The Leader Card Racers team was a staple in Indy car racing for five decades and earned three victories at the Indianapolis 500. Its second-generation owner, Wisconsin’s Ralph Wilke, died on Monday at the age of 90.
Funded by the family’s paper goods company, Wilke’s father Bob assembled the Leader Card team in 1959 and with the legendary Rodger Ward behind the wheel, experienced the remarkable achievement of winning on their Indy 500 debut. A second victory with Ward would follow in 1962, and in 1968, a brash upstart by the name of Bobby Unser took his first win at the Speedway (pictured above) while delivering Wilke’s third and final.
Upon Bob’s passing in 1970, his son Ralph would step forward to run the team and continued fielding USAC and CART IndyCar Series entries through the 1994 season. Outside of the big cars, an active passion for short track racing is where Wilke’s team found its greatest success after the Indy 500 wins. Altogether, 195 open-wheel drivers represented the team as more than 200 wins and multiple championships were secured.
“My dad was really the bridge that afforded his father and myself to be successful,” Ralph Wilke’s son Greg told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “When his father went Indy car racing, he was able to run the (paper) business and keep it profitable, which contributed to his ability to be away and contribute the funds he did to racing.”