Thursday, January 26, 2017

They called him “Lucky”
Part one- the 1935 & 1936 seasons

William Lloyd Logan was born in Oakland California in 1912 and by 1932 he raced a Harley-Davidson motorcycle in 1/5-mile flat track races. In November 1935 Logan raced a midget car in a series of Sunday afternoon races at San Francisco Stadium located near Bayshore Boulevard at the end of Jerrold Avenue in the city’s Butchertown neighborhood.

Many of the other drivers that raced at the Stadium became Bay Area midget racing legends, a list that included Fred Agabashian, Lynn Deister, Neil Grady, Al Stein, ‘Skeet’ Jones, Newell ‘Dutch’ Van Tassel, and Dave Oliver, and they raced under Charlie Baker’s Midget Auto Racing Association (MARA) banner.  


The 1/5-mile Stadium flat dirt track introduced midget auto racing to San Francisco with an 11-race program on Saturday evening September 21 also hosted motorcycle races on Thursday nights.  Charley Baker advertised as the “1934 champion”  won the first three evening 30-lap features held on September 21, 28, and October 5 behind the wheel of the #21 Ted Brenneman Special.

A slate of Sunday afternoon races began on November 2; we were unable to find results from the earliest races, but the races on November 17 at the Stadium featured “spinning and crashing almost every other minute” according to an article in the San Mateo Times. Stadium General Manager Sterling Price, told the Times he had been “connected with auto racing for many years, and I’ve never seen so many crashes. Those boys drive like mad.”

During the November 17 30-lap feature won by Skeet Jones, Logan was eliminated when his #74 car ran into the side of Art Armstrong’s #99 and both were eliminated.  November 17 also marked the debut at the Stadium of 17-year old Berkeley driver “Sonny” Rogers billed as the youngest driver on the Pacific Coast.  

A new season of racing began at San Francisco Stadium on Saturday night April 18 1936 and by late April a three-track touring schedule had emerged which already included tracks in Emeryville and Hughes Stadium in Sacramento, and after an April 23 meeting possibly a track in Fresno. Two drivers, Dave Oliver and Bill Larzalere had obtained “screaming new outboard motors” from Wisconsin and Oliver claimed to have “spurned” an offer to race at Indianapolis and chose instead to race the new midget circuit.   
On Saturday night May 2, Price’s crew which had been “building over the track to create the fastest 1/5 mile flat track in the world” had their efforts were rewarded as Lynn Deister set a new track record of one minute and 25 ½ seconds during his 5-lap heat race.  Deister than watched as his record was broken in the next race by Al Stein, the 1935 champion, who covered the same distance 1/10 of a second faster. “Bad boy” Van Tassel, who reportedly weighed just 116 pounds, won his second consecutive 30-lap feature in the Ernie Lauck midget.
The restored Lauck midget

The next week it was announced in the San Mateo Times that “in response to popular demand from followers of the sport” the midget race shifted to Friday nights as midget fans found it “impossible to take weekend trips and attend the races.” A tragedy was averted during the season’s first Friday night race on May 8 when 10-year old Allen Berlin jumped over the inside railing and attempted to run across the track and was struck by Lynn Deister’s machine but fortunately suffered only a broken leg.
The evening’s 30-lap feature was highlighted by a duel for the lead between Stein and Van Tassel. As reported in the San Mateo Times, Stein repeatedly bumped the tail of Van Tassel’s machine over the last seven laps but could not get past and the Fresno ‘bad boy’ posted his third consecutive win at San Francisco Stadium.

The following week’s races at San Francisco Stadium boasted a 44-car entry list with the late addition of an entry by Art Armstrong who came off recent ‘big car’ wins at Oakland and San Jose Speedways. Lloyd Logan recorded a 5-lap heat race victory, but  Les Dreisbach of Berkeley won the feature over Stein with Van Tassel third with the 30 laps completed in eight minutes and 47 ½ seconds.   

On May 29, a crowd of 3000 fans watched as track records fell at the Stadium. First Van Tassel broke the 8-lap track record only to see Deister reset the record at 2 minutes and 13 ½ seconds, while Al Stein lowered the five-lap track record to one minute and 25 seconds.
Dave Oliver, who earlier passed on his chance to race at Indianapolis, found victory lane for the first time in 1936 as he won by feature race by ten feet over Dreisbach, followed by Van Tassel, Agabashian, and Armstrong. The following day at Fresno, the 1936 champion Al Stein broke through for his first feature win of the season.  

On Thursday evening July 25 1936 the San Francisco Stadium added a 25-lap “old timer” race limited to cars built before 1910 with drivers at least 50 years old, to the regular midget racing program.  The fourteen entries included a 1901 Oldsmobile, a 1905 Reo, a 1907 Maxwell, a 1909 Hupmobile, a 1906 Ford, a 1907 Packard and a 1910 Buick.  65-year old George Hoadley in his 1904 Buick was installed as the pre-race favorite as he won a similar race held during the Golden Gate Citizen’s Celebration the year before.  

The most unusual entry in the July “old timers’ derby” was the 1895 Crestomobile, built by the Crest Motor Company in Cambridge Massachusetts, powered by a single-cylinder 3-1/2 horsepower air-cooled engine that drove the front wheels. The spindly 400 pound carriage-style machine was driven by Ed Shapiro of San Francisco, who according to the Oakland Tribune was “the only man living who knows how to run it.”

The “old timer” race driver lineup included an actual veteran race car driver, Eddie Hearne, the winner of 20- and 40-lap races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in September 1910 and a participant in the first International 500-mile Sweepstakes in 1911. Hearne who had retired from open wheel racing in 1927 with eleven AAA race wins to his credit, but still drove a Studebaker factory entry  in stock car races drove a 1908 Hupmobile despite being technically ineligible as he had turned 49 years old five months earlier.          

The August 2 1936 issue of the Oakland Tribune
featured this photograph of George Hoadley

As expected, Hoadley an employee of the Oakland Buick dealer, the Howard Automobile Company and his riding mechanic Bill Reichert romped to victory at an average speed of 30 miles per hour and won by half a lap over the Ford and the Packard. Later in the evening, Van Tassel won his fourth consecutive midget car feature at the Stadium over Deister.

Lloyd Logan was entered in the Sunday August 16 1936 40-lap ‘big car’ race at the one-mile oiled dirt Oakland Speedway sanctioned by the American Racing Association, a group run by Oakland track owner Charlie Curryer. Other notable drivers entered at Oakland Speedway that day  a track actually located in an unincorporated section of Alameda County south of the City of Oakland included Fred Agabashian, ‘Bud’ Rose, Jack McNamara, ‘Herk’ Edwards, Ed Haddad, and Duane Carter. Logan’s #26 “Fitoil Special”  ‘big car’ was fitted with a pair of very unusual features for the day; a roll bar above the nose of the car and a taller roll bar behind the driver.

During pre-race practice on Saturday evening Jack McNamara of San Francisco a racer since 1933, crashed to his death in the red #18 machine.  Around sunset at 7 PM as he exited the unlit fourth turn, McNamara’s car got into the outer wooden guardrail and cartwheeled down the straightaway and came to rest in front of the grandstand. McNamara, 28, was pronounced dead upon arrival at Fairmount Hospital which led Alameda County Deputy Coroner Walter Flierl to recommend that night driving at the unlighted Oakland Speedway be discontinued.  

On Sunday Art Armstrong equaled his lap record in qualifying with a lap of 28.2 seconds and then won the “fast heat” while Logan won the other 10-lap heat race.  Before the start of the feature, Lloyd Logan was selected by his fellow drivers to carry the checkered flag during a tribute lap in McNamara’s memory.

Moments later, at the start of the nine-car feature as the field entered turn one, Carter’s #15 car got into the back of Logan’s machine which sent Logan’s #26 car flipping wildly. During the series of end-over-end flips, Logan was thrown from his machine and Lloyd unconscious landed face down on the track. Carter narrowly avoided the prone Logan, crashed his car through the outer fence and ran to Logan’s aid. 
The Oakland Tribune carried these photos of the 1936 Logan-Carter crash

Logan was loaded into an ambulance headed to the Fairmount Hospital, and unbelievably while enroute the ambulance was involved in a traffic accident. The driver of the car was cited and both a passenger in the other car and Logan were transported to the hospital. Upon arrival Logan was found to be bruised and scraped but miraculously otherwise uninjured and was transferred to the East Oakland Hospital where he remained overnight.   Once the battered ambulance returned to the Speedway, the seven remaining cars re-started the feature race which was won in dominant fashion by Art Armstrong.   

McNamara a single man who lived with his mother was laid to rest on Tuesday August 18, and the August 20 issue of the Oakland Tribune carried an emotional article written by Alan Ward. He wrote that “McNamara raced for fun, he didn’t need the money. He had a job that paid more than $300 a month” (equal to $5000 today) and noted sadly that “in a little while McNamara will be forgotten by the great majority like Bryan Saulpaugh, Bob Carey, Stubby Stubblefield, Ernie Triplett and a lot more.” Ward closed his article with a personal note - “there is a reason we don’t get pally any more with these fool kids who race around Oakland or any other Speedway. It’s a hard job writing the obituary of a friend.”

With a new nickname “Lucky” Lloyd Logan returned to race at Oakland Speedway two weeks later though Alan Ward wrote in the Tribune that Logan “still walked with a limp and can’t travel faster than a slow walk.” Logan drove the same car which had been in the August 16 accident which looked a little worse for wear and missing the hood, but no longer did fans and other driver mock Logan’s “safety car” as the sturdy roll hoop stood up through the multiple flips and likely saved Logan’s life.

In the next chapter we will examine Lloyd “Lucky” Logan’s increasingly successful racing career.   

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