Mildred Marcum, Racing Pioneer: 1914-2012

Mildred Marcum, Racing Pioneer: 1914-2012

(TOLEDO, Ohio - January 9, 2012) - Mildred Marcum, the co-founder and matriarch of ARCA who passed away shortly after her 98th birthday over the weekend, leaves behind an enduring legacy.

A career in motorsports that began in the mid-1940s and spanned eight different decades was only extinguished by her passing. In fact, she worked in the home ARCA office on her birthday before celebrating with her family at home on Saturday.

Mildred was born in Hubbard, Oregon on January 6, 1914 to John and Lydia Schoen before moving to Toledo, Ohio in 1916, just prior to America's involvement in World War I.

She worked at the Toledo Jeep Assembly Plant manufacturing planes during World War II. It was during that time that a friend asked if she'd like to go on a blind date. That blind date was John Marcum. Not long after, John took Mildred to her first race. "It was a midget race at Fort Miami," Mildred said. "That was about the only racing going on around wartime. And I decided I liked racing real well." Not long after that first date, John and Mildred were married.

"I never met anybody like him. He was super. He was one of a kind. Whatever he set his mind to do, it didn't matter what it took, he got it done."

mildredjohnmarcum.jpgJohn also raced in the Midwest and on the beach course at Daytona in the 40s, where John and Mildred met eventual lifelong friends and business acquaintances in Annie and Bill France Sr., founders of NASCAR. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, while John worked with Bill Sr. and learned about organizing, promoting and officiating stock car auto races, Mildred began a lifelong career of working the administrative and financial side of the business. Initially performing the hands-on functions of selling tickets, programs and concession food and beverages, she soon moved into management of those activities in addition to bookkeeping and accounting. While both Marcums were principals in each corporation, John specialized in racing-related matters while Mildred oversaw financial and administrative activities, a tandem effort which would exist until John's death in 1981.

"How Johnny got acquainted with Bill was they used to drive racecars together, you know, they raced against each other. It was probably in the late 30s, at places like Fort Wayne and New Castle, Indiana. I guess they just hit it off because they always remained friends."

The friendship eventually evolved into a business relationship in the late 40s.

"Our first trip to Daytona was in 1947, and we took our car down there from Joe Dugan's car lot on Sylvania Avenue in Toledo to sell. We sold it in Daytona and the profit and what we made working for Bill at the race was our money to get back home on a bus.

"While we were down there, we stayed at Bill France's house on Goodall Avenue. He had a filling station on Main Street at the time. Jimmy (France) was a baby, and Billy was just a kid and I remember him riding bicycles with our daughter Suzie.

"Annie and Bill's house had a closed in porch and that's where we slept. Johnny, he would go down to the track with Bill early in the morning, and Annie and I would sell tickets. I remember I had an apron with pockets for bills and change, and the roll of tickets hung around my neck." mildredfrances.jpg

The friendship evolved into a lifelong relationship for the foursome. John became one of France's officials in the fledging NASCAR division while Mildred worked the front gates under the direction of Annie. Mildred's eventual role in ARCA has often been compared to that of Annie's in NASCAR. 

"Back then we would live at North Wilkesboro in the hotel there for two months at a time, traveling and working races with Bill and Annie. I remember the first race Enoch Staley had at North Wilkesboro. The night before we spread the chloride on the dirt track, and the next day Annie worked in a little office with a dirt floor. But boy, did we sell the tickets."

John and Mildred eventually turned their attention to promoting races back in Ohio where they organized OARA, the Ohio Auto Racing Association in the early 50s, working from his basement. OARA was the predecessor to MARC, the Midwest Association for Race Cars. Back then, Midget auto racing dominated the tracks in the Midwest until Marcum talked Skip Jechura into letting him do a stock car exhibition run at Toledo Raceway Park in 1950. There were only three cars to start it off but it grew fast because the crowds loved it. Stock car racing in the Midwest was officially born.

In 1953, the Marcums founded a pair of motorsports companies in their home of Toledo, Ohio: the Midwest Association for Race Cars (MARC), a sanctioning body for organizing and administrating races and licensing and insuring competitors which would evolve into the present-day Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA); and Marcum Promotions, formed to operate the grandstand side of the racing business advertising and promoting events, renting and leasing tracks for races, selling tickets and concession goods, arranging for sponsorships and managing tracks. While both Marcums were principals in each corporation, John specialized in racing-related matters while Mildred oversaw financial and administrative activities, a tandem effort which would exist until John's deathmarcumgramswithfrances.jpg in 1981.

The MARC Circuit of Stars tour, comprised of fields of "race cars", were little more than street legal automobiles with numbers painted on. The Marcums quickly found that by sanctioning and promoting weekly events at local tracks, it not only paved the way for the traveling "New Car" circuit, but also increased MARC membership substantially. Within 10 years, MARC trailed only NASCAR and USAC, formed in 1956 when AAA left the sport, in terms of size and recognition. Promoting weekly and special event races in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania, the Marcums were instrumental in bringing about organization to the fledgling sport in the region.

A typical race week was running Tuesday at Sportsman Park in Bedford, Ohio, Wednesday at Canfield, Ohio, Thursday at Strasburg, Ohio, Friday at Sharon, Pennsylvania, Saturday back at Canfield and Sunday at Toledo Raceway Park.

"Back then, I remember that a lot of the fellas didn't have the money to make a racecar, so what they'd do is take their street car and put a number on the side of it and race it in the race. Of course, they hoped they didn't wreck ‘em because that was the only way they had to get back home.

"I remember one time at Canfield Speedway we were short of cars and Johnny had Frank (Canale) put a number on the car we had driven down there to fill the field. Our hang-up clothes were still on the luggage bar that ran across the inside of the roof over the back seat and our suitcases were in the trunk." marcumfrance.jpg

As the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, Bill France Sr. invited the Marcums to participate in February Speedweeks in 1964 at the 2.5 mile Daytona Int'l Speedway, and encouraged the pair to alter the "Midwest" reference in the sanctioning body's name to reflect its more widespread scope of activities. The resultant ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) tag proved well deserved, as the series has since sanctioned race events in well over half of the 50 states.

Among the tracks at which Marcum-managed companies have either promoted or sanctioned weekly racing include Flat Rock Speedway, Mt. Clemens Race Track, Spartan Speedway and Jackson Speedway in Michigan; Toledo Speedway, Cloverleaf Speedway, Lorain County Speedway, Painesville Speedway, Dayton Speedway in Ohio; and Baer Field Raceway in Indiana. Marcum Promotions, meanwhile, has since its inception administrated weekly racing at Flat Rock Speedway since 1962, at Toledo Speedway from 1964-1978 and 1991 to present, and promoted events at tracks in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania. At one point in time, between John and Mildred Marcum, they were promoting and managing tracks which included racing activities 6 nights a week.

In recognition of Mildred's pioneering spirit over the decades. Lyn St. James, founder of ‘Women in the Winner's Circle', awarded Mildred with the first-ever Mildred Marcum Pioneer Award in 2005. The honor is annually awarded in Mildred's name to deserving recipients, including NHRA co-founder Barbara Parks in 2006, NASCAR driver Louise Smith in 2008 and most recently Shirley Muldowney in 2011.