This Archives edition is reprinted from Issue 5, February 9, 2005. CN has hundreds of past Archives editions in our files, too many destined to be archives themselves. So, to prevent that from happening, in the future, we will be revisiting past Archives articles while still planning to keep fresh ones coming down the road -Editor.
Carroll Resweber: Dirt Track’s First Superstar
By Scott Rousseau
With all due respect to the great names who raced before, with and after him, Carroll Resweber most likely was dirt track’s first superstar. Blessed with incredible, raw talent, he came, he shined bright as the sun, and he suffered a cataclysmic end, just like a real star does.
Unlike many of his peers, Resweber, a self-described Harley-riding “wild one” on the streets of his native Port Arthur, Texas, didn’t really know much about motorcycle racing before he got involved in it.
“I’d only seen one race before I started racing,” Resweber says. “I didn’t even know they raced motorcycles on dirt. I remember I went to this race and stood down in the number-one corner, and I seen this guy coming, and it looked like he laid it down, so I just started running to get out of the way. When I turned around, all I saw was this big cloud of dirt, and away he went. It was Joe Leonard. That really got my heart pumping, and Joe became my idol. A few years later, I was sitting on the starting line with this guy who had impressed me so much.”
Soon after Resweber crossed paths with the game’s greats, such as Leonard and Everett Brashear, they were convinced that they were standing in the presence of greatness themselves, as Leonard recalls.
“We raced in Du Quoin one time, and Carroll won his amateur heat, and he was faster than all us [Experts] were,” Leonard says. “Everett told me then, ‘We’re going to have problems with this kid.’ I said, ‘I see what you mean.’ The guy ended up beating us so bad that he drove me into car racing!”
Those who saw Resweber ride marveled at his incredible balance and feet-up style, skills learned on, of all things, a Cushman scooter.
“I just loved to get sideways on a motorcycle,” Resweber remembers. “I started doing it on a Cushman scooter on a high school playground. We’d start making big circles and then just tighten ’em up and tighten ’em up until we got sideways. We just played like kids do.”
To Resweber’s benefit, that horseplay translated well on the big dirt track Harleys, with their spindly, three-inch-wide tires. Soon, Resweber had made friends with Brashear, and he began traveling with the racing veteran.
“Everett got me hooked up with Ralph Berndt,” Resweber says.
Berndt was a very talented mechanic who worked in the racing department at the Harley-Davidson factory, and he happened to have a spare motorcycle upon which he placed Resweber for a trio of three smaller races in Wisconsin. Resweber proved himself worthy by winning all three.
“So, then I went home for the winter, and Ralph called me and told me that if I would come back up there, he would give me a ride,” Resweber says. “That was in 1956, but we didn’t go to any nationals that year. We rode in a lot of farm towns and got me some more seat time. I didn’t start going to nationals until ’57.”
And it didn’t take long for Resweber to start winning them. Before season’s end, he would score two wins in the eight AMA National races held that year, his first one coming on the half-mile in Columbus, Ohio, on June 16, 1957. Resweber recalls that his tremendous gift of balance served him particularly well that day.
“You talk about picking up my foot,” Resweber says. “In the main event, I was sitting there with Everett Brashear, Joe Leonard, Brad Andres and Al Gunter, and I’m thinking, ‘Man, what am I doing here?’ But I got to the corner first, and about three laps later, my steel shoe came off! I couldn’t put my foot down, and that’s when I really noticed that it works better. Sit in a chair and pick your foot up and feel where the weight of your butt on the chair goes. When you pick your foot up, that’s just more weight on the rear wheel.”
Resweber picked up his foot and picked up even more race wins in 1958. The title battle ultimately came down to Resweber and his good pal Leonard at the season finale Peoria TT. Resweber recalls that he only needed to finish ahead of Leonard in the race. Resweber finished third, and Leonard was fourth, and with that, Resweber earned his first career AMA Grand National Championship.
After that, his career exploded like a supernova. Through 1959, where he won three of 10 nationals; through 1960, where he won four of 12; and through 1962, where he won five of 12—including four in a row—there was just no stopping Resweber. Nobody on the track could beat him to take the number-one plate away. In the end, it was taken away from him in a single, violent incident.
Resweber says that he remembers very little about September 16, 1962, in Lincoln, Illinois, a day that radically changed his life.
“I remember that it was really early in the morning when we got there, so we slept in the car until daylight,” he says. “Then when they put the coffee on, I went over to get some, and pretty soon I heard engines on the track, and I knew they were practicing. I needed to check my gearing, so I remember putting my jacket and everything on, and firing up the motorcycle, but I don’t remember even going on the racetrack. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital.
“They tell me that it was dusty, but I don’t remember how bad it was,” Resweber continues. “What happened was that they let six go out, and then another six go out. I was in the second pack and was catching up to the first pack when somebody in there fell, and somebody ran over his motorcycle and then somebody else ran over him. They ended up taking five of us to the hospital, and Jack Gholson, a good friend of mine, was killed.”
In addition to the fatality, the accident ended the careers of Resweber and Dick Klamfoth.
“I was in a body cast for four and a half months, and I couldn’t walk without help for two years, and my left arm didn’t work for two years,” Resweber recalls.
Today, Resweber says that he is over it, over wondering how much more winning he might have done.
“When I was recovering, that was kind of frustrating, but it was going to be my last year anyway,” he says. “The factory was pulling out of racing, and I was working a deal with a fellow named Paul Fisher to go Late Model [stock car] racing. But just before that accident happened, that was my best year at Springfield. I’d gotten a good start that year, and after about 40 laps, I came up on Bart Markel, and I was wondering what I was going to do to get by him. Then my bike started missing and it quit. I pulled off, and when it was over, I asked who won, and they said, ‘Bart did.’ I almost lapped everyone at Springfield in 1962. I could do no wrong that day, but the gas tank split open.”
After relearning how to walk and also regaining some mobility to his damaged arm, Resweber ultimately returned to racing—albeit behind the scenes—when he accepted an offer from former H-D racing boss Dick O’Brien to come to work in the factory racing department in Milwaukee. Resweber spent 20 years there. He retired in 1992 and moved back to Port Arthur.
And every once in a while, Resweber shows up at the races. He still follows the game, and he is always surprised when someone recognizes him, which is somewhat of a mystery. After all, how could any self-respecting dirt track diehard not recognize its first superstar? Maybe because Resweber never really acted like one.
“For me, racing was strictly business,” he says. “But I would have done it for nothing.”CN
Editor’s Note: Carroll Resweber passed away May 8, 2015, at the age of 79. He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Class of 1998.