By William A. Greene
On around Nov. 14, 2011 I got a letter from Ron Taylor asking me to look up some info on a Walter Dean Sprague. His grand nephew had written him asking if he had any information on Walter. According to him, Walter had raced stockcars at Wellsville Raceway in 1950 and was killed at a racetrack near Rochester, N.Y. in 1951. He had gotten this information from his grandmother, mother and his uncle. That is all that they had.
I went to the Allegany County Historical Societies website and looked under the Wellsville Raceway stories and sure enough he had raced there and had done very well racing as it was his first year. I also went through all of Wellsville Raceway photo’s that we have and didn’t find anything.
So I headed to the computer to see what it had in store. I found two different stories. One stated that he was from Wellsville, N.Y. and had competed in eight NASCAR races in 1951 and earned three top ten finishes. It stated he debuted at Hillsboro, starting tenth and fell out early with overheating problems and finished twenty-fifth. He spent the rest of the season up and down. He recorded four top twenty finishes, but those were spectacular: a trio of sevenths, one at Phoenix, Martinsville and Dayton, Ohio, then a eleventh place effort. Sprague then finished with a twenty-first at Toledo. He was tragically killed a few days later on August 24, 1951. That was all that said in that article.
The next article I found stated that in the Penn Yan Chronicle Express, reported on August 30th, 1951 (page 7) that he had died the previous Friday night (Aug. 24th) in a qualifying heat for the $1250 race, at Monroe County Fairgrounds. The son of a lumberman, he had followed his father’s profession: he was 25 yrs. old and left a wife and two young children. We also had an article stating that he was killed in Morristown Speedway in New Jersey.
Which one was true, we didn’t know but we were going to find out. With my wife on one computer, me on another and another researcher from Wellsville, we went to work. Within an hour or so, we had found he was born in Wellsville on Jan. 19, 1926 and had died on Aug. 24, 1951. A short time later we found his obit in the Wellsville Daily Reporter and that he was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Bradford PA. and he was killed at Monroe County Fairgrounds in a six car pileup.
Not stopping there and wanting more info, I wrote to the NASCAR Hall of Fame asking if they had anything on Walter Dean Sprague. Within two hours I received a letter from a Buz McKim a historian for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the letter follows.
Walt hailed from Wellsville, N.Y. and was born on Jan. 19, 1926. He competed in 8 NASCAR events before his fatal accident at Monroe County in Aug. 1951. He entered NASCAR Grand National competition at Hillsboro, N.C. where he started 10th and finished 25th. His next races were at Phoenix, AZ. and Martinsville, VA. where he scored a pair of seventh place finishes. Canfield, OH and the “Poor Man’s 500” was held on May 30, 1951 with Walt finishing 35th out of 38 cars. During these first four events he drove a 1951 Ford called “Police Special’ owned by J.B. Watkins. The final four races saw Sprague drive an Oldsmobile and a Ford for N.Y. car dealer Julian Buesink, whose car with driver Bill Rexford won the 1950 NASCAR championship. Sprague finished seventh at Dayton, OH, 11th at Rochester, N.Y., 41st at Detroit and 21st at Toledo, OH. on Aug. 19th, 1951, his final NASCAR start. I hope this information helps. Please feel free to contact me if you have any other questions.
All the best,
I did write him back asking if he had any photos of Walt. He had me call the Daytona International Speedway and talk to them about any photos. I made the call and talked to a man and told him what I was looking for and he went through their files and came up empty handed.
Thinking that I was finished, I sent all of the info to the family, knowing that we had done our best. Then I got another letter from Buz and it was the grand finale.
I came across something yesterday that I think you’ll enjoy. If you go to “You Tube”, punch in Lloyd Moore. There are several old races posted from his collection. Pull up the 1951 Charlotte race and there is footage of Walt Sprague’s car after his accident. It’s listed as Dean Sprague, but it is good footage, very clear. I hope you enjoy it.
All the best,
Even though it isn’t Walt driving, we can see what his car looked like and the competition that he drove against. An up and coming star never finishes his quest for the top.
His story has lain dormant for over 50 years. We thank his family for bringing his name to our attention. I’m sure that they are proud of his accomplishments in his short racing career as we are. Now we hope that he will never be forgotten.