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Greenville & Hockessin Life

The flag-to-flag victory of George Alderman

Jun 29, 2022 12:22PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

The visitor was in the wrong place to interview the right person.

Throughout the Hockessin home of George Alderman, there are contradictions that are as loud as the racetrack at Daytona moments after the call goes out, “Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines.”

Every photograph on the walls that shows Alderman seated in Formula Cooper-Alfas and Lotus 23s and McLaren Chevys should come with sound, and rumble with the reverb as the pictures suggest. Instead, they stand as a silent black-and-white testimony to past achievements.

A man of accomplishments should be interviewed in his domain, and in Alderman’s case, it would have been perfect to speak with him in the creature comforts of a former race car driver – among the oily tools and torn-apart engines of a mechanic shop. Yet George Alderman is now 90, and as it is, he is seated in a comfortable chair, and a temporary cane that came after a minor fall is within arm’s reach.

Every wall in the home should suddenly reveal itself to be movie screens, showing films that portray the complete life of its owner careening around race tracks – the 50 top-ten finishes, the 27 top-fives and the five wins. It should be able to show footage of he and his wife Marilyn and their children Lauren and Paul on vacation and traveling to races as a family in a motor home.

One cannot expect magic to happen every time, so the visitor concedes. He will tell a tale about a life well lived and lift every layer of it slowly, in direct contrast to the way George Alderman drove those cars around the tracks that led him directly into automotive racing history.

The trip to Watkins Glen in 1952

Born in Delaware on April 29, 1932, Alderman lived in Michigan with his grandparents for four years before moving to West Chester and finally to Newark in 1949. After graduating from Newark High School in 1950, he spent one year at the University of Delaware, but began to take an early interest in race cars.

Alderman’s lifelong passion was firmly ingrained in him during a trip he made in 1952.

“I was involved with a couple of people who were interested in sports cars, and I ended up buying a brand new MGTD and drove it to see a race at the Watkins Glen Raceway in upstate New York,” Alderman said. “At the time, it was a five-mile course that ran through the streets of Watkins Glen. I was thinking about entering midget racing at the time, but then got deeply involved in sports cars, and joined the Brandywine Motor Sport Club.”

His timing could not have been more perfect.

Following a two-year stint in the Korean Conflict, Alderman returned home to find himself at the ground floor of a sport that saw the 1950s become the official first decade of American road racing. Suddenly, the world of road racing, which had until that time been seen largely on oval tracks driven by specialized cars, became the fertile ground of Alfas, modified MGs, the Chevrolet Corvette and the Ford Thunderbird, and many of the industry’s key races were now being broadcast before millions of viewers on television. Names that would become very familiar to even the casual racing fans one decade later began to emerge onto the Formula 1 scene: Richard Petty. Bruce McLaren. AJ Foyt. Stirling Moss.

Riding his MGTD, Alderman entered his first road race at Floyd Bennett Field in Staten Island, N.Y. in 1953. Soon after, he met Lex DuPont, a race aficionado who owned an automotive shop nearly his family home at what is now the Hagley Museum in Wilmington.

“Lex was racing Cooper Formula IIIs and had become an unofficial importer of Cooper race cars from England, so through Lex, I was able to buy my first Cooper race car,” Alderman said.

The purchase began a nearly six-decade odyssey:

  • In 1960, just four years after receiving his national racing license, Alderman was Sports Car Club of America Formula 3 National champion in a Cooper-Norton.

  • In 1964, he won his second SCCA National title in a Formula Libre Cooper-Alfa.

  • In 1966, he drove a Lotus 23 to the SCCA NE Divisional Championship. George raced a Lola T70 in the Can-Am series, including 11th at the inaugural race at Mont Tremblant in Quebec, Canada.

  • In 1967, he won the Governor’s Cup at Upper Marlboro, Md. in a McLaren Chevy, en route to another SCCA NE Divisional Championship.

  • In 1967, he was voted into the prestigious Road Racing Drivers Club.

  • He also competed in Trans-Am series races in a Ford Mustang. George also held many overall track lap records (Lime Rock, Conn. in 1963 and 1965; Marlboro, Md, and Virginia International Raceway in 1967).

  • Moving to the International Motor Sports Association, he won the IMSA Baby Grand championship in 1971 in a Datsun 510.

  • In 1974, he again won the BFG Radial Challenge Series championship in an AMC Gremlin.

  • In the 1980’s, he drove Datsun Z cars in the Camel GT series.

  • In 1992, at the age of 60, he finished third in the Dandelion Grand Prix behind his son Paul in an SCCA National race at Lime Rock, Ct.

  • In 1992, he led the winning team in the Nelson Ledges 24-hour race in a Caterham Super 7.

  • In 2002, just two days before his 70th birthday, he competed in his final race at Lime Rock.

From 1956 to 2002, Alderman drove everything from open-wheeled formula cars to specially-built factory sports racing cars to production-based cars, and became one of the most successful race car drivers in the United States.

“Racing a car is all about passing,” he said. “In many ways, it is really no different from other athletic competitions. You want to pass the guy that is in front of you, if you can catch him. In a car, you’re relying on the quality of the engine that you’ve built for the car, so there is more of a challenge to get you care to go faster that your competitor.

“In the end, it is the hope that you’re faster than the other guy, and while there were plenty of cars that were in the same category as mine, I was often able to beat them.”

Marilyn’s Triumph TR3 springs an oil leak

In 1961, following her graduation from Oberlin College, Marilyn Miller moved to Delaware to work for Hercules, Inc. On the advice of her co-workers, she pulled her Triumph TR3 into the Alderman Automotive Sports and Racing Car Preparation Company in Newport, where George Alderman had just opened a business to repair sports cars.

“She was dating a guy at Oberlin that was a year behind her in school, so when she graduated and got the job at Hercules, he asked her, ‘How are you going to get to work?’ She responded, ‘I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll take a train or a bus.’

“The guy offered him his Triumph, and one day, she called me at the shop and said that there was oil dripping on her foot near the gas pedal. When I looked at the car, I eventually found that there was a hole in the battery box and it was dripping directly on her foot. We were able to fix it and send her on her way.”

On November 24, 1962, Marilyn and George were married in Erie, Pa.

Eventually, in order to accommodate his growing business, Alderman purchased two acres of land on DuPont Highway near New Castle, and within a few years, became the founder and president of Wilmington’s Alderman Datsun-Nissan in 1966. The dealership later became a four-time winner of the Nissan Award of Merit for Outstanding Performance and Dealership Excellence.

For several years, Marilyn was a constant stable in her husband’s life that extended to serving as secretary-treasurer of the family business – they sold the franchise in 1994 -- to accompanying him on trips to his races around the country. She even received her SCCA Regional racing license and participated in a few races and hill climb events before Lauren was born.

Bitten by the flying bug in the 1980s, she often flew one of the family-owned planes -- an Aerospatiale Trinidad or the Piper Seneca III – that she kept at the New Castle County Airport.

In 1984, Alderman established Alderman Automotive Machine, which originally served to support his racing team, but over time, the word had gotten out that the company was building well-performing race engines. They still do; under the direction of son Paul, Alderman has become a well-respected provider of top-quality machinery from the world’s leading manufacturers and services for all kinds of high-performance vehicles.

“A lot of people have asked me how I learned so much about automotive machinery and technology, and the truth is that while I have always been handy, it really began when my father would tell me, ‘There’s the tools, and there’s the book. Come and ask me if you have a question,’” said Paul, who was a regional and national car racer from 1989 to 1996. “He knew enough to get me involved with cars early, but he encouraged me to figure out the answers on my own.”

The oversized poster at the end of the hall

Marilyn Miller Alderman died peacefully at home on May 5, 2013. She was 73 years old. While her presence is visibly absent from room to room in a house that seems entirely devoid of a feminine influence, she is never very far from Alderman; a painted portrait of her rests above a mantle in the family living room, prominent and warm and less than ten feet from the chair he uses to watch car races and keep up with correspondence with his family and his friends.

Up until a fall he had at Alderman Automotive Machine momentarily sidelined him a few weeks ago, Alderman would frequently visit the shop to lend a hand with suggestions and tips to Paul and the crew. While the cane he insists is temporary, he admits that his balance is not as great as it once was, and the cane helps.

As the visitor prepared to leave, Alderman flipped the cane, got up from the chair and continued the conversation to the family room one floor below, to where a treasure trove of reminders from his long career in racing is stored. Posters of races, framed newspaper stories, trophies whose former sheen is now gray with age, photographs of his family and racing colleagues – it was all there, stacked and catalogued like a museum of testimony.

Alderman pointed with his cane down the hall, to where an oversized black-and-white poster of Alderman in his racing suit took up the entire end wall.

Alderman is about 30 in the photograph, and he appears fresh from the completion of another race, and his face is dewy from sweat and his eyes twinkle and he smiles a crooked smile, likely with the anticipation that there will be many more races to run. Alderman chuckled at the question that included the word “legacy,” specifically his own.

“I don’t really know about any kind of legacy,” he said. “I suppose I just enjoyed working on cars and fixing them up.”

“My father is pretty reserved and not one to beat his chest over his accomplishments,” Paul said. “Bragging about his success just isn’t in his nature. When my friends would learn about what my father did, their reaction was usually, ‘You mean your dad is a race car driver?’ Really?’

“I can’t begin to count how many times people would tell me, ‘Your dad is one of the best car racers out there.’ I know he drove a lot of times and won a lot of races, but to me, he has always just been ‘Dad.’”

There are over 500 members of the Road Racing Drivers Club, made up of the most successful racing drivers – men and women – from the U.S. and Europe. Members are elected by their peers and include Formula One world champions, Indy 500 winners and champion sports car drivers.

“It is a very exclusive club for road racers, and you have to get nominated to even be considered for membership,” Paul said. “You can’t just call up and ask to join. The list of members is a Who’s Who of famous race car drivers, and there are a lot of very good drivers my father raced with over so many years, and they are not on that list.

“Dad is on that list.”

George Alderman then grabbed an old yellow racing helmet on which his name was inscribed in italics, and led the visitor back upstairs, and one by one, the contradictions begin to vanish.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].

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