THE HISTORY OF MIDGET AUTO-RACING IN AMERICA
THE HISTORY OF MIDGET AUTO-RACING IN AMERICA
By Jack Peters Since midget auto-racing has become a national ‘sport throughout America, many stories have arisen as to its origin. Members Of the racing fraternity of the Atlantic coast claim that they began the
sport. Those who follow the peewee game on the Pacific coast will swear to it that their section Of the country introduced midgets to the Speed fans just four years ago.
While in one respect both are wrong, statistics and records show that those of the Golden Gate State are nearest to being right. Any old-time race fan, who was on the Pacific coast (Venice, California, in 1914, to be exact) will answer the question ” Where and when was the first midget auto-race held in the United States ? ” much i-n this manner.
“Why, the first midget race was held in Venice, California, in the year 1914, and a young fellow by the name of Al Franklin was the winner. The next year a road-race was planned for these baby cars in Culver City, California, which proved to be the starting-point in the speed career of the famous Harry Hartz, then seventeen years ,old, who later became the 1926 A.A.A. National .Champion.” This is the real beginning of midget auto-racing in the United States. Later, this juvenile bunch of knights of the roaring road organised a racing-association among themselves, and held regular races, including a Junior Indianapolis Classic on the old Ascot track, now the site of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. of Los Angeles. In 1915 these ” baby smoke-eaters” ventured to the San Francisco World’s Fait, where they ran off Several races before an awe
struck crowd of 20,000 persons. The kids patterned their cars after the favourite drivers’ Mounts of that era, such as Earl Cooper’s famous Stutz No. 8, which is now in the Los Angeles Museum. The cost involved in one of these little cars was around400, while they were powered, mostly, by a two-cylinder motor-cycle engine. Art Smith, world-famous stunt man, became interested in the boys, along with Al Menaseo, now the celebrated airplane builder, and the two promoted -a trip to Japan for the young pilots. This
marked the ending of midget autoracing in the United States until one Sunday afternoon, June 4th, 1933.
On this date the thrilling sport was again revived at Sacramento, California, when a_handful of cars and drivers turned out on the Junior College quarter-mile flat track to stage a programme of races.
Dave Oliver, winner of the Main event after starting in last place, set a qualifying record of 24i seconds, but experienced a little bad luck when, during a heat race, his car spun and hit another, being only slightly damaged. A small crowd of 5,000 spectators turned out to see a bang-up card of events. Not much was heard of this nervewracking sport until little Dominic Distarce, ex-pugilist, signed up eight cars and drivers to form a club called the ” Midget Auto-Racing Association” in the fall of that same year, 1933, and staged its first race on the Loyola College track in Los Angeles, California, on August 10th. A protest of slicing the corners was raised against Charley Baker, the winner, but did not hold because of the lack of evidence. Only 4,000 persons witnessed this real revival of midget auto-racing, which later was to become
a nation-wide pastime. Now there is hardly a State in the Union that has not a track devoted to the peewee sport.
At the end of that year, Kenny Brenneman, with his No. 1 Brenneman Front-Drive Special, was declared the 1933 midget auto-racing champion, With the association rapidly becoming well known and the roster of licensed pilots stew lily increasing. The following season’s beginning, sometime in April, was marked by the introduction of two different, famous, power plants. The first of these was the outboard motor-boat engine, converted to midget-car use by shortening the propellerdrive shaft and adapting a special-built gear-box, brought to fans by little Billy Betteridge, then a recent graduate of Franklin High School in Los Angeles,
and only nineteen years old. Bill is a real veteran of midget-car racing and by his spectacular driving was crowned the 1934 midget auto-racing champion. The other introduction was made by “Curley “Mills, our famous” Sehnozzola” of the speed lanes, who drove the first
Offenhauser ” Mighty Midget ” powered car on Thursday, September 27th, 1934, at Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles. It was known as the Gilmore Special No. 15. From then on very few cars, powered with different motors, have been able to beat these bags across the finishing line for the chequered flag first.
With the beginning of the 1935 season, the Midget Auto-Racing Association was disbanded, and a new one formed under the title Of ” NatiOnal Midget Racing Association” with Earl Haskell, famous big-time race-car owner, as president. This group sanctioned such tracks as Moto Speedway in Long Beach, California, Gilmore Stadium of Los Angeles, Emeryville, California Track, and others in and around San FranciSco. Requests were received from the statesof Washington and Oregon, but were turned down because of their great distances from the association’s headquarters in Los Angeles. All the tracks mentioned were flat fifthof-a-mile dirt ovals.
The closing of that year, _a young man, who only a few months before -was an also-ran, got his chance in an Offenhauser, winding up the season with the coveted title of 1935 National Midget Raping Association champion. His name, now famous among speed-folk, is Bob Swanson. To-day this sport is as well known as its brother—big-car racing—and steps are being taken to promote international competition between Europe and America. Recently a Mr. E. 0. Spence, head of the National Speedway Association of Manchester, England, came to America to get some slants on our midget cars and races, and to take back with him the fastest car Obtainable. After watching several races and seeing many fast cars, he decided upon Ronny Householder’s outboard powered car, buying it up and returning to his home land to use it as
_a pattern for building more. Incidentally, Ronny got his training on the “flat fifths” of the west coast as a class ” B ” driver.
Followers on both sides of the “big pond” are working for teams to send to other countries as international competitors.
That may have been the beginning of something that will further goodwill. Let us hope it more than materialises.