By Stan Kalwasinski
For over 30 years, the United Auto Racing Association (UARA) was regarded as one of the premiere midget racing groups in the United States. Holding weekly racing events for years at the Joliet Memorial Stadium and regarding Joliet pretty much as its base of operations, UARA actually had its roots in the City of Chicago, holding the majority of its inaugural season of events at Hanson Park Stadium on the city’s northwest side. The following story chronicles UARA’s first season—1947.
It was a matter of economics. That pretty much sums up the reason for the formation of UARA in the late 1940’s. The majority of midget racing cars at a given event getting a small percentage of the purse pushed several individuals to look at the formation of a racing association for so-called “B Class” cars.
Prior to the start of the 1947 racing season in the Chicagoland area, drivers Lou Scally, whose real name was Lou Scaramuzzo, and Marty Wiswald, along with car owner Wally Novak, formed UARA. With the arrival of the Kurtis Kraft, Offenhauser engine-powered midget, a whole variety of midget cars and various power plants seemed to become almost obsolete over night with the KK/Offy cars pretty much dominating feature races and the drivers of these cars taken away large portions of the posted purse. During an organizational meeting, Scally was quoted as saying, “We supply 90% of the cars and receive 10% of the purse.”
In May of ’47, the following ad appeared in Illustrated Speedway News:
National Championship Class B Midget Race
Hanson Park Stadium
Central and Fullerton
Memorial Day Afternoon
Time Trials – 12 Noon First Race – 2:00 pm
Featuring top ranking Class “B” Drivers
No overhead valve cars to compete
Write for invitation to compete
Auspices of United Auto Racing Association
4453 Archer Ave. Chicago
Under the promotion of James T. Williams Amusements of Chicago, the May 30 show saw Wiswald win the Hanson Park Stadium opener. Finishing behind Wiswald and his No. 17 midget in the inaugural UARA feature event was fellow UARA organizer, Scally. The track was rough with some 35 midgets on hand for the competition at the Chicago Public Schools system-owned facility.
With local weekly midget racing also taking place at Blue Island’s Raceway Park, under the direction of the Jenin Brothers, Nick and Pete, and also at Soldier Field, Ray Lankheim of Chicago won the second UARA feature event at Hanson Park on June 6. With Ed Kirschner handling the photographing chores, Lankheim, who flipped during the season opener, won the 20-lap chase ahead of Scally, Wiswald and soon-to-be winning car owner, Leo Melcher. Years later, Melcher would team up with Chuck O’Day as the promotional team at Joliet Memorial Stadium. Lankheim, in his No. 55, made it two in a row on Friday night, June 13, winning the 20-lap feature in front of a reported crowd of around 8,000 fans.
UARA officials included Scally as President, Novak as Vice President and Wiswald as Secretary-Treasurer. Race officials included starter Art Kelly, timer Harold Fosdick and pit steward Charles Fedel.
Ben Zukor guided his Reichenbach Brothers-built V8-60-powered No. 45 to victory in the 25 lap main event on June 20. With some 40 cars in the pits and over 9,000 fans, Zukor bested Lankheim. Scally posted his first feature win of the campaign on June 27 with Ken Rubright finishing second and Chick Markle nailed down third. The purse for the night was $2,882.00 with Zukor setting a new track record of 20.13 seconds during time trials.
On the Fourth of July, UARA visited the newly constructed large quarter mile clay oval at the Northern Illinois Fairgrounds in Belvidere. Earl Simmons of Maywood won the feature race that afternoon on a rough and dusty oval. Later that day, Scally and his Dick’s Auto Repair V8 posted another win at Hanson Park with Scally winning the 25 lapper in front of Belvidere winner Simmons and Tony Saylor. A week later, Scally won again at Hanson Park, capturing the 50-lap Championship race in front of 10,000 fans. Rubright came home second with Simmons third. Paul Bormet was seriously injured during the semi feature.
UARA ventured out of state to Bigelow Field in Grand Rapids, Mich. on Wednesday night, June 16. The new clay oval inside of a baseball field diamond saw Simmons cop the main event. Markle, a first year midget driver from Chicago, grabbed his first career win at Hanson Park on June 18, winning the weekly 25 lapper in his Markle’s V8 No.32. Well over 10,000 fans saw Paul Ambrose of Fox Lake win the 25-lap Hanson main event on June 25 for the Ford and motorcycle engine-powered midgets. Ambrose drove the Nelsen Hirschberg Ford Special No.33 V8 to the win. Two days earlier, Ambrose won at Michigan’s Bigelow Field.
Rubright, the Davenport, Iowa speedster, guided his Willys No. 75 midget to victory on July 30 at Bigelow Field. Rubright had started off the evening by setting fast time. Zukor won again at Hanson Park on August 1 with over 8,000 screaming fans in attendance.
Wayne Adams, who announced most of the UARA shows that year, recently reminisced, “The fans would start lining up hours before the gates opened. The line would be a block long sometimes. It was a great show, a lot of action. It seemed like there was a flip in every race.”
Ray Elliott and his Leo Melcher-owned V8 No. 34 midget finally won a UARA feature at Hanson Park on August 8, defeating Zukor and Ambrose. Tragedy struck during the evening when 32-year old Frank Stauber was fatally injured during the semi final. The throttle on Stauber's No. 77 Willys-powered midget apparently stuck with Stauber shooting off the first turn and through a canvas barrier. Pulling the brake with both hands, Stauber ran off the track some 100 yards, running under a rope barrier and suffering fatal neck injuries. Ironically, Stauber’s car never left its wheels with the driver getting out of his racer, talking to his wife and walking to the ambulance as 10,000 fans cheered. Stauber would die in route to the hospital.
On August 6, Elliott captured his second win at Bigelow Field. A week later, Ray “Red” Boscher of Chicago nailed down his first win of the campaign, winning the Mid Season Title race at Bigelow Field in his Uhrich Brothers Special No. 5 V8 before 5,538 fans. Rubright was second followed by Saylor, Corky Singer and Larry Johnson. Elliott, out of Joliet, garnered his second straight win at Hanson Park on August 15 before a crowd of 12,000.
A rough and dusty track at the Northern Illinois Fairgrounds at Belvidere saw Saylor and his Kozy V8 win on August 17. Michigan driver Don Ingersoll won at Bigelow Field on August 20. Elliott was again the winner at Hanson Park on August 22, taking starter Pete Passantino’s checkered flag in front of Saylor and veteran driver Don Hanley.
Elliott out dueled Boscher in a 25 lapper at Bigelow Field on August 27. Earlier Boscher had set a new qualifying mark during time trials, running around the tricky 1/5-mile dirt oval around the baseball field in 14.74 seconds. Starting to get on a roll, Elliott was the winner again at Hanson Park on August 29 with Saylor winning the 50 lap Labor Day Classic at Hanson Park on September 1, ending the Elliott/Melcher winning streak for the time being. Rubright was second and Scally third.
Elliott won his third straight Bigelow Field headliner on September 3 before 6,602 fans and his fifth straight at Hanson Park on September 5. Over 10,000 fans and 42 cars were on hand for the Hanson Park action. Elliott won his sixth straight on Tuesday night, September 9 with 6,000 fans howling in delight. The next night saw Saylor end Elliott’s reign at Bigelow Field as the Joliet driver captured the feature in front of over 4,500 fans.
Elliott’s seventh win at Hanson Park came on September 16. During qualifications, Elliott, who turned 26 years old a few days earlier, had set a new track record with a 19.19 second run. Elliott kept on winning the next night, grabbing feature race honors at Bigelow Field. Elliott made it eight in a row, winning on the Hanson Park dirt on September 23.
Racing at Hanson Park pretty much came to an end on September 30 with Rubright, wheeling the Bob Lockard Willys, winning the 100 lap Championship race over Simmons, Saylor and Elliott. Hanley won the 50-lap semi. UARA and Bigelow Field parted ways with the Great Lakes Racing Association sanctioning the event on October 1. Toledo driver Bud Hufsman was the feature winner. UARA visited the half-mile dirt oval at the Sandwich fairgrounds on October 5 with Ambrose winning the 12-lap main. UARA split away from Hanson Park after difficulties arose over the purse structure for the 100 lap Championship event. An event was attempted on October 10 with only nine cars on hand with the Badger Midget Auto Racing Association left to sanction the races. A driver was injured and the feature race was halted.
In all, 37 UARA-sanctioned dates took place in 1947 with over 60 different drivers competing with an average purse payout of $2,010 per event. Elliott, with eight wins at Hanson Park and six wins at Bigelow Field to his credit, was crowned the first UARA champion as he defeated Rubright, Scally, Saylor, Ambrose and Zukor in the final points tally. Larry Johnson, Singer, Simmons and Boscher rounded out the top ten. Wiswald, Bill Palmer, Lankheim, Markle and Hanley completed the top 15.
With some skeptics calling UARA’s entries “junk equipment,” the organization enjoyed a highly successful first season. With its first outdoor season in the record books, UARA planned indoor competition at Chicago’s Coliseum on Wabash Ave., beginning in January of 1948, and looked forward to even a bigger outdoor season in the spring.
Thanks to Wayne Adams for his accounts of the 1947 season in his columns and race reports which appeared in Illustrated Speedway News. Also, thank you to Bob Sheldon, early UARA photographer, for use of his photos and his recollections of the early days of UARA racing.