The Frontstretch: Driven To The Past: There Was Some Pretty Good Stock Car Racing In The Midwest Back In The Day, Too by John Potts -- Thursday February 11, 2010

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I’ve talked about the USAC Stock Car Series before, most notably the road race at Indianapolis Raceway Park and a race at Salem that I had a hand in helping Larry Moore with. One of the best races I ever saw was during that series’ heyday in 1964, when the factories were throwing everything they could at it in addition to their NASCAR participation.

This particular night was on the mile dirt track at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, a 100-miler they called the State Fair Century, naturally because it was held during the state fair. That particular year the fair was in the first week of September.

I and the guy I was with were running a little late. We got to the pit area just before qualifying was over. After wandering down to the Nichels Engineering pit to take a look at their sharp red Dodges, we found a lot of activity going on.

Seems that A.J. Foyt had blown the engine in his Texas Dodge Dealers No. 47 in practice, and Len Sutton hadn’t been able to qualify the Illinois Dodge Dealers No. 29 fast enough to make the planned 24-car field.

A.J. Foyt drives the No. 47 inside Joe Leonard in the No. 20, both Nichels Dodges, in 1964 at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

When we got there, they had the doors off of Foyt’s car and were preparing to put the No. 29 doors on it, and one crewman was busy taking the deck lid off. They had a number on the deck lid in USAC in addition to the one on the top. Somebody had already sprayed red paint over the number on top, but it wasn’t
going to fool anybody.

About that time, Emil Andres, an old Indy 500 veteran who supervised the stock car division, came on the scene and saw what was happening.

Again, as I recall it, Mr. Andres’ statement was something like, “A.J., that’s not legal.”

Which was answered by Foyt with an innocent-sounding, “It’s not?”

Mr. Andres and Henry Banks, the director of competition for USAC at the time, then came up with a decision to start all 30 cars on hand, which would put Foyt on the tail in the No. 29 if they’d put the doors back on it.

I’m sure this decision was helped along a little by Jo Quinn, the fairgrounds’ racing promoter at the time. In those days, the latest Indy 500 winner was guaranteed $500 to enter and try to qualify, and Foyt had just won his second.

This set the stage for one unbelievable race.

I was covering the event for a racing column I wrote in a Louisville-area weekly, and Mr. Quinn told me we could go to the roof of the grandstand to watch it if we liked. It proved to be a fantastic view for a fantastic race.

Tom Carnegie was announcing, and when the green flag came out he had eyes for nobody but Foyt. He was counting the number of cars A.J. was passing on that first lap. He got as far as 13th before they came out of the fourth turn for the first time.

At eight laps, Foyt was in fourth, and a lap later he was third.

Just like you see when a fast car comes from the rear in NASCAR, it was tougher as he got close to the front. He finally got past Don White’s Zecol-Lubaid Ford for second on the 39th lap, and it took another three to close in on the tail of Parnelli Jones and the Bill Stroppe Mercury.

For the next 20 laps, it was a real FoMoCo vs. Mopar battle, with Parnelli managing to hold on. Foyt would get halfway alongside coming out of the second turn, then fall back behind Parnelli as they came to the third turn. That turned out to be a good move on the 60th lap.

The Mercury ran out of brakes and Jones crashed into the outside wall. Lloyd Ruby, running seventh at the time, couldn’t avoid the Mercury and demolished his Plymouth in the process. Neither driver was hurt.

When the green came out again after 67 laps, White caught A.J. napping and took over the lead as they went into the first turn.

This, as you can imagine, did not set well with A.J. As they came down the front straightaway on the 69th lap, he went way outside going into the first turn, and I don’t think he lifted all the way around. He took over the lead coming out of the second turn and pulled away.

He beat White by three-quarters of a straightaway, and they were the only two cars on the lead lap.

Bobby Marshman was third in the other Zecol-Lubaid Ford.

Ned Jarrett was there in a Ford, a year before his first NASCAR championship, and was running third before engine problems relegated him to an eighth-place finish.

On the way up there from Louisville, I had told the guy with me that the then-young Foyt was somebody who had to be seen to be believed. I’m not sure he bought into it at the time, but he was certainly convinced when it was over.

Foyt came up with one of the best interview lines I’ve ever heard when Carnegie asked him what kind of race it was for him.

“Well,” he said, “It was pretty interesting until Parnelli went out.”

Contact John Potts

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jaymatt
02/12/2010 12:32 AM
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I missed that race, but was there several other times, and the racing was always great.

Good story.

Bad Wolf
02/12/2010 02:06 AM
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Foyts best line was at an Indy 500 in the late ’50s when he told a reporter after crashing that his car was “A tub of s@*#” on national radio.

What I wouldn’t give to have someone with Carnegie’s voice and talent in the Fox booth instead if DW. I think Tom saying “And There On It” when the pack comes out of turn 4 for the green instead of DWs schtick would ad 10% to the ratings.

dawg
02/12/2010 09:32 AM
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A lot of people don’t realize how good the USAC stock car devision was back in the day.
Ramo, Ernie, Paul Goldsmith. Too bad more fans don’t know them.
Thanks for reminding us.

gr
02/12/2010 09:51 AM
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If the USAC stock car division were not handled by crooks and let teams cheat (Foyt, Wallace, etc.) they would have been more popular than NASCAR! I was a fan from 1960 to it’s demise in 1984. Great racing. They were far and above, technology-wise, than the southern boys back then.

Mark
02/12/2010 10:06 AM
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USAC was always great racing , and on a variety of tracks . They ran dirt , road course , short tracks , speedways …… wait a minute , that sounds familiar . Oh i know , thats exactly what ARCA does now . Maybe its time to forget the NASCAR circus and start following the ARCA series .

John Potts
02/12/2010 10:55 AM
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Bad Wolf, as old as I am, I can’t remember that comment in the late 50s because I was in Japan at the time. Had to be 58 or 59 since Foyt was a rookie in 58. However, I do remember him making that statement during qualifying, referring to one of his rear-engine cars, live on the PA with Tom Carnegie, in the 70s.

Bad Wolf
02/12/2010 12:20 PM
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John, I’m not old enough to have been there in the late ’50s, but I heard that interview a couple of times on Q95 radio while at the Indy 500 back in the early ’90s. I do think it was from his rookie year in ’58.

680Apple
02/12/2010 12:22 PM
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Consider what Foyt was doing in the 1960’s. His first 500 win was in a front mounted engine car and by his third 500 win in 1967, he was in a rear engine car. The changes in technology during that period are staggering. Remember, Foyt was doing this on his own. He and his father were building the cars. Then, consider his stock car racing. He was winning nascar and usac, as he would say ‘taxi cab’ races, along with all kinds of open wheel dirt track races. Just staying alive in his prime years was remarkable. This is a good story but I think the Foyt story that trumps all, even any or all of his 500 wins was the 1964(?) usac race at Milwaukee. This was when the usac cars were going from front to rear engines. Foyt’s new rear engine car did not show up so he takes his dirt car out and puts it on the pole! It was analogous to a farmer bringing out his horse and buggy to a race track. I think he lead most of the race but got passed by far superior equipment at the end. There is some footage of this race out the and you will not believe your eyes. Foyt the character is even better. This was a guy you did not mess with under any circumstances. Ask Robin Miller and any other reporter during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Remember in 1998 when Aruie Lyundyke won the race in Texas under some controversy against Foyt’s driver Billy Boat? Lyundyke said something to Foyt in victory lane and he met the back of Foyt’s hand. Down he went, right on live TV!

Phil Allaway
02/12/2010 01:23 PM
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John, great article. Got a question, though. You said that Parnelli Jones was driving a Mercury owned by Bill Stroppe. Is that the same guy that owned cars in Winston West (now the K&N Pro Series, West Division) back in the 1990’s and won a championship with Butch Gilliland in 1997?