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Racing News: Walt Arfons Passes Away

Compiled by SEMA Editors

Walt Arfons in 1965. Photo credit: Akron Beacon Journal

Walt Arfons Passes Away
Walt Arfons, a mechanical engineer and champion drag racer credited for building the first jet-engine dragster, died of pneumonia, June 4, at a hospital in Akron, Ohio. He was 96.

Arfons was born Walter Charles Stroud, December 10, 1916, in Muncie, Indiana. He grew up in Akron and took his stepfather’s surname, Arfons. He and his younger brother Art were among the best-known drivers during drag racing’s early years in the ’50s and ’60s. They were pioneers in achieving land-speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah.

The brothers learned how to use and assemble machinery at their father’s feed and hardware store in Akron during the Great Depression. They built cars from spare parts and, after World War II, they bought planes to work on. They participated in their first drag race in 1952; however, a reckless rivalry on the track later created turmoil between the brothers. They didn’t talk for years and became professional foes.

Art, who died in 2007, held three land-speed records; however, Walt was credited with introducing jet propulsion systems into motorsports and finding ways to make motorsports safer.

Walt bought a surplus military jet at auction, but the engine’s manual was classified. So in his shop, he assembled a new car around the plane’s turbo-jet engine by trial and error. He used parachutes to stop the car.

A later configuration of the jet-powered car—named the Wingfoot Express after the Goodyear logo—broke a land-speed record by reaching 413 mph over one mile, October 2, 1964, at Bonneville. Three days later, Art broke the record by going 434 mph in another jet-powered car.

In the late ’60s, Chrysler wanted Walt to install jet engines on some of their cars, and he hired several drivers to race them on the Funny Car circuit. He retired from motorsports by the early ’70s.

Walt is survived by his wife Gertrude, son Terry, daughter Patricia Stiff, sister Lou Wolfe, eight grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren. Another son Craig attempted to break a speed record on water in 1989 when his jet-powered hydroplane crashed on Lake Jackson in Sebring, Florida, killing him.

Leffler Program Established by USAC Benevolent Foundation
The USAC Benevolent Foundation has announced a $10,000 grant in the memory of the late USAC racing champion Jason Leffler, who lost his life last Wednesday night in a racing accident in New Jersey.
The 501-3C-designated Foundation will also accept additional donations earmarked for usage by Leffler's son Charlie Dean and his mother Allison. A designated cap amount to be announced by the Board of Directors of the Foundation will also result in additional dollar-for-dollar matching funds for this purpose.
All contributions earmarked for the Leffler program, which may include the Charlie Dean Leffler Education Fund, may be directed to the USAC Benevolent Foundation, c/o Executive Director Bill Marvel, 4910 W. 16th Street Speedway, Speedway, IN 46224. Marvel may be reached at 859-749-0646 or Donations should be earmarked for this program.

Mazda's Sylvain Tremblay and Tom Long took the win last weekend at Mid-Ohio.

Mazda Wins at Mid-Ohio
Mazda's Sylvain Tremblay and Tom Long took the win last weekend at Mid-Ohio. Long had won the pole position and the team led the bulk of the race. Similar to the races in Georgia and Michigan, it was a three-way battle for most of the race with a Porsche Cayman splitting the two Mazdas. Joel Miller and Tristan Nunez in the #00 VISITFLORIDA RACING Mazda6 scored third-place points after an oil leak took them off-track late in the race. After six races, Mazda is now four points behind Porsche for the Grand-Am GX Manufacturers Championship. The two SpeedSource cars are second and third in team points, while Miller is second among drivers—14 points behind Jim Norman. There are six races remaining to determine the champions, including September 7–8, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The next race is the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, June 30, at Watkins Glen.

Jimmie Johnson took the win at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Party in the Poconos 400.

Castroneves Earns First IndyCar Win of 2013, Jimmie Johnson Takes Third Pocono Win
Team Penske’s No. 3 car, driven by Helio Castroneves, captured the team’s first IZOD IndyCar Series victory of the season at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, June 8. The win gave Castroneves a 22-point lead in the series championship standings. Castroneves led the final 132 laps to earn his fourth career victory on the track. In a separate venue, at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Party in the Poconos 400, Jimmie Johnson continued his 2013 season with another win. Leading for 128 out of the 160 laps, Johnson won from the pole, taking his third win for this track as well as for the season.