One of the most consistent frontrunners in Eastern Sprint Car racing, Earl Halaquist (September 7, 1925 – January 12, 2001) of Sydney, New York, was a major star just prior to the time that roll cages became standard on open-cockpit cars. But his deft handling of these high-horsepower racing machines and his rim-riding abilities generally kept him out of any difficulties on the race track and frequently took him into the winner’s circle.
A U.S. Navy air crew veteran of World War II (1943-1946), Halaquist never saw an automobile race until a friend took him to watch the Sprint Cars at the Little Valley (N.Y.) Speedway in 1946. Then, amazingly, Halaquist’s friend was able to talk one of the car owners into letting the heretofore spectator drive in the race.
This was certainly an interesting way for Halaquist to become acquainted with racing. But he qualified the car for the feature event and while he didn’t win it, the very raw rookie liked the experience and soon became the owner of an entry-level flathead Ford 4-cylinder Sprint Car.
Halaquist – who was a machinist by trade – ran this car for a few years. Then, in 1950, he bought a 4-port Riley Sprint Car and raced in the New York-Pennsylvania region with the Eastern States Racing Association, the Big Car Racing Association and the United Racing Club.
Now winning some ESRA races, Halaquist made his first Top-10 appearance in URC points in 1956 and by this time he knew that moving up in the sport meant that he would have to run with URC full-time and also compete in the various Eastern fair dates that were promoted by fellow EMPA Hall of Fame member Sam Nunis.
So, with that idea in mind, the man who was fourth in URC’s 1959 point standings made a deal to race with George Nesler and he finished third in points in 1960 and 1961.
In 1962, one of the most interesting things to ever happen in motorsports took place when two months after the fact URC officials advised Halaquist that he was actually the past season’s co-Champion. It seems that there was an error in calculations during the season and that Bobby Courtwright and he actually had the same number of points. So, in the official record, Halaquist and Courtwright were tied for the 1962 URC title.
That controversial situation, however, did not adversely influence Halaquist’s efforts on the race track as he came back in 1963 to finish second in the title run to Jimmy Maguire. But after this, Halaquist and Nesler would dominate the URC ranks as champion driver and car owner over the next six seasons (1964-1969).
During this time, Halaquist would win five more titles in the Nesler No. 8 for a total of six URC Championships (1962, 1964, 1966 & 1967-1969) while Nesler would win five straight URC Car Owners titles (1964-1968) as Halaquist teammate and fellow EMPA Hall of Famer Larry Dickson would claim the URC Championship in 1965. And who was the runner-up to the 1965 title? No one else but Earl Halaquist.
Things changed a bit in 1968 as URC’s insurer required that the club make roll cages mandatory on each race car. But that additional structure made no difference to the Halaquist-Nesler combination as they just kept on winning races.
Earl Halaquist held his own against the United States Auto Club Sprint Car racers when they came to the East, and also ran with the American Racing Driver’s Club Midgets (1970) in the No. 6 Offy. But his URC record was just amazing as he won 52 main events and never finished lower than fourth in the season-long point chase for 11 consecutive years (1959-1969).
In recognition for his outstanding Sprint Car career, New York’s Empire Super Sprints annually hold the Earl Halaquist Memorial.