The Closest Collier Cup Race in History

Photo for The Closest Collier Cup Race in History

2014 marks the 60th Anniversary of the Collier Cup, which from 1954 to 1959 was a race for MGs only. During the all-MG era, two racers, Bob Bucher and Sherm Decker, won four of the six Collier Cup races and they did it in MGAs. Sherm Decker won in 1956 and 1959 (Twin Cam) and Bob Bucher won in 1957 and 1958.

The 1958 race was the closest Collier Cup race in history, or as Bill Green (historian at the International Motor Racing Research Center) says, “You couldn't put a piece of paper between them.” The "them" were the MGAs driven by Bucher and Decker.

As fierce competitors as these two were, they were very good friends. Bob worked as a Document Analyst Specialist for IBM in Binghamton, New York and Sherm started the Auto Technology Program at the State University of New York at Delhi. Sherm was also the premier MGA tuner of his day and worked at the famous Morris Garage. Both MGAs were purchased from Morris Garage and the one Bob Bucher raced, 029, was owned by Spanky Smith. The cars were set up and tuned by Sherm Decker and were the same in every way. Sherm always felt he could beat the other guys, so there was no reason to set their cars up differently than his.

Bob Bucher with car owner Spanky smith in the victory circle

Very few modifications were allowed by SCCA in the 1950s. Joe Tierno, present owner and racer of 029, pointed out that these cars were very close to stock MGAs and most MGAs now raced in vintage are highly modified as compared to cars that raced in the 50s. After the 1958 Collier Cup race, Joe got a rainy ride home in 029. Joan Decker, wife of the late Sherm Decker, said, "We drove the car to the track, raced it, and drove it home." Bucher and Decker raced very equal and streetable MGAs. The driver made all the difference.

Starting positions for the 1958 Collier Cup race were not determined by lap times, but by drawing lots. Unfortunately, Decker was gridded very far back in the 27 car field with Bucher closer to the front. After the green flag, it took a few laps to sort things out, but Bucher was leading by lap three with Decker in fifth place. On lap six, Decker passed Bucher for the lead, but not by much and it stayed that way for five laps!

These two home town drivers were racing in a way never seen before or since at the Glen. Bill Green and Joe Tierno, who saw this race, rank it as one of the best ever.

I asked Joan Decker what it was like seeing such close racing. She replied, "We were all screaming and cheering. This excitement kept growing with each lap and as much as I wanted Sherm to win, I was cheering for Bob too. We all knew we were seeing the closest MG race ever and that Sherm and Bob were the best."

If things were not exciting enough, lap ten put this race into a class by itself. As the two MGAs crossed the Start/Finish line, they were side-by-side! Neither Sherm nor Bob gave an inch. Close racing, but clean racing.

Sherm Deck after winning the 1957 Collier Cup race at the Glen

They stayed side-by side up the hill through the Esses, down the Front Straight, through the Chicane, the Back Straight, and into the sweeping Fast Bend. For nearly 2.3 miles, these two racers did everything they could to find that little advantage. Into the narrow 90, now Turn One they plunged, Bucher on the outside, Decker on the inside.

Going through the 90 the smallest of advantages developed; it could have been the track surface or a puff of wind, but Bob Bucher came out just slightly ahead. After the drag race to the checkered, they were still side-by-side with 029 leading by only a few feet. What a race and it should not surprise us that MGAs were as much a part of it as two close friends who were out for an afternoon drive.

Even after this race, Bob and Sherm remained good friends. In 1961 at Sebring, they co-drove an Aston Martin DB4-GT that was entered by another great MGA racer, David Ash. I asked Joan Decker if Sherm ever said anything about how that 1958 Collier Cup race turned out. Joan remembered that as they were driving the MGA home, Sherm said, "I could have just touched him and won, but he's my friend."

Joan & Sherm Decker in the winner's circle at the 1959 All MG Races of the W NY Ctr of the MG Car Club

That really says it all. It speaks to amateur racing in the 50s and to the professionalism of two really great racers and friends who had just put on the closest Collier Cup, possibly the closest MG race in history.

The author would like to thank Joan Decker, Mark Bucher, Bill Green, Bob Poupard, Gordie Ruston, Joe Tierno, and the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen for all the fun we had reminiscing about this great race and the life and times of those who made it possible. 2014 will mark the 20th anniversary of Dick Powers racing MGA number 222, concluding his on track career with SVRA, the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association.

Photos by Mark Bucher and Dick Powers

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Last updated on October 13, 2014.

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