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U.S. AIR FORCE General Curtis E. LeMay was a sports car enthusiast, as well as the inspiration for the deranged General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Alas, this movie is all too relevant these days and a compelling SimanaitisSays topic for another time.
But today let’s focus on the 1950s’ cooperation between the Sports Car Club of America, less than a decade old at the time, and the Strategic Air Command of the U.S. Air Force, largely thanks to General LeMay.
When R&T ran this photo of LeMay piloting a go-kart, the magazine respectfully suggested the general fasten his helmet and wear shatterproof goggles. A couple issues later, an airman responded, “Apparently the author doesn’t know the general. That kart wouldn’t dare turn over with General LeMay aboard!” More LeMay details are given at “The General Gambols.”
There’s even an academic paper on today’s topic. “Racing on Runways: The Strategic Air Command and Sports Car Racing in the 1950s,” by Jeremy R. Kinney, was published by the Journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology, Vol. 19, 2013. Dr. Kinney is a curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Kinney described how, “By 1952, sports car racing in the United States outgrew the original street courses, especially in regard to providing a safe environment for spectators. U.S. Air Force Gen. Curtis E. LeMay offered the use of the runways of Strategic Air Command (SAC) air bases to the SCCA, which reflected his own enthusiasm and would raise money to improve living conditions for his personnel.”
R&T’s October 1953 issue featured a race report from Offutt Air Force Base (not to be confused with its Moffett Field cover locale). The location of Offutt, near Omaha, Nebraska, was considered noteworthy as a central meeting point for east versus west coast sports car competitors.
Four races were run, of 50, 75, 100, and 200 miles, on July 5, 1953, as part of the 1953 SCCA National Sports Car Championship. East coast competitors included Fred Wacker, at the time president of SCCA, founded in 1948. Among attending Californians was Jack McAfee.
Plenty of non-coastals were there: Texan Carroll Shelby co-driving a Ferrari with Jack McAfee, Chicago’s Gentleman Jim Kimberley and his Ferrari, and Missourian Masten Gregory piloting his Jaguar C-Type tested by R&T earlier that year.
Of Gregory, R&T noted, “Although described as a relative newcomer to sports car racing, Road and Track predicted that he was a man to watch after his win at Golden Gate.”
In command, in more ways than one, was a flag-wielding General Curtis LeMay. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018