A book review of 'Glory Days: Stock Car Racing in the Twin Ports 1950-62'
"Glory Days" is a history book written by Duluth native Paul A. Lind. According to the author, "'Glory Days' documents the early history of stock car racing in the Duluth-Superior area. 'Glory Days' tells the story of a simpler time when average ...
"Glory Days" is a history book written by Duluth native Paul A. Lind. According to the author, "'Glory Days' documents the early history of stock car racing in the Duluth-Superior area. 'Glory Days' tells the story of a simpler time when average people driving hand-built race cars transformed themselves into neighborhood celebrities at the wave of a green flag. These drivers established the foundation of homegrown excitement upon which Twin Ports stock car racing has been built."
To my knowledge this is the only book that chronicles the history being made in the 13 years between 1950 and 1962, the time when weekly stock car racing was being shaped and formed.
Remember, 1950 was only five years removed from the end of the arguably last "popular war," World War II. The American public, including thousands of returning servicemen, was looking for excitement other than the stick and ball sports. Racing cars that looked like those driven on the street -- the Fords, Plymouths, Chevys, Dodges -- fit the bill.
Few new cars were built between 1941 and 1946, as the industry was busy building vehicles of and for the war, so most of the race cars were pre-war coups and sedans. In Duluth and Superior, stock car racing prior to and following the war was done only sporadically at the area fairgrounds during the county fair. A Romanian immigrant Casey Coban (christened Constantine Gherghel) changed that.
Born at the turn of the century in 1899, Coban landed in Gary New Duluth on the southern edge of Duluth with his parents. His life long fascination with the automobile and his mechanical ability led Coban to automobile racing in the late 1920s, racing in long distance races as well as dirt ovals in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Racing under the banner of the Twin Cities based Minnesota Stock Car Racing Association (MSCRA), Coban was the 1949 driving champion.
Coban, along with the South St. Louis County Fair Board, felt the underused horse track at the fairgrounds in Proctor would be good for weekly stock car racing. Coban spearheaded the formation of the Twin Ports Racing Association (TPRA) and from 1950 to 1952, served president of the association and promoter/manager of the track. In 1953 Coban and two partners formed Duluth Speedway, Inc. and built the Duluth speedway in the Norton Park neighborhood. The track ran from 1954 through 1957, and in 1958 Coban ended his active role in area auto racing. Casey Coban passed away at the age of 81 in 1980 and is generally credited with laying the foundation for weekly stock car racing in the Twin Ports.
Lind's book is laid out in journal form in present tense, the only way it realistically could have been done given the huge amount of information gleaned from many interviews with surviving drivers of the time as well as families of those that have passed on. The book is a year-by-year account of the 13 years between 1950 and 1962 with each racing event given at least a brief mention, including rain outs and winners and finishing orders when available.
A nice touch is a first page for each year utilizing vintage racing posters, patches, ticket stubs, pit passes and the like. Also included is brief statements by some of the early drivers printed in their own handwriting. More than 500 drivers raced in the Twin Ports between 1950 and the early '60s, and you'll find the cars they drove, their car numbers, sponsors, years and classes they raced and accomplishments. Whether they raced for many years or had brief careers, Lind includes them because they were "part of the show."
If a picture is worth a thousand words than Lind has perhaps written "War and Peace" several times over. More than 800 photos show not only the cars that were driven but the racers and the race tracks that formed and shaped auto racing in the Twin Ports. These photos, some gleaned from families racers who had them stored on closet shelves and in attics, tell the story very well with the text.
A thread running through the book I recognized, as someone who has been involved in local racing for nearly 40 years, is that the more things change the more they stay the same.
Through the 13 years set forth, the number of "alphabet soup" organizations that vied for control of the local Twin Ports racing scene has carried over to the present day, starting with Coban's TPRA. It was followed by the Arrowhead Racing Association (ARA), which broke off and ran races at the Hiawatha Speedway located near Cloquet, Minn. This group morphed into the Arrowhead Stock Car Racing Association (ASCRA). Next came the Northland Racing Association and the new Duluth Speedway Park, promoted by Duluth Speedway, Inc. The Arrowhead Stock Car Racing Association turned into the Duluth Auto Racing Association (DARA) which change a few years later to the Duluth Superior Auto Racing Association (DSARA).
This entity lasted until 1962 when drivers from Superior got together and formed the Tri State Racing Association (TSRA) and began to present racing on the reconfigured track at the Tri State Fairgrounds in Superior.
The final section of the book sets in alphabetical order all 500 drivers Lind was able to find with their car type, number, sponsors and accomplishments both small and large, as well as photos of many of these drivers. The popular drivers of the period included Russ Laursen, Milo Lillo, Bob Croft, Sig Monson, Les Buchanen and many more.
For more information on "Glory Days," contact Show Car Publishing, 6079 Charles Road, Saginaw, MN 55779, or visit www.showcarpublishing.com .
Jerry O'Brien covers the local racing scene for The Superior Telegram.