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Oct 30 2010

-From out of the past-
The Don Edmunds Fully Independent Suspended Roadster Midget 

by Kevin Triplett
Live Oak California
Contributor to OWR3

See the Video

The heavily weathered little midget race car sat at the end of the line of cars on display, and was overlooked by many attendees of the Legends of Ascot event, who failed to realize what this car could have meant to auto racing. 

The little #99 car is the only Edmunds four-wheel independent suspension midget ever built, and it has a remarkable history. 

From the early days of oval tracking automobile racing, midgets, sprint cars, and championship cars have utilized solid front and rear axles still do so today.  At Indianapolis, the reign of solid axle cars ended by the mid-sixties with the arrival of rear engine cars, which utilized four-wheel independent suspension.  Don Edmunds recognized the impact of this trend as early as 1964, devoting a page in his catalog to a discussion of independent suspension.  Don pointed out that as long as midgets and sprint car owners stuck with solid axles, this put the “young Sprint or Modified driver, with an eye towards Championship racing, in a difficult position, because he is no longer gaining any knowledge of equipment resembling the type in which he some day hopes to compete.”  Don predicted that “if things do not change in this traditional Indianapolis training ground, the next generation of speedway drivers may well come from some other form of racing.”  We now know that Don Edmunds saw the future quite clearly.

In 1973, Don Edmunds Autoresearch
Edmunds Autoresearch built this radical, offset four-wheel independent suspension midget for USAC car owner and Edmunds dealer H. H. “Howard” Linne.  Howard Linne won the 1961 USAC midget car owner’s title, and his cars won over 69 features, run out of his farm implement dealership in Mendota Illinois.  Through  the years,  the great drivers -A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Troy Ruttman, Tony Bettenhausen, Don Branson, Gary Bettenhausen, Bill Vukovich, Billy Engelhart, Ken Schrader and George Snider all drove Howard Linne owned machines. 

Right Front

Right Rear
Left Rear, notice sway bar not connected
For an engine for the radical new car, Howard Linne shipped Edmunds an 110 inch Offenhauser; it was not a high horsepower “Linne special;” this engine had been assembled initially for use in an antique midget Linne was restoring.
The dark blue car, trimmed in gold leaf, debuted at Phoenix International Raceway in November 1973, at a scheduled 100 lap midget race. As enthusiastic as he was about the concept, he did not want to compete head to head with his customer’s cars, so Lee Kunzman was selected to drive the radical new car, and Lee promptly broke the track record at 31.43 seconds. Immediately, protests were lodged against the radical new car. USAC officials ruled that the small panels behind the front bumper were in fact wings, and directed Edmunds to remove them. Knowing that he had an older Offy engine that might not last 100 laps, Don chose to load up the car rather that chop it up. Several days later, Don received a letter from USAC upholding the protest and nullifying the track record.
The Edmunds roadster’s next appearance was at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1974, driven by Steve Chassey. Steve recalls that the car was “a rocket ship” in warm-ups, and quite a bit faster than the other cars, but before he could qualify, Howard Linne announced that the car had been sold to Australian Kevin Fischer. Don Edmunds suspects to this day, that other USAC car owners had lobbied Linne to not race the ground-breaking machine in USAC for fear that it would make their machines obsolete.
In South Australia, the car was reportedly raced on the dirt a couple of times driven by Bill Wigzell before being sold to 4-time Australian sprintcar champion “Gorgeous” George Tatnell of Sydney Australia. George picked the roadster up from Fischer, and upon returning home, learned that the midget sanctioning body had outlawed the car, so George just put it in his barn.

Thirty-five years passed, and Don Edmunds wondered whatever had become of the roadster, which Don describes as “the best car he ever built,” even though it had never raced. After searching, Don got in touch with George Tatnell’s son, World of Outlaws driver Brooke Tatnell, who told him that it was still in George’s barn. In 2007, George Tatnell passed away, and after a few years, Brooke let Don know the car was for sale. Don’s son, Dan Edmunds, in Australia on business, took numerous photos of the car to document its completely unmolested condition. Don reacquired the car in 2010 and proudly displayed it in its UNrestored condition at the Legends of Ascot 2010.

All photos by Kevin Triplett

Copyright Don Edmunds©2003 to 2019