Valley of the Cars
Phoenix, Arizona, is known as the Valley of the Sun.
I see it as I titled this article.
In April of this year, I vacationed there, for my first time.
The weather was perfect – no humidity! The locals were courteous, and friendly. The city was very clean. Phoenix is the 4th largest city in the USA, behind NYC, LA, & Chicago.
We stayed in Scottsdale, which is the ritzy area, in the North East area of the city. There are 2 Mercedes-Benz dealers, within 4 miles there. Need I say more? No, I’m not rich, I just got a good deal,on our accommodation. My first car stop, was Barrett-Jackson’s auto auction retail store. It is located south of Old Town Scottsdale. There is no admission charge. There were 8 cars on the covered outdoor lot and 8 cars in the store. My choice was a Grabber Blue, ‘70 Boss 429 Mustang. Only $289k US! An orange ‘69 426 Hemi/auto Daytona Charger was for sale for $800K US! Inside, they also sell engines, & swag. I bought a t-shirt, but no cars. Next, I wet-the-whistle at the nearby Rusty Spur Saloon. Established in 1951, it’s the last real western saloon there. Live music added to the experience, in the cozy bar. Next car stop the following day, was North Scottsdale Road’s Penske Racing Museum. It is sandwiched between the Ferrari/Maserati & Lamborghini dealers. Penske Automotive Group (PAG) owns 300+ car dealerships, world-wide! PAG is owns the majority of the high-end dealerships, in this complex. This is PAG’s flagship location. PAG also owns 6 commercial truck dealerships in Ontario. Roger Penske, nick-named, “The Captain,” is 80 years young. He was born near Cleveland, Ohio. He started racing after college and even won 2 times as a driver at Harewood Acres (south of Hamilton). That track opened in 1956 & closed in 1970. He has won 16 Indy 500s, as an owner and he entered 5 cars in this year’s Indy 500. He has entered most forms of professional motorsports. That includes Formula 1, Can Am (my favourite!), NASCAR, Indy (USAC, CART, IRL, Indycar), Trans Am, Rolex/Grand Am sports cars, ALMS, Australian V8 Supercars, etc. He won a NASCAR race, as a driver. That was in a 1963 Pontiac Catalina, at Riverside, California. I entered the Museum and was greeted by Suzy, the receptionist. I opened my wallet and asked how much the admission was? Free, Suzy replied. The Museum is open Mon.-Sat. Closed Sun. The Museum is classy! Polished granite floors, stainless steel barriers, bright lights. It is approximately 16,000 square feet, over the 2 floors. It opened in Nov. 2002. It features Indy cars, NASCARS, & Indy Pace Cars. trophies, pictures, & murals, are also featured. There’s a cafe, & Gift Shop upstairs. More t-shirts, and other goodies, for me. Suzy was kind enough to set up a brief interview with the manager/curator, Pat Hozza. It turned out to be 30 minutes of quality “bench racing!” Pat was very accommodating! He used to be the “jackman,” on 3 of Team Penske’s Indy 500 winning cars. He also worked at our Toronto Indy. I toured (& drooled) around the collection. Each car is pristine and Pat assured me they’re race-ready! Each car has great history, such as winners of races like the: Indy 500; or 12 Hours of Sebring; or Daytona 500s, etc. The list of drivers is impressive, too. Names like (Spin & Win) Danny Sullivan; (Rocket Rick) Mears; (The Gasman or Texaco Tom) Sneva; Ryan Newman; Timo Bernhard, to name a few. I believe these are a few of famous Penske quotes: “Effort equals results.” Tell that to your teenager! “And the best way to win a $1,000,000 in racing … is to start with $2,000,000!” As a retired racer, I can relate. I returned Friday morning as it was a possibility, that Roger might be there. No luck. Next stop was a 2 hour road-trip north, to picturesque Sedona. This area is rich in iron oxide, which gives the earth a beautiful red hue. There’s far less cactus than the Phoenix area. We took a quick drive through, Jerome, AZ, too. This ghost town used have a population of 15k, now it’s less than 500. In its hey-day, it was a booming cooper mine. Its elevation is 5,000 feet/1,550 metres above sea level. We took our rental 2017 Chevy Traverse (3.6 L V6). My wife drove. It cruised effortlessly on I-17, but she said it was a “dog” while passing. She used her 2011 Lincoln MKT’s 3.5 L V6 EcoBoost, as the benchmark. We got a very respectable 34 mpg/7.8 L/100 kms. Yet, it dropped to 20 mpg Imperial/11.7 L/100 kms, for city/highway combined. The cross-over Traverse is a 7 seater, & cavernous. I’m glad to see Chev vastly improved the automatic climate controls, over the pathetic controls in my 2010 Silverado! Retired GM exec, Bob Lutz would agree. See his views in a recent Road & Track magazine. As a kid growing up in Toronto in the ‘60s, I used to watch USAC Indy cars, on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Sometimes the races were from Phoenix International Raceway (PIR). It’s a 1 mile D-shaped oval. I finally made it there. I saw Indycar qualifying for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Brand Prix. $20 general admission. I sat in the Turn 1-2 grandstand, mid-way up. You can see the whole track from there. Penske’s Helio Castroneves got the Pole position at 194.9 mph/18.87 seconds/lap! He hit 200 mph on the back straight! The car was “on rails.” He won Pole Position 2 years in a row. For comparison, Penske’s NASCAR driver, Joey Logano’s Pole winning speed, last March was a slow 134.736 mph/26.216 seconds. Castroneves was 4th in the race. I’d guess only 2k were there on that breezy and balmy night. The Saturday night race only drew 18,500 (estimated). Penske driver and last year’s Indycar champ, Simon Pagenaud won. Capacity is 51k. The track owner just announced an expansion. Now, I’ve been to 25 race tracks in North America. I also saw an MLB Arizona Diamondbacks/ San Diego Padres game, in their retractable roof dome. It’s about the same capacity of our Skydome. That balmy night: $25 ticket (Level 100, 3rd base, outfield). $8 parking. $4 beer. $2 hot dogs! Blue Jays take note! The home team won 9-3. We caught Air Canada’s “redeye” flight home. The cramped cabin reminded me of my Dad’s ‘64 VW Beetle. It was a great week in Arizona! Now, only if our dollar was at, or near par…
Written by Larry Barnett