1960 Twin 50 Sprint Car Races At Milwaukee Mile

In June 1960, there was a nine-week gap on the National Championship Trail between the Langhorne race held after the Rex Mays 100 and Springfield 100 held in August on the one-mile dirt oval. However there was plenty of activity for the USAC boys. From USAC Stock car races and of course the Sprint Car and Midget divisions drivers who had the desire, could get their fair share of seat time. In 1959, a pair of drivers from the California bullrings equipped with Chevy engines turned the establishment upside down. The conventional wisdom was to win a USAC Sprint car race you needed a 220 c.i. Offenhauser engine. The ?Chevy Twins? of Jim Hurtubise and Parnelli Jones showed otherwise. On Sunday June 26th a ‘Twin 50’ lap USAC Sprint Car race was held on the historic Milwaukee Mile. With the aforementioned gap in the schedule, it was a good way for an Indy car driver to earn some extra money. 1960 was an epic year for the USAC Sprint Car Division. The USAC ‘establishment’ had tough as nails drivers such as Don Branson from Champaign, IL, Johnny Thomson from Boyertown, PA and Tommy Hinnershitz the Dutchman from Oley, PA who was a terror on the East coast dirt tracks. Young guns such as Texan A.J. Foyt, Jr., Roger McCluskey from Arizona and Bud Tinglestad were coming into their own. Add Hurtubise and Parnelli who were coming to Milwaukee to challenge all comers. Could they beat the Offies on the pavement? Time would tell. The Milwaukee race even brought out popular Tony Bettenhausen from Tinley Park, IL. It was rare to see the “Tinley Park Express” in a sprint car in 1960. Bettenhausen would have a good car. Wally Meskowski would provide “Tough Tony” a top-notch ride. Indianapolis 500 veterans, Dick Rathmann, Elmer George, Jim McWithey, Gene Force, Bill Cheesebourg, Gene Hartley, Lloyd Ruby and Red Amick would participate. Other young guns included Jim Packard a rising star on the USAC trail, also Michigan natives, Ronnie Duman and Johnny White would give Milwaukee a try.

On raceday, Parnelli Jones and his Fike Plumbing Special were fast off the trailer. Jones eventually broke the track record enroute to winning the pole for the first 50-lap feature. At the green flag, cagey veteran Don Branson and the Bob Estes sprinter dogged Jones. However Parnelli led the first feature with ease. Several early cautions spiced the feature with spins by veteran Johnny Thomson and young Jim Hurtubise. After a spin on lap 44 by Jim Packard, Jones eventually won the first 50-lap race with Branson being challenged by Elmer George. However Branson held off George as A.J. Foyt, Tony Bettenhausen and Roger McCluskey followed in fourth through sixth place.

Thomson, White and Jim McWithey were scratched from the second race as nineteen cars answered the call for the second 50-lap feature. Parnelli took the lead from the green flag for the second race. However, the veteran Branson made some chassis adjustments. Parnelli and Branson battled for the lead as Foyt joined in. The trio of Parnelli, Branson and Foyt battled tooth and nail for many laps thrilling the crowd. Jones and his Chevy power would pull away on the straightaways as Foyt and Branson closed in on the turns. On lap 37 Branson slipped around Parnelli as the two exited turn two. Foyt also battled past Parnelli to take second. However Parnelli passed Foyt a bit later to retake second place. At the checkered flag Branson led Parnelli across the finish line with Foyt third. Elmer George came home fourth as Leon Clum held on to fifth place. The fans that witnessed Don Branson win the second feature saw the fastest race held on the one-mile oval to that point. Branson averaged 101.59 mph for 50 laps as Parnelli averaged 94.496 mph in the first feature (15 caution flag laps). Only four drivers had gone faster than Branson and that was in time trials. Parnelli showed that the Chevy could hang with the Offies on the big ovals, however Branson showed that they weren’t going to go away quietly.

After Milwaukee the Sprint car circuit traveled on to other midwestern tracks. Branson went on the win at Salem and later broke the track record at Dayton as Parnelli went on to win the main. Branson won at Heidelberg, however Parnelli would later in four in a row. Hurtubise won at Terre Haute as Branson fought back to win at New Bremen. Parnelli held the point lead heading into the last race in Houston. Branson was within striking distance. However Parnelli and his Joe Pittman prepared Hank Henry built sprint car was no match. Branson gave it all he had but ended up second as Parnelli won the race and the championship. With Parnelli winning the championship, he put the Offenhauser owners on notice. 1960 was an epic year

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