Reporter Venlo Wolfsohn dies at 83; covered motor sports for The Post

Mr. Wolfsohn wrote for The Washington Post about motor sports and other racing events, including those involving boats, bikes and planes.
Mr. Wolfsohn wrote for The Washington Post about motor sports and other racing events, including those involving boats, bikes and planes. (Family Photo)
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By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 17, 2010; 9:58 PM

Venlo Wolfsohn, 83, a car-racing enthusiast who parlayed his passion into a career as a freelance motor sports writer for The Washington Post, died of cancer Nov. 13 at an assisted living facility in Elizabeth City, N.C. He lived in Bethesda.

From 1960 to 1982, Mr. Wolfsohn wrote more than 600 stories for The Post, covering the Indianapolis 500, events at the Marlboro Motor Raceway in Maryland and land-speed record attempts at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

Mr. Wolfsohn's racing expertise was not limited to motor vehicles. He covered rowing regattas and motorboat races on the Potomac River, bicycle races in Montreal and air races in Indiana, where pilots buzzed around pylons at more than 200 mph with their wingtips sometimes less than 50 feet off the ground.

He often captured the characters of the racetracks in spare prose, including the "villains of the velodrome" who "dressed in black leather" and rode "roaring motorcycles." Of Richard "Tex" Hopkins, a flamboyant flag-waver at Marlboro, he wrote in 1960: "There's only one place a man would dare wear a lavender suit, and that's at a racetrack."

In another piece, Mr. Wolfsohn began: "There are some people who would be very happy to spend several weeks in a hot, crowded shed working hard, long hours. One of them is John Moore of Alexandria. What makes everything fine with him is that the shed is in the Indianapolis Speedway's Gasoline Alley."

Mr. Wolfsohn was also a public relations expert for trade associations and groups in the automotive industry.

He wrote news releases and newsletters for the International Truck Parts Association, the Sports Car Club of America and other trade groups, such as the National Corrugated Steel Pipe Association.

Mr. Wolfsohn's interest in motor racing started in the early 1960s, when he raced cars in his free time at local tracks. A soft-spoken man, Mr. Wolfsohn said he preferred to drive cars with smaller engines because "they don't go very fast."

"He never won, but he just enjoyed racing, motoring along the course," said Ace Rosner, a friend of Mr. Wolfsohn's who raced with him at Marlboro. "He never wanted to take any chances by bashing up his car or injuring himself or anyone else."

Venlo Wolfsohn was born Nov. 4, 1927, in Milwaukee. He never married and had no immediate survivors.

He moved to Washington in 1938 when his father, Leo Wolfsohn, left his post as managing editor of the Milwaukee Leader newspaper to take a government job. Venlo graduated from Anacostia High School in 1944.

In 1948, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of business. He spent his college years as an editor of the school's newspaper and a member of the sports staff of the campus radio station.

Mr. Wolfsohn's first name comes from a city in the Netherlands that his father once spotted on an atlas. After visiting the city later in life, Mr. Wolfsohn hung its historic crest on a banner in his home in Bethesda's Bannockburn neighborhood.

He had an extensive library of sports and military history books. One of the more peculiar and subtly humorous titles in his collection was "Gems of American Architecture," published in 1935.

In a letter quoted in a 1998 Post article, Mr. Wolfsohn said that the booklet was a lumber company's catalogue of outhouse designs, including "The Delight," "The Precision," "The Patrician" and "The End of the Trail."

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