Burke LeSage (at 15) was already...
Burke LeSage (at 15) was already a part of history by not just spectating the first Motorama event in 1950, but participating in it. "That was when I was first affiliated with SCTA when I went with Jim Lindsley and a half dozen Gear Grinders to help Wally Parks and Ak Miller put up the SCTA booth."
Forget about being a paper-boy or a box-boy for a few extra coins while in school: Johnny Price, the World War II fighter pilot and LSR racer (who lost his eye during a combat mission), was the general manager of Weber Cams and got Burke his summer job while in school working for Harry Weber polishing camshafts. (Later, Burke would work for two other pioneering performance manufacturers, Grant Piston Rings in the late '60s and Weiand Automotive in the early '70s.)
The SCTA Gear Grinders met at a bar in Bell, California. Most of the members were 10 years older than Burke, half of whom were World War II veterans when he joined the club in 1951 at the age of 16. As he was under age, the club elected to move their meeting place. Burke was made president a year later, but he was still too young to buy beer! "Here I was," Burke begins, "a kid being president of an adult group!" Burke inherited a '34 Ford five-window coupe from his brother while at the same time SCTA decided to run coupes and sedans at the lakes in 1951.
Drivers today begin racing when their first grade teachers excuse them from class, but in Burke's day it was unheard of to be racing in competition at 16. When the new coupe class was instituted, Lindsley took the engine out of his Streamliner and put it in Burke's coupe. They ran the '34 in the new Coupe/Sedan class.
Plus, Burke fit the mold for a race car driver since the average height of a Formula 1 pilot is 5 feet, 9 inches, perfect for squeezing into a Grand Prix car. Burke, being 5 feet, 5 inches, could slither into a wind-slicing 200-mph-plus pencil with ease. In fact, Dreisbach Electromotive had developed a battery-powered Streamliner in 1983 called the DEMI X-1 with requirements that the driver be no taller than 5 feet, 7 1/2 inches. They tapped Burke on the helmet to become their man.
Here's Burke peeling out of...
Here's Burke peeling out of Mark Dees' 427 Chevy-powered Lakester after completing a run at Bonneville. Dees was another owner who couldn't shoehorn himself into his own race car, seeking out Burke for the job in 1973.
SCTA kept looking for another sweet spot to run after the military declared Muroc off limits when the war began. As far as the racers were concerned, Muroc was the crown jewel because of its expansive 12-mile length. But when the war began in 1941, the dry lake was closed to the general public by the military. That necessitated finding other locations to hold meets like nearby Rosamond and Harper (near Barstow, California). Eventually, and probably reluctantly, El Mirage dry lake, at 6.2 miles long, was settled on, and is used to this day.
Because of concerns for safety at El Mirage with such "poor conditions" as HRM editor Wally Parks wrote in an issue in 1952. SCTA decided instead of scrapping the last meet of 1951 they would try one more location, 75 miles north of El Mirage. Rather than running the normal two days for the last meet of the year, it was cut to one.
It took some tenacity on the part of the competitors to travel on the rutted dirt road just to get to the dry lake, which was only two-and-a-half miles long. "A Search for Safety," wrote Parks in an HRM feature story in January 1952: "The surface turned out to be semi-soft and speeds were somewhat impaired."
Looking every bit like a crumpled...
Looking every bit like a crumpled piece of paper is what was left of a '38 Buick that crashed badly at El Mirage. Burke was asked to drive the tank that had known handling issues at Bonneville, when halfway down course the carnage began. Burke was thrown from the car unconscious when its World War II surplus seatbelt gave way. He was hospitalized in a coma for 10 days.
If the speeds were impaired it didn't slow the Lindsley-LeSage Class B coupe from placing First in the 1951 points standings. Just three months after receiving his California driver's license, Burke cranked off 107 mph in his coupe. And for that achievement high school student Burke and his '34 graced the pages of that feature story.
Burke underplays his accomplishment by saying, "Since there were no previous records all we had to do was beat the guy in the class and we got a record." Anyone who's competed at the lakes pooh-poohs that notion. One hundred and seven on a "semi-soft" surface plus a "strong headwind" (in Parks' words) was no small accomplishment.
After the meet Burke gave the '34 to Lindsley. The '34 would be the last race car Burke would own.