SCAA Hall of Famer, Auto World Founder Oscar Koveleski dies at 88

SCAA Hall of Famer, Auto World Founder Oscar Koveleski dies at 88

12/30/2020

SCAA Hall of Famer Oscar Koveleski of Clarks Summit, Pa., died on Monday at the age of 88.

A racer from the 1950s and 1960s whose life’s passion became model cars and airplanes, Koveleski is likely best known through his Auto World model car, HO-scale models, and slot car business that he formed in 1958 in a friend’s basement in Scranton, Pa., He funded it by cashing in a $300 life insurance policy.

“Auto World started not as a store but a mail order company we operated out of my friend Bob ‘Smitty’ Smith’s basement,” Koveleski said in an interview posted to the Auto World website. “Because of our aggressiveness and knowledge, we became important to real enthusiasts and manufacturers. My wife and I did the first catalogs on the kitchen table and ironing board. Our first two of four kids got to like licking the glue on the stamps!

“Our first ad cost $55 (send certified check, as there were no credit cards or quick banking then) in Hot Rod magazine for a Monogram Dragster. It worked. Well, kind of. At a $1 or so a kit you have to sell a lot of them. I had a recurring problem with a bad back I injured several times (once in the Army as a passenger in a Jeep rollover), which had me flat out in bed off and on for years. But careful exercise and effort got rid of it but in the meantime ‘Mail Order’ was something I could do in or out of bed.”

On the track, he joined the Philadelphia Region of the SCCA at 18. His first win came in a 1951 SCCA Regional race at Bone Stadium in Pittston, Pa. He raced regularly throughout the ’50s and ’60s in SCCA Regional and National Races, as well as the 12 hours of Sebring and the 24 hours of Daytona.

In 1970, he won the ASR National Championship at Road Atlanta, beating 27-time National Champion Jerry Hansen by just one-tenth of a second. From 1969 through 1972, Oscar was a regular competitor in SCCA Can-Am classes.

“Oscar Koveleski was a treasure,” said racer and Road Racing Drivers Club president Bobby Rahal. “His outspokenness and passionate demeanor in trying to convince you of the importance of his latest project were the essence of his personality. Never quitting, always promoting, in such a charismatic way that one just couldn’t say no.

YES! There’s Oscar Kovaleski in the McLaren with the slot car track graphics! Thanks for posting John! https://t.co/m5KYXaSH3k

“As a race-car driver he was one of the best in an era where competing against the likes of Mark Donohue, Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme was a challenge. He was happy and willing to take to help promote his Auto World business and the KidRacer brand he created.”

According to the SCAA, Koveleski was a past member of the Board of Directors of the Motor Racing Safety Society and the Board of Directors for the SCCA. He also promoted SCCA races at Pocono Raceway from 1980 to 1996.

What’s your favorite Auto World story? Do you remember the old mail order catalogs. Join in the discussion in the comments section.

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