Tough as Nails – 1940’s Driver, Les Anderson

Les Anderson is not a household name. Most may remember him from the 1947 and 1948 Indianapolis 500 box scores. Anderson was entered in the “500” four times, although only made it on the track three times.

The Portland Oregon-native made his first appearance on the bricks in 1947 in a car that looked a lot like a Maserati but some doubt its origins. After qualifying, Anderson added some local flavor to the car by the naming it the Kennedy Tank Special. Anderson finished the race, however well behind the leader in 11th place.

In 1948, Anderson commissioned legendary builder, Frank Kurtis to build him a car for Indianapolis. Once again, named the Kennedy Tank Special, Kurtis chassis #006 dropped out after 58 laps due to stripped gears.

Returning in 1949, powerboat racer, Bill Cantrell (Madison, IN) took over Anderson’s car on the last day of qualifications and snuck into the race on the outside of row ten but dropped out on race day.

Anderson may have gotten the attention of the railbirds at Milwaukee in June of 1947 when he put the No. 58 Kennedy Tank car on the outside of the front row. However Anderson abandoned the chase after 79 laps of the scheduled 100 on the one-mile dirt oval due to mechanical woes. Anderson missed the June Milwaukee race as did eleven other drivers, the following year.

The well-traveled, Anderson was known as a tough racer who drove as the old saying goes, no quarter asked, none given. There has been a few stories told over the years that Les Anderson had developed a “technique” of “banging wheels” when he got inside someone in order to get by quicker. He’d learned this, apparently, from his trips back east and if the scuttlebutt is believable, that Les was unapologetic about it. As was usual for Anderson, he returned to the West Coast in time for the summer schedule.

Newspaper of the day (from the Oregon Journal, July 11, 1949) gave this accounting of Anderson’s last race.

Anderson Killed In Race Crackup

Veteran Driver Crash Victim; Another Hurt

National auto racing lost one of its illustrious sons at Portland Speedway Sunday.

Leslie M. (Les) Anderson, 38, was injured fatally in a two-car collision on the 15th lap of the Class A main of the second big car program locally in two years. He died at 7:30 p.m. at Emanuel hospital without regaining consciousness.

Second driver involved in the crash, Art George of Los Angeles, still was hospitalized today with a broken shoulder and severe back-burns.

Hospital attendants today reported that George was improving.

A crowd estimated at 4000 saw the fatal pileup, which occurred at the head of the front straight-away. Anderson piloting Eddie Heitkemper’s Hudson 8-powered No. 5 attempted to pass George, driving Bob Scovell’s DO Hal No. 46.

Just as Anderson was about to draw even on the inside with George, running in fourth position, the veteran Portland driver’s car began to slide. One wheel struck the radius rod of No. 46 and the rear wheel of George’s car climbed over Anderson’s right front tire.

George’s speedster bounced against the retaining wall, rolled over three times and locked in the wreckage of Anderson’s car. The Californian was pinning by his legs in his machine, which landed right side up, but Anderson, his steel helmet splintered, was trapped upside down.

So firmly were the demolished machines knotted that a wrecking truck was required to pull them apart before either driver could be extricated.

Anderson sustained broken ribs, which punctured his lungs, causing internal complications.

Anderson, president of the Clackamas Lumber company, had been racing since the early 1930s. He had appeared on virtually every racing strip in the Northwest, including the old Bagley (Vancouver) Wash. And Gresham dirt tracks. He helped initiate midget auto racing in this area, barnstorming with a group of youthful beginners, some of whom still are competing. He gave up midget racing two years ago, but had competed in several stock car races since.

He reached the pinnacle of his speed career at Indianapolis in 1947, when he finished 11th in the annual Memorial day 500-mile pursuit. In moving him up from an original award of 12th position, Wilbur Shaw, Indianapolis Speedway president and three-time winner of the “500” commended Anderson for his excellent debut as a “rookie” there, and general driving and pit skill.

Anderson also ran at Indianapolis in 1948, but was forced out on the 145th lap by spark plug trouble. This year he failed to qualify in the fastest field ever to turn the 2 1/2 mile route, and later led a 100-mile chase at Milwaukee, Wis., until forced out by engine trouble. His entry at the Speedway here Sunday was a surprise as he had not been listed in the prerace lineup.

Anderson resided at 5615 SE Bybee Street. His wife and three children survive. The death was the second at the Speedway this year. Walter Beguhl, a hot rod driver, being killed April 3 when his car struck a trackside post.

George, also nationally known, was making his first appearance here. He was third-ranked in American Racing association standings last season.

“Shorty” Templeman, who was leading the 30-lap “A” event when the fatal crash occurred, went on to victory after the restart. Del Fanning, Seattle veteran, finished second.

Sunday’s results: Second heat — Anderson, Templeman, Max Humm. Time, 2:11.19
Third heat — George, Bud Martin, Paul Pold. Time, 2:13.51
Fourth heat — C. Christensen, Dar Moore, Gordy Youngstrom. Time, 2:13.11
Class A (30 laps) — Templeman, Fanning, Hobson, Scoville, Pold, Martin. Time, 13:55.16

Thanks to Ralph Hunt (Golden Wheels Club),, Gordon E. White and Donald Davidson for their assistance on this article.

This article is courtesy of the Harry A. Miller Vintage Indy Car Club

Are you a fan of Indy Cars with the engine in front? Then the Harry Miller Club is for you.

New members pay an annual dues at a rate of $40 per year. Benefits of club membership include: 1) three newsletters per year, with stories like the one above, 2) a $5 discount at the Millers at Milwaukee event, 3) the opportunity to enter our annual event at the Milwaukee Mile, and 4) the opportunity to purchase banquet tickets at our annual meet.

This year we will be honoring the vintage race cars that participated in the October, 1912 Vanderbilt Cup Race, held on the streets of Milwaukee. The Miller Club will help celebrate the 100th anniversary of this great 300 mile race, won by Ralph De Palma in his Mercedes. Our Vanderbilt Cup entries will receive marquee parking and a special parade lap at the beginning of our Friday run. The honorees will also participate in the slow sessions on the track, both Friday and Saturday.

The Milwaukee Mile gates will open for our exciting event at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, July 6, with cars running the oval track until 4 p.m. On Saturday, gates will open at 8 a.m., with cars taking laps from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Club president, Dana Mecum stated, “The Millers at Milwaukee event offers its participants considerably more track time than other events! So if you want to exercise your vehicle, this is the race to attend! Car owners typically drive 50 to 100 laps on the famous Milwaukee Mile oval track.” It is a great event for fans to mingle and see these great cars of yesteryear.

For more information, e-mail Lenore at or call 262-388-5221 Club website,

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