The Frontstretch: Driven to the Past : Random Thoughts... by John Potts -- Friday September 11, 2009

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Driven to the Past : Random Thoughts...

John Potts · Friday September 11, 2009


I keep hearing comments on television that Mark Martin might be the best NASCAR driver who has never won a Cup championship. That may well be true, and I have a LOT of respect for Mark. We were friends while he was in ASA and I was working in that series, and I’ve always liked him. I would really like to see him win a Cup title before his career is finally over.

One of the things I like most about his staying in racing is the way he says it’s not about winning a championship. I’m sure he’s honest in that. You can’t fault a passion for the sport, and with Mark, he is staying in it is because he simply loves to race, and getting a competitive ride was too big an opportunity to turn down. And I believe at this point he may be one of the best NASCAR drivers who have never won that title.

Many regard Mark Martin, pictured here as a teenager at Queen City Speedway near Cincinnati, as the best NASCAR driver who has never won a Cup championship.

I’m 20 years older than Mark, and I recall some other names which I believe should be considered in the same category.

How about Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner, Fred Lorenzen, Junior Johnson, Lee Roy Yarbrough, Tim Richmond, and Davey Allison, to name a few? I’m sure there are some I’ve omitted, and I apologize for that.

Anyway you slice it, Mark is stepping in some pretty exclusive company. Go for it, Kid. You’ve earned it.

- – - – - – - –

Speaking of Davey Allison, I was talking with a couple of other OFs at my area short track last week, and we were discussing the way most of the new “phenoms” have come into the higher ranks of stock car racing. Talent isn’t an issue – they’ve all got that, or else they’d last about a week. Our concern was the secondary issues on which they’re judged – image, skill with the media, etc. How many of them really know what the race car is doing out there?

“I can tell you when my car is sliding around or plowing like a dump truck, and I know it’s because it’s not getting any grip on that end, but I can’t tell you why.”

There was a time when a driver could come into the garage and tell his mechanic just what adjustments to make, or at the very least where to start. That lasted up through people who started by building their own cars and maintaining them on their own.

After considerable discussion involving people like Dick Trickle, Bob Senneker, Rusty Wallace, etc., we decided that Davey was probably the last young driver to come into NASCAR’s big league who knew his race car from one end to the other. Bobby Allison made sure his sons learned it the same way he did, from the ground up. Sweep the garage, run for parts, build your own race car, and keep it running on your own.

Just my opinion.

- – - – - – - –

My ramblings about Harry Hyde brought some phone calls from others who remembered the man, and reminded me of a couple of stories I’d forgotten. Both involved Harry’s two brothers, Columbus (C.J.) and Jimmy.

C.J. eventually rose to the position of police chief in Louisville. In a speech once, he recalled how honored he was by the appointment. He then revealed that he celebrated by driving out to Harry’s transmission shop and making a few arrests for illegal gambling.

“That was easy,” he said. “There was almost always a high stakes poker game going on at Harry’s place.”

Actually, I wish I hadn’t reminded myself of that. Those guys didn’t cut a race official any slack.

- – - – - – - –

Jimmy was an old country shadetree mechanic who I believe had a towing service in Glasgow, Ky. It was Jimmy’s flatbed we used to take the first K&K Dodge to Daytona in 1965. We got one engine down that just wouldn’t perform, no matter what we did with it—standard 426 Hemi right out of the crate, but it wouldn’t run.

After two days of messing with us, Ray Nichels brought us a new one, and Jimmy asked if he could have the useless one. Ray wanted to know why, and Jimmy said he wanted to put it out in back of his shop and use it as a “splash” block for certain purposes.

“I want to see how long it’ll take to wear a hole through it,” he told Nichels, “and I don’t think it’ll be too long because one like that can drive a man to drinking.”

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09/11/2009 10:39 AM

Interesting stuff about real racing & racers, as usual.

Keep writing.

09/11/2009 11:29 AM

Mark may be the “best of the rest” but he may also be the driver without the killer instinct needed to pull it off. DW calls it gentlemanly, I say sometimes he really needs to be a little rude (just a little) to get the win. He’s never shown that, most champions have.

09/11/2009 09:58 PM

John, Great as always and always good to see Dick Trickle’s name mentioned.