SCCA sports car racer who graduated to become a polished professional and one of the greatest American sports car drivers of the 1950s.
Walt Hansgen was a SCCA sports car racer who graduated to become a polished professional. He was the owner of a New Jersey body shop and a Jaguar dealer. One of the greatest American sports car drivers of the 1950s, Hansgen built a mighty reputation with his own Jaguar XK120, before taking on the role of lead driver for Briggs Cunningham in 1956 racing a D-Type.
In 1958 he visited Britain to take delivery of a Lister-Jaguar, which he raced briefly winning three out of the four races he entered, before returning home to campaign the car with great success.
In the early 1960s Walt undertook occasional single-seater drives, earning fifth place at Watkins Glen in 1964 in a Lotus with a steady drive. The same year he qualified from Indianapolis, faster than any previous rookie, and at 44 years of age. He ran as high as third before finishing 12th. In the 1965 500, he took his car from 21st on the grid to 5th before overheating slowed him.
Hansgen drove Briggs Cunningham's Tipo 61 Maserati Birdcage to seven SCCA National wins over the 1960-61 seasons. In 1960, he also drove Cunningham's T60 2-liter Birdcage to win the under two-liter class at the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside. In 1961, the Cunningham team was also running the newer Tipo 63 rear-engine Birdcage. Its lack of factory development proved troublesome, but Hansgen posted the car's only wins in SCCA Nationals at Bridgehampton and the Elkhart Lake 500, with Augie Pabst co-driving in the latter.
He had two 3rds in the two NASCAR Grand National events he competed in, but it was in sports cars that Hansgen really shone, taking victories in a wide variety of machines and four SCCA National Championships in C Modified, before racing John Mecom's stable of cars when Briggs withdrew from racing at the end of 1963.
He had two 3rds in the two NASCAR Grand National events he competed in, but it was in sports cars that Hansgen really shone, taking victories in a wide variety of machines for Briggs Cunningham and winning 4 , before racing John Mecom's stable of cars which boasted a Ferrari 250LM, a Lotus 19, a Scarab Chevrolet and a Lola T70.
In 1964 before he joined Mecom, Hansgen drove a Ferrari GTO at Daytona for Luigi Chinetti's North American Racing Team. In September, Mecom took delivery of a new Ferrari 250 LM and Hansgen won the Elkhart Lake 500 driving with Augie Pabst. He drove the same car at Nassau in 1964 and Sebring in 1965.
Hansgen began 1966 sharing the Ford MkII with his protege Mark Donohue, taking third at Daytona and second at Sebring, but he was killed when he crashed the car in the Le Mans 24 Hours test weekend in April 1966.