Sunday 8th January 1956
The United States Auto Club (USAC) sanctioned it’s first race, a Midget race indoors on a 1/10 mile oval on the concrete floor of the Allen County Coliseum Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The 100-lap indoor race was won by Indy 500 veteran Gene Hartley.
USAC was formed to fill the void created when the American Automobile Ass’n ended its role as this country’s preeminent sanctioning authority for auto racing at the end of the 1955 season.
The decision by AAA officials to bow out of the sport after more than 50 years was made amid safety concerns after several drivers, including Larry Crockett, Mike Nazaruk, Bill Vukovich and Italian legend Alberto Ascari, were killed in racing accidents.
The announcement of AAA’s decision also came less than two months after what NSSN described as “the worst accident in auto-racing history.” More than 80 spectators were killed on June 11, 1955, when a car crashed into a throng of onlookers during the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France.
In the first USAC-sanctioned feature, Hartley started eighth and methodically worked to the front, passing Chuck Rodee for the lead coming out of the second turn on lap 64. Hartley continued at a rapid pace in the caution-free race, taking the checkered flag in a track record time of 15 minutes and 7.13 seconds.
Rodee settled for second with Pete Peterson claiming the show money. Johnny Roberts, the evening’s fastest qualifier with a lap of 8.88 seconds, drove from the rear of the field to finish fourth with Ted Hartley, the winner’s father, rounding out the top five. Forest Parker, Chuck Weyant, Leroy Warriner and Al Herman won the 15-lap heat races.
In his January 18 Hoosier Hoopla column, NSSN correspondent Gene Powlen detailed the success of the inaugural USAC event: “The debut of USAC auto racing on the indoor midget one-tenth-mile track in the Ft. Wayne Coliseum will have to be tabbed a complete success from every standard of measure.”
Powlen wrote that, according to promoter Bill Lipkey, the event attracted the largest crowd in the history of indoor racing at the Coliseum, featured a near record field of 36 midgets and paid a purse in excess of $2,400.
He noted the presence of East Coast racers Ernie McCoy and Herman added a “national flavor” to the event and that the Hoosier Auto Racing Fans organization showed its support for the sanctioning body by chartering a bus to take Indianapolis-area fans to Ft. Wayne for the race.
Fort Wayne indoor racing dates back to 1953 when Gene Force won at the Coliseum, which also hosted the final event sanctioned by the American Automobile Association (AAA) in 1955. Former United Auto Racing Association (UARA) midget driver Chuck Rodee would be named the Fort Wayne/AAA Indoor Midget Champion for 1955.