THROUGH THE YEARS…1947
By Stan Kalwasinski
The formation of the United Auto Racing Association (UARA), weekly midget racing at Soldier Field and Raceway Park and the introduction of hot rod racing at Soldier Field highlighted 1947.
Tired of “playing second fiddle” to Offenhauser (“Offy”)-powered midgets, drivers Lou Scally, whose real name was Lou Scaramuzzo and Marty Wiswald, along with car owner Wally Novak founded UARA. Running with “Class A”/Offenhauser cars at most events, the “Class B”/non-Offenhauser drivers and owners provided as much as 90% of the entries, but received sometimes as little as 10% of the total purse. Scally, Wiswald and Novak formed their own organization for “Class B” cars with their original intention being to have UARA sanctioning races seven days a week.
Under the promotion of James T. Williams Amusements, UARA sanctioned its first event on Memorial Day afternoon at Chicago ’s Hanson Park Stadium located at 5501 W. Fullerton Ave. A capacity crowd was on hand for the inaugural event, which saw Wiswald defeat Scally in the 20-lap feature on a rather rough track. A few days later on June 2, Sam Hanks captured the Soldier Field midget racing opener. The 32-year-old Hanks, who hailed from California , had missed the starting lineup for the Indianapolis 500, which was held a few days prior. Hanks would go on to win the “500” in 1957.
Prior to the 1947 racing season getting underway, Nick and Pete Jenin took over the ownership of Raceway Park, located on the southeast corner of Ashland Ave. (old Illinois Route 54) and Vermont St. in Calumet Park . With the property ready to be condemned, the Jenin Brothers gave the facility a major facelift, erecting new grandstands and reshaping the track into a larger fifth of a mile oval. On June 4, the Jenins presented their first promotion at their renovated speed plant with Paul Russo grabbing top honors in the 25-lap main event ahead of Duke Nalon and Johnny Roberts. Days earlier, the 33-year-old Russo finished 28th in the Indy 500, making his fourth career start in the Memorial Day classic. During time trials, Nalon in his Tuffy Offy set a new track record with a lap of 14.87 seconds. Another 500 speedster, the 34-year-old Nalon finished 16th in the 1948 edition of the Indianapolis 500. Racing in the Chicago area was now in full swing.
During the ’47 season at Raceway Park , Tony Bettenhausen, who turned 31 years old in September, won a total of 10 feature races on the Raceway clay and brick dust surface and won the track championship. Bettenhausen, who also claimed the track’s midget driving title in 1941 and 1942, finished ahead of Roberts, Harry Turner, Bill Smith, Byron Fisher, Clyde Young, Merlyn “Doc” Shanebrook, Gus Klingbiel and Kenny Flynn in the final points standings.
Feature winners at Raceway included Roberts with seven, Shanebrook with 5, which he posted consecutively, and Mike O’Halloran, Don Brennan and Fisher with two each. Russo, Nalon, Smith, Turner, Ray Richards and Danny Kladis each won one. Shanebrook won the 50-lap Mid Season Title race on August 9 and Roberts won the 75-lap Season Championship race on September 27, besting Turner and Norm Nelson. On the same day, Kladis in the Eric Lund Offy set a new qualifying track record, getting around in 14.40 seconds.
Besides winning at Raceway Park , Bettenhausen claimed two AAA National Championship races in 1947, winning 100-mile contests at Goshen , N.Y. and at Springfield , Ill.
At Soldier Field on Chicago ’s lakefront, Hanks, Ronnie Householder, Ted Duncan and Klingbiel were winners on Saturday nights in June with crowds of between 10,000 and 20,000 fans witnessing the action. On July 20, a reported 18,224 fans saw Householder win the Mid Season Title race ahead of Duncan and Hanks. A week later, Duncan won at the “Field” and lowered the qualifying track record to 16.78 seconds.
Milwaukee’s Frank Burany garnered top honors in the second annual Chicago Park District Police Department Benevolent race, locking wheels with Bettenhausen and defeating “The Tinley Park Express” by inches at the checkered flag. Householder grabbed third ahead of Cletus “Cowboy” O’Rourke, Duane Carter and Hanks in the 50-lap chase on August 10.
Johnnie Parsons, the 29-year-old California speedster, drove his Jimmie James Offy No. 38 to victory at the flag, quarter-mile paved oval on August 24. Earlier in the evening, Parsons set a new qualifying mark with a 16.74 second lap. Rain squalls almost washed out the program, but still a reported 12,638 fans showed up.
As the season wound to a close, Russo won Soldier Field’s 100-lap championship race on September 14in front of 24,382 fans, beating two heavy downpours of rain and Householder, Hanks, Parsons, Bob Muhlke and Carter. The final race of the year was held on October 19 with Householder grabbing the victory in a 200 lapper. Householder and his Householder/Peterkin Offy No. 35 finished ahead of Johnny Mantz, Muhlke, Russo and Aaron Woodard. 18,000 fans were on hand for the season finale.
Turning 35 years old in November, Duncan, a veteran of Chicago area midget racing, was crowed the Soldier Field midget champion for the ’47 season, defeating Householder, Hanks, Russo, Carter and O’Halloran in the final standings. Also the Solider Field champion in 1946, Duncan and Householder each won four features with Hanks winning three and Parsons two. Single feature winners were Russo, Burany, Muhlke and Klingbiel.
O’Halloran, the 31-year-old “Smilin’ Irishman” from Lansing , Ill. , wheeled Johnny Pawl’s Offy-powered midget to victory in a 100-mile championship race at the one-mile dirt Langhorne Speedway in Pennsylvania on October 12. O’Halloran started third in the 33-car field and grabbed the lead on the first lap and was the leading car most of the race. Orland Park ’s Don Brennan was the event’s fastest qualifier.
California ’s Duane Carter won a special 150-lap midget race at the one-half mile dirt Lake County Fairgrounds oval in Crown Point , Ind. on October 5. A field of 28 started the 75-mile chase with the 34-year-old Carter defeating Duncan and Householder.
The month of October was full of special midget races with Skokie ’s Bob Muhlke grabbing top honors in a 40-lap championship battle at the newly-built Mazon Speed Bowl on October 12. Muhlke drove the Plaza Brothers Offy to the win.
With Andy Granatelli convincing Soldier Field promoter Art Folz to host hot rod racing, the first hot rod program was held at the “Field” on Wednesday night, July 30. Around 35,000 fans gathered to witness the event with Jim Morrison of Muncie , Ind. winning the 25-lap main event. Indiana drivers grabbed the top four spots with Charlie Mayer, Joe Nestor and Red Renner taking second through fourth positions. Avery McAdams of Muncie was the fastest qualifier with a lap of 19.29 seconds.
The hot rods returned on Wednesday evening, August 27 with Dick Fraizer of Muncie picking up top honors in feature competition before a reported crowd of 38,583, which helped pay the $6,200 purse. Fraizer and his No. 42 hot rod bested Ralph “Smokey” Stover, Morrison, Renner and George Tichenor, again making it a “clean sweep” for Indiana speedsters. Stover and his Hudson-powered mount lowered the hot rod qualifying mark to 18.50 seconds.
The ’47 hot rod season finale took place on Wednesday night, September 24 with local driver Willie Stirnquist grabbing the feature race checkered flag in front of Vince Granatelli and Indiana ’s Gene Pyle. A crowd around 9,000 fans saw Stirnquist wheel the Grancor V8 to victory.
Ray Elliott’s eight wins at Hanson Park during UARA midget competition propelled him to the overall UARA driving championship. The final points standings found Elliott on top followed by Ken Rubright, Scally, Tony Saylor, Paul Ambrose and Ben Zukor. Over 60 drivers competed during the 37-date UARA season, which saw the association race at Michigan ’s Bigelow Field, Cedar Rapids , Iowa , Belvidere , Ill. and Sandwich , Ill. in addition to the Hanson quarter-mile. One fatality marred the season as 32-year-old Ralph Stauber was fatally injured during the semi feature at Hanson Park on August 8.
Before 1947 came to a close, the winter indoor midget racing season began at Chicago ’s International Amptheatre at 43rd and Halsted. Ray Richards scored a feature win during the indoor season opener on December 13, guiding his Ulmer Offy to victory in the 30-lap main. The Art Folz/Chicago Auto Racing Association-promoted event saw Richards defeat Bob Muhlke and Don Brennan. A sell-out crowd of nearly 8,000 fans saw Richards grab fast time honors among 73 entries.
Two weeks later, Chicago area driver Bill Smith closed out the ’47 indoor season at the Amptheatre, wheeling his Andy Black Offy to a win in the 30-lap main. Rex Easton and Brennan chased Smith to the finish.