Friday, November 28, 2014

The DuPont nameplate at Indianapolis

The recent increase in public interest in the history of the duPont family with the release of the film Foxcatcher brought to mind the DuPont corporate connections to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

When one mentions the name “DuPont” to a modern auto racing fan, their immediate response usually involves NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Racing) racer Jeff Gordon. This response is understandable, given Gordon’s long connection to the DuPont Paints brand from his rookie appearance in 1992 through the 2012 season with a record of 84 race wins and 4 championships. Most fans are surprised to learn that the DuPont name graced the Indianapolis Motor Speedway more than 60 years before Gordon’s signature victory in the inaugural 1994 Brickyard 400.

In July 1802 French immigrant Eleuthere Irenee du Pont founded the E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, commonly referred to as ‘DuPont’ in Wilmington Delaware to manufacture gunpowder and the firm quickly became the number one supplier to the United States military. Through the years, DuPont also began to manufacture dynamite, smokeless powder, fabric, paints, and chemicals on its way to becoming the corporate behemoth we know today.

In 1914, Eleuthere’s grandson, Pierre, invested in the fledging General Motors Corporation (GM) and helped the growing company expand by buying more stock as the years passed and DuPont (the company) eventually owned 37 percent of GM’s stock.   In 1920, Pierre succeeded William C. Durant as the President of General Motors and served in that role until 1923 when he rose to the position of GM’s Chairman of the Board until 1929. In the late 1940’s the Justice Department pursued an anti-trust case against DuPont and in 1957 the Supreme Court ruled that DuPont had to divest itself of the ownership its GM stock.

A Biddle car- built by Arthur Maris 
an early employee of DuPont Motors

Pierre’s second cousin, Eleuthere Paul “E. Paul” du Pont was what we today might refer to as a “gearhead” as he was interested in all things mechanical – airplanes, motorcycles and cars. He owned an early Indian ‘Camelback” motorcycle, flew his own biplane and started his own automobile company in September 1919.  Arthur Maris the former President of the Biddle Motor Car Company was the DuPont Motors first Vice-President and General Manager with John Pierson of the short-lived Wright-Martin airplane manufacturer as the new company’s chief engineer.

The fact that DuPont Motors planned to have their new four-cylinder car on display at the New York Auto in January 1920 proves that this was an “assembled car” that used components from suppliers, such as frames, engines, transmissions and rear ends rather than build its own major components. The “assembled car” was quite common in the early days of the automobile industry but as Ford Motor Company and General Motors increased production fed with their own built components, the “assembled car builders” were slowly squeezed out of the market. 

This was not true of the DuPont automobile, which was an expensive car and exclusive due to its very limited production. The company initially based in Wilmington Delaware later also assembled cars in a new factory at 13th and Pennsylvania Avenues in Prospect Park Pennsylvania. 

The first duPont model on a 124-inch frame powered by a four-cylinder L-head Continental engine coupled to a four-speed Warner transmission and Columbia rear end was unimaginatively called the Model A. The retail price of the new DuPont automobiles started at $4000 and featured four body styles - a sedan, a 2-seat roadster, and two sizes of touring (open) cars.  

A DuPont advertisement

1922 saw the introduction of a $3000 closed coupe body, and in 1923 prices were cut $400 across the board and saw the introduction of national magazine advertising that used the slogan “The car that makes an instant appeal.”  The Model A was followed quickly by the nearly indistinguishable Model B, with total production of the two types estimated at 120 cars.  The Model C powered by a six-cylinder Herschell-Spillman engine was introduced in 1924 with four model styles which started at $2090.  

The 1925 Model D saw a switch to six-cylinder 268 cubic inch Wisconsin engine with Bosch electrics and a single Schebler carburetor tied to a Carter transmission. For 1927 model year duPont Motors introduced two new body styles for the Model D - a seven passenger touring body that came finished in cobalt blue with a khaki top and a four-door convertible.  

DuPont Motors experimented with supercharging in the short-lived Model E shown as a stripped chassis at the 1928 Chicago Auto Show. The low-pressure supercharger ran at half the engine speed but did not feed through the carburetor but rather through a rotary valve attached to the block. 1928 also saw the debut of the longer 136-inch long wheelbase Model F of which only three are believed to have been built. The Model F introduced an interesting feature to the automotive world; be lifting the seat cushion exposed a large wing nut which when loosened, allowed the adjustment of the seat frame forward or back.

In September 1928, duPont Motors Incorporated introduced the 1929 Model G powered by a factory-modified eight-cylinder 322-cubic inch 140-horsepower side-valve Continental engine. The Model G was available in a large variety of body styles - convertible sedan, sport phaeton, limousine, club sedan, seven-passenger touring, sport roadster, convertible coupe, five-passenger Victoria. 

A special edition two-passenger speedster painted grey with black leather upholstery, equipped with art-deco Woodlite headlamps and chrome wire wheels debuted at the invitation-only 1929 New York Auto show. Also for the 1929 show, duPont built a total of six ‘toy’ cars which used 16-inch diameter Seiberling salesman’s sample tires, powered by a 1-1/2 horsepower Briggs & Stratton engines with the aluminum bodies built by the Merrimac Body Company.

Through the efforts of Los Angeles dealer E.A. Van Trump Jr., the Model G became popular in the Hollywood move community. Mary Pickford purchased the first $5335 Model G two-seat speedster off the floor of the New York show for her husband Douglas Fairbanks at a time when a Ford Model A roadster cost $500. Boxer Jack Dempsey, playwright Eugene O’Neill, and humorist Will Rogers all drove duPont Model G roadsters.         

After the introduction of the 2-seat speedster, at the urging of New York distributor Alfredo J. Miranda, Jr. the duPont factory began to work on an entry for the 24-hour endurance race at Le Mans France.  After a misstep since a 2-seater was not legal, the duPont factory produced a pair of special Model G cars fitted by the Merrimac Body Company of Boston with 4-seat speedster bodies.

In addition to the DuPont dealership at the Hotel Delmonico on 5th Avenue, Alfredo Miranda and his brother Ignacio operated Miranda Brothers Inc., an exporting company that sold automobile trucks, aircraft, tires, machinery, and munitions to South America. In 1940, both Miranda brothers were convicted and sentenced to terms of ‘a year and a day’ in the Lewisburg  federal prison for selling munitions through spy Sidney Cotton to Bolivia in violation of the neutrality embargo during the nineteen thirties South American Gran Chaco War.  

The LeMans entries were close to stock with exception of the use of a larger 60-gallon fuel tank, Marchal headlights, more aggressive camshaft profile, Rudge-Whitworth knock-off wheels, and Dunlop tires in place of the DuPont’s standard equipment Seiberling tires. The second car intended to be raced by Australian duPont distributor Sidney Cotton was damaged in transit, so the drivers of the remaining car were Miranda and young duPont Motor experimental engineer and 23-year old factory test driver Charles Moran, Jr.

Charles Moran Junior, scion of a wealthy New York attorney met one of E. Paul duPont’s cousins, Edmund, as freshmen students at Princeton in 1924 and through his cousin befriended E. Paul duPont. After his graduation in and a brief season racing in Europe that included the 1928 Bol d'Or Endurance race, Moran was hired as an experimental engineer and test driver at duPont Motors.     

The white and blue trimmed #2 duPont entry started the 24-hour grind on June 16 1921 from 23rd position and quickly moved up to run in eighth place, but retired after just 20 laps (approximately 3 hours) when a ballast weight loosened, hit and bent the driveshaft which created a vibration soon caused the transmission to fail. Despite the failure, to commemorate the Lemans adventure, DuPont and Merrimac produced perhaps 15 of the ‘Le Mans’ 4-seat Model G speedsters for sale as passenger cars.

For the 1930 Indianapolis 500-mile Sweepstakes the AAA (American Automobile Association) Contest Board had adopted a new rules package at the urging of Speedway owner Eddie Rickenbacker. Eddie wanted more participation from automobile manufacturers so the intent of the rules were for cars “susceptible of adaption from production car chassis,” with supercharging outlawed on four-cycle engines and an engine  displacement limit of 366 cubic inches. Also for 1930 the use of a riding mechanic was required after an absence of eight years.

Rickenbacker’s plan was partially successful as entries were received that had been built from Duesenberg, Oakland, Auburn, Stutz, Chrysler, and du Pont automobiles. Based on AAA rules in effect at the time regarding the naming of cars, only the duPont and Stutz cars appear to have been factory entries.  

The official 1930 qualifying photo of the DuPont
courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

The bright yellow #32 DuPont entry, based on a two-seat 125-inch wheelbase Model G speedster came close to meeting Rickenbacker’s “semi-stock” ideal as it was close to stock. With the fenders, headlights, windshield, spare tire and chrome grille removed, and fitted with special bodywork from the cowling rearward, atop the seven-inch deep frame, what looked sleek as a passenger car appeared tall and ungainly at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Like the LeMans entry, it was equipped with Rudge-Wentworth kick-off wheels but fitted with Firestone balloon tires for Speedway duty.

As unbelievable as it seems in this era of sleek fully-equipped race car 18-wheel transporters, after it had been prepared at the factory by Moran and Allen Carter under the direction of Chief Engineer L.F. Hosely the six-foot tall Moran drove the DuPont racer, fitted with Woodlite headlights to Indianapolis from the Wilmington factory. During the month of May, Moran told newspaper interviewers that as an amateur racer, any prize money he won in Indianapolis would be given to the next man to finish in order to maintain his amateur status.

Moran and riding mechanic George Read completed their ten-lap time trial run at an average speed of 89.733 miles per hour (MPH). While this speed earned the duPont entry the 19th starting position right in the middle of the starting field, the car’s qualifying speed wound up being the third slowest in the field. The 3350- pound car could not break 100 MPH on the straightaways, while the pole-winner Billy Arnold averaged over 113 MPH in the Harry Hartz’ Miller-powered entry which weighed less than a ton.

Racing on “the Brickyard” must have been difficult for Moran in 1930, with narrow Firestone balloon tires on a basically stock 1-1/2 ton machine. In addition, until 1933, there were no limits on much oil a car could use during the race, so as the lap mounted, the brick-paved track became slick and treacherous; Rick Decker’s pink ‘Hoosier Pete Special’ split an oil tank early in the 1930 race and turn three was badly slickened.

In that era, Speedway and AAA officials did not display a yellow flag to slow the cars while the spilt oil was cleaned up as is done today, rather teams of workers spread a mortar-and-sand combination to absorb the oil. Years later in a 1966 interview with the New York Times, Moran vividly remembered the alkaline taste in his mouth from the dusty absorbent that probably only served to make the brick racing surface more treacherous.

During the 1930 ‘500,’ over a period of nine laps, ten cars were eliminated by crashes in turn three; the legendary drivers involved included Lou Moore, Peter DePaolo, Babe Stapp, and Deacon Litz.  Marvin Trexler’s Auburn based racer, the factory duPont entry, and two other cars were eliminated in a crash on lap 22 but all involved escaped without injury, but a crash on lap 29 of Cy Marshall’s Duesenberg badly injured Cy and killed his brother Paul the car’s riding mechanic.

1930 proved to be the only time the duPont nameplate contested the Indianapolis 500-mile Classic but Charles Moran Jr. returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1931 as the pilot of his own “Model A Ford Special” that failed to qualify.  

Moran’s Indianapolis racing career did not end with his non-qualifying effort,  as he returned as a riding mechanic  with James ‘Billy’ Winn to a ninth place finish in a Duesenberg semi-stock racer owned by Fred Frame. Winn, known as the “Red Devil” due to his red helmet and driving suit, later married Detroit furniture heiress Helene Yockey, the widow of Winn’s late friend Joe Russo. 

Moran later briefly worked for the Indian Motorcycle Company, and then joined his Columbia classmate Edmond duPont at the Wall Street brokerage house Francis I. DuPont and Company. Moran raced a Type 35 Bugatti at Bridgehampton and Watkins Glen in 1950, then after a 22-year absence returned to race in the 1951 24 hours of LeMans behind the wheel of a Ferrari 212 Export and finished in 16th  place. In 1953, Charles raced the Chrysler Hemi-powered Cunningham C4-RK at LeMans and finished in 10th place.     

While Moran’s sports car racing accomplishments are impressive, his greatest contributions to motor sports came as an executive. Charles was the President of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) from 1954 to 1955 and Founding President of the Automobile Competition Committee of the United States (ACCUS) the National Sporting Authority of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) for the United States.

As President of ACCUS, Moran negotiated the settlement of the first USAC-NASCAR feud in 1961 through a series of meetings between NASCAR’s “Big” Bill France and USAC President Thomas Binford. Charles served as ACCUS President until 1966 when he was named the managing partner of F. I. DuPont and Company. Forced out of the Wall Street firm in September 1969, Charles Moran Junior died at his retirement home in Utah in June 1978. 

Following the 1930 ‘500,’ the DuPont automobile nameplate began its slow descent into oblivion. During the nineteen twenties, company founder E. Paul duPont lent the Hendee Manufacturing Company that manufactured Indian motorcycles $500,000, and in early 1930, E. Paul accepted 40,000 shares of Hendee stock that gave him control of Indian motorcycle manufacturing. In June 1930, the first two floors of the Springfield Massachusetts Indian factory building were remodeled to accommodate DuPont automobile production.

After the merger of the two companies in late 1930, DuPont Motors introduced the Model H, which used a 145-inch wheelbase frame. With the collapse of the American economy in the Depression, E. Paul duPont suspended automobile production in the middle of 1931 with only three Model H cars built.  Paul intended to resume production when the economy improved, but no more DuPont cars were built with a total estimated production of less than 600 cars built during an eleven-year span.

The Nethercutt DuPont Model G in 1958

Perhaps the most famous of the 30 or so remaining DuPont passenger cars is the 1930 Model G Merrimac-bodied Town Car, one of the first classic cars purchased by Jack Nethercutt (of Merle Norman Cosmetics) in 1956 for $500. After a complete 18-month $56,000 restoration, the Nethercutt duPont Model G captured the “Best of Show” award at the 1958 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Years later, the car rented from the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar California appeared in the 1982 motion picture Annie.

The restored DuPont 1930 Indianapolis entry
courtesy Tam's Old Race car Site 
Remarkably, the 1930 duPont Indianapolis entry appears exactly as it did in the 1930 Indianapolis 500-mile race owned and regularly raced in vintage events  by renowned collector Lammot J. duPont of McLean Virginia.

This article would be remiss if it failed to mention the one other duPont connection to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1960 and 1961, Mrs. Henry Clark Boden IV, born Marguerite duPont de Villiers-Ortiz entered the ‘Kelso Auto Dynamics Special’ a laydown Offenhauser-powered ‘Lujie’ Lesvosky-built chassis. Despite the best efforts of drivers Jack Turner and Lloyd Ruby, the car, a copy of the 1959 ‘500’ pole-winning ‘Racing Associates Special’ failed to make the race either year.  The star-crossed jet-black and gold leaf machine is part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum collection.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Val Haresnape – the forgotten AAA official

Born in Kansas in 1891 to British immigrant parents, Valentine ‘Val’ Haresnape, his brother, sister, and parents moved to Los Angeles where he became interested in auto racing and first worked as a pit official under Art Pillsbury at the original Ascot one-mile track. In April 1924 in addition to his job at the Riverside Portland Cement Company, Val was elected to serve as the Southern California representative to the AAA (American Automobile Association) Contest Board. Val served as a member of the Board until he was named National Secretary on May 23, 1926 with Means as assistant secretary.       

Soon after he was named Secretary, the Contest Board directed Haresnape and Means to complete a historical analysis of the records of all pre-1920 AAA races to determine the “true” National Championship winners for the 1909 to 1920 championships. Most notable in their analysis, the pair developed a points system and decided to count all 11 AAA sanctioned events held in 1920 and thus awarded the 1920 National Championship to Tommy Milton instead of Gaston Chevrolet. Their altered championship results stood until 1951 when the controversial Russ Catlin revised them yet again, and Catlin claimed he partially used Haresnape’s notes.  

Val quit the AAA on December 3 1927 after 18 months of service to join the Stutz Motor Company on December 18 but quickly returned as Board Secretary in early 1928 while remaining a part-time Stutz employee.  In 1929, in addition to his regular national duties, Val served on the contest committee with Tommy Milton the first two-time winner of the Indianapolis ‘500,’ and Indianapolis Motor Speedway Vice-President TE “Pop” Myers for the record runs at Daytona Beach Florida.  

During the winter of 1929/30, Haresnape contracted scarlet fever and he resigned from the AAA on February 3 1930, replaced by his mentor Arthur Pillsbury. Though he resigned as secretary, Haresnape retained his role as Racing Director for the AAA at the upcoming 27th annual Daytona Beach speed trials. 

The Sunbeam team poses with the Silver Bullet at Daytona

Louis Coatelen, the Frenchman who ran the Sunbeam Motor Car Company of Wolverhampton England had directed the design and construction of the Sunbeam ‘Silver Bullet’ powered by two supercharged V-12 24-liter (1465 cubic inch) aircraft style engines that together produced an astounding 3000 horsepower. Almost immediately upon Coatelen’s arrival in Florida in mid-March 1930 Louis and Irish driver Kaye Don began a series of disputes over the preparations of the 31-foot long 4-ton machine which resulted in repeated delays.

On March 21 1930 annoyed by the Sunbeam team’s delays, Val Haresnape issued an ultimatum to the pair to patch up their differences or the AAA would withdraw sanction for the trials. A few days later, after Val acted as an arbitrator, Kaye made a one-way practice run at 198 (MPH) miles per hour against Henry Seagrave’s record of 231 MPH in the Napier ‘Golden Arrow’ which ended with the car on fire. 

Apparently the stress of events was too much for Haresnape’s weakened heart as he collapsed and went home to Los Angeles in the early April. Despite repeated trial runs, the Sunbeam effort was ultimately unsuccessful - the team abandoned the attempt and returned to England on April 22. The following day, Val Haresnape suffered a massive heart attack at his residence at 1535 Cambria Avenue in the Los Angeles Westlake neighborhood and died at 39 years old.  

As they commented on Haresape’s passing, the editors of Automotive Industries magazine wrote, “he was the hardest working individual ever to hold the position of Secretary of the AAA Contest Board. His two terms were marked by outstandingly aggressive administration. Val Haresnape’s outstanding contribution was a sense of duty that knew no middle ground. He was relentless in his opposition to misstatements and evasion and believed himself insusceptible to the toll of overwork.”

Valentine ‘Val’ Haresnape was laid to rest in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale California. His widow Geneva who never remarried, died in 1975 and rests beside him.  

Friday, October 3, 2014


More than thirty years before the inception of Indiana Sprint Week, the United States Auto Club (USAC) staged a multi-race series for midget racers in Florida during the months of February and March in 1957. Known as the “Tangerine Tournament” it featured the top midget cars and drivers from around the country. 

After months of planning, the schedule for the Tangerine Tournament was announced on January 6 1957 by Ashley T. Wright, chairman of the organizing committee the membership of which included driver Tony Bettenhausen who served as the Chief Steward of the series. Wright, from Orland Park Illinois, best known as the owner of the series of immaculate ‘Hardwood Door’ midgets, also served as the USAC Midwest zone supervisor during the middle fifties.

The initial schedule for the Tangerine Tournament was described in the press as Florida’s first “big time racing circuit” although the American Race Drivers Club (ARDC) had hosted a series of races at four tracks in 1948. The thirteen all-Offenhauser engine USAC midget racing programs featured a core group of 15 USAC cars and drivers which were scheduled to appear twice at six race tracks.  

From a base established in the former Indian River/Frank B Smith Lincoln-Mercury dealership at 720 South 4th Street in Fort Pierce overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, races were scheduled at tracks that spanned the state of Florida from Pensacola in the north to Miami in the south and Tampa on the Gulf Coast.  Trios of races were scheduled in the same geographic area on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, with the first event set for Pensacola on February 17.

Florida was virgin territory for USAC midgets, held at race tracks that typically hosted weekly hardtop or jalopy races, so Mr. Wright devoted a lot of time and energy to promote the series. Newspaper articles introduced readers to the midget cars as “little bundles of dynamite” powered by Offenhauser engines, the “power plant instrumental in winning national titles for many years, considered the finest power unit of its type in the world.” Drivers from all parts of the country that included Indianapolis 500 veterans Al Keller, Chuck Weyant, and 1953 midget champion Leroy Warriner were among those entered to handle the “little gems of mechanical perfection.”

In advance of the start of the Tournament, on February 7, Len Sutton billed as the first man to “turn upside at 140 MPH and live through it” (a reference to his 1956 practice crash in the Wolcott Special) spoke to the Fort Pierce Lions Club and showed a short film on the 1956 Indianapolis ‘500.’ 

Two nights later as part of the regular hardtop racing program at Fort Pierce Speedway, Sutton and Bob Gregg staged a match race in the two Ashley Wright midgets.Gregg was behind the wheel of the new “Kay Special” a Kurtis-Kraft roadster midget named after Wright’s wife Kathryn, while Sutton drove the conventional “Hardwood Door” Kurtis-Kraft midget. After the races, Ashley showed the interested fans a 25-minute film that recapped the 1956 Indianapolis ‘500.’

Another effort to interest fans in the series was the nomination of cars and drivers to represent cities throughout Florida; for instance Jimmy Knight represented the City of Tampa, Sonny McDaniel the town of Fort Pierce, Al Keller, West Palm Beach, Rex Easton the city of Winter Park and Len Duncan the city of Jacksonville.  This effort was so convincing that some newspaper articles actually listed those cities as the drivers’ hometown in race results. 

The 1957 USAC midget racing season had already held four races before the inaugural Tangerine event at Pensacola – two races indoors at the Allen County Coliseum in Fort Wayne, one race at the ¼-mile South Mountain Speedway in Phoenix and one at the paved 1/3-mile at San Jose California. 

The winners of those four earlier races- Rex Easton, Warriner, Clark ‘Shorty’ Templeman, and Gene Hartley all were entered at Five Flags Speedway on Sunday February 17. The $2000 dollar nightly purses indeed attracted drivers from all over the country including two young racers from Texas destined for great results later in their careers named Lloyd Ruby and A.J. Foyt.    

The USAC midgets raced on a paved ¼-mile oval inside the larger ½-mile paved oval Five Flags Speedway located in Northwest Pensacola, The track owned and promoted by Alf Knight and Ted Chester opened on Memorial Day 1953. Knight would later move on to serve as track superintendent of the Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1959, while Chester was owner of the Hudson Hornet driven by 1952 NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Racing) Grand National champion Tim Flock. Chester gained notoriety as the owner of “Jocko” the monkey that rode with Flock in a pair of the 1953 NASCAR races. 

Details of the opening afternoon midget race are sketchy; the entry list included Johnnie Tolan and Chuck Rodee (real name Rodeghier) the 1956 USAC midget championship runner-up, Len Duncan, and Andy Linden. Hank Nykaza a 12-year racing veteran former United Midget racing Association champion from East Chicago set quick time and then won the trophy dash, his heat race and the 12-lap semi-main. Victory in the 30-lap feature was captured by Chicago’s Jimmy Knight over Linden, Hartley, and Templeman.

News reports indicated that Knight started the day behind the wheel of a roadster midget but after problems switched to a conventional midget for the feature. Despite Knight’s victory, Andy Linden tallied the most points in the opening night’s event.  Knight, whose real name was James Randerson, started his racing career in 1948 in his own black ‘Lite-Knight’ midget. In 1953, Jimmy, a railroad worker when not racing finished second in both AAA (American Automobile Association) Midwest and National midget points.  

Five days later on the night February 22 the USAC midgets appeared at H.B. Highsmith’s Fort Pierce Speedway located three miles south of town on Orange Avenue.  Highsmith a hardtop racer, quit the Florida Highway Patrol after years in 1956 to open the ¼-mile Speedway, the first paved track located in St Lucie County.  Highsmith would sell his interest in Fort Pierce Speedway Inc. in December 1957 and returned to the Highway Patrol from which he would retire as a lieutenant in 1970.

The entries at Fort Pierce included Bob Wente, Andy Furci, Buzz Barton, Jim McWithey, Don Branson, and Tony Bonadies in the race which was part of town’s ‘Sandy Shoes Festival.’ Thanks to the extensive coverage provided by the Fort Pierce News Tribune, we have a much clearer historical picture of the Friday night Fort Pierce races.

A crowd estimated at 1200 fans watched Andy Linden set quick time of 16.52 seconds in Lee Elkin’s midget in qualifying before the first of three 8-lap heat races. Wente form St. Louis won the first heat over Elmer George and Dutch Schaefer, and then Nykaza won the second heat over Foyt and Easton. Pensacola winner Jimmy Knight won the third heat over Jim McWithey, who led the 12-lap semi-main from start to finish trailed by Nykaza. 

Feature race front row starter veteran Dutch Schafer jumped into the lead at the drop of the green flag and held the lead for the 21 circuits trailed by pole-sitter Sonny McDaniel from Houston. On lap 21, Schafer’s car blew a tire, and the valve stem flew into the grandstands and struck an Air Force lieutenant in the arm. McDaniel drove the ‘Texas Racing Club Special’ past as ‘Dutch’ pulled into the infield and Sonny held on over the final nine laps to claim the win over Len Duncan and Rex Easton.

After the races, McDaniel received his trophy from ‘Miss Citrus Queen’ Frances Layton a 21-year old from Callahan Florida, while his car owner Tommy Thompson received his trophy from Barbara Vickers “Miss St. Lucie.”  H.B. Highsmith promised fans that for the next race, he would purchase more rosin to scatter in the corners to give the slick tires on the powerful midgets more ‘bite’ on the worn asphalt surface and create more side-by-side racing. 

The teams traveled 120 miles northwest for the Saturday night race at the ¼-mile paved Sunbrock Speedway in Orlando named after its owner, the notorious promoter Larry Sunbrock. Sunbrock had a checkered history that dated back to the nineteen thirties when he was president of the National Roller Skating Association of America, which promoted long distance roller skating races on an indoor oval which advertised 'up to' $5000 in prizes.

After several arrests and lawsuits regarding his roller skating promotions, Larry  organized a touring “Wild West Rodeo and Hollywood Thrill Show” that earned him the nickname “Never a Dull Moment” Sunbrock in Variety and Billboard entertainment trade magazines. In 1949,  after more legal problems, Sunbrock bought property near Ferguson Drive and Old Wintergarden Road in Orlando and formed Florida Racing Inc. to stage jalopy races at his new Speedway. Sunbrock lost control of the racing facility in 1957 because of tax and divorce problems that stemmed from his multiple bank accounts opened under various aliases.  

In the USAC race in Orlando on the night of February 23, Al Keller set quick time in qualifying with a lap of 15.3 seconds, but for some reason his “City of West Palm Beach Special” was forced to start scratch on the field for the 30-lap feature. While Andy Linden won the race over Gene Hartley and Shorty Templeman to extend his Tangerine Tournament points lead, Keller recovered with a brilliant fourth place finish. 

After the Saturday night races ended, the teams had to hustle 85 miles southwest for the Sunday afternoon show on the half-mile dirt track at Plant Field in Tampa which earlier in the month hosted its annual series of South Florida Fair ‘big car’ races sanctioned by the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA). Plant Field built in 1899 as a multi-use entertainment venue to draw visitors to the Tampa Bay Hotel resort first hosted automobile races beginning in 1921 and racing lasted there until the mid-nineteen seventies.

USAC regular Don Branson set quick time in Elbert ‘Al’ Willey’s “Al’s Paint and Body Special” Kurtis-Kraft midget from Moline Illinois with a best lap of 26.72 seconds.  Andy Linden started seventh for the 20-lap feature but quickly moved to the lead and comfortably won his second straight Tangerine Tournament feature over Len Duncan, Chuck Rodee, and Len Sutton. 

The teams returned to their base in Fort Pierce for four days to repair and refresh their mounts in preparation of the upcoming Friday night show in Hialeah with six preliminary races advertised on a card topped by a 30-lap feature race.  One of the new entries listed for Hialeah was Forrest Parker a cabinet maker from Covington Indiana who had won the debut 100-lap USAC outdoor midget race at Bill Lipke’s Kokomo Speedway in 1956. 

Hialeah Speedway, a 1/3-mile paved track west of Miami was built by the Greater Miami Racing Association on farmland close to the Palmetto Expressway a bypass around the city of Miami and had opened in July 1954. Details on the Hialeah USAC event promoted by Tony Bettenhausen are slim but Al Keller was the winner in Carl Evans’ midget trailed by Linden, Hartley and Templeman. Despite not winning the race, the ex-Marine boxer Linden padded his Tournament points lead with another solid finish.

The teams traveled 235 miles north to make a return visit to Sunbrock Speedway for a 30-lap feature on Saturday night, March 2, which was captured by Linden for his third Tangerine Tournament victory. Hartley remained close in the points tally as he recorded a second place finish. 

The USAC cars and stars were scheduled to race on Sunday afternoon March 3 on the ½-mile Jacksonville Speedway Park located west of town but persistent drizzle caused a cancellation, and teams returned to Fort Pierce to rest and prepare for the next weekend’s races.

The Tangerine Tournament returned to action on Friday March 8 at the ¼-mile Silver Dollar Speedway located on Highway 92 west of the central Florida city of Lakeland. The track had opened in 1955 and would have a short life, as it was replaced by a mobile home park after the 1959 season.  

Chicago midget racer Al Alpern captured the Lakeland 30-lap feature with Andy Linden in second place followed by Hartley and Templeman. This marked Alpern’s second USAC midget win, his first came at the Crystal Motor Speedway in Crystal Michigan in June 1956.

On Saturday night March 9, the USAC midgets returned to Orlando for the eighth round of the series with predictable results as Andy Linden captured his fourth tour victory over Hartley and Templeman. On Sunday afternoon, the tour made its first visit to Southland Speedway a 5000-seat facility located adjacent the South Florida Fairgrounds in West Palm Beach. This track, which replaced a return visit to Tampa, was the site in 1956 of the first USAC sprint car race ever held. 2000 spectators paid to watch Al Keller set the standard in qualifying as the Carl Evans midget toured the high-banked half-mile paved oval in 20.12 seconds.

Keller started 14th in the 18-car feature starting field but at the end of 20 laps grabbed the win over Warriner, Lloyd Ruby, and Don Branson in the Willey roadster midget. With a sixth place finish after a blown tire on the final lap, Linden lost ground in the points but continued to hold the lead with three races scheduled to run. Prior to the blown tire, Linden had dueled with Keller for the win.  The track later known as Palm Beach Speedway after the purchase of the facility by the fair board continued to operate until 1983. 

The tournament round scheduled for Friday March 15 at Hialeah Speedway fell victim to local thunderstorms, which meant the teams returned to the base of operations at Fort Pierce on Saturday night. The top three in points were Linden, Templeman, and Branson, though the top 12 drivers were still mathematically in contention for the championship.  

The additional rosin on the track surface promised by Highsmith paid off as fast qualifier Forrest Parker toured the oval in 16.05 seconds nearly half a second faster than Linden’s previous track record.  Leroy Warriner drove Bob Higman’s midget to victory in the 30-lap feature with Linden second, and Branson fourth, while Templeman finished eleventh.

Andy Linden- Tangerine Tournament champion

Teams packed up and headed north to the Jacksonville Speedway Park for the final Tangerine Tournament race on the half-mile dirt oval. During the feature, Templeman was involved in an accident on the rough rutted track surface which dropped him from the championship hunt. With his second place finish in the feature behind Len Duncan, Linden guaranteed himself the USAC 'Florida region' championship over Branson.  In the eleven Florida races held, the ‘McNamara Special” won four races, with five second place finishes, one sixth place and one seventh place.  

 Immediately following the end of the series, there was discussion of the second annual Tangerine Tournament in 1958, but it remains forever a unique one-year only event, although USAC staged a “junior version” in 2005 at four tracks with USAC Ford Focus midgets. Although it only happened one year, thanks to Ashley Wright’s vision, the Tangerine Tournament blazed a trail for the USAC ‘midget week’ and ‘sprint week’ tournaments we are familiar with today.


Open-wheel racing was a dangerous business in the nineteen fifties, but it is still shocking to consider the tragedies that befell three of the Tangerine Tournament midget racers before the 1957 season ended. 

On June 20, less than three weeks after he claimed his third career USAC midget win, Al Alpern racing in the third heat race of the USAC race at the ¼-mile paved Grand Rapids Michigan Speedrome when his midget ran over the wheel Jimmy Knight’s midget and flipped over the top the four-foot high guardrail. Al ages 30 died shortly after his arrival at Butterworth Hospital.

On August 24 1957 as Hank Nykaza raced in the 100-lap USAC midget race on the Milwaukee Mile, as he completed his 68th lap, the rear wheels of his midget locked up and the car spun violently. The force of the spin apparently caused the hasp of his seat belt to release and Hank was thrown to the pavement without his helmet. Following drivers somehow avoided Nykaza as he laid on the track, but Hank died enroute to the hospital.

1957 seemed to be Andy Linden’s year, as he drove for Lee Elkins in all three USAC divisions. That year, he finished fifth in the Indianapolis ‘500,’ wound up sixth in USAC championship points, won two more midget races and three sprint car races at three of the toughest tracks – Dayton, Winchester, and the Terre Haute action track. On November 3, Andy appeared at a special JC Agajanian USAC midget program at the Clovis (California) Speedway. 

During the Clovis race, Linden’s car hooked a rut, bounced high in the air, and landed on the guardrail. Andy’s head struck the guardrail and he suffered severe head injuries, which Andy left in a wheelchair for the remaining 30 years of his life. In an amazing testament to strength of the human will, Andy eventually recovered his memory and motor skills and learned to drive a passenger car.