Friday, November 17, 2023

NASCAR’s Unique and Forgotten Racing Divisions: Midget Series

Cover Image of NASCAR Midget and Amateur Auto Races Program by Ralph Liguori behind the wheel of midget car

Years of Competition: 1953-1968 (1953-1960 as National Series)

Notable Drivers: Nick Fornoro Sr., Fred Meeker, Jim Whitman, Mario Andretti

The Speedway Division wasn’t NASCAR’s only attempt to compete with the purpose-built open wheel racing series of AAA/USAC. Despite a relatively long run, the Midget series is among one of the lesser known and under-recorded competitions in NASCAR.

A form of motorsports that caught on during the 1930s, midget racing is based on small, simplistic vehicles running powerful engines. Midget racing was very popular following the second world war as it proved relatively affordable and the short-distance events could be easily staged at short ovals. Through the 1950s and 1960s, midgets ultimately served as a springboard for many great drivers. A short list of drivers who parlayed success in midget racing to become an Indianapolis 500 winner includes Bill Vukovich, Sam Hanks, Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt. 

Image of partial Midget Division field from Program for 1958 NASCAR International Safety and Performance Trials and Races at Daytona Beach 

NASCAR’s Midget racing division was first assembled as a national tour in 1953 competing on a 16-race calender held on 11 tracks. Specifications for the race cars required a maximum weight of 1,100 pounds and wheelbase lengths between 68 and 74 inches. A choice of an Offenheuser (Offy) or a Ford V-8-60 flathead engines were offered with the midget machines. The startup of the Midget Division coincided with the decline and shuttering of NASCAR’s Speedway Division that was also based on Indianapolis-style roadsters. 

Fred Meeker won the first NASCAR Midget Division event at the 0.25-mile oval of Roosevelt Stadium. Meeker would remain competitive throughout the inaugural season but Nick Fornoro who won five races en route to the 1953 championship and a $175 cash prize. Meeker would claim two series titles of his own in 1955 and 1956. During the 1955, 1956 and 1957 seasons, separate midget point championship were awarded to the top Offy-powered entrant and the highest-placed Ford-propelled driver.

Images of 1956 NASCAR Champions. Midget Champion Fred Meeker in Middle between Modified Champion Red Farmer (Right) and Sportsman Champion Ralph Earnhardt (Right) (IMS Image and  Archives via Getty Images/NASCAR)

Operating in combination with NASCAR’s Daytona Beach Speed Week, a several races for the Midget division occurred at Daytona Beach’s 0.2-mile paved Memorial Stadium. A 25-lap race held on February 21st of 1964 on the small oval was won by future motorsport legend Mario Andretti driving an Offenhauser-powered Watson. Andretti’s victory came a year before his first USAC Championship Car crown (today recognized as the IndyCar championship) and three years before he would claim the Daytona 500.

NASCAR removed the Midget Division from their national tour program in 1960 though competition continued as a regional series. The last champion for NASCAR’s Midget tour was awarded in 1963 but historical accounts show that the stock car racing sanctioning body continued to support events up to 1968.

While NASCAR divested itself from midget racing in the 1960s, this form of motorsport greatly contributed to the emergence of several of the organization’s modern stock car legends Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart as well as current drivers Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell. 



Foyt Andretti Petty: America's Racing Trinity by Bones Bourcier

No comments:

Post a Comment