Editor’s note: Redline is pleased to bring our readers stories penned by the late Bob Wilson. As a longtime Colorado SCCA member, he witnessed a time when the line between club and pro racing was blurred and road racing was still an “extreme sport”, yet to be established in the U.S. Those halcyon days are worthy of a reprint and Redline Magazine appreciates his estate providing permission to do so.
Anytime I hear an old timer sitting around extolling the virtues of days gone by, I always wonder just how good they really were. Well here I am firmly established in the land of Old Fartism and people keep telling me I should begin recording my memories of (drum roll please) THE GOOD OLD DAYS.
Let me begin by assuring you that they weren’t all good. Some of our days in the SCCA have been very bad indeed. Fortunately those are in the minority. In this first installment, I will wax somewhat autobiographical for a short while, to sort of establish myself in your minds as the type of person who would spend 30 years around this wacky pastime of ours.
I was born on a farm in South Kansas. Hard to imagine a spot more isolated from motor sports, but then during the 30’s if an Allis Chalmers tractor couldn’t do it, then it wasn’t motorsports. At a very young age I had to fight the dreaded polio virus. I lost and that’s why I limp. Nuff said about that! Almost from the very beginning, I was an unqualified motor head. I always read a lot and as much as possible about cars and planes. Cars won, but I still love planes, especially WWII bombers and fighters. Fast forward to the 50’s. As soon as such magazines as Motor Trend and Road & Track came out, I began buying them and entered the wonderful world of Bugatti; Ferrari; Alfa Romeo; Mercedes; Ascari, Fangio, Moss; Shelby and all the rest. I still have most of those old mags and they make an interesting reference library for refreshing ones memory of bygone events. Someday maybe, I’ll sell them to a good home.
Sometime around mid ’52, a girlfriend introduced me to a friend who was a dark haired, sparkly eyed, chick with great legs named Ila. This girlfriend quickly faded into the middle distance, and Ila soon became my friend, lover, confidant and adversary for life. We had two kids, Daryl, now a family man, SCCA racer and also motor head (naturally), and Deane Ann, who tragically died in 1985 at age 32, five grandkids, Amy, Tony, Howie, Shelly and Nikki and now miraculously, a great grandson Ronald. As most of you know, Howie has lived with us since his mother died and has now changed his name to the same as ours.
I think that’s enough of the biography, so let’s get on to the good old days of motorsports. I remember well the first sports car race I ever saw. In 1956, two friends and I drove from Wichita to Dodge City to see the highly publicized SCCA road races. The course was laid out on an abandoned WWII air base, long straights and wide corners. Of course the surface was breaking up real bad, but this didn’t seem to daunt the hardy souls in the race cars. Here was an interesting mix of cars with lots of Mgs-TC’s; TD’s and a few of the new MGA’s, many Jaguar’s-XK 120s & 140’s; Triumph TR2’s; Austin Healy’s and even a few of the magnificent Mercedes 300SL’s. One car stands out in my memory of the production race. This was the first well prepared Corvette I’d ever seen with V8 and four speeds- this car handily beat all the production field.
The small modified classes were skimpy and I remember that a Cooper, with the tail chopped flat in back was the fastest. Jack Hinkle had a strange little special powered by an Offy engine, but that combination didn’t work very well. The feature race of the day contained the factor that has this day burned indelibly into my mind. There were five (count ‘em) first-class Ferraris present that day and the wonderful blanket of sound laid down by those magnificent engines is still etched in my mind as clearly as if it were yesterday. The long straights gave them plenty of room to get up to full song. These cars were driven by some of the best of their time. Our own Danny Collins had his lovely little 2 liter car there, though I didn’t know him at that time. Another was driven by a journeyman driver by the name of Dale Duncan, but the big names were Masten Gregory and Carroll Shelby. Shelby won the race wearing his striped overalls and according to the roar of the crowd, it was a very popular victory.
A few years ago I was talking with Carroll and I mentioned that race and he remembered it quite well. When I bragged on the great sounds the Ferraris made, he laughed and said, “Well you probably couldn’t pick mine out from the V-12s, but it was a four-banger Testarossa and it sounded like pouring rocks into a tin bucket!” Sounds like ol’ Shel, don’t it?
Well I believe this is a good place to stop on this installment. Tune in next month.