Book Review: Wilbur Shaw’s Story Continues in Updated Version of His Autobiography- Part II

Photo above: Bill Shaw next to his father’s famous car and the Boyle hauler.

The second part of the updated Wilbur Shaw biography is called ‘The Rest of the Story.” It picks up the last two years of Wilbur’s life through the eyes of his son, Wilbur, Junior, known as Bill. A nice touch is that the chapter numbers in this section continue from the end of Shaw’s autobiography.

Bill Shaw learned a lot from his father in the nine years he knew him. Wilbur taught him by example as his father had taught him. Although Bill and his father worked with Wilbur’s tools, Shaw had made it clear that he wanted Bill to stay away from any involvement with racing. His friends in racing honored Shaw’s request. Car owner J. C. Agajanian talked Bill out of driving a sprint car when Bill inquired about it.

Bill went to a boarding school in Arizona, where he could fuflill his love of horses and the west. But as the son of a racer, racing was in his blood and his soul. He was more interested in road racing than attempting the Indianapolis 500. A chance meeting with road racing champion Bob Bondurant, who had just opened his now well known driving school. Bondurant convinced Bill to take the school’s course.

After he completed the course, Bill returned to Indianapolis and got a job with Stokely Van Camp, a large food processor. Bondurant called to say he needed help running his school. Bill quit his job immediately and left to become an instructor at the Bondurant driving school in Arizona. Teaching allowed bill to sharpen his own driving skills as he pursued his dream to race full time.

Author Brock Yates had been invited to drive in the 1972 Daytona 24 Hour race. A sponsor conflict would not allow him to drive. he told the car owner Bill would drive instead. It would have been nice if he had asked Bill first. Shaw was more than happy to seize the chance. Bill later drove a Ferrari for the North American Racing Team. After an unsuccessful race in japan, Bill decided he couldn’t continue racing.

Like his father, Bill had his own heart attack as well as a stroke and nearly died. He required immediate open heart surgery. he has recovered well.

Bill has spent the last few years preserving his father’s memory and keeping his name in public view. In 2002, he drove the Boyle Maserati around the Speedway on race morning. His son Peter also drove the car on a practice day. Bill continues to keep his father’s memory alive.

In 2014 the Indiana Racing Memorial Association held  a remembrance ceremony at the site of  Shaw’s fatal plane crash. It was the first time Bill had visited the site.

A new organization, the Boyle Racing Headquarters Foundation, began restoring the Boyle Racing hauler, one of the first dedicated race car transport vehicles. they also started salvaging the building in which the cars were housed. The building, located at 1701 Gent Avenue, was slated for demolition. The building will house a brewing company and have an event space when renovated.

The discovery of the hauler is another adventure. After tracking down several leads, it was found near Crawfordsville, Indiana. the hauler was badly deteriorated, sitting upside down. A tree was growing through the middle of it. The group, headed by John Pappas and Jeff Congdon, was determined to have the vehicle fully restored for the 100th running of the 500 in 2016. They achieved their goal.

Gentleman, Start Your Engines, The Rest of the Story may be purchased through the Boyle Racing Headquarters. Email: donate@boyleracingteam.org.

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: Wilbur Shaw’s Story Continues in Updated Version of His Autobiography- Part I

Today is the sixty-fourth anniversary of Wilbur Shaw’s death in a plane crash near Decatur, Indiana. Shaw was returning from a race car  demonstration in Michigan at the Chrysler test track. Tomorrow is the 116th anniversary of his birth.  Gentlemen, Start Your Engines, The Rest of the Story… is an updated version of his autobiography, originally published in 1955, that continues the Shaw story through his son Wilbur “Bill” Shaw, Jr. The chapters about Bill were authored by Bob Gates, author of Vukovich. Part II Thursday will review Bill’s part of the book.

I read this book in seventh grade and instantly became a Wilbur Shaw fan. While reading it again, I was shocked by how much of it I remembered- not just the episodes, but the exact wording. My mind is weird. But you knew that. I have read many books about racing and the Indianapolis 500, but this one is still one of my top five.

Shaw’s autobiography covers his life from childhood through the start of the 1952 Indianapolis 500. It is a first hand look at the world of racing from the late twenties up through World War II and the first years following the war. Shaw also tells how he met Tony Hulman and saved the Speedway. The photos are a great visual record of the era. Any fan of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway should give profuse thanks to Shaw. If not for his efforts, 16th and Georgetown would now be the site of apartments, homes, or a strip mall.

Some impressions of Shaw the person I got were that he was always very self assured, sometimes to the point of cockiness; he had very good car builder and mechanical skills; and Shaw was a good businessman. From the time he entered his first 500 in 1927, Shaw thought he had a chance to win every time.  He dropped out of four of his first six races, but earned a fourth place and and a second in the other two. From 1935-1940 Shaw won three times, had two second place finishes and a seventh place.  He also started on the front row five times.

The drivers of that era were quite hardened to death on the track. It occurred with regularity in those days and was just taken as a fact of life. When Shaw speaks about a driver who was killed in a race, he says a few kind words about him, then moves on. He heard of Floyd Roberts’ death during one of his pit stops in the 1939 500, and while stunned by it, he went on to win. The only death which seemed to really move him to tears was that of Ralph Hepburn.

Hepburn had been one of Shaw’s biggest rivals on the track. Hepburn was president of ASPAR, American Society of Professional Auto Racing, a drivers’ group that was asking for 40% of gate receipts as the purse from tracks running 100 mile races. They also made this request of the Speedway. Shaw and Hulman countered their offer, but the group did not accept. It appeared there would be a drivers’ strike for the 1947 500. A compromise was reached allowing some ASPAR members to get into the race. Hepburn sat out the 1947 race but entered the next year. He crashed and suffered fatal injuries during practice early on  qualifying afternoon.

In  August, 1951, while officiating at the Soap Box derby Finals in Akron, Ohio, Shaw suffered a heart attack. It was a near life threatening event. He spent the rest of the year recuperating. In May, 1952, he had recovered and could give the command, “Gentleman, start Your Engines!” to begin the 1952 Indianapolis 500. How nice it would be to hear those words again before the start of the race.

Gentleman, Start Your Engines, The Rest of the Story may be purchased through the Boyle Racing Headquarters. Email: donate@boyleracingteam.org. Part II Bill, Jr.’s biography, will be up on Thursday.