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Peter HelckPeter Helck was born in 1893 and by the time of his death he had seen automobile racing from its early beginnings on Long Island to the rear engined single seaters we are accustomed to today. He knew drivers from Louis Wagner to Mario Andretti and his paintings documented their exploits as none had before or since.

As a young boy he would garner rides with race car driver Al Poole testing the latest cars from Simplex. The first race that he attended was the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island. He grew inspiration from legendary French artist Edouard Montaut who’s exaggeration of speed leant his work a sense of super realism. While an art student in New York he would spend many a lunchtime gazing at all of the wonderful showroom displays along that city's automobile row. His first published work was for the Brighton Beach Motordrome. Commissions for the Sheepshead Bay Speedway soon followed. 

Tazio NuvolariIn time Helck worked for most of the major publications of the day including The Autocar through which he traveled to England and the continent. While there he witnessed major races in France and Italy. In the 1930's he was commissioned by the Sinclair Oil-Company to create a five paneled map. The result was a portfolio of lush service station scenes which monumentalized Sinclair and the idea of driving for pleasure. Helck himself has estimated that he created more than 600 racing sketches, drawings, and paintings that are owned by both private individuals and museums.

Peter HelckIn 1941 "Old 16", arguably America's most famous race car, passed into the ownership of the one remaining man who could fully appreciate the drama and history caught up in the big gray car - Peter Helck who immortalized the Locomobile race car in one of his greatest paintings. The big Loco still carries the original gray paint and racing number from the 1908 Vanderbilt race - Helck had promised both drivers, Tracy and Robertson that the car would never be "restored." Upon his death it was bequeathed to the Henry Ford Museum.

Great Auto Races  by Peter Helck
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Peter Helck was born in New York City in 1893. He studied art at the Art Students League in Manhattan and later studied in England with muralist Frank Brangwyn. From the 1920's through the 1940's Helck was very successful as a magazine illustrator and advertising artist. His commissions frequently were of industrial scenes, or featured cars, trucks and locomotives.

During that period he also painted pictures of famous automobile races -- having been an avid fan of the sport since childhood. In 1944 he did a series of paintings for Esquire magazine in which he recreated the excitement of automobile races from the first decades of the 20th century. To his great satisfaction, these pictures proved very popular, and in the following decades he developed a large market for paintings of old cars. It is for this genre that he is mostly remembered today.

 

His death in 1988 at the age of 95 closed a window to the past when men drove huge monstrous machines at tremendous speeds over rock strewn roads. Beyond his paintings Helck authored many articles and at least two books, The Checkered Flag and Great Auto Races

Official Website: http://www.peterhelck.com/index.php