KALWASINSKI: Chicago Chips


Michaels started the ’52 season on a winning note as he captured the annual Chicago Park District Police Benevolent Race on Sunday afternoon, May 4. Michaels bested Soldier Field front runners Kenny Johnson and Al Shear in the 25-lap event in front of a crowd of over 47,000 in attendance.

Skippy Michaels guides his '51 Oldsmobile around the quarter-mile paved track at Chicago's Solider Field in 1952. (Ed Coffey Photo)
Skippy Michaels guides his ’51 Oldsmobile around the quarter-mile paved track at Chicago’s Solider Field in 1952. (Ed Coffey Photo)

The competition among the Hurricane gang was tough. Among the drivers in action included California natives Pat Flaherty and Jim Rathmann, both eventual Indianapolis 500 winners, who came to Chicago to go after the “big money” at Soldier Field. Other drivers were Tom Pistone, Gene Marmor, Dave Hirschfield, Lou Fegers, Herman Jordan and Kenny Netzel to name a few.

“We were guaranteed 75 bucks a night,” commented Michaels years later about his early Soldier Field racing.

In 1953, Michaels appeared at the “Milwaukee Mile” for an American Automobile Ass’n stock car race, finishing 34th in a 1952 Mercury. He made numerous starts at Milwaukee in both AAA and Untied States Auto Club stock car events. His busiest season in USAC stock car action was in 1961, wheeling a 1960 Ford for car owner Richard Dittman and making 10 starts and finishing 21st in the standings. From 1961 through 1964, Michaels also competed in USAC midget competition.

In August of 1964, Michaels attempted qualify for the 200-mile USAC Champ (Indy) Car race at Milwaukee. Unfortunately, Michaels and his Herbert Special rear engine Chevrolet No. 61 did not make the race.

Michaels turned his attention to the late model stock car competition at Santa Fe Speedway near Willow Springs in the mid 1960s. He won the track’s National Clay Track Championship 250 lapper in October of 1966, wheeling an Olds Cutlass convertible No. 7 to the victory. In 1967, he was the third ranking late model driver at the ‘Fe, winning several feature races, including a 100-lap battle. Michaels was the 12th ranking driver at Santa Fe in 1968, not in the top 20 in 1969, but 11th in 1970.

As the 1970s rolled in, Michaels’ racing career was pretty much over. He jumped into Sandy Slager’s Camaro one night though and won the last race he ever competed in. Still having the racing bug, Michaels would be behind the wheel again, piloting his old USAC stock car owner Richard Dittman’s Jack McGrath No. 5 dirt car at various vintage racing events.

Motorcycles, hot rods, stock cars and even open-wheel racers, it didn’t matter to Gilbert Michaels. Rest in Peace, Skippy!

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Stan Kalwasinski
Stan Kalwasinski has been involved in auto racing for nearly 50 years as both a writer and photographer. He has a particular interest in Chicagoland auto racing — primarily stock car racing. Look for him at tracks in the Chicagoland region of Illinois.