The Keith Rauch Story, Part I

Joe and Louise Rauch, like other American couples in the mid-1930s, were just trying to shake off the impact of the Great Depression and go about the business of raising a family.

To make ends meet, the New Jersey-based duo owned a small store with a soda fountain as the centerpiece.

In time, they would welcome a son, Ed, known in the household as “Sonny,” and five years later a daughter nicknamed Cook was added to the brood.

On the side, Joe, who loved auto racing, would help Michigan transplant “Little” Johnny Ritter, who had moved the base of his midget racing operations from Michigan to Paterson, N.J.

At the time, Paterson was well known in racing circles as the home of the east coast version of Gasoline Alley. Located on East 29th street, the series of shops served as the home for several notable midget teams, as well as the place superstar Ted Horn prepared his cars.

The diminutive Ritter would win track championships at Castle Hill Speedway in the Bronx, New York’s Freeport Stadium, the legendary Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, as well as the short-lived but lethal Nutley Velodrome, also located in the Garden State.

Ed shared his father’s passion for the doodlebugs, and of all those great drivers he was able to witness firsthand, it was Bronco Bill Schindler who most captured his imagination.

Schindler, who was orphaned as a teenager, forged a hall of fame career in spite of losing a leg following a crash in 1936. So, it was a seminal moment in young Ed’s life when he joined his parents for a bite to eat following their attendance at an indoor race at the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx.

Suddenly young Ed looked up and standing at the door was Schindler. It got even better. While Bill was making his way to his seat, he spied the lad, patted him on the head, and muttered, “How are you doing, sonny?” Now thoroughly beside himself, he looked wide-eyed at his parents and exclaimed, “Did you hear that? He knows my name.”

Louise suffered from debilitating asthma, and a doctor suggested that the family move to a western climate. The Rauch’s picked up and moved to Denver, bought the Primrose Motel and ran it for years.

It could have been a very difficult transition for Ed, particularly given his hobby but, luckily, he landed right in the middle of a midget racing hotbed.

Lakeside Speedway, situated in an amusement park, would become one of the most famous tracks of its time. While the amusement park still exists, the track – although still there – has been dark for over three decades.

Two of the drivers who captured Rauch’s attention were among the best in the area: Tommy Rice and Keith Andrews.

Born in a tar paper shack, Rice got serious about racing after a hitch in the U.S. Navy in World War II, and his best year in the Rocky Mountain Midget Racing Association came in 1958, when he finished second in points to Foster Campbell.

Like Rice, Keith Andrews raced across the country; a career that led to a win in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1954 and to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he cracked the starting lineup in 1955 and 1956. Sadly, Andrews was killed at Indianapolis in 1957 while testing a car that was assigned to Nino Farina.

Andrews, who was renowned for his pleasant personality, exhibited that when he befriended young Ed Rauch.

Picking up the tale, Rauch recalled, “When I lived in Denver as a kid, my dad would give me a quarter for gas, and I had a girlfriend who lived right up the street from Andrews. It would seem that I would almost get to her house and run out of gas. Then I would ring the doorbell and Keith would come out and say, ‘Not again.’ So, he would give me a little gas to get me to the station and I would tell him that I watched him race all the time at Lakeside Speedway.

“I also told him that if I ever had a son in my life, I was going to name him Keith.”

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