Bob Gurr, racing car fanatic? It’s true. This Disney legend was a speed runner back in the day. In fact, today we’ve set our time machine to 1950 and try to follow Bob as he shares his lifelong passion for racing.
Today’s wheel of years stopped at 1950, so here we go. Starting in 1950, sports car racing was all the rage in Southern California and I was eager to get involved. My two childhood passions since the age of 5 have always been cars and airplanes. We lived near the Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale, California, so planes were always overhead, cars everywhere else. When my dad took me to a stock car race in 1939, I was hooked on motor racing, which is still a passion today.
World War II put an end to all racing and it wasn’t until 1946, when I was able to listen to the Indianapolis race on the radio, that my enthusiasm grew. In 1947, model car racing resumed at Gilmore Stadium near Hollywood, where I went every Thursday night in my old Model A Ford. I even started going to the Culver City Jalopy Races, the car races sports events of 1950 were held at a World War II airship base in Irvine, as well as the Palm Springs airport. After more racing in Southern California, I attended the 1952 Indianapolis race in person. The following year, I was asked to work as a race official, at age 21, at the races sports cars in Southern California. Whoowee!
At this time there were two racing organizations; Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the California Sports Car Club. For SCCA, I first served as a corner signaller, then quickly rose to Turn Marshall, the guy in charge of everything that happens in a racing corner. The Cal Club job was perfect for me as a budding automotive designer. The starting job was Gas Truck Monitor. In addition to these activities, I would join my car designer buddies from the Art Center in volunteering to paint the race numbers on the race cars. Participants had to bring their cars in for a technical check a few days before the race at a Hollywood sports car garage. Thus, the chance to spend time with the pilots and the crews.
Since Mobilgas provided free fuel to all race participants, someone had to make sure that no free gas was “released” for private use. Each race car received a gas card which I had to punch every time fuel was placed in a race car. The rules were you can’t fill up a gas can, just take the race car to the gas truck. Perfect! I can stay in one place while all the race cars are brought to the tanker. This way I could examine 100% of all the cars in detail while the gas was being pumped. I absorbed all the interesting design details of the latest sports cars this way. My curiosity pumped all this information into my brain at full speed. Of course, I was a hard-nosed official, denying all fuel excuses to even the wealthiest sports car owners around!
Soon I got another job – Pit Marshall. Before each preliminary class race, I received the order of passage, then I walked through the pits asking each driver’s crew to get their car out on the pre-grid line in the correct order in order to get to the race course starting line. At the time, many celebrities raced sports cars – for example: journalist George Putnam and movie star James Dean (who was always polite and cooperative). A lot of the racers or car owners were very wealthy, so it was an interesting crowd that I had to deal with – an official kid against a wealthy old man.
At SCCA races, I loved my job as Turn Marshall. At first the road race courses were very basic, no permanent protective walls, just a few bales of hay for spectator protection. Two marshals and a corner marshal were assigned to each corner. One flagman faced oncoming traffic to signal course conditions, the other faced me. This was because when a crash or swerve happened, I would change the flag signal from green to yellow. If a driver spun, they found themselves beyond the corner, where they had to wait for my signal to resume the race after it was safe. To minimize the chances of chasing cars that are spinning, I would position myself where they would end up – sometimes right at my feet! Just hit them on the head and go!
The nice perk was that as turn crews were rotated to change turns, a free lunch was delivered. This was in addition to the free entry to the race. But the best thing was that I could take close-up shots of the racing action. I particularly enjoyed the “driver portrait” photography, as the drivers were cornering very close with their faces just a few feet away. In the fabulous 700 page book Weekend Heroes of 2007, 32 of my official portraits from over fifty years ago were printed and credited.
For many years I officiated at dozens of races held at nearly every sports car race track in Southern California, learning a lot about race car design and engineering.
It’s definitely part of my ‘engineering out of curiosity’ background that I’ve been able to use well in hundreds of projects over the years. Even today, I follow all the international Formula 1 races in order to learn the latest racing technologies. You never know where I might use it.
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