Chuck Hulse, who passed away on July 13, was a remarkable man who lived a full and rich life. He was there when sprint car racing found a home at Ascot Park, and at the time of his passing he was the oldest driver to compete in both a roadster and a rear-engine car at Indianapolis.
Well into his 90’s, Hulse possessed an active mind and a quick wit. His stories of his time behind the wheel always bespoke of cars “that just flew,” and ended with the refrain, “I just loved racing.”
One of the true characters, because of his affinity for his favorite soft drink, he became known far and wide as The Pepsi Kid.
Hulse’s love of Pepsi was so strong that Hall of Fame photographer John Mahoney remembers watching incredulously before the running of the Hoosier Hundred as Chuck literally opened a bottle of the soda with his back teeth.
Hulse was born in South Gate, Calif., on October 3, 1927, and was raised in nearby Lynwood. His father was a race fan, and Chuck’s first exposure to the sport came at Atlantic Speedway just as midget racing was gaining momentum.
Given that so many of the cars were powered by Elto outboard engines, he would later say, “I can’t remember the cars as much as I do the smell of the fuel mixture.”
He was hooked on the sport, but after his graduation at the age of 17, he found himself working for Uncle Sam, and on a boat headed for the hostilities in Japan. As fate would have it, before he reached his intended destination bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki essentially ending the war. Still committed to duty until 1949, he was more than ready for some action by the time he was honorably discharged.
He took a job at the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company as an instrument technician, but told his father that he intended to also begin a career in racing. He wasn’t the only member of this clan to catch the bug. His oldest brother Bob was a talented mechanic, while his brother Ed was interested in the budding drag racing scene. Ed would soon have a hot rod to call his own, and towed it to the now famous meets contested on the nearby dry lakes.
Ed proved to be good at his craft and, as a class record holder, he appeared on the cover of Hot Rod magazine.
While Chuck could appreciate what his brother was doing going fast in a straight line, he had far more interest in oval racing. He first got a taste of the sport during the 1949 season at Lincoln Park Speedway in East Los Angeles.
Later he attended a 500-lap roadster race at Emmett Malloy’s Carrell Speedway and, to his surprise, was asked to take the wheel of a car that had qualified 57th in a 66-car field. He was able to make it to the third position on two different occasions before running dry on fuel. Finally a broken spindle put him on the sidelines at 400 laps and he watched Dempsey Wilson pilot a modified Jeep to the win.
It comes as no surprise that Chuck got a chance in midgets, but the small cars never captured his fancy and he chose to stick with the roadsters. While the top midget drivers were using the discipline to make it all the way to Indianapolis, others had the same success using roadsters as a springboard to attain the same goal.
Hulse’s description of his first attempt to race with the big boys in the area was predictably laced with humor. He admits that before the race had begun, he was sure he was going to give everyone in the pits a lesson. To his chagrin, when the green flag dropped he quickly discerned that it was going to be an entirely different story. “I was going down the backstretch,” he said with a laugh, “and I was faster than any man alive. Then here came Nick Valenta and Colby Scroggins, and one guy passed me on the high side and the other low.”
While a little air may have been drained from his ego, others who watched him saw evidence of real talent. He became one of the best in the area, armed with the Robinson & Zable DeSoto and then in Clem TeBow’s Ardun Mercury.
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