1964 Sheraton Thompson Special

MMR Book Review

By Dom Miliano, Editor
MMR Weekly Newsletter

1964 Sheraton Thompson Special, by Donald Davidson - book review by Dom Miliano

With the 2015 racing season just getting underway, a true race fan can always use an extra dose of stories about wheel to wheel racing to help shake off the chill of a long winter. The fourth monograph in the Stance & Speed series is just such a book. Like the others in the series we have reviewed here, this hardbound, large format book features the brilliant photography of Peter Harholt and text by a well known automotive author. For this title, the featured racer is the 1964 Indy 500 winning Watson Sheraton Thompson Special, and who better to tell its story than Donald Davidson, the “Speedway’s” official historian.

Following a brief but insightful foreword by the car’s driver, the legendary A.J. Foyt, Davidson weaves an interesting tale of how the car came to be. In the current era of wind tunnel testing, computer aided design and carbon fiber chassis construction, the details of the homegrown engineering techniques employed by legendary mechanic George Bignotti and chassis-building master A.J. Watson seem quaint. Davidson quotes Watson about the design process by writing, “I joke about putting down chalk marks and laying the tubing on the floor, but we really did line up everything on the floor.” Watson added, “Because I wasn’t a welder, we’d just put everything in place, starting with the bigger pieces, and then would tack them with small spot welds for when our welder came in.”

Another great anecdote is the number of voluntary crewmembers who lent a hand to build these cars — a great reminder of how important passion for the sport helped grow racing in a post WWII America.

Just as fascinating is how the car’s classic gleaming pearl paint job was designed and applied by the team’s painter, Dean Jeffries. Again, in comparison to today’s sponsor-driven, focus group derived paint schemes, the casual nature of the process makes for interesting reading.

Even though the front-engine Watson Sheraton Thompson Special looks like a primitive kit-car compared to those that ran at Indy just a few years after Foyt took it to the Winner’s Circle, Donaldson adds wonderful details about the chassis and aerodynamic engineering. From adding a nose slit to drilling holes in the side to add cooling to moving an oil tank — each change to the original car is put in context and related to on-track results.

With 1964 Watson Sheraton Thompson Special, Stance & Speed has added another interesting and lavishly illustrated volume to their growing list of books for “Gearheads”. If you love racing and racing history, good story telling and superb photography, go to their web site and grab a copy.