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Leader Card Racers: A Dynasty of Speed

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.

2 responses to “Leader Card Racers: A Dynasty of Speed

  1. This car qualified for the 1946 Indy 500 but was withdrawn because of a cracked or broken crankshaft. The engine in the car in this photo is a straight eight Miller. It was replaced by a 270 Offy that was purchased new by the Marchese Bros in 1947-48. The car ran in the 1938 and 1941 500 with the Miller and in 1949, 1950 and 1951 with the Offy. It finished 4th in 1949.
    It is most likely the first tubular frame car to run in the 500. The car also finished second in the AAA Contest Board standings in 1948 and 1949.
    It was renumbered – #2 for 1949 and 1950. (wonder what happened to the Miller, possibly it was shortened into a 4 cyl midget engine)

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