Bill Albertson

William C. Albertson

New York
1889 (Nov 2) - 1930 (Aug 16)

AAA Big Cars 1919 – 1930

Here’s an almost completely forgotten ace of the roaring twenties, at best remembered as an obscure car owner at Indianapolis, just maybe as a relief driver of 16 laps on a car that had a fighting chance of a top six, perhaps even a top three finish before it retired. Yes, some bios show him dying at the wheel while qualifying for a dirt track race somwhere in New York State, but what else?

A shame really, because Albertson was as good as they come. His four wins at Altamont, for instance, were far from being hollow victories over motley heaps of local scrap, driven by an assembly of juvenile road ragers, with a sprinkling of the senile racing veteran in a car of like vintage – no, not at all! Finishing second in three of those races were Messrs Ira Vail and Billy Winn (twice), so Albertson was really defeating the champions, old and new! And all of this in an ancient Duesenberg that, as far as I can substantiate, originated as one of the “ReVere Special” Indy Cars of 1920!!

From Penn Yan in upstate New York, not far from Seneca Lake and Watkins Glen, the son of Danish immigrants had been a terror on the local half-miles since the end of the Great War at the very least, possibly longer. Far from being a shallow youth, he was already well into his thirties when he caught the headlines in major racing news for the first time by finishing second at the 1922 New York State Fair Race at Syracuse, in a field dominated by racing pros from all over the country, the winner Tom Alley coming straight from San Francisco (CA)! Apropos racing pro: Albertson himself remained an amateur all his life, running a service station in Penn Yan for a living.

Apart from his brief Indianapolis interlude, he tried the board track Altoona Speedway in Tipton (PA) at least once, but stuck to the dirt tracks in the main, where he continued to be successful, although his business kept him from running too far abroad. In 1930, however, he was really beginning to blossom, with a series of brilliant results in dirt track 100-milers at Langhorne (PA), Toledo (OH) and Langhorne again: 4th, 1st and 3rd, beating all the top cats in the business, from Wilbur Shaw to Bill Cummings.

In August, he was back in Middletown (NY), 50 miles north of New York City, to defend his laurels as the 1929 winner of the Orange County Fair Sweepstakes. Starting his time trial, he unaccountably lost control on the backstretch, was thrown from his flipping racer and crushed his skull upon hitting the ground. He didn’t stand a chance.

© Michael Ferner