In March of ’54, Austin was hosting the second edition of National Sports Car Races at Bergstrom Air Force Base. Essentially, the Air Force closed the runways and created a 4.9-mile road course with cones and hay bales to host the race. Once finished, however, they had an unused cab route that was long enough to hold a 1/4 mile drag race.
What to do with such an extravagance?
Colonel Don Blakeslee was in charge of the event and from day one he was concerned about the attendance. The previous year had not gone as planned: the weather was bad and participation was low. And while the race wasn’t particularly expensive to host, there were costs involved and the last thing Blakeslee wanted to do was hand over another red budget. He needed a way to make sure the local Austinites were interested in coming to the base.
And what better way to do that than to recruit some motivated young people from local high schools to promote the event for him? In exchange for services, Blakeslee thought an open hot rod run would be more than enough to get their beaks wet.
After a little research on the local hot rod scene, Blakeslee was able to recruit Bill Lindig (the Houston kids will recognize that name) with his ’27 T, Henry Henze with his ’40 coupe, and Bobby Raatz with his. its ’32 coupe. The idea was to advertise these guys as pilots of the three fastest hot rods in Austin … and using the base’s spare tarmac, they would figure out – for once and for all – who was fastest.
Not satisfied, Blakeslee continued to work on other side events. A kind of “jet race” was added to the lineup and a race between Hornet (the fastest quarter horse in the state of Texas), Allen Lawler (released as the fastest sprinter in Texas) and Rocket Gregory in his “$ 11,000 Jaguar . “
By the time the colonel was done promoting, every damn newspaper within a 500-mile radius called the National Sports Car Race a “must-see event.” Hell, Jimmy Stewart went to Austin too … where he must have been disappointed with the long lines for the bathroom and the lack of parking, right? I mean, if Helen Burges was to be believed in her letter to the Austin Statesman editors:
“The national sports car race was an embarrassment for the state. Traffic on unorganized parking areas, thirty minutes waiting times for the bathroom and food lines too long to stand. We can and should do better in representing Austin. “
That old bag looks like fun to celebrate with, right? In any case, one wonders if she took the time to watch the actual race. If he did, he would have seen Bill Lindig take the title of Austin’s fastest hot rod, Rocket Gregory smoke a quarter horsepower and a sprinter, and loads of other speed parties.
Man, they knew how to throw a party in Austin back then …