In this new monthly photo-essay feature, National Sprint Car Hall of Fame photographer John Mahoney shares his memories and images from some of the most amazing and historic sprint car and midget races in history.
This month, we revisit the USAC National Sprint Car Series event that took place on October 21, 1973 at Rossburg, Ohio’s Eldora Speedway. It was the surreal day when Rollie Beale drove three cars to win the 1973 USAC sprint car title.
After finishing second once and third three times in the chase for the USAC National sprint title, 1973 looked to be Rollie Beale’s best chance. Going into the final event of the season – twin 50’s at Eldora Speedway – the popular Toledo
railroader’s challenger this time was Lee Kunzman. What transpired that day at the Big E would truly qualify as a Hollywood drama.
Sadly, the day got off to a terrible start when promising rookie Carl Bergkvist lost his life in a devastating hot lap crash on the frontstretch.
The twin feature format locked in the top six qualifiers, and they would be granted a short practice session prior to the first feature. During this session, Beale’s day would begin badly when
he clipped a rut and rolled his Rodeo Bar No. 2, putting it on the trailer. Fortunately, Duke Cook was first alternate in Beale’s backup machine, so Rollie took over driving duties in the No. 32.
Kunzman would win the first feature, with Beale, who started last, taking seventh. More pressure and more drama was to come. On the last lap of
the first feature, Beale’s engine expired in a cloud of smoke as he crossed the finish line. Help for the second feature came in the form of
the Mauri Amerling sprinter No. 1, when driver Sammy Sessions offered his seat to Beale. Starting last again, Beale managed a hard-fought sixth while Kunzman finished second to Pancho Carter.
When the dust had cleared and the points were tallied, despite Kunzman’s last ditch heroics, Rollie had topped Lee by 24. At last, a victory
celebration for Rollie that lasted ‘til the wee hours.