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by Russ Shreve
One of the best of the best of the original RamChargers was Wayne Erikson. One Friday in 1960, he spent most of the afternoon at my desk discussing the special problems of a drag car’s suspension. We talked about some things that could be done and agreed to meet again when we returned to work the following week.
The following week, he was dead.
During his race that weekend his clutch exploded. He was not directly injured by the explosion, but his fuel line was inside the car by the clutch and was severed by shrapnel. He suffered severe burns over most of his body and died two weeks later from the effects of the burns.
Wayne's accident led to the requirement for scatter shields, and the ruling that fuel lines could not be inside the car. It is my understanding it also in part led to the formation of the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association, so there could be common standards for safety equipment, like scatter shields.
I have had two clutch explosions. The first was as a teenager racing a dual-carbureted supercharged Duesenberg against a Buick across the McKees Rocks Bridge in Pittsburgh. The center flywheel of the dual plate clutch broke into three pieces. It was still retained by the guide studs, so nothing bad happened except seizing the clutch and prevent shifting out of low gear. But I could still go 125 in low, so I just finished the race and collected my hundred bucks. I needed the money to help fix the clutch.
The other was the Lotus Valiant. The engine was nearing 8,000 rpm at the end of an airport-course straight, when the clutch cover and pressure plate disintegrated. It was like a hand grenade went off inside the car. At the time an explosion proof housing was not available. Even though every effort was to keep weight down, knowing of Wayne’s accident I had never hesitated to add a five pound piece of boiler plate between the housing and the driver compartment.
The car was a mess. I fixed the car like it never happened. People are a lot harder to fix.
Chrysler 1904-2018 •
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