Grady
Grady Wade in the Gary Swenson & Charlie Williams sprinter at the Mid-American Fair in Topeka, Kansas in 1967. - ARMIN KRUEGER PHOTO

Grady Wade, Part I

As decorated former driver Jerry Stone notes, few knew how good Coleman was outside the region because he largely raced close to home. For that reason, Stone deems Coleman to be vastly underrated.

Yet, to those in the know, Wade’s runner-up finish was nothing to sneeze at, and put him firmly in the mix with a host of very talented drivers who lived in, and around, Wichita.

That same year Wade also raised eyebrows when he was the fast qualifier at the Hutchinson Nationals. Unfortunately, during the finale on Sunday afternoon, Wade suffered mechanical woes, and had to watch Roy Bryant snuggle with trophy girl Clarissa Sell.

Wade was redeemed, at least in part, by taking the checkered flag from starter Al Alexander after winning on the same ground in September.

Any doubts about Wade’s ability were forever erased when he carried Pete Forshee’s car to victory in the 1964 Jayhawk Nationals at the Mid-America Fairgrounds at Topeka, Kan.

He had clearly shown that he could handle a supermodified. He also realized that he and LaVern Nance had done well together, but when he listened to his heart he knew he wanted to go sprint car racing.

To get a ride in a sprint car, he didn’t need to look very far. Pius Selenke was born mere weeks before Wade in Grainfield, Kan. Selenke eventually matriculated to Wichita, where he was well known as the owner of Parker Oil Company. He also had a thing for race cars, a habit his son and grandson would also acquire.

It was a confusing time to be an open-wheel car owner in the Kansas plains. Sprint car racing was not an unusual commodity, but supermodified racing was still wildly popular and remained the main attraction. As Wade tells it, Selenke had the right solution.

“Pius had a sprint and a modified made into one car,” Wade said. “It looked like an Indy roadster.

“The deal was, the frame had to be 30 inches inside. He got a sprint car body, cut it in half, and took it to the fiberglass place and had it molded. It had a V8 engine. We set it up just like any other car.”

As for his owner, Wade noted, “He had a bad temper, and I had a bad temper, so we got along real well. He had three kids and they were all great.”

The partnership between Selenke and Wade began at the end of the 1964 season, and things went well enough that the two men decided to join forces again in 1965. Even by now, Wade knew exactly what made him tick.

So many Kansas towns had big ovals at the local fairgrounds, and large tracks allowed one to stretch their legs a little. As far as Wade was concerned, the faster the track the better.

When Selenke and Wade decided to take on the Big Car Racing Ass’n, the tracks that filled the schedule were right in his wheelhouse.

Oddly, the BCRA was an offshoot of the famed Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Some would obtain cars to compete in the open-wheel division and then had little choice but to put the car in mothballs until the following year.

In September of 1957 a meeting was held in Littleton, Colo., and the BCRA was born. Art Myers, who would become the first president, went on to a long career as a USAC official, and spent more than 50 years at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The series started off modestly, but by 1965 the club was to have one of its biggest years. In a giant step for the organization, dates were secured at the Belleville (Kan.) High Banks and the fairgrounds at Oklahoma City. Bobby and Al Unser had already made appearances with the BCRA, but in 1965 the man to beat was Jack Hahn.

Hahn, who was living in Cheyenne, Wyo., was, in many ways, the prototypical BCRA racer. A talented fabricator, Hahn had once constructed a V-12 Lincoln powered sprint car and by the dawn of the BCRA had already competed in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.

Wade
Wade and LaVern Nance (right) at 81 Speedway around 1963. (Ken Greteman photo)

In 1965, Hahn was gunning for his third series title. He did not go down without a fight, and kept his championship hopes alive by winning twice over Labor Day weekend at Bethany, Mo.

The BCRA offered a compact schedule, but for a man like Wade, who held down a nine-to-five job, it was still a challenge.

“We would go to a place like WaKeeney (Kan.) and it was 200 miles out there. Dale Reed and I would go out there together, and it would be midnight when we left. He had to be at work at 5 a.m. and I had to go to work too.”

One of the pivotal points in the campaign proved to be memorable in many ways. Three dates were inked at Belleville for the 1965 season. Then, as now, this was a track that demanded total attention. While many could turn a bit green at the gills at the prospect of taking on the High Banks, Wade loved it … but doesn’t deny that it could be foreboding.

“When the track was wet, if you were at the top and dropped down to an idle you could slide all the way to the bottom,” Wade remembered. “There were guys who went over that fence and never came back.”

This was a reality that was made clear to him on his first trip to the North Central Kansas Fairgrounds.

“I went there the first time with Pete Forshee,” he said. “And at one point he said to come with him. So, we went to the backstretch and looked over the fence. He said, ‘So you thought those were bushes? Well, those are the tops of trees. I don’t want you to go over the damn fence.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I don’t want to go over it either.’ That might have made me a little bit shy at first.”

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