Leader Card Racers

Robert Wilke Leader Card

Robert Wilke, who later ran his family’s Leader Card printing business, started in auto racing in the late-1920s when he helped the Marchese Brothers of Milwaukee with their number 4 car.

Over more than 70 years, Wilke’s Leader Card race team evolved from a bunch of privateers and enthusiasts into a professional team able to stay competitive in the high dollar, corporate sponsored racing world of today.

Gordon White’s book Leader Card Racers: A Dynasty of Speed chronicles the story of the Wilke family’s involvement in open wheel racing through four generations. From midgets to upright sprinters to Indy roadsters, the Leader Card team cars were driven by many of the great oval track drivers including Rodger Ward, Bobby Unser and Johnny Rutherford.

A copy of White’s book sits in the seat of Dick Munz’s No. 65 Leader Cards midget racer. The car is a Kurtis Kraft creation finished in red and white and carrying a chrome front tube bumper with the “W” for “Wilkie” standing out in the center. According to White’s book, a car like this could be purchased for about $5,500 in the late 1940s. As a collector’s item today, it’s worth a bit north of there.

Wilkie fielded a fleet of cars like this one and, at one time, had three different teams racing in Kurtis-Kraft midgets. One competed in East Coast events, one competed in Michigan, and the third car ran in the Chicago to Milwaukee area.


About John Gunnell 143 Articles
John “Gunner” Gunnell has been writing about cars since ‘72. As a kid in Staten Island, N.Y., he played with a tin Marx “Service Garage” loaded with toy vehicles, his favorite being a Hubley hot rod. In 2010, he opened Gunner’s Great Garage, in Manawa, Wis., a shop that helps enthusiasts restore cars. To no one’s surprise, he decorated 3G’s with tin gas stations and car toys. Gunner started writing for two car club magazines. In 1978, publisher Chet Krause hired him at Old Cars Weekly, where he worked from 1978-2008. Hot rodding legend LeRoi “Tex” Smith was his boss for a while. Gunner had no formal journalism training, but working at a weekly quickly taught him the trade. Over three decades, he’s met famous collectors, penned thousands of articles and written over 85 books. He lives in Iola, Wis., with his nine old cars, three trucks and seven motorcycles.

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