Rob Manson: 1953 Tatum GMC Special

Charles “Chuck” Tatum was a decorated Marine Corps veteran of Iwo Jima from Stockton, California. He built the Tatum GMC Special in late 1952-early 1953 on a dare from friends Phil Hill, Sammy Weiss and Doug Trotter. Pre and Post War Ford suspension and drum brakes are mounted on a Tatum, designed and built, tube frame chassis. The engine, originally from a truck, is an inline 6 cylinder GMC. For the 1954 and 1955 seasons, Wayne Engineering of Los Angeles, supplied full race 302c.i. versions with its 12-valve cross flow cylinder head. Jack Hagemann of Hayward, Ca. built the all aluminum body.

The Tatum GMC Special was an active road racing participant and occasional winner, throughout California, from 1953 through 1955. During that period it also won the Best Sports Car Trophy at the 1954 Oakland National Roadster Show and was Hot Rod Magazines’s Cover Car for October 1953. The Tatum turned 157 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats and co-starred with Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie in the Hollywood epic JOHNNY DARK. Chuck Tatum raced his Special in the Del Monte Trophy feature race at the 1954 Pebble Beach Road Races. The Tatum GMC Special has been an active vintage racing participant since the mid-1980’s and is entered in the Del Monte Trophy Race Group for the Rolex Monterey Historic Reunion most years since 2015.

In 2021 the car was driven by Blake Tatum, Chuck’s son, as a tribute to the 70th Anniversary of the Pebble Beach Road Races. At our request Blake sent some information about him, as a driver…

Blake Tatum, race driver, in his own words.

I got interested in racing as a little boy; I spent hours hanging out in the garage watching my dad build and work on race cars. When I would come home from school I would sit in whatever race car we had sitting in our garage and pretend to drive it. As I got older the desire to race cars intensified but the financial resources never showed up.  Finally when I was about 27 years old I could afford to go SCCA racing. Since my background was in Volkswagens and since my dad was the builder of the Crusader Formula Vee we decided that was my path into road racing. My dad and I built a new car based on the then current hot setup for Formula Vee.

Our first car was not a smashing success mainly because the learning curve for me as a driver and for us as designers was not up to the standards being set at that time. In 1994 we redesigned the car and instantly went faster.  I won the regional Championship in the ultra-competitive FV class that year.  From there I again won the regional championship in Formula Vee in 2005 and 2006.

I won the Formula Car Challenge FV Championship also in 2005. This was a Challenge series between everyone on the west coast.  The Championship race was at Kent Washington, a track I had never driven on. I qualified on the pole in damp conditions but when the race started it was sprinkling. Unfortunately I only had intermediate tires for conditions that called for rains. Not knowing the weather for that part of the country, I figured it was going to be a sunny weekend since it was the very first weekend of September. At the start I fell back to third place and was able to hold onto the position but the guy in front of me was my rival for the championship and he was on rain tires.  With one lap to go he spun at turn three and I was able to slip past. From there it was a matter of who was able to keep the car headed the right direction in the now torrential downpour. Luckily I had just enough grip to beat him to the finish line and take the Championship.

I still race the Formula Vee and also have a Formula First which my dad and I built together.

At one point I had the track record in Formula Vee at Laguna Seca which was eclipsed when the runoffs were held at the track. I currently have the track record for Formula First at Thunderhill Raceway Park and at Laguna Seca. I have over twenty victories in SCCA racing and over fifty podium finishes.

My very first victory of any kind was when I drove the Tatum Special at an CSRG event back in 1998 at Sonoma Raceway and I look forward to driving it at the Rolex Monterey Historic Reunion at Laguna Seca, August 14/15 2021.

As a side note I am currently the editor of the SCCA San Francisco Region’s magazine called The Wheel and have been on the SCCA Board of Directors for the region for over 12 years.

Here’s a picture of my father and me that was in the program for the 1965 SCCA races in Stockton California.

 

Blake Tatum                                                                            By email Tue, 3 Aug 2021

 

PS Marcus, it’s a shame we cannot meet in person. I really like your writing style in the press release!

See also Blake Tatum’s article at https://www.sfrscca.org/news/memories-of-my-competition-school-blake-tatum-1402/