On Jan. 26, 1957, a host of racing luminaries assembled at The Elks Home in Pottstown, Pa., to honor drivers and owners following the inaugural year of the Eastern Sprint Car Series.
The top pilot, and owner, feted on this evening was the highly-successful and popular Tommy Hinnershitz. Noted public relations professional, announcer, and future Hinnershitz biographer Carl Sweigart served as toastmaster and received assistance from well-known racing personalities Ted Webbe, Jim Lunt, Walt Chernokal and Chris Economaki.
The main speaker was the recently-retired (for the moment) Duane Carter, who became the United States Auto Club’s first Director of Competition.
This event signaled the importance of this market to the new sanctioning body, and a separate Eastern series would remain intact through the 1960 season.
When the Midwest and Eastern series were combined into one National series, the Reading (Pa.) Fairgrounds served as the opening round for six of the next nine seasons.
The winners of those dates, men like A.J. Foyt, Jim Hurtubise, Jud Larson, Larry Dickson and Jerry “Scratch” Daniels, are all members of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.
Suffice it to say, the legacy of USAC racing in the east, particularly in Pennsylvania, is noteworthy.
Beginning a decade ago, through the mini-series now known as Eastern Storm, USAC has strived to reconnect with a new generation of Eastern fans and build interest in their brand.
In some respects, it has been an uphill climb.
The overwhelming popularity of winged sprint car racing cannot be denied, and in Pennsylvania the loose confederation of drivers known colloquially as “The Posse” are among a select group who can routinely challenge the supremacy of the invading World of Outlaws.
With a region fully stocked with half-mile tracks such as Williams Grove, Port Royal, and Selinsgrove, winged sprint cars offer blinding speed, which has always served as a base attraction to a segment of the populace.
Nonetheless, traditional sprint car racing has enjoyed a renaissance marked by expansion in new areas, while offering a novel product to a new generation of fans. The growth of the Eastern Storm series illustrates these trends.
While not every stop on the way has been a hit, others have become a highly-anticipated date on the racing calendar. Of equal note has been the participation of a small group of local racers when USAC comes to town.
Among those are participants who elect to take the wing off for a night, while others have worked the phone and secured rides with owners willing to give them a shot.
While Eastern Storm has been an important segment of the National sprint car schedule, if USAC stood any chance of gaining a stronger foothold in this region it was going to take more than the efforts of staff based in Speedway, Ind. To use a term common to the business development and the diffusion of innovation lexicon, a champion was needed.
Such an individual emerged and, for those looking from afar, it represented the oddest of marriages.
Recalling how it all began, USAC Vice President Levi Jones noted, “Curt Michael had guys interested because what he had done with URC in the past, and he had tracks that wanted races. There were some racers, and tracks, that wanted to go this way. For us, the USAC history in that area is huge, and here was a chance to cultivate some young non-wing sprint car drivers, and this was an avenue to get them started and keep them racing.
“Not a bad deal.”
Not a bad deal at all. But Curt Michael?
Michael is one of the best ever to perform with the United Racing Club. Like USAC, the URC is a proud group as well, and with a history that dates to 1948.
Like any racing organization with a long tenure, there have been moments of glory and pain, as well as solidarity and strife.
There have been plenty of legendary drivers competing with URC, from Bert Brooks and Earl Halaquist, to more recent stars like Glenn Fitzcharles and Dave Kelly.
Future USAC champion Larry Dickson won the 1965 title driving for Hall of Fame owner George Nesler; the Pink Panther, Kramer Williamson, was the best man on three occasions.
Taking his place among these stalwarts, Michael’s 10 championships outpaces Halaquist by four, while his 59 wins is fifth on the all-time list, with a chance to move up even further.
The irony here is that Michael is still racing with, and booking races, for URC. For those not in the know, in December of 1970 the club voted to allow wings for the first time.
In the main, that is where they have been ever since, and as such, it is largely the style of racing that Michael has been accustomed to.
So, the question loomed: Why, of all people, would Curt Michael be interested in non-winged racing?
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