Legendary Drivers in Midget Car Racing History

In the world of motorsport, few categories are as thrilling and unique as midget car racing. Despite the small size of the vehicles, the sport has produced some of the most skilled and daring drivers in racing history. These racers, often overlooked in mainstream media, have shown extraordinary talent, bravery, and a passion for speed that surpasses the size of their machines.

Here are some of the legendary drivers in the history of midget car racing:

Mario Andretti 

Sitting at the very top spot is Mario Andretti, a legendary race car driver of Italian American descent. Recognized worldwide, Andretti is one of only two drivers to triumph in races across Formula One, Indy Car, World Sportscar Championship, and NASCAR. He had a long career in motorsports, being the only person to be named United States Driver of the Year in three decades (1967, 1978, and 1984).

But his early career as a racer is defined by triumphs in midget car racing and sprint racing. Andretti delved into midget car racing from 1961 to 1963, initially starting with 3/4-sized midget cars in the American Three Quarter Midget Racing Association during the winter months. His aim was to catch the attention of full-sized midget car owners. Over the course of 1963, Andretti’s commitment to the sport was evident as he participated in over one hundred events.

Andretti’s achievements throughout his remarkable career speak volumes. He clinched the 1978 Formula One World Championship and secured four Indy Car titles. To this day, he stands alone as the sole driver to conquer the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, and the Formula One World Championship. Moreover, he remains the solitary racer to have tasted victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Formula One, and an Indianapolis 500 event.

Andretti’s legacy also includes being the last American to seize a Formula One race victory in 1978 at the Dutch Grand Prix. Additionally, he’s part of an elite trio of drivers to conquer races on road courses, paved ovals, and dirt tracks all within a single season – a feat he accomplished an impressive four times.

Bill Schindler

A name synonymous with the early days of midget car racing, William Lawrence “Bill” Schindler was known for his fearless driving style. He started racing in sprint cars in 1931 and raced midget cars on the East Coast of the US during the introduction of the sport in 1934. While racing in a Champ car race in 1936, he got into an accident and lost a leg.

But despite the odds, his determination and love for the sport made him continue to race and win. He quickly became a dominant figure in the midget car racing scene, known for his fearless driving style and relentless pursuit of victory. His ability to compete at the highest level, despite his disability, made him a symbol of courage and perseverance. He became one of the three drivers participating in the Indianapolis 500 with a prosthetic leg.

Schindler was a pioneer in racing as he became the first president of the newly formed American Racing Drivers Club (ARDC) in 1940. ARDC is one of the oldest sanctioning bodies for open-wheel midget car racing in the United States.

Duane Carter

Known as a versatile driver, Carter’s career spanned over three decades. He excelled not only in midget cars but also in sprint cars and IndyCars, proving his adaptability and skill across various forms of motorsport.

Carter’s racing journey began while he was a student at Fresno State University, competing in midget car races at a 1/5 mile dirt track on Fresno’s west side. In 1937, he was among six drivers who traveled to Western Springs Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand, where he triumphed in the stadium’s inaugural midget car race. Remarkably, the car he drove is now displayed in an Auckland museum.

During 1939, Carter frequently emerged victorious at the Nutley board track. His winning streak continued with the 1940 Detroit VFW Motor Speedway title and the 1942 championship at Sportsman Park in Cleveland. Carter highlighted his success by clinching a 500-lap victory at the 1947 Los Angeles Coliseum Motordome.

The pinnacle of Carter’s racing career was his involvement in IndyCar racing, including participation in the prestigious Indianapolis 500. He retired from racing to take the Competition Director position for the United States Auto Club in 1956 but returned to racing after three years after someone took over.

A.J. Foyt

Arguably one of the greatest American race car drivers of all time, Foyt stands as a titan in motorsport history. Affectionately known as “Super Tex,” A.J. Foyt’s illustrious career spans Automobile Club Champ cars, midget cars, and even stock cars in NASCAR. Holding the record for the most career wins in the United States Auto Club (USAC) at 159 victories and an impressive 67 first-place finishes in American championship racing, Foyt’s achievements are unparalleled.

In 1956, Foyt entered the United States Auto Club (USAC) midget car racing during the prestigious “Night before the 500” event in Anderson, Indiana. This marked the start of his formal USAC career, setting him on a path to numerous victories and records. In 1957, Foyt achieved his first major victory in midget car racing, winning a 100-lap event in Kansas City. His talent shone brightly as he finished seventh in the season’s points standings.

After the 1957 season, Foyt shifted his focus to sprint cars and Championship Car racing. However, he never fully abandoned his roots in midget car racing, occasionally returning to compete in midget car events.

Remarkably, Foyt is the only driver to have won the prestigious Indianapolis 500 four times, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Adding to his accolades, he clinched the International Race of Champions series in 1976 and 1977. His extraordinary success came despite enduring three serious crashes that inflicted lifelong injuries, a testament to his resilience and unwavering dedication to racing.

Mel Kenyon

Known as “Miraculous Mel,” the “King of the Midgets,” and “Champion of Midget Auto Racing,” Mel Kenyon’s career was remarkable. Many consider him the greatest driver ever in midget car racing. 

Like many racers, Mel was driven by a passion for speed and competition. His early success in midget car racing established him as a talented and promising driver. His career took a dramatic turn after a near-fatal accident. 

During his tenth race at Langhorne Speedway in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, on June 20, 1965, a catastrophic engine failure resulted in oil spilling over his car, suit, and track. This led to Kenyon losing control, crashing into the wall, and being rendered unconscious. The situation escalated when two other drivers collided with Kenyon’s fuel tank, causing a fiery accident. 

Mel was heroically rescued by another driver in the burning wreckage. However, the accident left Kenyon with severe burns, leading to multiple surgeries that made him lose nearly all the fingers on his left hand.

But despite this, he continued racing using specially modified gloves and returned to racing the next year. He achieved twelve first or second-place finishes and secured second place in the National Midget points standings. Demonstrating incredible determination and skill, Kenyon qualified for his first Indianapolis 500 just eleven months after the Langhorne Speedway accident, where he finished in an impressive fifth place.

Sleepy Tripp 

Ron “Sleepy” Tripp carved out a remarkable legacy in USAC midget racing, leaving an indelible mark from the outset. He got the nickname when he was young as he would fall asleep in his quarter midget car while waiting for his next race to start.

In his debut year with the series, Tripp achieved the rare feat of clinching both Rookie of the Year and the National Championship in 1974, setting the stage for an illustrious career.

Having demonstrated his exceptional talent early on, Tripp continued to shine, securing another USAC National Championship in only his second year and winning the championship back-to-back in 1976. During the off-season, he ventured to Australia, where his captivating performances earned him a devoted fan base.

Tripp’s dominance in USAC midget racing is undeniable, highlighted by an impressive tally of over 100 feature wins en route to claiming seven USAC Western Midget titles. His achievements extend further with 59 National Midget car victories, placing him fifth on USAC’s all-time National Midget Car Series feature winners list. Additionally, his total of 59 National USAC victories positions him 11th on USAC’s all-time National career feature victory leaders list.

In total, Tripp’s combined triumphs in National, Western, and Regional USAC events establish him as the winningest driver in midgets, boasting an extraordinary career tally of over 250 victories.

Bill Vukovich

Bill Vukovich, renowned for his remarkable achievements in the Indianapolis 500, also had a significant and influential career in midget car racing. His journey in midget racing laid the groundwork for his legendary status in motorsport and showcased his extraordinary talent and tenacity.

Born in 1918, Vukovich began his racing career in California during the late 1930s and early 1940s, a time when midget car racing was gaining popularity in the United States. Competing primarily on the West Coast of the United States in the URA (United Racing Association), he showcased his skill and dominance, clinching the series’ midget car championships in both 1945 and 1946.

His talent was undeniable, highlighted by victories such as the prestigious 1948 Turkey Night Grand Prix at Gilmore Stadium. Additionally, Vukovich boasted an impressive streak, winning six out of the last eight races held at the stadium track before its closure.

In 1950, he added another championship to his repertoire by securing the AAA National Midget championship. Vukovich’s success was often attributed to his preference for racing midgets powered by Drake engines, specifically the Harley V-twin with specially crafted Drake water-cooled heads.

Vukovich’s success in midget car racing eventually led him to the Indianapolis 500, where he would cement his legacy as one of the greatest racers in the history of the sport. However, it was also in the Indy 500 that he met his final demise. In 1955, Vukovich was killed in a chain-reaction crash while leading the 57th lap of the race.

Tony Stewart 

Anthony Wayne “Tony” Stewart, affectionately known as “Smoke,” is currently a NASCAR team co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and co-owner of the Superstar Racing Experience. With an impressive track record, Stewart boasts four NASCAR Cup Series championships: two as a driver (in 2002 and 2005), one as an owner/driver (in 2011), and one as a sole owner (in 2014).

But before he became champion and owner at NASCAR, he bagged racing titles in various categories, including Indy, midget, sprint, and USAC Silver Crown cars. His accomplishments are unparalleled, as he remains the only driver in history to secure championships in both IndyCar and NASCAR.

During the start of his career, Tony Stewart was turning heads in the world of midget car racing. After bagging championship wins in go-kart racing, Stewart joined the United Midget Racing Association (UMRA), where he competed in TQ (three-quarter) midgets until 1991. During that year, Stewart progressed to the United States Auto Club (USAC) series.

His debut in the USAC series earned him the title of Rookie of the Year. Stewart’s success in the USAC circuit soared, with back-to-back championships in the National Midget Series in 1994 and 1995, followed by a Silver Crown Series championship in 1995. After that, he went on to conquer IndyCar and NASCAR.

Alongside his achievements on the track, Stewart is notable for his fiery temperament and his sharp wit, often displayed in his interactions with the media.

Rich Vogler

Rich Vogler’s legacy in the world of midget car racing is that of a true icon, a driver whose name became synonymous with success and skill in the United States Auto Club (USAC) racing circuits.

Richard Frank Vogler, fondly known as “Rapid Rich,” was a renowned American sprint car and midget car driver, born on July 26, 1950, and sadly passed away on July 21, 1990. Vogler’s racing career was illustrious, marked by numerous achievements and accolades.

He participated in the prestigious Indianapolis 500 five times, with his highest placement being eighth in 1989 — Vogler’s prowess on the track extended beyond IndyCar racing. In 1973, he clinched the National Alliance of Midget Auto Racing (NAMAR) midget championship.

Throughout his career, Vogler showcased his skill in midget car racing, securing track championships at the Indianapolis Speedrome in 1984 and 1985. Additionally, he triumphed in the Fireman Nationals midget car race at Angell Park Speedway in 1985.

One of Vogler’s notable accomplishments was becoming the first driver to capture both the USAC Sprint Car and Midget championships in the same year, achieving this feat in 1980. He went on to claim further successes, including USAC National Sprint Car Series championships and USAC National Midget Series championships in the succeeding years. 

Bryan Clauson

Before his tragic passing in 2016, Clauson was considered one of the brightest stars in midget car racing. His ability to win on both dirt and pavement tracks made him a versatile and respected figure in the racing community.

Hailing from Sacramento, California, Clauson kicked off his USAC National Sprint Series journey shortly after turning 16 on June 17, 2005. His debut landed him a solid third place on the podium. Just a few months later, he made history by clinching victory at the Open Wheel Oktoberfest Midget race at Columbus Motor Speedway in Ohio. At just 16 years, three months, and 23 days old, he became the youngest driver in USAC history to win a National feature event.

Clauson’s momentum didn’t stop there. In 2006, he achieved an impressive feat at Salem Speedway in Indiana, securing victories in both the 30-lap Midget race and the 50-lap Sprint race on the same night. This remarkable doubleheader “sweep” marked only the 24th time it had been accomplished in USAC history.

Since then, he has won numerous midget car championship events and gained the admiration of many in the motorsport world. However, his life was cut short when he competed in the Belleville Nationals midget race – his 116th race of the year – when an accident happened. He flipped his car after colliding with a lapped car and then was hit by another. This accident landed him in the hospital, where he was in critical condition when he arrived and then died the next day. His tragic passing sent shockwaves through the racing world.  

Christopher Bell

A rising star in the NASCAR series, Christopher Bell has his roots in midget car racing. His transition from grassroots racing to the pinnacle of stock car racing is proof of his adaptability, raw talent, and potential.

Bell launched his racing journey in micro sprints at I-44 Riverside Speedway in the early 2000s. His skills quickly shone as he clinched championship titles year after year since 2010.

In 2013, Bell made a significant move by joining Keith Kunz Motorsports for USAC racing, stepping into the shoes of Kyle Larson. Later that same year, he became part of CH Motorsports’ sprint car racing program. Bell capped off the year as the USAC National Midget Champion.

Transitioning into asphalt Super Late Models for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2014 marked another milestone for Bell. He even delved into the competitive arena of the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series. His breakthrough came in 2014 when he secured his maiden victory in the WoO Sprint Car Series at Jacksonville Speedway.

Expanding his repertoire, Bell also tasted success as a Super Late Model driver, triumphing at tracks like New Smyrna Speedway, South Alabama Speedway, and Southern National Motorsports Park. Throughout the year, his dominance continued with 24 wins in USAC Midget races and a total of 26 victories on dirt, including the prestigious Turkey Night Grand Prix.

The next year, Bell transitioned from midget car racing to the NASCAR series, applying the skills and experience he gained in midget car racing to make his mark in NASCAR quickly.

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