Updated: 10/28/2006
Through the Esses - The Chaparral Gallery to Open in April 
© Andrew S. Hartwell
This appeared on TheRaceSite.com on 01/27/04

"I was fortunate enough to be able to drive the Chaparral with the automatic transmission
and, in my opinion, it was the greatest race car that was ever built." - Roger Penske

This quote appears in professional photographer and writer Dave Friedman's wonderful book, Chaparral Can-Am & Prototype Race Cars, (published by Motorbooks International in 1998.)

I say wonderful, for starters, because the content of the book is outstanding, with Friedman's amazing collection of images from sportscar races held long ago (during sportscar racings 'golden era' - the late '50s and early '60s) a magnificent feast for the eyes and the hearts of us 'senior' sportscar racing fans. And he supplements those images with quotes like the one above, from the people who were involved with the success of - or tried very hard to beat - Texan Jim Hall's magnificent Chaparrals.

Throughout the book, Friedman's captions for his mostly black and white photos tell a story of the times in which Jim Hall raced. And they speak of the success enjoyed by the cars he designed and named after a bird that still roams -at speed - the vast lands of Texas today. (Think Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner cartoons.) He called his creations "Chaparrals".

The content of the book is key, but the subject is what first draws you to the volume. But why would the accomplishments of a Texas oilman pique the interest of race fans you ask? The answer is because Jim Hall - a tall engineer / oil man / driver / designer and constructor - created some amazing sportscars that broke new ground in the field of aerodynamics. And he ran those beautiful white-winged wonders out of his Midland, Texas facility that he named "Rattlesnake Raceway."

Friedman's remarks on the dust jacket say it succinctly, "Jim Hall created some of the most innovative and powerful sports racers ever unleashed upon a road circuit."

A review of the legends of sportscar racing's golden era would not be complete without referencing names like Briggs Cunningham, John Fitch, Masten Gregory, Walt Hansgen, Bruce McLaren, Phil Hill, and Jim Hall. The history of sportscar racing in America was written by many a great driver, constructor, team owner and engineer. And sometimes, they were all the same person. This was certainly the case with Jim Hall.

Hall practically pioneered the whole concept of applying aerodynamic devices to the task of increasing speeds, improving braking, and tuning handling to the point of near-flat cornering perfection. His many and significant contributions to the sport were acknowledged with his induction into the Motorsports of America Hall of Fame of America in 1994. He is also an honored member of the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame, having been inducted there in 1997.

It has even been said that legendary English constructor Colin Chapman acknowledged Hall's contributions to the sport by drawing inspiration from his creations. Chapman developed several design elements in his fabulous Lotus 'ground effect' racecars that could arguably have been birthed within the innovations Hall built into his Chaparrals. At the very least, the germination of a Chapman design idea or two could quite probably be linked to the radical automobiles coming out of Midland.

"The 2E was my favorite Chaparral. That car was good enough that we could take it to any race track in the world, and with a few minor adjustments, be set up to race and race fast.
It was a really good car. The aerodynamics on that car were more sophisticated
than what they run right now." - Jim Hall

At the 2003 annual Goodwood Festival of Speed, in England, Hall had several of his most beloved Chaparral cars - all beautifully restored and looking like new - on display. Always a fan favorite, his cars did not disappoint. Apart from an appearance last summer at Road America, the event marked only the second time Hall transported his creations to a place where fans could enjoy them. (Information on the festival can be found on their website at http://www.goodwood.co.uk/fos.)

After several years of planning, a permanent tribute to Jim Hall and his Chaparrals is almost ready to open. This time, the fans will have to take care of the transporting issues, and bring themselves to the cars instead of the other way around.

The Petroleum Museum, located in Midland, Texas is preparing for the grand opening of the Chaparral Gallery on April 15 - 17 of this year. The gallery will house all seven of the original Chaparrals as well as memorabilia and artifacts related to Jim Hall and his racing history.

Groundbreaking for the project started back in 2002. At that time, the Museum provided the following background information: 

"The concept behind the Chaparral Gallery began several years ago when Midlander's Frank Cahoon and Arlen Edgar approached celebrated Midland racecar driver / designer / owner, Jim Hall, about finding a permanent home for his world-renowned Chaparral Cars. Unbeknownst to Cahoon and Edgar, Hall had been considering options for doing just that."

Hall: "I thought the cars told a story and that story ought to be something that was available for other people to see. As it was, we got a lot of requests for people to view them, but we didn't have a place to do it."

Always an innovator, Hall sees the gallery as a way to deliver a message to young fans that never saw his cars race, but remain intrigued by the skills needed to create something that brought so much enjoyment to the fans. As the museum noted in an early press release, "Using science and technology, Jim Hall altered an entire industry. The ability to show young people that education and intelligence can be used to create fun is Hall's principal motivation in establishing the Chaparral Gallery."

Hall: "Racing is all about scientific and technical development. "I don't think a lot of people realize that. I want to influence the younger generation to study their math and science. If I can convince some youngsters that they ought to stay in math and science, that's what I'm looking for."

The grand opening celebration will begin with a celebrity golf classic on Thursday, April 15th. The next day, there will be tours of Hall's Rattlesnake Raceway with a close-up look at the white winged birds. Other events include a an automotive art exhibit and cocktail reception, a gala dinner and a silent auction. And on Saturday, the 17th, there will be "a full day of community celebration featuring fun for the whole family. Highlights include Chaparral gallery tours, activities for children, live musical entertainment, autograph sessions, innovative inflatables, bungi runs, arts and crafts, food, friends, and fun!"

And a unique and wonderful experience will take place on April 16th when long time motor racing journalist, author and photographer Pete Lyons moderates a "Conversations with Legends" forum. The racing celebrities scheduled to appear include: Jim Hall, Phil Hill, Brian Redman, Franz Weis, Gil de Ferran, Vic Elford, and others. Each of them played a role in the history of Chaparral cars. The panelists will gather to relive Chaparral history and share their adventures in racing with the many fans expected to be in attendance. It promises to be a time of wonderful memories.

Information about the grand opening can be found on the Petroleum Museum's website http://www.petroleummuseum.org. The website also includes a host of pertinent information including special airfares, directions to the museum, and more. You can even purchase your own copy of Dave Friedman's incredible book directly through the Museum's on-line gift store.

For more information you can call the museum at 432-683-4403 or contact them via email at grandopening@petroleummuseum.org.

If you remember the awe-inspiring sight of that tall wide wing, sitting high atop the back of the Chaparral 2E as it raced along the main straight at Bridgehampton, or the ground-hugging traction of the 2J "Vacuum Cleaner" as it entered the corners at Watkins Glen or Riverside Raceway, then you should make plans to travel to Texas this spring. The Petroleum Museum promises to reward you well for the time you spend seated in a big silver bird. The flight to Midland will land you in the midst of a dazzling display of several beautiful and rare white roadrunners that once soared their way into sportscar racing history.

The Chaparral Gallery at the Petroleum Museum in Midland Texas is a most fitting environment for a collection of racecars that every Texan - and every fan of American sportscar racing - can be proud of. And America's first Grand Prix Champion (1961) concurs.

"The Chaparral was the best racing car I ever drove anywhere, or anytime,
during my racing career." - Phil Hill