STREATOR, Ill. — Midget racing champion Bob Tattersall has been gone for almost 50 years.
He passed away on Oct. 27, 1971 at the age of 47 due to cancer.
Not forgotten after all these years, Tattersall was honored Tuesday in his hometown of Streator by the Indiana Racing Memorial Ass’n (IRMA) as a marker, documenting his exploits in life and racing, was unveiled by his longtime companion and wife, Delores “Dee” Tattersall.
The occasion saw the 50th marker erected by IRMA with only four now existing outside the State of Indiana. IRMA members Mark Eutsler, Bob Gates and Rick Dennison were among some 100 or more fans, friends, family and racers that attended the event, which was spearheaded by longtime midget racer and champion, Kevin Olson. The marker sits adjacent to a mural in downtown Streator that honors Tattersall’s speed career.
“Tat has been gone for 50 years, but he is still alive,” said Olson. “I remember after the USAC races, my brother and I would run down to the pits and get his autograph. He was bigger than life to us.”
Tattersall served in the Army during World War II and received the Purple Heart among other military honors. Marrying Delores Ligori in November of 1950, Tattersall had begun his racing career in stock cars at places like Mazon and other tracks in and around Streator.
Moving to midget racing, Tattersall cut his racing teeth with the United Auto Racing Association (UARA), winning the group’s championship twice.
“I remember going to Joliet Memorial Stadium as a kid and seeing Bob race the No. 88 car with the “Rocket 88” on it,” said Midwest midget champion Bob Richards. “I fell in love with Bob Tattersall. He was always sideways at the flag stand at Joliet.”
With his UARA accomplishments behind him, Tattersall turned his attention to United States Auto Club (USAC) midget competition. Tattersall would win the USAC midget championship in 1969, making 65 starts out of a total of 77 races that were held during the year’s USAC tour. He scored 63 USAC wins during his career, 11 of them coming during this title-winning year.
“Bob was a talented race car driver,” said racing historian and IRMA member Bob Gates. “He had a natural talent behind the wheel, but he was a larger-than-life personality.”
Perhaps Tattersall’s greatest racing accomplishments came in Australia and New Zealand where he traveled as early as the winter of 1958-59 through 1971. Making 12 consecutive trips to Australia to race, he was a national hero down under and was reported to have won more than 50% of the races he competed in.
“He was my hero when I was growing up,” said former Australian racer Peter Nunn. “I got to meet him personally in 1966 and work on his car. It’s not very often that a hero becomes a good friend”
Nicknamed “Two Gun” by the Australian press and fans, Tattersall made his last midget racing start in Australia on April 17, 1971.
“Bob used to race out of my dad’s shop in Sydney, Australia,” said Chris McGee, a former Aussie who has called the United States home for some 40 years. “We were like family. He would come to Christmas dinner. I was just a kid when I met him. He taught me how to cuss and things like that. We had a lot of superstars come to Australia to race, but Bob was the legend.”
Tattersall raced and lived life to the fullest as stories told on Tuesday pointed out.
“Bob taught me a lot,” said Merle Bettenhausen, once a teammate of Tattersall’s in Australia. “We went to Australia for three years together. The first year, he blew my doors off. The second year, I got the doors back.
“He was a wonderful guy and a great teacher. I remember Bob coming through the ranks because he was the reincarnation of my dad (Tony Bettenhausen). He looked like my dad, sat (in a race car) like my dad, had a flattop (haircut) like my dad and he raced like my dad.”
Tattersall was inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1984 and the USAC Hall of Fame in 2016.
Bob Tattersall – midget racing champion, gone but not forgotten.