Looking Back at a Golden Age: From Aerospace to Road Racing

Champaign, IL — Meet Joel Driskill, dedicated to recreating a one-off sports car built nearly 70 years ago by Chuck Manning — whose career as a stress analyst for Douglas Aircraft interested him in mathematical analysis of sports car cornering characteristics and led him to build a car to test his theories. Manning not only wrote about his build experience in a September 1951 article for Road & Track magazine, he went on to race the car at West Coast events — including Palm Springs, Torrey Pines, Carrell Speedway and Madera — starting with a ninth-place finish at Palm Springs in October 1951.

The Manning Special at Speed Photo: Undiscovered Classics

Manning came back for the March 1952 Palm Springs Road Races, sponsored by the California Sports Car Club, to finish first in his Manning Mercury Special against some of the top drivers of the day, including a 25-year-old Phil Hill.

After we discovered Joel’s meticulous attention to learning about the car in order to faithfully recreate it, we just had to learn more about his story — which also includes collecting, digitizing and editing 1950s movie film of road races, mostly in Southern California, but also at Elkhart Lake (including the final road race in 1952), Watkins Glen and other tracks. Here goes…

VM: How did you first get interested in sports cars?
JD: When I was in college, I worked at a sports car restoration shop and my boss lent me a book about sports cars specials. My original interest was in John Edgar’s MG88 but as I kept reading, I discovered that a stress engineer who worked for Douglas Aircraft (Chuck Manning) had built his own special.

VM: Why did that interest you?
JD: After I landed a job as a stress engineer with an aerospace company, I took a liking to the idea of that car. I started searching for more information and it’s turned into a 14-year project. I’ve collected films, photos/slides, ephemera, race programs, dash plaques, trophies, and almost every automotive publication from post WWII to 1959. I’ve also gotten first-hand accounts through interviews, including with Mr. Manning’s family, to get the information I needed to recreate the Manning Special since the real one doesn’t exist any more. All of this was necessary to get the correct detail, including the color, about that car and the cars that were based off of Mr. Manning’s design.

VM: What was your favorite part of the experience?
JD: The things that were particularly special (and that I wrote about on the Undiscovered Classics website) were the Palm Springs badge, the MSCA badge and the Chuck Manning sales pitch that I received when I acquired some of his personal files from his family. I’m always surprised that these materials still exist.

VM: Where has your research led you?
JD: Although I was originally looking into the one car, my collection has led me to many other projects around the world — from helping with research, writing articles and finding cars with Geoff Hacker from Undiscovered Classics (formally Forgotten Fiberglass); contributing to the American Hot Rod Foundation’s collection; researching and writing a chapter and helping fill gaps in research for Tony Adriaensen’s book, Weekend Heroes II; helping identify cars for the Singer Owners Car Club — all while convincing my wife that she shouldn’t divorce me over this collection I amassed!