By Stan Kalwasinski
Ted “Splinter” Duncan was a midget racing star of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Calling Chicago his home during most of his racing days, Duncan was one of the premier drivers of the small, open-wheel race cars that were the popular racing craze prior to and after World War II.
Born in New York City on November 18, 1912, Duncan moved to Chicago when he was young. During his early years in the sport of speed, Duncan “stooged” for popular Chicago speedster Wally Zale, riding with Zale as his mechanic in the Elgin Road Race.
Duncan drove in his first race at the Kenosha (Wis.) Speedway on May 16, 1937 and won the feature in the Bill Fry Elto Special. Duncan claimed Central State Midget championship honors in ’37. Duncan was the runner-up in final midget point standings at three Midwest tracks in 1938, finishing in the “bridesmaid” spot in the points at Milwaukee, St. Louis’ Walsh Stadium and Riverview Speedway in Chicago.
The 1939 campaign saw Duncan capture driving titles at both St. Louis and at Raceway Park near Blue Island, Ill.
Through the years, Duncan drove for a number of top midget car owners including Frank Podriznik, Fred Tomshe, Rudy Nichels and Johnny Pawl.
Duncan garnered two victories indoors at Chicago’s 124th Field Artillery Armory in February of 1940, wheeling the Tomshe No. 1 midget. With 50 cars on hand, Duncan won season opener at Raceway Park on June 1, 1940. Duncan and his Podriznik Offy tore ‘em up, winning at numerous ovals—Raceway, Riverview, Racine, Wis., Crown Point, Ind. and Farmer City, Ill. On June 30, 1940, Duncan bested Cowboy O’Rourke and Paul Russo in a 50-mile chase at the Cook County Fairgrounds. Duncan repeated his Raceway Park title efforts in 1940. He was also the champion again at Walsh Stadium. He would repeat Walsh midget titles again in 1947 and 1947.
Duncan put the Podriznik No. 15 into victory lane at Chicago’s International Amphitheatre on January 5, 1941 in a 40 lapper over Ray Richards and Zale. Duncan suffered serious burns at Racine, Wis. in early June when his car caught fire during a heat race that he was leading. Duncan was back in action by early July, nailing down a victory at Riverview in the Ulmer Offy. Traveling down to Farmer City, Duncan scored three-in-a-row there and a few at Urbana, Ill. More victories came at Walsh Stadium, a 50 lapper at Farmer City and a win at the half-mile Crown Point fairgrounds oval in August. Duncan capped off his Riverview track championship-winning efforts by winning the track’s Midwest 100-lap Championship contest ahead of Myron Fohr and Richards on August 31. He was also crowned the champion at Farmer City. He garnered at late season midget main event at the Hammond Speedway in early November.
With the end of racing eminent as the United States’ involvement in World War II heightened, Duncan captured two big finales in July of 1942, winning a 100 lapper at Raceway Park in his Muntz-Nichels Offy No. 7 and a 50 lapper at Walsh Stadium before a reported crowd of 14,281 fans. During the War, Duncan resided in Florida working as a civilian on Navy P.T. boats.
After the war on a new quarter-mile paved track, Duncan won two 100-lap feature races at Chicago’s Soldier Field and was crowned the champion in 1946. He was again a feature winner at the huge lakefront arena the following year and was crowned the 1947 midget champion at the Field. Wheeling the Johnny Pawl Offy in 1948, Duncan won a number of races including a 100-lap chase at the Ft. Miami Speedway in Toledo, Ohio.
Duncan pretty much concentrated his racing to the midgets, trying his hand at Indy Car and stock car racing occasionally. Duncan was among the entries for the Indianapolis 500 in 1949 and 1950, but did not make the race. He finished fourth at Milwaukee in the 1948 200-mile “big car” race.
Relocating to Miami, Fla. in the late 40’s, Duncan did mechanical maintenance work on powerboats in the “Sunshine State.” Sadly, Duncan passed away of a heart attack at the age of 50 on August 22, 1963.