Posted: 4:35 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012
By Greg Billing
Racers at Rest donations
Make checks payable to National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and mail to:
National Sprint Car Museum
P.O. Box 542
Knoxville, Iowa 50138
Note: RACERS AT REST must be written on the memo line to ensure the donation goes to this project. There are no administrative fees or overhead so the full donation benefits to Racers at Rest. For more information visit www.racersatrest.com.
Leaving their mark
The first known racing fatality is believed to be Frank Day at the Wisconsin State Fair on Sept. 12, 1903. Since then, RAR researchers Steve Estes and Don Tash have found as many as 1,156 sprint car fatalities dating back to a time when drivers raced in open-faced helmets wearing T-shirts and pants or overalls coated in oil or gasoline.
Among the notables:
Billy “Coal Oil” Carlson (Calvary Cemetery, East Lost Angeles, Calif.): The 25-year-old’s final run came July 5, 1915, on a board track that cut corners by filling in gaps with tar and gravel. “The drivers said every lap was like a meteor storm of splinters, rocks and debris,” said RAR newsletter editor Mike Thompson said. “Coal Oil, with his riding mechanic Paul Frantzen, had a tire issue before the race and Coal Oil decided to go with used tires because he thought they would give him better grip. During the race the tire blew and the wheel caught in one of those gaps and flipped them. It killed Frantzen immediately.”
Walter “Speedy” Ferch (Forest Home Cemetery, Milwaukee, Wis.): He was a motorcycle stuntman who performed shows on dromes — circle tracks made of vertical boards that the motorcycles climbed higher and higher on at dangerous speeds. At one event in Houston, Ferch — who always chomped down on a cigar to keep from biting his tongue off in an accident — flew out the top of the drome and landed about 160 feet into the parking lot. Both he and his tongue survived. But Ferch decided to try a safer sport. He died in his second auto race on July 4, 1923.
Harvey Crane (Mount Hope Cemetery, Logansport, Ind.): Racing at Carthage County Fairgrounds – now known as Cincinnati Fairgrounds — on October 16, 1920, Indiana’s Crane competed in a 200-lapper with about a dozen other cars. As darkness fell and a dust storm kicked up, a six-car crash happened in front of Crane, who could not stop and smashed into the carnage. Another car slammed into him. Crane was taken to a hospital in Cincinnati, but died.