Wednesday, January 13, 2010

1957 - The Kansas City Midget Auto Racing Association

Bill Chennault won three Kansas City Midget Auto Racing Association titles ('53, '56 and '57) in what became a hall of fame career. - Photo courtesy of Bob Mays


by Lee Ackerman


Omaha, Neb. - Back in the glory days of midget auto racing one of the most competitive midget organizations in the Midwest was the Kansas City Midget Auto Racing Association (KCMARA). The organization was founded in 1935 and ran through 1963. It base of operations was the legendary Olympic Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Olympic Stadium also started operation in 1935 and was a 1/5-mile bullring until expanded to a 1/4-mile in 1952. It ceased operations in 1974.

Carl Badami won four of the first five KCMARA championships giving way to only Vito Calia in 1938. Calia would win the championship five times. By the 1957 season other drivers had set atop the association point standings including; George Binnie, Ben Harleman, Guy McHenry, Bob Slater and Jud Larson. Bill Chennault won the championship in 1953 then added 1956 and 1957 championships.

The 1957 season was an active season for the association. They shared the stage at Olympic Stadium six times with the stock cars. Many of the Associations drivers also competed in two United States Auto Club (USAC) shows at Olympic on May 12th and again on June 16th. Both USAC shows were capped by 100-lap main events.

In the May 12th show, KCMARA drivers performed well in the preliminary events and Carl Williams finished 4th, Will Hunziker 7th and Eddie McVay 8th in the feature. The winner of the feature was a young midget driver from Houston, Texas who scored his first ever USAC win that night by the name of A. J. Foyt. In the June 16th show Bill Chennault put on a clinic against the USAC regulars setting a new track record in qualifying at 12.89 seconds and then setting a new 100-lap mark in winning the feature in 23 minutes 00.34 seconds.

Starting in June their activities were centered on two new tracks within a 70 mile radius of Kansas City, those being the Shawnee County Speedway in Topeka, Kansas on Friday nights and the new 1/4-mile facility in Savannah, Missouri on Saturday nights. They would also sanction events at Neligh, Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska and compete with the St. Louis Auto Racing Association at Mexico, Missouri. Below are highlights of the 1957 KCMARA season.

Bill Chennault won a number of features and would win his fourth association championship. A former stock car driver named Joe Walter would be named Rookie of the Year. Walter started the season in slower cars moved to the Fords and ended the season in an Offenhauser. Carl Williams (who would later drive Indy cars) won a number of races but was also involved in several accidents, the last be a bad one that sent him to the hospital and out for the rest of the season.


Nebraska's Bobby Parker poses alongside the #4 Thomas Offy midget. - Photo courtesy of Lee Ackerman

On June 19th Bobby Parker of Omaha, Nebraska wheeled the No. 4 Thomas Offy to a heat win and then a decisive victory at the Shawnee County Speedway. Howard House in his own No. 12 Ford set fast time at 17.5 seconds, but was sidelined for the evening after being involved in an accident in which Carl Williams went over the wheel of Bill Chennault and overturned.

On June 28 at Savannah, Bill Chennault jumped in the No. 98 Lane Offy after his regular mount the Calia Offy developed mechanical problems and went on to win a hard fought feature over fast qualifier Ed McVay. McVay who had set fast time at 15.2 seconds, battled tooth and nail with Chennault over the 12-lap distance before falling short by less than a car length.

Willy Hunziker dominated the July 5 show at Topeka winning his heat, then the winner’s heat and then the 25-lap feature over Bobby Parker. Chet Hamby had fast time of 18.05 seconds. Howard House won the Bob Mark Memorial Race. The event was held annually in honor of the driver who was fatally injured in 1955 at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas. The next week at Topeka, Ed McVay won the feature which was halted twice for accidents, the last one taking out Bobby Parker who was striving for a sweep.

On the 18th at Topeka Roger Lane was the star of the evening wheeling his No. 98 Lane Offy to three wins, the fast car heat, the semi and then finishing it off with a win in the feature. The next night at Savannah, Bobby Parker made up for his bad luck the week before at Topeka by taking the feature.

Carl Williams captured the July 30 feature at Savannah after waging a fierce duel with Bill Chennault. Chennault won the fast car heat with Williams second. On August 9 at Sunset Speedway in Omaha, Bill Chennault set fast time of 15.7 seconds then came back to best Willy Hunziker in the 25-lap feature. Local star Bobby Parker was knocked out of the feature when he tangled with another car.

The midgets returned to Savannah for an exciting seven race program that saw no driver win more than one event. Ed McVay won the feature. Heats went to Jimmy Reynolds, Howard House and Will Hunziker. On August 24 the series returned to Savannah before the largest crowd of the season. Bill Lawson piloting the No. 74 Offy led the main event until the final lap when Bill Chennault passed for the win. Five cars spun in the wild feature.

Bill Chennault would win his last KCMARA championship in 1958. In 1959 it was Roger Lane’s turn. In 1960 the championship went to Bill Burdick. Howard House would close out the KCMARA record books winning the championship in 61, 62 and 63.

Over the years the Kansas City Midget Auto Racing Association produced some of the best midget drivers in the Midwest and the little cars provided the fans with some exciting action.

23 comments:

  1. That is a neat article. I only regret that as a child in the 60's, I did not see midget racing-Just stock cars. I have often wondered why midgets went out of popularity?
    Is that a mask that Bill has on in the picture? Quite the harness to hold him in too! Thanks for sharing this Kyle.
    Mike Townsley

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  2. My Daddy was Chet Hamby Thank You for the mention.

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  3. why doesnt any one every talk about bill head flagman from the race tracks. he was a very good and fare to drivers. iknow that cause thats my dad this is pamela head

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  4. Great article. I watched several year's worth of races at Olympic Stadium with my parents. I remember seeing Chennault, Hamby, Larson, Hower adn many others, but my most vivid memory is of the flagman of that era, "Dancin" Sammy Callaghan. He would dance backwards down the front straight waving the checkers. That a show!

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  5. There were no fonder memories than those I spent at Olympic Stadium with my many friends of whom were Bob Williams, Jack Cunningham, and Elmer Lane and not to forget Jerry Weld and the rest of that family. Midgets and super-modifieds to me those were the years. Wouldn`t it be great to get together and reminisce after all these years?

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    1. man those where the days Greg, Kenny, and Jerry weld Tiger Bob Williams in that number 91 stp car owned by Pappy Wield Bob Burns, Ray Lee Goodwin, Eddy Lovette Those last two drove #13 Owned by Duck Corum not sure about some of my spelling but you get the drift ran Lakeside Friday Night Riverside Saturday night and Olympic stadium Sunday Night Junior Howard called him smoth track #24 and lots more

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    2. Boy do I remember those days back in the early sixties. Dancin Sammy Callahan was the flagman at Olympic Stadium.And one of the true racing wonders at that time was good old Tiger Bob Williams. Me and Bob went to high school together before he became a race driver.

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    3. I too was young.. but born in 53,and having a dad who loved cars, we had our Ford worked on at the Weld's Garage.. I believe the weld brothers cars all ended in a 9 , like 79,89,69. As a family my brother and I loved the "mud Claud's in the face" we lived in KCMO on Van Brunt. Because of that intradruction Find myslef on Team85 a sprint car here in Cottage Grove Speedway ! Thanks Dad and Thank you Jerry Weld for befriending my dad.

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  6. My dad(Pete Burke)was good friends with the Weld brothers, I was always with my dad on those awesome Sunday nights and my dad had a blue willy's jeep, he pushed many of those great race cars there at Olympic,Riverside & Lakeside stadiums. I miss those wonderful time as a teen.

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  7. looking for some family of george binnie

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  8. To Michael Nott. Thanks for the reminder. He was a pretty spectacular showman. I don't ever remember seeing him even stumble in all the mud & marbles. Steve Young

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  9. Was just wondering if anybody remembers a Wilbur Johns and Georgia Johns that used to race stock cars at Olympic Stadium. They were my parents. Only was on the circuit maybe a year or 2. Dad broke his back twice and his leg so he quit. Mom drove in a powder puff derby in 1956 while she was pregnant with me.

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  10. I came down to Olympic Stadium from Omaha, NE quite frequently. The midget racing at Olympic was spectacular. Binnie, Harleman, Slater, Calia, Larsen, Tex West, Tiny Wainwright and the list goes on. One of my saddest memories is the loss of Binnie. He could of have a bright future has he lived.

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  11. my dad drove stocks at olympic his name was chuck rough his car was #99 & 69 for slaton block it was in the mid 50 they were great times for me

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  12. Can anyone provide me with any information on driver/engine builder/AAA committeeman W. W. Brown? I have been researching him and his machines for some time. Nothing too trivial to share. If it's on the net I likely have already found it. If it is in your scrapbook or back of your mind.... I certainly would love to know about it.
    -John Baeke
    Overland Park, KS
    913-406-2262

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  13. anything on the old Savannah,Missouri dirt track from the 1960's

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    1. My Dad Raced there Bucky Jobe #11 in the 60s and early 70s I was up there a while back and the track is gone

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    2. i remember kenny and his brother bobby
      (i think) jobe .we used to go to their house in KCk, woulda' been like 1960/61
      raced karts with bucky

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    3. i remember kenny and his brother bobby
      (i think) jobe .we used to go to their house in KCk, woulda' been like 1960/61
      raced karts with bucky

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  14. The flagman was Savatore [Sammy] Calendrino. He dealt in fresh produce on the east side.

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  15. Marshall (Stubby) StubblefieldJanuary 8, 2015 at 8:54 PM

    I attended midget races at Olympic in 1941 at the age of 4. From then on I wanted to drive racecars mainly midgets. My favorite drivere was Eddie Kracheck (?). I got to meet him after a big win and he rode me around the track in his midget (pushed by a push truck.). Something I never forgot. I found out many years later that Eddie was killed in a wreck at Olympic. He was sure good. I did go on to drive midgets and sprints, starting in May 1960 with the St. Louis Auto racing association and finished in 1990 with the Texas Outlaw midgets racing association. I have a program from OIympic from 1941. I really enjoyed your web sight.
    Marshall (Stubby) Stubblefield.

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  16. Looking for family and race fact for Dwayne Telle 1959 N.M.A.R.A championship. Car #38

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  17. Wow. The picture of Bill Chennault brings back lots of memories. The #5 car was owned by Tom Randall, a good friend of my dad's. His garage was at 24th and Denver in Kansas City only a few blocks from where we lived and across the street from Allen Dairy (the best ice cream in town).

    The seat belt in the picture might have been made by my dad who worked for Wilson Sporting Goods on Cherry Street (I think) who made sports uniforms. I once asked him why he didn't patent the seat belt. He laughed and said if he did he'd have to admit to his employer that he'd used their materials and equipment and suspected they would not be happy about that. I think I remember in later years hearing that Sammy Callahan had been killed at Olympic Stadium. We lived a distance from Olympic but I remember hearing the races in the summertime. Wow, fond memories.

    Bill Radford
    Kansas City (East side)
    Suburban Chicago
    now Cape Coral, FL

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