Vintage News

6/30/2014 - Chuck Tatum 1926-2014

Stockton, CA - Chuck Tatum, whose "Tatum Special" sports car was among an early breed of home-built racing specials to challenge import marques on SCCA West Coast circuits in the early ’50s, died here June 22, 2014. He was 87. His life was chronicled in Sept/Oct 2013 issue of Vintage Motorsport.

A restless innovator who caught motor racing fever at a pre-war midget race in Stockton's Baxter Stadium, Tatum never lifted; after the war, he raced hardtops and hot rod roadsters at dusty tracks up and down California's Central Valley, he personally campaigned the Special and developed his own Formula Vee, the Crusader. Featuring a tall, hot 300hp Jimmy 6 stroker, his simple, strong and fast "Tatum Special" won some airport races (including his victory before a hometown crowd at the Stockton Road Races in 1953). He also drove the car in the 1954 race car film, "Johnny Dark."

A native of Oklahoma and a Depression-era migrant to California, Tatum was a member of America's Greatest Generation. In 1943, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and was sent to Iwo Jima where he survived three months in some of the most brutal warfare in military history. His book about that campaign, "Iwo Jima: Red Blood, Black Sand - Pacific Apocalypse" was a valuable reference for producer director Steven Spielberg in his TV series, "The Pacific."

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Evelyn, his son Blake, who is an active vintage racer and editor of The Wheel, regional magazine for the SCCAs San Francisco Region, and daughters Tracy Willis and Nancy Leslie. An older son and two daughters passed earlier.

A memorial scholarship in Tatum's name has been set up to benefit students at Stockton's St. Marys High School. Donations can be made to the Rhonda Tatum-Eagal Memorial Scholarship, St. Mary's High School, PO Box 7247, Stockton, CA 95267-0267.—Michael Dobrin

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