ART ARFONS / GREEN
MONSTER: TED GROFF
Ted Groff is the son
Groff, a long-time friend of Art Arfons' who was on the "Green Monster"
crew for all Art's LSR runs at Bonneville in 1964, 1965 and 1966. Ted
was himself a grown man at the time and has his own memories of Art as
well. I interviewed him
phone at his winter home in Florida on July 9, 2009.
[Ted says that
“all kinds of literature and stuff, but it’s in Ohio.” Newspaper articles, photos,
from out on the salt flats. “Some guy in an airplane took one.” ]
Art dumped that car at 600 mile
an hour in , and they went up
to get it. And the funny thing of it was that this one guy, it sounds
like he’s crying, and it’s Ed Snyder. And my dad, you’d have to know
his voice changed about three octaves. And he says, “Well, we’re here.
better get out.” But he never talked that way. It was very deep, and
this was all
caught on film, with sound.
your dad and Ed
Snyder are in a car, they’ve driven down the salt...
Well, I think
they’re in the bus, or the big truck or
something, there were 3 or 4 of them there. And so when they brought it
smashed racer] home my dad called me, because my dad and I used to go
Indianapolis all the time and we would take movies and we would bring
home, especially after an accident, and we would try to dissect it to
out why and how this guy got hurt. And so my dad called me when he got
he said, “If you want to see the car you’d better come over here. We’re
to get rid of it.” So I went over and I crawled up on the bed of the
and I’m crawling around underneath there looking, and I whistled, and
came out of the garage and he says, “What!” And I said, “Did Art hit a
He said, “No.” I said, “Did he hit a pole?” He said, “No! Why?” I said,
up under the front of this thing and look.” Art had a Packard, about
solid steel axle in the front. From left to center it was perfect, but
center over it looked like somebody had cut it with a razor and it was
up like a corkscrew. And so Pappy got out from under it real quick and
in there and he says, “Art! Come look what Ted found!” And Art comes
says, “What’d you find now?” And I say, “Look here. What the hell did
And he crawls up under there and looks and he says, “I’ll be damned. I
what that sound was.” Do you know what a wheel bearing sounds like when
out? Well, when you’re going down the road in your car it’’ go, chit-chit...chit. And then finally it’ll
bite, it’ll go eeeeee. Art says, “I
was doing right around 600 mile an hour, a little over, and I heard a cheeeuuu, and I’m upside down.” And I
said, “You shittin’.” And he said “No.” And I said, “The damn bearing
welded to the spindle.” That’s what rolled him over.
ask about Bug
Groff’s background.] Had be retired as a painter when he started
No, he kept
the business. When they weren’t out running
he’d still run the business. My dad was a little short guy, five-four,
had a temper like dynamite. A very short fuse. [Goes on to relate how
into trouble touring in Europe with
He was driving the truck in Italy,
hauling the Green Monster, and was stopped and the flares he was
emergencies the authorities mistook for dynamite. Bud was arrested and
the station and had to explain that these things were really flares,
you needed to carry them in America
when you were driving a truck. They let him go.]
don’t know....They wanted him to run it on the
Autobahn, but he wouldn’t do it.
Art with your
Oh yeah. Him
and Art took the car over there.
verify that Bud’s
real name was Nyles Groff. I ask about his nicknames.]
The guys in
the motorcycle bunch called him “Red,” the
painters called him “Bud,” and all the guys that knew me and run in our
including Art, called him “Pappy.” And the painters called him “Jerry.”
name was Nyles. [Ted later mentions that he’d heard lots of stories of
stuff his dad did on motorcycles when he was young.]
Art called him
Yeah, Art and
them called him that.
he was kind of
short and had a big mustache, right?
He was five
foot four and had a handlebar, yeah. As long
as I knew him he had a handlebar mustache.
just to make
sure, your dad was a house painter, right?
Yes sir. He
helped start the union.
[I ask whether
Bud was in WW2. Ted says that he was; that
he was drafted despite his age, having just one good eye, two bad knees
bad back.] So they took him into the army and he totally refused to
shot a gun.
For the reason that, when he was a kid, a couple of his uncles had him
one uncle loaded up a gun and said to him, “Shoot that thing right down
and he shot at it and it went over and almost hit his other uncle. And
turned out the barrel was bent.” Ted says he had a shotgun, but he had
it down totally to take it into the house. “That’s how much Pappy was
guns. He would always say that no one would ever attack the United States
because everyone had a gun, and the guy that did had enough to give
on the block one. Well I love guns, but he didn’t.
after getting drafted they put him in the
medics. His whole company was getting ready to go overseas, and when
their last physical to go this doctor looked at him and said, “My God
did you get into the army?” And Pappy said, “Oh don’t know. They just
me. I told them I was screwed up.” And the doctor said, “Well, with
and your back and you got only one eye to see with, that ain’t right.”
kept him in California,
and they put him into I guess you’d call it the motor pool, but in the
I told you he
was a little short guy and a character.
Well, one day the inspecting general was inspecting the base and he
the paint shop, and he says, “How do you know what’s in these cans?
no labels on them.” And Pappy says, “I know. I can smell ‘em and I can
what’s in every one of ‘em.” And that’s the way he done stuff.
your dad had only
one good eye. Did he have a glass eye?
No. The other
eye was there and it was a normal eye. [It
was Bud’s left eye that didn’t work.] He finally went to a specialist
because he was
going blind in his good eye and the doctor asked him what happened to
eye. Bud said he could see light with it and maybe the odd shadow with
that it had been like that since he was a kid. [Bud couldn’t remember
happened to damage his eye when he was a kid. Ted asked his uncle what
happened to Bud’s eye and got the story. He said that when they were
playing baseball a line drive or something hit Bud in the left eye and
this could have been what damaged it.]
[I ask whether
Bud had a background in racing. Ted says
that his experience had been mainly on motorcycles. He’d also had a
Model T, all souped up, when he was young. I ask where Bud was living
early 1960s and how he got associated with Art Arfons. Ted says he was
had known the Arfons going way back. “My dad used to go to the Arfons
get grain and stuff. And so he knew Art’s dad real well, and he knew
seeing him there.”]
kind of guy was
He was a good
guy, a character. He done everything and
anything. He was a good guy. Well, his wife lives right there by Art’s
accompany Art on all his Bonneville trips?
[Art, Ed and Bud] were together all the time.
And then there was Charlie [Mayenschein], who got killed, car hit him
head on. Charlie was a
hell of a nice guy. And there was a tall skinny guy who wore glasses
can’t remember his name to save my life [Henry Butkiewicz]. But I
remember Charlie because he really
When one of
the wheels [i.e. a big wheel] from Firestone
came out to see Art, he asked if he should send an engineer out to make
blueprints for the car. And Art looked at him and said, “For what?” And
said, “Well, so you can build the car.” And Art says, “I only got one
guy on my
crew that can read blueprints. None of the rest of us can.” And that
your dad could
Oh yeah. See,
he was a paint contractor.
work off blueprints.
Well, I wasn’t
there, but that’s what was said.
actually help build the car too?
Oh yeah. He’d
go there every night. He spent a tremendous
amount of time there.
get paid for helping Art, did he? He did it just as a volunteer, just
because he loved it?
That’s it. As
far as I know he never made a nickel on it.
[Ted goes on
to relate the story when a newsman
rides along with Art in the Green Monster in the late '60s and the car
crashes and the guy is
killed. In Ted’s version the newsman sneaks into the second cockpit,
unbeknownst to Art. Bud was there.] Well, Art dumped the car. And my
to Garth Hardacre, “Get the truck.” And there were some officials and
there and he got mad and said, “Get these people out of here.” And
going to winch the car up onto the truck and get it outta there,
dead. That’s it. The car’s laying on that side. And Pappy said that
went to get the truck he’s standing there looking and the dirt started
and he said it was just like a God-damned rat trying to climb out of a
Art was about
six foot and Pappy was five four. And so he
called me and said, “Meet us at the Akron-Canton Airport.
Art wrecked the
car, and he don’t know it, but there was a guy killed. He snuck in the
cockpit.” And so everything was cool. Art was sore and hurt and that,
everything was cool—till he got on the telephone and he called someone.
in the booth after Pappy did. Pappy didn’t know who he called. So I
went out to
the airport, and June and maybe Timmy was there to pick Art up. And
in with me and we come home and he said, “Everything was fine until he
someone. I had to lug him through the airport after that, because
him this guy was killed in the car.”
Art was very
soft-hearted. He was a very, very nice guy. I
mean really. He would do favors for everybody. You really had to know
was really a prince. But Pappy said, “You should have saw it, me as
little as I
am, carrying his big ass through the airport.” He said that as soon as
found that out, he just wilted.
Art crashed in
1966, it hit Ed Snyder hard. He didn’t want to be involved with Art in
speed racing after that. How did it affect your dad? Did it turn him
No. No. After
that Ed changed a hell of a lot, but it
didn’t change Pappy. He was cool. The only thing that turned him off
Art quit running the car and started running the tractor. He said, “I
no God-damned tractors. I ain’t goin’ with you.” No, but Ed did change
ask about Bud’s
He minded his
own business. But if push come to shove he
wouldn’t back down. He’d fight a damned gorilla and get whipped and
tomorrow. I’m telling you, he was five four and a stick of dynamite.
I’ve got some
documents from Humpy Wheeler, written to my
dad over him and Art showing up down there. And like I said, a few
stuff. But Timmy [Tim Arfons] would have more tapes [movies] than
anybody....Timmy’s a hell
of a nice guy. A little quiet, but he’s really a nice kid.
[At the end of
the interview, speaking of the obsession
with racing, Ted says: “Once that crap gets in your blood, it’s in
all nuts over shit like that. Only some of us quit and some of us
still screw around, but I shouldn’t.”]