The Short, Happy Life of Tom Cole

Privateer racer Tom Cole made a name for himself in the early 1950s, but paid the ultimate price for his love of motorsport.

October 2, 2009
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You may never have heard of Thomas Lionel Howard Cole, better known as Tommy, but in the late 1940s and early ’50s, this young Englishman was a racer to watch. The man behind the creation of the Cadillac-Allard in America, Cole later moved on to another breed of stallion, competing across Europe in a pair of Ferraris.

All that was in the future when Cole first came to America in the late 1930s. Then, after World War II, he returned to the States and quickly became enamored of the East Coast racing scene. He soon attached himself to the Frick-Tappet racing team.

“Tommy Cole would meet us at the gate at races all around the East,” explained team manager Bill Frick. “He’d get on the running board of the tow car and we’d tell the man at the gate that he was with us. At first, he didn’t know which end of the screwdriver to use, but after awhile he became quite helpful. In the parlance of the circle-track racing scene, we called these people [like Cole] ‘stooges’ or ‘pit stooges.’ They were just fellows who wanted to be around the racing scene and did not have a car.”

That soon changed. The well-to-do Cole (his family was in the shipping business) stepped into the driver’s seat himself in 1949, bringing an HRG 1500 and a Jaguar SS-100 over from England. He entered both cars in America at Bridgehampton on June 11.

“Tommy Cole was well known to all as a gentleman,” noted Bridgehampton founder Bruce Stevenson, “charmingly forgetful of his passport, his wallet, his helmet and the unimportant details of daily life. But in a thrilling exhibition of driving skill, he piloted the Jaguar to second place using only one hand on the controls—the other was occupied holding the battery in position!”

The Jag was beaten only by the 8C Alfa Romeo of veteran driver George Huntoon. In the 1,500cc heat race, Cole drove the HRG to a fifth-place finish.

After this impressive debut, Cole didn’t race again for a few months. On September 17 at Watkins Glen, he drove the HRG to fifth in the Seneca Cup and fouth overall in the Grand Prix, winning class B. “His driving was good, aggressive and it pushed the limit,” remembers MG racer Denver Cornett, “but sometimes he was erratic and reckless.” Confirms friend Vic Franzese, owner of the famous Glen Motor Inn, “He was fearless, almost to the point of being reckless.”

Also from Issue 98

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  • F1 race report
  • 166 MM returns to Mille Miglia
  • Carbureted Mondial 3.2
  • Goodwood Festival of Speed
  • Ferrari struggles in ALMS
  • Market Update: The Modern 12s
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