“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” said Green Bay Packer Coach Vince Lombardi.Lou Natenshon sees it different. His 1933 Ford Indycar’s sixth-place finish at the Monterey Historics was special thing. “My driver Rex picked off the fastest Bugatti and a million-dollar Alfa 8C,” said Natenshon. “He even pressed a ’57 Maserati, the Mauri Rose car and a Kurtis-Kraft with a Hemi.”
Lou’s Ford is a “junk formula” Indy car. That formula grew out of 1928 rules changes to cut racing costs. Big automakers couldn’t compete with $25,000 Miller engines and bowed out of the Indy 500 so the number of entries tapered off. Eddie Rickenbacker—the World War I flying ace Speedway owner—decided to make racing affordable. He got the AAA contest board-to change the racing formula so entrants could build racing cars with four-, six-, eight- or 16-cylinder engines with piston displacements of 100- to 366-cubic-inches. Superchargers were banned and other rules were put to create the “Junk Formula” cars.
In 1932, Dearborn introduced the Flathead V8 and there was no better proving ground for the new engine than the 500. The new V8 appeared at the Brickyard in 1933 in the C.O. Warnock Special. Unfortunately, the technology was so new that the car was too slow to qualify at Indy, though it ran in the Elgin Road Race’s free-for-all division. “These were throwaway cars,” Natenshon noted. “This car’s claim to fame is that it was one of the first two Ford V-8s at Indy.” The car had stock 221-cid specs with a 3.063-in. bore and a 3.750-in. stroke. It had two dual downdraft carbs, a Mallory ignition and Ford running gear with Houdaille shocks. With Doc Williams at the wheel, the car hit 104.538 mph.
In 1934, the car entered the 500 as the Detroit Gasket Special with driver Charles Crawford driving and riding mechanic Milt Totten. It qualified at 108.7854 mph and its top race speed was 110 mph. The next year Doc Williams planned to drive the car in the 500 with Totten, but wrecked it during practice. The damaged car was saved and wound up with car collector Chuck Schwab of Chicago, who bought it in 1964. He repainted it and showed it at vintage racing meets in the Midwest. Natenshon got a “David vs. Goliath” rush taking it to Monterey.
After Rex Barrett finished the first race in ninth with a 2:07 time for the 2.238-miles course, the dream of taking the crummiest Ford to ever run Indy into the Top 10 at Monterey seemed doable. Barrett soon found himself lining up in row 5 in the final Saturday afternoon race looking at a pack of million dollar cars in front of him. “ When I got the last lap signal, I told myself “just don’t screw up!’” he recalls. “Everyone was smiles when we heard we came in sixth.”
For Natenshon and Barrett, winning meant more than coming in first in a race. They’ve won over many hearts and souls at both the Millers at Milwaukee Indy Car event and the Elkhart Lake Vintage Races. At the Miller Meet they give people a few laps around the Milwaukee Mile in the historic Ford.
In 2012, Natenshon enlisted the help of about 15 bystanders to lift a disabled boy into the car to give him the ride of his life. Actions like that make this Junk Formula Ford a winner every time it races.