1977 All American Racers Eagle #7701
When the United States Auto Club started reducing the boost to the Drake-Offenhauser IndyCar powerplants in the mid-1970s, teams nvested in the engine either jumped ship to less-restricted Cosworth DFX, or went about trying to find other ways to make speed.
At Dan Gurney’s All American Racers, the motor department was firmly backing the Drake-Offys, as was the front office. So it was down to head designer Gary Wheeler and the man with his name on the door to figure out what the next Eagle iteration for the 1977 USAC Championship season would look like. In the end, it would be like no other Eagle before or since.
What Dan Gurney and Gary Wheeler devised was a narrow, offset chassis that punched a tiny hole in the air, all-the-while increasing corner speeds due to its design that already put an increase in weight to the left of center. In the end, it would be 10” narrower than the previous iteration of Indianapolis Eagles. The top and side surfaces would act as bodywork. Additional pieces of bodywork such as the nose, cowl and fairings would be made from aluminum, and the magnesium wheels themselves would be so offset that the suspension hubs and uprights would be contained within the wheels. Finally, thanks to some slimming down on pieces, it would weigh in just over the USAC mandated 1500 lb. weight rule.
The Drake-Offenhauser of choice for this venture would be the 19 ͦ double-pump variety, turned out by AAR motor guru John Miller to a degree that would make a common 19-degree Drake-Offy look like something second-hand. A complete jewel, complete with AAR-spec external water-rails to try to keep the Offy cool during the grueling events ahead of it where it would be pushed to the max to try to compete. A new car and an engine pushed beyond its original design. AAR was all-in on the effort.
The driver of choice was young Duane ‘Pancho’ Carter, ready to start his sophomore year at AAR after a season that placed the Wisconsin-native 12th in the USAC standings.
The new car debuted on December 16th, 1976, wrapped up like a Christmas present and unwrapped by Dan Gurney himself, decked out as Santa Claus. It shined under the California sun, still in bare aluminum for all to take in the wild new shape of things to come from Santa Ana. A month later, the car took in its first laps at a private test at Ontario Motor Speedway.
The test concluded that an early wheel tried out by AAR proved to be ill-suited to the speeds that the car, nicknamed by Gurney as ‘The Sidehack,’ was obtaining. However, the car showed massive potential. When Carter took his foot off the throttle, the car didn’t seem to slow down the way the 7400 model Eagle had- it was less affected by the air it was passing through. It also had no issue eclipsing the fastest time Carter ran just a few months earlier with the prior model. All signs were pointing up.
At its first race, the March 6, 1977 Datsun Twin 200’s, the Sidehack started 7th and finished a credible 3rd, one lap down. The next event, the April 2 Texas Grand Prix held at Texas World Speedway, the #48 Jorgensen entry qualified fourth and led 11 laps. Unfortunately, on lap 82 of the 100 lap event, the engine went. The strains of the age-proven Drake-Offy were starting to show through the cracks, not just with the lone AAR entry, but all the way down the results sheet. USAC’s rules grossly favored the Cosworth while the Offys were working too hard to keep up, and failing in the process.
The April 30 Trenton 200 saw the Sidehack start 6th, but fell out near the end with suspension issues. With less than a month before the Indianapolis 500, things were still unknown- the new Eagle had only made it to the end of one event, and that was 40% of the distance of Indianapolis.
The month of May showed that the Sidehack had the speed, qualifying 8th for the event, but even Dan Gurney himself admitted the week of the race that the Drake-Offy was being pushed to the max to try to keep up with the Cosworths, and that they had two Cosworths on order to test in the fall with the car. The Sidehack would be the final AAR-factory entry with a Drake-Offenhauser engine.
On race day at Indianapolis for the 61st 500 Mile International Sweepstakes, Carter diced early with Mario Andretti in Penske Racing’s Cam 2-backed McLaren for sixth position and was running comfortably in the top-ten before the engine went up in a puff of smoke on lap 156. It was credited with a 15th place finish.
As the summer of ’77 wore on, the car always qualified well, but finishes were few-and-far between. A 5th-place-finish at the Rex Mays 150 at Milwaukee and a 3rd at the July 31st American Parts 200 at Texas World Speedway were the lone results. Engine and gearbox issues filled out the schedule, and Carter was starting to voice his displeasure.
Finally, things came to a head at the September 4th California 500. In qualifying, the suspension failed, but Carter somehow finished his run, qualifying 24th, obviously far off where he qualified in the Spring event. He was beyond furious and got out of the car without talking to anyone. He got back in on race day and cut through the field with ease, showing the potential the car had been showing. But, on lap 154, he had to park it. The Offy was out of breath- overheating was the final result for the Sidehack Eagle. Carter promptly left the team for the Morales Brothers' ride and that was the end of the line for the Sidehack.
The Cosworth test never happened for #7701. The car’s designer was no longer on staff and John Ward was already penning up its replacement. The car did run one last time however- after the California 500, it was used along a few other Indy cars from the event for footage of the motion picture ‘The Betsy.’ There-after, it stayed within the All American Racers collection until late 2021, when it found its way to Kettle Moraine Preservation & Restoration.