ARCA's Early Days, The France Connection

ARCA's Early Days, The France Connection

TOLEDO OH (3-12-10) - The ARCA Racing Series presented by RE/MAX and Menards, founded by John and Mildred Marcum, started out as the Midwest Association for Race Cars (MARC) in 1953.

But in reality, the sanction's origins date back to the pre-World War II era when Marcum raced with NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr. throughout the Midwest and South developing a close, lifelong friendship. Photo: Left to Right: Mildred Marcum, Bill France, Sr., Anne France

Mildred, who turned 96 in January, 2010, and still works four out of five days a week in the ARCA home office, remembers those early days.

"How Johnny got acquainted with Bill was they used to drive racecars together, you know, they raced against each other," said Mildred. "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.

marcumsfrance.jpg"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. Photo: Left to Right: Anne France, Mildred Marcum, John Marcum 

"Anne 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 Anne 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."

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 Anne.

"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 Anne. 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 Anne worked in a little office with a dirt floor. But boy, did we sell the tickets."

Marcum eventually turned his attention to promoting races back in Ohio where he organized OARA, the Ohio Auto Racing Association in the early 50s, working from his basement. OARA was the predecessor to MARC. 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 3 cars to start it off but it grew fast because the crowds loved it. Stock car racing in the Midwest was officially born.sagerpolehornetcanfield.jpg

And of course the stock car thing really took off when Marcum invented MARC in '53. 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."

The Early Days

The first ARCA race was May 10, 1953 at Dayton Speedway, a half-mile oval. More than 10,000 fans attended the race as the excitement of stock cars began to take hold in the Midwest. Buckie Sager won the pole of the first event and ended up winning the main event in a 23 car field. A total of sixteen races rounded out the first year, and six different drivers made their mark in history as winners in the first year of the series. Jim Romine won the inaugural season points championship.

As the 1950's continued, ARCA continued to grow. Marcum began to build the organization by running races on a weekly basis with consistent rules and a points fund and sanctioning a dozen tracks in the Midwest. One of the main aspects of growth was the development of the "MARC Circuit of Stars," which evolved into the ARCA Racing Series presented by RE/MAX and Menards. The national touring series gave local racing heroes a chance to tour the country at the best tracks and compete in front of larger crowds.

The sophomore year of the MARC series in 1954 slated 15 races at new venues with new winners. Buckie Sager won the second-ever points championship. The third year brought more expansion, with new winners, tracks in six states and a schedule that doubled the previous year with 33 races.

The series continued to grow in 1956 with 45 races. A record 14 drivers won races, and new tracks added include the 16th Street Speedway in Indianapolis, Michigan's Saginaw Fairgrounds, Fort Miami Fairgrounds in Toledo, Motor City Speedway in Detroit and Broadway Speedway in Knoxville. Iggy Katona (below left) was the first repeat champion of the series, winning in 1956, 1957 and 1958. katonamarcum.jpg

The 1957 season proved to be one of the closest in the history of the MARC series. Nelson Stacy lost the championship to Katona by only 4.5 points.  Stacy went on to win the championship in 1958.

Closing out the 1950's and MARC/ARCA's first decade, the series moved into the West for races in California, Nevada and Texas. The 29 races had different winners. The series began to attract big-name drivers such as Frankie Schneider, Don White and Elmer Musgrave. Stacy continued to conquer the series in 1959, winning his second-straight championship.