Tony Adamowicz Road America preview

It's 40 Years Later, Can The Eagle And Adamowicz Do It Again? ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- When you're dealing with a museum piece, life can be frustrating. Consider the case of Tony Adamowicz, 68, a "semi"-retired professional race driver from Costa...

It's 40 Years Later, Can The Eagle And Adamowicz Do It Again?

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- When you're dealing with a museum piece, life can be frustrating. Consider the case of Tony Adamowicz, 68, a "semi"-retired professional race driver from Costa Mesa, Calif.

Adamowicz, who drove the Gurney Eagle Mk5 Formula 5000 car to a pro series championship in 1969, has been given the opportunity to drive that very same race car again in competition, 40 years later.

Retired guys don't normally get opportunities like this. Yet, the current owner of this historic Gurney Eagle, the Riverside International Automotive Museum (RIAM), of Riverside, Calif., thought it would be a terrific idea to enter the restored Eagle in a series of four historic races this year, organized by the Historic Formula 5000 Registry.

In the first of the four races in the series at Fontana, Calif., this spring, Adamowicz, starting from last place, drove to victory with a final-lap pass of the race leader.

Then came the frustration. In pre-race practice for the second race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in late June, after qualifying third fastest, Adamowicz came over a blind brow, hit a patch of oil dumped by the blown engine of a competitor and spun at approximately 100 miles per hour. The result -- a broken rear wheel and other damage that ended Adamowicz' weekend of racing.

"Some things in racing never change," lamented Adamowicz. "This beautiful race car, lovingly restored by the guys at RIAM, may be old and tough but it is still as vulnerable to racing luck as the day it was new. And so, I guess, am I."

After the race incident, the RIAM team went on a worldwide hunt for a replacement for the damaged 40-year-old wheel but none was found. A competitor, Eric Haga, suggested the wheel might be repairable if attended to by an expert, Ken Dye of DND Fabricating, in Payallup, Wash.

And so it was. After welding, machining and heat treating at DND, the wheel was sent to a local FAA testing laboratory for strength and crack testing and it passed muster.

RIAM's chief mechanic, Bill Losee, and metal fabricator, Morris Jephcott, are now at work correcting any other problems that may have resulted from the Mid Ohio accident, paying special attention to the alignment of the Eagle's chassis, under the watchful eye of RIAM president, Doug Magnon.

Adamowicz, a two-time professional road racing champion, a veteran of the Indy 500 and of LeMans, is unsure what lies in store for him, the Eagle and its repaired wheel at the Kohler International Challenge event here at Road America this weekend (July18-19), the third event in this year's series.

He knows the four-mile Road America course well, having driven this very race car to victory in the Formula Continental race here 40 years ago this weekend, on his way to the series championship in 1969.

That accomplishment was massively overshadowed by the first lunar landing that day of another "Eagle," that of a team of NASA astronauts. It was on July 20, 1969 that Neil Armstrong uttered those famous words, "Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed."

Adamowicz recalls all this with mixed emotions, but says his focus is on what happens this July.

The field of historic Formula 5000 race cars entered for the third race in the historic Formula 5000 series will compete in one group for eleven laps around the Road America circuit but will be divided into two performance classes, based on the year the cars were built. (1968-1970 and 1971-1976)

The RIAM Eagle Mk5, built in California by Dan Gurney's All American Racers, competes in the older of the two categories and Adamowicz acknowledges that pulling off another overall victory will take some luck.

But that's not all that's on his plate this weekend. In addition to his work behind the wheel, Adamowicz, will join with the Polish Racing Drivers of America co-founder Brad Niemcek in presenting PRDA Pole Position awards to the fastest Formula 5000 qualifiers in both categories. The pair will be standing in for PRDA President, Oscar "Kidracer" Koveleski. A schedule conflict prevents his appearance here.

Asked about whether winning a trophy he presents might represent a conflict of interest, Adamowicz said, " I'm Polish. Could your re-phrase the question? "

-credit: Brad Niemcek

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Series VINTAGE