Advance Author Series: Terry O’Neil and RUNWAYS & RACERS

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Terry O’Neil of Stourbridge, England dreamed of owning a Ferrari–and, when he finally purchased one, he kept this dream car for 18 years. During that time, he joined the Ferrari Owners Club and became its archivist. In that role, he wrote articles for the club’s magazine, and expanded his horizons to write for other car magazines, including Cavallino and the Vintage Racecar Journal, plus the magazines for the Austin-Healey Club of America and the Porsche Club of America.

“I have, for a long time, had an interest in sports car racing,” Terry admits, adding that it led him to writing a book about the Bahamas Speed Weeks, which was a series of races held on the island of New Providence in the Bahamas, starting in the mid-50s and lasting for 13 years. And, this was only the first of his books on racing cars.

After that, Terry wanted to home in on another niche motor sport topic. “European motor racing had been comprehensively written about over a period of time,” he told Advance Auto Parts, “so I turned to look at the opportunities to write about racing in America.”

What caught his attention was a race held at Floyd Bennett Field, a naval air station based near New York. “Further research,” Terry explains, “led me to discover that over a period from late 1952 up to November 1954, a number of races had been jointly organized by the Sports Car Club of America and Strategic Air Command bases, together with a few more naval air stations. It was a subject that nobody had examined and, to me, the opportunity proved irresistible.”

This book became Runways & Racers: Sports Car Races held on Military Airfields in America 1952-1954.

More about sports car racing

According to Terry, during the early 1950s, road racing was increasingly being banned in the United States, because of the number of accidents and even deaths of drivers and spectators. So, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) needed to find acceptable venues for its members to use as racetracks.

At the same time, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) was finding itself short on funding, so “General Curtis LeMay thought it would be a great idea to raise incremental funds through allowing the SCCA to race on the military air bases in America,” he says. “The collaboration between the SCCA and SAC was always viewed by both parties as nothing other than a marriage of convenience. Quite simply the SCCA needed somewhere to race and the SAC needed money.”

This arrangement quickly started to fall apart, though. “Some Air Force personnel,” Terry says, “began complaining of having to do extra duties on race days, so politicians became involved.” When a congressman started investigating, the agreement was found to be a “great direct and indirect cost to the taxpayers, little of which is accounted for.” This led to the dissolving of the agreement between the SCCA and the SAC.

Terry shares a couple of the more controversial activities that took place on these runways:

• “There was the little matter of General LeMay, a great friend of Sydney Allard, using a SAC bomber to fly three Cadillac engines to France for Sydney so he could compete at the Le
Mans 24-hour race–under the guise of a routine training flight.”

• “Then there was the unfortunate accident at Bergstrom AFB, Texas, where George Moffett overturned his OSCA during practise. In order to rectify the car, it took six ‘volunteers’
from the air base machine shop together with the OSCA pit crew all night to do the job. To their credit, the OSCA was made ready to race at 8:30 the next morning. To honor the
‘volunteers,’ the car was emblazoned with the letters ‘BAFB Special;’”

And, finally, Terry provides an answer to a question he is often asked, which is “Why is an Englishman writing about American sports car racing?”

His answer? “Well, someone had to do it!”

 

Terry has in fact written four books on racing cars, with the other two titled:

• Northeast American Sports Car Races 1950-1959

• Motor Racing at Nassau in the 1950s & 1960s

 

When he isn’t watching, thinking about or writing about sports car racing, Terry spends time with his wife, Pam, their two daughters (both of whom married “local lads”) and his two four-year-old grandchildren.

Editor’s note: If you find yourself wrenching on your racer this weekend, make sure to visit Advance Auto Parts for the best deals on quality auto parts, tools, accessories and more.