The Frontstretch: Driven to the Past: The Day Earl Almost Got Run Over... by John Potts -- Thursday March 18, 2010

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Driven to the Past: The Day Earl Almost Got Run Over...

John Potts · Thursday March 18, 2010


I’ve mentioned how Earl Baltes used to call me and ask me to flag for him at
various events on dates when I wasn’t working anywhere else back in the 60s and
early 70s. One of those was a program at Dayton in 1964 which very nearly ended in Earl getting run over.

I had forgotten about it until reading an account by Mickey Thompson, the
custodian of the website.

Mickey and his father, along with a good friend, built a 1952 Chevy Deluxe
to compete in the Sportsman class at Eldora. Mickey wanted to drive, but was
under 18. His father was willing to sign the minor’s release, but Mickey’s
mother refused and said if her husband signed he could sleep in the
garage along with Mickey and the car.

His buddy, Gerry Lantz, volunteered to drive and somehow got his parents to
agree. After competing at Eldora for a while, they got that urge most young
racers acquire, to try other tracks. Mickey said they got the front end torn
off at Kil-Kare, near Xenia, Ohio.

Anyway, after hearing that Earl was promoting a race at Dayton which would
include the Sportsman class from Eldora, they decided to enter.

Racing Sportsman cars at Dayton was a hairy situation back in the 1960s.

Dayton was high banked, a little over a half mile, and BAD fast. They
figured their little 216 cubic inch cylinder might get up to 80 or so.

We were practicing the Sportsman cars, and after four laps or so, Earl
decided this was enough. I’ll admit I agreed with him. Those things were right
on the edge of control, and more than one engine was screaming when they went
under the flagstand.

Earl, however, decided that instead of trying to get my attention (no
radios, remember?) he would take matters into his own hands. I had been keeping an eye on him and sensed what was going to happen.

He stepped over the pit guard rail and started waving his hands. I immediately turned on the red lights and put out the red flag.

Unfortunately, this one Chevrolet had just gone past the fourth turn traffic
light, and came barreling down the front straightaway at full tilt. The driver
saw Earl out there and, of course, applied the brakes. Hard.

The car fishtailed one way, then the other as the driver (whose name I
didn’t know at the time) managed to get it pointed straight. Then it got
crossways again straight for Earl.

Back in those days we had a saying that if you weren’t careful around the
race track, you could get your backside wiped by a quarter panel. I could just
see that happening to the guy who was supposed to pay me when this whole shindig was over.

Mickey says the original swerving was due to four mismatched tires taking
control of the steering, and the last sideways skid to a couple of the brakes
locking up.

About this time, Baltes decided maybe he’d better let me handle traffic
control and headed for that pit guard rail again.

He made it, by what appeared to be the slimmest of margins, leaping over the
rail as the car whizzed by and then slowed to a stop on the inside of the front

I yelled down there not to move the car, but it turned out that wasn’t
necessary. Mickey says they had to pry Gerry’s hands off the steering wheel.

As the photo accompanying this week’s column shows, I went down there to
check the car over. Several others came around, including a few officials, thinking I was doing a safety inspection.

Nothing of the sort. It was so close that I was wanting to see if there was
a piece or two of Earl still stuck to the car.

Not so much as a thread.

I couldn’t tell you how that race turned out, but I’ll never forget the
practice session.

And Mickey says the rest of the afternoon was somewhat anticlimactic and
unmemorable to him as well. Although he does maintain to this day that Gerry would suffer recurring nightmares and face years of intense therapy.

I also informed Earl that I had been keeping an eye on him, and that the
universal “shut it down” signal, a hand across the throat, would have gotten the
job done without all the theatrics.

You can read Mickey’s account of this on the

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03/19/2010 08:28 AM

It is great to have your column back again for the season. I think I missed it almost as much as watching racing during the winter!!