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Glenn Fitzcharles. (Jack Kromer photo)

The Best Of URC’s Best

If you hailed from the Mid-Atlantic states — really, anywhere but central Pennsylvania — and you became a fan of sprint car racing, the chances are it came from watching the 360 winged cars of the United Racing Club.

The club has been a fixture of regional racing since Bob Cooney was crowned the first URC champion in 1948. For much of its existence, URC booked races into stock car and midget tracks within its operating territory, ensuring that race fans had some variety in the programs they watched, giving weekly racers a profound chance to move through the ranks.

As most people know, and during most of its modern history, URC is a traveling club presenting full-throated, open-cockpit competition. It’s been arguably the best-known booked-in support division at stock car tracks in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, with occasional forays into upstate New York and periodically, down to the border of the Carolinas.

With very few exceptions, it’s a sanctioning body for part-time drivers who enjoy the variety and challenges of a traveling schedule and in many cases, an opportunity for modified guys to sample a different variety of dirt tracking.

A booked-in URC program was the cherry atop countless race fans’ otherwise routine visits to their local tracks.

That’s still true today.

It’s equally true that during its history, URC has provided opportunities for participants to shine in an entirely new racing discipline. Look at it this way: The list of URC rookies of the year is dotted with names such as Jerry Karl, Al Loquasto, Bobby Marshman, Denny Zimmerman and Steve Krisiloff, all of whom made it all the way from the Northeast bullrings to the Indianapolis 500.

Another URC breakout star, Jackie McLaughlin, went on to become one of dirt-track modified racing’s all-time immortals.

We know, therefore, that URC luminaries have gone on to bigger and better things in the racing world. It’s also worth knowing that certain URC personalities are pivotal in its history, not just by dint of their winning records with the club, but with the distinctions of genuine stardom and influence among their URC peers, and beyond.

While this list is subjective and by no means comprehensive, a run through the ranks of the URC’s stalwarts reveals a host of drivers who won a lot of events, went on to greater successes, and perhaps most importantly, achieved significant influence in the longtime successful operation of the club.

When compiling the list, going back to the beginning bears immediate fruit.

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Dave Kelly (17) and Ed Wylie. (Jack Kromer photo)

Earl Halaquist — The longtime resident of Sidney, N.Y., made his URC debut in 1950 and eventually became a full-time runner following at least one start in the Little 500 aboard a Hemi-powered car. His legend was assured when he teamed with car owner George Nesler for 1960, which led quickly to Halaquist tying Bobby Courtwright for the URC title in 1962.

Halaquist and Nesler became the dominant URC championship pairing of the 1960s, capturing six titles through 1969 against competition that included Jim Maguire, Lou Johnson and Bert Brooks.

Before vision problems ended his memorable careers in URC and ARDC, Halaquist owned 53 career URC wins, a club benchmark that lasted for more than a decade.

Glenn Fitzcharles — His first sprint car win came at a Flemington (N.J.) Speedway URC show in 1976, but the Pottstown, Pa., shoe was content to continue as a top modified star before he took to sprints full time in 1985.

Once teamed with owner Don Kerr, Fitzcharles shattered the URC record book, winning consecutive titles from 1987 through 1990, and ending his club career with 81 feature wins, first among all drivers, before continuing his Hall of Fame career in 410 sprint cars.

Despite his run of wins, Fitzcharles was a hugely popular driver both with fans and his fellow competitors.

Dave Kelly — Another star in modifieds, where he won the final feature at the Reading (Pa.) Fairgrounds, Kelly boosted his career exponentially once he teamed with cousin, Earl, winning his first of five URC titles as a rookie in 1981.

Kelly ultimately stormed to 76 career URC wins, many of them scored after stirring battles with Fitzcharles. Kelly then switched to 410s and again did well, capturing eight victories at Pennsylvania’s Williams Grove Speedway.

Curt Michael — URC’s brightest star in the modern era, Michael followed his elder brother, Sean, into URC and won the first of his 10 titles in 1998 for Mike Bostic before earning four championships with car owners Kathy and Pat Palladino who praised his disciplined, car-preserving style of competition.

Michael still drives and helps handle club bookings as URC’s current vice president. He’s also the founder of the USAC East Coast Sprint Car Series, which debuted in 2018.

Larry Dickson — Before he was part of the Gary and Larry Show in USAC sprint cars, Dickson won five URC features in 1965 en route to capturing the season title as a rookie with George Nesler.

Dickson passed his Indianapolis 500 rookie test the very next year and went on to compete in 105 Indy car events, including eight Indianapolis 500s with a best finish of ninth in 1978.

In USAC, Dickson and Gary Bettenhausen memorably swapped the sprint car title for four consecutive seasons during the 1970s.

Buck Buckley — A native of Kennett Square, Pa., who later migrated to Delaware, Buckley is a URC star on two levels: As a driver, where he scored 60 feature wins, and as a car builder, where he gained a reputation for meticulous fabrication in welding together sprint cars that many competitors hustled to URC glory.

For a decade and then some, a Buckley car was the hot setup in URC, before Buckley migrated to the Phoenix area and continued his exploits with a torch and welding rod in those locales.

Mike Magill — One of two natives of southern New Jersey to race in the Indianapolis 500 (the other, for the record, was Jeret Schroeder), Magill amassed a solid record with URC, winning 20 features and two championships through 1950 and ’51 before departing for AAA and later, USAC.

Magill was a strong runner in both associations’ championship series from 1955 through 1959, with his best outing a fifth at dangerous Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway in 1955. Magill owned three Indianapolis 500 starts, the last in 1959.

Bert Brooks — Out of New Britain, Conn., Brooks first competed on Harvey Tattersall’s stock car circuit before arriving in URC and winning four titles from 1954 through ’58, both in his own car and while driving for Frank “Scats” Anfuso.

Equally adept on dirt and asphalt, which made up much of the URC schedule in his years, Brooks enjoyed equal stardom in ARDC midgets before enduring some serious crashes, the last of which ended his life at Hershey (Pa.) Stadium in 1968.

Charlie Massey — To his fellow competitors, the Mount Laurel, N.J., racer was Mr. URC. With a steady performance of feature wins over multiple seasons, Massey was respected for racing clean, hard and sometimes spectacularly, while also serving as a respected, experienced voice on the URC board of directors.

He owns five URC features, all of them scored in white-knuckle drives. To hear people who know him, Massey was one of the best liked and most respected URC drivers in his day.

Bruce and Beverly Thompson — As car owners, the couple from Newtown, Pa., owns four URC victories, but Bruce Thompson served as president of URC from 1989 through 1992, shepherding the club through some of its richest years in terms of race bookings around the region.

Both Bruce and Beverly Thompson did stints behind the wheel of a URC sprint car before transitioning late in their careers to 410 racing, including an assault on the Knoxville Nationals. Their grandson, Michael, is a URC competitor today.

Also worthy of mention as elite members of URC, based mainly on their win performance: Kramer Williamson (67 features), Greg Coverdale (47), Harry Benjamin (32), Brian Seidel (22) and Garry Gollub (20).

Johnson, a 1950s and 1960s standout, ranks just behind Brooks with 36 wins. Sprint Car Hall of Famer Don Krietz Jr. started out in URC before switching to 410s, as did fellow Hall of Famer Fred Rahmer.

Jimmy Horton was equally adept in modifieds and sprint cars through the years, and owns 17 URC victories.