The comment about General Curtis E. LeMay in the August 1 issue caught my attention as it did Michael Bradley’s, who expressed his displeasure in “Letters” on August 8. The comment was entirely inappropriate in the context of Veloce Today and most definitely should have been edited out, but let’s not dwell on that. I’d like to share a story and a photo with the VeloceToday readers about Colonel Reade Tilley, whom I befriended when on the Vintage Motorsport magazine staff.
Reade was a very interesting man with many facets, not the least of which was his service in WW II with the No. 121 Eagle Squadron. Many Americans were frustrated and wanted to get into the conflict. One way was to volunteer and join one of the famous Eagle Squadrons, flying Hurricanes and Spitfires for the Royal Air Force—Reade was one of those Americans. The last time I visited the National Museum of the Air Force, Reade’s RAF uniform was there on display. In the 1990s, he was very active in the Eagle Squadron Association and served on its Board of Directors.
In the early 1950s, Reade was the Special Assistant to the Commander of the Strategic Air Command, General LeMay, and was also his Public Relations Officer. Reade was an experienced road racer, who had been racing his Jaguar XK120M in the SCCA. In 1953, he bought the Allard JR driven by Zora Arkus Duntov (later of Corvette fame) and Ray Merrick at the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans. General LeMay, a sports car and sports car racing enthusiast, bought a new and unraced Allard JR. According to Reade, General LeMay wanted to race his JR but Headquarters USAF ordered him not to race. Reade said, “He [General LeMay] would have made a great race driver, and he did not interpret his orders [to not race] as preventing his test hopping the cars during fine tuning qualification and practice prior to races.” The two Allard JRs formed the unofficial “SAC Racing Team” with drivers Tilley, Roy Scott and David Schilling. It was through this trio that General LeMay lived out his interests in sports cars and particularly sports car racing. I thought your readers might be interested in seeing this photo of (from left to right) driver Reade Tilley, mechanic Fritz Jaqusch and General LeMay and his ever-present cigar at the SCCA races at MacDill Air Force Base in 1954.
As an aside, I was always amused when Reade talked of being General LeMay’s Public Relations Officer. LeMay’s public image as gruff and uncompromising seemed to belie public relations. Reade would laugh, saying that his PR job was to keep people away from LeMay—that was the PR program! In Vintage Motorsport (January/February 1991), I wrote, “When America needed General LeMay, he was there. When road racing needed help, General LeMay was there too.” The security of the U. S. in the Cold War and motor racing—two very unlikely bedfellows brought together by a very unlikely person.
Jeff Allison is the editor of the Ferrari Club of America's Prancing Horse magazine and has written extensively on vintage sports cars and sports car racing.