By Dennis Newlyn
(With thanks to Shaw Media – the Times; also National Speed Sport)
A big crowd attended the Bob Tattersall plaque ceremony in Streator, Illinois on August 10, 2021 to honour the man 50 years after his passing.
It was a very special day in the history of American, Australian and New Zealand Midget racing as people gathered representing both sides of the Pacific to respect and acknowledge this legendary man who died of cancer in his Streator home town on October 27, 1971 aged 47
The commemorative footpath (sidewalk) plaque, located on East Main Street in Streator, was unveiled by Bob’s widow Dee. (photo courtesy Scott Anderson) The plaque stands near a Bob Tattersall mural on the wall of Hombaker Automotive premises
United States Auto Club big names from yesteryear Mel and Don Kenyon, along with Merle Bettenhausen, were joined by Bob Wente Junior, Jimmy Davies Junior and Indy 500 author Bob Gates among many others. The plaque was an initiative by the American Racing Association Memorial Association in collaboration with the Indiana Racing Memorial Association.
The attendance of Chris and Phil McGee, who have lived in America for many years, was fitting as the McGee family played a major role in Bob’s tours via their McGee Racing Racing Cams Kings Cross workshop in Sydney. Chris, flew from Los Angeles to Chicago accompanied by another McGee team member from the Tattersall era, Peter Nunn, while Phil travelled from Missouri for the memorable occasion.
Streator Mayor Jimmie Lansford addressed the gathering and acknowledged Bob Tattersall’s legendary track deeds. “There were a lot of old time racers in attendance,” Lansford said during that’s day’s council meeting shortly after the ceremony. “It’s nice to have a plaque giving some of that info on Bob Tattersall. The event was quite well attended and all of them went down to the Eagles Club afterward to reminisce.”
Mel Kenyon told the gathering he always wanted to be “as good as Bob on dirt.”
Phil McGee delivered a wonderful speech. Bob and Phil were like father and son back in the day.
“This was really Dee Tattersall’s day as well,” Phil later explained.
“Tatts left her a widow when she was in her late 30s and I don’t think a day goes by that she hasn’t received love and support from so many folks. The people of the US thank Bob Tattersall for his heroic efforts as a paratrooper during World War Two and at the time of his death, President Richard Nixon, Governors, Mayors and many other public officials honoured him.”
Chris McGee acknowledged, “he was like family, he would come to Christmas dinner. I was just a kid when I met him. We had a lot of superstars come to Australia to race, but Bob was a legend.”
Tattersall served in the US Army’s 82 nd Airborne Division and received the Purple Heart among other military honours.
He married Delores Ligori in November, 1950 and after racing Stockcars, he moved into the Midget division, running with the United Auto Racing Association. He won UARA titles in 1957 and 1959 before switching to the United States Auto Club in 1960. He won the Hut Hundred and 63 other USAC races, including the 1969 USAC National Midget Championship.
“He was my hero when growing up. I got to meet him in 1966 and worked on his car. It’s not very often that a hero becomes a good friend,” Peter Nunn said.
Bob Gates, who has written books on Indy 500 drivers and is a long time author, rates Bob Tattersall right up there with the all time best. “Bob was a talented racer, he was a natural talent behind the wheel, but he also was a larger than life personality.”
Merle Bettenhausen told those in attendance on this hot summer Streator day Bob was “the reincarnation on my dad (Tony Bettenhausen). He looked like my dad, sat in a race car like my dad, had a flat top hair cut like my dad and he raced like my dad.”
Bob Tattersall, who was discovered by legendary Adelaide Rowley Park Speedway promoter Kym Bonython, made thirteen consecutive visits to Australia between 1958 and 1971. He won fifty-percent of his races in Australia and was one of the major reasons why Australian Speedcar racing boomed during the sixties. He was a promoter’s dream, a box office bonanza over so many years around Australia and the catalyst behind the incredible sixties Speedcar boom in Australia which attracted massive crowds. Also, because of his longevity here, immense popularity, promotional capabilities and incredible winning rate consistency, Bob Tattersall’s legendary status will never die. He lives on in the memory of so many.