Wally Campbell (1926 - 1954)
By Jeff Hardifer with John Feltman
"He was fearless and he pursued his goals in that manner."
From Jeff Hardifer: John Feltman of Brooklyn, New York has been generous in providing information about Wally's life including his childhood in Allentown, New Jersey. John had found the wallycampbell.com website in June of 2009 and we began communicating via email. Those emails are excerpted below.
First some background. Wally was orphaned as a young man. He was one of eight children born in Red Bank, NJ. He and his twin brother Bruce went to live with Gus and Irene Feltman of Allentown, NJ. Here is John's first email:
"Hello! My name is John Feltman. I was born in 1930, and lived in Brooklyn, NY most of my life. But every summer, I spent my school vacation in Allentown, NJ at my Uncle Gus's place where Wally and his brothers lived and worked as plumbers with my Uncle Gus. I worked with them all summer and Wally was like a brother to me. He was always helping me understand how to do things. Wally and his twin brother Bruce always saw to it that my days spent in Allentown were filled with things to do. I use to watch Wally build small go-carts with old motors and 2 cycle engines. I watched him build his 1st soap-box derby racer."
In 1943 Tragedy Struck:
"I cried for two weeks when Wally and Bruce were hit by a truck while riding on a motorcycle. Bruce was killed but somehow Wally survived. I had never seen Wally cry before, but as Bruce's casket was lowered into a grave in a small cemetery in Allentown, I saw the tears fall down his cheeks and I felt the loss that he was feeling. Wally was my hero in those days and his joys and sorrows were my joys and sorrows."
"Wally's determination to become a great race-car driver grew more intense. He seemed to drive with reckless abandon as I watched him on the 'small' screen TV back in Brooklyn, He was unbeatable and I was overjoyed that things in his life were turning for the better.”
Wally Campbell was killed in a sprint car practice accident on Saturday July 17, 1954 at Salem, Indiana.
“In 1950, I entered the USAF and became a senior aircraft technician by 1953. I received a letter from Wally in early 1954. He told me what he was doing and his plans for his future years in racing. He offered me a job as his pit-boss because he knew that I shared his work ethic and the belief in the importance of being precise and mechanically competent. I was overjoyed at the prospect of being with Wally again, and pursuing his dream of being the best driver ever, and I wrote him a letter telling him of my pending discharge in August,'54 and my delight that he thought so highly of me. Sadly, it all was not to be. The rest is history."
"I have no doubt that Wally would been one of the greatest ever. He was a wonderful, caring and fearless man, a Chuck Yeager of race cars, a very special human being."
Our next correspondence was in July 2009. I had inquired about the year of Bruce’s death (1943):
“Thanks Jeff! I Mentioned the Cemetery because my memory is not what it used to be and I felt the cemetery people could give you the exact date of Bruce's death. I knew Wally was there also. I was still overseas when Wally was killed but my mother told me of visiting the Cemetery after the interment. Thank you for that picture of the grave site. It surely tells the story of the relationship of Gus and Irene and the Campbell boys.
Gus and Irene lost their only child (a little girl who died of Black Diphtheria in the early 1930's), and I believe that the Campbell boys filled part of that aching despair that comes to a mother and father who loses a child to death.”
“Although the graves have been rearranged from when I knew them, I am sure that the graves of Gus and that little child are amongst them. And although they were not a deeply religious people, their loving and caring of each other spoke volumes as to their spiritual strength. I am sure that they are all together in heaven. And I am also sure that after Bruce's death, Wally's daring and courage to challenge the world grew beyond measure. And on that day of the trial run, July 17th 1954, Wally's true self as a fearless warrior in his chariot, drove beyond the standards set by other mortals, and drove fearlessly and without hesitation into immortality. And if any man is cited in heaven for his ability to rise from the ashes of a Depression in a selfless way and yet attain a measure of greatness through his courage, determination, and loving nature, it will be Wally Campbell. Thanks again, I will be writing again. John
PS. There was a swimming hole in back of that cemetery where we all went swimming on hot days. Some of the happiest days of my life.
John and I corresponded in October 2009 after I had sent him a second book of newspaper articles.
“Dear Jeff: I received the latest editions on Wally. I am very grateful for your thoughtfulness and generous contribution to my memories of a very important part of my life. Wally was a very special guy and I am happy to see that his story is being perpetuated. He was fearless and he pursued his goals in that manner. I know that if he had lived, he would have been one of the greatest drivers ever. And he had an innate sense of the Physics involved in racing cars. He once told me that winning and losing was often decided by the bearings in the wheel. When he built his Soap-Box-Derby car, he had a test-axle for spinning and timing wheels. And his knowledge of engines and motors was unique in that he never went to Engineering school. Wally’s life was about a man who was reaching for the Gold and touched it as he pursued his goal of being the greatest driver ever. He truly was a braveheart. I feel privileged to have been a small part of his life.”
Our latest correspondence was late December, 2009. I had gone to the cemetery and taken photos that included the gravesites of his aunt and uncle.
“Jeff! It is as I knew it would be. Thank you for your kind considerations in this great story that was really more than just Wally. It's about a family that came together because of a depression and sought a life together. It was all about a basic goodness, a strength of character, and a dream of a better tomorrow. A dream that evolved into a creative and competitive spirit that manifested itself through a man who reached for the gold and touched it more than once. He did it on sheer guts, and a natural genius. I have no doubt that Wally would have become the greatest of them all. But maybe Wally's focus to win interfered with his instincts in that the car he drove to his death was not properly tested for center of gravity etc. That is what I was told and that is what I believe. But no matter, he was, to me, an extraordinary human being, a real champion. I always loved him like a brother, and I knew he felt the same about me. “
For more information and a collection of photographs, visit The Wally Campbell Website at:
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