Hot rods in the pits at Solider Field in 1947. (Stan Kalwasinski Photo Collection)
Hot rods in the pits at Solider Field in 1947. (Stan Kalwasinski Photo Collection)

The Hurricane Hot Rods

Weekly Hurricane hot rod racing came to Rockford Speedway on July 17 with Sternquist winning the 25-lap main event. The banked, quarter-mile paved raceway had just opened in May with American Automobile Ass’n midgets on the weekly Wednesday evening schedule.  

Jim Rathmann won the 50-lap Mid-Season Championship race for hot rods at Rockford on Sept. 6, defeating Cyclone Ross, Ray Erickson and Flaherty.  

On Sept. 25, 23-year-old Tony Martinek, of Chicago, was killed during a hot rod heat race, suffering a broken neck as he flipped after running over the back of Ron Kaplan’s car. Sternquist, Dick Rathmann and Indiana’s “Smokey” Stover closed out Rockford’s first season with hot rod feature wins.   

Frazier dominated the races at the Milwaukee quarter-mile dirt oval in 1948 and also won a Hurricane 20-lap main event on the Milwaukee Mile on Sept. 9.  The racing, part of the Wisconsin Centennial Exposition, saw Flaherty finish second and Chicago’s Ray Erickson was third.  

Frazier, driving the Hack Winninger-owned, Mercury-powered, hot rod No. 32, was also the Mutual Stock Car Racing Ass’n champion in 1948 with the association competing at tracks such as Mt. Lawn, Anderson and Winchester Speedways in Indiana.   

Frazier closed out the Milwaukee-area hot rod racing season, winning a Hurricane 44-lapper on the quarter-mile on July 27, defeating Stover and Sternquist and winning more than $400.  

Hoping to attract new tracks and promoters for 1949, Granatelli placed an ad in a December issue of National Speed Sport News, proclaiming that “38,583 people paid to see one race at Soldier Field.”

1949 marked the end of weekly hot rod racing at Soldier Field. The hot rods were scheduled for Sunday nights and AAA midgets moving to Wednesday nights at the Chicago stadium. Flaherty won the Hurricane hot rod season opener on June 5, ahead of Al Swenson and future USAC stock car champion Norm Nelson.

The “hair that broke the camel’s back” as far as hot rod racing at Soldier Field was when stock car racing was introduced on June 26, with Chicago area racer Gilbert “Skippy” Michaels claiming top honors in the 25-lap feature over Vince and Joe Granatelli as 18,753 looked on. Hot rod regular and Indy 500 rookie Jim Rathmann set fast time during time trials.  

Fans filled the giant stadium in 1949 for the wild stock car action. A crowd of 29,402 gathered on Aug. 28 to watch the Hurricane stock cars compete. Some 44,926 fans, reported to be the largest Midwest auto racing crowd outside of the Indianapolis 500, packed Soldier Field on Sept. 25 for the stock cars.  

Flaherty closed out the stock car season on Oct. 2, winning the 25-lap headliner before a crowd of 18,843. Michaels was crowned the Soldier Field stock car champion for 1949 with Flaherty taking the hot rod championship. Flaherty was a year away from making his first Indianapolis 500 start.  

Simple math saw the stock cars win over the hot rods as the 10 or so Hurricane hot rod programs in 1949 averaged less than 10,000 fans. By 1950, only a few hot rod races were run at Soldier Field with the stock cars racing two nights a week (Wednesday and Sunday) and the AAA midgets on Saturdays.  Granatelli “spiced up” the stock car programs by staging numerous flips and “theatrical” ambulance runs during an evening of competition. Several drivers were said to be on Granatelli’s payroll to get these jobs done. 

The 1949 and 1950 seasons saw Granatelli’s hot rods also compete at Rockford and the Milwaukee quarter-mile oval with Andy Granatelli’s organization known as the Hurricane Stock Car Racing Ass’n by 1950 as stock cars became the headline group.  

The rise and fall of the Hurricane hot rods came about over a two-year or so period, as short-track, stock car racing was here to stay at Soldier Field and other Midwest speedways.

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