Lee Wallard: Altamont’s comic-book hero

Tough luck stalked Lee Wallard, a 40-year-old chauffeur from Altamont, N.Y., says his portrayal in Hot Rods & Racing Cars comics, “but he crowded that luck right off the speedway last Memorial Day when he came in as the winner of the 500-mile classic, held each year at Indianapolis.”

To the Editor:
Today’s comic-book heroes can’t match the real-life heroics of Altamont’s Lee Wallard in winning the Indy 500, seventy years ago last Monday. At the end of the race on the famous Indianapolis Brickyard, only eight of the 33 starting cars were still running. Lee had to coast into Victory Lane, hanging half out of the car, because a broken rear suspension threatened to collapse along the way.

Lee began his racing career driving race cars at the Altamont county fairgrounds in the early 1930s. By 1935, he was one of the few local drivers to successfully compete with the nationally known race car drivers. These drivers were part of the Hankinson Circuit that came to the fairgrounds to compete on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and the annual fair in August or early September.

As his skill became better known along the East Coast, Lee was hired to drive faster and more reliable cars by owners looking to cash in on the prize money offered at championship-level races. Prize money won by the 99 Belanger Special that Lee drove in the 1951 Indy race made it the winningest race car of its day. It now sits in a place of honor at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

Lee’s small-town-boy-makes-good story made him a good candidate for comic-book hero status. Not surprisingly, Issue number 1 of Hot Rod Comics, and issue number 1 of Hot Rods and Racing Cars, both published in the fall of 1951, contained stories that featured his accomplishments. So, if you’re looking for real comic-book heroes, give a nod to Altamont’s Lee Wallard.

Paul M. Malecki


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