William Lawrence, a.k.a “Bronco Bill” Schindler was born on March 6, 1909, in Middletown, New York, and became an orphan as a young teenager. His racing career started without much fanfare in 1931 as a Sprint Car driver at 22 years of age. Sources claim that he won a couple of the stock-engine races, one at the half-mile Watertown, New York, Speedway in 1931, and one at Deer Park Speedway, also in New York, the following year. A short time later, when Midget race cars migrated to the East Coast, Schindler entered the first Midget race in the East on June 10, 1934, at Olympic Park in Irvington, New Jersey.
Schindler’s driving talents started to get him noticed. He continued to race in other open-wheel classes, but it was in the Midgets that he was gaining fame. Documented records show that he raced 12 Midget races in 1935 (eight at Newfield Park and four at West Haven Speedway) and garnered eight wins out of those 12 races. The ones he did not win, he finished Second.
Tragedy And Triumph
Earning a reputation as a top Midget-car driver did not stop Schindler from trying his hand in the other classes of racing. In March of 1936, he raced in the AAA, 250-mile stock car race on the beach/road course at Daytona. He often climbed behind the wheel of Sprint Cars and other “big cars” to test himself. On September 25, 1936, during a Sprint Car race, Schindler found himself against the outside fence and into a tree. He rebounded back on the track and was hit by two other cars. The horrific crash tore up his left leg, and eventually, gangrene set in and the doctors had to remove it above the knee. He continued to race the rest of the year with one leg, earning the New England Indoor Midget Championship that winter.
Despite the handicap, Schindler continued to race, and win, attracting attention from fellow competitors and the fans. He was becoming a fan favorite and a leader in the sport. While his success was growing, the sport was starting to tear itself apart with sanctioning-body wars. The Midget race cars had become so popular that an event was happening every night of the week in most regions. He started driving for the Caruso team that was outfitted with Offenhauser engines in 1937.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) was expanding its territory and encompassing the other classes of race cars. As part of a group to keep the AAA sanctioning body out of the East, Schindler joined several other racers as “outlaws” and formed their own association. He was elected president of the newly formed group. Despite battling AAA earlier, Schindler briefly joined the sanctioning body to participate in the AAA Bronx Coliseum Indoor Midget Series, where he promptly won the 1940 Championship in a motorcycle-engined car on the wood oval.
He rejoined the outlaws and formed the American Racing Drivers Club (ARDC), where he was elected as the first president of the ARDC. He ended up serving in that role for the first six years of the organization. He won the ARDC Championship in 1940, 1945, 1946, and 1948. While driving for car owner Mike Caruso, in the black Number 2 Caruso Offy Midget, Schindler attained fifty-three feature wins in 1947, and repeated the same total in 1948.
When Midget Car racing was founded, the big car owners dubbed the small cars “Doodlebugs.” As the Midgets became increasingly more popular with fans, Walter Bull, the founder of Illustrated Speedway News, created a fan contest to crown the most popular Midget driver each year. Bill Schindler was crowned “King Doodlebug” in 1948.
Re-Joining The AAA
After the death of Sprint Car champion Ted Horn, Bill Schindler rejoined the AAA group and drove the Horn Sprint Car for Ted’s former mechanic, Dick Simonek. In April of 1950, he even played a part in the movie To Please A Lady. Running out of achievements in the Midgets, Schindler began to eye the biggest prize in American motorsports at the time: The Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. In his rookie attempt, Schindler qualified 22nd in the Automobile Shipper’s Special Snowberger-Offenhauser Number 67 car. The car lasted 111 laps before a broken universal joint in the drivetrain put the hapless driver out of the race. The race ended prematurely when rain started pouring down on lap 138, just 27 laps from the end. Schindler finished in 26th place.
In 1951, he was back at the brickyard, and this time, he had a solid ride. The Number 10 Kurtis Kraft 2000/Alan Chapman Special with an Offenhauser engine qualified in the 16th starting position and ran strong before experiencing a broken connecting rod and dropping out on lap 129. The next year would mark Schindler’s last attempt at the great race. He placed the Number 7 Sevens-Offenhauser midway on the starting lineup in 15th position. This time, his car would last the full 200 laps, finishing in 14th place as the last car on the lead lap. Things were promising, and Schindler was looking forward to the next year.
Sadly, the forty-three-year-old racer would not make it to the next running of the Indianapolis 500. Just slightly less than four months after the 1952 Indy 500 race, Schindler was competing in a Sprint Car race at Allentown Fairgrounds when another tragedy befell the driver. During a heat race on September 20, 1952, racer Carl Becker lost a wheel and crashed into the fence on the first lap. Schindler probably did not see the “go-slow” warning sign, and his black Offenhauser hit the loose wheel causing him to crash through the fence, tumbling down a 20-foot embankment and into a ticket booth at the bottom. The ticket booth attendant, Russell Behney was injured, but recovered. However, “Bronco Bill” Schindler was killed in the impact. He was buried in Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale, New York.
Why You Should Know Him:
- He was inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1985.
- He was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1998.
- He was inducted in to the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame in 2004.
- In eight successive seasons, he won six Eastern Championships and finished second, twice.
- He served as president of the ARDC for the first six years of its existence.
- He won the Bronx Coliseum Indoor championship in 1940.
- He is one of only three drivers to have participated in the Indianapolis 500 with a prosthetic leg.