1968 All American Racers Indy Eagle
In the history of motor racing, there have been thousands of cars that have taken to the track in competition. But what of the cars that never made it that far?
We have one such car at KMPR- a 1968 All American Racers Eagle MkIV. Originally purchased for $40,000 by Milwaukee's own Leader Card Racers team, fresh from winning the 1968 Indianapolis 500 with another Eagle MkIV, the chassis was used by the team's West Coast squad, run by Jud Phillips and 'Lil Red' Tom Herrmann.
We use the term 'used' very loosely, as on December 12, 1968, five days after the season-ending Rex Mays 300 at Riverside International Raceway, the newly crowned USAC IndyCar champion Bobby Unser took the wheel of the team's new unpainted Eagle MkIV during a Goodyear Tire-sponsored test at the same Riverside circuit.
Goodyear and Firestone often had test days during this era where the tire companies themselves not only paid for the track rental for the teams they backed, but often engine rebuilds as well.
For the test day, Unser's new Eagle used a 320ci Chevrolet small block engine, as the USAC rules for the upcoming 1969 season updated the stock block capacity from 305ci to 320ci, and the Leader Card team wanted to see if it could be competitive at Indianapolis via this test.
After a few gentle laps feeling out the car, Unser had a front hub break entering turn 1, hitting the steel rail on the inside of the track.
The December 18, 1968 National Speed Sport News quoted Unser as saying "I was just warming up and going only about 80 mph- fourth gear at 8,000 RPM- when suddenly near the starter's stand, the car started to wobble. I tried every way I knew to 'gather it up' but couldn't."
Again quoting NSSN, 'Unser said the Eagle "hit only once, but tore a steering arm off, and the car was badly damaged." Unser said metal parts jammed into the monocoque section of the car, cramming his foot against the throttle, with the engine winding up to maximum revs. He suffered a banged knee, was X-Rayed at a Riverside hospital, and released.'
The accident was observed by fellow drivers A.J Foyt, Parnelli Jones and David Pearson, all on-hand at the Goodyear test preparing for a stock car race in January, 1969.
From there, the wounded Eagle was taken back to the Leader Cards' west coast shop where it was stripped of all useful components and drive train- and briefly thrown in the dumpster, where crewman 'Lil Red' Herrman had his photo taken with it, but not before writing on Unser's pit board 'Merry X-Mas.' We've been told Herrmann later used the photo on a Christmas card.
Afterwords, it is believed the chassis was returned to All American Racers, where it stayed for several years before AAR's own Tom Beacham purchased the car circa 1973. It later passed on to Tom Beacham, Jr. before it went to Colorado's Jim Larkin.
In February 2011, Larkin sold the Eagle to Bryan Jedinak of the Cleveland area. Jedinak planned on installing a SB Ford with Weslake updates, but sold the project to KMPR in December, 2014. During Jedinak's three-year ownership of the car, he had the crash damage repaired in period-correct fashion, using a new front bulkhead and a new RF corner panel that is riveted into place with a seam rib for strength.
Between 2015-2020, the Eagle largely sat in our back room, awaiting a decision on what engine we thought best to install. The Ford proved to be a tight fit. A non-turbo Offy was thought of. But finally, we all thought a small block Chevy, as we heard it had, would work best.
It wasn't until late February 2020 that we saw the photo of 'Lil Red' with the wrecked car that matched the crash damage of this mystery Eagle- its chassis tag has not been seen since it crashed that day. The photo came to us via oldracingcars.com's Allen Brown, who found the photo in the Bobby Unser Collection at the Henry Ford Museum.
It floored us when we saw the image- 53 years had passed since the shot was taken, yet the lines of the wrecked chassis mirrored the damage seen in photos prior to its repair by Jedinak.
From there, a March 1st email went out to Leader Cards' own Mark Wilke, who positively identified Herrmann as a long time Leader Card mechanic under Jud Phillips' side of the Leader Card team.
The photo of 'Lil Red' helped us search for news of the time detailing the accident, and our good friend Steve Zautke came through in flying colors with two periodicals that gave us references of the accident, confirming its lineage that paralleled the stories we had heard about the car from previous owners. It also gave us that last bit of info that confirmed our direction- it ran a 320ci small block Chevy.
But what do you do with a race car that never raced?
You'll soon find out...