by Rich Boteler
Another track they raced at
was the Nutley Banked Board Track. In telling about this racing, Art told
how they tried various types of face shields, but being open at the top
and bottom, they would still get splinters in their eyes and had trouble
with them fogging up and blowing up over their helmets etc., so the
shields never did much to help protect the driver's eyes and face.
In 1941, Art's racing career
was interrupted by World War II and he spent the next three years in
numerous countries in Europe as a Tanker. He was wounded in action during
‘The Battle of the Bulge’ and was awarded the Purple Heart. After his
release from the Army, Art continued his racing career, again driving
Midgets and cars he describes as being similar in size to a Sprint Car. He
raced with ARDC at tracks throughout the Northeast. He related that he had
a pretty good Ford 60 and when the offy engined cars got popular they had
a separate class for them. He could win or run second in the Ford
division, which would make him eligible for the offy feature. He’d run
third or fourth in the offy feature and thus make more money each night.
Making $15 or $20 a week was good but getting $30 or more was better he
said with a grin.
During the late 40's, the
Stock Cars were becoming more and more popular in the Northeast. Ted
Tappett, Tony Bonadies and Art were asked to race with these Stock Car
guys and they raced two shows on Long Island. As Art tells it, these Stock
Car drivers didn't care too much for us Midget guys and it was obvious
they were going to take us out any way they could. Because of the
intentional wrecking, Art didn't care for driving the Stock Cars very
much. So in 1949 they migrated to the Midwest. They ended up in LaPorte
At one point they left their
belongings at their Indiana home and went scouting out west for a possible
new home. They made a stop in the Texas Panhandle and Margaret liked it
and said she thought she’d like to live there. But it didn’t take Art
long to decide it would be a dustbowl and they ended up back in the same
place they left. After over fifty years they still reside in a farm like
setting in rural Rolling Prairie, between LaPorte and South Bend. Running
with AAA, they raced at tracks in Kokomo & Lafayette, indoors at the
Ft. Wayne Coliseum, the 16th Street Speedway across from the Speedway,
Moline, Illinois and Soldier's Field in Chicago as well as others.
On a rare afternoon off from
racing, Art went by the big Indy Motor Speedway while the 35th
Indy 500 was running and got up on some scaffolding that some fans had put
up. This allowed them to watch the racecars turn laps at I.M.S. without
paying to go in. As Art watched, he thought to himself, ‘I can do
that’. This was May 1951 and the next year he did just that!
When he took the checkered
flag in 5th place, completing the full 200 laps, this earned
him the 1st ever Award of Rookie of the Year at I.M.S. and
secured himself a place in the Speedway’s Hall of Fame.
His race speed of 124.2 m.p.h. also made him a member of the
Hundred Mile an Hour Club.
Art telling a story about
Vuky, says he would come down to your pit, not say a word but with his
hands folded in back of him, he would look over this and shake his head in
a negative way and then look at that and again shake his head. He’d
leave the pit and the crew would be looking all over the car to find what
Vuky had seen wrong with the car. ‘Vuky had a lot of guys beat before we
ever got on the track, just by playing these mind games’, Art said with
a chuckle. Vuky once said that ‘Art is probably the best driver amongst
us, especially on pavement’, a mighty big compliment from one of the
greatest drivers of all time. Art admired Vuky to the highest degree and
obviously the feelings were mutual.
Another story Art related to
us was when another car owner asked him to shake down their car to see if
he could help them figure out why they weren’t going faster. This was a
common practice in those days. Art took the car out and after his third
lap, and just getting the feel of the car, the car owner was out at the
pit wall calling him in. Art came off the track and got out of the car and
in a very disturbing voice, asked why they didn’t let him get the car up
to speed. The car owner explained that he was a half second quicker than
the regular driver already and he could have the ride if he wanted it!
Margaret shared a story also,
saying that she could tell when Art was at race speed just by looking at
him in the car. When he sort of got hunkered down in the right side of the
car and his hands on the bottom of the steering wheel, and his jaw was off
to one side, I knew he was ready to go!
After a few hours of stories
and memories, we were afraid maybe we were wearing Art & Margaret out.
So when I asked if they were getting tired, Art said “no, I’m good to
go till four o’clock”. Later when the coo-coo clock on the wall let us
know it was four, Art said, “it’s Happy Hour. I don’t do a lot of
drinking, nor smoke, nor chase wild women but at four everyday if I’m
not driving, I feel that I’ve earned two beers”. To continue, we both
had a beer (my wife was doing our driving) and when we left, Art was
drinking his second one.
His third race at Indy, Art
drove the Bardahl Special #45 owned by Ed Walsh, started from the 27th
position and while Vuky won his second consecutive 500, Art came home 11th.
He was credited with leading 8 laps of the race and again finished the
full 500 miles. This year he also ran at the Darlington Speedway, starting
17th and finishing 6th. The other Champ Car race he
ran was at the Milwaukee Mile where he started 3rd and finished
5th. He was also going to run at Springfield, but Art admits he
wasn’t the greatest on dirt and when the car owner had a chance to put a
noted dirt racer in the seat, Art simply bowed out of the way and went
For his fourth and final Indy
500, Art drove the Belanger Motors Roadster #99, owned by Merle Belanger
and Tiny Worley. Art started the race in the 24th spot and
finished 17th. He led 24 laps of this race but broke a rod in
the engine and finished only 168 laps. This is where he met Jigger’s
Dad, Frenchy Sirois, who was a mechanic on the car. Art and Frenchy and
their wives became very close friends, and shared many days together away
from racing. To this day, Art and Jigger remain good friends, exchange
Christmas cards and try to get in a visit each year. Of course, this was a
very sad day for racing as Vuky lost his life in an accident while leading
the race. This could have been his fourth consecutive Indy Victory, since
he was leading the race in 1952 with only nine laps to go before the
steering broke, and then having his two wins in ’53 & ’54.
Three months after his final
Indy, Art drove what was to be his final race of his career. They were at
the Milwaukee Mile and Art started 11th. He got the car to
working good in the outside groove and drove to the lead. Soon he spun out
going into turn one. After restarting at the back he again moved to the
front of the pack and then he ran out of gas. The crew had put a can in
between his legs with a gallon of gas in it for such happenings but he
couldn’t get the gas to pick up to the engine. After his pitstop for
gas, he again moved through the pack and finished in the 4th
position. Quite a day, Art says with a smile
But as he got out of the car
that day he knew he was going to hang up his helmet. He tells that many
folks thought he quit because of losing his friend Vuky at the Speedway
earlier in the year. But while this saddened Art a lot, he was tired of
being away from his wife and children. He wanted to be a husband to
Margaret and a Dad to his kids. He returned to his home with no regrets of
leaving his racing career, while still in the prime of his driving years.
After working for twenty
years as a heavy equipment operator, Art retired and lives a comfortable
life with Margaret at his side. His memory isn’t what it once was but he
stays in pretty good health. He does sleep with oxygen at night, but this
is about the worst of his living conditions. Margaret seems to be very
spry and watching her face as Art told his stories, you could see the
pride she had in her eyes.
When I asked him about
driving cars with no roll bars, he said he was rather tall and stuck out
more than most drivers but he really didn’t think about it. In fact, the
first car he saw with a roll bar, he had to look it over pretty good to
figure out what it was for. And to my question about being upside down in
a racecar, his answer was “not in an Indy Car but too many times in a
Midget”. He told of one lengthy recuperation period, when he wasn’t
able to walk and had many broken bones.
They used to go back to the
Brickyard for Month of May functions like the Hall of Fame Banquet and
Hundred Mile an Hour Club Dinner. But since he sleeps with oxygen, this
makes for harder travel. And they are quick to point out that the
atmosphere in Indy has changed so much. When going back and seeing the old
guys we raced with, we enjoyed it, even though we were never in the social
group, like being invited to private bar-b-ques etc., but that was fine
with us. With the invasion of foreign drivers, it’s just not the same.
He does relate that Arie Luyendyk was very nice to him when they met. Arie
told how he respected what they went through in the early racing years and
told him, “he didn’t understand how they did it”. He was very
complimentary to Art’s driving career.
Margaret chimed in with the
story about well after Art’s retirement, they were at the track and Art
walked by young Vuky and young Bettenhausen. One asked the other “do you
know who that guy is”? When he was told, “that’s Art Cross”, he
said “WOW, I wonder if I could talk him in to shaking down my car”.
Quite a compliment to Art’s driving ability.
When I asked who his favorite
competitors were, he used the word ‘idol’ when he mentioned Bill
Schindler. And of course he mentioned Vuky, also Tommy Hinnershitz and
Johnny Ritter. Since many of the drivers are gone, one he remains good
friends with is Johnny Boyd. He likes NASCAR better today than the open
wheel races on TV. His favorite driver from the modern era is Geoff Bodine.
In 1992, Art was inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of
Back in the early sixties,
this writer had the honor of meeting Art at the Sirois home. The biggest
thing I remember about that meeting was how friendly Art had been to me
that day. After this visit with Art and Margaret, my wife and I came away
with the same feelings and so many memories of a great afternoon. We
certainly enjoyed the visit and hope this story will share some of Art and
Margaret’s life with whoever reads it. Before we left, Art presented me
with a picture of him and his Rookie of the Year car and autographed it
for me. I am SO PROUD of this picture! Many thanks to Art & Margaret
for sharing an unbelievable afternoon with us and for letting me write
this story about his racing career! Here’s hoping you have many good,
healthy years remaining together!
I need to give credit here to
two friends of mine that helped me with newspaper articles, photos and
other information, that has made this story much more complete and
hopefully more interesting. THANKS!! To Jigger Sirois and Tom Avenengo.
Comments about this story can be sent to RacerRich
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