RETRO: The wild tale of 1982’s Eagle Aviation Flyer IndyCar, part 2

RETRO: The wild tale of 1982’s Eagle Aviation Flyer IndyCar, part 2

We pick up after part 1 as Ken Hamilton, the world’s bravest man, was preparing to drive the insane DW2-Chevy for the first time.

With the Rookie Orientation Program doubling as his first opportunity to lap the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the DW2, Ken Hamilton was expected to drive in a manner that was capable and trustworthy. Instilling confidence in the highly critical veterans — the ROP approval committee — who were swift to deny any Indy 500 rookie who looked too slow or out of control was the only goal for Hamilton. The Dean Walker 2 had other things in mind.

“I lost it the first time down in Turn 1,” he continued. “It was in the morning, rookie session, and I finally got the green flag. I gassed it up into Turn 1, it came around and I was able to gather it up. It had gotten onto the grass and it was wet, had dew on it — I got on the brakes and it came back on track.”

Just like he was riding the cushion in a sprint car, Hamilton caught the mile-long DW2’s broad slide and somehow — while defying the laws of physics — managed to regain control of the car before it fully spun and crashed.

“So I just went by the short chute wall there between 1 and 2 and started down the backstraight.” he said. “And here come the ambulance people and rescue people because they knew I’d already crashed, but I didn’t. So I pulled in, and that’s when I took it and then Dean changed it.”

Scholars could study the rear of the DW2 for eons and fail to grasp all of the concepts at play. IMS Photo

We’ll get to that last comment in a moment. Frustrated by the DW2’s extreme lack of rear stability, Hamilton took matters into his own hands.

“I had a guy in Indianapolis build me a wing — cost me $1,000 for a little wing that was like 42 inches wide and 11 inches deep,” he said. “And the wing was worth 10 miles an hour.”

With unstable aerodynamics and unstable handling, Hamilton was lucky to save the No. 63 DW2-Chevy from hammering the wall the first time. The car had one dominant trait: It wanted to spin when the steering wheel was turned. Daunting at a track where turning left would be required 800 times if Hamilton made it into the race, the DW2 was behaving like four-wheeled widow maker.

Adding a rear wing made a bad situation slightly better, but there wasn’t much that could be done with the front and rear ground effects systems that refused to work together. The suspension, however, was wide open for all manner of improvements.

But rather than rely upon those with open-wheel chassis setup knowledge to try and find the fastest settings for the brand-new DW2, Hamilton says the first-time race car designer nominated himself to tune the car’s handling.

“One of the guys that I had taken there as crew chief got in one morning and he said, ‘Kenny, watch out — Dean’s been in here changing the suspension geometry on the car,’” he added. “I lost it coming off Turn 4. Fortunately, I spun it around a couple of times, grabbed a gear and drove it straight into the pits.”

After just a couple of brief outings on the 2.5-mile oval, Hamilton reached his limit. Twice lucky, he finally listened to the wiser version of himself.

“I thought, ‘You know, my feet are six inches from the wall, the way he designed that thing…I knew I should not even be in the car,” he said. “I got out, headed back to the garage, and told them I was getting on an airplane and going back to Idaho. He attempted to kill me twice. I wasn’t gonna go fast enough to ever make the show anyway.”

This ode to science fiction actually lapped the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo by Amy Mauder

The car described by IMS as the “radically-different and longer No. 63 Eagle Aircraft Flyer” spun twice in three days, and in between the gyrations, Penske Racing’s Rick Mears set the event’s best practice lap at 205mph. Pole would eventually go to Mears at 207.0mph while the slowest qualifier, Josele Garza, squeaked in at 194.5. Let’s just say that Mears had a 25mph margin of comfort over Hamilton and the DW2’s best lap at IMS.

“It took mph in 1982 to make the show,” he said. “And the car that I had was almost 12 miles an hour slow.”