July 16, 2002
Monmouth County Airport
Mark Kynett, senior pilot for the airship, the Spirit of Goodyear, was rapidly turning what looked like a large steering wheel--it's called the elevator control--on the right side of the captain's seat. His lean face was glistening with sweat as he was pumping his muscular arms quickly, rolling the elevator control backward, trying hard to gain altitude. But the blimp wasn't responding. We were caught in a thermal. Kynett and his six passengers had been flying along at 35 mph at an altitude of 900 ft over Monmouth airfield, but were now tipping forward, grabbing onto to the backs of the slippery plastic seats. The airship was tobogganing forward, and the ground was very rapidly coming up to meet us. It was so much fun.
Chowderheads go aloft
July 16, 2002
Monmouth County Airport
Demonstrating great skill and strength, Kynett, confidently snapped the elevator control backwards and we started gaining altitude; but at that same moment, a 25-knot cross wind broached the airship; turning it abruptly south. Slidding his feet back and forth on two pedals as though he was working through the complex gearing system of a 1930's Maybach, Kynett, pumped the pedals to steer the blimp left and right. It took a lot of effort. Sweat was sliding down his cheeks as he focused on the wall of gauges in front of him. He shouted above the hum of the two six-cylinder 210-hp Continental engines, "It's really seat-of-the-pants when you're flying a 200-ft long aircraft; trying to get the timing down is one of the most difficult things. You can give the give the airship full left rudder and in a strong wind still go off to the right," as we were doing at that moment. Still, there was something extremely exhilarating about being caught in the moment, not knowing which way the wind would turn us, or how much the sun that heats the helium inside the Dacron-infused Neoprene fabric cell would lift us.
John Williamson, Goodyear; Genia Wennerstrom, MASCDCS; Bruce Wennerstrom, MASCDCS (L to R)
So you may be asking, what does riding in a blimp have to do with cars? Everything, that is, if you're a member of the Madison Avenue Sports Car Driving and Chowder Society, one of the most imaginative and fun car clubs in the United States. Bruce and Genia Wennerstrom, co-directors for the MASCDCS, are renowned for inspiring the "Chowder" members and their friends to embrace new adventures beyond the realm of the usual car club. The club is famous for hosting a race in1978 between Race Car Drivers and Cabbies through the streets of New York City. Janet Guthrie, the first woman to race in the Indy 500; Phil Hill, world champion grand prix racer; Bob Tullius, Group 44 founder; Jacques Vaucher first winner of the Cannonball; and and Steve Behr, a Sebring racer, all drove new Ferraris, competing against five cab drivers in their yellow cabs. The purpose of the race was to determine who were the most professional drivers, race car drivers or the cabbies. The race car divers were given the handicap of having to sprint across United Nations Plaza to their cars while the Cabbies waited in theirs for passengers. All racers had to pass through four checkpoints. The Cabbies had the advantage of being able to communicate on their radios with their non-racing colleagues to avoid traffic congestion enroute. Bruce Wennerstrom happily recounted the outcome, "Janet Guthrie and Jacques Vaucher ran redlights and were disqualified. Phil Hill crashed into Howard Henkin's cab and Steve Behr who had to substitute a Saab for a Ferrari at the last minute due to mechanical problems, won the race."
But the MASCDCS engages in standard car activities as well. Beverly Kinds who has been a club member for 25 years, said her husband Jim Cox married into the club. He used to restore pre-WWI Fiats, Bentleys, Rolls and Packards. Beverly ,who is an automotive writer, is driving for nine days with Jim in a caravan of classic cars across Canada in a 1930 Auburn 8. Sam Cadonsky, vice president, new member development at I-Behavior, has been a member for five years. The way he became a member, he explained was when, "A guy, a real car nut I used to work with told me about it. I went to one lunch as his guest and I was hooked. I joined that afternoon. I love cars. I have a 1960 Austin Healy Sprite, a beautiful 1957 Porsche Speedster in incredible shape and a 2001 Porsche Carrera 996 C4 Cabriolet."
Through the years, the MASCDCS has attracted a number of celebrities including race car drivers Bobby Rahl, Janet Guthrie, Derek Daly, Danny Panoz, David Hobbs, Bob Sharp and David Donohue. As well a Sheldon Solow, car collector; Walter Cronkite; Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, head of the British National Motor Museum; John Coletti, head of Ford's Special Vehicles Section; and Libero Pardini, head of South African chapter of MASCDC. Bruce Wennerstrom, who in addition to being the co-director of the MASCDCS, is the co-founder and co-chair of the Greenwich Concours d'Elegance, with his wife Genia, and editorial director and on-air host of Classic Cars on Mag Rack. He explained that back when the MASCDCS was first founded in 1957--by Art Peck, vice president of Broadcast Operations for CBS Radio and Ken Moore, an advertising executive, and a group of their car enthusiast friends--driving in New York City was an elegant thing to do.
Michael Jordan, writer for Automobile Magazine explained, "It was a time when people could drive Jaguar 120s into the city; it was the time of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's.'" Wenerstrom agreed, "New York was definitely more car friendly and a safer city in the 1950s and 1960s. Gena and I regularly drove our Dual Ghia into Manhattan for dinner, a movie, or a play and thought nothing of parking it on the street--with the top down; it was never disturbed or vandalized. Member Bob Greer used to drive his Delahaye (he had a succession of them, including a 1937 135M with body by Figoni and Falaschi) into Manhattan, and even used the 135M for hill-climb competitions. And at that time our members owned and regularly drove cars such as Jaguar, MG, Triumph, Mercedes-Benz, Maserati, Bugatti, Peugeot, Porsche, Lancia, Daimler, Bentley, Abarth, Fiat, Morgan and Ferrari. Now a days traffic density is much greater, parking more restricted, and I seldom take a car collector into Manhattan."
But the MASCDCS still meets monthly in the city at Sardi's restaurant. And they still enjoy great car adventures. Recently, Danny Panoz, who is the builder for Panoz race- sport cars, and racing-school cars, was invited to speak to the group. Delighted by their enthusiasm and warmth, Panzos invited the club to Atlanta where Panoz honored them with time on the track, a tour of the factory and a memorable lunch. Wennerstrom explained, "We are true car people. We enjoy one another's company, sharing car experiences, swapping tall tales, attending or participating in competitive events and great adventures."
With a strong tail wind on our backs, we sailed over Asbury Park, over a long strip of gold beach where aqua green Atlantic was breaking into long tresses of white foam. Kyett turned the airship back and we watched red, blue, white, black, and green toy sized cars glide across the highway. This blimp ride would definitely be an experience to add to the MASCDCS' greatest adventures.