Saturday, August 30, 2008

'Rudder' Could Add 15 mph To 500-Mile Race Speed

The following was written by my father, Rick Johnson, for the Indianapolis Times newspaper, in the Fall of 1957.

‘Rudder’ Could Add 15 mph To 500-Mile Race Speed

by Rick Johnson

Does it seem possible the Indianapolis “500” Mile Race could be run 15 mph faster next year?

It’s not only possible, it’s probable. A young mechanic has worked on and theoretically perfected an invention that could speed up the Indianapolis race, or any other race for that matter, that is run on a similar track.

John Totton is the man. His idea consists of a rudder mounted on the right side of the car that will hold the racer down in the grooves when extended at high speeds.

Sound simple?

It is a known fact that speeds have soared the last five years on the Indianapolis track. But, just how much more speed can mechanics and drivers urge out of their cars? It has reached the point where added speed is almost uncontrollable.

Here is where Totton’s idea comes in. His rudder, which will be placed at the center of the car or on the tail, will be pushed into the violent slipstream rushing alongside the car. Not only will this slow the car, much the same as a dive brake on jet fighters and bombers, but it will give the driver a controlled drift in the curves.

Totton contends, that with the rudder extended no more than 35 degrees to 45 degrees, the curve speeds at Indianapolis would soar as much as 15 mph.

The idea is not new. A.J. Watson, chief mechanic on the John Zink cars, experimented with a “rudder” on Troy Ruttman’s car prior to the last “500.” However, it apparently had no effect on the car’s maneuverability.

Totton said, “A.J. had his rudder placed directly behind the front wheel. It was in a vacuum. No wonder it didn’t work. Mine is placed further inboard. Watson knows it will work and he told me he’d be back next year with one that would work.”

The rudder, in Totton’s estimation, would do these things:

“Without a doubt, the driver would be able to corner faster with a curb put on the tremendous centrifugal force and drift. Also, all-important tire wear would be reduced. There would be less tendency for the tires to roll over and scuff in the curves.

“With a rudder, there would be less deaccelleration and acceleration and a great saving on the car brakes and fuel consumption. As a result of these things, a great deal of time could be saved from pit stops.”

Inventor Totton is no stranger to racing. He took up the sport in 1948 and voluntarily retired in 1955. He now lives with his wife and four children at Route 1 in Solsberry. Totton is well acquainted with some of the best wrench twisters at the track, and mechanics some himself.

He said, “Roy Sherman, the DA Lubricants mechanic, wanted to try my idea last year. But he didn’t have time to get it ready for the race. But if I get this patent I’ve applied for, then some of them will try it,” Totten said confidently.


Thanks to the intardnets and folks who are a helluva lot smarter than me, I have learned that the inventor's full name is John Mosley Totton, Jr. He patented his device in March of 1961.

Here is a full accounting of that patent. Click on the images for clarity and jaw-dropping detail!

Thanks to the U.S. Patent Office and FreePatentsOnline for the images and documents.

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