To call Gordie Alberg an auto racing fan would be an understatement.
Over the past 50 or so years, Alberg has had stretches where he lived, ate and breathed racing, whether it was driving, building motors or working with other drivers as a team owner.
He has the luxury these days of being a collector, with around 20 classic and customized vehicles in his collection.
His most recent acquisition is without question his most special, he says.
It’s the 1965 Rolla Vollstedt-built Indy car driven for most of that season by Victoria-born Billy Foster, one of Alberg’s racing pals. Foster, who died in 1967 in a practise for a NASCAR race at Riverside, Calif., had a car custom-made for him for the 1966 USAC Champ Car series, but Old Bess, as the ’65 model became known, was unique.
“I haven’t been this excited since I was a kid,” Alberg says. “I’ve been trying to buy this car for 30 years.”
Now restored to the 1965 paint scheme it had when Foster took over driving for Vollstedt three races into the season, this first North American-built rear-engine Indy car will be on display at tomorrow’s Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame 2016 induction ceremonies at Western Speedway.
Alberg, now a Saanich resident, was there in 1965 when Foster, a professional rookie at the time, made his debut at the Indianapolis 500 and became the first Canadian driver to qualify for the legendary race. He lined up in sixth spot and finished 12th.
Len Sutton, a driver nearing the end of his career, drove Vollstedt’s No. 16 car in the Indy 500 in 1965, but hung up his driving gloves after that race due to neck injuries. Foster took over and enjoyed good success in the car.
In the mid-to-late 1960s, various young drivers had a chance to pilot the car, including future Indy 500 winners Mario Andretti, Gordon Johncock and Tom Sneva. Vollstedt, based out of Portland, Ore., even ran it for a while as a modified car on the Northwest circuit.
Alberg bought the car last summer from Don Shervey, an old sports car racer also based in Oregon. Shervey ran the car at Indianapolis on the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500 in 2011 when he was in his eighties.
“We became really good friends,”Alberg says. “He told me he was doing 185 (miles per hour) down the backstretch at Indy.” Alberg didn’t believe him at the time, but a later check with track officials confirmed the speed.
After showing his prize car at the Hall of Fame gala in Langford, Alberg plans to take it to Portland in June for a special event featuring it and two other legendary Vollstedt cars, plus there’s a stint in a World of Speed museum coming up. Following that the goal is to strip it down and make sure it still runs well, which includes converting it from methanol fuel.
The ultimate goal would be to take it to Indianapolis in 2017 to take it around the track, he says.
“That’s going to be one of the highlights of my life.”