Trenton, New Jersey’s Wally Campbell began his racing career at Flemington (N.J.) Speedway on June 15, 1947, which, interestingly enough, was also the day that fellow EMPA Hall of Fame member Frankie Schneider first ventured out onto the race track.
But while Campbell’s introduction to racing was a rough one as he rolled his No. 29 Ford sedan that day, he was the 1947 champion of the newly-formed, Trenton-based American Stock Car Racing Association and he won that title again in 1949 and 1950.
Like a lot of racing car drivers in that era, though, the World War II U.S. Navy veteran – who in the late 1940s won more Midget races than anyone at Philadelphia’s old Yellow Jacket Speedway – had his eye on the Indianapolis 500 and he competed whenever and wherever he could in an effort to get to the big time and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Campbell won a 100-mile Modified race at Langhorne in 1950 in the record-setting time of one hour, 17 minutes and 41.21 seconds at the then-pretty-respectable average speed of 77.21 miles per hour. It didn’t hurt his career when he won 33 features and the 1951 NASCAR National Modified Championship while driving Wally Marks’ No. 1 1937 Ford coupe. And he also raced his own No. 86 1933 Ford three-window coupe in other “short-track events.”
But racing was also very dangerous at that time and this was easily seen on October 14, 1951, during Langhorne’s first National Open for Sportsman Stock Cars when Campbell suffered severe burns in a fiery 20-car accident coming off the fourth turn on lap 83 that blocked the track and injured a dozen drivers.
Campbell made his first venture into NASCAR Grand National (Cup Series) action at the wheel of the Marks No. 18 Oldsmobile in the first Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway on September 4, 1950. There were 15 days of time trials to determine the 75-car starting field but although Campbell posted the fastest qualifying speed with a five-mile run of 82.400 mph, he did so on the 13th day and thus started the race from 60th position. But later that year he won the pole for NASCAR’s fall Grand National race at Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway.
In 1952, Campbell also won poles for the Grand National races at Atlanta’s one-mile dirt Lakewood Speedway and at Pennsylvania’s half-mile Heidelberg Raceway. And his best career finish in the GN Division was two thirds in 1952 at Lakewood and Langhorne.
When NASCAR created a Speedway Division in 1952 – which featured Indianapolis-style race cars powered by Ford, Mercury, Cadillac, Chrysler, Oldsmobile, Nash and Hudson engines with limited modifications – Campbell raced a 266-cubic-inch Mercury flathead-powered red No. 1 Hillegass Sprint Car that he stretched to Championship Car length. And he won four of the 10 races that were held in that series during its two-year existence.
In 1953, Campbell won four American Automobile Association (AAA) Eastern Sprint Car races and one AAA Midwest race in Frank Curtis’ No. 8 Offy and was “Rookie of the Year.”
In 1954, he won three AAA Eastern Sprint Car races and attempted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, but failed his Rookie Test and was told to go home and get more experience. However, he did make two AAA Championship Car starts that year in Ray Brady’s No. 33 at Langhorne and Darlington, although he didn’t finish either race.
But all that effort and promise came to a tragic end only one day after his 28th birthday when the popular driver was killed on July 17, 1954, while testing a Sprint Car owned by Ted Nyquist on the high-banked half-mile asphalt track in Salem, Indiana.
At the time of his death, Wally Campbell was driving the No. 41 Sam Traylor Midget and leading the AAA’s Eastern Division Sprint Car standings in the Sweigart/Traylor No. 25 Offy.