Its finally May, the month when devoted racing fans’ thoughts turn to Indy and the supremely accomplished racers who can be found there. But have you ever wondered while sitting in the stands or relaxing in front of the tv, how these great athletes arrived at the pinnacle of racing? The answer can be found
in Christopher Hinchliffe’s fascinating new book, Chasing Checkers.
Chasing Checkers follows the early career of Teddy Clark, a fictional young racer whose only desire is to compete on the track as his idols have done before him. Encouraged by a race fan father and an initially reluctant mother, Clark learns the ins and outs of the motor sports world from his first go kart race to the veteran circuits.
Clark starts from ground zero, discovering that race cars do not have speedometers and that the fit into any cockpit is tight, hot, and frequently excruciatingly uncomfortable. He learns how to develop a competitive mindset and discovers exactly how much is he willing to sacrifice to win.
The most interesting part of Hinchliffe’s spellbinding tale is Teddy’s journey of self realization. He knows that he was adopted, but does the connection he feels to the sport enter into that equation in any way? As his racing journey unfolds, Teddy’s discoveries about his heritage will keep the reader fascinated and engaged.
Although a work of fiction, author Christopher HInchliffe relied on his brother, professional racer James, to offer suggestions and insight into the realities of the competitive racing world.
“I’m a professor and a writer, not a racer. The book was a way to connect with that part of my family, their accomplishments and their interests. “Christopher HInchliffe said.
HInchliffe didn’t say much about what he was working on until the first draft was complete.
“I didn’t let the family see my book until I felt comfortable with it going forward” Christopher Hinchliffe said. “But once I did let them read it. I wanted to be certain that all the details were completely accurate. That was where James came in. He knew all the details, things I would not have been aware of. I suspected that the fans who would be reading Chasing Checkers would know far more about racing than I do, so I wanted to be sure everything in the book was absolutely technically correct.”
It will be clear to those who follow racing that many of James’ own stories from his early career have found their way into this book. Chasing Checkers, however, is not a biography.
“That will come later. This is purely fiction.
James has a lot more living and racing to do before that happens” Christopher said.
Christopher Hinchliffe hopes that the release of the book at a time when racing captures the nation’s attention will entice those who don’t usually read sports books to give it a try.
“The purpose of this book is to engage people-die hard racing fans, casual racing fans, and also younger readers. I wanted a compelling story that would catch people’s interest. There’s an emphasis in Indy Car right now to reach out and expand the base of enthusiasts. You don’t have to know everything about every driver to enjoy this book. If you are already good on the details of racing, then great. But at the same time, its an introduction into the racing world for those who may not already follow it closely.
My hope is that it will connect with a wide range of readers.”
Chasing Checkers is currently available online through Amazon and iTunes and through some local outlets in the Indianapolis area. Christopher Hinchliffe will be making public appearances and
holding book signings through the month of May.
Further information can be found at www.chasingcheckersbook.com
We hope to have Christopher visit our tent at the Legends meet May 24th to 26th.
The latest on owners, restoration shops and events.
There are hobbies, then there are HOBBIES. Chuck Jones’ preoccupation would definitely fall in the latter category. He’s successfully restored and is about to debut one of Indy’s racings treasures, The Samsonite Special, originally built by Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing in 1972.
How did Chuck Jones go from being a young race fan, to participating as a junior racer, and finally to proud owner and restoration specialist in adulthood of spectacular and historic racing cars? For Jones, it seems a logical progression.
“I probably went to races regularly starting at around age 8 with my father, although I’ve been told that I actually attended my first Indy 500 at 6 months of age. But I don't remember much about that one.” Jones said recently. “”Although I wasn't from a racing family, I grew up with the sport. It was captivating to see the cars and drivers. Then I went on to race go karts myself. I also raced half midgets, 3/4 midgets, sprint cars, formula 4 and so on. I was at the track every chance I could get. It was clear that I loved everything about that atmosphere. “
Growing up on a farm in Indiana, Jones also became comfortable with the demands of fabrication equipment early on.
“By age ten I could run a lathe and do a decent weld. I was fascinated by how things came apart then came together again. I loved to discover how things worked. It was all a part of being on in a rural environment from a young age. You had to be familiar with machinery.”
Added to this early mechanical mix was the fact that Jones was both a self described overachiever and 'tended to have OCD particularities'.
“I was definitely driven to succeed” Jones said. “I had a double major at Purdue, in Human Factors Engineering and Industrial Design, then after undergrad was over, I continued in the Cornell Graduate Executive Program, eventually ending up as Chief Design Officer of Intuitive Surgical in Silicon Valley. That is the company that makes the DaVinci surgical robots.”
In his spare time, Jones restored and raced fine vintage cars.
“It was a great break from the grind of work. It was a logical process, a progression form my long ago fascination with race cars. To use my free time finding and fixing these cars? It sure beat golf. There was nothing better I could be doing, in my opinion.” Jones said. “Bringing back the original beauty of these machines has been wonderful. I take pride in finding them a proper home where they will be loved and appreciated not only by me, but by vintage racing fans.’
Jones describes his journey as ‘a play in three acts’.
“I find these cars, I restore them, I race them. Each aspect of this process has its special qualities.”
It all begins with hard research, something that Jones definitely enjoys,
“Tracking down the cars in the first place is almost like being a detective. I’m patient in my quest to find details. Where can I search? Who do I know who might know something about this car? I consider myself an automotive archaeologist. You have to know where to look, how to chase down leads. What is the car’s history? How did it get from Point A to Point B?“
But finding the car is just the beginning of an arduous process, often consuming years or work.
“The restoration process itself requires perfection, which fits right into my natural tendencies. I want everything to be as it once was-the cars, the helmets, the drivers’ uniforms. Its something that can’t be rushed, Everything must be absolutely correct. I often consult with the drivers who raced in a particular era, with the mechanics, with the original builders if possible.”
And the reward for all this work? A return to the track.
“ The racing part is self explanatory. These cars were built to race. There’s nothing better than hearing an engine rev up for the first time in 20 or more years.That’s what this is all about. I can’t describe the satisfaction when a car has been returned to its original purpose.”
Jones was able to locate the Samsonite Special’s original driver, Joe Leonard, in a Sunnyvale, CA assisted living facility which was relatively close to Jones’ Silicon Valley condo.
“Joe was in failing health” Jones said. “I tried to visit him as often as I could to show him photos of the restoration of the car he once drove. He’d offer great anecdotes that had a tremendous impact on my understanding and appreciation of the car. Unfortunately Joe passed away recently, shortly before the restoration was complete. Although he was not able to see the car on a track again, I think and I hope it brought him enjoyment to know that not only had his car been found, but that it was being brought back to life.”
Barring a ‘mechanical disaster’, always a possibility according to Jones, the fully restored Samsonite Special will be on display at the Indy Legends Day event to be held at the track May 24 through May 27.
For further information on this spectacular car, please go to VintageIndyRegistry.com.
I grew up covered in dust, not due to any shortfall of my mother’s exemplary housekeeping skills. Instead, I was the firstborn of a father whose idea of the best possible way to spend a day was to sit in stands of hometown, homespun races. Demolition derbys, sprints, drag races, you name it and we were there. If a town in Illinois or Wisconsin had a working track, we were bound to show up at some point.
The cars were often pieced together and certainly looked to this youngster like nothing she had ever seen on the street. They were dirty. They were loud. They smelled of gas and oil. They went incredibly fast just feet away, often showering us with rubber and dirt. Back then, and even now, it was hard to imagine anything more exciting.
The dust we accumulated came from being there for hours watching every event from seemingly endless time trials to the featured race of the day. Track debris was our badge of honor, although mother didn’t see it quite that way. She’d shrug her shoulders while asking about our day, secretly happy that she hadn’t been in the stands watching all the chaos.
To me racing was a window to things I’d never dreamed were possible. How could there be something so thrilling that people could go and watch on a regular basis? It was almost too good to be true.
In the course of our travels we also went to more established venues, finally reaching that temple of racing, the Indianapolis 500. I was completely unprepared for the impact of that race. It was everything that had come before, times ten-almost too much to take in. The noise, the excitement of the crowds, the pageantry of it all.
I could feel the stands vibrating as the cars passed, something so visceral that it is almost impossible to describe even now. We went back again and again and it never was enough. Time seemed to crawl until we were at Indy once more.
We often went there thanks to a rented Winnebego, parking on a side street for days. What better way to see fans, read about drivers in the local papers, and if we were lucky enough, actually see one of our heroes on his way to or from the track?
We’d be ready to in go hours before the cannon went off on race day. Once we gained admittance, sitting in those almost empty stands as the sun rose was magical. My father is long gone but my favorite photo of him is the one I took as he stood near our seats in Tower Terrace shortly after the track opened that day. It was the culmination of years of experiences watching all kinds of cars, all kinds of races, enjoying the dust of those roads.