The Frontstretch: Driven to the Past : What’s It All About? by John Potts -- Friday June 5, 2009

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Driven to the Past : What’s It All About?

John Potts · Friday June 5, 2009


A fan asked me at the short track last week if I really had been hanging around race tracks since I was not quite 10 years old. As I’ve mentioned here before, I have indeed, except for a four-year tour in the U.S. Air Force — three of which were spent in northern Japan. Immediately upon returning home in June of 1960, I went right back to the track. Gets in your blood, as anyone can tell you.

When I was with the NHRA, the Safety Safari had a decal on the door of their trailer which read, “Within this trailer lies a disease for which there is no cure.” They referred to drag racing, of course, but the saying applies to just about every form of motorsports. Once it gets under your skin, you’ve got it for life. That being said, I wouldn’t change much over the last 61 years, even the four years in the service of my country.

As for racing, just about everything good that’s happened to me has been because of my involvement with racing. I was hired to be the editor of a weekly newspaper at Salem, Ind. in 1966 because the owners of that newspaper knew me from the racing column I was writing for a Louisville-area weekly, and from my involvement at the famous speedway just outside Salem. While in that job, I met and married my wife of 40 years, and what a stroke of luck that was. My mother, who passed away a few years ago, said often that she could have searched for years and not found any better mate for me than my lovely Joyce Elaine.

John Potts has been involved in racing for over 50 years.

Later, I was hired by The Scott County Journal in Scottsburg, Ind., just 20 miles away, because I was recommended by somebody who knew me from Salem and from our racing involvement together. Next came the job at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1985 because the general manager at the time, Bob Daniels, knew me from my ASA flagging/PR work and my newspaper job. He thought a knowledgeable racing person with a newspaper background would make a good news director for NHRA’s flagship track. Suffice it to say that he spent the better part of the next several years working on that project.

When the NHRA job ended, I eventually moved back to my native state of Kentucky, again because somebody with a race track wanted some help. I knew the area because of my frequent travels, and although I grew up in Louisville, my mother was from the London area — we had traveled here a lot while I was in my pre-teen and teen years, and I always liked the people and the area.

So, now here I sit in London, Ky., semi-retired, helping to run a short track (back to the old roots) and loving it. Over and over, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter whether your favorite type of racing involves cars going straight, turning left, turning left and right, or whatever. It’s the people you meet that make it enjoyable.

Also over and over, you hear commentators say that racing is a family-type deal. It’s true at every level. For the most part, there are no better people in the world. I’ve had that reaffirmed here, watching people jump to help another racer or racing-involved person with a problem, and they’ve even come to my aid several times – and now, I’ve met some great people who also write for

When I first started taking my son with me to the tracks when he was just nine years old, Joyce worried about it — but I explained that he had 80 or 90 “uncles” in the pit area who weren’t going to let him get into trouble. They even put him to work, and taught him enough that when he eventually attended an automotive technical school, the only things they really taught him were automatic transmissions, fuel injection, and computers. When they gave him the differential test, where they put the students in a room with more than enough parts and some incorrect parts to assemble a rear end, he came out in record time. When they checked it and asked how he did it so quickly, he said, “I’ve been doing that since I was 10.”

If I’ve disappointed anyone who was looking for another funny story in this spot this week, I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to sermonize, but I just thought I’d tell folks how I feel about this sport and how I got that way.

An old saying from Satchel Paige keeps coming to me – “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.”

I simply love racing. And that’s what it’s all about.

Contact John Potts

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John Potts
06/05/2009 11:52 AM

May I be forgiven for adding a comment of my own? I just learned from a story in the Indianapolis Star today that one of “my” drag racers at IRP donated a kidney to another of those racers in May. A beautiful story on, and another example of the kind of people we have in motorsports.

Don Wilbur
06/05/2009 12:40 PM

Way to go John, wish we all had another 50 yrs. to go. Yes this something we all get in our blood and guess what it never runs out just keeps flowing as out hearts beat.

I feel honored to call you a friend as we go back many years.