Virginia International Raceway - August 3-4, 1957
Danville Bee Monday August 5, 1957
Although few among the more than 10,000 fans were aware of it, Sports Car racing in America was revolutionized at the Grand Prix opening of the Virginia International Raceway yesterday. It was done by a brand-new Maserati 4.5 flown to this country from Italy last week and driven by Texan Carroll Shelby, America's leading sports car driver.
Shelby roared to victory in the day's finale with an average speed of 78.2 miles per hour for the 64 miles after winning an earlier sprint race with an average of 78.3.
It was not the average speed so much as the way he won - jumping into the lead both times within a quarter of a mile and breezing along without competition. He could have won in less time but there was no need to take a chance. In the feature he won by 20 seconds - about a of a mile.
Sighed cigar-chewing Tex Hopkins of Washington, one of the officials, "It looks like the only thing to do is get more of those new Maseratis or for somebody to come up with something new."
This car was similar to the one driven by Juan Fangio in running away with top honors in the international competitions at Sebring, Fla..The Sebring course is longer and straighter and some had doubted the machine would fare is well in tortuous up-and-downhill racing with dangerous curves. VIR provided the test and Shelby provided the answer.
With Shelby comfortably out front, the thrill show was provided by Walter Hansgen of Westfield, N. J., and Charlie Wallace of Chevy Chase, Md.,, both pushing D-Jaguars to capacity.
In the feature race, Wallace again got off to a bad start and at the end of the third lap, Shelby led by 500 feet and Hansgen was that far ahead of Wallace - who was plagued by bad luck all weekend. The rest of the field was falling behind.
On the second lap, Shelby signalled tire trouble and a new wheel was rushed to the pit. But the next time around he signalled he would continue anyway.
Wallace doggedly gained on Hansgen and shot ahead on the 13th lap but, seconds later, spun off the track rounding horseshoe bend. He circled back on the track and retained third place but never was a threat again to Hansgen, trailing him at the finish by about 10 seconds - with Shelby's Maserati, of course, far up front. That took care of award winners in the Class C event.
In fourth place - and leading the Class E cars was Paul O'Shea of Port Chester, N.Y., in the beautiful new Mercedes-Benz SL300R. Second and third places in this event went to John Kilborn and Dale Duncan. Class E, in the same feature finale, was won by John Middleton of Barrington, Ill., in a Ferrari.
When the silver trophies were being passed out - the drivers compete merely for trophies and points - Wallace got nearly as much applause as did Shelby although he never came in first. He had become a sentimental favorite.-
On Saturday, Wallace's tough luck started when regular tires were placed by mistake on his Porsche Spyder and he went off the curve on Hogpen Corner.
In the third race of the day yes-terday his D-Jag stalled out on the starting line and he was last away. Seconds later, he went off the track momentarily. But by the end of the fourth lap he was up to third place, where he ended.
In the seventh race, Wallace held a 100-yard lead in his Spyder after five laps. But the little machine hit the bushes in the bottomland after rounding horseshoe bend. He managed to circle back onto the track but was never able to overcome Bob Holbert for first place. Then came his tough break in the final race to make it a full sweep of hard luck for the weekend. But he smiled and joked around as he collected silver trophies for second and third places.
Another pre-race favorite with local fans, Frank Baptista of Hyattsville, Md., never finished a race. On Saturday, his little Lotus spun off the track on the backside. Again yesterday he overshot a curve on the lower chicane and was unable to get the low-slung car back onto the track. He explained afterwards: "I had the wrong tires, knew it, and still went into those curves too fast. I still like the course, though."
While there were many spills, the only real injury was sustained by George H. Bull, of Rockville, Md., whose TR3 rolled over on the S curve at the end of the hilltop straightaway on the first lap of yesterday's program. Two other cars went off the track missing him and four others were delayed momentarily until the track was cleared. Bull was hospitalized with fractured ribs and a possible kidney injury.
In the same race, Chief Steward George Zuver disqualified Allan Drew from racing for going into a curve too fast and hitting another car - the third time it's happened. His case will have to be reviewed by the SCCA board before he can return to racing.
On the brighter side, handsome Dick Thompson, Washington dentist, collected an armfull of silver trophies for winning Overall and Class B production in a Corvette in both the seven and 14-lap races yesterday, and third place in Overall and Class M Modified in a Porsche GT. He drove an XKSS Jaguar to fourth place in the Class C events for a busy day. (See separate list of all winners.)
The weather was the only real drawback to the weekend program as traffic was handled smoothly and there were no real difficulties. At least two spectators were overcome by the 98-degree heat before the rains and winds struck.
Spectators headed for cover or got soaked - but the races went right on. The rains struck in the middle of the fourth race of the day and "proceed with care" flags went up. High winds beat against the little speedsters and drivers came in soaking wet.
The wind ripped the American Flag from its mast, tore holes in the sign above the starting line, and carried away the Pure Oil Company's big balloon. Afterwards, at least, It was cooler.
VIR President Ed Kemm, virtually exhausted from a week of frenzied activity, said he was pleased with the inaugural program. There's another race tentatively set for October. Asked about it and other possible events, Kemm said: "I'm going to the beach and get lost for a week. Then maybe I can think - and get things lined up for the next one."
His face splattered with mud oil and sweat, Carroll Shelby of Dallas, Texas, grins and hugs VIR President Ed Kemm after winning yesterday's feature race in the Maserati 4.5 in the foreground at VIR (top picture).
The day's lengthy program started hot and dry (second scene) as Starter Jesse Coleman (at left ) gives the green flag to a bunch of smaller speedsters.
On the very first lap, George Bull rolled his Triumph No. 70 three times and forced two others out of the race (third scene). He was hospitalized with fractured ribs and a kidney injury - but the crash bar may have saved his life.
Then came the high winds and blinding rains. Officials on the starting line battle the elements as they flag a winner.
Dr. Richard Thompson of Washington has reason to smile from his XKSS Jaguar - bottom view. He won two first places and a third place during the day.