OldRacingCars.com

Meskowski

by Michael Ferner

To start with, I have to say that I don’t know that much about Wally himself, and about how he came to be who he came to be – for one thing, I have never been able to find out why and how a Hoosier boy like him became chief mechanic for the small Californian outfit of Ernie Ruiz. That was at Indy in 1953, and Troy Ruttman was going to be the driver, no less, but alas, he was far from being fit again, and so Jim Rathmann drove the car, and Eddie Johnson relieved him to finish 7th. Before that, Ruiz, an entrant of cars in Pacific Coast “outlaw” events for more than two decades, had run a Sprint Car at some 1952 Midwestern AAA meets for drivers like Ed Elisian and Bill Vukovich, and it’s quite likely that this triggered off Meskowski’s involvement.

Wally worked for five years for the Modesto team, and it were five successful years. In fact, all three Big Car wins the team would ever enjoy happened during this period (a sole Midget win came later on), and also all four top 4 finishes in a National Championship race. If it hadn’t been for Wally’s time with them, there would have been virtually nothing left for the team to cherish except for the legendary Indy qualifying trial of Jim Hurtubise in 1960! But, nobody knew that yet in 1957, and so Ruiz and Meskowski split up without too much fuss, it seems, with Wally finding work closer to home, at the Hoover Motor Express team of John Wills in Tennessee.

Wills had a young rookie driver by the name of A. J. Foyt, fresh from the ranks of the independents, but the Texan left the small team for greener pastures when he was offered the chance to succeed the great Jimmy Bryan at Dean Van Lines. And so Don Branson returned to the team for which he had done so well in his rookie year, 1956, and Meskowski set about replacing the team’s existing Champ Car with something radical: a dirt car with roadster suspension! Branson and the beautiful new orange car were a sensation, qualifying for a front row start on its debut, and finishing 4th, then taking pole position at the very next race. By the end of the year, both car and driver finished comfortably in the top ten in points, and rival constructors began copying…

For some reason, however, the team fell apart in a trice, with Branson leaving to drive for Bob Estes, and Meskowski accepting an offer to wrench for Pete Schmidt in Missouri. What’s more, Wills even sold the car, and entered only a couple of races with the team’s roadster in 1959! Long time Champ Car owner Lee Glessner from West Virginia was the next owner, and in complete contrast to Wills kept the car for at least a full decade. Things become a bit obscure later on, but the car ran possibly till 1975 in Glessner’s colours, with Russ Ruppert being the nominal owner in the seventies.

1958 – Hoover Motor Express #10
1959 – Glessner => Westlake Drive-In #22
1960 – Glessner #35
1961 – Glessner => Windmill Trucking #96
1962 – Windmill Trucking #74
1963 – Windmill Trucking #74
1964 – Windmill Trucking #74
1965 – Windmill Trucking #74
1966 – ?
1967 – Windmill Truckers Center #51
1968 – Windmill Truckers Center #76
1969 – Windmill Truckers Center #76
1970 – Windmill Truckers Center #33
1971 – Windmill Truckers Center => Tobias Speed Equipment #17
1972 – Windmill Truckers Center #17 => #27
1973 – ?
1974 – Windmill Truckers Center #32 (?)
1975 – Windmill Truckers Center #32 (?)
possibly retired at end of season (?)

The last picture confirmation I have of the car so far is from 1969, so everything beyond that date has to be treated with caution. As for drivers, Mario Andretti made his Champ Car debut on it in 1964, and apart from Branson other luminaries include Rodger Ward, Jim Packard, Jim Hurtubise, Bobby Unser, Greg Weld, Jim McElreath and many, many more. Sprint Car legend Tommy Hinnershitz was the chief mechanic for many years.

UPDATE: Found a picture of the #27 in 1972, and I’m very confident it’s still the same car! The nice thing about this particular car is that it had the tubes slightly different from the later ones in the engine compartment, and it often ran with the side panels removed to aid cooling!

Apart from his new job at Schmidt’s team, Meskowski also laid the foundation of his company, “Competition Engineering”, and built a second car much like the first one for Fred Sclavi, also of West Virginia – apart from Fred Bailes, Leech Cracraft, Billy Cassella and Steve Enslow pretty much the sum total of that state’s contribution to top level open-wheel racing! So far, Sclavi had only run a roadster at Indy, Monza and Milwaukee, but now he was going for it with a full team of cars after attracting a young “comer” with Bob Veith, who had had experience of Wally’s wizardry when running Ruiz’s Sprint Car for a couple of years.

Interestingly, like Wills and Glessner, Sclavi’s “day job” also consisted of owning a fleet of trucks. He ran the Meskowski for several years, very successfully, employing drivers like Jud Larson, Gene Force, A. J. Shepherd, Roger McCluskey, Bobby Grim and Johnny Rutherford, the latter making his first Champ Car start. In 1963, he sold the complete team, including chief mechanic Buster Warke, to the Walthers in Ohio, who ran the car until 1971, it seems, with drivers like Rutherford again, Parnelli Jones, Lloyd Ruby, Arnie Knepper and Joe Leonard.

1959 – Tiz-So #17
1960 – Tiz-So #17
1961 – Bell Lines Trucking #6
1962 – Bell Lines Trucking #17
1963 – Dayton Steel Wheel #27
1964 – Dayton Steel Wheel #14
1965 – Dayton Steel Wheel #33
1966 – Dayton Steel Wheel #77
1967 – Dayton Steel Wheel #77
1968 – Dayton Steel Wheel #77
1969 – Dayton Steel Wheel #77
1970 – George Walther’s Tyrone #77
1971 – Walmotors #77
apparently retired at end of season

The first car he built for Pete Schmidt was the first of his winners, taking the “checker” twice with Eddie Sachs, and once with Bobby Grim. Demand for Wally’s products was so high, the team had to use its old Kuzma dirt car for one more year, after selling the Meskowski to Bill Forbes! This particular car was modified beyond easy recognition over the years, but its path from owner to owner is still possible to follow: From Schmidt over Forbes, Jack Zink and Jake Vargo to Bob Harkey, last photo confirmation from 1974. Zink used the car only as a stop gap, until the in-house creation was ready for Jim McElreath, and other drivers included Shorty Templeman, Lloyd Ruby and Larry Dickson.

1959 – Competition Engineering #7
1960 – Bill Forbes #14
1961 – Bill Forbes Racing #7
1962 – Bill Forbes Racing #4
1963 – Bill Forbes Racing #8
1964 – Bill Forbes Racing #18
1965 – Zink-Urschel-Slick => Vargo Excavating #52
1966 – Vargo Excavating #52
1967 – Jake Vargo #52
1968 – Vargo Excavating #52
1969 – Koscot #52
1970 – Harkey #52
1971 – Harkey #65 => #52
1972 – Kaye’s Hair Fashions #8
1973 – ?
1974 – Harkey #52
possibly retired at end of season

A third car was ready late in the year, for John Marco Pusilo and Milan Bursac of the Wyandotte Tool team. Somehow this car appears to have been readied under a bad star, because it never achieved anything, as far as I can determine. Drivers like Cotton Farmer, Jim McWithey, Ronnie Duman and Roger McCluskey couldn’t make it go, and I would guess that this car was then sold to David McManus, and later Ron Kilman (see below), in which case its status as the least successful of the lot would remain intact.

1959 – Wyandotte Tool #63
1960 – Wyandotte Tool #53
1961 – Wyandotte Tool #72
1962 – Wyandotte Tool #91
1963 – ?
1964 – ?
1965 – Bursac #91
subsequent history unclear, but possibly to David McManus (see 1966 – American Eagle #61)

For 1960, Wally built two Indy Cars, and one more Champ Car. The Indy Cars weren’t successful, but this was more than offset by the Champ Car which went to George Bignotti and his Bowes Seal Fast team, with driver A. J. Foyt. This combination won no less than 13 races over the next four years, which contributed heavily to three National Championships for the driver. Apart from Foyt, only Bobby Marshman and Lloyd Ruby drove the car for Bignotti, the latter only once, after Foyt changed to the new car late in 1963. Marshman’s stint came about because of a temporary bust-up between Foyt and Bignotti, which ended in the latter selling his team to Shirley Murphy and Bill Ansted, yet within three months driver and mechanic were united again.

1960 – Bowes Seal Fast #5
1961 – Bowes Seal Fast #1
1962 – Bowes Seal Fast #1 => Thompson-Rotary #14
1963 – Sheraton-Thompson #2 => #12
1964 – ?
1965 – ?
1966 – ?
1967 – ?
1968 – ?
1969 – ?
1970 – ?
1971 – ?
1972 – Harrison #91
1973 – Harrison-Routh #91
1974 – Harrison-Routh #91
1975 – Harrison-Routh #7
1976 – ?
1977 – Benchoff Excavating #78
apparently retired at end of season

Two cars in 1961, the first the “works” car for Bobby Marshman which was destined to never win, although it was a competitive ride for several years. It was fitted with a Chevy V8 in the summer of 1962, and also had Eddie Sachs, Jim Hurtubise, Jud Larson and Ralph Liguori driving over the years. At some point in the seventies, this car appears to have been replaced by a newer one, but I simply don’t have enough pictures to be able to say when.

1961 – Competition Engineering #44
1962 – Competition Engineering #8
1963 – Competition Engineering #9 => Lil-Beanie => McDermott => Bud Gates Chevy #44
1964 – McDermott #44
1965 – McDermott => Seymour #19
1966 – S & D #20
1967 – S & D #20
1968 – S & D #20
1969 – Seymour Enterprises #20
1970 – Seymour Enterprises #39
1971 – Seymour Enterprises #39 (?)
1972 – Seymour Enterprises #29 (?)
1973 – Seymour Enterprises #29 (?)
1974 – Seymour Enterprises #29 (?)
1975 – Seymour Enterprises => Donahue Chevrolet #29 (??)
1976 – Donahue Chevrolet #29 (??)
1977 – Donahue Chevrolet #1 (??)
1978 – Seymour Enterprises #29 (??)
1979 – Seymour Enterprises #29 (???)
1980 – Seymour Enterprises #29 (???)
1981 – Seymour Enterprises #29 (???)
1982 – Seymour Enterprises #2 (???)
etc. (???)

The other 1961 car is unfortunately even more mysterious, as I have never seen a picture of it! I suspect it became one of the next three cars on the list, but with no solid information to go on, I am not going to make a call.

1961 – Bardahl #45
subsequent history unclear

The 1962 car of the HOW team is possibly the same as the 1961 #45, but whatever its origins, it appears to have run a Chevy V8 in the first few races, which was then changed to an Offy in time for Sacramento, where the car went well for the first time. However, the only early picture I could find doesn’t show enough of the car to make that call, but later in the season the car ran with a remodelled nose and a patch on the bonnet where the inlet trumpets for the V8 would have been, so that story fits. When the Georges dissolved the team in 1963, the car was bought by John Pfrommer (another “trucker”) in Pennsylvania, thence to Kenny Brenn in New Jersey. Drivers Elmer George, Parnelli Jones, Ronnie Duman, Wally Dallenbach, Larry Dickson, Lee Kunzman etc.

1962 – HOW #21
1963 – HOW => Pfrommer Trucking Inc. #21
1964 – Pfrommer Truck Lines #3
1965 – Bryant Heating & Cooling => Ken Brenn #3 => #30
1966 – Ken Brenn #24
1967 – Ken Brenn #57
1968 – Ken Brenn #57
1969 – Ken Brenn #57
1970 – Ken Brenn #57
1971 – Ken Brenn #57
subsequent history unclear

Before the end of 1963, Meskowski delivered a new car for Foyt who ran this one in the last two races of the season, and for the next five years, beginning with a “grand slam” in 1964, winning all five dirt track races of the season! All in all, another twelve wins for a Foyt Meskowski, before the car got demoted to backup car in 1969, with Roger McCluskey driving. The car was sold, and apparently run for many more years, into the mid-eighties, but my tracking skills leave me here – this is a period I haven’t looked into that much.

1963 – Sheraton-Thompson #2
1964 – Sheraton-Thompson #1
1965 – Sheraton-Thompson #1
1966 – Sheraton-Thompson #2
1967 – Sheraton-Thompson #14
1968 – Sheraton-Thompson #1
1969 – G. C. Murphy #82
1970 – Mid-America Trucking #82
1971 – Ansen Automotive #22
1972 – Ansen Automotive #5
1973 – Ansen (CRA)
1974 – #27 (CRA)
1975 – ?
1976 – ?
1977 – ?
1978 – ?
1979 – ?
1980 – ?
1981 – ?
1982 – Cicconi Racing #93 (?)
1983 – Cicconi Racing #93 (?)
1984 – Louis Senter #37 (?)
1985 – Senter Enterprises #59 (???)
1985 – Cicconi Racing #93 (???)
apparently retired at end of season

Another new car for Gordon van Liew in 1963, main drivers Lloyd Ruby, Bobby Grim, Roger McCluskey, Johnny Rutherford and Bobby Unser.

1963 – Vita Fresh Orange Juice #29
1964 – Vita Fresh Orange Juice #8
1965 – Vita Fresh Orange Juice #88
1966 – Vita Fresh Orange Juice #7
1967 – Vita Fresh Orange Juice #22
1968 – Maxson #68
1969 – Maxson #89
1970 – Maxson-QuicKick #89
subsequent history unclear

And another new one for Federal Engineering a year later, main drivers Bud Tingelstad, Jud Larson, Jim Malloy, Johnny Parsons and Joe Saldana.

1964 – Federal Engineering #15
1965 – Federal Engineering #10
1966 – Federal Engineering #22
1967 – Federal Engineering #10
1968 – Federal Engineering #10
1969 – Federal Engineering #31
1970 – Stearn’s Mfg. Transi Tread #31
1971 – Federal Engineering #3
1972 – Federal Engineering #22
1973 – Federal Engineering #11
subsequent history unclear

A few loose ends, i.e. cars that were probably second hand, but that I can’t get sorted, mainly because of missing photographs. Typically, none of these cars look exactly like the next, so photographs are a huge help – if anybody out there has any photographs of one of these cars, please say so, and I believe we can get this finished.

1966 – American Eagle #61
1967 – American Eagle => Linne #61

1968 – Kilman #12
1969 – Kilman #40
1970 – Rodeo Bar #46
1971 – Glass City #25 (?)
1972 – ?
1973 – ?
1974 – Glass City #22 (??)
1975 – Glass City #22 (??)
1976 – ?
1977 – Kilman #22 (??)

1969 – Curtis Auto Center #37
1970 – Green Construction #37
1971 – Spalding #15
1972 – Wib Spalding #17

And, finally, the third Foyt car: winner of “only” three races, driven by Greg Weld, Jimmy Caruthers and James McElreath in addition to Foyt. Originally, I had understood this car to have become the Cicconi Racing of 1982, but after reading the auction article I reconsidered, which leaves this one with a short history of only two owners (Foyt and George Middleton, of Missouri) and four drivers, unless something can be found.

1969 – Sheraton-Thompson #6
1970 – Sheraton Thompson ITT #7
1971 – ITT Thompson #9
1972 – ITT Thompson #3
1973 – Gilmore Racing Team #1
1974 – Pizza Hut #55
1975 – Pizza Hut #55
1976 – Pizza Hut #55
subsequent history unclear

Last updated by Michael Ferner on 1 Jan 2012.

All text is copyright Michael Ferner 2012 - 2017.