The Little Red Sprite
A 6,962 mile trip from Anchorage, Alaska to NJ in a Bugeye Sprite and beyond.
While stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska I purchased a non running red Bugeye Sprite. After towing it back to the base, I rebuilt both carburetors and had it running in a day and everything on it worked.
In 1965 the Alaska Sports Car Club put on the Alaskan Grand Prix, a race held at Tannacross, a WWII Air Force base used as a fuel stop on the way to the Far East. This was my first race and out of a class of 6 sprites I finished 2nd in class.
On schedule to be discharged at Fort Lewis, Washington in February of 1966 I began planning my trip home. With a cousin in Ventura, CA to visit and a little sightseeing on the way.
Friend Willard, driving a 1957 Dodge and I would make the trip together. It was going to be cold; forty to sixty degrees below zero, and we would try to cover about 400 miles a day. We pre-arranged motels to stay at and agreed to continue there each night and wait for whoever was late.
The Sprite was loaded with arctic survival gear: tools, Lucas parts, fire starters, “C” Rations, oil and clothing. On the luggage rack, were a 5 gallon can of gas and a pair of cross country skis.
We left on February 15, 1966 heading towards Palmer, Alaska. Outside, it was a balmy 35 degrees below zero, but with the Smiths dog breath heater panting against my right leg I was warm enough in the Sprite. When the generator light came on, I was lucky to make it 40 miles to a gas station in Glennellen where they corrected a faulty field ground. When I reached Ida’s Motel near the Canadian border Willard was checking in. We plugged in the engine heaters, ate and turned in for the night.
At dawn, we cleared Canadian Customs into the Yukon Territory of Canada. I made the trip to Destruction Bay Lodge an hour sooner than Willard. Tomorrow, we would go over 600 miles.
We left Destruction Bay at 7:00 am. Several long haul truckers in front of me were moving at over 60 mph in a convoy and I managed to stay with them all the way to Haines Junction, about 180 miles. Willard was nowhere in sight.
For lunch, I ate one of two sandwiches I brought. About 5 miles before my gas stop at the McCree Inn; I saw a large skinny Timber Wolf standing in the middle of the road. He was almost as high as the top of the car and feeling sorry for him, I tossed him my remaining sandwich.
Around 8:00 pm, I pulled into our pre-arranged stop at the Toad River Lodge and Guide Service.
Willard accidently ran off the road and a trucker stopped, towed him out and got him running again. He cautiously drove the rest of the way arriving around midnight.
After a large breakfast we started out at 8:30 am. We would stop in Dawson’s Creek (of TV fame) at the end of the Alcan Highway for the night.
The next day we made it to the Pine Grove Motel near Prince George, British Columbia.
About 150 miles south of Prince George, there was a tremendous amount of snow on the ground and snow blowers were constantly clearing the roadway. I was looking for my next gas stop when I spotted a small gas sign on the side of a 30’ high snow bank. I drove into the gas station through a tunnel! Five miles later, the snow was almost gone.
Several hours later I crossed the US Border and drove to Fort Lewis, WA. Willard arrived later that day.
On the Alaska to Fort Lewis trip, I covered 2,442 miles. The Sprite consumed 64 gallons of gas and two quarts of oil getting a little over 38 mpg.
After being discharged, Willard and I shook hands and were off on our separate journeys.
While on California’s Highway 1, the temperature gauge started edging past the 200 degree mark. I stopped to let it cool off and added some water. After 30 miles it was hot again and now there was a miss in the engine. I got out the tools and removed a very stuck thermostat.
After I arrived at my cousin Jack’s a compression check revealed a burned valve in cylinder number three. Jack said, “You are in the land of speed shops.” and in less than five minutes we were at a place that specialized in British cars. They rebuilt the head and supplied everything I needed to put it back together, all for around $80.00.
Saturday morning, we put the car back together and after breakfast I said good-bye and headed to the Meteor Crater in Arizona, then went on to Amarillo TX for the night. From Amarillo, I lunched in Oklahoma City and spent the night in Tulsa. From Tulsa, I drove to St Louis, where I spent the night making the decision to go all the way home the next day. By 2:30 am on March 5th, the Sprite was still purring and I was home in NJ.
That summer I joined SCCA and converted the Sprite to a race car. I completed my Racing Driver’s Schools at Thompson Raceway in Connecticut and Bridgehampton on Long Island, NY. My first official race was at Marlboro, MD where I finished third. In August of 1967, I finished 5th out of 18 cars in the Reading Road Races. I went on to win the SCCA Area Two Championship in 1971 and the North Atlantic Road Racing Championship in 1976 and 1978 in that car.
I then moved on to bigger and faster race cars and sold the Sprite to my brother who later sold it to someone in PA.