The Frontstretch: Driven To The Past : Dropping The Flag...Really! by John Potts -- Friday September 26, 2008

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Driven To The Past : Dropping The Flag...Really!

John Potts · Friday September 26, 2008


Got another question this week, after I was talking about myself and Shorty
Miller, the irrepressible flagman/starter from Ohio. Did I ever drop a flag on the track?

Oh yeah, once or twice. Twice at the old Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in
Louisville, where the cars were so close to the outside wall sometimes that a flag could snag on them. The accompanying photograph of Bill Kimmel shows just how close they could get.

But I only remember dropping a checker on the track once, and that was in an ASA race at Springfield, Mo. in the 70s. Didn’t have anything to do with being close to the cars.

I had the checker in my hand and was ready to throw it when a corner caught on the light switch cover and it whipped out of my hand. This was before I was using two checkered flags, so as quickly as I could I tried to use the red without turning the light on, so nobody would slow down before they hit the start/finish line.

It worked out fairly well, except for the shape the checkered flag was in when I got it back.

Bill Kimmel, father of Frank, takes the checkered flag in a heat race at the Fairgrounds Speedway in Louisville.

I think some of those guys (I suspected people like Dick Trickle, Mike Miller, Dave Watson, Rusty Wallace, etc., all of whom had a mischievous streak) actually went out of their way to run over it, and a couple even locked their brakes when they thought they were on top of it. Suffice it to say that my wife was not happy about having to make a new checkered flag before it was time to start a new season.

It was similar to something that happened while I was working with ARCA in the 60s. Last week I referred to one of my trademarks at the time, a white cowboy hat that I wore before we had radios and headsets. The other trademark was a red bandana hanging out of my left hip pocket.

During a heat race at Salem, Ind., the hat blew off. The field came out of the fourth turn with two laps to go, and I pointed at the hat, which was lying about halfway between the start/finish line and the first turn.

Ramo Stott (another guy with a mischievous streak), waved in acknowledgment
that he understood and saw the hat. Then he proved it. He ran right over the hat, and, naturally, the whole field followed him right over it.

When my younger brother Bob, who served as sort of a track steward with ARCA
at the time, brought it back, I yelled down that Ramo had run over it. He looked at it and said, “EVERYBODY ran over it!” The hat looked like something Gabby Hayes wore in one of those old Roy Rogers westerns, with a few bullet holes in it.

Ramo used to bring a group from Iowa to the Busch race at IRP each year in
the 90s, and one of the primary topics of conversation was always that incident
at Salem some 30 years before. Reading through some of the stories of the early days of NASCAR has brought about the realization that a lot of race drivers have that playful streak in them.

Sometime I’ve got to try and recall all the details of the great bottle rocket battle at Bristol…

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09/26/2008 07:38 AM

I love these columns, big thanks, probably because I can relate to some of them.

When I first flagged MIS, it was the first time I worked the “crows nest”, above the track. After the very first day, the thought of dropping the flag some 15 feet onto the track caused me great concern, so I drilled holes in the handles, installed a leather shoelace that would go around my wrist!

Never dropped a flag, and still have that very same set of flags to this day.

Back in the days of Sports Car racing, we stood ON THE TRACK to do all the flagging. Starts and finishes. When I started going to tracks that began installing crows nests to flag from, kinda lost the intense interest because I loved the “on-track” style best!

I know, safer, no doubt! But definitely not as exciting!

And about the time the crows nest came along, I did some USAC/SCCA F-5000 races, and low and behold they gave me headsets so they could tell me when to throw the green!

Should have seen the look on their faces when just before the cars hit the start line I tore these head sets off! No one was going to tell me if I should give the green, that was in my hands! Cause that’s the way I grew up!

The starter controlled the starts! Not the tower!

Good stuff!

09/26/2008 02:18 PM

Good point Douglas, we all loved being able to work from the track, that’s where I learned to pay attention, working figure-8 races from the track at 12 years old. Keep up the stories Dad!!!

John Potts
09/26/2008 04:13 PM

Yeah, and Yo’ Momma wanted to kill me when she found out I even let you out there.

09/27/2008 11:17 PM

John, just so you know your columns are_the best on the site. The added bonus is when you toss Trckle’s name in..that guy was amazing behind the wheel.