This little excerpt was written by Tedd Knorr on the history of Rensselaer Raceway, which Crash Wilson helped to promote in the summer of 1957. To view the rest of the article and the history of Rensselaer Raceway, please visit:
RENSSELAER RACEWAY 1952 – 1987
The Rensselaer Raceway was located at the Jasper County Fairgrounds, one mile west of Rensselaer, Indiana.
Then in 1957, Ted Knorr, a successful Rensselaer businessman, stock broker and long time race fan decided to try speedway promotion.
Knorr selected Sunday nights for racing and helped a new stock car association get started. Kokomo (HRI) had gone to modified coupes with big engines and cut down modified bodies. He knew there were a lot of racers with the older stock cars with stock motors that had no place to race on Sunday nights. With the help of Monticello’s Dick Flynn and others, Racing, Inc. was formed and sanctioned the events at Rensselaer.
Through a skillful advertising campaign and several well-planned promotional ideas the Rensselaer Speedway began its successful run. One rather humorous (though unsuccessful) promotion involved the Chicago Bears. This happened in the late 50’s when George Halas would bring his professional football team to the nearby Saint Joseph’s College for their annual preseason training camp. Rensselaer (Pop. 7000) was not the most exciting place for the Chicago Bear players. On Sunday nights the sounds of the nearby speedway could be heard in Rensselaer and the college dorms, so several Bear players became Sunday night regulars. As I recall, after a trackside interview one night , linebackers Bill George and Joe Fortunato made the mistake of suggesting they would like to “drive one of those stock cars”. Ted jumped at this opportunity and it turned into a huge promotion billed as “See the Chicago Bears Race Nite”. He scheduled the big event for a few weeks in advance. With some lead time George and Fortunato ended up getting a half-dozen or so teammates to commit to driving one of the Rensselaer stockers. Meanwhile, Papa Bear went ballistic and sent a threatening cease and desist legal document to promoter Ted, basically stating that this race would not under any circumstances be run. Note: the race never happened!!
One hugely successful promotion that occurred that first year was on the 4th of July, 1957. Track flagman, former racer and president of Racing Inc., Dick Flynn talked Ted into an intermission stunt that had a car jumping over a full size greyhound bus. This was a pretty big deal back in 1957 and Ted realized the track needed something special. He wanted to capture the fans attention and let them also see the exciting, dustless stock car racing programs they had going on Sunday evenings. Dick Flynn and several of the drivers of Racing Inc. produced this dangerous stunt. The promotion worked, as the largest crowd to ever witness any event at the fairgrounds (up until that time) showed up. The standing room only crowd saw “Crash” Wilson successfully jump (he flew as high as the grandstand roof) a stock 1948 Chevy over the top of a former greyhound bus. I can still remember the stillness of the crowd when the car landed in a terrible crash, totally destroying the Chevy and several other catch cars. Most felt they had just witnessed someone die and the track had gone to far with this stunt. When a dazed Wilson was pulled from the wreckage the place went crazy. Perhaps one of the key moments in the early history of the speedway. The attendance of the weekly stock car races spiked for the remainder of the season……
And the success of the Rensselaer Speedway was underway.