Echoes From The Past

The TD in the Stairwell
and other stories


Report by Denver Cornett, as told to Mark Palmer
Cartoons by Jerry Storch

One year, it must have been 1950 or '51, a bunch of MGTDs came tearing down the hill into town. I was watching from the side, since I had already raced in a different class that year. Now this is a long, long hill with a sharp left at the bottom -- known as Milliken's Corner. And these TDs were playing chicken, you know. Nobody was going to brake until the others did. There must have been three or four of them in this pack. Finally, way past the proper braking point they all hammer on the brakes. Tires are smoking, and they're all swerving around with wheels locked up! One or two of them go straight onto the escape road -- the side street in town there. But this one guy decides he's going to make the turn regardless. Well, he slides and corrects and fishtails and next thing you know, he's on the sidewalk alonside the bank building there, and then all of a sudden his car disappears from view! Turns out, there's a concrete stairwell leading down into the basement of the bank, and this TD drove right down the steps! Fortuately the driver wasn't hurt at all, because you see the TD was about six inches wider than the stairwell...that is, before the driver wedged it in there! The wedging action just gradually slowed the car down, and it never did hit the wall at the bottom of the stairs. They had one hell of a time trying to pull it out of there!

(Note: Don Munoz was party to this next one. Don was thanking Denver for contributing the new Cornett Cup, which is awarded to the winner of the Collier Cup race each year at the Glen. Don drove a terrific race to finish first, and was the initial recipient of this new annual award.

This was Don's first time at this event, and he was particularly impressed by the old course tour. Don remarked to Denver how rough the course is, even in 1997, and asks Devner what it was like to race on such a bumpy course in the early days...).

Oh, man, some parts were really rough! The fast downhill into town, and Franklin Street, were pretty smooth, but a good part of the course was gravel. And the railroad crossing was horrible! In those days, there were two sets of tracks across the road there, and they were sloped upwards compared to the roadway. Of course, it's right in the middle of a long straightaway, so you were running at top speed right across the tracks. And nobody was going to slow down in the middle of the straight!

The railroad crossing would just launch your car in the air. Even in a slower car like the TC, you'd go for fifty feet or more in the air! You had to get lined up just right before you hit the tracks, so that you'd come back down and still be in the road. I had to re-arch my rear springs twice during those years. One year, in practice, Briggs passed in mid-air! Scared the living hell out of me! I just looked over and there he was, all four wheels off the ground just like me, but going faster and farther -- he was in the Bu-Merc. Thankfully, we both landed ok and just kept going. I'll never forget it!.


Getting a Leg Up on the Competition

Report by Jack Archibald

Now I can't lay claim to being one of the REAL oldtimers of the likes of Denny Cornett, but I do have some poignant, maybe bizarre to some, recollections of my first pilgramage to The Glen. The year was 1950.

As luck would have it, I was due in the Boston area for Fall Term a few days following the third running of The Glen. So the TC was loaded up with a steamer trunk on the luggage rack, skis on the left fender, and the entire interior (top and sidescreens in place) filled with the necessaries to sustain me 'till the end of the term. So laden, the TC departed Western New York on the several hour run to Watkins Glen, where upon arrival we secured a room at a tourist home and settled in for the weekend.

First order of business was to prowl the Main Street garages playing host to all that exotic machinery, as well as a stint at Smalley's to observe tech inspection of some late arrivals. Following that, we got down to serious business - orbiting the course for "familiarization", and to select a vantage point for the following day's races. Race day found me parked outside the bend just beyond Stone Bridge - the site of Cornett's countretemps in the '48 inaugural. I'm not going to dwell on the Grand Prix. The loss of Sam Collier at the wheel of the 166 Ferrari was surely the low point of the weekend. I'm sure none of us wants to revisit that tragedy. One happening perhaps does bear repeating, as no injuries resulted. I'm referring to Milliken depositing Doc Sherer's Type 54 Bugatti upside down in the ditch above Seneca Lodge. Since this was the second Bug Bill crawled out from under on the same race course (recall the naming of Milliken's Corner in 1948), I consider it of interest. At least novel.

I set out to relate my recollection of a rather peculiar event which occurred during the Queen Catherine Cup. Actually, I was unaware of just what happened at the time, even though it took place within several hundred yards of my vantage point. I had to wait until some days after my arrival in New England to hear a first-hand account of the incident from one of the participants. I was to hear the other driver's version some months later.

My first informant was SCCA member/driver Alden Johnson of Worcester, Mass. I met Aldie some months earlier, in the Spring, when I brought my TC up to Worcester. His BRG TC was one of two in the area at that time.

Though at least twice my age and an established family man, we became good buddies. Obiously, in that day and age, both of us had to be a little weird to own one of "them funny little foreign cars".

When I met Aldie, he was an experienced driver having participated in SCCA events in New England and New Jersey. But without that background, one might question his qualifications as a race driver, for Aldie had an obvious problem: asymetrical extremities. That is to say, he had a wooden leg! Fortunately, Aldie had the foresight to lose his LEFT leg, and of course, the TC was right-hand drive. Aldie thus devised a system which worked like a charm. He would seat himself in the car. A member of his crew would then crawl into the left compartment and tape Aldie's artificial foot to the clutch pedal. Changing gears was a no-brainer. Left hand simply depressed the artificial knee over-toggling it to disengage the clutch - left hand then selecting new gear - followed by the same hand pulling up on the knee thus engaging the clutch. So configured, Aldie found himself on the grid for the Queen Catherine in his essentially stock TC. The other party to the shunt I am about to relate was George Barrett of Galt, Ontario.

George was one of the early pros in the sport car movement. He tuned engines, race-prepped cars, built specials, and as I was to find, stocked all sorts of go-fast goodies for the XPAG engine. A rare find in those days, and less than two hours from my door. But George could be politely described as a piece-of-work. For nearly two years George played host to my front axle which required a bit of straightening following an encounter with some hay bales. Finally, during one of my almost weekly phone calls he told me the axle would be ready, and I could pick it up the following weekind. He also suggested I bring my hard hat and goggles so I could drive his "Formula II" in a local Canadian hillclimb the same weekend. Needless to say, I needed no urging, and showed up at his shop prepared to do battle in his "Formula II". Full of enthusiasm, I entered his shop to examine my ride. George, somewhat apologetically, explained while removing a tarp from what could best be described as a "roller" that he didn't quite get the car finished in time. I went home with an axle though - not mine - but it is still on my TC 45 years later. But I digress. Back to The Glen. Barrett entered a 1950 TD which he sleeved to 1098cc and supercharged.

Johnson and Barrett departed the Main Street grid, and with the pack, headed for the back side of the course where I awaited first lap action. Just where they were in the pack, I don't recall, but they must have been well back from the leaders, since when the jamup occurred on the upgrade headed toward Archie Smith's corner, none of the stopped vehicles could be seen from the Stone Bridge area.

The narrow stretch we are considering is bordered on the left by a high stone wall, and on the right by a steep, forested slope falling away from road level. The blown TD had a slight lead on the TC as they entered a left bend. The left-hand TD was on the left, and the right-hand drive TC was on the right. Barrett lost it a tad, and with Johnson overtaking, they collided. Barrett wound up against the wall, the car on its left side. He later confided that, were it not for the studded leather biker's jacket he was wearing, he probably would have lost considerable hide from his back and shoulders, he walked away with little damage, except to his jacket. The TD was less fortunate.

Johnson had a somewhat more challenging experience. The TC went over the embankment and eventually came to rest on its right side with the scuttle wedged between the steep hillside and a large, friendly tree. When spectators reached Aldie, intent on his rescue, they found him half out of the car on the downhill side. What they, of course, did not know was that Aldie, due to his left foot being taped to the clutch pedal, was a rather intimate part of the car. There thus ensued a lot of shouting, pulling, and tugging, until he managed to communicate his problem. Someone produced a pocket knife and Aldie was set free and placed on his feet, essentially undamaged.

To conclude: The '51 Glen race program alludes to this incident and mentions a third MG in the fracus. The article may be more accurate than the above version, but I have no recollection of either Barrett or Johnson bringing up a third car.


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