapolis 500 in 1964, and even though the cars were about to become motorsports dinosaurs, he “fell in love” with the big, old-style, front-engine “roadsters” he saw racing around the track. It may have helped that a fellow Texan, A.J. Foyt Jr., drove one of those roadsters to victory that May and in what would be the last such trip to Victory Lane at the Brickyard for that style of car.
Revennaugh went on to a successful career as a financial manager for several large corporations, and at one point had quite a collection of 1932 Fords, both those in stock configuration and those that had been hot-rodded.
But that youthful interest in Indy roadsters remained strong and in 1995 Revennaugh fulfilled what he called a “lifelong dream” by purchasing the 1961 Edgar Elder Stearly Motor Freight Offy which, as it turned out, was the first Indy car that a young Mario Andretti had driven.
Revennaugh’s car, and several others, including several Andretti had raced at various times in his long and successful career, were at ISM Raceway (nee Phoenix International Raceway) this past weekend for the Vintage Desert Classic showcase and a celebration of Andretti’s final race at the track 25 years ago. Oh, and there also were Verizon IndyCar, U.S. Auto Club Silver Crown and .25 Midget (the new name for Quarter Midget racing) events on the track.
Built in 1961 by Edgar Elder in El Monte, California, Revennaugh’s car was driven at Indy that year by Cliff Griffith. Elder sold the car to Doug Stearly, who put Ronnie Duman behind the wheel for the 1962 500, only to be bumped from the starting field during qualification trials. Afterward, Stearly, who was from Pennsylvania, entered the car only at the Milwaukee and Trenton events; it was at Trenton in the spring of 1964 that Andretti drove the car, finishing 11th.
After its speedway career, the car was purchased by Toby Tobias, who converted it into a super-modified sprint car and raced it that way for a few years before parking the car, which sat idle until Revennaugh bought it and restored it to its Stearly configuration.
Back in the day, old race cars weren’t considered objects to be preserved. Frequently they were simply disposed of after being picked apart for any components that might still be of use.
Revennaugh also owns a 1972 Coyote Indy racer, but there are few opportunities to exercise such cars so he does his vintage racing in a Lotus 18 Formula Junior and a Lotus F1 car.
The lack of places for old Indy cars to run is one reason why Gary Mondschein started organizing such events a few years ago. Mondschein ended up with three such cars of his own and launched Classic Racing Times as a newsletter for the vintage Indy owners community.
The cars don’t really race each other at these events, but they do run laps at speed and it’s quite a show, and not just for the cars. At Phoenix, the cars ranged from a 1948 Kurtis-Offenhauser to a 1993 Rahal-Hogan Racing-Ilmor Chevrolet, and during the weekend both Indy veterans Dick Simon and Lyn St. James drove some laps in the cars.
It is believed that there are at least 100 vintage Indy cars being maintained in running order around the country, and others are out there as well (I found two for sale in a quick search of the ClassicCars.com Marketplace and at least four from the Rolland Racing Museum were on the docket at a recent Leake auction).
Classic Racing Times has another event scheduled August 17-19 at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania, where Mondeschein lives. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway will host a roadster reunion in May. The Harry Miller Club stages its annual Millers at Milwaukee event July 13-14, and there’s an annual Vintage Racing Celebration at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, this year the weekend of August 26-27.