Sprint Car & Midget Magazine is digging into the archives to pull out some beloved stories from past issues of the print magazine that ran prior to the launch of the digital website.

The following is from the June 2007 issue, on the restoration of a Bob Higman midget.

1960’s/1970’s midget builder Bob Higman had an interesting association with the 20-some cars he built, but some stories certainly had more different nuances than others.

“I basically built the cars for people I knew. Then, more times than not, I would work for the team as a crew chief,” Higman recalled.

That was the case with this No. 22 USAC midget that was owned by Gene and Bob Shannon of Dayton, Ohio, where the brothers ran a well-known Buick car dealership.

But this was far from the first midget the duo had fielded.

In fact, it was near the end of their 20-year career with the small open-wheelers, which through the years had been driven by the likes of Gene Force, Bob Wente, Sam Sessions, Pancho Carter, Dave Strickland, Bill Puterbaugh, and Larry Rice.

Restore
The Bob Higman-built No. 22 midget originally owned by the Shannon brothers. (Phil Kunz photo)

It was those latter two drivers that drove this car to the 1972 USAC owner’s championship, with Rice ending the season third in driver points.

The following season saw Larry actually win the driver’s championship for the Shannon’s in another Higman midget, very similar to this machine.

Rice recalled, “Billy drove the first two races when I had another obligation. I think I might have been able to win the title that year had I run all the races.

“I have fond memories of racing with the Shannons. We always traveled together, and there was always one or both of them at every race.”

Following the 1972 season, the car was sold to Ron Eden and Dan Pool who campaigned the car together in USAC. Rice drove the car in the first race of the 1973 season for the new owners.

After that season, Pool sold out and Eden ran the car for several more years himself, wheeling the car as a red No. 77.

Then the story of the car gets very, very interesting.

Higman explained.

“Eden sold the car to a GMC dealer in Lafayette, Indiana. When he was coming to pick up the car, he was murdered in a criminal hit job! His wife, though, knew how much he wanted the car and took it anyway.

“She even campaigned it for a short time with a driver named Weaver before it was sold to a young driver in Anderson, Indiana. That driver crashed it heavily at Anderson Speedway in the late 1970’s.”

Larry Rice alongside Billy Engelhart
Larry Rice (22) battles Billy Engelhart (4) at Salem Speedway in 1972. (John Mahoney photo)

Following the crash, the little car dropped out of sight for several years ‘til it reappeared with USAC driver Peppi Marchese at the wheel in 1986.

Bob Webster, of Hughesville, Pa., would acquire the car in 1991 from another New York State owner and restore the car as the 1973 Shannon version.

The car would next be purchased in 2005 by its present owner Bob Maiers, of Bedford, Pa., who wanted to verify that model year of the car.

Maiers checked with builder Higman, who quickly identified the car as the ‘72 model.

Higman indicated that this car had some distinct differences from his other cars making the identification easy. For one thing, it was considerably wider.

“We were using the SESCO Chevy engine at the time and it had cooling problems. I solved the problem by substituting a sprint car radiator which was wider,” Higman noted. “So, in effect, I built the car around that radiator!”

Another interesting aspect was the torsion bar suspension system it used.

Higman indicated, “Instead of the normal two bars, both front and rear, this car had only one bar in the front and rear. But it was still able to accomplish the same functions as the four-bar set-up. Each bar was clamped in the middle, and the car was adjusted from the side of the car you wanted to adjust.”

And, as Larry Rice acknowledges, “It drove pretty well with that set-up.”

Higman midget
The Higman midget is currently loaded with a Chevy II engine. (Phil Kunz photo)

It should be noted that the car is currently restored with a Chevy II engine, a powerplant that it would carry later in its career. Maiers, who is insistent that a restoration be historically correct, is looking for the correct SESCO to complete the restoration.

The restored midget sports all the correct parts and pieces, with Ross Steering, Aerheart brakes, and Gabriel automotive shocks.

In the powertrain, there is a Halibrand rear end and in-out box. A measure of the level of the technology in the car was that it had a career of about 15 years.

Higman pointed out that the body was fabricated completely of .065 aluminum sheet metal.

“I never weighed the car, but I would guess that it probably weighed about 800 pounds,” he added.

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