KALWASINSKI: Chicago Chips
CHICAGO — “Skippy” Michaels had one of the most diverse racing careers in the annals of Chicago area racing, pretty much racing everything from motorcycles to a rear engine Indy car, from the Midwest to California.
Gilbert Michaels, 85, passed away Aug. 10 at his home in Odell.
Michaels, who was born in Berwyn, served in the U.S. Army in the Philippines during World War II. He began racing motorcycles when he was around 16 years old. An old WWII Harley Davidson with a competition kit, including a special cylinder head, was one of Michaels’ first cycle rides.
“I lied a lot about my age,” said Michaels of his early racing experiences.
From two wheels to four wheels, Michaels was among the competitors in the newest racing craze — hot rod racing at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 1948. Long before gaining fame with his STP products, Andy Granatelli was presenting the hot rods at the huge Chicago lakefront arena, which had been the scene of midget racing up until 1947 when the hot rods appeared. In addition to Solider Field, Granatelli’s circuit included Rockford and Milwaukee, Wis.
The short-lived hot rods seemed to be replaced overnight by stock car racing. 1949 saw the first stock car races held at Soldier Field under Granatelli’s Hurricane Hot Rod Association with Michaels winning the very first stock car feature race held at Soldier Field on June 26, 1949.
“Michaels of Chicago Wins Stock Car Race at Soldiers Field” was the headline above a short story that appeared in the Chicago Tribune the following day. It was reported that Michaels had won the 25-lap featured event, part of the first stock car racing program of the season, before a crowd of 18,763. Michaels would be crowned the 1949 stock car champion at Soldier Field.
Michaels followed the Granatelli stock car circuit for several years, which again included the Rockford and Milwaukee quarter-mile ovals. He tried his hand at three-quarter midget racing, winning a feature race at Admiral Stadium in Des Plaines in 1951. Michaels grabbed track championship honors again at Soldier Field in 1952. Michaels, who was listed as racing out of Cicero, wheeled an Oldsmobile-powered ’51 Pontiac No. 4 to the championship.