To Walter Edwin Hansgen, 38, of Westfield, N.J. goes SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S award as U.S. Sports Car Driver of 1957. In the best year ever for American sports car racing, Walt Hansgen had the highest marks in those events that grouped the most powerful cars and finest drivers. Campaigning from coast to coast in D Jaguars from the stable of Briggs Cunningham, the distinguished Connecticut sportsman, Walt won eight of the 13 featured races he entered, placed second twice. His 9,500 points in the Sports Car Club of America's Class C (modified) division—the major league of U.S. amateur racing—left his nearest competitor 6,400 points behind.
In achieving his championship Hansgen invariably drove up to his considerable abilities. He came into the sport late (in 1951, at 31), and in 1957 his technique caught up with his high spirit. He let up neither when ahead nor behind. And he showed his pluck and skill best in a race he did not win. That was in November, on the new course at Riverside, Calif. The experts gave Hansgen in his 3.8-liter Jag no chance at all against Carroll Shelby and Masten Gregory in their more heavily powered 4.5-liter Maseratis. Yet no one who saw it will soon forget the astonishing sight of Walt Hansgen in first place for 12 of those 25 laps.
The year was an unexampled one for the sport in the U.S.: a half dozen new road courses to race upon, big entry lists for an expanded racing schedule, large crowds nearly everywhere. It was the year in which Pennsylvania's Bob Holbert emerged as a Porsche driver of great ability; in which California's Dan Gurney popped up, without a decibel of fanfare, as a Ferrari driver of extraordinary promise; in which the Texan, Shelby, winner of this magazine's 1956 award, shrugged off what might have been a disfiguring injury and the disappointments of a lackluster season to triumph, unforgetably, at Riverside.
But over the long haul the laurels belonged to Walt Hansgen, whom SPORTS ILLUSTRATED now honors.