Tuesday, February 8, 2022

1955 Winternational Sprints

Tampa, Fla. – Eugene “Jud” Larson, a stranger to Florida race fans, made himself well-known on Wednesday, February 10, winning the 15-lap feature at the Florida State Fair half-mile to open the 1955 International Motor Contest Association season.

The Austin, Tex., driver also won the 4-lap match race and finished second in his heat to 1954 IMCA champion, Bob Slater of Kansas City.

Bobby Grim of Indianapolis brought cheers from the crowd when he went out late in the running of time trials and turned a workman-like lap of 24.82 seconds. It wasn’t until hours later that a check of records showed that he had shattered the track record set by Jimmy Wilburn in the summer of 1946. Wilburn’s mark was 25.67 seconds.

In fact, the time trials proved the 1955 Winternational Sprints had the fastest field in history, with three other drivers breaking Wilburn’s mark as well. Larson turned the half-mile in 24.93 seconds, followed by Homer Claytor of Tampa with 25.29 seconds and finally, Bob Slater with a time of 25.44 seconds. All four pilots drove Offenhauser's.

The track was ideal for the main event, smooth as a board and just wet enough from morning rains to make it tacky. Larson’s winning time was 6 minutes and 55.69 seconds, in spite of a caution flag that slowed the last two laps. It was the yellow flag threw some confusion into the finish.

Just 30 feet from the finish line, Larson was caught in a squeeze of slower cars and almost stood his Tom Randol Offy on its nose as he braked. Grim roared by Larson to catch the checkered flag first. But due to the “no passing” rule when the caution flag is out, Larson was credited with the victory and Grim settled for second. Slater was a close third.

The opening day crowd of 3,500 were treated to some spectacular driving in the main event. Bob Slater’s challenge for the lead on the 10th lap brought the crowd to its feet when the Kansas City pilot moved from third to second by passing Grim in a sweep on the outside of the south turn. Going into the north turn, he started around Larson in a bid for the top spot when his car drifted high, and he scraped the wall for some 30 feet.

While Slater was fighting to keep his car out of trouble, Larson shot out front again for good and Grim rode through the inside of turn three to regain second.

Marvin Pifer of Adrian, Mich., was the first heat winner while Slater grabbed the win in the second heat. Jim Wegescheider of St. Louis was the third heat winner and Bill Larimer of St. Petersburg took the consolation.

Bob Slater would win a crash-shortened 20-lap feature on Saturday, February 12, when Jud Larson rammed the concrete wall coming out of the north turn on the 16th circuit.

Larson would be pulled from the car and taken to a local hospital where he was diagnosed with a dislocated shoulder and other bruises. The accident happened in full view of the shivering 4,500 fans in the grandstands.

With the feature stopped because of the accident, the race was declared over and reverted back to the lineup of the previous lap. That gave Slater the victory with Homer Claytor second, Bobby Grim in third and Marvin Pifer taking fourth.

Slater and Larson were in a dogfight all through the feature, after Larson had taken the lead when the green flag waved. Slater came up to challenge on lap 5 but dropped back after bouncing off the wall in the north turn. On the 14th circuit, Slater made another charge and quickly closed the gap on Larson.

As the two dove into the north turn on lap 16, Slater rode tightly on the inside and went cleanly in front. Larson, attempting to regain the lead, rode hard through the last half of the turn and crashed head-on into the wall at the head of the backstretch. As the car hit the wall, it bounced back and rolled over, coming to rest a on top of Larson.

Heat races were won by Slater, Pete Folse of Tampa, and Jim Wegescheider. Larson, who had trouble with his car most of the afternoon, won the consolation while Slater won the match race, giving the Kansas City pilot three victories for the day.

Slater would make it two feature events in a row at the Florida State Fair with a victory on Tuesday, February 15. Driving the Jimmy Campbell Offenhauser, Slater overhauled early leader Homer Claytor on lap 5, and held it to the checkered flag 10 laps later.

Claytor settled for second while Pete Folse finished third after a wide-open duel with Bobby Grim and Marvin Pifer, who would finish in fourth and fifth, respectively.

Folse also won the Florida State Championship race by wheeling the Callaway Ranger to first place over Cush Revette of Tampa, who finished second, and Bill Larimer, who wound up third.

Slater opened the program with a win in the first heat over Bobby Grim. Ken Rubright won the second heat in a thrilling duel over Marvin Pifer. Jim Wegescheider outclassed the field to win the third heat. Eddie Loetscher of St. Louis was the consolation winner.

The final day of the Winternational Sprints, Saturday, February 19, would see Bobby Grim winning the Frank Luptow Memorial Trophy and also setting two new records. The trophy signified Grim as the Winternational Sprints champion for 1955.

Grim crossed the finish line in 9 minutes and 20.24 seconds for a new track record in the 20-lap finale and earlier was timed in 2 minutes and 14.46 seconds in winning the first heat.

Homer Claytor drove a well-earned second place in the feature, after shaking off repeated bids by two-time winner Bob Slater in the final nine laps of the race.

It was almost a clean sweep for the Indianapolis driver and his most successful day in the years he had been coming to Tampa. Slater won the second heat and also set a new record of 1 minute and 48.56 seconds in winning the 4-lap match race. Jim McWithey took care of the third heat and Bill Larimer won the consolation.

It was a rough-and-tumble racing surface for Saturday’s finale. The track started developing ruts and holes in the consolation and cars were bouncing all over the track the very start. Marvin Pifer slapped wheels with Claytor on the second lap and later got tangled with Don Carr of Detroit.

Claytor rode to the front of the field from his outside front row starting position and had no trouble keeping the top spot until the seventh lap. It was then Grim came up and started his bid, ducking to the inside on the turns on each lap. Several times, Grim seemed to creep to the front but each time Claytor drove hard out of the turn to regain the lead.

Then, on the 11th lap, Grim squeezed through on the inside of the south turn and came out of the chute fast enough to stay in front. Just a couple of laps later Slater began dogging Claytor as Grim separated himself from the rest of the front-runners.

Slater would try everything in the book to get by Claytor, trying both the inside and outside on the turns. Once, the two wild-driving chauffeurs tangled wheels directly in front of the grandstand and for several seconds, the 4,500 in attendance held their breath as the cars tipped up, but they came back down separately.

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