Tuesday 5 March 2024

SDoAR 2.10: Down the SDoAR Rabbit Hole

Since the comments post last week did so well, let's see if we can strip that mine for another week.

Dave Kopperman said...

Regarding the 'you can't mistake the brake for the accelerator', I've never been sure where Dave is making that assertion from. Maybe if it were an automatic transmission, then possibly. But any manual driver would likely keep the left foot for the clutch and the right foot would float between the accelerator and brake - doubly so in a start-and-stop environment like a suburban road. Was it ever established anywhere that Drake's Corvette was a Powerglide automatic? The stock model was manual and the automatic was optional. The nearest I've seen to any info was that article that says 'the transmission was found in second gear', which could go either way but I'd be inclined to think that you couldn't accelerate rapidly in that gear on an automatic - whereas on second gear on a manual you not only COULD accelerate like a bat out of hell, but you frequently downshift on purpose to accelerate quickly. If this was a three-speed manual then the downshift to accelerate would be to second gear - and the driver could very very easily get their right foot confused between the brake and accelerator if everything else were at play as described - rain, distracted mindset, unfamiliar car, unfamiliar terrain, quick decision making, passenger conversation, etc.

Anyone know the Chevy Powerglide specs well enough to provide insight?

Tony Dunlop added...

Dave K.'s point about the brake/accelerator thing is one I've made before. I've been the driver in exactly two car crashes in my life, and the first one happened precisely because I hit the accelerator instead of the brake in a panic situation. (Yes, I was driving a stick at the time.)

But Dave S. famously doesn't drive, so he can be forgiven for this error - even though it undermines a fair amount of his point.

Jen responds...

I actually did share my thoughts on this very topic back in December 2020 in a fairly lengthy fax, which I will share in part -- and Dave's response following that...

Jen faxed...

I’m not sure if this is serendipity, synchronicity or merely idle ramblings, but your supposition concerning Alex Raymond attitudes whilst driving Stan Drake’s Corvette struck a chord with me. Neither in support nor opposition per se, it just made me think about what my approach might be to a new vehicle considering my experience pushing the envelope with a litany of V-8 (or equivalently horse powered) automobiles.

First my bona fides. I’ve been driving for 35 years now, mostly east coast driving (Philly, D.C. and NYC). My first car was a 1972 Galaxie station wagon (with wood paneling!), my second a 1970 Buick Skylark (that I spray painted primer black), then a 1978 Chevy Nova (that required a quart of oil every week), and finally a 1968 Highland Green Ford Mustang 289, a complete money pit, but my kids and I adored that car (until it threw a rod and bees set up a nest in the door panel). I’ve replaced alternators, regulators (pre-catalytic converters), even swapped out a U-joint with a blowtorch under my Skylark on a cold parking lot asphalt in West Philadelphia one bitter November morning. 

... I finally decided I needed a car again and bought a 2016 Ford Mustang (in the same Highland Green as my ‘68!). This car has been a delight to drive, handling at 105 on the New Jersey Turnpike as nicely as it does at 75 (unlike my older cars that shook, rattled and rolled above 90 mph).

This in turn led me to treat myself to a two-day intensive stunt driving course in October (with front-wheel drive Impalas and rear-wheel drive Crown Vics). I cannot put into words how much fun it was to gun these cars down the track (wherein I acquired my nickname NASCAR) before pulling 180s, reverse 180s, box 90s, drifting, high speed slaloms, etc. I shared a YouTube video with Eddie of one of my reverse 180s on an empty racetrack in rural New Jersey, and he seemed suitably impressed and a trifle horrified!

@typingmonkette This is me trying to master the reverse 180 stunt in a Chevy Lumina in stunt driving school! #stuntdriver #driving #girldriver #girlpower ♬ original sound - Jen DiGiacomo

As I applied lessons I learned to my ... drives (different steering wheel grips, less braking, less oversteering) I oddly started researching Cannonball Runs (one car, multiple drivers, minimal stops from the Redball Garage on 31st Street in Manhattan to Portofino Hotel and Marina in Redondo Beach, CA). It turns out that a byproduct of COVID is significantly less traffic on the roads and therefore a series of record breaking cross-country runs that shattered the 35:54 mark set in 1971, with the latest record being a staggering 25:39 this year. Inspired, I am planning a more leisurely run of my own in the spring.

All of this brings me to Brock Yates, Car and Driver editor, creator and winner of the inaugural Cannonball Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, and author of Cannonball! World’s Greatest Outlaw Race. Yates wrote about his cross-country trek with American racing champion Dan Gurney in a Ferrari Daytona V-12, considered in 1971 to be the fastest car on the road. At one point they decided to see just how fast the car could go and topped out at 174 MPH! Mr. Yates mentioned how perfect the steering was at that speed, literally they could drive with one finger on the steering wheel. Yates further made the point that because of the Autobahn, cars across the pond were built to be driven and handled safely at very high speeds. In the U.S., our cars were made for quick acceleration and top speeds between say 85 MPH and 120 MPH, resulting in engines that were frequently too big and too powerful for the cars themselves (Alex Raymond experienced that with his British Allard), hamstringing any attempts at precision handling, especially in less than expert hands. And I’m talking 10 to 15 years after Alex Raymond’s Strange Death.

In fact, cars like the Mercedes Gullwing 300SL with ingenious engine offsets and canting could take turns at high speeds and power out of them without losing control. In a fancy American automobile, with a too big engine for the job, taking turns at high speeds meant skidding, drifting and furious counter steering just to stay on the road. I suspect that the Corvette, infamous for its fatalities and careening out of control, was worse than most. Let me put it this way: In my 2016 Mustang, if I pull out of a parking lot too quickly, I can feel the back end fishtail out and only decades of driving shitty cars with even worse tires allows me to countersteer without much thought (as the head of the stunt school complimented me on).

My guess is that Alex Raymond had been driving precision European automobiles for so long (Mercedes Gullwing 300SL, Jaguar XK120/XK140) that he underestimated just how primitive the Corvette was in comparison under real road conditions. And wet road conditions at that! I can’t tell you how many videos there are of Mustang GT 500s careening out of control and into trees, other cars, and walls when some idiot decides to show off a bit by hitting the gas, even on a simple straight away!

To be clear, this is not intended to absolve Raymond. Far from it. He was clearly arrogant about his driving abilities, unconscionable in being so aggressively reckless in driving someone else’s cherished car, and homicidal in doing so on wet roads he was not familiar with! And that doesn’t even touch upon the potential hazards from variable air pressure of the tires on Drake’s car. Let me put it this way, when I took my stunt course, they sprayed down the road for maximum skidding and manipulated tire pressure depending on what stunt we were trying to pull.

Let me see if I can stick the landing here. In Glamourpuss #26, p.11, you posit as part of Snapshot #4 that 500 yards was hardly enough room on Clapboard Hill Road to accelerate as if he was on the Thompson Speedway. I’m not sure that’s entirely true. If the oval track at Thompson’s speedway was ⅝ of a mile (considered monstrous when it opened in 1940), the straight aways were, what, 1000 feet? Modern drag racing tracks are 1000 feet as it is, so we’re talking half the distance of what he was used to (with the expectation, presumably, that he would continue accelerating). And with the 1956 Corvette boasting 0-60 speeds of 7.3 seconds (according to Road & Track testing at the time), I think he could have picked up some pretty impressive speed as he approached the 500 foot mark (someone related to me by birth calculated the speed at 500 feet to be 67.7 MPH). I was hitting 40 MPH in relatively short track space myself driving a P.O.S. Impala, and on wet roads we could pull off any stunt imaginable.

As I fell down this rabbit hole (and clearly there’s a lot more down there), I found a YouTube video from November 14, 2020 wherein some Comic Book Historian YouTuber interviews Tom Palmer about Stan Drake, the stories he used to tell and the death of Alex Raymond. I provide the auto generated transcript below of the two-minute clip, but there appears to be a three-hour tour… er… version of the entire soup-to-nuts interview that I have not attempted:

Alex Grand: Now you mentioned Stan Drake -- wasn't he the one in the car with Alex Raymond in that accident in the crash. 

Tom Palmer: That's right. He told me that whole story over lunch that day. It raised the hair on the back of my neck. Yeah, it must have been torture… he relived that day over and over and over for years probably to his last days and he told it in such a colorful, not colorful, but tragic way you know I think he felt the guilt of losing Alex Raymond being part of it so to speak, but Alex Raymond was the one driving.

Alex Grand: Did he [Stan Drake] indicate that he thought Alex Raymond may have done that on purpose?

Tom Palmer: No, I heard stories all the way through and maybe that's why he told me straight out -- he didn't give me variations. It started to rain and they were going on this curve and he knew that Alex was going a little bit too fast, but he didn't say anything and when they made the turn they went off the road, but there happened to be a tree there and when they hit the tree, I believe he lost one of ears at least maybe both ripped off Stan Drake's head. But Alex Raymond was impaled on the aluminum around... one of the first Corvettes there's a big thick aluminum chrome around the window. He was impaled so when they found he was dead in his mouth, neck or whatever.

This version of events seems to indicate the crash was shortly after the turn, which certainly seems plausible, either as a turn taken too fast, or just the 500 foot straightaway from Snapshot #4. I’m going to leave the aluminum chrome where it is for you to ponder.

But I am curious, are you familiar with this account? Do you know Tom Palmer? Could you get him on the phone to answer any questions you might have? Could I ask any more questions?

... I would [further] surmise that Alex Raymond was nowhere near as good a driver as he thought he was. The first thing they taught us at stunt driving school was: Know your vehicle. Know its limitations. Once you get behind the wheel, everything that happens is your responsibility. Because if you don’t take it seriously, someone is going to die and it will be your fault.

All that said with such impunity ... , you might want to take what I have written with a few chunks of salt, as I am clearly a mere hobbyist driver (an amateur at best), so caveat emptor, right? 

You’ve been researching this for a lot longer and in much more detail than I have. I just find I have a forensic interest in what actually happened -- and figured I’d share my ramblings.

Dave faxed...

Oh, and Philip Berkheimer just unlocked the next page for GoFundMe donors!

Just the GoFundMe Facts, Ma'am

  • $11,000.00 raised to date from 183 donations
  • 59 new pages released as mocked up by Dave Sim from 11 June to 17 November 2021
  • 80 total pages available on Dropbox, including Dave's 2019 mocked-up pages
  • $200.00 away from unlocking page 81
  • If you have not donated > $5+ donation grants access to all 80 pages and all pages moving forward
  • If you have donated, thank you, but if you want to donate monthly, GoFundMe does not offer that option, so please do so as we are in the beginning of month #3 of Year 2.
SDOAR 2023 GoFundMe -->> https://www.gofundme.com/f/sdoar-2023

The Strange Death of Alex Raymond Preview, Part Nine

Thisthisthisthisthisthisthis, this Oxford comma and finally the ellipsis
That's all I got!



SDOAR 2023 GoFundMe -->>
 https://www.gofundme.com/f/sdoar-2023 <<-- SDOAR 2023 GoFundMe


Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Well, that's Dave for you: Any facts that conflict with or refute what he's already made up his mind about, he dismisses. "Truly, you have a mighty intellect."

-- Damian

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

(Oops, sorry! That quotation should read, "Truly, you have a dizzying intellect," of course. How could I get that wrong? Inconceivable!

-- D.)

Steve said...

Cue W.C. Fields voice: "Go away kid, you're bothering me."

There's nothing 'strange' about Alex's death.


Satisfied Reader said...

In other and more interesting news, Damian T. Lloyd, Esq., continues to have a mansion and a yacht.

Tony Dunlop said...

"Alex Raymond was nowhere near as good a driver as he thought he was."

Aaaand...Occam's (sp?) Razor for the win!

I hope "Dame's" first comment doesn't get deep-sixed; seems to hit the nail on the head.

Darth Prefect said...

"Well, that's Dave for you: Any facts that conflict with or refute what he's already made up his mind about, he dismisses."

I tend to disagree with this notion. If presented with something that conflicts or refutes something, he will do the opposite; massively revamping his thinking to fit it in. This is how the whole 'Strange Death' thing has spiraled out of control in the first place.

And he does not dismiss her "ramblings", but lets her know he had already taken the ideas into consideration. That's a very different thing. That he does not *explain* how he has "already included" these ideas or why he has dismissed them, on the other hand, is very Dave.

Tony again said...

By the way Jen - Feel free to post more stunt driving vids here! Looks like fun!

Dave Kopperman said...

Dave can be sphinx-like in his responses sometimes, and as mentioned above if he's analyzed a thing to his satisfaction and drawn a conclusion, no force on Earth can move him off of that. Interestingly, his (to me) flawed analysis of that aspect of the crash actually doesn't detract from his overarching theory that Raymond harbored professional jealousy towards Drake and was likely - perhaps subconsciously - suicidal (and perhaps steered by a kind of 4D synchronicity into the crash as an inevitability).

I'd weighed saving the question for an Ask Dave session but suspect it would be politely and obliquely dismissed - and it's really kind of a red herring anyhow, as the book gets so far away from the accident that it's not even really engaged with it as anything more than window dressing.

Anonymous said...

“…Stan was absolutely convinced Alex was trying to take him with him, to make it look like an accident so his widow would get the insurance, an incredibly tortured man. Even more, Westport was definitely a hotbed of strange-ass stuff Artist-wise then; like Woodstock with Lockjaw. And when I would drive the length of road where the accident occurred, it's pretty
revealing. The road is tailor made for insane acceleration.” (Bill Sienkiewicz 2015)
- Eddie

Anonymous said...


That's some good drivin'!


A Fake Name

Dave Kopperman said...

"Stan was absolutely convinced Alex was trying to take him with him, to make it look like an accident so his widow would get the insurance, an incredibly tortured man" - Bill Sienkiewicz

"I think (Stan) felt the guilt of losing Alex Raymond being part of it [...] It started to rain and they were going on this curve and he knew that Alex was going a little bit too fast, but he didn't say anything" - Tom Palmer

Not that these quotes are mutually exclusive, but it sounds like Drake was all over the place AND these are second-hand reporting on conversations that had likely happened years before - I suspect the reportage says more about Palmer and Sienkiewicz than it does about Raymond (or Drake, for that matter)

Mouse Skull Entertainment said...

Dave Kopperman: I suspect Drake suffered head trauma/PTSD from the crash, and subsequently didn't really remember what happened and spent the rest of his life trying to fill in the blanks.

So, I don't trust his narrative.

Manly Matt Dow

Anonymous said...

Leonard Starr interview: Alter Ego 113:

"JA: Before we change subjects, I’d like to know what Stan Drake told you about the automobile accident that took Alex Raymond’s life and nearly his own.

STARR: We were both car enthusiasts, and Alex had been taking speed-driving lessons. I guess he got good at it, but not good enough, because he kept wrecking cars on the Merritt Parkway at night. Alex drove expensive cars like Mercedes, which he drew in Rip Kirby. When Alex’s body was brought to the hospital, his regular doctor was there and said, “That stupid bastard finally did it.”

Stan had just bought a newCorvette. Alex dropped by and wanted to try it out. At one point, they were driving uphill very fast as they were coming to a crossroad. Being unfamiliar with the car, Alex hit the accelerator instead of the brake, and they went up into air, off the road, and hit a tree in mid-air. Stan was thrown clear; his ear was almost torn off and his shoulder was dislocated. They managed to sew the ear back on and put his arm in a sling. He would never wear a seat beat after that. If he had been wearing one, it would’ve been all over for him. The driving shaft of the steering wheel went right through Alex.

Alex was having an affair with a certain Mrs. White. None of us met her, but he was madly in love with her, and she with him. His wife wouldn’t give him a divorce because she was devoutly Catholic, as Alex was. They had five kids, who were mostly grown by the time of the accident. Some time after the accident, a couple of insurance investigators showed up, thinking Alex deliberately crashed the car because he had a million-dollar insurance policy that would have been voided if this was suicide. Stan got furious and said, “Do you think he would have done that with me in the car? My best friend?” Stan threw them out of his house. That was the end of that.

Years later, Stan and I were sharing a studio, and were talking about it, and he started thinking about it, and says, “You know....” Well, they said Alex was an experienced driver and wouldn’t have made a mistake like that. Thinking about it, well, they have a point. Would you make that mistake?

JA: No.

STARR: It doesn’t take more than five minutes to get familiar with a new car, and then it’s like you’ve been driving it forever."


Dave Kopperman said...

Eddie - it's a little difficult to know what you're trying to convey with these interview clips, but this Leonard Starr interview may be the most opaque as yet. It actually lends credence to Matt's point that Drake's PTSD led to him changing key points of his narrative over the years. It also references so many things that it's highly unlikely that Starr was privy to in a first or even second-hand fashion (such as the quote from the doctor). It's ultimately nothing but somewhat informed gossip and supposition.

None of which actually gets back to my original question, which has been somewhat obscured in all of this: where Dave is making the claim that "there's no way to confuse brake and accelerator". I thought it might have something to do with manual vs. automatic, Tony said it's definitely a mistake even experienced drivers make even on manual, and Jen says (and Starr supports) that Raymond wasn't nearly as good a driver as he thought he was. All three are reasonable assumptive possibilities, but impossible to know for certain - which is why creating a narrative around it is a brilliant artistic choice.