Figaro, Louis A., Jr. (823rd)

    Louis A. Figaro, Jr.

Biography:  Louis Angelo Figaro, Jr., “Lou”, was born on October 12, 1920, in Inglewood, California and was the son of Louis Angelo Figaro (born LeoLuca Ficara) and Amanda Bartley. The senior Louis immigrated with his parents from Corleone, Sicily, Italy, in 1903. Lou attended Miramonte Elementary and then Edison Junior High and Riis High School through the 11th grade. All three schools are located in Los Angeles. Lou was quite athletic and in 1934, he won the Junior Pentathlon for the city and was recognized for the farthest long jump. He left school to work as an automotive mechanic and race car driver.

On March 3, 1941, Lou married the former Katherine Alice Pfeil, who was born in Leonardville, Kansas, and was the daughter of Herman Pfeil and Sophia Inez Kendall. The new couple would make their home in Monterey Park, CA.

Lou’s love of cars and racing started at and early age and was greatly influenced by his friendship with Don Freeland, who himself would become a famous racer after the war. Don’s father was a mechanic for a race car driver and Lou learned everything he could from him. The family’s first record of Lou racing was in 1937, when he lied to about his age to participate. He would go on to race all over California including the Carrell Speedway, Balboa, Oakland and Culver City. If it could be raced, Lou had done it, whether it was jalopies, roadsters, motorcycles, midgets, big cars or stock cars.

Service Time:  Lou entered the service on January 14, 1943, at Arlington, CA. After his basic training, he was assigned to the Headquarters Company of the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion and utilized his skills as a mechanic to keep the unit’s vehicles in good working order. The 823rd trained at a number of military bases including Camps Bowie and Hood, Texas, and Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, where they were located prior to participating in the Louisiana maneuvers. The unit boarded trains on March 9, 1944, enroute to Camp Myles Standish, and the Boston port, where they arrived on the 12th to begin their final preparations for the trip overseas. On April 6th, they loaded the U.S.S. Sea Porpoise and sailed for England, arriving in Newport, Wales, on the 17th after an uneventful trip.

After some additional training and a delay, they boarded three LSTs and landed on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, on June 24, 1944. They were equipped with 3″ towed anti-tank guns and went into action within 24 hours of their arrival. Supporting the drive on St. Lô, they fought at Mortain in August and passed through Belgium and Holland, entering Germany on September 17th. Fighting along the Siegfried Line in October, which included the encirclement of Aachen, Germany, the 823rd converted to M10 tank destroyers beginning in November, and shifted to the Ardennes in late December, fighting to eliminate the Bulge in January, 1945.

They crossed the Roer River on February 24th and the Rhine River on March 24th. The unit raced eastward to the Elbe River, at Magdeburg, in April and finally began military occupation duties on April 21st. Lou received credit for the campaigns of Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe. He was awarded the EAME Campaign, WWII Victory and the Good Conduct medals. He shipped home on September 7th, arriving back in the U.S. on the 16th. He left the service on the 24th at Camp Beale, California, and held the rank of Technician 4th Grade.

Lou returned home to his family, which had grown by one through the birth of their son, Dale, born in 1943. In 1946, the couple would welcome a daughter, Patricia. Lou also returned to his life as a race car driver, racing for himself and for other owners. In 1950, he raced at the Pan American Mexican Road Race and rolled his Hudson race car, severely injuring his ear. Over the next few years, he participated in numerous NASCAR events and in 1951, Lou started in the pole position for the first NASCAR Grand National event at Carrell Speedway and won the race, leading through the entire 200 laps. He would win the 1953, WAR Championship.

NASCAR Champion Article – July 6, 1951

On Oct 24, 1954, Lou was racing at North Wilksboro Speedway, located in North Carolina, in his #187 Hudson Hornet. On lap #157, he lost control of the car, which flipped over. He was pined by the roll bar and sustained severe head injuries. Lou was rushed to the hospital but sadly died the next day. He was buried in the Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles, CA.

He died at the young age of 34, but had accomplished much in the field of racing and is remembered as a friend by the other drivers, helping anyone he could. We was well-known throughout racing circles and had he lived, would have certainly been an even greater success.  In 2002 Lou Figaro was inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame. I want to thank Lou’s granddaughter, Tracy, for providing the photos and information used in this tribute.