The Frontstretch: Driven to the Past : John Potts by John Potts -- Thursday March 6, 2008

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Driven to the Past : John Potts

John Potts · Thursday March 6, 2008

 

I grew up in Louisville, Ky., and my father and mother started taking me to what they called the “hardtop” races at the Jeffersonville (Ind.) Sportsdrome when I was ten years old – in 1949. I was hooked from the start. Those hardtops were mostly 1939 and 40 Fords and Mercurys, with an occasional 39 Hudson tossed. in, and the racing was fantastic.

One night I was walking behind the grandstands with Dad as we headed for the concession stand, and a guy came up and grabbed me by the shoulder, and asked if I’d like to make a few bucks selling newspapers. He said I’d get a nickel a paper, and he’d give Dad the money for my ticket. There are times over the last 50 years or so when I’ve thought, “If I’d just told that guy ‘No’ I wouldn’t be in this mess.” However, over the long run I’ve had no reason to regret it. The people I’ve met in racing have become the best friends I have, and just about everything good that’s happened to me has happened because I was involved in racing.

Back on the original story, I sold 100 copies of National Speed Sport News that night and made $5.00. This wasn’t a paltry sum for a ten-year-old in 1949. Every week, I was back, doing the same thing and even continuing through the next year. The third year, the guy who had the NSSN “franchise” moved away, and nobody stepped up to take it. I figured it was worth a try, and I put in a call to their headquarters in Ridgewood, N.J. (after promising my mother that I’d pay for the call). The circulation guy told me that they’d be glad to work with me, and pointed out that I’d make a dime a copy (the paper was only a quarter then), since they sold it to franchisees for 15 cents a copy.

Hot Dang! I was stepping in high cotton that season.

That went along pretty well, and soon I had another job, this one paying only in experience. Chris Economaki called and told me the guy who handled the paper sales was supposed to send in a story on the races. Here I was, 13 years old, and he wants me to write racing stories. He said if I’d just write what I saw, he’d handle the editing of the stories for me.

And that was the beginning of my writing career. This continued until I graduated from high school and went into the Air Force, then resumed when I came out in 1960 and helped build the Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville, and took over the sales of the paper there. Before too long, they asked me to try flagging, and it took a few seconds to make up my mind since it was something I had always wanted to do. From there on I flagged there and at various other tracks. In 1963, John Marcum hired me to flag some ARCA races, and when ASA was organized in 1972, I began flagging their races and serving in any other capacity needed.

For most of this time my “real” job was as a newspaper editor for a weekly in Salem, Ind. and Scottsburg, Ind. In 1985, NHRA hired me as news director at IRP, with Bob Daniels, then the general manager, planning to lean on my oval experience. In turn, he helped me learn drag racing and road racing.

In the fall of 2000, NHRA decided I was to be the next victim of a downsizing move, and I went into retirement until 2002. I answered an ad in NSSN for a manager’s job at I-75 Speedway near Mt. Vernon, Ky. the first year Jonathan Smith of Chicago owned it, but he hired someone else. In the middle of the first full year of operation, 2002, Jonathan purchased the Corbin track because it was cutting into his car and crowd count, and he decided that Mike couldn’t handle the PR for both tracks at the same time and contacted me. When I got there, I started doing all kinds of work, scoring when needed, announcing, keeping the web site updated, keeping track of point standings, just anything that needed done.

We were getting ready for 2003, when Jonathan decided in March or April that he wanted to chuck the whole deal. Mike took off and went back to Illinois, and I asked Jonathan to bear with me for a month and let me try to sell one of the tracks. He told me would, although he figured I wouldn’t be able to sell either one.

Along came John E. Davis, a resident of Knoxville who knew me from the early 80s when I was helping Andy Vertrees at a short track in Charlestown, Ind., and who had run a small track at the Salem, Ind. fairgrounds for a couple of years. He said it had always been his dream to own a racetrack, so we started talking. It took a while to get it done, but we got it done and John asked me to stay on with him. Jonathan wanted to know how I managed to fit in and be accepted by all these people down here after I had been living In Indianapolis for almost 20 years, and working for NHRA at Indianapolis Raceway Park for 15 years.

So I’m still here, living in London, helping at Corbin and writing, and now here comes Tom Bowles wanting me to write some more.
Hang on folks, this might be a wild ride when I start digging out old stories.

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David Martin
03/07/2008 03:19 PM
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Johnny Potts from Louisville Speedway. What a blast from the past. No Driver did anything you didn’t allow back then.

Glad to see you’re still around.