Monday, February 7, 2022

1954 Winternational Sprints

Tampa, Fla – Marvin Pifer of Adrian, Mich., who had just arrived in Tampa the day before, stole the show at the opening day of the Winternational Sprints at the Florida State Fair, winning the 15-lap feature, his heat and setting the fastest time in qualifying on Wednesday, February 3.

Pifer’s small Offenhauser (220 cubic inches), was right at home on the hard, slick racing surface, taking the lead at the onset and opening up a huge lead as the race progressed. Finishing second in the race was Don Branson of Champaign, Ill., the hardest working driver in the feature, and taking third was Bobby Grim, the youthful speedster from Indianapolis.

Pifer gave the 7,500 in attendance a thrill by turning the fastest one-lap around the clay-based half-mile in 26.02 seconds.

He started scratch in the first heat and finished fourth but gunned from his last starting position to first-place in the third heat. Speed Wynn of Tampa won the first heat Hukle Ranger and Bob Slater of Redfield, Kan., was the winner of the second heat in his own Offenhauser.

Vern Chamberlain of Los Angeles won the 10-lap Australian Pursuit in his own Offenhauser, and Cush Revette of Tampa won the 8-lap consolation.

Experience on the tricky oval gave the local drivers the edge early on in the program but the boys from the north caught on by feature time. The best a Tampa driver did in the main event was a seventh-place finish by Wynn.

Pifer was out in front of the field quickly when the starter waved the green flag and drew away on the backstretch on the first lap. He was well in command the rest of the race.

With Pifer well in front, Grim and Slater hooked up in a battle for second, with Grim eventually getting the nod. Slater made a number of bids to get inside of Grim but was unsuccessful.

While those two were busy concentrating on each other, Branson swept under both of them in the north turn as headed onto the grandstand straightaway on lap 11. It took both drivers fully by surprise, and neither driver was able to make up for lost ground. Slater held on to take fourth followed by Stan Callaway of Miami in a Ranger.

National Speedways’ co-promoter Al Sweeney said it was the finest group of drivers he had ever seen at the Winternationals. The field was so stout, Jimmy Campbell of Batesville, Mo., the National Speedways’ champion for 1952, wasn’t able to make the field in his orchid colored Offenhauser.

Homer Claytor of Tampa would find his car and the Florida State Fair half-mile to his liking on Saturday, February 6, winning the 15-lap feature before an overflow crowd of 8,000. Claytor, who dropped out on the first lap of the feature on Wednesday, had his Diz Wilson Offenhauser humming from the drop of the green flag, taking the lead in the first turn, and staying there until the checkers.

Opening day winner, Marvin Pifer, was second and was flowed closely by two other Offy pilots, Bob Slater and Bobby Grim. The 15-lap feature was timed in 7 minutes and 8.72 seconds.

A good watering before the race had the track in excellent condition, giving the drivers with bigger Offenhauser motors a better chance than Wednesday but it was still slick enough that they had to work the steering wheel through the turns.

Winners of heat races were Vito Calia of Turin, Italy, Jimmy Campbell and Bobby Grim. All were driving 170-cubic inch Offenhauser's. Campbell also won the 3-lap match race while Don Branson won the took the 8-lap consolation.

Claytor found the groove quickly in the feature, riding high in the turns and shooting fast into the straightaways. The rest of the field eventually tried to follow his example after trying the low groove where the track was slick.

Pifer stayed on Claytor’s tail most of the way but slater, who had started sixth, was forced to work extra hard to get up to third position. He started his move on the 11th circuit and caught Grim on the final lap. Grim stayed right with the three leaders and finished well in front of Don Carr of Jackson, Mich., who was well back in fifth place.

Claytor would come back strong on Saturday, February 13, for the finale of the Winternational Sprints, winning the 20-lapperbefore 7,000 spectators. Claytor added the Frank Luptow Memorial Trophy to his hardware case by becoming the second Tampan to get his name on the cup, Pete Folse becoming the first at the ’53 Winternational Sprints, the first time it was offered.

Bobby Grim was second followed by Kansan Bob Slater. All three were driving Offenhauser's.

Vito Calia, the Italian driver who quickly became the favorite of the crowd of the Winternational Sprints, won the first heat and the 3-lap match race while Slater won the second heat. Don Branson won the third heat and Scotty Scoville of Los Angeles won the consolation.

The program opened up with a heavy track from the previous night’s rain, but it was just right for the more powerful cars to get a grip on the clay surface.

Claytor lost no time getting out in front in the main event when starter Gene Van Winkle of Lincoln, Neb., waved the green flag. He dove into the first turn from his outside front row starting position and was widening the gap on second-running Marvin Pifer as they came roaring out of the back straightaway.

Until Grim got by Pifer on lap 8, Claytor was a quarter of a lap in front before Grim started closing the distance. By lap 10, Grim was climbing and continued his advance until lap 16 when he appeared to tire and Claytor found the groove and cut his way through the turns all the way to the checkered. At the finish, Grim was five car lengths back and Slater was trailing even farther behind Grim. Riding in position behind the three leaders was Marvin Pifer and Stan Callaway. The 20 laps were run off in 9 minutes and 23.04 seconds.

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