Golden Wheels Fraternity pays homage to glory days at Aurora Stadium Speedway.
“This car is very poorly constructed!”
Art Waller was 17 years old when he made that statement and, like many teenagers, he thought he knew everything.
“Not surprisingly, I was asked to leave the crew.”
Art, a spry and energetic 84-year-old auto racing veteran and retired draftsman, has not lost any of his passion or love for roadster and sprint car racing. His home is overflowing with photos, trophies and various items that recall his glory days of breathing dust and gasoline fumes at the Aurora Stadium Speedway. The track, located at North 132nd Street and Aurora Avenue North, opened for automobile racing in 1947 as the Aurora Stadium and closed down in 1955. Prior to 1947 it had been used for dog racing but, due to restrictions on gambling, was converted for racing four wheels instead of four paws.
In 1947 Art, then a car-crazy 14-year-old kid, began attending the Midget car races at the track. He hung around and met a few of the racers and by 1949 became an official “track sweeper” and “gofer,” keeping the track clean and running errands for the various crews. That same year he became a crew member for driver Chuck Ceder, but this job ended abruptly when Chuck’s car was destroyed during a race. In 1950 he joined the crew of the Benedict & Wright #11 car, owned and raced by two sailors stationed at the Naval Training Center on Lake Union. Working on car #11 caused Art’s shoes to pick up a lot of dust and grease off the tracks from Oregon to Canada.
During the 1950/51 season Don Layson, another racecar driver and builder, asked Art to help him build a car.
“I expressed my negative views on how the car was being constructed.” As a result, Art abruptly found himself without a car or crew to work with. Fortunately, he was asked to take on a safety inspector position by the Roadster Racing Association of Washington. This job lasted until a more demanding position needed to be filled.
“In 1952 Uncle Sam invited me to participate in the Korean War.”
Upon his return in 1954 he again found himself the member of another crew. This lasted until Art had the opportunity to purchase what was left of an ill-fated racecar.
“There were only three fatal accidents at the Aurora Stadium Speedway, but that was three too many. I’ve never gotten over the sadness from those losses,” he says.
Art purchased a wrecked car and used the parts to build his own car.
“I was now an owner-driver. The car was completed in time for the 1955 season,” he says.
It was close to the end for the Aurora Stadium Speedway, but Art and his car still were able to bring home a few trophies and cash, both locally and from other tracks in the Northwest.
“Some tracks paid $15 for racing and up to $300 for winning a race. I was usually ‘Tail-end-Charlie’ but did win a few races.”
Unfortunately Art’s rise in racing began at the same time as the life of the Aurora Stadium Speedway began declining. Other forms of entertainment were causing the crowds to diminish and, more importantly, the local residents were getting tired of the noise and crowds at the track. New homes were being built nearby and the homeowners began complaining.
The 1956/1957 season found Art at other tracks behind the wheel of a new car. This time he was taking the turns in a Sprint car, similar in appearance to an Indianapolis 500 race car. He was having a great time but other things in his life began taking much of his time.
“My last race was in 1957. I had other obligations and the attitude in the racing community was changing. The fun part of racing was being overshadowed by the increased importance of money and the driver’s ranking within the points system. It was time for me to leave,” he says.
Art had a long career as a draftsman but did not leave his love of wheels behind. From 2007 to 2014 he and friend Warren Kindle pooled their talents to build a track roadster that only utilized technology that was current up until 1955. The technology may be dated but the car’s construction is a work of art.
“We designed and built the car to be an accurate representation of how they were constructed during that era. This is history that we want to share with younger people today.”
What happened to all of those old racecars and aging drivers? In 1975 the Golden Wheels Fraternity was formed as a way of saluting vintage auto racers and their machines. The group meets four times a month in North Seattle to share a meal and memories. Usually 25 to 30 former racers and their wives dine together, but there is always a seat waiting for any guests or prospective members.
Details about the fraternity: www.goldenwheelsautoracingpathfinders.com.