1977 AUTO RACING INDUCTEE
Fred Gerhardt was famous as an engineer and builder of racing automobiles in the world. A native of Fresno, Fred knew what he wanted to do at fifteen when he first became interested in how automobile engines worked. Fred’s fascination with cars developed specifically in relation to creating horsepower and increasing speed. Working in the family garage, he entered his first race with a souped-up Chevy on a dirt track in Newman, California. Duane Carter, who would go on to become a nationally known driver and veteran of eleven starts in the Indianapolis 500, was behind the wheel.
Fred made a car for another Fresno teenager, Bill Vukovich which Vukie totaled in a race at Chowchilla. This partnership, however, would go on to dominate midget racing in the western United States for many years to come. Driving for Gerhardt, Vukovich and his brother, Eli, traveled the countryside, racing as many as twenty heats and races a week for two years. After World War II, Fred and Vukie won the Pacific Coast Midget Championship in 1945 and 1946. Gerhardt continued to win races and championships through the 1950s and beyond. His cars were driven by the likes of Johnny Parsons, Bill Cheeseborough, and Tony Bettenhausen among others. In 1950, Vukovich won the National Midget crown in one of Fred’s cars and Parsons took the 1956 Pacific Coast title in a Gerhardt special. From 1957 to 1976, Fred and his son, Don, fielded cars in the Indy 500. As a car owner, Fred also won championship races at the Phoenix 500 and the Michigan 500 with Gary Bettenhausen at the wheel. In 1980 after an illness slowed him down a bit, he came back to build a midget for his son Rick and stayed active in his work until he passed away in 2001.
Fred Gerhardt won many awards and championships during his career. He is an inductee in the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame, but his innovations and inventions are also included in his legacy. He was responsible for not only helping design and build the Drake Turbo Offenhauser, but also the Supercharged Drake Offenhauser in 1966. Fred was the primary American rear-engineer builder from 1966 to 1970. He also helped innovate a new car lift system for enclosed trailers that is still being used today as are many of his inventions for the agricultural industry. The Fred Gerhardt Open Wheel Classic was a dream of Fred’s son and current Madera Speedway promoter, Rick Gerhardt. Fred’s name and his dedication to racing still lives on today through his family, friends, and admirers of his work and passion.