by Randy Anderson
December 12, 2010
Part 5 of 12
Record Crowds Flocked To Stateline In 1959
Unlike the previous season in which 14 different drivers flew under the checkered flag first, 1959 saw just five racers reach victory circle in 17 events at Stateline Speedway.Rapidly improving "Busti Bob" Schnars grabbed the first two feature wins of his young career. On June 20, 1959, in the 25-lap feature, Schnar's car was running like a scared rabbit when he took the white flag from starter Jim Ponder. Accompanying the flap of the flag was a sickening crunch as the M-1 spit out its driveshaft at 75 miles per hour. Schnars had built such a lead that he was able to coast the final circuit and still finish fourth.
Was Schnars disappointed?
"Heck no, I was darned glad to get that much," recalled the personable speedster.
But Schnars had a surprise ending. A recheck of the scoresheets showed the race had actually gone 26 laps. Bob was declared the winner of his first career late model race! About a month later, Schnars won again and this time he got to carry the checkered flag.
Sammy LaMancuso, winless since his team race victory in 1956, finally booted the monkey from his back to claim a win. And fan favorite "Ol' 8 Ball", Emory Mahan, rolled to another popular score.
But the real story of the 1959 season was the battle between two Pennsylvania throttle-stompers Brockway's Squirt Johns and Kane's Hyle Russell.
Squirt claimed an unprecedented eight feature events, including four in a row to begin the year, three 50-lappers and the 100-lap grand championship race.
Meanwhile, Hyle earned five victories with two 50-lap wins to his credit. Although the big man in the orange 511 won more races, the slight man in the turquoise 4 parlayed more consistent finishes to claim the track championship. He received a new TV and $125 for his efforts.
Much of the credit for Russell's success was given to the owner and chief mechanic of "The Fabulous 4", Frank Ruhlman. A 1959 program from Stateline Speedway described the car as follows:
Before it becomes a cliche, somebody in higher authority should pull the word "fabulous" out of the English language and reserve it for the Taj Mahal, the Indianapolis 500 and Frank Ruhlman's racing machine.If you say car number 4 is the fastest thing at the track, somebody may argue with you. If you say it is the smoothest handling, somebody else may argue. But nobody will dispute that this is the most eye-catching, the most sparkling, the most imaginative piece of racing equipment to ever broad-slide a Stateline corner.
It's three years old, this 1956 Chevy, but no car fresh off the assembly line ever glittered like number 4. Night after night it's as immaculate as a teenage gal at her first prom. Even the whitewalls shine like a full October moon. And when it pounds down the straightaway, it sounds like a lion ready to end a 40-day fast.
This car is Frank's "baby" and no infant was ever more pampered and spoiled rotten. The car is fawned over, protected, shielded and smoothed night and day. When a feature race is over, the car goes back to its Matthews Run garage to be cleaned, tested and to have every last microscopic wrinkle removed from its aqua-colored body.
One of the car's most unusual features is in the back seat. While most race car builders simply tear out the back seat. Ruhlman has fabricated a piece of plywood behind the driver's seat. There's no floor in the back making it easier for Frank to work under the rear of his creation. So smooth is the carpentry job that it looks as if came off the assembly line that way.
The car is powered by a 1959 Corvette engine that Frank says "is exactly the way it came from the factory. No one has touched that thing except me." And from the way that Fabulous No. 4 is running, no one needs to touch it.
Squirt Johns, on the other hand, when asked who constructed his speedy 1957 Chevy, proudly responded, "I built her myself."
Fans continued to find their way to the Busti oval in record numbers in 1959. On four different nights more than 3,500 customers paid to see the action, including a record 5,138 for the Gust Johnson Memorial. The track owners built 1,000 more seats to accommodate the fans.
Special programs were also continued in 1959. Two American Motorcycle Association sanctioned motorcycle events were held as was a Tri-States sanctioned midget race in which future Indy racer Jim Hurtibese finished fourth. Also, 1949 Indy 500 winner Bill Holland made a guest appearance in July and wheeled the Ruhlman car to a semifinal win. Holland returned the car to Russell for the feature event that Hyle then promptly won.
Two 100-lap jalopy races were contested in 1959. Both of the races were captured by drivers who would soon be joining the late model ranks at Stateline. Mike Komisarski edged Kenny See in August while Tom Dill put on a daring exhibition to take the Labor Day event.
Next: An upset winner on opening night, a daring fugitive from motorcycles and a repeat champion (part 6 of 12).