Written by Elaine Paniszczyn
Roars of race car engines rounding tracks in videos on big screens mixed with vintage rock ‘n roll music as race car drivers, builders, owners, and fans admired cars, memorabilia and photos and talked all things racing at the Racers Reunion in Irving on Sept. 21.
The annual event which highlights vintage open-wheel racing gave tribute to race car builder Frank Kurtis who built all kinds of winning race cars and to four journeymen, men who were hired to drive race cars.
“They were hired because they’re experts at driving – sort of like top guns,” said Natalie Stevens, wife of Bart Stevens, organizer of the event. “People would build cars, sponsor cars, and they would hire these guys simply for the sole purpose of driving.”
This was the fourth racers reunion held in Irving. It was held in San Antonio in the 1990’s.
“We revived it up here in DFW and started drawing in more people from the Midwest,” Bart Stevens said. “We have 13 race cars on display, and we’ll have nearly 200 people here. It’s called bench racing in the afternoon where people just tell stories, make up stuff, and exaggerate on the history. Memorabilia and photo albums are laid out.”
The journeymen were drivers who were hired to produce results.
“They weren’t with a team on a regular basis – sometimes week to week – sometimes half of a night they would race, and they would get fired,” Stevens said. “They were on the road. They were hired to do a job, and in their case it was to race.
“This year we are featuring Buddy Cagle out of Tulsa,” he said. “He ran during the late ‘40’s and ‘50’s all through the Midwest.
“Bill White is out of Little River Academy, south of Temple,” Stevens said. “He was a hard charger – always won, always produced. His sons (Paul and Keith) are currently still racing. They’re racing tonight at Texas Motor Speedway. They’re champions in other divisions themselves.
“Jim McElreath from Arlington, TX raced in Indianapolis and all through the Midwest,” Stevens said. “He was very successful and raced all sorts of cars. He was kind of a mentor to Johnny Rutherford, who will be addressing us through video tonight.”
At the banquet Saturday night, they played 1950’s footage of McElreath from the Devil’s Bowl that was near Buckner and Loop 12.
“Gordon Woolley out of Waco, TX would start his season in Tampa and then go straight to El Centro, CA and then up through the Midwest,” Stevens said.
Woolley said it was an exciting life.
“They’d call me and say, ‘Will you come drive my race car?’ and I’d say, ‘Where you at?’ and ‘As soon as I can get my helmet bag, I’ll be in this car and be up there as soon as I can get there.’ I went all over the United States.
“In Knoxville, IA they have Nationals every year that pays big money. It started in 1960. In 1962, I ran second in the Nationals at Knoxville. Jerry Ricker out of St. Paul, MN won first. He beat me about a foot or something.
“It only paid $600, and I got 40 percent of that, which wasn’t very much money.” Woolley said. “But this last year it paid $200,000 to the winner, but that’s how cheap it was then. You were just running for nothing.
“I had my wife and three daughters in Waco. My wife was a school teacher. Whatever I won, I’d send some to them and some to the church.
“I drove race cars 48 years,” Woolley said. “In 1946 in Waco, they built a race track … out at the lake, and I had a little garage down in east Waco, and I fixed up an old car, and that’s how I started.”