This Indy veteran that still takes to the track
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. —Vintage sports car racing is a high-speed, living history theater that brings automotive museum pieces to life and shows them being used as they were meant to be: hot, greasy, loud and fighting it out with other cars on a track. That is especially true for pre-war racers such as the 1933 Studebaker Indy car of August (Augie) Grasis III from Weatherby Lake.
On May 20, Grasis raced his car at the Road America spring vintage weekend at Elkhart Lake, Wis. Road America is one of the country’s premier road courses, with a long and storied history that dates back to the early 1950s.
Augie’s dad, August Grasis II, bought this car in 1997 from the Brooks Stevens collection after Stevens died. Number 34 was one of a team of five cars entered in the 1933 Indianapolis 500 by the Studebaker factory. Tony Gulotta, from Kansas City, qualified at 113.678 mph and finished 500 in seventh place. Because Gulotta was from Kansas City, it seems providential that No. 34 now calls this city its home.
Over time, four of the other 1933s had their bodies changed, making the Grasis car the only one to still wear the high-cowl, aerodynamically efficient body that was developed in the University of Michigan wind tunnel.
For many owners, the car’s one-of-a-kind status would relegate it to a life as garage art or posing in a museum, but not for Augie and his dad. As owners, their first move was to drive it in the Colorado Grand, a 1,000-mile vintage car tour despite springs and shocks that were frozen from years of sitting.
Because cars are meant to be driven, and old race cars are meant to be raced, Augie and his dad, along with help from George Hull, Mike Caraway and others, have painstakingly brought the old girl back to top form, and Grasis races it several times each year.
The 250-horsepower bellow from its drain-pipe exhaust is a sound like no other, but the old-style brakes leave plenty to desire when hauling the car down from more than 100 miles per hour. Back in the day, Indy racers ran flat out, and brakes were used only to slow the car for the pits. Putting the car on a road course taxes the brakes, and Grasis and his team are constantly working to improve them. At Road America last Sunday, Grasis reeled in a pre-war Bugatti and cruised to an easy victory. The Studebaker still has mighty good legs.
On Thursday before this year’s race , Augie and his dad were invited to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where famous vintage racers lapped the speedway as part of the pre-race activity for tomorrow’s Indianapolis 500.
“It was an epic day,” Augie said by phone. “We ran about 10 laps, pretty much as fast as the car would go. I think our average speed was not far below what the car achieved when it qualified at 113.678 in 1933. It was really fun for my dad and I to feel what the car was like near its maximum speed. In 1933, however, the car raced on bricks, not the smooth pavement like today.”
That night was capped by a dinner with multiple Indy winners such as Mario Andretti, Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves. Augie will have another lapping session before the Indy Lights race.
The straight eight engine of Number 34 has once again sent ripples of thunder across the Indiana plain, creating echoes that may linger in the grandstand for another 79 years. That’s what living history is all about.