Thu, Jun 25, 2009
Your phone call re Infinity
for your call the other day. I'm sorry I couldn't
respond to your first call. I had a number of messages on my machine,
stopped recording your call before you had left a phone number or email
address. I think it ran out of memory space.
Vic Elischer told me that you had contacted him. I
would be happy to relate to you my experiences with the Infinity team.
I did not keep a logbook or diary of events as they happened, nor did I
any photos. We were just too busy to do any of that....and all I
various episodes or vignettes as I experienced them...
most efficient thing to do, I think, would be for me to
answer any specific questions you might have to the best of my ability
email. I could also send you an email or a series of emails, just
events as I remember them..
I hope I can be of service to you.
* * *
Thu, Jun 25, 2009
Your phone call re Infinity
very much for getting back to me, Tom. I got some
great material from Vic, and would really like to hear your memories
also interviewed Tom Hanna, who was a friend of Glenn Leasher’s back in
Kansas, and Bill Kaska, a
friend of Glenn’s in San
book I’m writing, by the way, is called “Speed Duel,”
and focuses on the land speed record in the 1960s. Breedlove and Arfons
main figures, but I’m covering the other LSR contenders as well, and am
a whole chapter to Infinity and her crew. The book will be published by
Books in Sept. 2010.
by e-mail would suit me fine. If you don’t
mind, then, I’ll just hit you with a list of questions. Please feel
answer any of them that you want, and to skip any that you want too.
were you born? Could you give me a little background on
yourself? Are you nisei or sansei Japanese-American?
and how did you get involved in the Infinity jet car?
What were you doing at the time? (Cal Tech engineering student, right?)
seen newspaper reports of the crash that say that Glenn
Leasher had been married for six months, but no one I’ve talk to can
if he was married or not. Can you recall? I’m wondering about any
the widow he left behind.
do you recall of that first trip to the salt flats in
August 1962, to test the car? Vic says the tests went well and you all
Bonneville feeling very confident. He also recalls running the car that
night in the moonlight.
are your memories of Glenn Leasher as a driver?
told me about some concerns he had about Glenn as the
driver; that he wasn’t following the plan; that there was something of
on the team with Vic and you on one side, wanting careful testing and
incremental speed build-ups, and Glenn and Romeo on the other, who kind
didn’t like you university guys interfering in how the car was being
do you remember about this?
were you feeling when you returned to the salt in Sept.
1962 to go for the record? Pretty confident that you were going to
are your memories about the crash itself? I gather you
were following in the truck with Vic. What do you think caused the
you know what became of Glenn’s remains? Where was he
did you go on to do?
I’d love to read about any other things that you
might recall from those times, i.e. stories, interesting episodes, etc.
* * *
Sun, Jun 28, 2009
Infinity first installment
been thinking and thinking about your 11 questions, and
printed them out, in order to have them easily at hand......They evoke
memories, many good, some bad, all poignant...
answer the easiest ones first, and tackle the tougher
ones in their turn, later:
"When were you born?.....". I was born on May
5th, 1940, in Honolulu,
father was issei, and my mother
nisei, so I think the convention is that I would be sansei.
"Do you know what became of Glenn's remains?".
I do not know, for certain, what was done with them. (Just after the
as a team offered to do a complete cleanup of the site, but were
touch anything, because of the impending accident investigation by the
Highway Patrol. The track officials seemed to want us away from the
urging us to leave for home as soon as possible. They weren't unfeeling
unkind, but definitely had a protocol they had to follow...). I
the question some short time after our return to the Bay Area,
answer, maybe, but can't reliably remember what it was.....(I'll
in the answer to #8, soon).....All of this is extremely painful,
"...Glenn Leasher had been married for six
months....". I don't know anything about this. The subject never came
between Glenn and me...I assumed that she (I can't even recall her
though I can picture her, if I close my eyes) was his girlfriend, but
basis in fact to discriminate girlfriend/wife....
remember that she was a nice person, undemanding, easy to
be around...Just a pleasant person...She wasn't around the shop
I recall, but might have been, lending a hand...( I definitely have
vision about this time period, mainly remembering things connected to
tasks and responsibilities). Even after she later brought suit (or
started the process - I don't know whether she actually carried through
against the remaining members of the Infinity partnership (Harry Burge,
Elischer, Romeo Palamides), none of us could feel any ill will toward
news media reports about Infinity were so full of errors
of detail, that we gave up on even trying to correct them.....partly
though we weren't being deliberately secretive - it's just that we were
small team, so intensely busy, that we didn't have time to communicate
stop this first installment here.
like to mention probably the most important idea about
Infinity, though, that is central to an understanding of all that
and Untouchable need to be thought of as
"sister automobiles" (kind of like the way, say, aircraft carriers of
the same specifications were built during WW2, and were thereafter
to be "sister ships").
was the older, the team learned many lessons
from her (Romeo about chassis, wheels/tires, parachutes, Vic about
running the afterburner, etc.), and these lessons were incorporated
Infinity, the "younger, glamorous one". This is why Infinity was so
utterly trouble-free and so easily reached the low-300mph area.
team certainly had very significant experience at the
time in routinely running near 300 mph with Untouchable on drag strips,
seeya, Sam! .....more soon...t.
* * *
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Re: Your phone call re Infinity....(First response
from Tom F.)
very much for your e-mail, Tom. I really appreciate
that you have taken the time respond so thoughtfully. There has been so
misinformation circulated about Infinity, as you say, and it's
wonderful to get
the real story straight from you and Vic, who know better than anyone
hadn't heard about the lawsuit that Glenn Leasher's widow
filed or started to file.
couple more questions, Tom, if I could: Were you a hot
rodder before getting involved in the jet car project? And did Glenn's
change you in any way? (i.e. did it turn you off racing; did it lead to
career decisions; etc.)
* * *
Thu, Jul 2, 2009
Infinity....(Second installment from Tom F.)
for responding to my first installment. (Good to
confirm that this "email stuff" is in working order!)...
my second installment:
# 2: "When and how did you get involved in the
Infinity jet car? What were you doing at the time?...
first about Caltech. I had gained admission there, but
attended only a few months, then dropped out just before flunking out.
myself 95%, Caltech 5% (65% of my entering class dropped out before
there, though - today's retention rate is 90%+, so they probably made
changes in their teaching methods to go from 35% retained to 90%+!)....
I'm the farthest thing from a "Caltech
engineer"...a "Longtime Car Enthusiast" is more like it....or
maybe "A Science Groupie"!
got involved with Untouchable first, then Infinity through
my long-term friendship with Vic.
had been friends ever since Jr. High school in Berkeley,
were in the Boy Scouts together, in High School, and later, a bit in
college....(Vic is the real thing, though - after passing-up college
for a few
years after high school, he dropped back in and did superbly at U.C.
He had been working at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory as a tech, and
maybe the most prestigious scholarship in the U.S. - the A.E.C.(Atomic
Commission) Scholarship, it is very large monetarily, and only one is
is probably not the most ultimately brilliant guy I've
known (you run into multiple Nobelmen at places like Caltech and UC
but no one can match his drive and work ethic, and his combination of
drive and toughness is just about unsurpassable......
had been involved with the Untouchable team (Romeo,
Harry Burge, and the then-driver, Archie Lederbrand) for some time,
showed me what they were doing. Vic's role was to get the engine
reliably, including the afterburner, substituting mechanical car-type
for the largely electronic controls in the F-86 aircraft. Lots of
aircraft mechanics said it couldn't be done, especially the afterburner
inspiration for this jet car partnership was due mainly
to Romeo, and it was his dream to later go for the LSR. (The business
to eventually run Untouchable and Infinity (hopefully holding the LSR)
on drag strips
around the country).
was the financier (he was a very successful
businessman, and owned the Vaca Valley Raceway at the time).....He was
guy in that role - even-tempered, unfailingly a nice person, generous
was a quiet older guy, very competent, fast and
tough, who drove Untouchable through the development and shakedown
on the dragstrips to very fast times for that period.
memory stands out, from my first contact with Romeo.
and I went to his home on MacArthur
Blvd. in Oakland, where the first thing that
attention was a sleek, fully-enclosed racer on the west side of his
garage. The body was raw aluminum but complete, the chassis was in
condition, and a nonfunctional engine was installed for mockup purposes.
I asked about it, Romeo became very enthusiastic and
said that he had shaped the body according to the coke-bottle forms of
latest American jet fighter planes. It was intended for racing at
but he was selling it to help finance the jet car(s).
I thought it was too messy a shape, and wouldn't
work....Stupid me - the guys who bought it (Hammon, McGrath and Whipp)
developed it, virtually unchanged in outward form, into maybe the most
successful Bonneville racer of all time, "The Redhead", setting
numerous records in many different classes. This car, which still
is a living monument to Romeo's brilliance as a designer and
pleases me tremendously that Romeo lived to see his car
do so well at Bonneville....
Vic wanted me around as an unpaid volunteer (they
picked-up expenses for meals, gas, etc.) and as a sounding board for
totally open criticisms, etc., etc. Kind of like his wingman....
back, it amazes me that they were so accepting and
tolerant as to even allow an unknown quantity like me anywhere near
projects.....but that was Harry and Romeo - nice guys, open, honest and
accepting.....but probably very cannily watching my every move out of
corner of their eyes! At least at the
is more about this subject, but I'll return to it
* * *
Fri, Jul 3, 2009
Infinity...(third installment from Tom E.)
hope all is ok with you...
tackle question #12 next:
"Were you a hot rodder before getting involved in
the jet car project?".
wasn't a hot rodder, though I had some small contact with
that world through Vic and another friend of ours, Dick Adachi, who
hot rods based on '34 Ford 3-window coupes.
was just interested in nice, reliable transportation and
worked on my own completely stock cars....The first car I bought, a
Packard roadster, had a ruined engine, and I rebuilt it to get it
going. I also
occasionally helped Vic, who was perpetually exploding transmissions
ends with that powerful Pontiac
also read car magazines voraciously, especially sports car
mags, and had a special interest in LSR cars and the Bonneville Speed
remember especially reading about the Frank Lockhart Blackhawk Special,
Seagrave's car, the Malcolm Campbell Bluebird(s), Capt. Eyston's
and the Railton-Napier Special, of course. The Mercedes T-34 (? Is that
was called?)...The Auto-Union LSR runs on the autobahns.....even the
little Lloyd streamliners....(I'm afraid I'm mangling some of these
the cars Vic and Dick built strongly
reflected their personalities - Dick's had a lighter Chevy Corvette
Vic's had a heavier Pontiac Bonneville 389 tri-power engine. Vic's was
fast, with brutish handling, while Dick's was slower but more elegant
easier to drive...
also went through school with us and also lent a hand,
later, building infinity.
years later, Vic and Dick were top-flight electronic
engineers (both graduates of UC Berkeley). (By the way, UC Berkeley, in
opinion, is easily the greatest university in the US,
above places like MIT, Caltech,
Harvard, etc. None of those places has anything remotely like Berkeley's
Lawrence Berkeley Lab, Lawrence Livermore Lab, or the Los Alamos Lab,
recruited Dick and me, and we all worked together at TRW
Financial Systems, where Vic was VP of engineering, for a number of
really interesting side note....
everything was over with Infinity, Vic discovered that
Reid Railton, designer of John Cobb's car (was it called the
Mobil Special? - I can't remember anymore...) lived just a few blocks
house he grew up in, in Berkeley....I think Vic also got to spend some
talking with Mr. Railton....!!!!
about this time, the Cobb LSR car was displayed at
Brooks Hall in San Francisco
at the SF Car Show..
body was displayed off the chassis, and it was a thrill
to study every detail we could see! Those so-thin hand-forged
with the hammer-marks all over them!!!!
jumping around in time, but I have to mention some of
Vic's inventiveness, car-wise.
of the Infinity volunteers owned a transmission shop,
and ran a strong sedan on the dragstrips. He was complaining about
windup, hopping and losing traction, and Vic on the spot designed what
be called "traction bars" for him.
reasoning was that he wanted to control the hopping
and simultaneously exert a moment to elevate the front of the car,
weight to the rear axle and thereby improving traction. It was an
to attack three problems at once with one solution...
(I think that was his name) quickly installed them on
his car, went a lot faster, and soon lots of guys were copying these
Sometimes, I would see pictures of cars in magazines with those bars
underneath, and it would be funny to remember that afternoon in Jim's
when Vic invented them on the fly.....