Category Archives: Auto Racing Photos 1946 – 1965
A young Robert Wilke, who later ran the family Leader Card printing business, started in racing by helping The Marchese Brothers number 4 car seen (above) in the late 1920′s.
There may still be snow on the ground here at The Old Motor, but that great spectacle of speed, the Memorial Day classic at Indianapolis, is not really that far away. We have just finished reading a book by one of the premier historians of American championship racing, Gordon Eliot White, that covers the time that the Leader Card team competed in that great event and many more. White has been writing about American championship racing since 1952 and has probably forgotten more about the sport than most will ever know.
Left to right :Marchese #45 at Indianapolis in 1938, the two-car 1947 Leader Card midget team, Joe Sistillio with his Leader Card midget in Boston, 1948.
His book, Leader Card Racers: A Dynasty of Speed, chronicles the story of the Wilke family’s involvement in open wheel racing through four generations, from the 1930′s right into the start of the 21st century. From midgets to upright sprinters to the immortal Indy roadsters and beyond, the Leader Card team cars were driven by many of the greatest oval track drivers of the era, including Rodger Ward, Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford. Through first person interviews and fastidious research, stories of their great drives are told. Accounts of races run decades ago seem as fresh as stories in the sports section of today’s paper. In clear and concise language, White recounts the 70+ year history of the Wilke’s Leader Card race team, and the time in which the sport evolved from one of privateers and enthusiasts to the high dollar, corporate sponsored world that it is today.
Left to right: Rodger Ward at Sacramento in 1959, the Leader Card Team at Indianapolis in 1962, and Ward again at Phoenix.
The book itself is beautifully crafted. High quality heavy stock paper show pictures to their best advantage. It’s illustrated with hundreds of high quality color and black and white photos, some of which are seen here, although our digital scans hardly do them justice. A comprehensive 29 page appendix documents the race record of every driver that ever drove for the team in each season from 1958 to 1994 with sharp and colorful graphics. You can learn more about the book Leader Card Racers : A Dynasty of Speed and check out many other fine books about racing history and other automotive topics at Racemaker Press.
A Young Tony Bettenhausen with the Marchese team post war at Indianapolis.
The Le Sabre nameplate made its first appearance on the 1951 Le Sabre show car. This car was yet another fine example from the GM Art and Colour department, run by Harley Earl, who was assisted in the design of concept cars with his talented designers. A clay concept version of the Le Sabre first appeared in the fall of 1950 and the actual car was constructed, finished and shown to the public in July of 1951. It was not a Buick, although Buick did pick up the Le Sabre name for 1959.
It in essence, was a replacement of the Buick Y-Job, one of the first concept cars at GM, which Earl used as his personal car and calling card for most of the 1940s. It was one of the first post war automobiles to introduce the world to aircraft design elements, such as the wrap-around windshield and tail fins, that were incorporated into the car. The 1951 Le Sabre pioneered new features such as a dual gasoline and alcohol fuel system, lightweight materials and a moisture sensor which would raise the convertible top if it began raining when the car was unattended.
In January 1953, Earl introduced his latest “dream car”, the prototype 1953 Corvette, at the GM traveling Motorama display at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The sleek Corvette, the first all-fiberglass-bodied American sports car, was an instant hit. It went into production the following June in Flint, MI., after a crash program to bring it to market and to capitalize on the favorable public and media opinion. Only 300 Corvettes were built that first year, followed by two years of production of this style; in 1954 it was mostly unchanged but in 1955, when the new Chevrolet 265 c.i. V-8 became available it was offered in the car.
The photos seen here are courtesy of Michael Furman of Coachbuilt Press, where you can learn much more about his book, The Art and Colour of General Motors. You can also look back on more of Michael Furman’s work here on The Old Motor.
The 1957 film The Sand Barrier, is an interesting and professionally done film for the Pontiac Motor Division of General Motors, that is well worth watching even if you are not going to view this weekends Daytona 500 race. The 26 minute-long film documents all of the action back in time when it was a two-week speed fest.
Featured in the film in addition to the main event are; speed contests on the measured “flying” mile, where John Zink sets an unofficial top speed of 141.2 mph in one of his 1957 Pontiac race cars. In the acceleration tests from a standing start on the one-mile course, Brewster Shaw sets a top speed of 86.8 m.p.h. in his 1957 Chrysler 330C.
Next up is the NASCAR Inspection Station were all of the cars in the main beach and road race are inspected before qualifying is held. The top speed set in that event is a run of 134.3 m.p.h. by Banjo Mathews in his Pontiac, which gives him the pole position at the start of the race.
- Scenes some of the events featured in The Sand Barrier.
In the 160 mile “Grand National Beach and Road Race” Cotton Owens in his Ray Nichols prepared Pontiac, early on sets the pace and is later challenged by Paul Goldsmith in his Smokey Yunick prepared Chevrolet. The hard fought race continues on until Goldsmith burns a piston late in the race and Owen’s goes on the win at a 101.6 mph average speed and sets a new race speed record in the process.
After the finish of the race you can watch as Cotton Owen is congratulated by NASCAR Commissioner Cannon Ball Baker and is presented the Harley Earl Trophy for winning the race by Earl himself.
Cotton Owens is seen (above) at an earlier race on Daytona Beach with a Pontiac, in this photo courtesy of www.legendsofnascar.com
You can also look back here on The Old Motor to see many other early racing cars and other events, first when the speed events were held at neighbor-ing Ormond Beach and later on at Daytona Beach (scroll down).