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Mercedosaurus Rex at Indianapolic Park
Part 22: USAC’s points of views and some answers



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Johnnie Parsons


Lola-Greenfield T93/01




1994 Indianapolis 500 practice (May 14, 1994)

Parsons, Greenfield Lola, May 14, 1994

In the final stages while working on this project there was one question I couldn’t answer. Why did USAC come with the second boost reduction for the purpose-design 209 pushrods in August 1994?

Then I was lucky to get in touch with Mike Devin, the USAC Technical Director in 1993 and beyond. Once I explained what I was working on, Mr Devin promised me to get back on this because he felt it was about time that some things were at last told.

A few days later I received a writing by Mr Devin telling me about the feelings and opinions of USAC and what had happened, and why USAC had reacted as it had done. Mr Devin informed me that:

…for the most part your research is correct. The research is however, only from one side. This is because the one side has been very vocal and forthcoming with information and their views while the other side has for the most part been reclusive.

I do agree entirely with Mr Devin’s observation that there is not much information about USAC’s doings, opinions and decision-making.

Much to my surprise however, the writing that Mr Devin sent me gave a lot of insights of what he and USAC had dealt with. Some of his comments raised additional questions with me in which Mr Devin also invested time and effort to answer.

Eventually I decided on using this information pretty much the way I received it. I think it is much more of a credit to Mike Devin to use his writings in their original form and provide an opportunity to a senior USAC official to speak out in his own words.

There will however be a few interruptions because of the questions I asked in response to Mr Devin and his subsequent answers. These questions and answers can be recognized as indents.

In essence, the most important content of this chapter is former USAC Technical Director Mike Devin telling his story in his own words. I believe it will enhance the value of this chapter if I merely edit Devin's letter a bit instead of rewriting it.

After his introduction above Mr Devin wrote the following:

I hope this sheds some light on the other side. Before addressing the Penske Mercedes let me start with some history and background.

First let’s start with engines rules in general at Indianapolis. Historically engine rules have always been based on an equivalency formula. Any time an equivalency formula is used, in a technical arena, it can only be accurate for a short period of time. Technical advances will always move one platform ahead of the others. Additionally the idea that an equivalency formula should remain unchanged totally contradicts the function of an equivalency formula.

The 500 had always embraced an equivalency formula as it sparked innovation. This was a major part of automotive history and diversity always held the spectators interest. At one time there were normally aspirated four valve and stock blocks, supercharged and turbocharged four valve and stock blocks plus diesels, turbines, two-cycles and whatever else somebody could think up. This was a noble position and worked well for many decades.

With the rapid advancements in technology, however, it became impossible for an independent or individual to compete with the factories. Factories would come to include car manufacturers and specialty engine companies. The advent of computer aided design, computer aided manufacturing, finite analysis and computer simulations, etc took the amateur out of the picture. This along with the vast and expensive machinery available to the factories changed the landscape forever.

The next bit of history concerns the war between the Speedway and CART (or whatever they were called at the time). This was very real and revolved around money and control as all wars do. To complete its overall business and sponsor plans, CART needed the 500 to be in their control. The Speedway in turn was not interested in having their future tied to the CART owners. To try and further their cause CART was always vocal about the rules at the 500 and did whatever they could to discredit USAC and try to push them out of the picture. Unfortunately for CART, USAC was an independent arm attached to the Speedway and operated as a front man and fall guy for the competition portion of the 500. Having an independent and unfriendly sanctioning body was not going to be an option.

The unfriendly nature between CART and IMS revolved around two basic issues. First was money. CART wanted IMS to give them the entire purse for CART to disperse among their owners and in house promotions as they saw fit. Additionally they saw no need to have more than the 24 cars they had under contract in the starting field at the 500. Independents and “one race wonders” were to be discouraged. The Speedway on the other hand was not about to put their fortunes and future in the hands of the CART owners. Thirty three cars in the starting field was something IMS would strive to maintain. Therefore the Speedway had to take care of non CART teams wanting to compete at the 500.

The engine manufacturers Cosworth (Ford) and Ilmor (Chevrolet) rallied around the CART owners as they had more money and more races, therefore more sales. At the 500 there was an additional player, the stock block Buick V6 competing under the Speedway’s equivalency formula. In the middle 80’s GM (Buick) heavily backed the V6 program but by the mid 90’s that support had waned to almost nothing. Now comes the part of the story that includes the Ilmor/Penske/Mercedes pushrod engine.

At the urging of their CART customers Cosworth and Ilmor would not entertain doing business with any 500 only teams. They picked their customers carefully and would only lease to the chosen ones running the CART circuit.

On my comment that it was my impression that after 1992 (its debut year) the Ford Cosworth was somewhat more obtainable for the non-CART teams than the Ilmor, and my question what his feeling on that observation was, Mr Devin replied:

“A bit more but definitely second tier if not third tier engines”

These two engine manufacturers had a significant power hold on open wheel racing and were guided by team owners Carl Haas with Cosworth and Roger Penske at Ilmor. Least not forget Penske was a founder and part owner of Ilmor at one time. They even had different levels of power for different lease payments. So much for equivalency on the CART side of he fence.

My reaction on this observation was that I thought that a perfect example of that situation regarding the Ilmor was the fact that when Ilmor had an improved version of the engine available in 1993, the Chevy/B, it was exclusive to Penske that year. Mr Devin reacted on this with the following:

Also don’t forget, Penske was the only one allowed to do his own engine work in house. Ganassi had to remove their dynamometer from the premises before they could get an engine contract. I was associated with a couple Cosworth CART teams in the 90s and your rpm limits and corresponding fuel mixture was based on your annual lease payment.

So now the entry field is set. Twenty four franchise CART teams plus one or two CART teams with an additional entry and about a dozen Indy only teams with Buick V6 engines. The Speedway was OK with this lineup but nobody else was. The V6 teams had an advantage in horsepower for qualifying but suffered with fuel mileage, handling and reliability in the race. The CART teams had the experienced teams and drivers plus race day performance and reliability but lacked pole qualifying speed. Add to this scenario that a strong qualifying effort by a V6 team could put a slow CART team on the sidelines. Neither faction was happy.

CART’s answer was to threaten a last minute (April) boycott of the Indianapolis 500.

I asked Mr Devin which year this boycott threat happened. I recall the founding of IRL being announced in 1994 but this threat of a boycott must have been before that? The reply was:

I don’t remember exactly when this was but I attended the CART board meeting with Tony that day and it was on the way home we put together the basic plan for what was to be the IRL. The meeting was at an airport hotel either in Chicago or Detroit I can’t remember.

Later on, Mr Devin informed me that the meeting in question took place around late January or February.

This threat was taken seriously by the Speedway and eventually led to the formation of the IRL. At the request of GM, who was no longer affiliated with Ilmor, and several engine builders; the Speedway (USAC) was asked to relax the “stock block” rules to help handling and increase reliability. The potential here was that these engines might be the only engines available at future 500s. I might add here that the V6 was still a cast iron block and a new block that would withstand the power and chassis requirements was not within the existing rules. The players in a revamped formula were to be Brayton Eng. and John Menard with the help of GM, Edlebrock Equip. Hendrick Motorsports and Peter Greenfield an independent. USAC changed the existing stock block rules in the summer of 1993.

The part above raised a few questions, the first of which I formulated as follows: correct me if I am wrong but according to me, GM was still affiliated with Ilmor in 1993, their 1993 engine was still called Chevy. But I have heard about a project within GM itself that they were working on a pushrod, without input of Ilmor. Could GM’s request be a result of this particular project? Mr Devin answered this as follows:

I believe they knew they were going to be bumped from Ilmor by Mercedes. Mercedes was offering more money than GM had budgeted at the time. If they were to stay involved; a stock block program of some kind was their only answer. I saw a stock block V8 run in Detroit on Kaytech’s dyno around this time. Remember GM had to have something they could take to marketing to get funded. Their Ilmor was funded under the principle that it was training for their best engineers, especially in the electronics. With Delco parting from GM that policy kind of dried up and they had to have something that was more like what they were selling the public. A purpose built pushrod engine could fulfill those requirements and compete with the purebred racing engines under the equivalency rules. The funding issue is why the IRL again started out with production based engines, although modern 4valve, 4cam designs.

Then I also asked: are you sure about the year 1993? I have found info stating that the relaxation of the rules took place in 1991 already. Or were there some additional slight relaxations on top of the one made in 1991? On which I got the following answer:

The change I reference is when we took all reference to “stock block” out of the Rule Book and basically said two valve, pushrod, max eight cylinders, get 209 cu.in. and 55” manifold pressure. I don’t think there were any revolutionary rules prior to that. Maybe some small adjustments but nothing that would let you make your own engine.

The old rules required many areas of the engine to follow OEM guidelines. The new rule basically was 209 CID using two valves and pushrods. The thought process behind this was to produce reliable competitive and available engines for the Indianapolis 500.

By the fall of 1993 GM had changed directions and withdrew support. Edlebrock and Hendrick also bowed out leaving only independents Brayton/Menard and Greenfield. Contrary to popular beliefs Ilmor had made inquires to USAC about the revised rules and indicated their intentions to build an engine under this formula. USAC was asked to keep the project quiet which they honored. This is not unusual as a rules making sanctioning body often receives proprietary information they are asked not to share. USAC had inspected the engine at Penske’s shop in Reading PA. as early as February 1994.

Whow! USAC knowing about Ilmor engine because of Ilmor contacting USAC?
Having read this I had a quick chat session with Nigel Beresford, who told me that he had not been aware of the fact that anyone of USAC had seen the Ilmor that early already. Needless to say that I was eager to find out a bit more on this so I reacted to Mr Devin with several questions:

This info about Ilmor informing USAC was shell-shocking. Nigel Beresford, Paul Tracy’s engineer in 1994, confessed to me that he had never heard of any USAC man having been at Reading that early.

Chuck Sprague asked me to come and he picked me up at the Reading airport. At that time they had the engine Paul had run a short time at Nazareth apart for inspection.

About which time did Ilmor (or was it through Penske) get in touch with USAC?

Sometime in the fall. They did not specifically say they were going to build a pushrod engine but asked clarification questions regarding the new rules. Whether or not they had already decided I’ll never know, nor does it make any difference, but I remember the questions being rather specific.

About how many men at USAC were aware of the Ilmor project and were you one of them?

I might have been the only one for a period of time. Johnny Capels was the new Director of Competition and was kept apprised of all that was happening in the technical areas. Dick King was the president and mainly ran the business side. USAC was small and there was nobody else. I’m sure I reported to Dick King and Johnny about my trip to Reading maybe before but at least right after.

Once you knew Penske/Ilmor was as far as they were, did it cause you any worries that this was to be become an all-out dominating engine?

Maybe. You do the best you can to make rules a year in advance for all the right reasons at the bequest of all the right people. If the people you are trying to help fall out of the game early then I guess the spoils go to whoever remains. Ilmor played by the same rules everyone else had and did a good job.

The Ilmor/Mercedes accomplished exactly what had been hoped for this revamped formula, except in this case the manufacturer was still a hostel participant as would be shown later. The Brayton/Menard engine was late and subsequently shelved in favor of the V6. The Greenfield engine was at the track but plagued with development problems. This left only the Ilmor/Mercedes.

While the Penske team was successful I would not say it was total domination due to the engine as has been reported. Penske suffered from the same high C/G handling and aero handicap as the V6 had previously. Tracy crashed twice without showing much promise and while Emerson had a superb run going, he also crashed giving the win to Al Jr. who at the time was one lap down. These, mind you, were the very same chassis that ran 1, 2, 3 at Milwaukee the following weekend and dominated the rest of the CART season with the 4 valve Ilmor. I’ve always wondered if Penske might have been more formidable at Indy in 1994 with the 4 valve Ilmor rather than the pushrod.

The part above raised a few questions with me. One of them was the following.
Why do you think the weight of the Ilmor engine was such an issue? To my knowledge the engine was not that much heavier than the quadcam engine. I do know that it was much higher and its GC being higher than that of the quadcam. Or do you have other figures about the engine weight than the ones released by the PR departments of Ilmor and Mercedes? I do know that 'a lie for the better' happened over the years. To which came the following reply by Mr Devin:

I don’t have any information on what the engine weighed. I don’t remember the car being excessively over weight. At the speeds run at Indy fore to aft weight balance and C/G are extremely important. The Ilmor/Mercedes was at a disadvantage in both departments.

Post race, USAC lowered the manifold pressure for the newly designed pushrod engines. The existing 209 cu. in. boost numbers were retained across the board in 1994 partially as an incentive and partially because of uncertainty of the total package design. All engine manufacturers (including Ilmor) were told at the onset that this engine existed because of an equivalency formula and design and/or boost specifications were likely to change after development. That was the end of the subject for the rest of the summer.

Come fall the Brayton/Menard engine still had not made much progress while the Greenfield project was showing progress but slowly. Ilmor on the other hand was putting together its business plan for 1995. It was including the Indy 209 as an added attraction to its CART customers for an additional one million dollars for the month of May. This was only available to their top tier lease customers. With this news USAC and IMS further reduced the boost to restrict horsepower to the level of the other engines. With its size and weight, it no longer had an advantage. By now the Brayton/Menard engine had all but been abandoned and only Peter Greenfield was hit by the ricocheting bullet.

I informed with Mr Devin how USAC obtained the information about the Ilmor business plan. A question that was answered as follows:

It was the teams who brought this information to us. Both CART teams and USAC teams. There was always an open line of communication between USAC and the CART teams plus I sat on the CART Rules Committee.

Then, I had understood that development of the Menard/Brayton engine was ended because of the second boost reduction. So that needed verification… Besides that, I was interested how Peter Greenfield reacted on the rule change. So what I asked was…

You mentioned that the Brayton/Menard was all but abandoned. Was it not the other way around that the project was given up because of the second boost reduction of August ’94? The reply was crystal clear.

If the Brayton/Menard engine still had any life the second boost drop would not have happened. The first drop occurred right after the 500 which manufacturers were told to expect. The second came at the end of summer when two things coincided. Brayton/Menard had not made any progress and had no real business plan for further progress and Ilmor was presenting their lease agreements to their 1995 customers.

How did Peter Greenfield react on the rule change that made his project stand no chance as well?

Peter was not happy to be sure but he was, and is, a gentleman and businessman and he understood.

Then of course there remains that all important question.

When you look back on the entire “affair” do you think that USAC made the right decisions after all by opening up that loophole rule? Or should it have been done differently with additional requirements to comply to? The answer to that one was, to me at least, a bit of a surprise.

As I said before, the rule was made for all the right reasons, it just did not have the right outcome. How many other things in racing can you say the same thing about? I wish everybody would quit saying Penske found a “loophole” and drove through it in secret. Penske took a rule that was there for everybody and did a better job of implementing it.

A short time later, Mr Devin sent an another message in reply on my invitation to go through the articles in this series as they were at the time and react on what he felt needed to be said. There was one subject.

I thought I would respond further. Mainly on equivalency. Through the years equivalency had been successful for one main reason. It allowed several different engine platforms to compete somewhat equally. If equality got out of balance you would and could adopt the new leader. For example; when turbocharging overtook normally aspirated nobody changed the rules they just adopted turbochargers. Engine rules affecting horsepower were changed across the board to affect speeds and not parity.

The one exception to this was the turbine, which has some similarities to the Ilmor/Mercedes. The Granatellis had the exclusive right to the only turbine engine properly suited to this type of racing. While the engine was originally touted as being cheap, the price through the Granatellis was over $100,000. This was more than most teams’ annual budgets. Because of this and the fact that the turbine was not a crowd favorite IMS and USAC reduced the intake air area to eliminate any advantage it held. Being only competitive it lost place. In hindsight this was the right decision as the hugely popular unlimited hydroplanes adopted turbine engines and they are now unknowns.

So if Ilmor had been willing to make the pushrod engine available to all at a reasonable price, everything might not have come to a head when it did. CART, however, was pushing for everything to come to a head as they felt they held most of the cards. The formation of the IRL was inevitable in order for the Speedway to protect its interests.

This last paragraph made me think. Had 265Es and engines likewise been available in large numbers for all takers, then the following situation would have occurred. After the 1992 race there were some rule changes to slow the cars down, apart from the track modifications with the creation of the inner lanes. However, should the 209s have been allowed to run on 52 Inch boost, that would have led to a new category of engines more powerful than the more familiar quadcam. This in turn would have led to an increase in speeds again, and pretty much undo all the speed reducing rule changes of 1992.

I asked if anything like this had been on Mr Devin’s mind and if so, if he had any thoughts about it in order to keep the speeds under control again. Mr Devin replied as follows.

It was our intention that the 52 inches of boost would be more in line with the other powerplants. If not, smaller reductions would be implemented. Remember equivalency is a moving target that needs periodic adjustments. Also remember that the fastest qualifying record is with a Cosworth. If the normally aspirated engines had not come along there would have been more boost reductions across the board in store.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but there was a lot that Mr Devin wrote to me and answered me that surprised me. To name a few, the facts that Ilmor contacted USAC and that USAC, by Mr Devin, knew about the existence of the 265E engine as early as February 1994 already. Also, Mr Devin is very outspoken in his feelings that he obviously didn’t feel cheated or outsmarted by Ilmor and Penske. It also becomes a bit more clear by now why USAC didn't react with rule changes handicapping the 265E after all. USAC really took the stance that 'These are the rules, we had something else in mind, but nobody broke them, since we made them, so be it.'

But USAC certainly hit back later on.

As Mr Devin explained, the first boost reduction was in order to take away some of the clear benefit of the purpose-design pushrod and equalize the different options a bit. But once it became clear that the Ilmor 265E was to remain the only engine of its kind, other than the Greenfield V8, the situation became a bit different. Even more when it became clear that the Ilmor 265E was still to remain a rather exclusive engine, only available to regular Ilmor customers, and that these customers, according to the information USAC received, still had to pay another million dollars for them in addition to the lease price on the regular quadcam for the rest of the CART season.

That was the decisive reason for USAC to cut back the boost another time in order to take away any advantage the 265E had and also end the purpose-design 209 pushrod experiment. When I verified this with Mr Devin he confirmed this and added an extra explanation to the decision. In his own words:

That is correct. Their business plan dictated the second change. They basically said; we have potentially the best engine for the Indy 500 and we can charge whatever we want for it. If you want to win you must have it and if you don't like it, don't blame us, blame the rules makers at the Indy 500.

So, had Mercedes/Ilmor made more engines than the 30 they talked about and had they ensured that more teams than just the Ilmor Elite that could put down another extra million had access to them, the Ilmor 265E would have had another chance. And it would have helped as well if more engines of its kind would have been available to the opposition that was denied access to the 500I, even if these new engines still had to prove themselves in performance and reliability.

I also used the opportunity to find out if the Mercedes 500I affair had an influence on the rule making once IRL decided on a new engine formula from 1997 on. Somehow I could envision such an influence. But this was not the case according to Mr Devin. In his own words:

Nobody is completely happy all the time with an equivalency formula. The playing field is always shifting and with advancing technology this was happening faster than ever. With the prospect of a clean sheet of paper, recreating an equivalency formula was never in the mix.

The IRL engine formula was actually put together by the manufacturers. We got all the interested manufacturers together in a room and asked them what they wanted to build that would fit their programs and ours. Present were GM, Ford, Chrysler, Nissan and BMW. They came back with the parameters and USAC just provided the specifics for the rules. Obviously only GM and Nissan stayed through to completion.

But, of course, that is an entirely different story altogether.


In his book Beast, author Jade Gurss revealed more detailed information given by Mike Devin about how USAC dealt with the rulemaking regarding pushrod engines and who was behind it. Instead of sprinkling all the relevant corrections and updates into the original chapters of this series they are all combined here in a single update in this chapter that found its origins in the correspondene I had with Mike Devin.

The entire 209 pushrod saga started in 1991 when it became clear that Al Unser Sr could not obtain a decent Ilmor-powered drive. Tony George began to realize that Indy had become too dependent on the capabilities of a single engine builder whose decision-making was based on their own limitations but also their own policy.

Meanwhile, General Motors had become upset and disappointed over the Race Day performances of the engine built by Buick, this despite the promising outings in qualifying. General Motors lobbied with both USAC and the Speedway to lighten the rules on the stock blocks in order to get cheaper yet also more durable racing engines. USAC then changed the rules according to the wish list supplied by GM, and it eventually went so far that the obligation of stock-block heritage was eliminated as well.

According to Devin, much of the moaning and bitching on USAC was not entirely deserved since USAC was often in a position to merely comply with suggestions and orders made by others. Devin went as far as state that the Speedway often came to USAC telling them what they wanted, with USAC often simply giving in. All rule changes made by USAC were discussed with the Speedway. The relaxations on the pushrod-type engines appear to be much less of an idea coming from USAC than is mentioned in the introductory chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Based on Devin's explanations, the situation appears to be as if USAC was very much a kind of buffer for IMS to shoulder the blame and feel the heat in case something had gone wrong.

Another important event was that in 1993 CART made some suggestions to IMS that were not agreeable to IMS and left Tony George with the impression that CART had plans to put IMS under even more pressure. Because of these feelings, right or wrong, Tony George began with his plas to create the IRL in order to make Indy no longer dependent on CART and less vulnerable because of being a part of CART. Ensuring Indy no longer depended on a single engine supplier that built the best available engine but not in sufficient numbers for all takers meant that Indy needed its own engine options that were attractive to other engine builders too. The pushrods could be those engines.

Curiously, according to Devin, General Motors had forwarded some of their racing partners as possible candidates for a purpose-built Indy pushrod.

Yet Ilmor was told by GM that there was more than enough experience with pushrods available elsewhere, so their input in such a project was not needed.

The big question remains, of course: if General Motors really had USAC working as an ally in order to create rules that they had effectively brought up themselves, why was there never anything close to a GM-sponsored engine built by any of the outlets mentioned to USAC by them?

The ultimate irony of it all is the fact that GM's main partner at the time, which was told that they were not needed for an Indy pushrod project, was the only company related to GM that came up with such an engine, only to run it with a non-GM badge on the cam cover...

And as the icing on the cake, the GM partner whose input was deemed unnecessary was eventually cut loose from GM, but not before using all efforts by GM to create the rules for purpose-design pushrod engines (as one of only two organisations to come up with such an engine) and being victorious with it as well.

Some people at GM must have had some bad nights since April 1994 after finding out about the existence of the Ilmor 265E...