Bob Gurr, race car fanatic? That’s right. This Disney Legend was a speed racer way back in the day. In fact today we set our time machine to 1950 and try to keep up with 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 couldn’t wait to get involved. My two childhood passions from age 5 had always been cars and airplanes. We lived near the Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale California, so airplanes were always overhead, cars everywhere else. When my father took me to a stock car race in 1939, I was hooked on auto racing, which is still a passion today.
WWII put a stop to all racing and it wasn’t until 1946 when I could listen to the Indianapolis Race on radio that my excitement gathered. By 1947 the midget auto races were on again 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, 1950 sports car racing was held at a WWII blimp base in Irvine, and also at the Palm Springs Airport. After more Southern California racing, I attended the 1952 Indianapolis Race in person. The next year I was invited to work as a race official, age 21, at the sports car races around Southern California. Whoowee!
At that time there were two race organizations; Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the California Sports Car Club. For SCCA I served first as a corner flagman, then was soon elevated to Turn Marshall, the guy in charge of everything happening at a race corner. The Cal Club job was perfect for me as a budding car designer. The starting job was Gas Truck Monitor. In addition to these activities, I’d join with my car design buddies from Art Center to volunteer to paint race numbers on the race cars. Entrants were required to bring their cars for technical inspection a few days before the race at a Hollywood sports car garage. Thus the chance to hang out with the drivers and crews.
Since Mobilgas was supplying free fuel to all the race entrants, someone had to make sure no free gas was “liberated” for private use. Each race car was issued a gas card that I was to punch whenever fuel was placed in a race car. The rules were that you cannot fill a gas can, just bring the race car to the gas truck. Perfect! I can stay in one place while all the race cars are brought to the gas truck. That way I could examine 100% of all the cars in detail while gas was pumped. I absorbed every interesting design detail of the latest sports cars that way. My curiosity pumped all this information into my brain at full speed. Of course, I was a hard nose official, denying all excuses for can fuel, even to the richest sports car owners around!
Soon I had another job – Pit Marshall. Prior to each preliminary class race, I would be given the running order and then go thru the pits instructing each driver’s crew to get their car out onto the pre-grid line up in the proper order so as to proceed out onto the race course starting line. At the time, many celebrities raced sports cars – example: newsman George Putnam and movie star James Dean (who was always polite and cooperative). Many racers or car owners were very wealthy, so it was an interesting crowd that I had to deal with – kid official vs rich old guy.
At the SCCA races I loved my job as a Turn Marshall. In the early days the road race courses were very rudimentary, no permanent crash walls, just a few hay bales for spectator protection. Two flagmen and a turn marshall were assigned to each corner. One flagman would face the oncoming cars to signal course conditions, the other faced me. This was because when a crash or spinout occurred, I’d give the flag signal change from green to yellow. If a driver spun out, he ended up past the turn, where he was to await my signal to resume racing after it was safe. To minimize running after spun cars, I’d position myself right where they’d wind up – sometimes right at my feet! Just whack them on head and go!
The cool benefit was that as turn crews were rotated to change corners, a free lunch was delivered. This was in addition to race entry for free. But the best thing was that I could take close up photos of the racing action. I especially enjoyed “driver portrait” photography as drivers would cut the corner real close with their faces just a few feet away. In the fabulous 700 page 2007 book Weekend Heroes, 32 of my official portraits from over fifty years ago have been printed and credited.
Over many years I officiated at dozens of races held at almost every Southern California sports car race track learning so much about race car design and engineering.
Certainly this is part of my “engineering by curiosity” training that I was able to use well in hundreds of projects over the years. Still today I follow all the international Formula One racing so I can learn the latest racing technology. You never know where I might use it.