Once Upon A Wire Wheel
The following is the first in a series of articles recalling highlights from the Region’s beginnings through the first 50 years. This was written by Bernie & Norm Koglin with input from Fred Wacker, Bud Seaverns, and Burdie Martin to name a few. Look for more articles though out the year. Have fun exploring the past and how it relates to now.
In the Beginning……1948- 1954
The term “sports car” would have meant very little to a vast majority of Americans in the years right after World War II. Then, MG TC’s began arriving in the U.S. and a few people started to take notice. Among them was Fred Wacker, who purchased one of the first little British cars in early 1948.
In May of that year, Fred and Bud Seaverns drove the MG to Indianapolis for the 500. After the race they were caught in the usual traffic jam, and came across Bill Spear and Sam Bailey, a couple of New Yorkers, in a Bentley. A mutual interest in their respective cars led to introductions, and in due course Fred and Bud heard of the “Sports Car Club of America” for the first time.
Ownership of a “sports car” was an SCCA membership requirement at that time. Since Fred qualified in that respect, Bill and Sam suggested he become a member of the Club. After joining, Fred discovered there was no Chicago Region. He contacted D. Cameron Peck of Evanston, Illinois who was Secretary of SCCA at the time. When Fred asked him why there was no Chicago Region, he said no one had gotten around to it, and suggested Fred start one.
Milwaukee Region was already in existence, and their RE, Carl Mueller, agreed to bring down a group from Milwaukee to pass along some ideas regarding organization. Several Milwaukee members and a number of people from the Chicago area, recruited by Fred, got together for a dinner meeting in late Fall of 1948. And thus was founded the Chicago Region, SCCA. Fred Wacker became our first RE and served in that role for two years.
The very first event was a gymkhana of sorts, held in conjunction with the Milwaukee Region on a farm in Wisconsin. Similar events were held at the Lake County Fairgrounds and Larry Whiting’s Lake Geneva property.
While road racing was a dream, few believed it would ever become a reality. Nevertheless, the reality began to take shape when Jim Kimberly, Fred Wacker, Dave Garroway and Carl Brocken chartered an airplane to scout the Wisconsin countryside for a suitable road race site. Elkhart Lake looked good so they put down in Plymouth, bummed a ride to Elkhart Lake, and convinced some prominent local businessmen to allow the Region to organize a race. The course layout ran down the main street, around the Lake and back through town. In 1950, the first race took place and was an unqualified success. Jim Kimberly won, Fred Wacker was second and Sally Ann Chapin was the ladies race winner. There were 1500 spectators. The Chicago Region and Elkhart Lake had begun a very special relationship.
The results sheet of the “Main Race” in 1951 includes the names of many legendary road racing figures. John Fitch won in a Cunningham, Phil Hill came in third in a Jaguar XK 120 Special, Bill Spear finished fourth in a Ferrari, Briggs Cunningham in another of his own cars was sixth, Jim Kimberly’s Ferrari America lost its clutch, Chicago Region’s Larry Whiting finished third in the MG class, while Bud Seaverns’ MGTC was a DNF. 1952 saw an expanded schedule of three events, based on engine displacement. Drivers from all over the U.S. participated, it was another Who’s Who of early racing names, and included most of those that had competed in 1951.
From the some things never change department – August, 1951 Piston Patter
“HEPL! HELP! We need more stories & photos. Piston Patter will be only as interesting as you make it.”
Good news from the April, 1953 Piston Patter
The most exciting news we’ve got this month is that plans are well underway for a 2-mile permanent circuit at Wilmot, Wisconsin. As every ski-bum knows, this is on the west bank of the Fox river a few miles or so north of the Illinois line near Antioch…
And bad news in the June 1953 issue: ROAD RACING KAPUT?
Back in the halcyon days when motoring was a sport for the economic nobility, road racing was the King of sports but it died out as its own popularity resulted in too many fatalities. The same problem plagues SCCA. The problems of staging road races are becoming almost too complicated for volunteer committees and the amateur set-up precludes professional organizers on account of cost.
Legal difficulties have put the kibosh on Elkhart Lake. A certain adamant landowner threatens to prevent the races by injunction if necessary and no one wants to devote months of preparation to that dismal conclusion. There was considerable enthusiasm for a private course on a gravelly hillside on the outskirts of town, but there was some doubt as to whether the considerable investment would pay out. Good thing Cliff Tufte had no doubts!
The April, 1953 Piston Patter noted only that plans were underway for a race circuit at Wilmot. It is remarkable that the Region was able to conduct a short-schedule race in July and a full schedule of events in September of the same year. It was slightly less than a mile long, and a lot of fun.
July, 1953 membership was 224.
During the five-year period high-lighted in this article, members were often active in every type of driving activity. The 1954 Cook County 120 was a fine example of this broad-based participation and socializing. On Saturday, 39 cars completed the rally and a rally car concours; a separate concours for non-rally cars attracted about 20 entrants. Sunday offered a hill climb and several of the rallyists were among the 33 contestants in that activity.
As 1954 drew to a close, a solid partnering relationship was developing between Road America and the Region. Dates and events were being finalized, and as 1955 dawned Road America was becoming a reality.
A very different era was about to begin.
These articles end in 1989. If any one out there would like to put pen to paper with interesting facts from the years 1990-1999 & 2000-2018 we would very much appreciate them. Send your memories, facts or ramblings to: PegBall@Comcast.Net. Thanks!