John Potts · Friday March 21, 2008
I mentioned in the TV column a week or so back that the last time I was on a pit crew, we had side windows, quarter glass, and wing vents. That led to a phone call asking “When were you on a pit crew?”
Well, this is really driven to the past, because the last time I was pressed into service by somebody who needed help was in 1985. I’ll admit that we didn’t have all those things then, but until then it had been at least 15 years prior since I’d done it.
I was on the first K&K Insurance pit crew at Daytona in 1966. The car was a 1965 Dodge Coronet, owned by Nord Kraskopf of K&K, and the crew chief was on old friend from Louisville, Harry Hyde.
Harry asked if I would handle the blackboard (no radios back then, either) and do the lap charts, along with helping to keep track of how the opposition was running in practice (no computer scoring monitors back then, either).
That last bit led to a real interesting conversation. Sitting out on the pit wall during a practice session with two stopwatches, I commented aloud that Richard Petty was really hauling the mail.
The guy next to me muttered, “Yeah, the cheatin’ sucker.”
I looked over and it was a very well-known crew chief.
With my tongue planted firmly in cheek, I said, “How can you say that about a fellow competitor?”
He said, “Because he’s outrunning us by five miles an hour, and we’re cheating up a storm!”
One of the things that got me on this subject for a “Driven to the Past” column was remembering everything that happened that year.
It was said in those days that NASCAR had their ways of dealing with rookie teams, and we learned that first hand.
One day Mr. Norris Friel, the chief inspector at the time, came wandering into our garage and looked over the Dodge while we were working on it. After a walk-around, he told Harry that he noticed that the window crank handles had been taken off everything but the driver’s door.
He said, “I want the handles put back on, and I want you able to crank the windows up and down. Quarter glass, too.”
Harry walked over to the car next to ours in the garage, a Dodge Charger from one of the Ray Nichels teams, and looked it over. He then said, “Mr. Friel, there’s no cranks in this car anywhere but on the driver’s door. They can’t crank the other windows up and down.”
Mr. Friel replied, “I’m not inspecting THAT car, I’m inspecting THIS one.”
I had to put the window cranks back in. A real education in the way NASCAR dealt with rookie teams.
As for the racing itself, we didn’t get to qualify because of the weather. If I remember right, pole qualifying was held on Sunday, and you qualified for the 100-milers in the middle of the week. We ran seventh in the first one, behind Paul Goldsmith, Petty, Don White, Marvin Panch, Fred Lorenzen, and Sam McQuagg.
In the 500, we were running in the Top 10 when the engine let go at 112 laps and we ended up finishing 29th, I think. Gordy came into the pits with what looked like milk pouring out of the exhaust pipes.
Thinking back to that year, I saw one of the neatest tricks I’ve ever seen pulled at Charlotte. Petty was outrunning Lorenzen after having switched from Firestones to Goodyears (two brands back then). Like I said before, no radios back then. Fred took a piece of tire marking chalk out of a uniform pocket and wrote “GOODYEAR” backwards on the driver’s side window so the Holman & Moody crew could see it when he came by the pits.
He changed tires and eventually won the race.
More than 20 years later, when he was running in the old “Fastmasters” ESPN series at Indianapolis Raceway Park, we were sitting at the same table in the hospitality tent and I told my son about it. Fred said he didn’t think anybody remembered it.
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