Category Archives: Auto Racing 1946 – 1965
For this Sunday’s video, we have footage from one of the numerous short tracks that dotted southern California in the years immediately following the Second World War. The type of cars seen here offered a much more affordable way to get into racing than with the purpose-built midgets and so-called Big Cars that had been prevalent on the oval tracks in the nineteen-thirties. The vast majority of these roadsters were Ford-based.
It was the wide availability of inexpensive Model “A”, “T” and 1932 to 1934 models, flathead V-8′s and the speed parts for them that made it relatively easy to build a competitive car on a budget. An interesting footnote occurs at the 2:20 minute mark where we see a very young and very serious looking Dick Rathmann, the future Indianapolis driver. His expression might be at least partially explained in the last paragraph of this brief biography. You can see many more post-war racing posts on The Old Motor.
- 1936 Soapbox Derby photo courtesy of the Bridgeport, CT Library
For a little bit of off the beaten path Sunday entertainment, early Soap Box Derby photos are featured today, and an excellent video below showing a film of the 1936 running of the national runoffs. Watch as it is described how the series was run at the time, including the big event that year in Akron, Ohio, only three years after it first began in 1933.
The photo above is from Bridgeport, CT, and shows the running of only one of over a hundred regional races held at the time. The event was run there on July 25, 1936, over a course that was 1,050 feet long. It was sponsored by Cochrane Chevrolet Company (Chevrolet was the national sponsor) and the Post Publishing Company.
The photo below was taken in Albany, NY, where that city’s first race was held in 1940. Chevrolet dealers in the area and the Albany Times Union locally sponsored the Derby. The racing continued off and on in the New York Capitol region until the seventies, when it ended there as the series started to fall out of favor at the time.
You can learn the complete history of the Derby at Smithsonian.com. You can also watch a film, Kid Auto Races at Venice starting Charlie Chaplin at what may have been the first event of its type in the land, and also see photos of many early derby cars here on The Old Motor. Video courtesy of USAutoIndustry.
- Photo courtesy of the The New York History Blog
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.