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The Speedway Motors 4x Roadster

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2022 marks the 70th anniversary of Speedway Motors. Throughout the year, we’ll be bringing you lots of great cars, stories, and moments from our long history. Here’s one of them, the story of the Speedway Motors 4x Roadster.

The 4x Roadster on display in the Museum of American Speed.

In the early 60’s, things were changing fast in racing. Unlike today’s tracks where most of the cars in any given class look more or less identical, there were still plenty of new ideas to be found on those mid-century dirt ovals. This constant innovation caused old equipment to be outgunned after a few seasons. By 1964, the 4x Sedan that had been dominant for Bill Smith and Lloyd Beckman in the first years of the decade was beginning to show its age. Compared to some of the sleek hardware that it was running against, the once cutting-edge sedan now looked like a lumber wagon. Around the same time, the Nebraska Modified Racing Association began allowing supermodifieds to run at their events. The writing was on the wall for the old sedan, and it was time for Bill and Lloyd to upgrade their equipment.

This car was built to go fast, but it also happens to be a beautifully proportioned vintage racecar.

That upgrade came in the form of this little offset roadster. The car was originally built by Greg Weld of the legendary Kansas City racing family and later of Weld Wheel fame. The offset design, with the driver on the right and the engine staggered to the left, was inspired by what was going on with Indy cars around the same time. Better yet, the idea had already proven itself, with the first Weld offset carrying Greg to a big win at the ’63 Knoxville Nationals. Greg then built this car for the ’64 season before selling it to Bill.

Midwest Speedway, 1965 - Lloyd Beckman chasing Kenny Gritz.

As you might expect, Bill and Lloyd kept winning in the roadster, easily capturing the 1964 NMRA title. They also ran the car at IMCA and BCRA races all over the Midwest at tracks like Knoxville, Topeka, Belleville, Eagle, and Lincoln’s Midwest Speedway.

Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, KS 1964 - Beckman taking victory lap.

This roadster also spawned a few other cars. Once Bill had the car in Lincoln, he had Ray Valasek draw up some blueprints that were sold in the Speedway Motors catalog. Museum of American Speed historian Bob Mays figures there were “a dozen or so” cars built from those plans that would go on to compete throughout the Midwest.

Knock-off Halibrand mags and ribbed Firestones steer the ship in style.
This is what a winning racing mill looked like in the mid-60's. Halibrand injector, Vertex mag, and swoopy handmade headers make for a good looking and even better running package.
Co-Owners of Midwest Speedway, Jerry Gerdes (left) and Jerry Biskup posing behind the Offset Roadster at the Lincoln Auto Show in 1964.

The 4x Roadster was also a central figure in a couple of the more famous episodes from the long and sometimes complicated relationship between Bill Smith and Lloyd Beckman.

Once, the roadster was having some cooling issues. As Lloyd was about to be pushed off, Bill stuck his head in the cockpit and said, “If you see that temperature get to 220, you pull in!” Beckman met this order with a dutiful nod, and as soon as Bill’s back was turned, Lloyd reached out and grabbed a handful of mud from the rear tire and slapped it over the temp gauge. Problem solved.

All business in the offset cockpit.

And then there’s the infamous story of the yellow goggles. Apparently, sometime before the ’65 North Central Kansas Free Fair at Belleville, a salesman came through Lincoln and made a stop at Speedway Motors. He was selling yellow goggles and promised Bill and Lloyd that they would cut down on the glare of the sun and make it easier to drive. So, Lloyd hit the track at Belleville with high hopes of winning and a shiny new pair of yellow goggles on. Sure enough, Lloyd and the 4x Roadster were at the front of the pack when the white flag dropped. Problem was, to Lloyd that white flag looked yellow through those goggles. He lifted just long enough for Grady Wade to pass him and win the race.

Belleville, 1965 - Lloyd Beckman lines up after the famous flag incident. He had mistaken a white flag for yellow causing him to lose the race.

Bill was livid, fired Lloyd on the spot, and refused to give him a ride home. Matters were made even worse when Bill returned to Lincoln, only to find that Lloyd had hitched a ride with another team and beaten him home! It would take a while for their relationship to recover from that one, but as was always the case for Bill and Lloyd, all was eventually forgiven and Lloyd would go on to win races in Speedway Motors cars for decades to come.

The 4x roadster was just one stop along the path that would eventually produce the modern sprint car.

Just as it represented an evolution from the sedan, the roadster would go on to serve as the catalyst for the next iteration of 4x racers. While Bill and Lloyd were on the outs, Don Brown would take a turn behind the wheel at the ’65 Nebraska State Fair. He was impressed with the car, having started way back in the pack and running all the way up to 3rd. He began to think about building an updated version of the car, and that car would go on to become the famous “Mechanical Rabbit” sprint car.

Stay tuned for the next chapter!

Lincoln State Fairgrounds, 1965 - Don Brown driving the Offset Roadster. Speedy Bill claimed he went from 30th to 3rd. Brown claimed he was so impressed with the car that he was inspired to start designing the Mechanical Rabbit
Midwest Speedway 1964 - Bill Smith posing after a win with Lloyd Beckman's helmet on the car.

All contemporary photos by Jason Lubken. Historical photo captions and additional info by the infinitely knowledgeable Bob Mays.

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