The Indianapolis Racers were given franchise life in Septemeber of 1973, with an eye towards beginning play in 1974-75. Ownership was granted to a pair of businessmen who also owned the Indianapolis Pacers of the ABA. These gentlemen parted with the team and in December of 1974 after only a few months of play, Paul Deneau, the Houston Aeros founder assumed ownership. Market Square Arena was to be home for the Racers and construction was completed just in time for the team to begin play in the fall of 1974.
The Racers first season was disasterous on the ice as they won only 6 of their first 40 and ended the year on a 10-game losing streak. Jacques Demers took over the coaching duties to begin the 2nd season and things soon turned around for the young franchise. A number of in-season acquisitions which included Rene Leclerc and Dave Keon strengthened the club and helped them go from worst to first in the Eastern Diviision, making the playoffs and extending the established New England Whalers to a game 7 before bowing out.
The 1976-77 season saw the Racers lose in the 2nd round of the playoffs to the eventual champion Quebec Nordiques. By this time, financial struggles were getting the best of Paul Deneau and he began selling off chunks of the team, eventually selling all of his shares in 1977. Harold Ducote became the team’s trustee, representing the now better than two-dozen owners. 1977-78 was a miserable year for the team. Financial woes continued and the loss of Coach Jacques Demers and goaltender Michel Dion doomed the team to a last place finish.
Late in 1977, Nelson Skalbania purchased controlling interest in the team and a sure fold of the franchise was averted. Struggling to meet payroll and with attendance sparce, Skalbania made a bold move in the summer of 1978 when he signed a young phenom from the Soo Greyhounds by the name of Wayne Gretzky to a personal services contract. Gretzky, at the age of 17, played in the team’s first 8 games in 1978-79. He started slowly, registering only 6 points. Frustrated that his bold move wasn’t lifting attendance, Skalbania sold Gretzky to the Edmonton Oilers on November 2nd 1978 and the rest is history. The inflow of cash temporarily helped the Racers survive for another month, but after only 25 games, on December 15th, 1978 the team officially folded, sending their players scurrying to find jobs with other teams.
This road blue dureen gamer by Wilson was worn by Brian Coates during the 1976 WHA season. The Boston Bruins selected Coates in the 5th round of the 1972 NHL Amateur Draft. Brian chose the path of the WHA and began his career with the Chicago Cougars in 1973. He spent 2 seasons with Chicago, 2 more with the Indianapolis Racers and a final year with the Cincinnati Stingers.
The game wear on this size 46 Wilson dureen consists of stick marks, board burns, board paint transfer and areas of fine pilling. Sewn to the inside is an old-school red and white striped garter style fight strap. The all-original nameplate is certainly a treat from an era that doesn’t offer many of these vintage gems to choose from.