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you're on
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Lap 11


Victory Lap


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 !

...the "Offy" powered midget required much quicker reaction times from its driver...

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 to drive."

"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

Bridgehampton Road Race race red-flagged at 7th lap  

Floyd Bennett Field SCCA 1st heat: burnt piston lap 8


Southampton Airport 1st heat: engine blew lap 1


Grand Prix Nassau Clutch exploded during race


Le Mans Start Nassau broken transmission lap 3


"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

Another 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

Ice races Lake Naomi, PA 3rd in class, 1st Overall


Four hour endurance race Overall Win


Marlboro SCCA Div. race "C" Production class


1958 Aston Martin DB4

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

Photo 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

Photo by Harlan Hadley, courtesy VIR History Web Site

International Raceway
August 1957

Sy confers with
Gaston Andrey
next to the
1100cc Eleven.

under bonnet
Lotus Eleven
ca. 1957

Lotus Eleven in Competition

Aug 1957

Virginia International Raceway
 #241 Lotus Eleven G Sports ?

Oct 1957

Virginia international Raceway
President's Cup
 #241 Lotus Eleven F Sports 1st in Class


  Flipped car