James Taggart and a “National Auto Racing News” article by Aut Swenson in the publication titled “SPEED SMOKE – Then – Now.” Keep in mind that racing on the IMCA circuit run by promoter J. Alex Sloan was usually “scripted” and the outcome of the raced was known beforehand by the drivers.
Clarence “Norske” Larson appears to have started his driving career behind the wheel of this exceptional-looking Model “T” Ford-based racing car between 1918 to 1920 (note the 1918 to 1920 Minnesota license plate.) Like most of the Ford racing cars built at the time, this one was lowered about six-inches by adding a flat front frame cross member, raising the rear one and de-arching both of the springs. What sets this one apart from the pack is the beautifully made body of polished aluminum complete with a custom radiator and belly pan.
Larson, from St. Paul, Minnesota apparently started out working as a mechanic for early racing promoter J. Alex Sloan, and later raced for him on the IMCA circuit. “Norske” then graduated to racing “big cars“ and with one placed first in a race held during 1922 at the South Dakota State Fairgrounds in Huron. He attempted to qualify for the 1931 Indianapolis 500 race in a Duesenberg but did not make the field. Later that year he died after a crash in St. Paul, at his home track at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Learn more about period Model T Ford racing cars here.
Update by James Taggart: I found this article in the July 25, 1935, edition of “National Auto Racing News” that lends some details about Norske Larson and his race car. Well-known Alex J. Sloan publicist Aut Swenson wrote a weekly column in the publication under the title “SPEED SMOKE — Then — Now” by the Hired Boy. The columns were a behind-the-scenes look at racing in the 1930s plus good ol’ racing community gossip.
In the July 12, column Swenson, who is from Minnesota, mentions the Minnesota State Fair and reminisces seeing Norske Larson for the first time:
“More people witness the auto races and are on the state fair grounds at St. Paul on auto race days each year than are present at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the progress of the annual 500-miler in the Hoosier city”.
“Not only is St. Paul noted among the racing fraternity as the site of many famous auto race classics, but also as the home of the Capitol Auto Engine Works, one of the nation’s best precision machine shops. Airplane conversions and early day speed accessories were turned out in this plant. During recent years, it is our understanding that the aviation motor power plants converted into motorboat engines have taken up the entire time of the Capitol shops. Its guiding genius, John Mooney, at one time turned out a racing motor using a special block, head and cam adaptable to the Model T Ford base. This was before the era of Rajo and Frontenac equipment for the T Fords.”
- Ad in the “Power Boat” January 1914 issue shows the firm was capable of building engines of any size.
“The late Norske Larson of St. Paul gained national prominence at the wheel of one of these Mooney built Fords. The car, costing better that $3,000, was reputed to be the fastest Ford race job on wheels at the time. Norske made his debut on the Minnesota State Fair track in 1928 (ED: the year in the article is incorrect as it was between 1918 to 1920) with his Capitol-engineered product. After competing for years in all sections of the United States under the IMCA banner, the popular St. Paul driver met an untimely death over the same Minnesota State Fair track while competing at the wheel of a supercharged Duesenberg straight 8 formerly owned by Tommy Milton. Which brings us down to the fact that St. Paul was formerly the home of the famous Milton.”
“We remember back in the days shortly after Milton established a new world’s straightaway record of 156 miles an hour in his twin-engined Duesenberg in 1920 when Alex Sloan brought him to St. Paul as one of the feature drivers in a two-day IMCA sanctioned meet held independently of the state fair. In fact, one of those days was called “Tommy Milton Day.”
“It was then that we first saw Norske Larson split the ozone in his beautifully designed Mooney Special. Many bets were made as to the power plant in this then fleet Mooney. That an early day Ford could be converted into the speedy, trim-looking racing machine piloted by the popular Larson was unbelievable.”
Editors note: If anyone can find more photos of this “Mooney Special” or the other two cars that were built at the Capitol Auto Engine Works please let us know.