MIDGET AUTO RACING IN • AMERICA
MIDGET auto racing, fast becoming a major sport in the United States, attracted more than five million persons to race meets staged in different sections of the country during 1937.
Why, one might ask, has this sport become so popular in the short period of four years ? There are many reasons, but the most important is that the sport is crammed with action. Then again, the American public has, and always will be, attracted to a sport that offers thrills. Many persons get a thrill from a hard fought football game, or a baseball pitching duel. Others sit tensely on the edge of their seats watching two boxers in a ring jab and punch their way to fame. But those who have come to know midget racing find more thrills and action in one race meet than in any other sport As one spectator once remarked after a meet, “I feel as though I’ve been racing with those fellows.”
Skill, courage and experience are needed to pilot the little cars, for mechanical genius has developed them to a point where serious injury and death await the reckless and devil-may-care driver. Many sport enthusiasts have now discovered that the sport is being brought to their ” back door.” Heretofore it was necessary to travel great distances to see big car races, and the trip discouraged
one’s enthusiasm. One also quickly notes the cleaner atmosphere along with the fact that every bit of action can be easily seen. Yes, it appears as though the midgets will be around for a long time. The sport of razing midget cars in America, it is claimed, originated when a number of mechanics and drivers began cutting down stock cars in 1932, but the first midget car was definitely born in 1933 when the late William Betteridge, eighteenyear-old youngster of Los Angeles, California, built a small car powered with a twin-cylinder Henderson motor-cycle motor. The car was considered a novelty and exhibited at a big car race during the same year in Denver,
Colorado. Not long after, Betteridge installed an outboard motor in the car and drove it at a speed of over 100 m.p.h. at Muroc Lake, California. Unfortunately, Betteridge was fatally injured last June during a midget race at Atlantic Stadium, Los Angeles, but the youngster had given the racing world something to think about. In August of 1983 eight cars were assembled at Loyola Stadium, Los Angeles, for the first midget race ever held. To-day there are probably forty tracks, generally one-fifth or one-quarter of a mile in size, upon which the drivers can
test their skill. Many tracks are dirt, some paved, others composed of cinders, and may be fiat, banked, or of a novel type. Recently an indoor wooden bowl was constructed at the Boston Square Garden, Massachusetts, which to date has been difficult to negotiate even by the best of drivers. Gilmore and Atlantic Stadiums in California have all the features and colour of the big car tracks. In the East, William Heiserman, leading promoter, stages two race meets a week during the
summer months at Freeport Stadium, Freeport, LI., New York. This Stadium alone attracted over a quarter of a million persons in 1937. Throughout the country, tracks have been specially built to bring this sport before the American public. The usual race meet begins with qualifying time trials with the driver turning in the fastest time for the oval getting pole position. This advantage invariably resulted in winning the first heat and. pole position in the main event. Lately, the inverted start has gained popularity, and at Freeport Stadium all of the fastest cars are arranged in each heat in last positions with the slower cars in front. This system of racing eliminated qualifying time trials and permitted extra events. The main event, however, is
generally run with the fastest cars in front. Consolation and novelty races are generally included in the programme.
The inverted start has increased the thrills, in racing, and it is apparent that the driver with a fast car must do some. expert driving to get in front. Spectators get their thrills as the little cars jam into the first turn with the drivers of faster cars trying to get through, and the slower cars trying to stay in front. Many times the cars are tightly packed, and drivers speed their cars through a hole when there is an opportunity. Locked wheels, roll overs, spins and stalled motors keep the fans on their toes, and one can never be sure of the winner until he crosses the finishing line. Drivers, with a fair amount of good luck and competing five and six times a week, can win from $400 to $600. At Freeport Stadium, for the season of 1937, a total purse of $54,000.00 was awarded the drivers, and in view of the fact that they also competed at other tracks along
the Atlantic seaboard, one will readily understand their profession can be a profitable one.
Probably the most popular midget car is the four-cylinder 100 cubic inch Offenhauser, priced around $3,000. The English two-cylinder J AP midget is also another favourite. Many 4-60 Elto outboards are in evidence, along with a few Millers, Harley Davidson, Bugatti, and Indian powered cars. Although no governing body rules midget racing, it is generally conceded that if one did Ronney Householder would be selected champion of the small car drivers. A lean young fellow about twenty-eight years old, Householder is an expert mechanic, and a skilful and courageous driver. Originally a resident
of Omaha, Nebraska, Ronney has travelled from coast to coast gaining fame at each track upon which he has competed. In 1937 he raced at Indianapolis and Roosevelt Raceway, but his greatest laurels have been won on the midget tracks. During the last season, Householder won the National 150 mile Midget Classic at the Zeiter Motor Speedway, Detroit, Michigan, covering the distance in 2:18:01.95, averaging about 65 m.p.h. on a half-mile track. On the same track he set a new record in the Offenhauser, covering one lap in 22:82, averaging about 79 m.p.h., which was faster than any big
car for the distance. Ronney also set a world’s record in his midget when he raced around a one-quarter mile track In 14:69, June 10th, 1937.
Not far behind the great midget driver there are many big car drivers such as Bob Sall, Frank Bailey, and Frank Beeder, all of whom have been crowned champions by the American Automobile Association.