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

Nothing in Wade’s 1965 performances at Belleville suggested that he was in any way intimidated. Harvey Shane picked up the lion’s share of BCRA cash on Memorial Day, with Wade right behind him.

On July 4, Wade competed with the Jayhawk Racing Ass’n Supermodifieds and ran second to Harold Leep.

Three big dates were slated at the High Banks at the end of August. The supermodifieds took the track on Aug. 27, where Wade finished fifth, and that led to two more days of BCRA sprint cars.

Wade had another strong outing when he ran second to Roy Bryant on Aug. 28. Now he was down to one more chance to conquer the track before the season came to an end.

The record shows he was able to beat Lloyd Beckman to the line, but the back story is equally, if not more, interesting.

According to Hall of Fame historian and writer Bob Mays, a salesman had arrived at Belleville and had sold Lloyd Beckman a yellow-tinted shield for his helmet, proclaiming it was perfect for day races.

Beckman had a nice lead, looked up, saw Ted Bentz throw the white flag, and suddenly slowed down on the backstretch. His owner, Speedy Bill Smith, had never won a sprint car feature to that point in his career and was giddy with anticipation.

Joy soon turned to pure anguish. Convinced there was a mechanical failure, he was hopping mad and yelling at anyone within shouting distance.

When Beckman offered an explanation and Smith saw the yellow visor, he knew what happened. The white flag, from Beckman’s perspective, was yellow. What followed was a full-throated melt down by both men, and an incensed Smith told his driver that he could figure out how to get home to Lincoln, Neb., on his own.

Meanwhile, Wade and Selenke were delighted with the win, and the ensuing spectacle. After all, it helped propel them to the BCRA title over Jack Hahn.

In the end, there was one more important aspect to the day. When Bill Smith got back to his Speedway Motors, he spied Beckman climbing into his own car. Somehow, someway, Lloyd had beat him home.

While Wade may have been a beneficiary of a little luck, he had impressed everyone all year. In fact, it moved legendary National Speed Sport News reporter Les Ward to add a little flare to his race report.

By this point in history, Ward had already seen plenty of drivers test their mettle on the Banks. That said, something caught the veteran scribe’s attention, for he felt compelled to mention that Wade appeared to possess an abundance of guts.

It was a golden age of racing in Wichita, and by now Grady Wade’s name was mentioned alongside other well-established stars. While the men behind the wheel were in the spotlight, behind the scenes were a host of innovative constructors who plied their trade in the Air Capital.

One of those men was Chet Wilson.

Grady Wade
Grady Wade, driving Chet Wilson’s No. 25, leads Jan Opperman (88X), Thad Dosher (97) and Benny Rapp (14) in Topeka, Kan., in 1968. (Leroy Byers photo)

Wilson was born in Lincoln, Neb., in the middle of World War I. Even as a young man he showed a propensity to tinker, and it was a habit he never shook.

By the time Wilson relocated to Wichita, he had already been bitten by the midget craze, but he also needed to settle down and make a living.

He found work at the Kansas Rebabbitting Company. Over time he developed his own machine shop, and by 1960 Chet Wilson Engine Service became his full-time job.

In the mid-1950’s, Chet did something revolutionary. He developed a small block Chevrolet for use in a sprint car and competed in the United Motor Contest Ass’n.

With Walt McWhorter at the controls, the team easily took the 1956 UMCA crown. Perhaps even more noteworthy, in August, 1956 McWhorter and Wilson were the best at Belleville, this time under the IMCA banner. It was the first win for a Chevy-powered sprint car with a national sanctioning body.

McWhorter crashed at the final race of the year, and the car, which already had been mended and massaged aplenty, was finally spent.

While he had some work ahead of him, Wilson was clearly on to something, and he was prepared to do his part to revolutionize sprint car racing. Chet started building a new car, and this time it was powered by a 283 cubic inch Chevy.

It was a time where craftsmanship reigned supreme, and Wilson put his agile mind to work creating a car that was both powerful and aesthetically pleasing.

Within the tight Wichita racing fraternity, everybody knew what was happening, and anyone who had been paying attention wanted a piece of it. In the end, Harold Leep got the call, and he made the most of it.

In 1957 and ‘58 Leep dominated Ray Duckworth’s United Speedways circuit, racing further east in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. Dipping a toe in IMCA competition, Leep scored a win at Oklahoma City and finished just outside of the top 10 in the 1958 standings.

He was just warming up. In 1959 Leep finished third with the IMCA, notching six wins, and the team would also race with other circuits in a manner that fit Chet Wilson’s schedule.

But Leep started seeking other opportunities and, accordingly, Wilson found other capable shoes to take the wheel.

This story will be continued in Grady Wade, Part II.

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