16/3/1898 - 3/9/1938
Record updated 02-Jul-20
Dubbed 'The Grand Old Man of Auto Racing' Chet started racing in 1922. He was killed 16 years later when he crashed trying to avoid a child who had run onto the track during qualifying.
Chester Leroy Gardner, dubbed 'The Grand Old Man of Auto Racing' by race promoters, was born in Ridgeway, Montana, United States. He started racing in Colorado in 1922. In 1927 he moved to Southern California and was twice crowned 'Southern Dirt Racing King'.
In 1928 he first raced in AAA finishing 10th on the dirt oval in Detroit. In 1929 he drove relief for Speed Gardner in the Indy 500, having failed to qualify himself, from lap 32 to 82 and then from lap 97 to the finish. In August he switched to racing a Duesenberg
1930 started with a fine qualiying performance at Indy with Chet putting the Duesenberg in 5th spot. Unfortunately in the race he spun out in the South West turn on the first lap.
At the Legion Ascot Speedway just over a week later at the begining of June, Gardner crashed into a fence dislodging a piece of wood which tragically struck and killed a twelve year old boy, George Cline. Later in the month he finished third at Akron after qualifying in second place.
He was missing from the AAA series for two years but returned in 1933 to win the Midwest AAA Sprint Car Championship. In 1930 Sampson had hired Riley Brett and Louie Meyer to build a 16 cylinder engine, similar to the Lockhart V16 engine, from two Miller 91 cubic inch blocks parallel to each other to form a U16 rather. Louie Meyer had driven the car at Indy in 1930, 1931, and 1932. Called the Sampson Radio Stevens Miller, Chet drove it there in 1933 finishing 4th. He had another second place finish at Milwaukee in July of 1933 and a third at Syracuse in September.
In 1934 he qualified 5th for the Indy 500 driving the Sampson Radio Stevens Miller again but broke a con rod in the race to be classified 21st. After retiring he drove relief for Barringer from lap 98 to 161.
1935 saw him come home in 7th place driving the Sampson Radio Stevens Miller and followed it up with a 4th at Springfield.
The following year saw another retirement at Indy, stopping after 38 laps with a broken clutch to be classified 29th.
He drove a Duesenburg Offy entered by "Burd Piston Ring" in 1937 and finished in 11th, one lap behind the winner. He best finish that year was at Springfield in August when he finsihed in 5th place.
In 1938 he finished with a career equalling best at Indy of 5th in Joe Lencki's Rigling Offy, again sponsored by Burd Piston Rings. On the 28th of August he won his first AAA race, crossing the line at Milwaukee at an average sped of 84.34mph for the 100 miles. Then, less than a week later, on September 3rd he was killed in a crash when he swerved to avoid a child who had run onto the track during qualifying at the Flemington Speedway, New Jersey.
He had three brothers, Dean Orville Gardner who was killed in a midget racing crash in Phoenix, Arizona, Ray Alva Gardner and Paul Theodore Gardner.