Archive for January 23, 2020

— A 1947 Soldier Field Souvenir Program —

By: Stan Kalwasinski

“Back in the Day”

Long before it became the home of the Chicago Bears, Soldier Field was the scene of weekly midget auto racing from 1946 through 1950 with “spot” dates taking place, seemingly less and less each year, through 1968. For the 1946 racing season, a new flat, quarter-mile, paved track was installed around the football field inside Chicago’s mammoth arena situated just off the shore of Lake Michigan. Midget racing had been held at Soldier Field as early as 1935. New York native Joe Garson won the ’46 season opener in front of some 20,000 fans on Sunday afternoon, June 16, ahead of Chicago favorites Duke Nalon and Ted Duncan in the 30-lap chase. In addition to Garson, Duane Carter, Ray Richards, Tony Bettenhausen, Frank Burany, Bob Muhlke, and Duncan would win feature races at the “Field” during the weekly Chicago Auto Racing Association/Art Folz-promoted Sunday action.

— A commemorative decal for 1946 Soldier Field champion of Ted Duncan and his Johnny Pawl-owned No. 17 midget. —

One of Duncan’s wins was the Chicago Park District Police Benevolent race on Sunday afternoon, October 20. Before 30,000, Duncan drove Johnny Pawl’s Offy-powered midget to the win in the 50 lapper ahead of fastest qualifier Ralph Pratt, Garson, Henry Banks, Mike O’Halloran and Sam Hanks. 65 cars were on hand with 31 Offy-powered cars in the pits. Seven cars were flown in from California via a C46 cargo plane, arriving at Chicago Municipal (Midway) Airport. Duncan, who split his time between the Chicago area and Florida, was named the season champion at Soldier Field for the 1946 season.

It was more weekly midget racing at Soldier Field in 1947, 1948 and 1949. Champions for the seasons were Duncan again in 1947 as hot rod racing was also held; California’s Johnny McDowell (1948) and another West Coast speedster, Eddie Haddad (1949). Indiana’s Paul “Potsy” Goacher was the champion in 1950 with the midgets now sharing the Soldier Field racing with hot rods and the growing-in-popularity stock cars. By 1951, midget racing at Soldier Field consisted only of a handful of AAA-sanctioned 100-lap main events.

Illustrated Speedway News correspondent Wayne Adams (on the far right) welcoming West Coast competitors at Chicago Municipal Airport for the Chicago Park District Police Benevolent Race in 1946. Through the years, the police benevolent race was usually the best-attended racing event at Soldier Field.