Saturday, May 21, 2022

1973 - Offy Engine at Knoxville

Mel Cornett

Knoxville, Iowa (May 21, 1973) - Hey sprint car buffs! Remember the good old days when Offenhauser-powered racers cackled around Iowa’s dirt tracks, making enough racket to compare with two or three of today’s stock block engines?

Bobby Grim’s almost unbeatable Black Deuce probably rattled windows for blocks around the State Fairgrounds when he competed. And if he got a good bite of the track, anything within too feet behind it was splattered with dirt.

That was back before the Offy went the way of steam locomotives and whooping cranes - as far as sprint cars are concerned. There just aren’t many around anymore. There too expensive.

Well, Offy lovers, there is at least, one still in action. But its days are numbered.

A. J. Watson, chief mechanic for Mike Mosley’s Leader Card Specials at Indianapolis, recently knocked the dust off an Offy engine he’s had around for several years and put it in a sprint car.

It will compete at the United States Auto Club races at Knoxville, Iowa’s Marion County Fairgrounds on Saturday night June 2.

Ford Motor Company had a hand in getting this Offy “back on the road.”

“I got a good deal on the engine,” Watson said in a telephone interview from Indianapolis Sunday. “When Autolite (a Ford subsidiary) went out of the business of supporting racing, I bought it for $1,500.”

“Autolite used it for testing, and it was still in good shape. It. would cost $12,000 to buy the same engine today. They’re hand made. A Chevy engine costs about $2,000.

“Mr. Wilke (Ralph Wilke, president of Leader Cards of Milwaukee, Wis.) decided he wanted a sprint car this year as well as the Indy cars.”

So, we got one and I decided to stick the Offy engine in it. As far as I know, it is the only Offy-powered sprint car in the country.”

Because it is handmade, most parts are expensive to replace. “If I had to put a new crank in it, it would cost $2,500,” Watson said. “A crank for a Chevy engine costs $75 to $100. That’s why Offenhauser motors are no longer used in sprint cars.”

“If this one blows, I won’t replace it.”

Mel Cornett, 38, of Milwaukee, Wis., is the driver. “The Offy engine has 255 cubic inch displacement,” he said. “A Chevy (the most popular and economical stock block engine used in sprint cars today) has 305 and has more horsepower.”

“But, if I can start up front and really push it. I can do all right. I’ve won heat races in our last three outings. My best finish in a feature was ninth.”

Knoxville promoter Marion Robinson says the one-half mile dirt track there should be ideal for the Offy.

“Since it’s a night race and the track will have plenty of moisture, it should be able to get a good bite up high,” he explained. “If it does, look out.”

The car’s number is 98. But, it won’t be necessary to check that identification. Just listen. You’ll know when King Offy goes by.

Editor’s note: Mel Cornett would win the USAC 40-lap feature at Terre Haute, Ind., on June 10, 1973. It would be the last time that a sprint car, powered by an Offenhauser motor, would win a USAC-sanctioned sprint car race.

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