Welcome: 1977 AAR Eagle #7701
On July 27, 1975, a racing transporter showed up at Rick Dresang’s Riverside Service shop in downtown Plymouth, Wisconsin. The team in question had just got done running at Elkhart Lake’s Road America round of the SCCA F5000 championship. It was a day that wasn’t fondly recalled by the squad after a suspension breakage in a heat race with their state-of-the-art car. Upon leaving the track, matters got even worse, as they had a wheel bearing failure on the transporter and needed a place to remedy the situation, and quickly- as heavy rains had moved in late in the afternoon.
So it was that Rick Dresang usually kept his shop open on race weekends for racers to use in case of big issues- a lift and fully-equipped shop came in quite handy. As Dresang was a massive racing fan, there was no fee for racers using the shop, but a coffee can was there with ‘Donations’ written on it should the team in question feel the need to reimburse for the assistance.
On that late afternoon, Dan Gurney’s All American Racers team transporter, adorned with Jorgensen Steel logos came limping down Hwy 67, stopping at the intersection of Mill St. A member of the team came in and asked if they could use the shop. Dresang tossed him the keys to the place and said he was running out for dinner, showed him where all the tools were, where new wheel bearings were kept and mentioned if they finished, to just leave the keys on top of the soda machine.
When Dresang returned from dinner later in the evening, the team was just wrapping up- they had swapped the wheel bearing and were ready to head out. Dresang saw them off and locked up. When he came back to work on Monday morning, he opened the door and the wind blew the donation can over, and $300 came out.
In November, 2021, a gust of wind again came blowing in. This time, from Santa Ana, and in the form of All American Racers’ 1977 AAR Eagle #7701, a car Dan Gurney lovingly nicknamed ‘The Sidehack’ for its asymmetrical-chassis design. The Dresang family’s Kettle Moraine Preservation & Restoration will be its home-away-from-home for the near future, as the car longed to return to flight. Under the leadership of KMPR’s Paul Jay as it lead caretaker, it proudly will.
‘The Sidehack’ is the same Jorgensen blue as the 1975 F5000 Eagle that was in that transporter that day- an AAR factory-run car. But this one-off Eagle was never destined for road racing- its mission was to triumph on the large ovals of USAC Indy Car competition- competition that was starting to overwhelm with early Cosworth DFX motors, which were starting to align themselves perfectly with USAC’s ever-tightening rule book.
But Dan Gurney and chief designer Gary Wheeler were never ones to align themselves with any rule book. Victory is always found in the margins, and an advantage sought comes in the form of seeking out answers beyond what is already known. So it was, ‘The Sidehack’ became the last USAC Indy Car to be asymmetrical in chassis design, something that was not in vogue during the winged era of the sport. It was also one of the narrowest cars on the grid in 1977, packing a minuscule hole in the air. It had to, as it was using the 19° 159 c.i. Drake-Offenhauser that USAC kept restricting turbo boost to. It would prove to be fast in the hands of Duane ‘Pancho’ Carter at banked ovals on the schedule, but Carter quit the team after the Cal 500 and moved on to Morales Racing’s Alex Foods’ squad.
After the nine races where it went into battle as AAR’s lone entry, Eagle #7701 became the last All American Racers creation to have a Drake-Offenhauser power plant. It was the lone car that AAR used the combination of Gary Wheeler as lead designer and Jack McCormick as chief mechanic. For all of its one-off traits as a transitional car between two designers who would leave long legacies at AAR, Eagle #7701 was also on the cusp of what Gurney later nicknamed ‘BLAT,’ but that was to be shelved for another time, and another very distinctive model.
Although KMPR is going to be the caretaker of #7701 going forward at its Hubertus, Wisconsin shop, the Eagle’s home will forever be 2334 S. Broadway in Santa Ana. Since September 1977 when it last touched the racing surface of Ontario, a track lost to time, #7701 has been stationed in All American Racers’ private museum, still showing all the race battle scars of its final day of competition. It’ll stay that way- it is a complete time capsule in every sense of the word. But soon, it’ll fly again.