Open-wheel automobile racing in North America has been underway now for over a century, and in that long history more than 1500 open-wheel racing drivers and riding mechanics have been killed behind the wheel of a race car. Research indicates that most of these racers rest now for all eternity beneath headstones or plaques, but there are a few, some 40-plus by last count, whose final resting places are unmarked, the racer and his exploits mostly forgotten now by family and friends and race fans.
The Racers at Rest project, under the auspices of the National Sprint Car Museum and Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa, is dedicated to ensuring that the sport's collective memory of these fallen heroes of the Roaring Road is revived and that the racers' gravesites are properly marked.
It is a small but deserving gesture to honor men who helped build the sport of auto racing and who lost their lives in the process. Through the generosity of our supporters we've already been able to place several markers. Visit our "Success" page to see what we've been able to do.
We still have a way to go and if you would like to help please visit the "Donate" page for more information. Thank you!
(Right) All available evidence shows that Walter "Speedy" Ferch lived life on the edge. Surviving photographs show an accomplished and confident motorcycle rider and stuntman who we now know decided to try his hand at driving race cars.
On July 4, 1923 Ferch was an entrant in a big car race at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in West Ellis. Ferch had run on the track once the month before and seemed suited to the mile-long dirt oval. On this particular day Speedy was second fastest qualifier and finished second in a preliminary five-mile event.
Ferch expected to do well in the fifty-mile main event, but during the running of that race he had a tire deflate and his car skidded to a stop in the southeast turn. The track had deteriorated and the dust hung thick in the air as Ferch sat in his motionless racer.
Two of the on-coming competitors managed to miss Ferch, but a third racer, driven by Rube Young, rammed the Ferch car hard, sending it flipping through the air.
Ferch was extricated from his mangled machine and taken to the local county hospital where he died later that same day.
Walter "Speedy" Ferch was buried at Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee and there he has rested for the past 89 years without a marker.
(Masthead photograph and left) Leroy H. "Roy" Govin had been racing at least two years when his midget auto racing career brought him to Thompson Stadium on Staten Island in New York the night of June 28, 1939. By some accounts he was having a pretty good season. Just a few weeks earlier he had finished second at the American Legion Speedway in
Woodstock, New York.
And for the past 73 years Roy Govin has rested in an unmarked grave in St. Paul’s Cemetery in Mt. Vernon, New York.
THE MOST RECENT ISSUE OF THE RACERS AT REST NEWSLETTER,
DECEMBER, 2012 IS AVAILABLE HERE!
RACING PERSONALITIES ENDORSE THE RACERS AT REST PROJECT
We're pleased to announce that many well-known racers at racing personalities have endorsed the Racers at Rest project. Here are just a few...
Mario Andretti is arguably one of the greatest drivers the sport of auto racing has ever produced. During his long career Andretti won the 1978 Formula 1 title, the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, IROC VI, the 24 Hours of Daytona, and three times took the checkered flag at the 12 Hours of Sebring sports car event. Andretti won the Indy car championship four times. He was the first to win Indy car events in four different decades and the first to win automobile races of any kind in five. Not surprisingly, Mario was named "Driver of the Century" by the Associated Press and RACER magazine.
Mario Andretti recently announced his support of the Racers at Rest project.
"I want to thank the National Sprint Car Museum and the Racers at Rest project for their efforts to place markers on the nearly 40 un-marked graves of open wheel race drivers who died in racing crashes. I have always felt that we have a very close brotherhood of racers. When I learned of the Racers at Rest project, I felt even stronger about that idea. The intention of this program is pure and admirable. It shows respect and fondness for those who went before us, especially for those who were minimized in terms of their memorial. It's a wonderful gesture to honor those who helped build the sport of auto racing and who lost their lives in the process. To want to commemorate and remember our brothers is wonderful.
I encourage everyone to support the Racers at Rest program and send my personal thanks to the volunteers as they continue this mission. Mario Andretti"
Texan Johnny Rutherford (right) is a three time winner of the Indianapolis 500 classic and has offered his support for the Racers at Rest project!
Buzz Rose (below), nother author of numerous books on the history of our sport, including Racers at Rest, the publication that triggered the Racers at Rest project has endorsed the project.
Bob Jenkins, long-time racing anchor and broadcaster who recently announced his retirement has endorsed the Racers at Rest project.
"Race drivers are my heroes. They are now and always have been. Although I knew from an early age I didn't have the courage to be one, their skills directly led to my career in race broadcasting. Having watched and admired racers for several decades, it seems unbelievable that some have been relegated to a cold resting place with no recognition. I whole-heartedly support the Racers at Rest project and hope that through the program these departed heroes will finally receive the respect and dignity they so rightly deserve. Bob Jenkins"
Popular race driver Ken Schrader recently lent his support to the Racers at Rest project.
"The Racers at Rest project pays tribute to fellow racers and in doing so, preserves the history of open wheel racing. It is a commendable effort to recognize those who may otherwise go without notice and I with them well with the project. Kenny Schrader"
Wisconsin native Billy Engelhart spent his racing career in the open-wheel ranks, and eventually landed a ride in an Indianapolis-style champ car. During the 1980-1981 racing seasons Engelhart started nine champ car events run under the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) or United States Auto Club (USAC) sanction, including the 1980 Indianapolis 500 where he completed 193 laps and was credited with an eleventh place finish.
We're pleased to announce that Billy Engelhart has offered his endorsement of the Racers at Rest project. Here's the note that Billy sent us.
"I think the efforts of [the volunteers] bring some much needed dignity and recognition for these racers who have been such a big part of the history of auto racing in America.
It goes without saying that safety was barely a consideration during their time and that many of us would not have otherwise had the protections that evolved as a result of their efforts. I for one have always been grateful for their contributions and recognize how very brave they must have been.
They deserve better and the efforts of [the Racers at Rest volunteer committee] are helping to provide that. Thank you from all of us. It was my honor to provide Buzz Rose with some of the photos that he used in his book Racers at Rest. Billy Engelhart"
Rick Yocum, author of "Echoes of Valley Thunder; Remembering Debo Park Motor Speedway," has offered his support for the Racers at Rest project.
"My congratulations on establishing the Racers at Rest effort. The least we can do for those who gave their lives plursuing the sport we love is to provide them the dignity of marking their final place of rest. Rick Yocum"
SOUTHEASTER WISCONSIN SHORT TRACK HALL OF FAME &
VINTAGE MODIFIED STOCK CAR GROUP
The Southeastern Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame and the Vintage Modified Stock Car Group, represented by John Surges and Bob Ralston, have thrown their support bheind the Racers at Rest project and we thanks them. Here's the recent release from their offices.
"[The Racers at Rest] volunteer committee [members] at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum Foundation in Knoxville, Iowa have recently embarked on a humanitarian mission that will both interst and greatly please open-wheel race fans across the country.
They have identified, through exhaustive research, that out of the fifteen hundred open-wheel racers who died on the track in this country's history, some lay at rest in unmarked graves, their sacrifice lost to the winds of time. [The members of the] commitee are actively taking action to right this wrong through their Racers at Rest program.
The Board at the Southeastern Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame and members of the Vintage Modified Stock Car Group heartily endorse this worthwhile project and congratulate the Racers at Rest Committee for taking on such a daunting and complex task. [Signed] John Surges and Bob Ralston representing the Southeastern Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame and the Vintage Modified Stock Car Group.