If you’re a motorhead and you’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Bardahl.
Founded in Seattle in 1939 by a Norwegian immigrant, Ole Bardahl’s line of engine additives became world renown by the early 1950’s due in large part to racing sponsorships. Looking back, an unlimited hydroplane christened “Miss Bardahl” was likely the most famous of the racers to fly the company colors but there were literally hundreds of others. Bardahl sponsored competitors at Indianapolis beginning in 1950. As sports car racing grew in popularity, Bardahl saw the value in supporting those competitors as well and the drag racing crowd wasn’t far behind. Midget auto racing became hugely popular after World War II and Clark “Shorty” Templeman was a Northwestern superstar. After arriving on the scene in 1954, Templeman made “short work” of his competition and quickly rose to pinnacle of his division. He is best remembered for his many victories in Bardahl sponsored cars- some painted in a split emerald green and black livery (like the early cans) or a brilliant yellow. Ultimately Templeman won five Washington state Midget titles and another three in Oregon. Proving this was no fluke, he then joined the USAC National Tour and won three consecutive championships in 1956, ’57 and ’58. Once he became a known commodity, Templeman transitioned easily to the larger, more powerful “Big Cars”. He drove in five Indianapolis 500’s scoring a career best finish of fourth in 1961. Interestingly in all of his appearances at the Speedway, Templeman never drove for Bardahl. Sadly, he met his demise in a Midget race in Marion County, Ohio in the summer of 1962.
Ole Bardahl clearly enjoyed the exposure the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” provided his growing line of automotive additives and continued to sponsor racers there for the next twenty years. Typically the Bardahl entries were painted black but there were exceptions. In 1969 Bobby Unser qualified and finished third in a striking yellow and black checkerboard Bardahl Special. Along with the obvious benefit of promoting your product at a venue of this magnitude, Ole Bardahl used Indianapolis as an opportunity to network with other automotive professionals from all over the world. In the early 1950’s he forged relationships with people like Enzo Ferrari (even sponsored his entries) and Argentine world driving champion, Juan Fangio. It is no coincidence that eventually Bardahl opened manufacturing plants in Italy and Argentina as well as in France, Belgium and Brazil. Curiously, the Bardahl brand today maintains very low profile here in Pacific Northwest where it originated. Much of what is bottled in Seattle is shipped to Central and South America. In 2015 sales of Bardahl products in foreign countries far exceed what is sold domestically.
A contemporary of Bardahl’s (and fellow Seattleite) was a bathroom chemist named Clinton Morey. In 1952 Morey invented a thick, honey-like oil supplement he called Power Punch. Morey wasn’t one to spend much money on advertising or sponsorships but he made a good product and it sold readily. A network of wagon peddlers was established and eventually Power Punch was being sold by route salespeople throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho and down into Northern California and Nevada. Third generation owner Peter Morey was a boat guy and spent a good chunk of change sponsoring race boats like Bardahl had before him. As far as “wheeled billboards” were concerned, Morey’s preference was drag racing so the few sponsorship dollars he dealt out, went in that direction. The one exception to this rule was Bremerton short tracker Craig Moore who has beat the drum (and the competition) on behalf of Power Punch these past couple of seasons in the Modified ranks.
When shown a photo of the “Power Punch Offy” taken in the late sixties, Morey was puzzled and had no recollection of the car whatsoever. He suggested that the sponsorship was between one of his former wagon peddlers and the car owner- not the factory. Likely, the sponsorship was for free product rather than cash. Regardless, the relationship was short lived.
A bigger mystery was the “Dexson Special” which made its appearance at Northwestern racing venues in the early 1950’s. McClure Distributing Company of Portland produced a fuel additive for passenger cars and chose to promote their product by painting Bud Kinnamin’s Midget to match their retail can. Though the violet and gold livery was distinctive, it didn’t stand out on the racetrack (especially at night) and the Offy didn’t maintain those colors for long.
Unlike Bardahl and Power Punch, Dexson is no longer in business so all that remains are a few old photographs and the cans themselves. Portlander Delbert McClure who owns short track race cars to this day, denies knowing anything about the McClure that spearheaded this ill-fated endeavor.