Thursday, September 29, 2016

The story of the
1948 Pacific Coast 5/8 Mile
Hot Rod Championship
Scan of the event advertisement from the
October 29 1948 edition of the Oakland Tribune
At this time of the year, most regional racing series and local race tracks have completed their regular racing season and they stage a “special event” before closing down for the season. 1948 was no different as on Sunday October 31 the Northern California Roadster Racing Association (NCRRA) presented the 100-lap “Pacific Coast 5/8-mile Hot Rod Championship” at Oakland Stadium.
Actually located south of Oakland in San Leandro, the track hosted “hot rod” roadster events during the NCRRA's inaugural 1948 season, but most of those races were held on the flat infield ¼- mile oval not the higher speed 5/8-mile oval track with its steeply banked turn three and four complex.  

During the immediate post-World War two years, “hot rod” or "track roadster” racing was wildly popular throughout the United States. It was a relatively inexpensive form of racing, a mixture of hot rodding and oval track racing that used modified nineteen twenties and thirties open bodied cars powered by contemporary 6- and 8- cylinder racing engines. A number of “hot rod” roadster drivers later starred at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, among them 500-mile race winners Bob Sweikert, Pat Flaherty, Jim Rathmann, and Troy Ruttman.

Articles in the Oakland Tribune newspaper in the days before the Halloween race trumpeted that over sixty roadster drivers from across the West had pre-entered for the race. The list included Sacramento area champion Wayne “Bromo” Seltzer, Washington state champion Julian Castro, the 1948 NCRRA champion “Jumpin Joe” Valente, and the rival hot rod group, Racing Roadsters Inc. two-time champion Johnny Key.
The entry list mainly featured drivers from the NCRRA supplemented with drivers from the California Roadster Association (CRA) and Racing Roadsters Inc. (RRI) and included teammates George Pacheco and Ed Huntington, Mel Alexander, George Danburg, Bill Steves, Dick Vineyard, Paul Kamm, Al Palamides, and Ed Elisian.  

The lead articles in the Oakland Tribune on October 31 1948 focused on the upcoming United States Presidential election to be held in two days as the Tribune endorsed Republican Thomas Dewey.  Dewey selected California Governor Earl Warren as his running mate and was heavily favored to win the race for the White House over incumbent Democrat Harry S. Truman and his running mate Kentucky Senator Alben Barkley.

For those looking for celluloid entertainment on Sunday the Esquire Theatre on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland had extended the run of the western ‘Red River’ that starred John Wayne and Montgomery Clift for a third week, while the Motor Movies outdoor theatre located two miles south of Hayward on Tennyson Road offered a double feature with ‘Key Largo’ and ‘The Son of Rusty.’

Elsewhere in Sunday Tribune the Foreman & Clark Men’s Store offered a men’s suit with two pair of slacks on sale for $54.50, while WT Grant offered women’s rayon dresses for $2.98. At Sears, you could buy a three-piece bedroom set – a complete bed, dresser, and nightstand with mirror for $79.00, while Bay Area Crosley dealers offered a radio/phonograph in a compact free-standing walnut cabinet for $59.  

That new furniture would be perfect in the new ranch style homes which could be purchased for $21,500 to $30,000 in the Sun Valley Orchards subdivision in Walnut Creek which the realtor advertised “has approximately 300 days of sunshine a year.” Even corrected for inflation, that would have been a good buy as those homes today sell on average for $1.3 million.    

Prospective automobile buyers were introduced via Tribune advertisements to “a new eight letter word - “Dynaflow” by Buick” and were told to “Ask the woman who wants one about the new Packard,” or to take “One look, one ride and you’ll know what’s new for 1949 – Hudson.” The Automobile Manufacturer’s Association announced that a total of 11,889,400 passenger cars and trucks had been built during the 1948 model year.

A massive crowd of 8,000 fans were in the Oakland Stadium grandstand when time trials for the “Pacific Coast 5/8-mile Hot Rod Championship” began at noon on Halloween with the temperature in the mid-50’s and a light breeze. Salinas driver Elmer George, substituting for Wayne Garland, crashed into the outer wooden retaining wall on the front straightaway during qualifying, and a piece of timber struck NCRRA flagman Leslie Pine in the left leg. Pine, 24 years old, was transported by ambulance to the Permanente Hospital in downtown Oakland where doctors later that evening amputated his severely injured leg.

Herb Hill of Modesto posted the fastest qualifying time with a lap of 22.56 seconds, which was two-tenths of a second faster than the track record set just two weeks earlier by Bob Sweikert, with an average speed nearing 100 miles per hour.  We could find no records of the preliminary heat race results but George Danburg of Oakland won the four-lap trophy dash and Al Berndi of Berkeley won the 15-lap semi-main to transfer into the 20-car feature starting field.

1948 NCRRA points’ runner-up George Pacheco in his #82 roadster led the feature in the early going but his car slid into the infield and he lost two laps. Lodi driver “Flashin” Lemoine Frey in Al Dickman’s #9 roadster then led for a time as did Herb Hill before Joe Valente surged into the lead which he never relinquished. “Jumpin Joe” won in a time of 43 minutes 33 and 8/10 second to establish a new track record for the 100-lap, 62 ½ mile distance. Bob Machin in the (Bennie) Hubbard Auto Parts Special came across the line in second place while Pacheco recovered to finish in third place.

On March 30 1949 Leslie Pine filed suit against Oakland Stadium Inc., track manager Jimmy Reed and Golden State Theatres, owner of the track, in Alameda County Court. Pine’s suit asked for $150,000 as he alleged that negligent maintenance of the track resulted in the loss of his left leg. When the case came to trial before Judge Ralph Hoyt in January 1952 Pines’ attorney Adrian Palmquist used films and still photos shot the day of the race as evidence of the alleged negligence, which showed that part of the wooden crash wall actually extended onto the racing surface.  

A jury of eight men and four women agreed with Pine and on February 1 1952 awarded him $96,000 in damages. The case continued to wind its way through the courts for five and a half years as Golden State and its insurers Lloyds of London and Fireman’s Fund wrangled over the terms of the policies and which company was liable to make the payment to Pine whose judgement reached $108,524.24 including interest when finally paid.

The careers of most of the racers in the 1948 Pacific Coast championship never advanced beyond the Bay Area, but there are several notable exceptions. Two-time RRI champion Johnny Key later moved into “hardtops” and during the 1952 season he won 54 feature races. Key and his Salinas friend Elmer George went “back East” to race midgets and ‘big cars’ with the American Automobile Association (AAA) but Key’s promising career was cut short when he lost his life in a Cincinnati midget crash in June 1954.  
Elmer George who survived the same accident that killed Key went on to become the 1957 United States Auto Club (USAC) sprint car champion, the same year that he married his car owner, Mari Hulman, daughter of the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Elmer raced in the three Indianapolis 500-mile races with little success before he retired and he later died of multiple gunshot wounds on May 31 1976.  Elmer’s son, Tony George, served as the President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for 20 years and founded the Indy Racing League.

Another participant in the 1948 Pacific Coast Championship, Ed Elisian of Oakland raced in five Indianapolis 500-mile races, most notably the 1958 ‘500’ when he received blame for triggering  the first-lap accident that took Pat O’Connor’s life.  Elisian’s career declined and his personal life spun out of control before he was suspended from racing for six months. Ed died at age 32 in a fiery crash at the Milwaukee Mile in August 1959. Oakland Stadium itself closed in 1955 when the land became too valuable for developers and the site became the Bay Fair shopping center.      
The author thanks his friends and fellow racing historians Jim Thurman, James Taggert and Tom Motter for their invaluable assistance in researching this topic.  

Thursday, September 22, 2016

George Follmer at the Indy 500
 1968 portrait of George Follmer in his Bell helmet  
from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
in the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies

This is an edited version of the presentation given September 17 2016 at Bart Stevens’ Racers Reunion banquet which was followed by a lively audience question-and-answer session with George Follmer.
The author expresses his sincere appreciation to Bart Stevens for inviting the author to make the presentation and to Mr. Follmer for his unflagging patience in answering the author’s many inquires while he prepared for the appearance.

The author on the right with George Follmer at the 2016 Racers Reunion
Boyd Adams photo

During his fabulous career, George Follmer raced in the crown jewels of automobile racing -  Sebring, LeMans, the Daytona 500, and the Indianapolis 500. Although George did not experience the same success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as he did elsewhere for reasons that will become evident, it is interesting from a historian’s perspective to review Follmer’s experiences as road racer in one of the most exciting eras at the world’s most famous oval-shaped race track.  

With a goal of racing at Indianapolis for one of the automobile racing world’s largest purse, during the 1967 season George satisfied the United States Auto Club’s (USAC) requirement for “experience” by driving in three USAC events for car owner Rolla Vollstedt. Two races were on road courses and another on the tricky one-mile Trenton New Jersey oval track, where Follmer crashed in turn two and suffered what he now terms “the loss of my eyebrows and a good instant suntan.”

Follmer he started the 1968 USAC season on two short ovals at Hanford California and Phoenix, and the Las Vegas “Stardust” road course, before he headed to Indianapolis where was the teammate to Masten Gregory.

The two road racers were assigned to the new Cheetah chassis built by Howard Gilbert which were improved copies of the Brabham BT11 space frame chassis. The Cheetahs powered by four-cam 255 cubic inch Ford engines were owned by George R Bryant president of his own mailing list brokerage firm was Masten Gregory’s stepfather.

Although an accomplished road racer with seven years of experience and the 1965 United States Road Racing Champion, Follmer was considered a “rookie” at Indianapolis in 1968. After he passed the required “rookie test” and drove in practice with the first closed face Bell helmet at the Speedway. After the last scheduled day of time trials was rained out, George qualified on Monday May 27 with a four-lap average of 158.877 MPH but was later bumped out of the starting field by Bruce Walkup.  

Masten Gregory whom George Follmer described as apparently not particularly focused during the month of May also failed to make the 33-car starting field. On June 13 1968, car owner Bryant passed away at Community Hospital. Two days later, Follmer made his final race appearance in the George R Bryant Cheetah at Mosport road course in Canada.

Follmer stayed busy racing through the summer of 1968, in an American Motors Javelin for Ronnie Kaplan in the SCCA Trans-Am series and a big block Ford powered Lola T70 in the SCCA Can-Am series, as behind the scenes he negotiated to buy all the Bryant racing team assets from Bryant’s widow.  

With the purchase completed, George sold one of the Cheetahs to safety equipment manufacturer Bill Simpson who raced his Cheetah with middling success over the next few seasons.  George’s first USAC appearance as both the car owner and driver came in the 1968 USAC season finale, the Rex Mays 300 held on Follmer’s favorite track, the Riverside International Raceway, and he finished in the eighth position. 

Over the winter the team’s three four-cam Ford engines were sold off.  For the 1969 season, USAC had increased the allowable displacement for stock block pushrod engines while at the same time reduced the displacement of turbocharged or supercharged engines.

Follmer’s Cheetah traveled to Phoenix International Raceway for the Jimmy Bryan 150 the 1969 USAC season-opening race powered by a cast-iron 320-cubic Chevrolet stock-block engine fed methanol through a Lucas fuel-injection system. The engine was built by Follmer’s long-time engine builder, fellow Southern Californian Al Bartz and adapted to the Cheetah Follmer and his friend and USRRC crew chief Bruce Burness.

George spent time over the winter testing at Phoenix, perfecting the Cheetah’s set-up and it paid off, as he qualified second to Al Unser. On a brutally hot day George consistently used a high outside line to pass cars and he bided his time as he watched the turbocharged cars of leaders Al and Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti drop by the wayside with mechanical problems.

George led the final 29 laps and won the race by a margin of three laps over second place Wally Dallenbach to place his name in the record books as both the owner and driver of the first Chevrolet stock-block engine to win in USAC racing.

As successful as he had been at Phoenix George knew he needed more horsepower to be competitive the following month at Indianapolis.  George was a teammate with Parnelli Jones on the Ford factory supporter Mustang Trans-Am team and he used his connections to extract a promise of one of 159 cubic inch turbocharged Ford engines. After the Cheetah arrived in Gasoline Alley with sponsorship from the Houston based Reztloff Chemical Company, days and days passed as Follmer awaited his engine.

The promised engine, albeit not new, finally arrived after many of the front-line Ford factory teams had qualified, and the crew led by Howard Gilbert, installed the power plant and the complex maze of plumbing, radiators and oil coolers required by the turbocharged Ford engine.
This photo from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
in the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies
shows the crew working on the turbocharged Ford engine

While he had waited for delivery of his engine, after he read the USAC rulebook Follmer built an unpainted aluminum engine cover with an integral wing which USAC approved that provided much needed need downforce to help plant the Ford’s estimated 875 horsepower to the track surface. 
George Follmer in 1969 courtesy of INDYCAR
Note the engine cover/wing

With minimal practice time, George qualified 27th to start his first Indianapolis 500 from the outside of the ninth row with a four-lap qualifying average of 164 MPH. Unfortunately, on Memorial Day, Follmer only got to run 27 laps in his bright yellow #63 Cheetah before the wastegate on the Ford engine’s turbocharging system failed and the system lost all boost.   

After he drove the final two races of the 1969 USAC season for STP Racing team owner Andy Granatelli, at Indianapolis in 1970 George was a teammate to defending race winner Mario Andretti.

Mario drove the team’s disappointing new McNamara chassis while George was assigned the STP team’s third generation Brawner Hawk powered by a turbocharged Ford engine. Although he went to the Speedway knowing his role as a back-up with a very good car, Follmer describes 1970 as one of his most frustrating experiences in racing.

For the second year in the row, Mario heavily damaged his primary car in a crash prior to the first weekend of qualifying. It was only once Mario’s repaired car was safely qualified into the starting field that George was allowed to practice.  The day after Andretti qualified, George made his first practice laps of the month before Granatelli called Follmer into the pit area after just twelve laps. The crew mounted new tires, fueled the day-glo red #20 machine and pushed it into the qualifying line.
George Follmer in 1970 courtesy of INDYCAR

Without knowing his practice times, George made his 10-mile timed run and qualified at 166 MPH. George started 21st on race day but he was out after just 18 laps.  The Granatelli crew failed to properly secure one of the water hoses, it rubbed against a suspension arm and the resulting hole allowed all the water to run out of the cooling system.  

George returned to Indianapolis in 1971 with car builder Grant King’s “Spirit of Indianapolis” team, and the team ran many practice laps and they struggled to find the proper handling setup. Finally, at the end of the second week of practice, King loaded up the car in Gasoline Alley and took the chassis back to his nearby shop and worked all night to add stiffness to the chassis.   
George Follmer in 1971 courtesy of INDYCAR

George practiced on Saturday morning and found the car’s handling much improved. Follmer qualified on the third day of time trials at 169 MPH, a 4-lap speed average which left him close to being bumped, but his speed held up and he started from 29th position on Memorial Day. Unfortunately, all the practice laps had put many unexpected miles on the Offenhauser engine, and the unfunded team had no money to pay for a pre-race rebuild. George started the ‘500’ with little prospect of going the full distance, and as he ran in fourth place with 147 completed, a piston failed in the turbocharged Offenhauser engine and Follmer placed fifteenth.

George was pretty busy racing elsewhere over the next few years and did not appear at Indianapolis. 1972, he became the only man to win both Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) professional championships in the same year, as he won the SCCA Trans-Am series championship with Roy Woods’ Javelin and the Can-Am series crown behind the wheel of the mighty Penske Porsche 917-10.

The following year, 1973, Follmer made his Formula One debut as a 39-year old rookie with the Shadow team. As if that was not enough, at the same time he defended his Can-Am title in the Porsche 917-10 then owned by Atlanta businessman Bobby Rinzler. With his busy schedule during 1973, Follmer recalls that he flew either cross-country or across the ocean nearly every week during the racing season.

Later in 1973, Follmer raced in the inaugural International Race of Champions (IROC) series and he won one of the all-star races.  In 1974 George competed in thirteen National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) Winston Cup stock car races behind the wheel of Bud Moore’s Ford as well as making appearances in the Can-Am and Trans-Am series. Follmer also helped to develop the IROC Chevrolet Camaros and raced in the series’ second season.  

George returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1975 in the seat of the turbocharged Offenhauser powered 1972 Eagle chassis number19 with the small American Kids Racing team owned by California millionaire Richard Beith of ET Wheels fame. The Offenhauser engine blew up in practice and the #28 car was unable to make a qualifying run. With his original ride sidelined, George tried the much-traveled MVS/ Adams/Hawthorne 1972 Eagle chassis number one but didn’t make a qualifying attempt in his final Indianapolis appearance.

It is a great disservice to George Follmer to judge his racing career by his accomplishments at Indianapolis – as mentioned above, he won the 1965 United Road Racing Championship in a car he owned, he won both SCCA professional series in the same year in 1972, and repeated as the SCCA Trans-Am champion in 1976 at age 42.

In his very first Formula One race in 1973, at 39 years old Follmer scored a championship point in his first race, and stood on the podium in his second race, and he closed out his active career at age 52 in 1986 as he and teammate John Morton drove the ‘Spirit of America” Porsche 962 to a third-place finish in the grueling 24 hours of LeMans.



Monday, September 19, 2016

Bill Cummings

An Indianapolis hero- part two
Bill Cummings and Earl Unvershaw shown here in 1931
won the 1934 "500' from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway collection
in IUPUI University Center for Digital Studies

In February 1935, 1934 Indianapolis ‘500’ winner Bill Cummings traveled to Daytona Beach Florida where he drove Clessie Cummins’ 364-cubic inch supercharged six-cylinder two-stroke diesel powered 1934 Indianapolis ‘500’ entry in record attempts on the beach while fellow Indianapolis driver Dave Evans piloted the competing Waukesha ‘Silver Comet’ diesel powered machine. Evans first set a new record of 125.065 miles per hour (MPH), which Cummings eclipsed on March 1 with a two-way run that averaged 133.023 MPH. Before he left the beach the next day, Cummings set a mark of 137.195 MPH.

In May 1935, defending Indianapolis ‘500’ champions Cummings and his friend and riding mechanic Earl Unversaw qualified the 1934 Boyle front-drive Miller fifth in the starting field and were considered the favorites to repeat their victory in the Decoration Day race. The pair never led a lap and finished third, four minutes behind the Offenhauser-powered car driven by the winner Cavino “Kelly” Petillo who broke Cumming’s 500-mile speed record by over one mile per hour.

Later in the 1935 American Automobile Association (AAA) racing season, Cummings finished second to Petillo at the Minnesota State fairgrounds in St. Paul then finished second again behind Billy Winn at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. Cummings closed out the season with a sixth place finish on the new Altoona mile and an eighth dirt track located in Tipton Pennsylvania. Cummings the defending champion skipped two races on the schedule and finished as the runner-up in the 1935 AAA National Championship behind Petillo. 

According to Bill Neely’s book Daytona USA on March 8 1936 the AAA sanctioned a “strictly stock car” 250-mile race on a 3-mile combination road and beach course at Daytona Beach Florida. With a $5,000 purse, entries came from open wheel racers Bill Cummings, Milt Marion, Bob Sall, as well as George ‘Doc’ MacKenzie in a Buick and Bill Schnidler prior to the loss of his left leg in the race’s lone Dodge. Cummings, the fastest qualifier at over 70 MPH in Michael J Boyle’s supercharged Auburn 851 Speedster, started last in the fully-inverted 27-car field that went off in one–minute intervals in a handicap start.

The Schweitzer supercharged straight-8 Lycoming engine in Cummings’ Auburn failed after 16 laps and he finished 26th. The race was stopped at 241 miles with Milt Marion in the lead in a 1936 Ford V-8 when the tide came in and blocked the course.  The fifth place finisher in a 1935 Ford was a local service station owner named William “Big Bill” France, who later formed his own stock car racing sanctioning body twelve years later. Bill France told author Neely that due to the large number of fans who watched the race with buying a ticket, race promoter (and former IMCA big car champion) “Sig” Haugdahl allegedly lost $22,000 (equivalent to $380,000 today).

For unknown reasons at the 1936 Indianapolis ‘500,’ the team of Bill Cummings and riding mechanic Earl Unversaw separated after they had run the five previous races together. Reportedly the two were such close friends that Cummings named his only daughter, Earlene, after Unversaw, although this appears to be wishful thinking as Earlene was born in 1928. Earl who rode with Mauri Rose in 1936 and 1937 died in 1990 in Whiteland Indiana at age 95.

The 1936 ‘500’ was an embarrassing defeat for Cummings and mechanic Henning – after he qualified thirteenth, on Decoration Day, the clutch in the Boyle Miller front drive machine overheated on the grid. When the Packard 120 pace car with Tommy Milton behind the wheel pulled away, Cummings’ car did not join the field and he finished dead last. News reports of the day stated that Cummings was the first driver in Indianapolis ‘500’ history that lined up on the grid but did not make the start of the race.

After the ‘500,’ Cummings’ faithful Miller front-drive chassis was fitted with a 255 cubic inch four cylinder Offenhauser engine and the results were forgettable in the three remaining AAA points-paying races all of which were held in New York State. Bill started and finished eleventh in the ‘Goshen 100’ race held at the Good Times Park thoroughbred track in southern New York, and then was involved in a three-car crash with Shaw and Gardner in turn one on the first lap at Syracuse. Cummings finished seventh in the Vanderbilt Cup on the twisting Roosevelt Raceway road course in the wholly unsuitable Boyle Miller front drive machine.

In January 1937, Cummings returned to his roots and was one of 98 riders in the first Daytona 200 race for motorcycles held on a two-mile beach/asphalt loop at Daytona Beach Florida. For the 1937 Indianapolis ‘500,’ Cummings was paired with a new riding mechanic Frankie DelRoy, who would later become a Speedway chief mechanic and was the chair of the technical committee for the United States Auto Club when he and six other officials perished in the 1978 USAC plane crash.  In time trials the 255 cubic inch Offenhauser powered Boyle #16 set a new one-lap speed record of 125.19 MPH and Cummings started for the pole position at Indianapolis for the second time in his career.

At the drop of the green flag, Herb Ardinger in Lew Welch’s supercharged Offenhauser powered car shot into the lead from the outside of the front row. The fuel limitations of the last four races were gone, so the race pace was faster. Cummings finished sixth behind first time winner Wilbur Shaw who drove a car that Shaw owned and had built with the assistance of Ford Moyer.  Cummings made just one other AAA appearance during 1937, in the Vanderbilt Cup race at the much-revised Roosevelt Raceway, and repeated his previous result with a seventh place finish.
A candid 1938 photograph of Cummings
 from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway collection
in IUPUI University Center for Digital Studies

For the 1938 Indianapolis ‘500,’ Cummings drove the same eleven-year old Boyle front-drive entry as in previous years but with a narrowed chassis and new body powered by a 268 cubic inch engine as the AAA "junk formula" era had ended.  The 1938 Boyle entry carried sponsorship from the labor union with which car owner Boyle was associated, the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers (IBEW). 

Cummings qualified a disappointing 16th and dropped out of the ‘500’ on lap 72 with a radiator leak. Cummings attempted to qualify an unidentified Maserati at for the race at the Springfield Illinois state fairgrounds and then finished eighth at Syracuse in Russell Snowberger’s “Loop CafĂ© Special’ (the old Boyle front-drive Miller) after mid-race relief from his car owner to close out his 1938 racing season.

On Monday night February 6, 1939, as he drove his passenger automobile along State Route 29, now known as Southeastern Avenue, Cummings dropped the car’s right front wheel onto the soft shoulder. The car veered, plunged through the wooden guardrail on the bridge approach near Adina Boulevard and traveled an estimated 50 feet into the waters of Lick Creek below. Passing motorists who witnessed the accident found Cummings beside the wreckage of the car face lying down in approximately 18 inches of water.

The March 1930 issue of Motor Age 
contained these two photos of Cummings accident

Three men pulled the unconscious Cummings from the water and saved him from drowning; when he arrived at Methodist Hospital ten miles away he was admitted in critical condition with a concussion. The next day, doctors performed emergency surgery to relieve the pressure on Bill’s brain but later that night, Cummings began to slip away.

The Indianapolis Star newspaper reported that “doctors injected insulin into his blood and his heart rallied for several hours but he died at 6 o'clock in the morning.” Cummings never regained consciousness after the accident before he died on Wednesday morning February 8 at age 32 survived by his widow Leota and 10 year old daughter Earlene.

700 people attended services held on Saturday afternoon February 11 at the Royster & Askln Mortuary located at 1902 North Meridian Street in Indianapolis presided over by evangelist Raymond G. Hoekstra.  Among the guests who attended the service were Harry A. Miller, Roscoe Dunning, (mechanic and car builder), driver Louis ‘Billy’ Devore, riding mechanic Lawson Harris (who would die later that year in a crash with Babe Stapp during a tire test at the Speedway), and Earl Twining of the Champion Spark Plug Company.

Other attendees at Cumming’s funeral service included car owner Bill White, Fred Lockwood of the Borg-Warner Corporation, former driver and AAA official Charles Merz, and a pair of Bill’s former dirt track competitors from the early days Howard ‘Howdy’ Wilcox II and Frank Sweigert. Indianapolis Motor Speedway General Manager Theodore E “Pop” Myers, Mauri Rose, and Peter DePaolo also attended.

At the conclusion of the service, Cummings’ casket was carried down the mortuary steps to the waiting hearse by the six of his fellow racing drivers; Wilbur Shaw, ‘Shorty’ Cantlon, Deacon Lltz, Lou Moore, Chet Miller, and Russell Snowberger. The hearse carried Bill Cummings’ remains east on Washington Street to the Memorial Park Cemetery for the graveside service. As Cummings’ casket was lowered into the grave an airplane piloted by Lawrence “Gene” Genaro a test pilot for the Civil Aeronautics Administration circled overhead and dropped flowers. Genaro pioneered the aerial filming of the Indianapolis ‘500’ and helped Cummings earn his pilot’s license in 1932. 

A widely circulated article headlined Cummings planned a comeback was written after his death by Bob Consodine of Randolph Hearst’s International News Service. The article inaccurately stated that Cummings “won about $50,000” for winning the 1934 Indianapolis ‘500’ as it was actually $29,725 some of which had of course gone to car owner Michael Boyle. 

Consodine wrote of Cummings “he cashed in on his new fame. Big car companies signed him up to extoll the merits of their cars, the accessory companies paid him for his stamp of approval, and the jerk-town tracks that once paid him off in hot dogs gave him good guarantees just to appear.”
A brochure drawings of a 1935 Chevrolet master Deluxe Sedan
the model that Cummings drove

Like many other top drivers Cummings endorsed the use of Richfield gasoline, Champion Spark Plugs, and Pyroil oil additive. The author also found a 1935 newspaper advertisement that stated “’Wild Bill’ Cummings, National AAA racing champion, recently took delivery of his second Chevrolet - a new 1935 Master Deluxe sedan with which he is pictured. Cummings became a Chevrolet owner following his victory at Indianapolis last Decoration Day.”

A 1936 advertisement in Popular Science magazine for the “turret-top” 1936 Chevrolet contained a photo of Cummings and famed British land speed and boat racer Kaye Don as they examined the all-steel roof of a new Chevrolet which was advertised as being both safer and cooler than a fabric insert.

Notice that Cummings is wearing a helmet
 in his official 1934 IMS photo he wore a cloth helmet.
This style helmet was required at Indianapolis in 1935

Research also uncovered Cummings’ June 1934 nationwide endorsement of Camel cigarettes, complete with headshots of Bill in a hard-shell helmet and text that quoted the 1934 Indianapolis 500 winner “I felt pretty well played out at the end of the race. My mechanic and I turned to Camels for that first luxurious smoke that chases that tired feeling away.” 

Consodine’s article continued “with the coming of that dough he got soft - the hungrier more desperate men became to pass him even on the turns. The glamour peeled off him and in a little while he was broke again and for the first time he knew doubt. When at last he hit bottom, he started back and his reflexes dulled by success became razor sharp again.”

Mr. Consodine’s claim that Cummings became ‘soft’ after his Indianapolis victory and subsequent rebound is just not supported by the facts. Cummings was the fastest qualifier in two 1934 races after his ‘500’ win and Bill made a strong defense of his Indianapolis win and AAA national championship title in 1935. While the results of his disappointing 1936 season marred by a crash and mechanical failures was certainly sub-par, Cummings had another successful season in 1937 before his puzzling poor last season in 1938.

To characterize Cummings as “broke” at one point is probably a case of journalistic embellishment. Cummings bought a tavern in Indianapolis and built a home in the Five Points suburb of Indianapolis, though at the time of his death, Cummings reportedly worked between races during the offseason as a car salesman.   

The mention of a “comeback” is odd, as Cummings was just 32 years old, and no racing historians are aware of any Cummings retirement announcement. The article mentioned that Boyle mechanic ‘Cotton’ Henning was headed to Italy to pick up an Alfa Romeo which Cummings hoped would return him to the top, but that statement is erroneous.
Henning did travel to Italy not to buy an Alfa Romeo, but the Maserati 8CTF which Wilbur Shaw drove to back to back wins for Boyle Racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1939 and 1940. If he had not crashed into Lick Creek that February night, could that have been Bill Cummings behind the wheel of the Boyle Maserati in 1939? 

For his accomplishments, William C Cummings Junior was inducted in 1970 as a member of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Auto Racing Hall of Fame. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Bill Cummings 
the hero of Indianapolis – part one

William C. ‘Bill” Cummings Junior was a hero to Central Indiana racing fans as he grew up on Indianapolis’ near west side two miles from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he found glory in 1934. Cummings spent his life in the city of Indianapolis, then died and was laid to rest there.  

Bill Cummings the son of a race car driver, began his racing career on motorcycles but switched to racing big cars during 1926. The following year Cummings began to experience some success as he raced the ‘Deluxe Taxi’ Frontenac Ford ‘big car’ on the dangerous “Hoosier outlaw circuit” with such legends as Frank Sweigert, Ira Hall, Francis Quinn, Bill McCoy, and George “Bennie” Benefiel (often misspelled Bennefield) on Hoosier tracks such as Sunflower Park located between the towns of Brazil and Terre Haute and Jungle Park north of Rockville billed as “the fastest oiled track in the world.’

By 1929 Cummings was a consistent winner as he drove a factory supported Frontenac on the Hoosier circuit that included the Linton race track, Huntington Motor Speedway, and George Rogers Clark Speedway in Vincennes. Bill began to expand his travels to tracks in Dayton and Hamilton Ohio and as far away as St. Paul Minnesota. Bill captured the 20-mile race for the “National dirt track championship of the United States” at an unidentified track in Louisville Kentucky at the end of September after he was injured in a crash at Roby Speedway in the Chicago suburb of Hammond Indiana in early August.
An aerial view of Langhorne Speedway
the site of Bill Cummings first AA victory

In 1930, Cummings got his shot at the big time and in his first race in an AAA championship car he started from the pole position and won at the one-mile circular Langhorne Pennsylvania Speedway behind the wheel of the car that Michael Ferner identified as Karl Kizer's “Century Tire Special” 91-cubic inch Miller. Cummings’ next stop was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a member of the factory Duesenberg team managed by 1925 Indianapolis ‘500’ champion Peter DePaolo.

Cummings drove a Myron Stevens built chassis powered by a 242 cubic inch straight-8 single overhead camshaft (SOHC) engine sourced from a Model ‘A’ Duesenberg passenger car. With  36 laps of mid-race relief help from teammate Fred Winnai, the #6 Stevens/Duesenberg completed all of the 200 laps around the rough 2-1/2-mile brick surface and Cummings scored a fifth place finish.

Cummings was entered in the same factory Duesenberg for the 100-mile race held on the Michigan State Fairgrounds dirt mile in Detroit and he finished third.  The 23-year old driver then followed up that result with a fourth place finish in a rain-shortened race on the 1-1/4 mile Altoona Pennsylvania, his first appearance on a board track. 
Cummings closed out his rookie AAA season with a win on the New York state Fairgrounds “Moody Mile” in Syracuse.  With two wins to his credit as a rookie, Cummings finished third in the 1930 AAA championship behind ‘500’ winner Billy Arnold who had notched three wins during the season. With his aggressive driving style, Bill Cummings had quickly become an established racing star.  

During the winter of 1930-1931, Cummings traveled the West Coast circuit and raced on big dangerous high-speed tracks that included Bakersfield and Legion Ascot Speedway where his nickname “Wild Bill” first came into popular use. Cummings drove for the team of Paul Weirick and Art Sparks and competed against such established West Coast stars as William ‘Stubby’ Stubblefield, William ‘Shorty’ Cantlon, and Ernie Triplett and finished eighth in the 1931 AAA Pacific Coast Southwest big car championship.  

For the 1931 AAA championship season, Cummings drove East coast car owner Floyd Smith’s ‘Empire State Gas Motors Special’ a Miller-powered Cooper front drive creation. The car was one of three originally built in 1927 with Buick factory support by Earl Cooper, the three-time American Automobile Association (AAA) national champion in 1913, 1915, and 1917.  

The transmission in Cooper’s cars, created with the design assistance of Miller designer Leo Gosssen, used a Grover Ruckstell planetary gear set and two-speed axle to achieve four forward speeds. Originally powered by a Miller supercharged engine, with the introduction of the AAA ‘junk formula’ which outlawed pure racing engines and required a riding mechanic, the Cooper chassis was widened, the engine supercharger removed, and piston stroke lengthened to increase the engine’s cubic inch displacement. The car was topped off with new bodywork built by local craftsman Floyd “Pop” Dreyer.

Cummings started the 1931 Indianapolis 500-mile race from the middle of front row but retired early with a broken oil line and finished poorly. Over the course of the season, Cummings scored three second-place finishes and one third place to go along with two top ten finishes to wind up 10th in 1931 AAA points. Cummings returned to the West Coast over the winter to close out his 1931 season. Bill won the forty-lap Thanksgiving Day feature at Legion Ascot Speedway ahead of Bryan Saulpaugh and Chet Gardner, then followed that up with a second place finish behind Saulpaugh in the Legion Ascot 100-lapper on December 20.  

Cummings opened 1932 on the West Coast behind the wheel of one of three new Miller 16 valve DOHC Miller ‘big car.’ In May at Indianapolis he drove one of 1931 ‘500’ winner Louis Schneider’s widened Miller chassis rebuilt by metalworking wizard Myron Stevens. Cummings was eliminated on lap 151 when the Miller 122-cubic inch engine broke its crankshaft. This was Bill’s second ‘500’ start alongside his friend and riding mechanic Earl Unversaw a World War I veteran who was born in Perry Township south of Indianapolis.

For the next 1932 AAA championship race at Detroit, Cummings moved into the seat of Chicago labor organizer Michael J. Boyle’s ‘Boyle Valve’ Stevens chassis powered by a Miller 268 cubic inch engine. After his steering broke at Detroit, Cummings scored two third-place finishes at Roby and Syracuse, a second place at the second Detroit race and closed out the 1932 AAA championship season with another win from the pole position in the 150-mile race on the one-mile oiled dirt Oakland Speedway. Cummings finished fifth in the 1932 AAA national championship standings.

Bill Cummings would spend the rest of his racing career as a member of the Boyle Racing Team for mechanic Harry “Cotton” Henning, a former riding mechanic who prepared cars in the Boyle team headquarters, located less than three miles east of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Bill won the coveted pole position for the 1933 International 500-mile Sweepstakes with an average speed of 118.53 miles per hour (MPH) for his ten-lap run.

Cummings and Unversaw led the first 32 laps of the 1933 ‘500,’ but the car retired on lap 136 with a terminal radiator leak and Bill finished 25th in the 42-car field. Despite winning two of the 1933 AAA season’s three races from the pole, Cummings finished seventh in the AAA standings as a result of a his nineteenth place 1932 Indianapolis ‘500’ finish. Cummings earned 120 points for each of his 100-lap wins not nearly enough to overcome Louis Meyers’ 600 points for winning at Indianapolis.
Cummings and Unvershaw posed for their official qualifying photograph
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
in the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital studies
For the 1934 Indianapolis ‘500,’ cars were limited to just three gallons of fuel to complete the ten-lap qualifying run, and only 45 gallons for the entire 500 miles. Cummings and Unversaw qualified the white #7 Boyle Products Special, a widened 1927 front-drive Miller chassis powered by 221 cubic inch four-cylinder Miller Marine engine in tenth position in the 33-car field. 

Cummings worked his way through the field and took the lead on lap 72, and then battled Mauri Rose for the win the rest of the way after early leader Frank Brisko’s FWD Special faded.  Cummings led 57 laps to Rose’s 68 laps, but Cumming led the one that counted as before a crowd of 135,000 fans he led Rose across the finish line by 27 seconds the closest finish in the Speedway’s 23-year history.

Cummings completed the race one minute and 54 seconds faster than Louis Meyer’s winning time from the previous year’s ‘500,’ to set a new speed record for the 500 miles of 104.863 miles per hour which earned him membership in the Champion Spark Plug 100-MPH club. The four-cylinder Miller marine engine was the first four-cylinder engine to win the ‘500’ since Gaston Chevrolet’s Frontenac in 1920.    

Cummings’ win was not without controversy as Rose’s car owner retired driver Leon Duray filed a post-race protest with the stewards. Duray claimed that Cummings had built up an unfair advantage of ¾ of a lap during one of the caution periods to remove a wrecked car from the track. The race stewards led the chief steward W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn reviewed Duray’s protest but denied it. In those days yellow flags were displayed around the track, and the stewards admitted that there had been a delay in the display of the caution flag at all the locations around the track.

Leon Duray immediately filed an appeal with the AAA Contest Board and it was not until July that Cummings was officially ruled the Indianapolis ‘500’ winner.

Despite Duray’s pending appeal Cummings was publicly acclaimed as the 1934 Indianapolis ‘500’ champion although he had not collected a large portion of his winnings for the victory as the combined prize money of $44,075 for first and second places was withheld by Speedway officials until the final ruling. To prevent a reoccurrence of the controversy, for 1935 Indianapolis Motor Speedway became the first track install signaling light, six sets of green and yellow lights installed around the 2-1/2 mile oval.
Cummings posed on his Harley Davidson motorcycle in 1934
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
in the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital studies

Three days after his ‘500’ victory on June 3, Bill appeared in Dayton Ohio at a ‘big car’ race held at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds after he rode in from Indianapolis on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Cummings had previously committed to race in Dayton that day but Bill told reporters that his doctor had forbid him to enter. According to historian Rick Patterson Cummings made a few ceremonial laps on his motorcycle around the ½-mile oval to the cheers of the crowd of 3000 fans.   

Cummings returned to Dayton again in mid-August 1934 to attend the first annual All-American Soap Box Derby as the event was sponsored by Chevrolet for which he was a spokesman.  Bill also attended the Soap Box Derby, along with the legendary retired driver and car owner Harry Hartz in 1935, 1936, and 1937 after the Derby moved to its permanent home in Akron Ohio.  

Cummings’ results for the rest of the 1934 AAA racing season were not spectacular with a pair of top ten finishes despite starting from the pole position at Syracuse and Springfield Illinois. The Boyle Miller engine broke a crankshaft in practice and Cummings missed the season finale at Mines Field (now the site of Los Angeles International Airport)  but the 600 points earned at the ‘500’ were enough for Bill Cummings to be crowned the 1934 AAA National Champion and the right to carry the number ‘1’ through the 1935 season.

Our next installment will cover “Wild Bill” Cummings later career and untimely death.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Roadster racer Don Kolb's 1948 season

Today we take a look at a year in the life of a track roadster racer in Northern California against the background of the rapidly changing race sanctioning environment of the era.

After World War II the popularity of auto racing in the United States exploded in particular midget car racing. Many race-hungry veterans like Oakland California racer Donald “Don” Kolb looked for a more economical form of racing and found it with “hot rods” or track roadsters.
These race cars were built up from stripped-down pre-war cars and powered by “hopped up” powerplants such as six cylinder GMC or Ford V-8 engines. As we shall see, 1948 proved to be a very significant year for Don Kolb both professionally and personally.

The 1948 Don Kolb story begins even before the racing season started, in February as the 24-year old Kolb helped create a new roadster racing sanctioning association. Through the period of 1946 to 1947, a majority of the roadster races in the California Bay Area were sanctioned by Northern California Roadster Racing Association (NCRRA), a non-profit group run by business manager Nils Lilejedahl. According to writer and promoter Al Slonaker’s ‘Speedway Sparks’ column in the Oakland Tribune during 1947 some members of the NCRRA became disenchanted with “the lack of profits” with NCRRA organization and formed their own for-profit sanctioning group known as Racing Roadsters Incorporated (RRI).

The new group’s president was announced as John Milton owner of the #5 “Milton Hudson” track roadster driven by Stan Dean. The Milton Motor Company located on 14th Street in Oakland California had been a Hudson dealership since 1938. RRI’s Vice-president was Al Dickman from Manteca California the owner of the #9 Ford V-8 powered roadster, while Arthur Garden, the group’s attorney acted as the non-voting secretary/treasurer.

Don Kolb was one of the RRI board members along with Hank Keith, Don Milton, Don Kolb, Dave Zimola, L. D. Plumley, and Henry K. Richardson. The corporation issued voting and non-voting members and Wilton and most of the board members took only non-voting stock for obvious political reasons.

RRI officials told Slonaker that they had more than 35 cars signed up for the 1948 season and contracts in place with the Oakland Stadium, Belmont Speedway, and Salinas Valley Speedway. For its part, the NCRRA organization claimed to have signed contracts to present races at Stockton 99 Speedway and Contra Costa Speedway with their stars “Lightning” Lemoine Frey (who drove for Dickman in 1947), “Jumpin” Joe Valente, “Sad” Sam Hawks, and young Ed Elisian. 

Despite its name, the 5/8-mile paved Oakland Stadium was located near the intersection of  East 14th Street and 155th Avenue in suburban San Leandro and featured a hugely banked 62-degree third and fourth turn complex, but it also had a ¼-mile track inside which was sometimes used by the roadsters. The ¼-mile dirt Belmont Speedway (also known as San Carlos Speedway) was located adjacent to the Bay Meadows thoroughbred race track which itself occasionally hosted auto racing. Both race tracks are long gone and are now the site of shopping centers.   

The 1/3-mile paved Salinas Valley Speedway was located in the Alisal (sycamore in Spanish) area east of Salinas. The Salinas area was a hot-bed of Northern California roadster racing and also featured Devils Bowl Speedway. Salinas was the home of Elmer George, Norman Garland, Arnold Chapman and the “King of Northern California roadsters," Johnny Key, the 1947 and 1948 NCRRA season champion. Although he was from Santa Cruz racer and service station owner Lloyd Ragon was also considered by most Bay Area roadster fans to be a member of the “Salinas Boys.”  

Contra Costa Speedway was a lightning fast ¼-mile dirt oval that was advertised as being in Walnut Creek but actually was in Pacheco adjacent to Buchanan Field. Contra Costa Speedway appears in scene of the 1960 motion picture “Wild Ride” that starred a young Jack Nicholson. Stockton 99 Speedway like Contra Costa a high-banked 1/4-mile except it was paved opened as a dirt 1/5-mile track 1947.

Built and operated by one-time boxing promoter William G. 'Billy' Hunefeld, the Stockton track initially had a youth football field in the infield. Of all the tracks mentioned in this article that the “roaring roadsters” raced, it is the only facility that is still open for racing.   

RRI officials also promised that their new group would require the use of safety hubs. Slonaker somewhat humorously noted that “this little precaution should make faithful fans a little more at ease in the stands. It's no fun trying to duck a flying wheel, too often the case when safety axles are omitted.”

Slonaker did not mention that RRI’s new rule would save driver’s lives as well. Many track roadster drivers died in accidents when their car flipped over after the rear axle broke and the car lost a wheel. A safety hub was a two-piece assembly with one part bolted to the rear end housing and the other welded onto the wheel hub. Combined with a bearing the assembly prevented the wheel from breaking loose in case the car’s axle broke.

Cyclone Safety Hubs were manufacturered by Mendel “Cookie” Ledington's "Cooks Machine Works in 1946 and 60 years later is still in business in same location

On Sunday April 25 Bob Sweikert a racer from Hayward came from eleventh starting position to claim victory at Salinas Valley Speedway over Tommy Cheek from Oakland with Johnny Key in third place. Sweikert posted a “clean sweep” that day – in addition to his win in the 25-lap main, run in 8 minutes and 5-1/2 seconds,  Sweikert set quick time in time trials with a lap of 18.70 seconds, won six- and eight-lap heat races, and beat Kolb to win the four-lap trophy dash.

Sweikert was one of many California drivers along with the Rathmann brothers and Troy Ruttman who used track roadster racing as a springboard to greater success. Born in Los Angeles but raised in Hayward Sweikert served domestically in the US Army Air Force in World War II. After his discharge Sweikert met UCLA coed Marion Edwards in 1947 and married her in 1948.

The Sweikert newlyweds returned to Bob’s hometown where he ran an auto repair shop in his parent’s garage and built his roadster.  Later, Sweikert would graduate to racing midgets, then big cars, before he “went east” to race with the American Automobile Association (AAA). Divorced and re-married Sweikert started his first Indianapolis ‘500’ in 1952 and won the 1955 Indianapolis 500-mile race before he perished in an AAA ‘big car’ accident in June 1956.

The same day as the Racing Roadsters’ Salinas Valley race, April 25, the Northern California Roadster Racing Association (NCRRA) staged a 25-lap race won the George “Blonde” Pacheco of Oakland at Bayshore Stadium a ¼-mile dirt former dog track next to the Cow Palace arena in Daly City. Head-to-head scheduling by the two Bay Area track roadster sanctioning bodies until car counts for both groups dropped and they merged to become United Roadsters Inc. in mid-1950.

During the RRI race held May 1 at Salinas, hometown driver Norm Garland was black flagged out of a comfortable lead on the 34th lap of the 35-lap feature for a leaking radiator that created a “track hazard” as fans roared their disapproval. After the race, enraged fans swarmed the speedway and in the ensuing riot, flagman Bill Jagger was punched in the face. Chaos reigned until the local sheriff was called upon to restore order.

For the roadster race two weeks later at Oakland Stadium the group’s season opener at the track on May14, promoter Charlie Curryer advertised it as a grudge match between the “heroes of the lettuce belt” and Oakland drivers that included Mel Senna, Al Slinker, Budge Canty, ‘Red’ Corbin and Kolb. The throttle on Jim Heath’s car hung open and Heath's car hit a large electrical pole adjacent to the ¼-mile track and burst into flame. Rescuers pulled Heath from the car and he suffered a compound fracture of his left leg but no burns. In the 25-lap feature, Tommy Cheek passed Bob Sweikert on the last lap to steal the win.

On Friday of the 1948 Memorial Day weekend 3,100 fans paid $1.00 admission at Oakland Stadium to watch Johnny Key win the 25-lap feature as Kolb finished in second place with Sweikert in third place.

On Saturday night July 10 1948 Kolb drove Walnut Creek car owner George Dietrich's Mercury-powered car to a 25-lap victory at Belmont Stadium. Kolb took the lead on the third lap after Stan Dean, in the “Milton Hudson” roadster went wide through the first turn on the flat quarter mile speedway, and Kolb was never seriously challenged again on the way to victory.  

Salinas’ Elmer George brought the crowd their feet on the twenty-fourth lap after he crashed head-on into the crash wall in front of the grandstand when his car broke a steering arm in turn four. George was miraculously uninjured and later “went east” in 1954 with his friend Johnny Key to race with the AAA. George eventually married his AAA ‘big car’ owner Mari Hulman, the daughter of Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony Hulman. George was the 1957 United States Auto Club (USAC) Midwest ‘big car’ champion and started the Indy ‘500’ on three occasions before he retired from driving following his failure to qualify for the 1964 Indy 500.

On Sunday August 22 1948 Kolb married his fiancĂ© Dorothy Quintel in a unique ceremony held on the front stretch of the 5/8-mile Oakland Stadium track in front of 7,500 witnesses as part of the second annual “Invitational Roadster Classic.” This race brought together drivers from Northern California roadster clubs as well as the cars and drivers from the California Roadster Association (CRA) from the Los Angeles area. The CRA cars carried the letter “X” to help fans differentiate between their local heroes and the southern invaders.


After the trophy dash, Kolb and Ms. Quintel who was RRI President John Milton’s secretary were married. As Kolb sat in his car, Quintel was brought “down the aisle” (the front stretch) as she rode in another roadster. As Dorothy stood in the cockpit of the roadster, Kolb stood beside her as Oakland Municipal Court Judge James S Blaine presided while he stood in the cockpit of a third roadster parked in front of the couple. Later, Johnny Key won the feature as Walt James in sixth was the highest finisher of the CRA cars.

The couple had an abbreviated honeymoon as the following Saturday, August 27 Kolb won the 25-lap feature at Oakland Stadium in front of 3,300 fans. Kolb started on the pole, led briefly, and then came back to defeat Jimmy Davies of Los Angeles and Bill Pettit of Oakland with US Navy veteran and future sports car racer Jack Flaherty in fourth place.

In October 1948 the Bay Area’s season racing champions were announced. Fred Agabashian reigned as Bay Cities Racing Association midget champion for the third year in a row, while Johnny Keys won his third consecutive Northern California track roadster championship with the Racing Roadsters Incorporated (RRI). Don Kolb placed third overall in RRI points behind Bob Schellinger of Danville. The 1948 champion of the rival Northern California Roadster Racing Association NCRRA was “Jumpin” Joe Valente a racing showman who became a track flag man after he retired from race driving.