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SPORTS CAR RACING—THANKS TO UNCLE SAM

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.

General Curtis LeMay, helmet unstrapped, in his go-kart; R&T, January 1960.

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, October 1953. The scene is Moffett Field Naval Air Station, south of San Francisco, with one of its giant blimp hangars in the background.

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.

The 3-mile Offutt circuit offered twisties a’plenty, a 5700-ft. straight, and an escape road through doors left open on a 1/4-mile-long hangar.

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.

Above, SCCA president Fred Wacker piloted the Allard JR recently imported and owned by General LeMay. Below, McAfee co-drove with an up-and-coming guy named Carroll Shelby to a second place in the main event.


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.

Typical of airport courses, the runways’ 30-ft. track width provided wide-open spaces. The white C-Type is Masten Gregory’s, destined to finish first in the main event.

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.”

Above, R&T identified “The winning team: Badini, mechanic; Gregory, driver; Mrs. Gregory.” Below, General LeMay wielded the starting flag for Offutt’s four races.


In command, in more ways than one, was a flag-wielding General Curtis LeMay. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

5 comments on “SPORTS CAR RACING—THANKS TO UNCLE SAM

  1. Frank Barrett
    February 6, 2018

    A copy of the October 1953 issue of R&T hangs in my office–upside down. When people ask why it’s upside down, I tell them to read the address label:

    RICHIE GINTHER
    834-B 12 ST.
    SANTA MONICA, CALIF.

  2. Michael Rubin
    February 6, 2018

    Just trying to remember all the airports, large parking lots etc used as race courses in Southern California alone during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Even after Riverside opened there were races at the LA County Fairgrounds in Pomona, which also hosted a well-used drag strip, and recall going up to Santa Barbara airport for a regional SCCA race. (Re the 1953 R&T mentioned above, I can only say “cool. Very cool.”)

  3. David Rees
    February 14, 2018

    The Lewis Ferrari 225 S (#6) in the shot with Gregory’s C-Type. What a great image.

  4. smashmasterspanelbeaters
    April 11, 2018

    Nice!

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