A native of Novi, Michigan, Lew Welch sponsored race cars as far back as 1934. He owned the car Cliff Bergere drove to 3rd place at Indianapolis in 1939. It was an Offy powered car with an old 1935 Miller-Ford chassis that Harry Miller had built for the Ford Motor Company.
In 1941, Welch had Bud & Ed Winfield, Lou Goossen, and Fred Offenhauser built him an exotic motor which was named after his hometown of Novi, Michigan. The Novi engine had a special V8 crankcase. The cylinders were two upper Offy cylinder blocks and four cam assemblies bolted to the case. The engine had a shaft driven super charger that made a whine when it turned about 25,000 RPM on the long Indianapolis straightaway. The engine produced an exotic noise different from any racer ever run and the fans thrilled to it’s sound.
Frank Curtis built a unique front drive car for the 700 horsepower motor in time for the 1946 Indianapolis 500, but the car retired with a burnt valve Kurtis built a second Novi for the 1947 race with Herb Ardinger and Cliff Bergere finishing 4th after the car won the pole position. The following year, Ralph Hepburn replaced Cliff Bergere following an argument between owner Welch and driver Bergere. Hepburn became Novi’s first victim, dying in a practice crash. Chet Miller a team driver then quit the team. Duck Nalon stepped in and drove the Novi to a 3rd place finish which would prove to be the best finish ever for a Novi.
Duke Nalon and Rex Mays started 1-2 in 1949, but Nalon’s rear axle broke, putting him into the wall and he suffered severe burns, luckily escaping with his life. May’s Novi was leading when the car dropped out. Nalon captured another pole position in 1951 with the Novi. For the next few years, Lew Welch entered his beloved Novis, but all the effort went for naught. In 1953 Chet Miller met his death in a Novi.
Welch now realized that the old front drive Novis were no longer competitive and commissioned Frank Curtis to build him two new rear drive cars. Except for a brief blaze of glory in 1956, when Paul Russo was running away from the field, till he blew a tire and crashed, Lew Welch’s beloved Novis registered no other real success.
After spending fifteen years and a fortune trying to win the Indianapolis 500, Lew Welch gave up his dream and sold his entire racing team including all inventory. Never has one man produced a car that captured the imagination and excitement of the fans, as did Lew Welch with his Novi team, for they were always the sentimental favorite of the fans. At the age of 74, Lew Welch passed away on April 9, 1980. Although he never realized his dream of winning the Indianapolis 500, Lew Welch undoubtedly created more interest and excitement in his era than any other race car owner.