ARCA West History: May 30, 1954, the Second Race

By Vincent Delforge, Special to Kickin’ the Tires

“Soares wins a race cut by four laps!”

It is Sunday, May 30, 1954 in Gardena, CA, where no less than 32 drivers, many of them local, are present for this second race in the history of what is now known as the ARCA Menards West Series. This race is combined with the NASCAR Grand National, the current NASCAR Cup Series. However, few of the stars of NASCAR’s main division made the trip to California for the 16th race of their season. The reason? On the same day, NASCAR organizes another race in Charlotte, North Carolina, the 15th of the season at Charlotte Speedway. The Baker, Petty, Thomas and company preferring to participate in this race in N.C.

This is also the last time that we race on the Carrell Speedway because it will be destroyed two days later on June 1st to allow the passage of a highway. To celebrate the last race, the distance is increased from 100 to 250 miles, or 500 laps of this half-mile dirt track.

The pole went to Danny Letner in his Hudson Hornet, his first in his career, to the delight of owner Joe Bearsheck, who entered a car in NASCAR for the very first time. The Canadian Allen Heath, nicknamed the “Seattle Screwball” is 18th on the starting grid with his rare Kaiser Manhattan. He will forever remain the first non-American driver to compete in a West Series race.

The start is given under beautiful sunshine and in front of 12,000 people. To compete with the Indy 500 which takes place on the same day, the cars start three abreast. When you see the width of the track it’s a miracle that there was no accident at the first turn! Danny Letner will easily lead the first quarter of the race, he will be relayed by Lloyd Dane, also on Hudson, from the 106th to the 285th lap, During this first half of the race, the dust raised by the cars causes numerous mechanical damage and abandonments accumulate.

Note the accident on the 51st lap of Californian H.R. Kahl who crashed his Plymouth into a wooden fence and this will be the last race of his career.

Starting from 17th position, John Soares led his Dodge with ease, avoiding all the pitfalls, which allowed him to take command on the 286th lap. In fact all the drivers are experiencing the same problem, engine overheating, including previous leader Lloyd Dane. They must therefore take their foot off all except Soares who rides “cushionably.”

He was one lap ahead when he was presented with the checkered flag, much to the surprise of his car owner Charles Vance. But hey, we’re not going to quibble, especially since for Vance, like Soares, this is the first career victory. Dane is second, one lap behind and Letner is third at six laps. Ben Gregory and George Seeger complete the top-five. Erick Erickson, Bill West, Tony Nelson, Joe Valente and Bill Bade rounded out the top10.

Note that despite the length of the race (4h 38m 27s) there was only one big accident requiring an interruption on the 293rd lap when Bob Rose flipped his tiny Henry J. into a rut! The roof of the small car was crushed, the driver fortunately escapes unscathed.

In fact, it was not until the next day that the error was discovered by NASCAR officials. There was an error during the lap count and Soares only completed 496 of the planned 500. As no one among the competitors noticed the matter and no complaints were filed, the result was still approved.

With this victory and his third position obtained during the first race in Oakland, John Soares logically takes the lead in the driver’s championship.

Let us also note the debut of a driver who will become a legend of the West Series, having one of the longest careers in the series whether as driver, owner or crew chief, I named Johnny Kieper. The Portland, Oregon native who finished twentieth at the wheel of a Ford entered by Vincent Cornella.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *