As a young adult in the early 1950s, Rae Welch raced micro-midgets in Ralston, Nebraska, then a village of about 1,300 a few miles southwest of Omaha, and he undertook an insurgency campaign to upend the status quo.
Rae–who is 92 years old and has always been known as Charlie–designed his entry against the trend that found cars fitted with four-stroke Cushman engines predominating as micro-midgets joined other popular forms of motor-racing in the postwar period.
The National Micro Midget Association was created to oversee activities and laid out the general template for the class.
The Nebraska Micro Midget Racing Association had chapters in Lincoln, the state capital, and Ralston. Rules restricted cash outlay to $500 to keep the fun affordable.
The most popular setup for a micro-midget placed the Cushman Husky engine in the rear. Displacement of the single-cylinder “flathead” unit was limited to 17.8 cubic inches. Homebuilt overhead-camshaft versions were restricted to 15.0 cubic inches. Output was probably between five and eight horsepower.
Cushman Motor Works, as we know, was a manufacturer of stationary engines for pumping, agricultural, and even marine uses. The company from Lincoln, Neb., was founded in 1903 by Everett and Clinton Cushman. Their cast-iron Husky engine came out in 1922. When sales of stationary engines slowed during the Great Depression, the company introduced its iconic scooters. After World War Two, Cushman ventured into three-wheeled Truckster and Mailster models. The meter maids who drove around cities writing parking tickets were feared in their Cushmans. The same vehicles made themselves useful around factories and industrial yards.
Natalie Kammerer of the Douglas County Historical Society describes how midget racing became popular across the country in the mid-1930s, and indeed Omaha’s first midget race was held in 1935 on the League Park track at 15th and Vinton Streets. Indian Hills, another track at 72nd and Pacific Streets hosted midgets for a time, and even Creighton University got in on the fun with a midget course inside the perimeter of its running track.
World War Two shut down all such ventures.
Developed by the local Lions Club, the Ralston one-eighth-mile oval opened on a midsummer Sunday of 1951. The 80th and Mechanic Streets location was two blocks from the village’s downtown area.
Mechanic Street is now called Park Drive, and a municipal park and sports complex occupies the site.
Lee Ackerman wrote in the Omaha World-Herald that 600 people turned out for the first race, watching 22 micro-midgets from four states. Drivers and spectators liked the track’s banked turns, which provided more action than the single-lane flat tracks in Lincoln and the town of Geneva, about 70 miles southwest of Lincoln.
The most obsessed drivers raced weekly at all three tracks.
Rae Welch and Richard Clark, his fellow constructor, took a radical approach. “[We] built the first one with the idea that we absolutely would not use the Cushman engine. How boring!”
Rae and Dick had an interesting idea with their alternative setup incorporating an outboard marine engine, but it didn’t work. The car sounded amazing, but it overheated.
Substituting a flathead engine from a Mustang motorcycle resulted in a small improvement. Mustangs were small cruiser-style motorbikes from the postwar period.
“But the Cushman bunch were still giving us a problem,” Rae says. “So we figured we needed to build a better car.”
They decided on a scaled-down version of the Kurtis Kraft midget. “We used steel-tubing framework and fiberglass material for the body covering to minimize weight, and a front-mounted engine complete with driveshaft and aluminum gearbox made for us by my father, who happened to be a machinist [and] engineer.”
The new micro-midget “started giving the Cushman crowd a run for their money. Good times!”
The subsequent car had a rear-mounted power train.
In Rae’s last race, the Ralston gang was invited down to the one-fifth mile track in Lincoln and he won the trophy dash by a nose, having started on the pole and survived persistent nerfing from his nearest competitor.
Rae was moving on, though. “When I gave it up, Dick Clark took over the car and installed a BSA motorcycle engine. I don’t know how much longer he continued to race.”
The buzz faded out in Ralston after 1956, but at least we have Rae’s recollections and the silent testimony of a few rare photos.
One thought on “Rae Welch tried to dethrone Cushman on the Micro-Midget Track”
Hi Ron, Uncle “Charlie” here. Great article on the micros. Thanks for awakening the memories of a really good time in my life.