Halliday Special: Jack Gesler Ownership

1957  Halliday  Renault  Special
John  Horton – 1958/1959 – considered purchasing the car for sale
Jack  Gesler  Ownership – 1960s

John  Horton
Commented  on  Car  For  Sale  in  1958 / 1959

Back in 2013, David Lambert and Tom Clayton of the HMod Yahoo group reached out on our behalf to learn if anyone knew more about the Halliday Renault Special.  At the time, we only knew about the car being owned by Jack Gesler.  Here’s the e-mail we received from John Horton:

“I almost bought a car very, very similar to this one. This would have been in 1958/59 timeframe. It was red at the time. The owner, or seller’s representative, was a fellow by the name of Holliday or Halladay. His shop was located in Long Beach, CA , on Redondo Blvd just North of PCH.”

John Horton

Important Points:  We can now confirm that the car’s racing career appears to end in 1958/1959 so it’s track time (at least with Halliday and Winters) was quite short.  Even though John Horton didn’t buy the car, it’s good to establish anchor points in history that can give us an idea of the historical path of the race car.

Jack  Gesler
Owned  Car  in  Early  1960s

Back in 2011, Jack Gesler shared the above photo and the story below with the website “Sports Racer .Network” (https://sportsracernet.smugmug.com/).  The license plate seen on the front of the car appears to be a California black plate which was issued from 1963 to 1970 – so that gives us a timeframe when Jack owned the car.   This all we know about it at this time.

“I grew up in Anaheim with a group of Oval/Dirt racers. (Rodger Ward, Vukovich, Jimmy Caruthers, Parnelli, etc. were family friends).

I was not as fond of driving Midgets/Sprint cars as my friends. I wanted to road race. LT (Red) Caruthers gave me an HM to race. I picked it up at Bill Stroppe’s in Long Beach.

Since I was too young for a SCCA License, I entered it in Autocross events, while working on George Follmer’s Lola T-70.

The car was based on Renault running gear. With a tube frame, aluminum belly pan and doors, the front and rear were from the same fiberglass mold. The Renault engine was tuned by Stroppe with different carbs/exhaust for short or long tracks. Shifting was with the left hand. I spent the summer repainting it the Caruthers Pearl Yellow. It was street licensed and I entered it in car shows and autocross’s, but I folded up the rear suspension twice and went on to other racers.”

Jack Gesler

Click  Here  To  View  The  Original  Store  on  the  Sports  Racer  Network  Website

Additional  Story  On  Jack  Gesler

Quarter  Midgets
Tiny  Racers  Were  at  Disneyland  Long  Before  “Cars Land”
Orange County Register: June 15, 2012
By Mark Eades

Note: “Cars Land” is one of the newest rides for young kids at Disneyland and is themed to the Disney/Pixar movie “Cars”.

Before Radiator Springs Racers and Autopia appeared at the Disneyland Resort, there was the Jelly Bean Bowl Racetrack.  Just ask Jack Gesler. He raced on the track there — where the Team Disney Administration building now stands along Ball Road.  That racetrack was the birthplace of Quarter Midget racing, which still exists today. It all started before there was a Magic Kingdom.

As an eight-year-old Gesler raced Quarter Midget Roadsters – they were called that because they were based on the midget roadsters raced by adults in dirt track racing. Gesler raced against kids his age on a small 1/20th mile oval dirt track.  Gesler’s dad, Ed, managed the Viking Trailer Company for its owner Doug Caruthers, who was really into the car racing scene – especially midget and Indy race cars. Caruthers’ sons were into it too, but being too young for full size cars, they went tooling around in a little makeshift gas-powered go-karts.

Caruthers saw that, and decided it would be better if the boys raced on a track and had real race cars – albeit smaller ones – with some safety rules. So he developed the Quarter Roadster Association and built the first track in the early 1950s on the company’s grounds.  Races were run on the track every other Sunday afternoon. Kids ages 3-12 raced there at speeds as high as 25 mph, with their dads as the pit crews.

As the popularity of the sport grew, the company went into the business of manufacturing the cars. They were sold as kits in department stores at prices ranging from $395 and up.  “That was a lot of money in 1954,” Gesler said.  The cars were powered by a Continental four-cycle, nine-cubic-inch gasoline engine. The cars had no gears, and the brake was operated by hand. Cars had to be pushed – usually by the driver’s dad — to get the engines started.

Eventually the property’s owner, Mabel Bauer, sold the land to Walt Disney as a place to build something called Disneyland.  “Disney didn’t need the land right away and let the lease continue,” Gesler said. So the races continued, and Gesler and the Caruthers’ boys continued to run around on the property.  Gesler admits they snuck into Disneyland a few times, though they were careful about where they roamed.

“I knew who Walt Disney was and saw him a couple of times. But I always ran away from him because I thought he’d know I snuck in,” he said.  As the races continued to grow in popularity, they were noticed nationally. The race track and the races were featured in the February 21, 1955 issue of Sports Illustrated, seven months before Disneyland opened.  They were also the centerpiece of a television episode of “You Asked For It” hosted by Art Barker on KABC in 1956.  Racing on the property ended in April 1956 when Walt Disney terminated their lease and took over the property.

However, the races still continue in other locations. The sport Doug Caruthers started is now sanctioned by the Quarter Midgets of America.  After losing the lease, Caruthers shut down the Viking Trailer Company and continued on in racing. He owned several Midgets Roadsters, and some Indy Cars. His son Jimmy won several Midget Racing Championships, and also raced at Indy. Son Danny also raced midget cars, until a crash took his life in 1971.

All three are enshrined in the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame at Angeli Park Speedway in Wisconsin.  Ed Gesler (Jack’s dad) became the general manager of Biltmore Mobil Homes based in Santa Fe Springs. Ed went on to work for Ricoh Electronics in Orange County, but still dabbled in racing – even working as part of a pit crew for several races at Long Beach and the old Riverside race track.

Jack Gesler still has one of the original quarter midget roadsters in a garage in Orange.  Now retired, he visits Disneyland regularly, rides the Autopia and plans to ride Radiator Springs Racers when it opens.