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Recollections of racing a TR3 at Meadowdale
December 23rd 2006 - A road course track once had great visions in Carpentersville, IL

The horizon tilts as if you were coming out of a steep turn in an F86 Sabre jet fighter. The buffeting you feel is from pocked paving, not air pockets. You try to miss the biggest bumps as you pick your way around the steep banking of the Monza Wall at 100 mph. Then it's over, the horizon levels out and the 3/4 mile long front straightaway beckons.

The date is October 31, 1965. It's the final event of my first season of racing, maybe my third or fourth road race ever. And here I am at the legendary Meadowdale International Raceway, running a Midwestern Council of Sports Car Clubs enduro race on the long course.

My mount is an almost stock Triumph TR3, an open sports car with a fairly powerful 2 liter engine rumored to be of agricultural origins. TR3s were fast in a straight line, but a bit lacking in the finesse department. They were very narrow for their height, which made them want to roll over. (Mine had already happened at Wilmot, so I had that out of the way.)

We had the mandatory Monroe Machine Works rollbar and Rupert seatbelts installed, and had made some demon racing tweaks (STP in the lever shocks, muffler ripped off, new Michelin X's). In my borax-dipped Sala Sport driver suit, open-faced Bell helmet and rubber rimmed ex-airforce goggles, we were going at it!

Back to that main straight. I had heard that big cars topped 150 mph and tended to fly when they hit the dips in those pre-spoiler days. There was little danger of that in my TR3. "Lift about halfway down the straight, to breath your engine", was a tip given us by one of the old hands. I always wondered if that was really necessary, or just a way to handicap the rookies a bit until they learned better. I never lifted, just kept it floored all the way down that 4,000 foot haul. The little tractor motor just kept plowing along.

The main straight ended with the Little Monza, a fast right-hand banked downhill turn. I don't recall it being particularly frightening, though perhaps at that stage I just didn't know any better. Or was braking much more than necessary going into it. I certainly had reason to be respectful of the Little Monza. Earlier in the season, I did my first ever stint as a corner worker there. A big yellow Corvette lost control and ended up atop the 4' concrete barrier that edges the turn. I think they stopped the race and about 20 guys had to physically lift the car off the wall and back down onto the pavement.

Clearing the Little Monza, you accelerated past the white "Pure" silo, but I cannot say I distinctly remember the left-hand bend and the right hander that followed. The uphill that followed that, however, is firmly etched in my mind. The stock TR3 really struggled up that incline. The fast guys, particularly one white sedan - a goddam 4-door sedan, mind you - blasted by me like I was anchored.

Learned later that the little white sedan was an Alfa Romeo Guilia Super TI hot rod piloted by Horst Kwech, recently from Australia and soon to be a champion driver in the Trans-Am series. He lapped me four or five times in that one hour race! Maybe that is part of why I bought an Alfa the next season and raced them for most of the next 35 years!

Anyhow, the hill slowed me enough so that the left-hand bend that followed it was no big thing. I'd be lying through my teeth if I said I remember taking a textbook line through any of these turns. I still had a lot to learn. But I did get pretty good at watching my mirrors. There was much more speed differential at Meadowdale than at Wilmot or Lynndale Farms.

Aside from a mid-turn dip that unsettled the car, I have no strong memories of the series of bends that went past the pond and around the back of the Monza Wall. What came next, though, did leave an impression. You were still hung out on the sweeping right hander behind the Monza Wall when you went up a short rise and over one of the pedestrian tunnels. This ramp launched the car and deposited it down about six feet (well, maybe not that much, but it sure felt like 6 feet) toward the high timber wall that kept race cars from falling onto the spectators below. That got your attention.

Back under control, a fairly long straight took you to a left hand bend that set you up all wrong for Doane's Corner. This 180 degree plus turn was the one that spooked me. It seemed to go on and on, and you could not see what was ahead. For some reason I recall watching the flaggers every time around, as if I was expecting to come upon a flaming wreck and wanted to see their warning. In retrospect, I would have gone faster in Doane's if I had paid more attention to the track.

Once out of Doane's, another straight takes you back to the Monza Wall. This straight Siamesed with the one leading into Doane's, but I do not recall seeing the oncoming traffic. Perhaps there was a barrier, or the roads were on different levels (or I still had the novice's tunnel vision).

You ran flat out onto the Monza Wall, at least in a stock TR3. Every lap I enjoyed the tilting horizon phenomenon. I recall trying a number of lines around the wall, looking for the smoothest groove. You had to crane your neck upward to see what was ahead, and your mirrors showed only pavement, so faster cars sometimes snuck up on you on the Wall. I do not recall being forced out of position by either centrifugal force or gravity, just coping with the normal skittishness of a TR3 on a very rough surface.

Then we're back on the front straight. I guess I must have seen some pit signals and a checkered flag, but those are lost in the fog of 35+ years. Old records show Horst Kwech won that race and I was in the bottom half of the field. But no matter. I'd raced at Meadowdale, finished, and was able to drive the car home. I recall that drive home because the TR3's lights crapped out. It probably had all its wires shaken loose on the famous Monza Wall. And it was British, after all.

In 1965, in addition to Meadowdale, Midwestern Council of Sports Car Clubs was racing at Wilmot Hills, a tiny 1-mile track on the grounds of what is now Wilmot Mountain Ski Resort, Lynndale Farms, a nice 2-mile track at Pewaukee, WI, and State Fair Park in Milwaukee.

None of the other MC tracks prepared you for the extreme speed and confining track perimeters of Meadowdale. Meadowdale had very little run-off area on most of its serious turns. Drivers and race officials moaned and groaned about that at the time. Ironically, this configuration is now the norm at new pro tracks, with some older tracks like Elkhart Lake now artificially hemmed in by concrete barriers.

Meadowdale sat idle during 1966. In 1967, I taught at my first driver school there and raced there once or twice in an Alfa, though both those races were on the shortened 2.2 mile course with the top of the Monza Wall blocked off as too rough to use. Midwestern Council ran there once again in 1968, on the little north end course and then cancelled a late year date because the track was un-raceable. The shortened courses, while fun, did not hold a candle to the excitement of racing on the full 3.27 mile course that was the essence of Meadowdale International Raceway.

RIP, MIR.
Ross Fosbender
 
Further Resources:
http://www.meadowdaleraceway.homestead.com