KALWASINSKI: Chicago Chips
Chicagoland stock car racing old timer Bill Brown passed away April 19 at the age of 87. Once known as the “Pride of Roseland” in reference to the far Southside neighborhood of Chicago that he grew up and lived in, Brown raced both on the local scene and throughout the country, beginning his career around 1950.
Brown was a feature winner at local ovals such as Raceway Park, Soldier Field, Santa Fe Speedway, and the almost forgotten 87th Street Speedway. One of Brown’s big local wins was a NASCAR Short Track Grand National event at Soldier Field in June of 1957 over Tom Pistone in front of over 7,000 fans. Brown also won a 100 miler on the dirt at Santa Fe in 1954 with one of his earliest feature wins coming at 87th Street in 1952.
When late model action was introduced to Raceway Park in 1957, Brown was one of the leading drivers, finishing second in the final standings behind champion Bud Koehler. Brown scored three late model feature wins during the ’57 season, including taking home top honors in “twin 50s” feature competition on July 4. Brown scored two more feature wins at Raceway in 1958.
As early as 1953, Brown was listed among drivers competing in the “new car” ranks of the Midwest Ass’n for Race Cars, the forerunner of the Automobile Racing Club of America. Some 50 years later, Brown would tell the story of taking a Hudson Hornet passenger car and filling the field for a MARC race and coming home with a “top 10” finish.
Brown, along with other Chicago area drivers Don Oldenberg, Bob Pronger, Bill Cornwall, Dave Hirschfield and Red DuVall, competed on the new Society of Autosport, Fellowship and Education all-convertible stock car circuit in 1955. Wheeling a brand new 1955 Mercury Montclair, Brown won the inaugural SAFE Circuit of Champions “All Stars” convertible series 100 lapper at the Alabama State Fairgrounds in Birmingham on May 1, 1955.
Purchasing the new Mercury for $3,500 from Swets Mercury in Blue Island, Brown commented years later that it still had a radio in it when he raced it. Oldenberg was the SAFE champion in 1955 with Brown reportedly finishing second in the standings.
With SAFE merging with NASCAR for the 1956 season, Brown competed in 33 NASCAR convertible races that year, finishing 19th in the points. Brown drove his own Mercury, freshened up to a ’56 version, and the Sam McCuthen-owned ’56 Chevy. A fourth-place finish at Sedalia, Mo., in his ’56 Mercury was his best NASCAR convertible effort.
Brown competed in only one NASCAR Grand National event, the predecessor of the current Sprint Cup Series, racing in the Southern 500 at Darlington, S.C., on Sept. 3, 1956. Driving a Buick, Brown started 56th in the 70-car field and was involved in a scary-looking accident as Brown crashed through the guardrail and ended up outside the track in a destroyed race car, but escaping injury.
Brown raced into the early 1960s. Rest in Peace, Bill Brown.
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