Johnny Wohlfeil, Sr. *

Inducted into the Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 1984


WohlfeilJohnny HeadB 72(1907 – 1989)

Johnny Wohlfeil was born January 27, 1907, In Detroit, Michigan. He started his racing career by building his own big car with a Fronty-Ford engine in the garage behind his house. Because of his eventual success with this car he was asked to drive the Terry Brothers Hisso. Some called this car the car of death, as its first two drivers, Bert Karnatz and Buzz Mendenhall were both killed in it.

WohlfeilJohn #3 72After mastering its unusual engine characteristics, Johnny went on to many feature wins with this car including the CSRA championship, and breaking the worlds record for 50 miles at the Detroit Motor City half-mile track.

When midgets first came out, he built one with an Elto 460 outboard engine and a new big car. This was the year chrome plating was first used by the automotive industry in Detroit. He contacted a chrome plating company and to the best of our knowledge had the first racecar in the world to use extensive chrome plating. The Riley Chrome Plate Special.

WohlfielJohn A 72With these two cars, the midget in the back of a Hudson pickup truck and the big car trailered, Wohlfeil would tour the south in the winter winning races in North and South Carolina and as far away as Texas. He was successful with the outboard even after the Offy engine came on the scene. Johnny won the first four feature races of the year at Sportsman Park, in Cleveland, Ohio.

Eventually he was given the opportunity to drive an Offy powered car for Ronnie Householder. With this car he won the very first race ever held at the famous Milwaukee Fair one-mile track. It was a 100-mile event.

Johnny was successful enough with this car that he eventually purchased it and the team car from Householder and went on to capture the Michigan Ohio championship many times on the Zeiter circuit.

When midgets became more popular Johnny built a third car. At this time he raced seven days a week, twice on Sunday. He maintained all three cars and towed two of them personally.

In his last year of racing he ran only 4 races 100 miles or longer finishing in the top 4 in all of them. In one particular event a 250-mile race at BainBridge, Ohio, He constructed a fuel tank the size of the tail section, switched from alcohol to gas and ran the full 250 miles non-stop. When the race was over the scorers were so confused they paid the top 4 cars all the same and nobody ever really knew who won the race.

Wohlfeil was not only a race driver but an innovator and builder also. When they started using Elto outboard engine he designed, built and sold a gearbox so that the engine could be installed with the flywheel on top. He also designed and built different intake manifolds. When he retired from driving he built midgets using his own rear axles, gear boxes, frame, rails, etc., while their popularity lasted. His name and picture appeared in the book “The Mighty Midgets” which was written almost 40 years after he quit racing.

Johnny died at the age of 82 on October 10, 1989.