The Frontstretch: Driven to the Past: Just What Is Stock? by John Potts -- Thursday April 29, 2010

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Driven to the Past: Just What Is Stock?

John Potts · Thursday April 29, 2010


That UPS commercial with David Ragan pulling a couple of trailers in the
race car, drove me back to the past on Sunday.

We had a series in the 1970s we called the “Amateur” division at the old
Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville. Nowadays they’d be called “Bombers” or
“Slammers” or something like that.

Anyway, it was what (also nowadays) is known as an “entry level” division,
for cars which weren’t expensive, left virtually stock, and for drivers had no
competitive experience.

I remember the first night I flagged those guys. It was pretty wild. They
were all over the place, bouncing off the walls and each other.

Milt Hartlauf, the promoter, was on the flagstand with me and said,
“Remember when we ALL started, John? They gotta learn somewhere”, referring to
the late 1940s at the Jeffersonville (Ind.) Sportsdrome.

Yeah, it was pretty wild.

As with all entry level classes, and as any promoter who has ever had one
can tell you, the same situation applies that hits you in the upper levels: Keeping the lid on the equipment.

Sounds pretty simple to say that you can run strengthened wheels, put
in some safety equipment, etc. Just like Big Bill France did when he got NASCAR
started with the “Strictly Stock” division. That, of course, has morphed into
the Sprint Cup Series, and they’re still trying to keep the lid on. This has
brought on the spec car era, which is a topic for another time and another

Determining what was and wasn’t a stock car proved to be one of a race track’s greatest challenges back in the 1960s.

Turned out that keeping things strictly stock wasn’t as simple as it
sounded. Our tech director, Jim Carnforth, had to really bone up on what was
factory stock back in the mid-60s, which was where all those cars were coming

Putting a 400 cubic inch limit on the engines helped keep out the Ford 406s
and 427s, as well as the Chevy 409s and 427s, but suspension pieces gave Jim

We had a terrific argument with one driver who was running a 1964 Ford, and
Jim’s research told him the guy was running too many leaves in his rear springs.

The driver was Tony Johnson, who eventually became an awfully good late
model driver, and he was a pretty decent fellow.

This particular night, however, he was pretty upset.

We gathered in the speedway office to discuss the matter. The primary
participants in the debate were Milt, Jim, and Tony. I was just sitting in as an
“observer” at Milt’s request. He said, “Occasionally, Potts has something
sensible to add to these things.”

Jim laid out all the paperwork showing Tony that the 1964 Ford
specifications showed two less leaves in the rear springs.

Tony responded, “I’ve been working at Ford for almost twenty years, and I
KNOW that they built that Galaxie in 1964 with these springs. It was a trailer

It got pretty quiet in there for a while, as everybody was thinking about it,
with Tony staring down first Milt, then Jim.

Finally, I said, “Tell you what, guys, let’s allow him to bring it back next
week and run it with those springs.”

Milt and Jim both said, “WHAT?”

Tony’s reaction was “You mean it would be legal?”

My response was “Sure – as long as you pull a trailer.”

Suffice it to say that this ended the discussion and Tony came back the next
week without a trailer and without the trailer option springs. The car still ran
pretty well.

- – - – - – - –

Another topic came up during our Frontstretch live blog of the Talladega Cup
race last Sunday (and if you aren’t taking part in these things, you ought to
check it out – it’s a blast. It’s like watching a race in a sports bar and not
having to explain your comments, because everybody understands).

The topic was unnecessary caution flags, and how NASCAR tries to avoid going
yellow in the middle of a green flag pit stop sequence.

I always tried to avoid throwing the yellow if it wasn’t necessary, but I
always kept in mind that my primary responsibility was safety. If a car spun
down low on a banked track and got rolling, and could get back up on the track
without slowing things down, I tried to let it happen.

Once while doing a local race for Earl Baltes at Dayton, this almost got me
in a fight.

After the white flag in a four-lap trophy dash, the car running last spun in
the third turn. He stayed in the grass, and I went ahead and finished the race.

As I came down from the flagstand, a fan of this driver got in my face and
asked me why I didn’t throw the yellow.

He was pretty vehement, even casting some doubts about whether my parents
had been legally married, and I guess I was just as vehement in answering.

I told him that we had the four fastest qualifiers out there, presumably
four of the best drivers on the property, and if they couldn’t make a full lap
without getting in trouble while slowing down, it was going to be an extremely
long day.

A security guard showed up about that time and asked if I wanted the guy
thrown out.

I told the guard the guy was just a rabid race fan, let him stay but cool
him off. Without people who feel strongly about their racing, we wouldn’t have

After the program, the guy actually came up and apologized.

Contact John Potts

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Dick Lucas
04/30/2010 11:21 AM

As a kid in high school in CT in the fifties my neighbor Paul Petit sometimes raced in the Nascar events.
He had a 52 Hudson that he bought off of a used car lot stripped it installed roll bars and hauled it to Daytona on a home made trailer. He wrecked and finished way back. At that time the interstates weren’t built and it really took dedication to haul from Connecticut to race Nascar.Paul wasn’t a regular but he did finish fifth at Martinsville for his best finish in the Top series.
Later he won a Nascar sanctioned late model race at Dover in a’50 Plymouth.
When the factory cars Like the Kiekhaffer Chryslers came into it it drove a lot of the shade tree grass roots guys out

04/30/2010 11:59 AM

There hasn’t been anything close to “stock” since the eighties. They just build IROC cars and slap a make of car on it.

05/01/2010 11:31 AM

It seems your thinking is way too logical to ever work for NASCAR. It would be nice to have you in the room when Cheater Chad is explaining his ‘test’ parts.