The Indy Car Series at Williams Grove Speedway 1949-1959
by Joe Heisler

As we prepare to celebrate eight decades of racing at the "Grove", letís review some memorable moments from the great Indy car races held once a year from 1949 to 1959. Indy cars on a half mile? Prior to 1949 only one-mile and larger tracks hosted Indy car races with the exception of a 1936 event at Legion Ascot in California.

#45 Joie James - City of Glendale Spl. 1950 - First Indy car built by AJ Watson
On July 31, 1949 40,000 spectators saw twelve Indy cars race in a sprint program at Williams Grove. The format for these races was time trials, three heats, a consolation and a fifty lap main. Six cars had started in the 1949 500 and four others had been entered. Bill Holland the 500 winner listing Reading, Pa. as home at that time was in the field. Californiaís Duane Carter set fast time in the City of Tacoma Special which had started on the outside of the Indy front row. All-time Indy pole setter, at that time, Rex Mays was in the field. Tommy Hinnershitz was at the wheel of the "baby" Bowes. Johnny Mantz also a Californian won the event.

Every Indy winner from 1949 through 1959 would appear in these races with the exception of Pat Flaherty, who did win a sprint car feature at the "Grove" in 1956 the year of his 500 victory. Indy winners with wins in this series were Troy Ruttman, Jimmy Bryan and Rodger Ward. Indy car winners racing in the series were victors in 1941, 46, 51 and 52.

Ruttman won the 1950 event in the "baby" Bowes and repeated in the 1951 event in the car he would win with at Indy in 1952. Returning the next year with the same car he ran third marking the only time in the series that an Indy driver and car winning combination raced in the event. Troy finished third behind Paul Russo and Bill Schindler earning $787 for his efforts! Also in 1951 the winning Indy car was in the field driven by Tony Bettenhausen who would dominate Indy dirt racing for the rest of the season and win the National Championship.

In 1952 three Indy winners were in the field- Sam Hanks, Johnny Parsons and Bryan. In 1954 five winners appeared- and two Parsons and Holland had to run in the consolation! They were in good company as Hinnershitz had to run there also.

In 1953 and 1954 Jimmy Davies won the event driving the Pat Clancy Special which had appeared in the 500 in 1948 and 1949 with six wheels! 1956 was the last year for dirt cars to race in the 500. Three started and three finished. All three were at the "Grove" for the 1956 race. One car was the 1952 Indy winner.

The 1957 event is remembered by Dale Van Johnsonís first lap charge from sixth to second before brushing the fence and getting black flagged. Jud Larson an Indy car rookie won the event. Larson repeated in 1958 in a race which saw six lead changes in the 50 laps by Larson, Johnny Thomson, Buzz Barton and Len Sutton. These drivers raced out of Missouri, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Oregon to show the nationwide extent of Indy car racing at the "Grove".

The final event in 1959 was flagged at thirteen laps due to a downpour. Ward the reigning Indy champ won it. One car from the first event raced that day- the Thermoid V-8 which had been driven in 1949 by Rex Mays as the Wolfe Special.

Although the big names of the time dominated these races there were many human interest stories. Eddie Sachs drove the 1946 Indy winner built in 1938 in the 1951 event for one of his earliest champ car rides.. Joe Barzda raced a pre WWII grand prix Maserati in 1952. Rex Records after three decades of racing had a champ car ride in the 1956 event.

And then there is the saga of Jack Bates a midget driver from New Castle, Indiana who had obtained a ride in the aging Van Acker sometimes referred to as Redmer Special another car dating from the 1938 500. Bates qualified sixth fastest in a field which included five Indy winners- past and future. Heats lined up by time trials so he started last and finished last in the first six car heat. In the second heat he started third and finished last. The third heat was a repeat of the second and the best he could do was ninth in the consolation, only the first five made the main. His luck at the pay window was no better- zero dollars for the day!
#29 George Lynch - Redmer Spl - 1950
also driven by Jack Bates in 1954

We can talk for hours about these events at the Convention for those interested. Joe Heisler for EMMR.

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