by Vadim Stepanov, Formula143.org
My collection deals mainly with Formula One and pre-war Grand Prix car. But I was always interested in American open-wheels racing as a parallel branch in the evolution of motor racing and racing cars. After some doubts I‘ve decided to add American open-wheel racing to the scope of my Formula143 collection. The task to collect a representative set of Indy cars (whatever they are called) in 1/43 scale is not so easy as for European F1 and GP cars. However, it worth to try. There is a lot of Indy-500 winners’ models of 1960s-70s, as well as some other Indy Cars models mainly from 1990s . But going deeper in history or into the structure of American open-wheels cars with scale models requires some patience, luck and researcher skills.
Recently I have purchased around 20 models of midget / sprint / dirt champ cars of 1950-60s produced by GMP (Georgia Marketing and Products) in the beginning of 2000s. Almost all of them needs identification in terms of establishing correct car (chassis) name, year and event.
Midget races in 1940s- 1960s
The open-wheel racing in the USA in 1940s – 1960s was structured in four major types of cars and races. The highest level was open-wheel roadsters raced at Indy-500 and some other paved ovals. Dirt Champ cars (known also as “Big cars”), sprint cars and midgets were three classes of open-wheel dirt track racing cars differed in size and in racing distances. Midget car racing was born in the USA in 1930s. Midgets, very small cars with a very high power-to-weight ratio, were intended to be driven for races of relatively short distances, usually 2.5 to 25 miles. The technical regulations for midgets changed often, but mainly concerned the wheelbase and engine parameters. They should have been shorter and less powerful than sprint cars, which, in its turn, should be in between midgets and big champ cars. Midget races were held almost every week, usually in weekdays. Many regional championships and a National Championship sanctioned by AAA (until 1955), and then by USAC (since 1956) provided a racing opportunities for many professional and semi-professional drivers. Midget cars of the 40s – 50s are usually referred as Offy midgets because the Offenhauser V8 engine was a standard for this type of racing cars. Chassis manufacturers usually not mentioned in race results and in season official statistics. But the major manufacturer of the midget cars in 1940s – 60s was notorious Kurtis Kraft. From around 1946 to 1962, Kurtis Kraft produced 550 completely assembled midgets and another 600 examples in kit form.
Midget racing at that period was usually a first step in the open-wheel racing career for many drivers. Number of those, who were promoted further, continued to race midget simultaneously with sprint cars and big champ cars. The schedule of races of the National Championships for big cars, sprint cars and midgets was spread over the days of the week, and prize money in small classes was not superfluous. The most popular venue for midget racing was the first purpose built speedway at Gilmore Stadium in Hollywood, CA, opened in 1934 and demolished in 1951. The most well-known race held at Gilmore, annual “Turkey Night Grand Prix” has been held on Thanksgiving night and was a round of the AAA National Midget Championship.
Gilmore Stadium Midget Series by GMP
In 2002 the diecast brand GMP (Georgia Marketing and Products) have produced the “Gilmore Stadium Midget Series” set of models in 1/43 scale to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stadium demolishing. The set included a stadium diorama and 5 midget cars of Roger Ward, Danny Oakes, Perry Grimm, Bill Vukovich, and Walt Faulkner, all were sold separately.
The models are described by GMP as follows:
#1 Grimm / Grant Piston Ring Offy midget:
#15 Faulkner Offy midget
#27 Ward / Edelbrock V8-60 midget
#45 Vukovich Offy midget
#65 Oakes Offy midget
No info on year, event and chassis name is given on the set packaging, boxes or cardboards. In order to identify each model besides the driver and year, one should identify the chassis and, if possible, attribute the car to particular event. Thus the questions are:
What is chassis manufacturer (s) of these midgets?
“Offy midget” name means just that the cars were powered by very popular Offenhauser V8 engines. The only exclusion is Ward’s V8-60 which was powered by Ford V8-60. The chassis of all midgets is the same and highly likely it is Kurtis Kraft.
What year and event represents each model? Can all 5 be attributed to 1950?
Edelbrock V8-60 is definitely from 1950 (the year it was produced). The first win of this car with Roger Ward (#27) as the driver was registered at Gilmore on August 10, 1950. However, it is not clear if the model represents August race or Turkey Night GP held in November.
As to other 4 models, exact year and event is not known. I have performed some research using contemporary newspapers, some midget race programs, information from the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame, and other sources.
Summary of data on Gilmore races in 1950 and Turkey Night Grand Prix in 1945-49
At least four midget races were held at Gilmore Stadium in 1950.
First midget race at Gilmore in 1950 was held on January 1st. The 100-lapper was won by Bob Baker. Four out of five drivers from the GMP set was present at the event. In the final race Danny Oakes was 3rd; Walt Faulkner 4th; Perry Grimm and Bill Vukovich did not finish the race. Racing numbers from this race are not known.
On May 4 1950 Gilmore Stadium Gold Cup was held. The racing numbers in the entry list were the same as the numbers on the models for 4 cars: #1 Grimm (Grant Piston Rings Spec.) , #15 Faulkner (Faas Offie; alternate driver Hal Minyard raced the car), #45 Vukovich (Gearhart Spec.), #65 Oakes (Fullerton Racing Team). Taking into account that in US dirt races drivers usually used same racing numbers throughout the season, racing numbers in 1950 Turkey Night GP numbers very likely were the same.
Gilmore Stadium 13t Anniversary Auto Race held on August 10 was won by Ward in his new Edelbrock V8 Ford midget. It was the first time a Ford had bested the Offies in the history of post-war misget racing. Danny Oakes finished 2nd in the 50-lap final. Perry Grimm was third in first out of 4 qualifying heats. Faulkner and Vukovich were not mentioned in the contemporary race reports. It is known that Ward’s car was #27, other car numbers are not known.
Turkey Night Grand Prix was held at Gilmore on November 23. Grimm and Vukovich started the final 150-lap race, Oakes was present in minor races at Gilmore that day, but DNQ for the main race. Faulkner was absent at 1950 midget GP because he was in the lead of AAA “big car” Championship and decided to skip midget race to avoid the risk of injuries. Car numbers are not known. Ward is mentioned by the press before the race among the entrants, but did not participate in the main race (150-laps final). He also was not found in brief (probably, too brief) published results of the preliminary races – 3-lap Trophy Dash and 25-lap Semi-main.
1949 Turkey Night Grand Prix:
Grimm (#14, winner), Vukovich (#48, second) and Faulkner (#16, 10th) were in the main race. Oakes raced in semi-main 20-lapper. 1949 car numbers are different from the models.
1948 Turkey Night Grand Prix:
All 5 – Vukovich (#45, winner), Oakes (#65), Faulkner (#44), Grimm (#25), Ward (#35) started the main 150-lap race. Numbers of Vukovich and Oaks are the same as in the models.
1947 Turkey Night Grand Prix:
Grimm (#27) and Oakes (#8) were among GP field. No matches with the GMP scale models.
1946 Turkey Night Grand Prix:
Grimm (winner) and Oakes were in the main race. Racing numbers are not known.
1945 Turkey Night Grand Prix:
Grimm and Oakes (winner) were in the main race. Racing numbers are not known.
Conclusions on models identification
In summary, all midget models from the “Gilmore Stadium Midget Series” can be attributed to races held at Gilmore Stadium in 1950. The complete set of racing numbers and chassis-engine configuration of 5 midget cars was seen only that season. At least 3 cars can be attributed to the main years’ event, Turkey Night Grand Prix. Grimm (#1) was 3rd in the final. Vukovich (#45), 9th in the semifinal, and Oaks (#65), retired in the semi, were DNQ for the final. Faulkner (#15) definitely did not participate in Turkey Night Grand Prix. His only recorded race at Gilmore in 1950 was 100-lapper in January where Faulkner was 4th. Ward (#27 Ford-powered Edelbrock car) probably raced in preliminary heats for the Grand Prix. The same car also won the Gilmore Stadium Gold Cup in May 1950.
Cars and models details
1950 Kurtis Kraft – Ford midget Ward (model #0580 / 7681G)
Roger Ward was born in 1921 and during World War II he served in the US Air Force as Lockheed P-38 fighter pilot. In 1946 when Ward was discharged from the Army, he began racing midgets. He won the San Diego Grand Prix in 1948, as well as several West Coast midget races in 1949. The fast improving skills of the former pilot took much attention to him, and experienced midget star Perry Grimm recommended Ward to Vic Edelbrock as his replacement in 1950. Edelbrock, who operated his own car repair shop in Los Angeles, was one of the most successful midget car owner and entrant in the 1940s – 1950s. In 1950 Vic decided to challenge Offy by installing a Ford V8-60 engine in a Kurtis Kraft midget chassis. The first win of this cream and red #27 car with Roger Ward was registered at Gilmore on August 10, 1950. The race was “Gilmore Stadium’s 13th Anniversary Auto Race”. Edelbrock and Ward followed up the win by travelling to Orange Show Stadium in San Bernardino and winning the following night. This feat was never duplicated in the history of midget racing. The midget success propelled Ward’s career. In 1951 he won the AAA stock car championship and raced at Indianapolis for the first time. Ward raced in AAA / USAC Championship car for 17 seasons – from 1950 to 1966. He won Indy-500 in 1960 and the National Championship in 1959 and 1962. He scored 26 wins in Champ car races, his last was in Trenton in 1966 when Ward was 44 years old. During his Champ car career Ward continued to race sporadically in midgets winning 4 USAC National midget events in 1956 – 1959.
1950 Kurtis Kraft- Offy midget Oakes (model #1814 / 7682G)
Danny Oakes was born in 1911 in Santa Barbara, California. He began racing in stock cars in 1932, switching to midgets in 1936. Oakes won first post-war Turkey Night Grand Prix at Gilmore Stadium in 1945. In 1947 he won the AAA Pacific Coast Midget Championship and twelve years later repeated the feat under the banner of USAC 1959 Pacific Coast Midget Championship. In the 1950 Turkey Night Grand Prix in his Kurtis Kraft – Offy midget #65 entered by Fullerton Racing Team, Oaks retired in the 25-miles semifinal. However, he was 3rd at Gilmore midget race of January 1st. Oaks continued racing midgets for 25 years until the 60s. After the sanction of the National Midget Championship went from AAA to USAC in 1956, Oaks won three midget events in the USAC National Midget Championship (Detroit and Gailsburg in 1956 and Gardena in 1957). In the 1950s Oaks tried his skills and luck in the big cars as well. He has 6 starts in the AAA National Championship in 1952-1954 with 11th at Springfield in 1954 as his best finish. Oakes failed to qualify for Indy-500 in his three attempts in 1952-54. In 1952 Oakes was entered in Indy-500 with Meyer – Offy and also he stood by as a relief driver for Alberto Ascari in Ferrari. Oaks recalled in one of his late interview in Speedsport Magazine: “I bet I drove 1,300 laps at Indianapolis, but never made the race. One year I was get $500 for being Ascari’s co-driver. I showed up, they disappeared and Ferrari still owes me 500 bucks”. Oakes usually drove in his blue and white jacket, as GMP reproduced it in the scale model.
1950 Kurtis Kraft- Offy midget Grimm (model #1352 / 7683G)
Perry Grimm’s Offy midget is 3rd model car of GMP “Gilmore Stadium Midget Series” issued in the beginning of 2000s to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stadium demolishing. Grimm was one of the best midget drivers of the 1940s. Resided in Los Angeles, he raced on the West Coast of the United States in the UMA (United Midget Association) series, but appeared in events all over the country. In 1941 and 1945 he won the Fort Miami Speedway Track Championship in Toledo, Ohio. One of his most spectacular performance was his third-place finish at York’s Roosevelt Raceway open competition show in 1939 when he drove the last 55 miles of the 150-miler with a flat tire. In the late 40s Grimm drove for the Vic Edelbrock’ team. In 1946 he won the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Gilmore Stadium. Grimm repeated as the winner of the Turkey Night classic in 1949 and won the Pacific Coast Midget title as well. The 1950 Turkey Night Grand Prix was won by Bill Zaring, while Grimm, who raced 1950 season in car #1, finished 3rd. Grimm’s 1950 car modeled by GMP is the typical Kurtis Kraft chassis powered by V8 Offy. While for many drivers midget racing was just a step of their careers to promote to higher levels of open-wheel racing, Grimm, like Danny Oakes, raced mostly in midgets and did not achieve any success in bigger cars. Grimm’s only appearance in the big car National Championship was 1952 Indy-500 when he passed rookie test in the #55 Ansted Rotary Engine Special Stevens – Offy, but did not qualify.
1950 Kurtis Kraft- Offy midget Vukovich (model #1028 / 7684G)
Bill Vukovich, like many other West Coast drivers of the 1940s – 1960s, began his racing career with midgets. His first midget race recorded in 1938 when he was 19. After the World War II Vukovich won first two URA (United Midget Racing Association) series’ 1945 and 1946 midget car championships driving Vic Edelbrock’s Drake-powered Kurtis car. Vukovich won the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Gilmore Stadium in 1948, and also won six of the last eight races held at Gilmore Stadium in 1948 – 1950 before it was closed. In the 1950 Turkey Night Grand Prix he did not qualify for the 150-lap final finishing 9th in the 25-lapper semifinal. However at this moment he already had the 1950 AAA National Midget Championship in his pocket. In 1950 Vukovich first time appeared in big cars being DNQ at Indy-500. In 1951 he quit midget racing and concentrated on AAA big cars. Vukovich won the Indy-500 twice, in 1953 and 1954, but it was the “old brickyard” where he lost his life in the 1955 Indy-500 race. Vukovich hold the record at Indy where he led 72% of the laps he drove in competition in his 5 starts in 1951-55.
1950 Kurtis Kraft- Offy midget Faulkner (model #1257 / 7685G)
Faulkner’s Offy midget is 5th in the series. Faulkner, nicknamed a “Little Dynamo” because of his energy and relatively short stature, raced mainly in big cars, including National Championship, and in stock car, including NASCAR. Born in 1918, he started racing motorcycles in 1936 before switching to midgets in 1938. In 1941 he won California based UMA (United Midget Association) Championship. In 1948 Faulkner was 2nd in Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix at Gilmore Stadium. In 1950 he won AAA Midget race at Carrell Speedway in Gardena (CA) on March 5, was 10th in National points, and 13th in Pacific Coast Midget Championship. Faulkner continued racing midgets sporadically in parallel with big cars until his death in 1956. His career in AAA Championship Cars started with pole position in 1951 Indy-500, his debut champ car race. Faulkner won 3 races (Milwaukee in 1950 and 1951 and Darlington 1951) in AAA Championship Cars and was placed 2nd in 1950 ad 3rd in 1951 Championship standings. He died in 1956 after a qualifying crash at a USAC Stock Car event in Vallejo, California. The GMP model represents Faulkner Kurtis Kraft – Offy midget of 1950 at Gilmore. Faulkner was absent at 1950 Turkey Night Grand Prix because he was in the lead of AAA “big car” Championship and decided to skip midget race to avoid the risk of injuries. However earlier that season he took 4th place in the 100-lap midget race held at Gilmore Stadium on January 1st, 1950. Faulkner was also entered for Gilmore Stadium Gold Cup held on May 4th 1950, but alternate driver Hal Minyard raced the car.