Wally Dallenback, Sr.
Sport: Auto Racing
Born: December 12, 1936
Town: East Brunswick
Wally Dallenbach was born December 12, 1936 in East Brunswick. He had a keen interest in racing and racing cars as a boy. In the years after World War II, as stock car racing became popular in the Garden State, Wally decided to get into racing as an owner and mechanic in 1952 after purchasing a 1938 Ford. He would have been the driver, too, but he was just 15 at the time. Ed Farley drove the car and his cousin, Mike, towed it to races behind his 1950 Plymouth.
Wally also tinkered with rear-engine dragsters. When he was 22, he built a care that won more than 80 championships between 1959 and 1964. He also drove in dirt track events up and down the East Coast. Wally became one of the region’s top Modified drivers in the early 1960s. He won the 1963 and 1964 track championships at Vineland Speedway. He was also a regular at the Old Bridge Speedway. He also competed in NASCAR Grand National events, including the 1962 Daytona 500. He finished sixth driving for Don House.
In 1965, Wally competed in his first open-wheel race, in Langhorne, PA. He finished 9th for owner Mel Nelson and was hooked. He would compete in 180 USAC National Championship events, winning five.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, Wally and his wife, Peppy, lived in East Brunswick. After winning three races in a row the Indy Car circuit in 1973, Wally invested in a 130-acre ranch in the mountains near Basalt, Colorado. It had been a dream of his since they honeymooned in Aspen in 1960. His two sons—who would both follow him into racing—rode dirt bikes and snowmobiles around the property as teenagers. Three decades later the property sold for $20 million.
In 1974, Wally had the second-best qualifying time at the Indy 500, behind A.J. Foyt. Other drivers complained that Wally’s supercharger was too big to be controlled by the new pop-off valves that had been instituted to control the power of the cars, but USAC ruled them to be legal. Wally blasted out to an early lead and set a new lap record with a speed of 191.4 mph. One lap later he broke a piston and was done for the day. One year later, Wally led the Indy 500 for 96 laps until a blown piston on lap 162 ended his day.
From 1976 to 1978, Wally notched Top 5 finishes at the Brickyard, and led the 1976 race briefly. During 15 years as an Indy Car driver, he competed in 180 events (including 13 Indy 500s) and took the checkered flag five times. Wally’s final Indy 500 appearance was 1981, when he was a substitute qualifier for Marion Andretti.
By that time he had joined CART series, which began in 1979. Wally was named Chief Steward of the organization in 1981 and held that position until 2004. During that time he instituted key safety measures and also created a non-denominational church for drivers. His brother, Robert, was a bishop in the Pillar of Fire church.
Wally’s son, Wally Dallenbach Jr., was a NASCAR driver in the 1990s and became a TV commentator for the sport. Wally Sr. was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame thanks to a decades-long charity event—The Colorado 500 Dirt Bike Rode—that he started in the 1970s.