The Sports Car Club of America was founded as a national organization in 1944, and it appears that the Steel Cities Region was created about six years later. A Pittsburgh Press article by Acker Petit in September 1959 told of the founding of the club: “In this area, the beginning was on a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1950. William F. Billinger of Zelienople, now a Wexford sports car dealer, was at the bottom of it.” His business, Billco in Wexford, was primarily a Hudson dealer in the early 1950s, but sold sports cars as well. A photograph of his lot in the early 1950s showed a number of Hudsons outside, and an MG-TD and Triumph TR-2 in the showroom. It seems to have been the first VW dealership in the region, too, having sold its first Beetle in 1950. Again, from the Press article, “Mr. Billinger and his friends affiliated their group as the Steel Cities Region of SCCA. The organization was informal, and many of the early members didn’t own a sports car of any type, or only antiques which were interesting but not up to modern competition. Meetings were mostly for talk, kicking tires, and looking at one another’s cars.
“By the next year, however, Steel Cities Region sponsored a hill-climb at Sewickley (which was even attended by some hot-rods) and a rally at Wheeling.”
For more about Steel Cities Hillclimb history and activity, see “Hillclimb,” below.
The Hoosier SuperTour weekends now held at PittRace are a continuation of the so-called “Cumberland Races,” now the longest continuously running series of SCCA national-level races in the nation
Sunday, July 19, 1953, sports car races were held for the first time at the Cumberland, Maryland, Municipal Airport. The event was “sponsored by The Lions Club of Cumberland, under the technical direction of the Steel Cities Region, Sports Car Club of America, Inc.” There were 80 entries. The “Cumberland News” wrote that “the Cumberland classic is a charity event sponsored by the Lions Club and under the technical direction of the Steel Cities Region (Pittsburgh, Pa. area) of the Sports Car Club of America. All profits are devoted to a better eyesight program for underprivileged children.” The newspaper, in announcing the 2nd annual event in May, 1954, reported that “last year the Cumberland races netted more than $2,500 for this purpose in spite of heavy rain on race day.” That first Cumberland race weekend was a Regional event, required by SCCA before a National was approved. Walt Hansgen won the Cumberland Cup race, 60 laps (96 miles) in a Jaguar X-120 Special. Steel Cities Asst. R.E. Doc Wyllie finished 4th in his XK-120M. His wife, Peg Wyllie, driving the family Jaguar, beat the great Suzie Dietrich, in her family’s supercharged MG-TC, in the Ladies Race. SCR member L. K. Cracraft won his class (C-Moderately Modified) in a Jaguar XK-120M. He also won an award for Best Steel Cities Region Novice (over 1500 cc). For the overall event, the under 1500cc SCR Novice award went to F. Way III, driving a stock Volkswagen in Race #1. Also in Race #1, for a variety of classes, Steel Cities’ Fred Reynolds finished 2nd in the MG Mk II class. Fred was the grandfather of our Vickie Ropar.
The first “Cumberland Nationals” were held in 1954. This time, Doc Wyllie won the Cumberland Cup. Above is in his winning C-Type Jaguar. The Cumberland Nationals continued to be held at the Cumberland Airport in Maryland through 1971. But, as an article in Baltimore’s The Evening Sun, reported: “One win and one loss are being chalked up in the State’s auto racing picture. “For the 19th – and last – time the Cumberland sports car races will be run this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But Marlboro Motor Speedway – where the action has been on and off for years – is about to be reactivated.
“A combination of things, including a hassle over use of the airport, where the races are held, rising costs and lowering interest, have forced termination of the Cumberland races, according to officials.” “The Cumberland races, run for the benefit of the Cumberland Lions Club by the Steel Cities Region (Pittsburgh area) of SCCA, have long been a fixture for the East’s top amateur drivers. In fact, the event’s 18 runnings make it the oldest continuous amateur auto race in the country, they say.” An article in the Cumberland Evening Times, April 28, 1971, looked back at the event’s early years — “It was almost 20 years ago that Dr. Benedict Skitarelic and other local sports-car buffs got together with Pittsburgh’s Steel Cities Region of the SCCA and came up with the idea of staging races at Cumberland’s Municipal Airport.
“Sports-car racing was comparatively new then and not too many people took the suggestion seriously. In the minority were men like Dr. Skitarelic and Dr. M.R.J. Wyllie of Steel Cities. They envisioned the races blossoming into the kind of topnotch national show that they were to become in a few short years. “Among the organizers from Steel Cities was Charles M. (Bud) Donley, who looked forward to being a part of Cumberland’s spring spectacle at the airport. And, while always in the background, Bud was an integral part of the Steel Cities machine. A former treasurer of the Sports Car Club of America and a past regional executive, Mr. Donley was known behind the scenes as Steel Cities’ ‘silent strongman.’
“The 1971 Cumberland races, scheduled for May 14-15-16, are expected to be the last such production here. The co-sponsors, Cumberland Lions Club and Steel Cities, have been advised by City of Cumberland officials that Municipal Airport will no longer be available for the races.” Nonetheless, the final Cumberland Nationals in Maryland were a typically first-rate event. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 12, 1971 — “Oscar Kovaleski, president of the Polish Race Drivers Association, and Bob Nagel of Bethel Park, Pa., are expected to hook up in one duel next Sunday when they get together in the ‘A’ Sports Racing event, feature of the annual Cumberland National Races. “There will be a complete weekend of racing and practicing on the landing strips of the Cumberland Airport in this 19th annual sports car extravaganza, which is sponsored by the Cumberland Lions Foundation and the Steel Cities of the Sports Car Club of America. “More than 300 drivers are expected to compete in the races, which get underway with regional events on Friday.
“A crowd of 30,000 or more is expected to view the events, most of them from the sides of hills which almost surround the race course.”
The next year, in the summer of 1972, the Cumberland Nationals were moved to the permanent road course at Nelson Ledges, Ohio, where they’ve continue to be called “Cumberland” through today’s events at PittRace.
Steel Cities Region held a number of races at another airport circuit a little closer to Pittsburgh – Connellsville. Records are not clear, but it seems the first race weekends were Regional events, for several years beginning July 1959. Then, an SCCA Divisional weekend was held in August 1962. Steel Cities’ Ed Hugus brought out a Shelby Cobra for one of the marque’s earliest races, but ended up a DNF. Our Ed Lowther won the Modified race in his CM Lister Corvette, and Don Yenko finished just behind Dr. Dick Thompson in the A- and B-Production race. Both drove Corvettes entered by Grady Davis, and each won his class – Thompson in AP and Yenko in BP. Connellsville was the host of another Divisional in ’63, and the event in 1964 was an SCCA National. The region’s Bob Nagel won the A- and B-Production race in a Cobra; our Ed Myers was 3rd in AP in a Corvette, and Yenko was a DNF in his BP Corvette. In the Modified race, the region’s Ed Lowther won overall in his CM Genie-Ford.
The region continued to hold Nationals at Connellsville through 1967.
The earliest competitive events hosted by the Region appear to have been hill climbs. Alan Patterson, a Steel Cities and Life SCCA member, now deceased, bought an MG-TC in 1951, and ran it in Pennsylvania hill climbs, in his words, “from Pittsburgh to Hershey.” Don Baker says the first Steel Cities events he attended were in 1954 – the Cumberland races and the Sewickley Hill Climb. The Hill Climb was run on a 0.6-mile paved course on the Lewis A. Park estate. The 1954 event was the fifth one held; the first one had been in the fall of 1951.
The events continued, and by 1955 there were several each year, each one a two-day affair, with practice on Saturday and runs on Sunday. R.E. Doc Wyllie wrote an article for SCCA’s Sports Car magazine, reporting that despite the rain on the June 1955 weekend, “there were no untoward events.” He reported that “in seven previous hill climbs, metal had been bent seven times.” But then he went on to say that “the only casualty on Sunday was the demolition against a tree of H.H. Dorsey’s Chevrolet Corvette.”
FTD was set by Leo Dym in his Chrysler-powered Allard. These days, around 35 western Pennsylvanians, most of them Steel Cities members, are actively competing in hillclimbs. Steel Cities hosts the annual Polish Mountain Hillclimb in Flintstone, MD, and often an event at Summit Point. Our events run as part of the Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association.
Solo is the Region’s biggest program, and one that’s growing year by year. It’s also the one that seems to bring in the most new members. We run about 10 events each season, averaging about 100 competitors each. Most events are held at Pittsburgh International Raceway Complex in Wampum, PA. The solo program has its own website: STCsolo.com The SCCA’s solo guru, Rocky Entriken, has collected solo stats into a record book. In Rocky’s so-called “Honor Roll of Champions” are these Steel Cities drivers: Susan Delzel, Karen Rafferty, Cindy Darwal, Kristi Blunt, Karen Chabel, Kristi Gaus, Kent Rafferty, and Sam Strano. In addition, Rocky’s book lists all Regions ranked in order of total championships plus national and supplemental wins. Out of all SCCA regions – more than a hundred — STC is tied for 29th place, with 20 wins. Steel Cities member E. Paul Dickinson is a 6-time SCCA Solo National Champion. He’s a member of the Vintage Motorsports Council, and developed and runs its nationwide instructor certification program. He’s also chief instructor for the PVGP (Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix) drivers school.
In the 1960s, Sports Car Club of America road rallies were popular among sports car drivers. These were time-speed-distance contests that emphasized precision driving and solving “traps” to reach checkpoints as closely as possible to a pre-determined time. For 1969, Ford began offering contingency money to rallyists who won, or placed, in the new Mustang Mach 1. Some experienced rallyists approached Ford with an idea for a national team, and Ford was in. The plan prescribed five individual teams based around the country. In one of those teams, in Pennsylvania, Bruce Gezon teamed up with Jack Chidester. They competed in SCCA Class B, which did not allow calculating or computing devices. The rest of the Ford Rally Team members were in Class A, which allowed such equipment. One Mustang team won the Class A Championship in 1969, and another took it for 1970. But Gezon and Chidester won the Class B Championship both years. Consequently, Ford won the SCCA Manufacturer’s Championships in 1969 and 1970 with the Mach 1. Bruce bought the 1969 Mach 1 that the pair campaigned, and held onto it for several years. It’s long gone, but Bruce has said, “Don’t know whatever became of it, but wish I had it back.” Anyone you know ever make a comment like that? Bruce moved on to Class A (prepared) as both a driver and navigator, and he’s had some success. He’s had a LOT of success. Bruce Gezon has now won 28 SCCA TSD National Championships. He’s also run The Great Race, the vintage car coast-to-coast and country-to-country rally. In 1995, with driver Curtis Graf, Bruce won the Ottawa to Mexico City event in a 1916 Packard. Bruce Gezon entered the SCCA Hall of Fame in the 2021 class. And there was SCCA’s late, lamented Pro Rally series. This was performance rally, which SCCA abandoned to Rally America. This is truly exciting rally racing, much like the WRC, the World Rally Championship. If you’ve not experienced it, check out the annual event that’s closest to us – the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally, run out of Wellsboro, PA. It’s the oldest continuously running motorsports event in Pennsylvania, and it started as an SCCA Pro Rally.
Steel Cities had a Pro Rally national champion in 1995. The driver was Cal Landau, with co-driver Eric Marcus. The pair won the Production GT class that year, and finished 2nd in class three other years. The region has long had quite an active Road Rally program, one of the most successful in SCCA, and its rallyists were some of the most recognized in the country. Steel Cities won the Gervais Award, for the year’s outstanding National Course Rally, no fewer than five times. Rallymasters included Bill Hawkins, Rick Beattie, and Chuck Larouere. Steel Cities rallies won the Teter Award, for best National Tour Rally, a couple of times, most recently for the Laurel Tour. Congrats to Rick Beattie and Jeff Hutzelman. SCCA maintains a tally of TSD lifetime points, and the category at the top of the standings is “Great Grand Master.” In that group are Chuck Larouere, Bruce Gezon, and Rick Beattie. Steel Cities continues to present national-level Road Rallies, notably Steel Haul, the National Course Rally, and Laurel Run, the National Tour Rally, both generally held in the spring.
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