The Johnny Dark film is a ball to watch. It has something in it for everyone. If you’re a racing enthusiast – the real thing – then catch the first race in the movie. It was recorded on Labor Day in 1953 at the Goleta Airport in Santa Barbara California. In color, no less.
I first heard about this race from Chuck Tatum – he was one of the drivers in the second race shown in “Johnny Dark” and the film featured Chuck’s car as well – The Tatum Special. We’ll do a story on Chuck’s car in the near future. But click here if you would like to learn more about the Johnny Dark film and the fiberglass cars that were part of it.
The Labor Day race had many famous drivers – Phil Hill, Bill Stroppe, Ken Miles, and Bill Pollack – driving the Mameco Ardun Glasspar G2 special (Bill Tritt’s Glasspar “Works” Ardun powered racecar). The best article I’ve found so far that discusses this race and shows pictures of the Glasspar G2 appears in the December 1953 issue of Car Craft, and I’ve shared this article and some close-ups of pictures below.
What’s neat about the article is that pictures abound. Two different ones are shown of the Glasspar Racecar, and there’s no shortage of other famous cars too. The article even showcases fiberglass cars on page 34 as follows:
“but four of the five fiberglas jobs presented the sharpest finish jobs in Santa Barbara’s pits”
There’s more discussion of these same cars in the captions of many of the pictures in the article.
On the same page, the article discusses the filming of “Johnny Dark” which would debut less than a year later – June 1954. Great confirmation of the validity of the first race in the film – and nice historical documentation – in color – of the 1953 Labor Day Race at Santa Barbara. They even talk about the car used to film some of the race scenes as follows:
“Odd-ball of the meet was a Caddy powered Buick with super cushion doughnuts and outside the wheel shocks. Piled all over the top rack were assorted cameramen, directors, and busybodies from Universal International Pictures. All of these were busy shooting a sports car movie titled “Johnny Dark.” This elephant-like object and its riders lumbered from one end of the course to the other trying desperately to collect pictures of the race at full bore….”
The article then goes on to discuss more of the movie as well.
I remember that Chuck Tatum told me that he got the job driving in the movie “Johnny Dark” by being at that race. The director spied his car and they soon struck a deal – but Chuck would only agree if he could drive his own car. What a business guy Chuck was – even back then!!!
Hope you enjoy the article and the close-up of some of the cars. And those of you who like vintage races of the 1950’s – and fiberglass sports specials too – go out and get that movie – “Johnny Dark”. And don’t forget the popcorn too
Glass on gang…
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