Auburn, In (21Alive)--It was a familiar formula in post World War Two America…get an old coupe from the junkyard, stick a motor in it and haul it to the race track on weekends. It’s how thousands of American kids got their kicks in the boom years after the war and it was a blast..as long as you didn’t get hurt.
At Auburn’s Northeast Indiana Racing Museum you’ll find a veteran of those glory days, a 1940’s Chevy coupe stripped to the bare bones, powered by a six cylinder motor. Many of Fort Wayne’s legendary drivers got their start in cars like this…Bob Coe, Dutch Mckinley, Cap Straw..and the great Paul Ladd…young daredevils hurtling down the track with no brakes, no roll cage…log chains for seatbelts and gas tanks bolted to the floor right next to the driver.
We ask Paul Ladd if he ever thought about getting injured back in those days. “Yeah,” he says, “I’ve thought about that a lot of times. That’s the way it was back then that was engineering. Now today we got fuel cells, roll cages, lap straps, shoulder harnesses.”
Ladd’s a founding member of this museum that tells the story of the men, the machines and the racetracks that made Northeast Indiana a mecca for amateur thrill seekers. The big track was Fort Wayne Speedway across Coliseum from Glenbrook Mall before there was a Glenbrook Mall. There was South Anthony Speedway, Baer Field of course..even racing inside Memorial Coliseum. There are other of attractions at the racing museum, Indy cars, dragsters, stock cars..this is two time Indy 500 winner Bill Vuckovich’s ‘Fuel Injection Special’. But it’s that old coupe, and the black and white photos of the boys who drove it fast that are the real story of racing in 21 Country…in those days when America felt young, the future wide open…and a generation of young kids thought they were indestructible. This is Eric Olson reporting.
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